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 Once the student was missing 105 hours, as the advisor, I would request the student be withdrawn for truancy.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.


Small Local Group Uncovers Widespread Opposition to Confirmation of DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary

What a frustrating time in education; but, what an exciting time to be able to join with so many voices all saying the same thing! Ohio BATs thank Tom Schmida and the Cleveland Heights Coalition for Public Education, for including Ohio BATs in the ability to sign on to this letter!


On Tuesday, January 3, as everybody crawled out from under holiday cooking, gifting and celebrating, leaders of our local Heights Coalition for Public Education met to consider mounting some kind of local response to the existential threat of a Betsy DeVos-led U.S. Department of Education. President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy Devos alarms us because her only connection with public schools has been a lifelong commitment to using her billionaire philanthropy to privatize education. We’ve all personally sent letters or signed petitions to protest Trump’s nomination of Devos to be our next education secretary, and we looked for a way to expand our advocacy to include our broader community.

We crafted a sign-on letter for organizations and assigned different people to reach out to leaders they knew to see of their organizations would consider signing on. On Wednesday, we learned there was some time pressure: DeVos’s hearing before the Senate…

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Solidarity with LEA


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



Ohio BATs – Election 2016


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.

Education, Ohio, Public Schools, Schools, Uncategorized

The Phantom of Phalen Learning Academies: Part 2, Working the Middle-Man-Game like Pros

The Phantom of Phalen Learning Academies: Part 2, Working the Middle-Man-Game like Pros


***Note: Links are bold and faintly underscored***

When chain-style charters come into a new area, such as the Phalen Leadership Academy (or Learning—I have seen it written both ways) who are trying to wheedle their way into Cincinnati, they bring along all of their transient and temporary employee plans.

It is not a new ‘think-tank’ like the reformers like to taut, but rather a crew that has been trained to puppet the reform talk. This is why I wrote such a harsh statement in the first piece of this 3-part series, insisting that they (these businesses) are “cult-like”. It might seem like a million different battles with thousands of different names, but in reality it is all one greedy game, and the foundational pieces are all the same. The selling points are part of the training programs in a brain-washing manner.

June 13th, was a crucial meeting
for the Cincinnati Board of Education to “explore” the possibilities of opening an expansion charter(s) from the cluster of the PLAs in Indianapolis. The vote should not have even gone forth because the charter(s) are too new. PLA was in operation for only one year prior (2015-2016). This ‘newness’ detail does not surprise me. Tom Vander Ark, who is the original visionary of all of these privatization and personalization takeovers, was considered an education expert after he happed into a position as a suburban school superintendent. Only one school, in only one area (Federal Way, Washington), for only one single time slot of five years with no prior education-related experience or degree and Bill Gates deemed newbie Tom Vander Ark worthy of having enough knowledge to completely redo all education premises in the United States. Billions upon billions of dollars and two decades later, and Tom Vander Ark (having left Gates’ Foundation to make the millions on his own),  is still turning tricks and selling his bullshit in all forms and forums. Oh, and he is still using Gates’ and others’ money pots. Phalen charters are a sickening example of all of this.

These type of charters are notorious for rough starts while they move and jostle their own people all around. Transient environments are the last thing these community members seek. Stability is a rare commodity that children and their families from socio-financially disadvantaged areas need. But they will not reap that as a benefit from PLAs. One month (July 2015) before Phalen Leadership Academy was to open in Indiana, their reform pick (to the tune of a $100,000 MindTrust fellowship grant), was suddenly and without explanation, out of the picture. ““Yes, Marlon [Llewellyn] has done a great job during his fellowship year but will not be leading us forward as the school leader next year,” Phalen said in an email Thursday. Phalen has not responded to requests for further clarification as to why Llewellyn was removed. Llewellyn did not respond to a request for comment.” This was not a one-time fluke. Such are the broad patterns of such dysfunctional happenings with charter business startups.

“Findings: Our analyses show that charter schools had a higher principal turnover rate than traditional schools and very different principal transition patterns.” (Yongmei Ni, Min Sun, and Andrea Rorrer, Principal Turnover: Upheaval and Uncertainty in Charter Schools? Educational Administration Quarterly August 2015 51: 409-437, first published on June 26, 2014)
A Hechinger Report article stated “…nearly 30 percent of principals who lead troubled schools quit every year. By Year 3, more than half of all principals leave their jobs.”  Add this in with the fact that turnover rate is much higher in charters and one spells ‘disaster’.

The article went on to say that “ Looking broadly at the effect of principal turnover on student learning, a researcher from Mount Holyoke College studied 12 years of data from North Carolina public schools. They found that when principals leave, student achievement generally declines for two years.” So these commonplace leadership attrition rates are a huge realistic risk for Cincinnati. It is a dangerous dance of one fancy faux step forward and several irreparable steps backwards.

Principals are not the only temporary hires of MindTrust. Teachers are pulled from TFA (Teach For America) and TNTP (The New Teacher Project). For more background see this article; the author, Doug Martin, has been fighting MindTrust’s ways and writing about such in Indiana for a long time.  A study out of Vanderbilt University lays teacher turnover out in a comprehensive manner: “Using multi-nomial logistic regression, we found the odds of a charter school teacher leaving the profession versus staying in the same school are 132% greater than those of a traditional public school teacher. The odds of a charter school teacher moving schools are 76% greater. Our analysis confirms that much of the explanation of this “turnover gap” lies in differences in the types of teachers that charter schools and traditional public schools hire.” (Italic emphasis mine)

This “type of teacher” is one who has had no previous classroom experience, with extremely abbreviated training times, and whom are promised yet other roles in reform if they meet the contingency of teaching in one of these startup urban situations. Ads are perpetually run. When we, the Badass Teachers Association, lobbied in DC in 2015, we were startled at how very many Representatives’ and Senators’ Education Aides were directly from TFA. Dr. Mitchell Robinson writes: “Teach for America uses its teaching program as a direct line into legislative assistant positions through the Capital Hill Fellows Program.” This is no coincidence on TFA & reformers’ parts. It is intentional through and through. For these fellowship teachers, entrance wages are ridiculously low, the newness pressures are exasperatingly high, and the non-union positions are precariously unprotected. The reward is that they can move on. Teaching is temporary. Never mind the tire tracks on the children’s backs.

Is this the environment that best serves America’s most vulnerable students?

Now, as a final consideration about the atrocious attrition rates associated with opening new charters, please consider the language in THIS CONTRACT. It is the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF PROPOSED INNOVATION NETWORK SCHOOL AGREEMENT BETWEEN PHALEN LEADERSHIP ACADEMY-INDIANA, INC. AND IPS [Indiana Public Schools] FOR OPERATION OF GEORGE FISHER AS INNOVATION NETWORK SCHOOL. This one sentence leapt out at me:

“In addition, given the importance of having staff experienced in implementing the Project: RESTORE model, if staff turnover exceeds 75 percent in any year, IPS may terminate the agreement.”

Am I the only one totally perturbed and disturbed by that number?? So, in actuality it is A-OKAY……for just shy of three-quarters of the entire school staff from top down and middle to middle, to turnover, creating chaos and churn. Never mind the time and energy resources to replace. Don’t worry about the training aspects, TFA and TNTP can carry that all off in five weeks. Don’t fret about the folks being from the community itself; they will be complete passers-by, stopping in for a brief stay and then headed out to the next time and place. Game board pieces with their marching orders.


Education, Ohio, Schools, Uncategorized

Colorless, Cold Kindergarten


This was/is a “catalyst” KINDERGARTEN classroom in Mentor, Ohio (pic from 2014). This picture truly gives me the chills. It is void of anything vibrant, enticing, or living. It is so deathly dismal grey. It is so opposite of how my 4-5s classroom looks— gratefully! The above appears to me like children have been implanted into some unnatural, doldrum business office setting. It looks like kinders sitting in on some corporate board (bored) meeting.

This is Tom Vander Ark’s ‘branchild.’ He ultimately sees classrooms just like this,  with minimal amounts of teachers who would be translated into “facilitators.” Their jobs would be to guide the children towards online programs which would suit children’s individualized learning plans. The teachers are to become robotic sales clerks essentially for all of the products Vander Ark has for sale related to online learning. Information in turn would be documented at each and every keystroke, into the students’ “digital portfolio backpacks.”

I defy this “disruptive innovation,” though I do think the ‘disruptive’ part of the name is very apropos. Children, and their love for learning has been my life since I was a 13 years old, when I began teaching cooking and craft classes for our local YWCA. I am a half a century (plus two) years old and have taught hundreds of children of all ages, in a variety of settings over four decades. The learning  pictured above (and discussed in this accompanying article) is, to say the least, lackluster. To me it is outright nightmarish, and sends shivers down my spine when I think of this being spread everywhere. It is all being packaged and sold with all of these alluring word pictures that paint it as though it is education ultimate utopia. But, I know literally hundreds of teachers who would agree with me in a heartbeat, that this is cold and lifeless; not at all conducive to how the whole child learns and develops. It is a sterile environment that strips away and stifles multi-faceted, dynamic, dimensional learning.

I could fill this blog with citation after reference after article link with research, but I do not think all of that is necessary. I think the opinions I am about to share are obvious and observable anywhere really, with any age group. But for the sake of this blog we will stay with the early learners.

The greatest contrast I can offer from just the other day, in my own PreK class, was that my 4s and 5s were able to play MahJonng on my tablet. We have had the real game in the class since the beginning of the year. I bought it at a garage sale years ago for $4. (I believe the tiles might be real ivory.) The kids mastered the smooth fingering and sliding of the tablet in seconds really. Their bodies grow very still while they play the online game (I think their minds do also.)  After two days, they grew bored of it all, even with 16 set ups for the play, 8 designs of tiles, and choices of background music. The actual game itself, has been a hit in my classroom for months. Some children enjoy just building with the tiles. Some actually set up the game which in and of itself is intellectually challenging, and many more than one or two can play simultaneously. Some children love the sounds those tiles make when they are poured out or clacked together (which is why I do believe they are possibly ivory because they do not sound at all like plastic). Some children made a weighing game and compared them with other toys. Some like running their fingers on the engravings and one little gal traced them on paper. Some do a domino line with them. Some count them. Some match them in a memory game. They play and play and play with those MahJonng tiles in a very engaged educational manner.

I could go on for hours truly about all of the reasons I am so against all of this “technology” being impelled into our young children’s lives. But, for all of the specific examples I could give, it all seems to boil down to this main notion: I have never seen a child not be able to work a computer once such was made available. Their age or prior experience did not seem to matter. But, I have seen far, far too many children (unto teens and even young adults) who could not do some of the most simple of  tasks. Tasks that play into every day life on many levels. Like, using scissors for one example.

The ‘press and play’ results that come about via video games, in front of computer screens or on any hand-held devices, remind me of the pop-up boxes we put in front of crawling babies. The tot presses the blue button and the duck pops up; the green button produces a dog. The baby closes the 4 lids and then can do the same thing all over again. That to me is how much thinking is required to use computers. You press this and this happens. You click on this and this appears. Close the laptop and open it and you can do the same thing all over again. It is all very one-dimensional.

For the project pictured above, they choose a teacher and a class and stick them into a one-way mirrored glass classroom (interrogation room look, or what?) and give them a bunch of “free” technology. Everyone is invited to watch how ‘innovating’ they are. Then the teacher is given $10,000 to spend in his/her classroom on equipment.

As a PreK teacher in NE Ohio, I make $9 an hour, so just a bit more annually than the ‘barbed-hook-sales-pitch’ the “Catalyst”program offers. I would give my eye teeth without Novocaine for  folks to view what all “innovation” occurred in my classroom yesterday and then reward me ten thousand dollars for classroom equipment and I assure you it would not be on software.

We have been for two weeks doing a unit theme on “shoes.” Our house center was converted into a Shoe Shop with 4 of the actual clunky metal foot measuring rulers. We had a variety of stickers, signs and price tags from actual shoe stores. Our little drawer-opening cash register took toy debit/credit cards, that made beeping noises when scanned. Shoes of all types and sizes were “for sale.” There were name badges which had super strong magnets in order for the children to be able to clip them onto their shirts. The children on their own rearranged it all so that doll strollers could be pushed in. They also came up with some kind of PA system to announce sales, created this elaborate price scanning system, and invented a phone system.

Our sensory table (since I could not really think of one that matched our shoe theme) held salt, and sprinklings of other herbs and spices. I had super cleaned out my spice cupboard and gave them all of those different size empty containers (unwashed, so they were still very aromatic). They spent hours on end, fitting the different lids on and off, and cooking a ton of recipes they were making up.  The table for the entire two weeks ALWAYS had three children around it, interacting, sharing, weighing, pouring, sorting, sifting, categorizing, smelling, discussing, dividing, stacking, matching, measuring, feeling, and THINKING. Seriously, I should have videoed all of the ways they played when it first was opened to them.

Just yesterday alone, the supplies in the art center that were used by the children were staplers, liquid glue, glue sticks, 3 kinds of tape, hole punchers, scissors (all kinds of scissors actually), playdough, rolling pins, cookie cutters, plastic knives, quilling strips and tools, wax sticks (Benderoos), 7 kinds (textures) of paper, tempera paints, watercolor paints, finger paints, crayons, markers, pencils, chalk, stamps and ink pads, easel, 4 kinds of paintbrushes, Q-tips, popsicle sticks, rulers, straws, paperclips, and several other miscellaneous items I am sure I am forgetting to list. Talk about innovation—the things they thought to make and do were so creative, useful, fun, big, little, colorful, symmetric, asymmetric, spontaneous, planned, and surprising. Individual, and collaborative efforts occurred.

Out of our window, we watched birds and squirrels with their spring antics. We were quiet and still for the longest of time, schnuggling and just watching.  They plunked logs into puddles during one of our THREE recess times outside. The childlings of their own volition, made some kind of splash/balancing board and in some innocent competition, measured whose arc of mud went the highest or the widest, easily creating 5 foot mud rainbows, dependent on how they landed on the board when they jumped. A block tower inside was built taller than I am (5’4″) and that was, of course, without them being able to stand on chairs. How did they get the last ones on top? I’ll never tell their cooperative trade secrets. Perhaps one could search for the answers online using a flat, smooth surface.

Truly, who thinks GREY is a kindergarten color anyways? That is likely last on my list.



50 Days Worth of Blogs About ‘Tornadic’ Tom Vander Ark: Day 14

Day 14

Tom Vander Ark must think he is some kind of Greek God. The destruction he causes is in his mind somehow is his right or duty to mankind; never mind the abject effects on men (women and children), communities, cities or whole entire states.

He cleverly disguises his demolition of public education in geek talk – “Mentioning “disruptive innovation” adds a veneer of sophistication to bread-and-butter speeches about education…” (  He storms on completely oblivious to the damage from the death blows he deals daily.

I really think that the way he skirts mentally around the mass exodus of teachers (irreparable complete brain drain on education), the repeated reported mass failures and closures of charters, and the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of organizations and parents forming the largest ever groups of civil disobedience in education history, is by convincing himself that it is all for the good and the betterment of country. I am not lying when I say I think he has some major personality disorder(s) and psychological hang-ups. He lives in some self-formed world of denial of the real repercussions reeling all around him, and in some twisted sick manner actually takes all of the negative outcome of his efforts as that he is being successful at “disruptive innovation” which is one of his all time favorite overused phrases. The whole twenty years that he has skinned education alive he has never once stopped to express remorse or regret for the lives he has ruined.

“A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.” (
I am sorry to tell you teachers, but you all are an “earlier technology” in Tom’s plans.

“Disruptive innovation, a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.” ( Tom worships this fellow!

Here TVA quotes Christensen’s nonprofit think tank Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, Cofounder Michael Horn : “These struggles aren’t unique to education. Businesses struggle consistently with the innovator’s dilemma—the ability to prioritize disruptive innovations that would cannibalize their existing business,” ( Michael Horn is another one that Tom worships.

“Expanding on the notion of “disruptive,” Horn said that schools’ standard practices and measures would need to change to incorporate blended learning. Seat-time requirements for students, geographic boundaries limiting the sources of online subject matter, teacher certification, and funding are some of the conventions and practices that would be disrupted.” (

In this 4 year old article, Tom Braggart Ark talks about his small business companies will trump larger companies’ abilities to be a disruptive force in the education market.  “First, big companies are “less comfortable with disruptive innovation.” It’s likely to be the case that the big players will focus on incremental innovations and that the really disruptive stuff will come from the edges. And, second, the Economist suggests that progress tends to come from growth companies regardless of whether they are big or start small. No question that we’ll see more innovation from Edmodo than HMH.” (Edmodo is supposedly a non-profit company in underneath Tom Vander Ark’s 48 companies housed all business-like in a row under his Learn Capital,LLC.)

“Students currently enjoy powerful technology that continuously assesses skill and interest and customizes content delivery. Unfortunately it occurs after school when they play games. Clayton Christensen and colleagues describe how disruptive technologies will personalize and, as a result, revolutionize learning. Every education leader should read this book, set aside their next staff meeting to discuss it, and figure out how than can be part of the improvement wave to come.”