Prepared Notes for Board Meeting
August 23, 2010
Marc A. Schare
I have a few updates and random thoughts today.
First, I attended a presentation by Terry Ryan from the Fordham Foundation on lessons learned from Fordham’s sponsorship of charter schools in Ohio. It is fair to say that Fordham is a leading proponent of the charter school and education reform movements and I thought their message might be relevant to any district interested in renewal. Of the 18 lessons outlined, here are a handful that I thought interesting enough to share.
Lesson 5 is that risks need to be taken and changes embraced, even if encouraging innovation, experimentation and choice in K-12 education entails obvious perils. In a charter school, parents choose to embrace the change the charter is offering. In Worthington’s renewal efforts, parents and students sometimes get swept along for the ride so we need to move slower and with more community engagement, but we do need to move.
Lesson 7 is that high performing charter schools are not all alike and seldom static. Each school has its own personality and its own distinctive way of doing things, a concept very much embraced by our renewal efforts. The paper also discusses the difficulty of replication implying there is no single formula that can guarantee success.
Lesson 11 is that good data really matters and reveals truths that are sometimes painful to behold. Ryan made the point that Ohio has been undergoing nonstop school reforms since 1997 with No Child Left Behind complicating the equation in 2002. With each new reform, curricula needs to be aligned to new standards, data systems must be set up to track and use new student data and so forth. Our district does a phenomenal job at dissecting our data and using it to inform professional development and resource decisions but the rate of change would tax any district. It’s my hope that the state moves a little bit slower is mandating one reform after another to allow districts like ours time to get a few years of data on the previous reform before implementing additional reforms.
Lesson 13 is that the education marketplace did not work as well as Fordham thought it would. Many charter school advocates believe that we should get rid of public schools and let parents use vouchers to select schools for their kids. This, according to free market doctrine, would assure quality because schools would either improve or die. In practice, some really atrocious charter schools are allowed to languish for years according to Ryan, often because of the role the school plays in the community. While Worthington’s schools would never be in danger of closing due to academic performance, it does behoove us to remember, as if our constituents would ever let us forget, the role that neighborhood schools play throughout the district and that the importance of a neighborhood school to a community might trump even the possibility of academic gains offered with realignment.
Finally, Lesson 17 is that all too often, adult/institutional interests trump the interests of kids. It’s my hope that in Worthington, all stakeholders always try to strike an appropriate balance between the needs of the adults and the children we serve.
And speaking of balance…
While I personally have misgivings about the recently enacted federal legislation sending hundreds of millions of dollars to Ohio education, we must nevertheless discuss how that money should be used in Worthington if some of it should happen to come our way.
Assuming the money comes with no strings attached or, alternatively, if those strings define tasks and/or projects that we have already budgeted for, my preference would be to take the federal money and use it to plug any holes created by Ohio’s next biennium budget or even, and I know this is a radical thought, use it to reduce the size of our next operating levy if, in fact, we have that flexibility. My point is that money from the federal government should not be treated like money from heaven. The federal government does not have a dime that it didn’t tax from citizens, including those of the Worthington School District, or borrow from future generations and by saving this money and using it for levy amount reduction or hole plugging, we are demonstrating that just because we get one-time unexpected revenue, we are going to use those funds in the context of the overall five year spending plan that we’ve adapted, again assuming we are permitted to do so.
I wanted to comment publicly on Mark Hill’s speech at convocation. I am a big proponent of teacher accountability measures but Mark was absolutely correct in his criticism of Ohio’s “Value-Add”. Last week, Fordham released a report describing some of the possible flaws in Value-Add. These flaws came to light when Douglas Clay, a researcher at Cleveland State, observed that 83% of 5th graders made below expected growth in 5th grade reading but the very next year, 98% of those students made above expected growth while in 6th grade. Same kids. Wild Variations. Big problem. Fordham’s analysis suggests that the obvious culprit is the assumption that the rigor of the standardized test remains consistent across time and across grade level. This does not seem to be the case and is therefore the most likely source of the variations. Ohio is instituting two changes to value-add to hopefully smooth out the variations by incorporating a sort of rolling average to gains made, however, Fordham acknowledges that value-add is still very much a work in progress. That’s not to say that value-add can’t play a role in measuring teacher or school effectiveness, but we need to understand that it is only a part of the puzzle.