Scathing Stanford CREDO Report Shows Ohio Traditional Public Schools Outperform Charters

Charter schools in Ohio are notorious because the state legislature, filled with money from supporters of some of the worst charters, has chosen hardly to regulate the charter school sector at all.  On Tuesday, the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a new study of the academic effectiveness of Ohio’s charters (as measured by standardized test scores).

The report is scathing: “First, recent efforts across Ohio to improve the quality of charter school performance are only dimly discernible in the analysis.  Overall performance trends are marginally positive, but the gains that Ohio charter school students receive even in the most recent periods studied still lag the progress of their traditional public school peers… Despite exemplars of strong results, over 40 percent of Ohio charter schools are in urgent need of improvement: they both post smaller student academic gains each year and their overall achievement levels are below the average for the state.  If their current performance is permitted to continue, the students enrolled in these schools will fall even further behind over time.”  “Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a traditional public school, the analysis shows on average that the students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.”

UPDATE: Margaret Raymond, Director of the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, spoke yesterday at the Cleveland City Club about CREDO’s new report on Ohio’s charter schools.  You can watch the video of the event here.  At approximately 50 minutes into the video, Raymond answers a question about the public policy climate for charter schools.  Here is some of what Raymond says:  “This is one of the big insights for me because I actually am a kind of pro-market kind of girl, but the marketplace doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education… I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career… Education is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work… I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state.  There are other supports that are needed… I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we need to have more oversight of the overseers… the authorizers.”

Across the entire state, only in the Cleveland Municipal School District are charter schools out-performing their traditional public school peers.  In the other city districts that are featured—Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton—traditional public schools outperform charter schools.  In urban, suburban, rural and town categories of school districts, traditional public school students outperform their counterparts in charter schools.  Charter schools seem to do better only with middle school students (the report doesn’t speculate on the reason why), and charters run by the bigger Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) under-perform smaller charters.

CREDO found that students in poverty, and especially Black students in poverty, do slightly better in charter schools than their public school peers.  The researchers discovered that in Ohio there does not seem to be widespread cream-skimming in charters.  They serve many students in poverty. They also serve an equivalent number of English language learners and students with special needs: “Ohio charter schools enroll the same proportion of these student types as the district schools nearby and as the state as a whole, which is uncommon in the states we have studied to date.  For English Language Learners, enrollment in charter schools carries no significant benefit; their academic progress is less than native speakers, regardless of whether they attend traditional public schools or charter schools.  The difference between the sectors for English Language Learners is not significant.  A different picture was revealed for Special Education students.  The majority of Special Education students in Ohio charter schools have smaller gains than their traditional public school peers….”

The CREDO researchers do not name particular charter schools or CMO chains, but when it comes to Ohio’s notorious situation with charter school authorizers, they do name names: “The heterogeneity in authorizers is grounded in the enabling legislation, which permitted a wider range of organizations to assume the role than in other states… Students in charter schools authorized by Lucas County, Ohio Council of Community Schools, and St. Aloysius Orphanage have performed worse than traditional public schools, overall, in reading and math.”

Stanford CREDO is well known for the quality of its methodology and the transparency with which its reports explain the implications of research methodology for what can be concluded. The most basic measurement in such reports compares each charter school to a carefully constructed peer school.  Here is what the new report on Ohio says about that basic measurement: “In reading, 19 percent of charter schools perform significantly better than their traditional public school analogs, while 27.7 percent perform significantly better in math… Alternatively, 18 percent of Ohio charter schools post reading results that are significantly worse than the local traditional public school option, and 24 percent of Ohio charter schools do so for math.  The largest proportion of charter schools in Ohio do not differ significantly from traditional public schools in their communities, at 63 percent in reading and 49 percent in math.”  To simplify, 81 percent of charters perform the same or worse in reading, and 73 percent perform the same or worse in math compared with their traditional public school peers.

Stephen Dyer, former member of Ohio’s House of Representatives and former Akron Beacon-Journal reporter, blogging on the new CREDO report, asks readers, “to remember that more than $900 million went to Ohio charters last school year… And that the average Ohio student loses more than $300 a year because the state removes so much to pay for charters…  Is this level of commitment worth it?  For taxpayers, and most importantly, our kids both in charters and traditional public schools?”

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Photo essay and thoughts on Coventry Village

Photos by Robert N. Brown

Robert Brown is a city planning consultant of note. Named a Fellow of the American Institute of City Planners (FAIP) and recipient of APA’s national award for excellence in comprehensive planning, he served for a decade as the Director of Planning for the City of Cleveland. During that time he prepared Cleveland’s Civic Vision 2000 Citywide Plan and led work in the Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland project.

Where does a top urban planner in Northeast Ohio choose to live? For the last dozen years Brown has lived in Cleveland Heights’ Coventry Village Neighborhood, which he calls “a great neighborhood” – one that “makes residents feel connected to one another.  It is a place of ‘neighborliness.’  It is a place that helps create a sense of community.”

In a blog post on his website, Brown recently put together his thoughts on the physical characteristics that make Coventry Village work, and he paired it with a beautiful photo essay that highlights some of the neighborhood’s most important characteristics that many of us have always taken for granted.

A few pages of his photo essay are included here, but take a look at the whole thing; there are a lot more photos worth seeing.

You can read them here:

Coventry Village: A great neighborhood

Classy and Quirky: A photo essay of Coventry Village

Photos by Robert N. Brown

Photos by Robert N. Brown


Posted in Bob Rosenbaum, Cleveland Heights, GUEST BLOGGERS, Photo Blog, Quality of Life | Leave a comment

Accountability Should Reward Schools That Serve All Children Well Even If Achievement Gaps Remain

The U.S. Department of Education has just updated the rules for states to be granted waivers from the most onerous requirements of the old, dated, and much criticized No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  Anne Hyslop recently reported that in its new rules, the Department now requires states to ensure that every school is closing racial and economic achievement gaps.  The Department now asks states to demonstrate “that a school may not receive the highest rating in the state’s accountability system if there are significant achievement or graduation rate gaps in the school that are not closing.’”  On its face, this requirement may seem admirable.  After all, the goal of NCLB was to ensure that no set of children was being left behind.

I find myself deeply concerned about this rule, however, for the same reason Michael  Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas Fordham Institute, is concerned: New Waiver Guidance Will Sink Schools Where All Boats Are Rising.  This is one of the first times I remember that Mike Petrilli and I have agreed, and I am moved by his analysis.  He presents the example of Sawgrass Elementary School in Broward County, Florida.  You can think about his argument in the context, perhaps, of a school that you know that will be penalized by the new Department of Education rules.

Petrilli presents his example: “Consider the case of Sawgrass Elementary School….  Let’s examine its stats…. First look at the demographics which show it to be a rare model of racial and socio-economic diversity: 27 percent white, 28 percent black, 37 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian, 54 percent disadvantaged, 29 percent English language learners.”  “Sawgrass has been making big gains in both math and reading, both overall and for its lowest-performing students.”  White students outperform the statewide white average by 13 points;  Black students the statewide black average by 29 points, Hispanic students the statewide Hispanic average by 21 points; Asian students the statewide Asian average by 4 points; disadvantaged students the statewide disadvantaged average by 21 points; and ELL students the statewide ELL average by 31 points.  At Sawgrass, according to Florida’s ‘satisfactory’ benchmark in math, 83 percent of white students, 72 percent of black students, 79 percent of Hispanic students, 89 percent of Asian students, 72 percent of disadvantaged students, and 73 percent of ELL students meet the standard.

Petrilli argues that this school should be given credit for its obvious quality.  He disagrees with the new waiver guidance that insists that schools close achievement gaps as measured by test scores.  “Why are we so afraid to celebrate a school that is clearly doing right by so many kids?… ‘Closing achievement gaps’ is a wonderful and worthy aspiration. (So was universal proficiency.) But baking that expectation, quite literally, into accountability systems is destined to deflate the grades of schools like Sawgrass and demoralize their teachers, students, and families.”

It might surprise you to learn that Matthew Di Carlo, of the Albert Shanker Institute, also fully agrees with Petrilli on this point.  In a post called Rethinking the Use of Simple Achievement Gap Measures in School Accountability Systems, Di Carlo presents four examples of how a school might close achievement gaps in any one year: “both groups make progress, but with more rapid growth in the scores of lower-income students; both groups decline in performance, but the scores of higher-income students decline more rapidly; the scores of lower-income students increase, while those of higher-income students remain stable; the scores of lower-income students remain stable while those of higher-income students decline.”  He explains: “All four of these scenarios are quite common, particularly at the school level, but also within states…. But only one of them—the first one—could be considered as genuine success.  Why would we reward or punish schools based on a criterion that is likely to conceal undesirable outcomes?… In short, achievement gaps are a good example of a measure that is very important, but not well-suited for use in formal or informal accountability systems.”

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Cleveland Heights Chronicles – Part 1

Note: This overview is the first chapter of my reflections on 45 years in Cleveland Heights.

I’ve lived in Cleveland Heights for forty-five years. My husband and I moved into the upstairs of a double on Kensington in the summer of 1969, the summer that the U.S. put a man on the moon. The more difficult challenge was right here on the earth in Cleveland Heights, building an “open and integrated community of the highest quality.” (Heights Community Congress Code of Regulations) But we didn’t know that in 1969.

After all these years, living in Cleveland Heights is still “a commitment, not an address,” to quote Pat Steinfurth, one of the community’s true activists. We’re on our third Cleveland Heights address, and I can assure anyone that an active commitment takes an incredible amount of time and effort. Sometimes any of us would much rather stay home from yet another meeting to get the sleep that we need so desperately.

My years in Cleveland Heights have taken a certain shape and form, as everyone’s do. I can see that some personal issues have come and gone while others have persisted. For me, two of the latter have been the sense of community and the issue of the schools.

The years from 1974-1988 were those of my real community involvement. In 1974 Ohio had just passed major landlord-tenant legislation, and I had just graduated from law school and passed the bar. I volunteered for the committee that was addressing those issues. A few years later I became chair of the Municipal Justice Task Force, a perfect illustration of the fact that the Heights Community Congress (HCC) cultivates its volunteers. Eventually I became a board member.

At that time I represented the Fairfax neighborhood. I remember hours standing at the mimeograph machine at the HCC with issues of the Fairfax neighborhood newsletter, Over the Back Fence, wondering about Helen Payton’s sign that said to clean the machine or face the consequences. One day my son asked her what the consequences were, and she said that the sign had been so effective that she never had to devise any.

During that same period I got involved in community issues in the greater Cleveland area—the Heights Branch of the Urban League, the Guardian ad Litem Project of the Juvenile Court of Cuyahoga County and related task forces at the Federation for Community Planning and the Children’s Services Division of the County’s Human Services Department. I served a six-year term on the Cleveland Heights Planning Commission.

I had reached the point of burnout, when, in 1986, I began working at the law school library at the University of Akron. That fairly effectively put an end to most of my local community endeavors. I worked there for fourteen years leaving the community that I’m bonded to and arriving in another where I worked to develop the kind of network that I need in my life.

I’ve had a lot of drivetime to reflect on “neighborhood” and “community” and why it is that I actually felt homesick only thirty-seven miles away in Akron from time to time. I’ve been wondering whether it is even possible to belong to two geographic communities, which in turn leads to trying to define the nature of community. I have a lot of ideas but no conclusions.

A persistent issue is the schools. Concern over the school system is constant for a Cleveland Heights resident with school-age children. We’ve had three foster daughters and one exchange student son at Heights High. Our biological son went to Gilmour, a private Catholic high school recommended by friends who, like us, are not Catholic. I’ve always felt a little guilty about that, even though it was the best educational choice for him. Somehow it tarnishes my credentials as a good Cleveland Heights citizen. And now my granddaughter is a first-grader at Fairfax, where my son began, and will soon be followed by her younger brother.

You hear everything about Heights High. You can talk to parents who wouldn’t put a kid there, and you can talk to parents who say everything’s fine. There were years when black parents complained that discipline was uneven. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission got involved, Once during those years, I came to a point where I stood in the voting booth and jabbed the needle through the box “against the levy.” After a twenty-year history of voting for every single school levy, I felt like a traitor.

I, the granddaughter of a man who taught high school in the days when teaching high school entailed wearing a three-piece suit. I, the daughter of parents whose families represented both private and public school traditions and who chose public schools for me, my brother and my sister. I had voted against a school levy, committed an act of heresy. But I’d come to the end of my patience at continually increasing property taxes. Since then I don’t think I’ve voted against another school levy.

At Cleveland Heights dinner parties, the talk always gets around to “How are we doing?” Not we guests personally, but our suburb. How is Cleveland Heights doing? What is the racial balance? Who do we know that’s moving? Are white people still moving in? This pulse-taking is constant and extremely wearing.

Now we’re still feeling the effects of the foreclosure crisis. My sources tell me that we have at least 2000 vacant properties. Every police blotter published in the Plain Dealer or Sun Press  has references to copper being stripped out of one home or another. We have Section 8 housing, now known, I think as Housing Choice Vouchers. I have a conflict with that. On the one hand, when I’m the guardian ad litem for a court family that needs housing to be reunified, I’m for Section 8. When I hear stories from friends and neighbors about their experiences with Section 8 tenants who are rowdy, careless about their property or just difficult to interact with, I see the downside.

Now I’m at the age where I need to think about moving to a continuing care retirement community. Until that unpleasant choice, Cleveland Heights really has been the only place I’ve wanted to live. It’s the intelligentsia; it’s the people in academia, the people in the arts and journalism, the people who work for the non-profits and the social service agencies.

This is not a definition I made up; I drew on a paragraph by Barbara Ehrenreich from New York Woman, reprinted in Utne Reader, (July/August 1990). She says that the intelligentsia is composed of the “white collar wage earner who works. . .for ideas or ideals as opposed to pure profit.” That’s me, for better or for worse, and I want to live with others who have the same values. They’re here, and so am I.

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Structural Racism: A Bleak Educational Future for Poor Children in America’s Metropolitan Areas

In one of the essays in Twenty-First Century Color Lines (2009), Andrew Grant-Thomas and john a. powell, of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University, confront the idea that our greatest social challenges are the result of the attitudes and behaviors of individuals.  Grant-Thomas and powell write instead about structural racism—the way the primary institutions of our society privilege some groups of people and constrain opportunity for others.  They define structural racism: “A social system is structurally inequitable to the degree that it is configured to promote unequal outcomes.  A society marked by highly interdependent opportunity structures and large inter-institutional resource disparities will likely be very unequal with respect to the outcomes governed by those institutions and structures… In a society that features structural inequalities with respect to opportunities and institutional resources, initial racial inequality in motion will likely stay in motion.” (p. 124)

Richard Rothstein has just published a fascinating piece in the fall issue of The American Prospect, The Making of Ferguson, that traces the shaping, over the decades of the twentieth century, of structural racism in greater St. Louis and particularly its inner-ring suburbs.  Rothstein examines the forces that shaped the Ferguson where Michael Brown was shot this summer and where mass protests followed.  Rothstein’s piece is an eloquently engaging story of the growth and aging of a community. He concludes with this summary of decades of public policies—many of them promoted by the federal government—that have supported segregation, inequality and resegregation, not only in Ferguson and greater St. Louis but also across so many of America’s big cities: “St. Louis was segregated by interlocking and racially explicit public policies of zoning, public housing, and suburban finance, and by publicly endorsed segregation policies of realty, banking, and insurance industries.  These government policies interacted with public labor market policies that denied African Americans access to jobs that comparably skilled whites obtained.  When all of these mutually reinforcing public policies conspired with private prejudice to turn St. Louis’s African American communities into slums, public officials razed those slums to devote acreage to more profitable (and less unsightly) uses.  African Americans who were displaced then relocated to the few other places available, converting towns like Ferguson into new segregated enclaves. “  (A longer, in-depth version of Rothstein’s piece is posted on the website of the Economic Policy Institute.)

Rothstein reminds us that the trends created by all these factors were then interpreted by a society used to personal racial stereotyping in ways that condemn the victims: “Whites observing the ghetto concluded that slum conditions were characteristics of black families, not of housing discrimination. Government policy thus created stereotypes that spurred ‘white flight.’”

Rothstein does not dwell on the implications for Ferguson, Missouri’s public schools, except to acknowledge that in a society where suburban jurisdictional boundaries combine with long-standing housing segregation by both race and economics, it is to be expected that extreme racial and economic segregation in public schools would persist.

We should wonder, however, how history, from the point of view of racial justice, will judge today’s school “reform.”  What will be the long term effects of the massive school closures in Chicago and Philadelphia?  What about the conversion of New Orleans to an all charter school district?  Once America’s big-city school districts are torn apart, how shall we reconstruct the political will for publicly funded mass education in our poorest communities?  Will we ever choose to rebuild institutions as systemic and comprehensive as the public school districts we have destroyed?

And what about today’s federal and state policies that push accountability by test-and-punish, rank-and-rate?  The very highest-scoring school districts—now ranked “A” or  “excellent” from state to state—are school districts in wealthy enclaves where the children bring the effects of their trips to the library and their music lessons and their travels and their computers with them to school.  What does it mean that federal test-and-punish policy, as filtered by the state rating systems, is condemning the schools in our poorest communities and conflating privilege with supposed school quality in places where all the children are wealthy?  Like our twentieth century counterparts, however, we blame the victims—in this case the public school teachers.

Back in 2005, the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and Literacy warned that the racial and economic implications would emerge as a serious moral concern in the policies prescribed by the federal  No Child Left Behind Act:  “The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more complex demands made by the law as ‘in need of improvement.’ Such labeling of schools and districts encourages families with means to move to wealthy, homogeneous school districts.”

While today’s school “reformers” may not have intentionally set out to calcify racial and economic segregation and while as always we are bent on blaming individuals, there is no question that the effect will be to encourage those with wealth to buy homes in expensive, homogenous enclaves with highly rated schools and those who cannot afford to move up or move out to scramble in what is becoming a privatized competitive educational marketplace in poor communities where charters and vouchers are expanding—a marketplace that lacks the capacity to protect the rights of the students. Public education will be increasingly rationed through the metropolitan housing market along with privatized choices in poor communities for the parents who are savvy enough to be able to scramble to secure a place for their children.  Will we permit these markets to become the structures that define the way our society educates its children.

Benjamin Barber, the political philosopher, describes the scenario: “Aggregating our private choices as educational consumers in fact yields an inegalitarian and highly segmented society in which the least advantaged are further disadvantaged as the wealthy retreat ever further….  As citizens, we would never consciously select such an outcome, but in practice what is good for ‘me,’ the educational consumer, turns out to be a disaster for ‘us as citizens….” (Consumed, p. 132)

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