Education, Ohio, Public Schools, Schools, Uncategorized

SB39 Proponent Testimony – Brianne Kramer

Statement to the Senate Education Committee in favor of Senate Bill 39

Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Huffman, Ranking Member Sykes, and members of the Senate Education Committee:

I am sharing this written testimony in favor of Senate Bill 39 because I believe more accountability is needed for e-schools in Ohio. I have been in education for the past 14 years as a high school teacher, part-time college faculty, and now as an Assistant Professor at Southern Utah University. From November 2013 to November 2014, I worked as a high school advisor for Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA hereafter). In addition to my various teaching and educational experiences, much of my doctoral level research has focused on Ohio’s charter and virtual/e-schools.

Upon accepting the position at OHVA, I did not hold any concrete opinions about virtual schools and their operation. I believed at the time that virtual schools could be excellent opportunities for students who were unable to attend their local public schools for various reasons. After working in the school for a year, my opinions drastically changed. As an advisor, my position required me to manage a caseload of students in order to track attendance, check grades, and keep open lines of communication with the family. Advisors were required to check student attendance logs weekly to make sure families were logging in the required hours per week. If there was a discrepancy and hours were missing, I contacted the family to alert them of the missing hours and, if the student had not completed those hours in the system, discuss a plan to make up hours and complete work that was missing. If the hours did not get entered, once the student was missing 25 hours of attendance, I initiated the truancy process by filling out a report and sending it to the truancy officer and others who oversaw the truancy process. Once the student was missing 105 hours, as the advisor, I would request the student be withdrawn for truancy. Again, once initiating this process, the truancy officer and other individuals processed it.

Shortly before leaving the school in November 2014, there were 487 K-12th grade students who had not yet logged attendance hours, and only 89 of those students were currently in the truancy reporting system after 11 weeks of school. There were also 1,826 students who were missing 25 or more hours of attendance, and of those students, only 594 had begun the truancy process, amounting to 19% of OHVA students who were eligible for the truancy process. These numbers also assume that proper truancy reporting was followed and that families did not alter attendance hours to avoid truancy charges. During my year working in the school, I found both of these things to be true at various times.

Despite changes to their reporting process or to the attendance policy that may have been made at OHVA and similar schools recently, I believe e-schools should be required to provide education to each of their students that totals the state-imposed 920 hours. All of Ohio’s public school students who attend a traditional public school are required to be in classrooms with their teachers for 920 hours each year, so e-school students should be held to the same standard. For this to occur in a way that can be measured, all 920 hours should be spent in the online classroom platform, which is not currently happening. OHVA’s 2016-2017 Parent Handbook states:

“Most K-5 Learning Coaches and students spend 50% of their day online and the rest of their time working off line in workbooks, printed lessons, or other related activities. Middle school students and Learning Coaches may spend between 60% and 70% of their time on their computers, while high school students will spend between 75% and 85% online. Attendance documentation of online and offline work is required by OHVA parents. Submission of student work samples is required to demonstrate consistent engagement, and will vary by grade” (p. 3).

Traditional public schools cannot provide 460 hours of instruction for grades K-5, 644 hours of instruction in middle schools, and 782 hours of instruction at the high school level and make up the remaining hours with homework. Virtual schools, who academically perform at a much lower level than the majority of public schools in Ohio, should not be allowed to loosely interpret the current attendance policies.

Senate Bill 39 would close this gap and provide greater accountability for virtual schools. If passed, the bill requires the Ohio Department of Education to be notified of truancy and attendance figures. This greater accountability places pressure on the virtual schools and their sponsors to maintain correct attendance records and uphold state policy. These proposed requirements only serve to benefit the students and families in virtual schools. Students who are not attending class are not learning to their full potential, and schools are required to make sure students are in attendance daily. Traditional public schools take attendance every morning, and in high schools, each class period. When students attend their classes, the teachers work to keep them engaged throughout the lesson through constant interaction and face-to-face engagement that cannot be replicated in an online classroom despite any technology that may be used. A 2015 study by the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found virtual school students lost 72 days of learning, on average, in reading, and lost 180 days of learning in math. Low attendance could contribute to this loss of learning.

Virtual schools also need to have greater transparency in order for the general public to better understand the structures of such schools and their operation. Virtual school board meetings should be live-streamed after appropriate notice has been provided statewide in the cities the virtual school students and their families reside. Parents and the general public have a right to be able to attend (in person or virtually) each board meeting, just as if they were attending a board meeting in their local traditional public school district. Virtual school advertisements, which have been paid for using taxpayer money funneled from local school districts, should contain the most recent state report card grades. Taxpayers deserve to understand what their money is being used for. In a traditional district, taxpayers have a better understanding of what their taxes are being used for as they see building improvements happen, hear about new teachers being hired, or see the new textbooks and curriculum coming home in their child’s backpack each day. Finally, the state report cards for each virtual school in the state should contain an area that indicates the school’s mobility rate. While mobility rates are not an issue solely for virtual schools, the mobility rates remain higher for virtual schools than many of the traditional public school districts.

My final point refers to the funding component of SB 39. For the past 17 years, since the inception of ECOT in 2000, virtual schools have siphoned money from local school districts. While supporters of virtual schools may claim that only state funds are transferred from traditional public school districts to the virtual schools as the money “follows the student,” many Ohio school districts are subsidizing virtual schools with a portion of local taxpayer money. In my hometown of Napoleon, the per-pupil funding amount is $4,205; however, the per-pupil funding amount for ECOT and OHVA is slightly above $7000. Where does that remaining $2,795 come from? According to The Ohio Charter School Accountability Project, out of the $237,539 transferred to charter schools (3 of 4 being virtual schools), $99,562 was through local taxpayer subsidy. Napoleon Area City taxpayers have been subsidizing virtual schools who have consistently demonstrated lower academic achievement and graduation rates than their local district.

I urge you to pass Senate Bill 39 to better serve the students and families who seek out this type of education. All students in the state of Ohio are entitled to a quality education. I believe it is our duty to ensure the proper policies are in place to ensure this for all children. It is also important that taxpayers understand the structure, operation, and funding of virtual schools in the state of Ohio.

Chair Lehner and members of the committee– thank you again for the opportunity to provide written testimony in favor of Senate Bill 39.

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#OhioGradCrisis, Education, Ohio

Why I Cannot Support More Graduation “Pathways”

We met with a handful of Ohio Senators last week. Since it matters for this discussion’s sake, 6 of the 8 we talked with are Republicans. Not one of them disagreed that we need a solution for our Class of 2018. Not one of them defended the nightmare they have created for our now seniors. But, when it came down to it, they did not support the logical and humane solution for our kids with their votes.

We’ve discussed ad-nauseum the impending graduation crisis for Ohio’s now seniors. In Wednesday’s vote, state senators had an opportunity to provide relief to our students through “safe harbor.” The amendment offered would allow students in the Class of 2018 to use course grades for the seven content areas in lieu of standardized state tests to earn points toward the required minimum of 18. This amendment was tabled on a party line vote of 24-9.

Instead, the amendment which remains in the Senate’s version of the budget bill would require students to jump through even more hoops to meet graduation requirements. After changing tests in three of the last four years and changing the cut scores for passage with a new vendor, after 12 years of learning and hard work in their classes, after taking seven end of course state tests (and retakes for any with scores of 2 or 1, plus their required remediation), these seniors could now be faced with two additional hoops to jump through in order to earn their diploma.

While I am glad these new, unnecessary hoops remove the burden of scoring 18 points through the seven standardized tests, I am irate that students will still be required to retake any state tests for which they scored a 2 or 1. Though they need not earn a passing score, they must serve the testing gods. This is the definition of state-sanctioned educational malpractice.

Some claim the new pathways somehow “soften” the state’s graduation requirements. To them, I’d offer the following, albeit imperfect, analogy:

If each of the four years of high school are the leg of a relay and the team is your diploma, here’s a look into that race. In the first leg, your time is measured by PARCC, so results take over a year to determine and be reported to you. Meanwhile, you’re trucking along in the second leg, and it is announced that your time will be measured by AIR. You also have to stop intermittently along this stretch because you need to go back and recomplete the first leg of the race, this time measured by AIR. As you enter the third leg, you learn you have to go back to leg 2 for a new AIR measurement with a higher cut score while also needing to make up time you’ve lost in the overall race. Somewhere along the third leg, you learn that you still haven’t met the required AIR time from the first leg and must go back again to the start. Now it’s time for the final leg. Hopefully, you’ve made it back to this point by now to continue on your race. You are almost there! Wait, what’s that? This leg contains a maze of obstacles, from which you must choose two to complete successfully. Each obstacle will take most, if not all of your final leg to complete. Oh, and all those restarts, they don’t matter now, but you still have to go back to leg 2, though that time won’t count in the end. See, wasn’t that so easy?

I wish I could think of an analogy that actually fits this scenario our kids are in, but I cannot. Because it is utterly ridiculous. Instead of admitting their mistakes in the regulations of the relay, the majority party seems to want to continue this charade. Meanwhile, our students pay the ultimate price when the race is stacked against them.

#FixItOrOwnIt #OhioGradCrisis

Brittany Alexander

Ohio BAT and Educator

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Education, Ohio, Public Schools, School Board

Oh Really, Gunlock?

mandyI find it very interesting that Mr. Gunlock is still trotting out the same tired old rhetoric about the OGTs measuring eighth-grade knowledge even after he quit the state school board mid-term. We have asked for proof of this claim over and over yet he has failed to provide it. I would love to read any information you could provide on the topic, Mr. Gunlock. Of course this is not even the real problem anyway. The problem is anyone who thinks that a child’s score on some tests is a true indicator of his readiness for the future. You did not take exit exams, Mr. Gunlock, yet I am sure that you consider yourself a success.

Why do we continue to insist on giving these exams and tying them to graduation when study after study shows that this is not only unnecessary, it can actually be harmful? We are one of only fourteen states in the entire country that require children to pass exams to graduate. Are those thirty-six other states full of kids that are not prepared for the future? Of course not.

As for business leaders complaining about a lack of qualified candidates for the workplace, I have yet to hear that from an actual business leader. A 2014 study done by The National Association of Colleges and Employers and published in Forbes magazine found that the top ten skills employers seek are:

  1. Ability to work in a team structure
  2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie)
  3. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
  4. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
  5. Ability to obtain and process information
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job
  8. Proficiency with computer software programs
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports
  10. Ability to sell and influence others

Is there any proof that these new tests measure ANY of these qualities? How can we know for sure when no one has ever seen these tests?

I would also like to know why you left the state school board so abruptly, Mr. Gunlock. Was it because you couldn’t bear the thought of admitting that perhaps you got it wrong? That maybe, just maybe, these kids are not the problem? That the fact that only 24% of students scored proficient or above on the Geometry test may have more to do with the actual test than the kids themselves, regardless of how you feel about them only needing to answer 35% of the questions correctly? I am inclined to believe the children who took these tests when they tell me that there were questions on there on topics that they had not yet covered in class. Of course that would only make sense given that, despite what the name implies, these end-of-course tests are given in March and April.

Is taking the word of  PARCC about its cut scores even though their tests were deemed so poor that we dropped them after only one year fair? How about switching testing vendors after one year while simultaneously raising the cut scores of the new tests? Or giving these same kids three different sets of Math and ELA tests in three years while providing little to no information to districts about these ever-changing testing requirements?

Does it matter that some students were taking these tests online while some used paper and pencil? While PARCC claims that it did a study and found no discernable difference, the results from states around the country say otherwise. As a matter of fact, Derek Briggs, professor of research and evaluation methodology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who also happens to serve on the technical advisory committee for both PARCC and Smarter Balanced (whose tests are created by the same vendor we now use for all of our state tests), is quoted as saying, “In the short term, on policy grounds, you need to come up with an adjustment, so that if a [student] is taking a computer version of the test, it will never be held against [him or her]”. Yet we are still holding current juniors responsible for the results of these tests that nearly everyone else was given a safe harbor from.

Like Representative Fedor said recently, the adults got it wrong, not our children. I am incredibly grateful to her and the remaining school board members who recognize that we have a serious problem here that needs to be addressed so that the 35,000 of our current juniors who are not on track to graduate next year get the opportunity to do so.

Written by Mandy Jablonski, Ohio BAT

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Uncategorized

Solidarity with LEA

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Ohio BATs stands in solidarity with the Louisville Education Association (LEA). We understand that a strike vote is a very difficult decision for any group of educators to make. We fully support LEA’s strong stand against proposed language that is harmful to not just our noble profession, but to our innocent students as well. We kindly ask that our members consider sending letters of support and donations to the Louisville Education Association.

Louisville Education Association

c/o Angela Emmons, LEA Treasurer

P.O. Box 194

Louisville , Ohio 44641

Email: louisvilleea.oh@gmail.com

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Uncategorized

Ohio BATs – Election 2016

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Ohio BATs will not be endorsing candidates in statewide races during this election cycle. We feel that an Ohio BAT endorsement is an honor to be earned for any candidate who openly defends public education. As such, more time is needed to decide on procedures for procuring such an endorsement.

The Ohio BAT Administrators will decide upon procedures to present for feedback within the larger Ohio BAT group. We believe that our future endorsements should come from the majority of the votes within our closed group.

We will not, as a community, representative of a broad core grassroots movement (Ohio BATs), suggest in this election cycle that others vote for a particular candidate. Obviously, individual BATs are welcome and encouraged to share their views and information, as they relate to education, about a candidate.

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