School Segregation in America 65 Years after “Brown v. Board of Education”

Today, May 17, 2019 is the 65th birthday of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Marking the anniversary is the publication of a new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA on the state of racial integration in the public schools. Rucker C. Johnson at the University of California at Berkley has also published a new book: Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works.

Johnson, an economist, examined massive data sets as the basis of his unequivocal support for racially integrated schools: “What follows is not an impassioned argument about diversity and integration…. Instead, this book uses data to show the power of integration and related efforts. Contrary to popular wisdom, integration has benefited—and continues to benefit—African Americans, whether that benefit is translated into educational attainment, earnings, social stability, or incarceration rates. Whites, meanwhile, lose nothing from opening their classrooms to others. And overall, society benefits from a decrease in the kind of prejudice that, in the past several years, has threatened to tear us apart.”

The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss summarizes concisely an update on our nation’s changing demographics in the Civil Rights Project’s report: “Public school enrollment stands at nearly 50 million. White students are less than half of the student population: 48.4 percent in 2016. Latinos are 26.3 percent of the student population; blacks 15.2 percent; Asians, 5.5 percent; multiracial, 3.6 percent; and American Indians, 1 percent.  Despite the increase in diversity, segregation has intensified and expanded. Over the last three decades, black students have been increasingly segregated in intensely segregated schools (which are defined as being 90 to 100 percent nonwhite). By 2016, 40 percent of all black students were in schools with 90 percent or more students of color. New York, California, Illinois, and Maryland are the four states in which a majority of black students attend intensely segregated schools. New York remains the most segregated state for African American students, with 65 percent of African American students in intensely segregated schools. California is the most segregated for Latinos, with 58 percent of those students attending intensely segregated schools… White students continue to attend schools in which nearly seven out of 10 are also white, a much higher percentage than their overall share of the enrollment.”

In the report itself, the Civil Rights Project highlights an important overall change in the population of our nation’s public schools during the 65 years since the Brown decision: “When the nation last focused seriously on racial segregation of our schools, we were a country largely white with about an eighth black students and were at a historic low point in immigration. As we have become a country without a majority population, an absolutely central question for our future is how well are we managing our diversity?… The driving force of our social change since 1970 has been an enormous increase in the Latino population… We have few tools for bringing people together across racial and ethnic lines—basically the laws and court decisions of the civil rights era—but some of those have been reversed and others are under attack. These policies were designed for what was basically a two-race society with a substantial white middle class majority, and did not take into account what have become very large Latino populations and rapidly growing Asian numbers.  We now have a four-race society and a much higher share of families who are poor enough to be eligible for free school lunches.”

The Civil Rights Project’s report adds: “Researchers in several disciplines, including massive analysis by economists, are showing us the cost of double segregation by race and poverty, which is now the typical experience of African American and Latino students.”

Neither Johnson’s book nor the UCLA Civil Rights Project’s report envisions a clear or easy path to addressing school segregation. Both make suggestions. Nobody wants to go back to forced busing, which produced an intense backlash, resulted in the massive elimination across the South of black teachers, and placed the biggest burden for integration on the vulnerable African American children who did the most traveling to sometimes unfriendly places. Johnson describes what happened: “School busing failed in the 1970s because it brought children across the border without confronting the existence of that border in a way that was honest, explicit, and in the end, conciliatory.” (Children of the Dream, p. 256)

Johnson describes positive strategies used in some of the school districts that were integrated back in the 1970s. For example, in Jefferson County, Kentucky—metropolitan Louisville—the countywide plan heavily enriched the very poorest neighborhood schools and turned them into magnets. The Civil Rights Project also attributes success to district-wide as well as interdistrict public magnet schools with enrollment plans designed to promote integration: “Schools of choice have played a greatly increased role in public education. There was a huge growth of intentionally integrated magnet schools in the 1970s.”

The UCLA report continues: “Since the early 1980s, few federal funds were available to support voluntary integration and even those voluntary local efforts were undermined by the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2007 Parents Involved case.” Johnson describes the impact of this decision written by Justice John Roberts, a decision which declared: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”  Johnson explains: “It is not hyperbole to say that Parents Involved is the greatest legal barrier to integration in the modern era. The decision rendered all race-based admissions policies the same, equating racism (segregation) with attempts to end racism (integration).” (Children of the Dream, p. 188)

Unlike the magnet programs designed to promote racial integration, charter schools have promoted racial and economic segregation. The location of these privately managed and publicly funded schools is too often chosen by the sponsor without any control by the school district. Neither does the public school district control charter school enrollment policies, transportation policies, curriculum or discipline policies—all of which can affect the eventual choices parents make. The Civil Rights Project bluntly describes the resulting enrollment patterns: “Since 1990, most of the desegregation requirements in choice plans have been dropped, and there has been a vast expansion of charter schools, which are schools of choice. Typically they have no integration policies and are even more segregated than regular public schools….” “School choice plans without equity policies and strategies often end up with the best-educated and connected families getting the best choices, actually increasing inequality. All school choice programs need voluntary goals, policies, and practices that foster diversity and integration… Particularly in larger districts or inter-district choice, the provision of transportation is essential for choice to be a reality for many families, not just available to those who can transport their child to their desired school.”

Neither Rucker Johnson nor the authors of the Civil Rights Project report believe that public schools by themselves can equalize opportunity for children or serve as the sole institution expected to integrate our society. Johnson stresses the need for accompanying school funding reform to reduce tragic opportunity gaps among public schools, where today the poorest children attend the least resourced public schools.  Based on his previous research he is also an emphatic supporter of Head Start and universal pre-Kindergarten programs like the one recently introduced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City.  He also advocates for wraparound health and social service to support the poorest families and thereby support their children.

Johnson emphasizes the inherent connection of segregated schools to segregated housing policy: “As we’ve seen, housing segregation did not happen by accident; nor did it only happen in those parts of the country where racism was openly celebrated.  Instead, housing segregation was a strategic means to ensure segregation in every other part of American civic life. It was rooted in the devastatingly prescient insight that if people did not live together, and raise their children together, they would have little incentive to cross the color line in any other aspect of life, whether in the schoolhouse or the workplace.. .Any solution that attempts to address schooling without addressing housing is bound to fail.” (Children of the Dream, pp. 256-257) The Civil Rights Project’s report concludes: “Implementing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, and partnering housing and school integration efforts are essential.”

As we mark the anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, I want to add my own concern about state policies driving school segregation today in Ohio and other states. Neither Johnson’s book nor the Civil Rights Project’s report describes the racial and economic injustice being driven today by No Child Left Behind-style, test-and-punish school accountability.  For over 60 years, research has documented that neighborhood and family poverty correlates with low school achievement as measured by scores on standardized tests. Today, Ohio and many other states rank their schools and school districts; based on schools’ aggregate test scores the states award letter grades—“A” through “F.” In the public mind, the state’s school rankings merely brand the poorest school districts. These policies encourage families not to seek a diverse,  mixed income community but instead to find the wealthiest school district the family can afford. After all, the districts earning “A” grades are all homogeneous wealthy outer suburbs while the districts with “F” grades are urban or inner-ring suburban school districts. Currently, my state also seizes those “F” school districts, declares them as places in academic emergency, and takes them over. My state and many others redline particular communities by branding their schools as “failing.” It is an appalling practice which blatantly drives racial and economic segregation.

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Shady Exit of Youngstown’s Appointed School CEO Exemplifies the Failure of Ohio School Takeover Law

The future of Ohio’s state takeovers of so called “failing” school districts rests with the Ohio Senate.

On May 1, 2019, by an astounding bipartisan margin of 83/12, the Ohio House passed HB 154, to repeal Ohio’s failed school district takeover law. Then, just to ensure that the leadership crisis is stopped in the school districts of  Youngstown and Lorain, the House banned state school district takeovers in its version of the state budget, passed last week.

On Monday of this week, however, the Columbus Dispatch editorialized to warn the Legislature not to rush to change HB 70.  Ohio’s state school district takeover law, HB 70, was fast-tracked and passed without hearings at the end of the session in June of 2015.  Under HB 70, Ohio brands any school district which has received three years of consecutive “F” grades on the state report card as academic distressed and subject to state takeover. The bill was designed in secret by then Governor John Kasich, his appointed state superintendent Dick Ross, and some business sector allies in Youngstown.  The law provides that the state appoints an Academic Distress Commission to take over the district, a Commission that then appoints a CEO to manage the schools. The locally elected school board continues to exist, but its sole power is to decide when to place a local school levy on the ballot. The CEO has the power to override the teachers’ contract.

In its editorial this week, the Dispatch asks the Legislature to slow down and take plenty of time to study what to do about low-scoring school districts: “Four years after Ohio lawmakers approved a sweeping school takeover law they knew almost nothing about, agreement seems widespread that it is a gigantic failure. Now, as they scramble to replace it, they should avoid making the same mistake again…  Change clearly is needed; takeovers of the Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland districts have yielded immense controversy and virtually no academic improvement. But the House approach seems designed to avoid any pain—and probably any gain—with more options than requirements.  It generally would leave in charge the local officials who presumably led the districts to their state of failure.”

The assumption here is that low test scores on standardized tests, the primary yardstick Ohio uses to judge the quality of public schools, are a direct result of failed local governance. I have heard state officials use explicitly paternalistic terms: “The state needs to take over because these school districts don’t know how to get better.”

Youngstown and Lorain are communities devastated by the loss of manufacturing.  East Cleveland, Ohio’s poorest school district and the fourth poorest community in the United States, is the third school district affected by HB 70.  It is currently undergoing state takeover. In East Cleveland, an inner-ring suburb, the tax base has collapsed due to the foreclosure crisis and the loss of industry.  Other districts facing state takeover in the next two years are: Columbus; Ashtabula, a former shipping town on Lake Erie; Canton, Dayton, and Toledo, mid-sized cities with concentrated poverty and the loss of manufacturing; Euclid and North College Hill, both inner suburbs segregated by race and poverty;  and Lima, Mansfield, and Painsville, smaller cities with lagging economies. What dominates every one of these school districts is the concentration of urban poverty and racial segregation.

In two primary ways the Dispatch‘s argument fails to address the urgent need to eliminate the state’s takeover of Ohio’s poorest school districts.

In the first place, the appointed state overseers have shown themselves unable to work with their communities to support school improvement.

In Lorain, CEO David Hardy’s arrogance has been widely reported. Hardy has refused to bring his family to live in Lorain.  He has alienated the school community, the teachers, the students at the high school, the police department, the elected school board, and even several members of the state-appointed Academic Distress Commission—the people who hired Hardy. The chair of the Academic Distress Commission resigned in frustration last winter, and the new state appointee discovered that, although the Academic Distress Commission is required by law formally to evaluate Hardy’s performance after 180 days, then 365 days, and annually thereafter, nearly four years after the state takeover, no evaluation had been performed.

This week brought the latest installment of the problems of the Youngstown takeover. Krish Mohip, the Academic Distress Commission’s appointed CEO, had been scheduled to finish his four year term on July 31 and had elected not to continue.  A new CEO, from Muskegon, Michigan has been appointed to take over on August 1.  But a week ago, Mohip reinforced his reputation for arrogance by announcing he was leaving the district on Family Medical Leave.

The Youngstown Vindicator‘s Amanda Tonoli reports that Mohip explained: “I’m going to take care of some issues that have accumulated at home, and I’m going to focus my attention there… I don’t see my absence as being a hindrance to all the great work that’s happened and will continue to happen over the next few years.” Mohip is leaving, but he is not resigning.  Instead he will collect the rest of his $170,000 salary.  And, assuming he stays on Family Medical Leave until July 31, “A longevity provision in Mohip’s contract allows him a $10,000 payout if he completes his full contract.”

Of course, nobody is sorry to see Mohip go. The chair of the Academic Distress Commission explains: “We have to uphold what the contract says… We are following the law and following the contract that was agreed upon with Krish Mohip.” The blatant arrogance of Mohip’s mode of departure is merely the latest example of his abuse of the public trust.

There is a second problem with the state takeovers that Ohio’s politicians seem determined to ignore. Or maybe they are simply unaware of the massive body of academic research correlating low test scores with community and family poverty. You would think some of them would look at the distribution of Ohio’s “A” rated districts in homogeneous and wealthy exurbs and the “F” rated districts in the state’s most impoverished urban communities and notice what’s happening. The distribution is a clearly visible indicator of the reality that schools whose students post the highest test scores in the aggregate are the children being educated in pockets of privilege, and schools with the lowest standardized test scores serve the state’s very poorest students.

Research continues to confirm the findings of the 60-year-old Coleman report. Standardized test scores reflect aggregate family and neighborhood economics. This blog has quoted the research before, but here it is again.

The National Education Policy Center’s Kevin Welner and researcher Julia Daniel explain why standardized tests are the wrong way to evaluate school quality: “(W)e need to step back and confront an unpleasant truth about school improvement. A large body of research teaches us that the opportunity gaps that drive achievement gaps are mainly attributable to factors outside our schools: concentrated poverty, discrimination, disinvestment, and racially disparate access to a variety of resources and employment opportunities… Research finds that school itself has much less of an impact on student achievement than out-of-school factors such as poverty. While schools are important… policymakers repeatedly overestimate their capacity to overcome the deeply detrimental effects of poverty and racism…. But students in many of these communities are still rocked by housing insecurity, food insecurity, their parents’ employment insecurity, immigration anxieties, neighborhood violence and safety, and other hassles and dangers that can come with being a low-income person of color in today’s United States.”

Speaking to the issue from another point of view is Daniel Koretz, a Harvard University expert on problems with standardized testing. In 2017, Koretz published The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, a book length critique of our nation’s two-decades old, test-and-punish school accountability scheme—the basis of Ohio’s school district report cards by which the state identifies school districts for state takeover by academic distress commissions.  Koretz is an expert on the design and use of standardized testing as the basis for high-stakes evaluation of schools and schoolteachers.  He demonstrates that school evaluation based on high stakes testing unfairly penalizes the very kind of schools Ohio targets under HB 70: “One aspect of the great inequity of the American educational system is that disadvantaged kids tend to be clustered in the same schools. The causes are complex, but the result is simple: some schools have far lower average scores—and, particularly important in this system, more kids who aren’t ‘proficient’—than others. Therefore, if one requires that all students must hit the proficient target by a certain date, these low-scoring schools will face far more demanding targets for gains than other schools do… Unfortunately… it seems that no one asked for evidence that these ambitious targets for gains were realistic. The specific targets were often an automatic consequence of where the proficient standard was placed and the length of time schools were given to bring all students to that standard, which are both arbitrary.”  (The Testing Charade, pp. 129-130)

Koretz is very clear about how Ohio’s focus on bringing districts out of “academic distress”—moving them from “F” grades on the school report card based on test scores up to “D” grades—distorts teaching itself in the schools where student poverty is concentrated: “First, many good (educational) activities… fall outside the range most standardized tests can sample well… Second, while good instruction in general will improve students’ mastery and therefore, should increase scores, it won’t increase scores on a specific test as much as instruction—and test-prep—aimed squarely at that particular test.  In other words, teaching to the test can increase test scores more rapidly than high-quality teaching not focused narrowly on the specific test used for accountability.” (The Testing Charade, pp. 139-140)

Koretz explains further that punitive state policies based on high-stakes testing are likely to drive educators in the schools serving the poorest children to narrow the curriculum to focus on test preparation or to find other ways artificially to raise scores. After all school districts’ ratings and even teachers’ jobs in some cases have depended on their quickly raising scores.  Koretz writes: “Lower performing schools often face severe barriers to improvement—for example, fewer resources, less experienced teaching staff, high rates of teacher turnover, higher rates of student transience, fewer high-performing students to serve as models, fewer parents who are able to provide supplementary supports…. Faced with these obstacles, teachers will have a stronger incentive to look for shortcuts for raising scores. Ironically, one of the elements of school reform intended to help low-achieving students appears to have backfired, making these incentives worse. The key is that the performance targets are uniform and are coupled with real sanctions and rewards. When these targets require faster gains than teachers can produce by legitimate means, teachers have a strong incentive to search for whatever methods might raise scores quickly… There is ample evidence that test prep is more pervasive in the schools serving disadvantaged kids, and some signs that cheating (the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. scandals where educators erased answers or otherwise raised scores) is more common… What matters for rewards and punishments (for schools and teachers) is the performance—or at least the apparent performance—of the school system, individual schools, and often individual teachers.”  (The Testing Charade, pp. 68-69)

Finally, Koretz concludes: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the costs of test-based accountability have been huge. Instruction has been corrupted on a broad scale.  Large amounts of instructional time are now siphoned off into test-prep activities that at best waste time and at worst defraud students and their parents.” (The Testing Charade, p. 191)

Governor Mike DeWine’s budget proposal and the House Budget both allocate additional funding for wraparound social and medical services provided at school to support families and children living in poverty.  It is a strategy to help families struggling with hunger, homelessness, families broken up by parental incarceration, and families undermined by the Opioid epidemic. Ohio’s schools need more money for basic operations than it appears the current budget negotiations will provide, but the move to help schools address the poverty that undermines children’s education in the state’s poorest communities is a positive strategy.

The Ohio Senate needs to repeal HB 70 immediately either by passing HB 154 or passing the House Budget. And Governor DeWine needs to agree. The state school takeovers have proven to be an appallingly paternalistic, top-down theft of local democracy from Ohio’s poorest communities.  Editors of the Dispatch and any legislators who believe nobody knows how to improve students’ achievement in our state’s poorest communities ought to look at the academic research.

Ohio House Budget Fails to Increase Base Funding for 82 Percent of School Districts Now Capped or On Guarantee

The headline on Jim Siegel’s Columbus Dispatch article on March 19 proclaimed, “DeWine budget sets stage for Ohio House’s sweeping school funding revamp.” For those of us who know the urgent needs of Ohio’s 610 school districts after years of tax cuts under John Kasich and a state legislature for whom tax cutting still remains the dogma, the news raised our hopes for some relief—especially for the state’s poorest school districts.

But the school funding revamp didn’t happen. 

Everything broke down when it became clear that the plan needed revising and there wasn’t really time, despite the good intentions of a bipartisan coalition behind what became known as the Cupp-Patterson Plan. It is not expected that the Ohio Senate will revise school funding or otherwise increase basic support for Ohio’s school districts when the budget process moves to that chamber.

Governor DeWine’s earlier budget proposal included an additional $550 million over the biennium to be distributed to school districts to support wraparound services for children living in poverty. It was supposed to be a sort of place holder to which the new school funding plan would be added. While the governor’s added $550 million investment is a good idea in a state where there is devastating Appalachian rural poverty and where there are more than a dozen school districts where urban poverty is concentrated, DeWine’s $550 million was never intended to serve as the only school funding increase in Ohio’s biennial education budget.

Then in the last week of March came the rollout of the new Cupp-Patterson Fair School Funding Plan.  The mere release of the plan was groundbreaking, because the plan identified, measured, and explained an alarming decade-long school finance problem, a problem nobody had previously brought to the attention of the legislature or the public.

Representative Bob Cupp has worked diligently for school funding reform since the early 1990s when I first met him during his visit to our school district to learn about the school funding challenges in greater Cleveland and particularly its racially diverse Eastern suburbs. Cupp has, over the years, stood out as an Ohio Republican who embraces the state’s public responsibility to provide opportunity for each of its children through a sound education. Joining Cupp to lead the current drive for school finance reform has been a Democrat, John Patterson.

A large task force of public school leaders—superintendents and school treasurers—have worked with Representatives Cupp and  Patterson over more than a year to analyze what the task force finally identified as a crisis: 503 of the state’s 610 school districts—82 percent— have had their state funding frozen for several years because the state has lacked the money to contribute what any decent school funding formula would provide.

For over two decades, a problem for Ohio’s public schools is that state school funding has been merely a budgetary residual. After the legislature and governor decided on the level of taxation needed to fund government services and created a revenue pie for state government, the budgetary process was pretty much about the size of the various pieces. Budgetary debates have not been directly related to the actual need for infrastructure, Medicaid services, colleges and universities, criminal justice and K-12 public education. Instead the discussion typically involves who gets bigger and smaller pieces of budgetary pies that tax cuts have made smaller and smaller through the years.

The Cupp-Patterson plan instead measures the resources necessary for schools to function well in terms of class size, support staff and other expenses like transportation and broadband connectivity. Then the plan corrects what ought to be the state’s contribution to its 610 school districts based on their local capacity to raise revenue—their local property taxing capacity as well as their aggregate family income that makes it possible for their residents to pass local school levies.

The Cupp-Patterson Plan did not make it into the House Budget. 

The Cupp-Patterson Plan did not make it into the 2020 Ohio House education budget, passed on May 9.  And its absence from the House Budget pretty much guarantees that it won’t make it into the Senate’s budget or an eventual House-Senate conference committee compromise.

After computer runs for the new school funding plan demonstrated that the new plan left many school districts serving the state’s poorest children with zero funding increases for next year, well-intentioned people worked to adjust the factors but were unable to do so quickly enough. In a Columbus Dispatch podcast, Why Is School Funding Still Broken?, Howard Fleeter, an expert on Ohio school finance, suggested that Ohio’s urban districts with deep and concentrated family poverty very likely need an added poverty adjustment of at least 30 percent more funding per-pupil than other school districts.

What is included for K-12 public education in the Ohio House Budget, passed on May 9?

The Dispatch‘s Catherine Candisky and Jim Siegel explain that the House Budget adds “another $675 million… (for) K-12 education, directing much of the money to districts with higher poverty concentrations to help them pay for services such as mental health counseling and after-school programs.”  That means that the House added $125 million to Governor DeWine’s proposed $550 million funding increase for wraparound social and medical services to help the state’s school districts serving a large number of poor children. That is all to the good. But remember that DeWine’s plan was never intended to constitute the body of the state’s public education budgetary increase for public schools. The House Budget, as passed, means that 82 percent of the state’s school districts will remain capped or on hold-harmless guarantee. They will receive the very same state allocation they were awarded last year, and the year before that, and in many cases several years before that.

Two tiny additional items in the House Budget do address another deplorable problem in Ohio public education policy. For many years, the state has embraced punitive accountability for its struggling school districts. Ohio uses aggregate standardized test scores to rate and rank school districts and individual schools  on report cards that grade them, “A” through “F.”  Under a bill fast-tracked through the legislature in the summer of 2015, the state takes over any district earning an “F” for three years running, and appoints an Academic Distress Commission, which hires a CEO to take over. The elected school board continues to exist but has no real power; the union contract is abrogated. The school districts in Youngstown and Lorain, taken over four years ago, have not improved their standardized test scores (the flawed yardstick Ohio uses to judge and rank its school districts). Both districts are experiencing a leadership crisis under their state-appointed CEOs. East Cleveland, the poorest school district in Ohio, is currently in the process of being taken over. Ten additional school districts are slated for state takeover in the next couple of years:  Ashtabula, Canton, Columbus, Dayton, Euclid, Lima, Mansfield, North College Hill, Painsville. and Toledo. (This blog recently explored the serious problems with Ohio state school district takeovers.)

Several bills currently in the Legislature would repeal HB 70, the state takeover law. On May 1, the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram‘s Carissa Woytach reported that HB 154 gained enough bi-partisan support to pass the Ohio House by an astounding bipartisan margin of 83-12. The House has emphasized its consensus that the state takeover law must be repealed by adding language to that effect in the House Budget. The Dispatch‘s Candisky and Siegel report briefly that the House Budget, “Eliminates the state school takeover process for chronically struggling school districts, replacing it with requirements for local planning and adjustments.”

The House Budget also includes language which would make the state report cards fairer and more consistent.  Candisky and Siegel add that the House Budget, “Alters the state report card, changing how districts receive an overall grade. This would allow a few dozen districts to get higher grades.” Ohio ought to stop the punitive branding of its school districts with letter grades, especially as the state punishes school districts without increasing their funding, but if the state is going to grade schools and school districts, at least the methodology ought to be fair.

One again, the House Budget reduces the size of the overall state revenue pie for the next biennium.

The Ohio House has sent to the Senate a budget that laudably adds some money to support school districts serving poor children with wraparound social and medical services, but as the Cupp-Patterson Plan documents, the budget will leave 503 of the state’s 610 school districts—82 percent—massively underfunded. These districts will continue receiving state funds that are capped or held-harmless under guarantee. For a decade, Governor John Kasich and a super-majority Republican Legislature made the overall state revenue pie smaller by cutting income taxes. They also eliminated the estate tax and local school districts’ capacity to tax commercial inventories.

While on the revenue side this year, the Ohio House must be commended for reducing a controversial state business income-tax loophole, the state persists again this year with an overall income tax cut when the money ought to be invested in education and other urgent public needs. Candisky and Siegel explain that the House budget: “Eliminates the state income tax on up to $22,250 of income and reduces remaining tax brackets by 6.6 percent.” The House Budget, “Also scales back the tax exemptions currently enjoyed by pass-through business owners, rolling the deduction back from $250.000 to $100,000. Overall, tax changes net a $108 million tax reduction per year.”

One again through tax cuts, the Ohio House has passed a budget which leaves the state without enough revenue to pay for essential public services.

Thanking #RedforEd In Teacher Appreciation Week

Today at the end of Teacher Appreciation Week, we owe special thanks to school teachers this year, thanks that goes beyond our gratitude for teachers’ primary contribution—their daily work to support and inspire our children. In their strikes and walkouts this year, teachers have taught all of us about the the meaning for their students of years of tax cuts and the accompanying drop in state funding for public schools.  And they have taught us to be increasingly skeptical of the diversion of paltry school budgets to an expanding charter school sector.

In #RedforEd walkouts and strikes from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Arizona to Kentucky to North Carolina to Virginia to Los Angeles to Oakland to Denver, teachers showed us how far teachers’ salaries have fallen relative to what people earn in comparable professions. In cities with a high cost of living, we have learned about 35-year-old teachers doubled up in tiny apartments because they can no longer afford the rent for a one bedroom apartment.  This means that school districts are finding it harder and harder to recruit new teachers and retain experienced teachers. Not only do teachers themselves struggle during budget shortfalls, but this year they have also exposed what it means for their students when there are more than 40 students in a class in schools without enough counselors, social workers, nurses, and librarians.

The education budget crisis is widespread and deep.  But teachers have been willing to keep up the fight even when the gains are modest or slow to come.

CNN reported this week that on Wednesday, teachers walked out in at least 25 school districts across Oregon including Portland, the state’s largest school district, which closed schools. Governor Kate Brown has expressed support for teachers and pledged to sign the Student Success Act, which will increase the state’s K-12 education by 18 percent if the legislature passes it. Here are the teachers’ demands in addition to enough money for much smaller classes: “More school counselors. Oregon has half the school counselors that national experts suggest… More school librarians. Currently, there are only 158 school librarians in Oregon—less than one librarian per district.  More school nurses.  There’s only one nurse for every 5,481 students… A restoration of art, music, and physical education programs that have been cut by budget constraints. More funding for school supplies.  The OEA said 94% of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies…”

After striking a year ago, teachers in North Carolina walked out again this year on May 1, to pressure the state legislature to increase the state’s allocation for education in next year’s state budget.  South Carolina’s teachers joined their counterparts in North Carolina that same day.  Education Week‘s Madeline Will reports: “Teachers in South Carolina are asking for a 10 percent across-the-board raise, smaller class sizes, uninterrupted planning time, and for the state legislature to reduce the amount of standardized and district-mandated testing.”

In Northwest Indiana school districts, the Northwest Indiana Times’ Carley Lanich reported that school administrators joined teachers in a wave of after-school protests to demand a more adequate budget for schools. The final budget wasn’t as generous as teachers hoped, however.  It allocates an additional, “$140 million… for districts to use at their own discretion and $74 million supporting statewide grant programs… (but) the approved budget still failed to include any language specific to teacher pay, despite early pledges of commitment to the issue in a state blighted by teacher shortages.”  Teachers have continued to point out that the new budget allocates an additional $539 million for student tuition in the state’s voucher program.

In West Virginia, teachers walked out again in February for the second time in a year. This time their protests forced the legislature to drop the introduction of charter schools and the launch of an Education Savings Account neo-voucher program in a state that has not previously experimented with school privatization.  After the statewide walkouts by teachers, legislators removed school privatization from an omnibus education bill.  However, a special session, beginning May 20, has been scheduled to reconsider education, and the charters and neo-vouchers are still threatened by the Republican dominated legislature.  The West Virginia Department of Education  has been holding hearings across the state to listen to the concerns of citizens and teachers, who have been actively participating. The Charleston Gazette-Mail‘s Ryan Quinn reports: “State Senator Glenn Jeffries (D-Putnam) said he’d heard a pretty consistent message—teachers say they need help. ‘They need counselors, they need mental health individuals to help them, they need social workers, and they need the freedom to teach.”  In West Virginia, whatever the outcome of the Special Session, teachers have at least forced widespread discussion of charters and vouchers, something other states have merely fast-tracked or buried in budget bills.

While teachers have not always been able to secure huge school budget increases, and while in some cases they have struggled to sustain the gains from last year, in a March report on school funding, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities credits striking teachers in a number of states with creating the political for at least modest budget increases for public education: “Last year, teachers struck or engaged in other protests in five of the 12 states that cut formula funding particularly deeply after the last recession—Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Lawmakers in four of those five states—all but Kentucky—boosted school formula funding last year, at least partially in response to the protests. The funding boosts were substantial, especially in Oklahoma, where lawmakers increased formula funding per student by 10 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Arizona, North Carolina, and West Virginia also increased funding substantially, with the hikes ranging from 3 percent to 9 percent per student after inflation.”

Climbing out of a deep hole takes a long time. The political economist, Gordon Lafer, reminds us about the factors that caused state budgets to crater over the past decade: “In January 2011, legislatures across the country took office under a unique set of circumstances. In many states, new majorities rode to power on the energy of the Tea Party ‘wave’ election and the corporate-backed Redmap campaign… In addition, this was the first class of legislators elected under post-Citizens-United campaign finance rules, and the sudden influence of unlimited money in politics was felt across the country… For the corporate lobbies and their legislative allies, the 2010 elections created a strategic opportunity to restructure labor relations, political power and the size of government… The number of public jobs eliminated in 2011 was the highest ever recorded, and budgets for essential public services were dramatically scaled back…  All of this—deunionization, sharp cuts in public employee compensation, and the dramatic rollback of public services—was forcefully championed by the corporate lobbies, who made shrinking the public sector a top policy priority in state after state.” (The One Percent Solution, pp. 44-45)

Lafer reminds us that much of the corporate agenda involved an effort to reduce spending on public education: “The teachers’ union is the single biggest labor organization in most states… Education is one of the largest components of public budgets, and in many communities the school system is the single largest employer—thus the goals of cutting budgets, enabling new tax cuts for the wealthy, shrinking the government, and lowering wage and benefit standards in the public sector all naturally coalesce around the school system. Furthermore there is an enormous amount of money to be made from the privatization of education—so much so that every major investment bank has established special funds devoted exclusively to this sector.” (The One Percent Solution, p. 129)

During the past year, striking public school teachers in state after state have launched a movement against an effort by big moneyed interests to starve the civic institution our society has established to nurture and educate our children.  We owe enormous gratitude to the teachers who have framed the #RedforEd agenda and united behind it.

In this Teacher Appreciation Week, Fair Pay Would Show Our Teachers They Really Are Appreciated

In 1962, when my mother taught first grade in Havre, Montana, she felt appreciated as a teacher even though the rule was that she had to take the kids outside for recess unless it was below 15 degrees below zero. (Remember that wind chill as a term hadn’t been invented in those days.) She wasn’t paid particularly well, but school did close for an hour at midday, while everybody went home for lunch. She saw her students’ parents all the time in the grocery store, however, and she knew that her opinions and her expertise were valued.

This week has been formally designated as the 2019 Teacher Appreciation Week. But teachers these days aren’t really appreciated. While the Washington Post reports that, merely to sit on Boeing’s board of directors, Caroline Kennedy and Nikki Haley are paid $324,000 annually in cash and stock to attend a day-long meeting every-other-month, school teachers’ salaries haven’t been keeping up at all.

The Economic Policy Institute’s Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel just released a report about persistent growth in a teacher wage penalty, which reached an all time high in 2018: “(R)elative teacher wages, as well as total compensation—compared with the wages and total compensation of other college graduates—have been eroding for over half a century.  These trends influence the career choices of college students, biasing them against the teaching profession, and also make it difficult to keep current teachers in the classroom.”

Allegretto and Mishel explain the trend: “(W)omen teachers enjoyed a wage premium in 1960, meaning they were paid more than comparably educated and experienced women workers in other fields. By the early 1980s, the wage premium for women teachers had transformed into a wage penalty… The mid-1990s marks the start of a period of sharply eroding teacher weekly wages and an escalating teacher weekly wage penalty.  Average weekly wages of public school teachers (adjusted for inflation) decreased $21 from 1996-2018, from $1,216 to $1,195 (in 2018 dollars).  In contrast, weekly wages of college graduates rose by $323, from $1,454 to $1,777, over this period.”

And the wage penalty is for both women and men: “The wage premium that women teachers enjoyed in the 1960s and 1970s has long been erased…. Our previous research found that in 1960 women teachers earned 14.7 percent more in weekly wages than comparable women workers… And the wage premium for women teachers gradually faded over the 1980s and 1990s, until it was eventually replaced by a large and growing wage penalty in the 2000s and 2010s.  In 2018, women public school teachers were making 15.1 percent less in wages than comparable women workers.  The wage penalty for men teachers is much larger. The weekly wage penalty for men teachers was 17.8 percent in 1979… In 2018, men teaching public school were making 31.5 percent less in wages than comparable men in other professions.” Overall in 2018, the wage penalty for school teachers reached 21.4 percent.

Teachers benefits, on average, are higher than those of workers in other professions.  Allegretto and Mishel explain: “As a result of their growing benefit share of compensation, teachers are enjoying a ‘benefits advantage’ over other professionals… However this benefits advantage has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty… The bottom line is that the teacher (total) compensation penalty grew by 10.2 percentage points from 1993-2018.”

There is not a lot of mystery behind how the teacher pay gap has grown.  Allegretto and Mishel blame a wave of tax cuts across the states for the revenue shortages that have driven down compensation for teachers: “The erosion of teacher weekly wages relative to weekly wages of other college graduates… reflects state policy decisions rather than the result of revenue challenges brought on by the Great Recession. A recent study… found that most of the 25 states that were still spending less for K-12 education in 2016 than before the recession had also enacted tax cuts between 2008 and 2016.  In fact, eight of the 10 states with the largest reductions in education funding since 2008 were states that had reduced their overall ‘tax effort’—meaning through tax cuts or other measures they were collecting less in taxes relative to their capacity to generate tax revenue. These eight states were Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Virginia.”

Lots of experts including the Economic Policy Institute and the Learning Policy Institute have been tracking the result of extremely difficult teaching conditions in understaffed schools along with low pay for teachers. They have identified what they call the resulting widespread teacher shortage, particularly a shortage of well prepared and experienced teachers.  And they have emphasized the tragedy of increasing churn in the teaching profession as more and more teachers give up and leave the classroom.

But the teacher-blogger, Peter Greene insists we call what is happening something different: “There is no teacher shortage. There’s a slow-motion walkout, a one-by-one exodus, a piecemeal rejection of the terms of employment for educators in 2019… ‘We’ve got a teacher shortage,’ assumes… that there just aren’t enough teachers out there in the world…. That’s where teacher shortage talk takes us—to a search for teacher substitutes. Maybe we can just lower the bar. Only require a college degree in anything at all…  A few hundred students with a ‘mentor’ and a computer would be just as good as one of those teachers that we’re short of, anyway, right?”

Greene defines the problem another way: “Teaching has become such unattractive work that few people want to do it.”  And having defined the problem, he believes there are some ways to address it: “‘Offer them more money’… is certainly an Economics 101 answer… But as the #Red forEd walkouts remind us, money isn’t the whole issue.  Respect. Support.  The tools necessary to do a great job.  Autonomy.  Treating people like actual functioning adults  These are all things that would make teaching jobs far more appealing… There are other factors that make the job less attractive. The incessant focus on testing. The constant stream of new policies crafted by people who couldn’t do a teacher’s job for fifteen minutes. The huge workload, including a constant mountainous river of… paperwork…. the moves to deprofessionalize the work.  The national scale drumbeat of criticism and complaint….”

I believe the collapse in respect for teachers has also been driven by the strategy of the No Child Left Behind Act, which neglected to fund adequate staffing and school improvement and set out to motivate educators with the fear their school would be named “failing” if they could not raise test scores quickly for all children. They were supposed to work harder and smarter. We now know that No Child Left Behind’s demand that all schools could make their students proficient by 2014 didn’t work. Arne Duncan had to waiver states from this requirement to avoid an embarrassing reality: All American schools were going to be branded “failing.”  But today our national education strategy is still driven by the same test-and-punish.

Harvard University’s Daniel Koretz warns us about the dangers of our test-based accountability regime in a 2017 book, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. Koretz is an expert on the design and use of standardized testing as the basis for evaluating of schools and schoolteachers. He demonstrates how this strategy unfairly brands teachers as failures when they teach in the schools serving our society’s poorest and most vulnerable children: “One aspect of the great inequity of the American educational system is that disadvantaged kids tend to be clustered in the same schools. The causes are complex, but the result is simple: some schools have far lower average scores—and, particularly important in this system, more kids who aren’t ‘proficient’—than others. Therefore, if one requires that all students must hit the proficient target by a certain date, these low-scoring schools will face far more demanding targets for gains than other schools do… Unfortunately… it seems that no one asked for evidence that these ambitious targets for gains were realistic. The specific targets were often an automatic consequence of where the proficient standard was placed and the length of time schools were given to bring all students to that standard, which are both arbitrary.”  (The Testing Charade, pp. 129-130)

We have been watching a yearlong wave of walkouts by teachers—a state-by-state cry for help from a profession of hard-working, dedicated public servants disgusted with despicable working conditions, the lack of desperately needed services for their students, and insultingly low pay. They have showed us what would support them and their students: smaller classes, more counselors and social workers, school nurses, librarians, a generous and enriched curriculum, and salaries adequate enough to pay the rent for a modest apartment, attract new teachers to the profession, and keep experienced teachers.

In this 2019 Teacher Appreciation Week it is a tragedy that so many state legislatures continue to debate further tax cuts. The situation calls to mind the warning of McMaster University education professor of Henry Giroux: “Public schools are at the center of the manufactured breakdown of the fabric of everyday life. They are under attack not because they are failing, but because they are public…”

Can We Hold onto Our Values As We Struggle to Survive in the Trump-DeVos Holding Pattern?

I was dismayed recently when I sat down to read some excellent proposals for addressing child poverty in the United States.

Here are two alternative proposals from the National Academy of Sciences. Both are prescriptions for cutting our national child poverty rate in half within a decade. Each proposal would combine a different set of policy strategies; each combination of ingredients would achieve the same very laudable result:

  1. “Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit along the phase-in and flat portions; convert the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to a fully refundable tax credit and concentrate its benefits to families with children with the lowest incomes; increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 35 percent…; and expand the supply of Section 8 Housing… Vouchers to supply affordable housing for 70 percent of eligible families.””
  2. “Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit by 40 percent; convert the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to a fully refundable tax credit and concentrate its benefits to families with children with the lowest incomes; replace the Child Tax Credit with a monthly child allowance of $225 per month…; establish a new child support assurance program that provides a minimum payment of $100 per month per child; increase the federal minimum wage to $10.25 per hour… and index it to inflation; and restore program eligibility for non-qualified legal immigrants for Medicaid, SNAP… TANF…, SSI, and other benefits.”

I am sure that, if the people at the National Academy of Sciences who wrote the report say so, either of these prescriptions on its own would cut child poverty in half within the decade. My despair when I look at these plans, however, is that today there is an utter absence of national political will to ensure that Congress would move on any one of the specifics, let alone any combination of them.

Nor do I have any hope that even well-informed people on the street could possibly get a handle on what all these programs are and how they would work together to help our children. We need leaders who can help us understand what each of these programs is, how they would fit together, and—most important—why they matter.  And for those of us who care about the future of education, we need to be reminded that child poverty—not failing public schools—is what threatens the future of too many of our children.

Our collective ignorance about what such programs are and how they would help our children is particularly worrisome today, because the best we can look for is to be trapped in a holding pattern right now.  It is dangerous that we are forgetting the very tools that someday may help us address child poverty. We are obligated today merely to be grateful when things are not quickly getting worse.

In the area of K-12 public education—which directly affects 50 million of our children—President Trump’s education budget proposal flat-funds Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These are the huge formula programs that help schools serve children in poverty and children with disabilities. The President’s proposed budget also flat-funds Head Start.  For two years now, Congress has agreed to maintain these programs, and there is some assurance Congress will continue to do so. (House Democrats recently proposed adding $4.4 billion to the FY 2020 federal budget for education, including an increase in Title I, although any House education budget is unlikely to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate.)  We must find ourselves grateful for the preservation of the status quo, even though all this flat-funding means the programs are falling behind in inflation-adjusted dollars.

On Sunday, the Washington Post‘s Laura Meckler described today’s holding-pattern in stark terms.  What she portrays is a crisis in leadership and values, not merely a paucity of programs. In a profile about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Meckler assures us that DeVos has emerged as among the few survivors in Trump’s Cabinet: “(‘T)he president shows no signs of asking her to resign, reflecting in part his lack of interest in the issue of education and the department responsible for it… This account of DeVos’s endurance in the Education Department’s top job is based on interviews with eight people with direct knowledge of the secretary’s relationship with the president and with an understanding of the inner workings of the White House and education agency… DeVos has benefited from Trump’s lack of interest in education, officials say… Also bolstering DeVos’s standing: She hasn’t had a single personal scandal. She’s a billionaire and travels by private plane, but she pays for it herself. She donates her salary to charity. Even detractors say that in person, DeVos is pleasant and easy to be around.”

We have a President who doesn’t care about education, and we can extrapolate: a President who doesn’t care about children.  Fortunately Congress has refused to go along with an ideological agenda that features education as an exercise in individual freedom, privatization, and marketplace choice.  We have to be grateful for the holding pattern even as we worry about the plight of poor children.

At the same time those of us concerned about a crisis in urban public schools also know that school achievement is affected by factors in the lives of children outside school. The National Education Policy Center’s Kevin Welner and researcher Julia Daniel delineate many of the primary challenges for children that threaten their engagement with school: “(W)e need to step back and confront an unpleasant truth about school improvement. A large body of research teaches us that the opportunity gaps that drive achievement gaps are mainly attributable to factors outside our schools: concentrated poverty, discrimination, disinvestment, and racially disparate access to a variety of resources and employment opportunities…  Research finds that school itself has much less of an impact on student achievement than out-of-school factors such as poverty.  While schools are important… policymakers repeatedly overestimate their capacity to overcome the deeply detrimental effects of poverty and racism… (S)tudents in many… communities are still rocked by housing insecurity, food insecurity, their parents’ employment insecurity, immigration anxieties, neighborhood violence and safety, and other hassles and dangers that can come with being a low-income person of color in today’s United States.”

These are, of course, the problems the National Academy of Sciences suggests we can address with either of their prescribed mixtures of policy investments. Nobody in this holding pattern of Trump Times, however, has been able to frame poignantly our public responsibility for addressing the needs of what First Focus identifies as 13 million children living in poverty today in the United States. Good leadership is desperately needed to develop the political will in a society barely coping with an executive branch gone mad.  As the Mueller report and its implications wash over us, at a time when our president foments hatred at the southern border, and in a society driven more and more by individualism and entrepreneurship, can we recover some kind of commitment to the public good and our collective obligation to our society’s children?

Here are some values we ought to be thinking about.

The late Benjamin Barber describes today’s realities for children and their schools—a reality that has grown more serious than it was when he wrote these words in 1998: “In many municipalities, schools have become the sole surviving public institutions and consequently have been burdened with responsibilities far beyond traditional schooling. Schools are now medical clinics, counseling centers, vocational training institutes, police/security outposts, drug rehabilitation clinics, special education centers, and city shelters… Among the costs of public schools that are most burdensome are those that go for special education, discipline, and special services to children who would simply be expelled from (or never admitted into) private and parochial schools or would be turned over to the appropriate social service agencies (which themselves are no longer funded in many cities.)  It is the glory and the burden of public schools that they cater to all of our children, whether delinquent or obedient, drug damaged or clean, brilliant or handicapped, privileged or scarred. That is what makes them public schools.” (“Education for Democracy,” in A Passion for Democracy: American Essays, pp. 226-227)

John Dewey names the principle that has traditionally grounded our society’s commitment to the well being of our children and their public education: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children… Only by being true to the full growth of all the individuals who make it up, can society by any chance be true to itself.” (The School and Society, 1899, p. 1)

Over the past year, there was one public outcry on behalf of children that was loud enough to overcome the inertia of just trying to hold on for two more years.  Thank you teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Denver, Los Angeles, and Oakland for your walkouts—state by state and district by district.  You who spend your days in our public schools helped us see the damage being imposed on children by huge classes along with the absence of counselors, school nurses, social workers and librarians. And you reminded citizens in many states that their taxes are needed as a public obligation to support their children and to keep a well-qualified and experienced staff of teachers in the public schools that serve their children.

There was also one simple public protest that may point to a strategy for changing the conversation. Before the 2018 election for governor of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools supplied thousands of parents statewide with very simple yard signs that said: “I Love My Public Schools and I Vote.” Without sinking into the policy weeds, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools very plainly confronted and replaced Scott Walker’s years-long agenda to privatize and otherwise undermine public schools. Perhaps a wave of yard signs helped reframe the agenda: Tony Evers, the state school superintendent, defeated Walker and now serves as Wisconsin’s governor.

Ohio Legislature Must Pass HB 154 to Eliminate State School Takeovers in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland

The members of the Ohio Legislature must pass House Bill 154, thereby repealing Ohio House Bill 70, which provides for the state to seize governance from locally elected school boards in the state’s lowest scoring school districts. HB 70 was passed in 2015.

House Bill 154, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representatives Joe Miller (D-Amherst) and Don Jones (R-Freeport), would dissolve existing state-appointed Academic Distress Commissions and their appointed CEOs in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland.  By passing HB 154, the Legislature would restore the governance of these school districts to their locally elected school boards. HB 154 would also restore respect and collective bargaining rights for their teachers.

Under the current HB 70, Ohio identifies any school district which has received three years of consecutive “F” grades on the state report card as in academic distress and subject to state takeover. Youngstown and Lorain are now completing their fourth school year under HB 70 state takeover.  East Cleveland was seized at the beginning of the current school year. Other districts facing HB 70 state takeover in the near future are Dayton next year and Columbus, Canton, Mansfield, Toledo and several others the following year.

The Elyria Chronicle-Telegram‘s Carissa Woytach describes the provisions of HB 154 which would offer broader support to districts deemed in academic distress: “Starting July 1, ‘failing’ districts under takeover would transition out of the Academic Distress Commission model and into a community learning center or other option. Starting July 1, 2020, districts that were not subject to an ADC but had received an overall F on the report card would begin to transition into an alternative model—including a community learning center… It also would allow for the Ohio Department of Education to provide support in creating the improvement plan and perform mid-and end of year-reviews of a district’s measurable benchmarks to make sure it is on the right track and provide feedback.”  (In Ohio, which formally names all charter schools “community schools,” the term “community learning center” describes the kind of school with wraparound social and medical resources that the rest of the nation calls “Community Schools.”)

Ohio’s HB 70 was passed suddenly at the end of June, 2015. The bill had been designed in secret by then Governor John Kasich, his appointed state superintendent Dick Ross, and some allies in Youngstown. It was fast-tracked after it was added suddenly as an amendment to a different bill.  Without committee hearings or any opponent testimony permitted, it was passed and signed into law within 24 hours at the end of the legislative session.

In Youngstown under its Academic Distress Commission, Krish Mohip has served as the appointed CEO of the school district. His tenure has been unhappy for Mohip and for the school community in Youngstown. Mohip hasn’t bothered to hide his disdain for the city. Last November, he announced he would not be re-applying when his contract runs out this coming July. Ohio’s Plunderbund reported in March, 2018 that Mohip felt he could not safely move his family to the community where he was in charge of the public schools. He has also been openly interviewed for other jobs including school districts as far away as Boulder, Colorado and Fargo, North Dakota. And a succession of members of Youngstown’s Academic Distress Commission have quit.  As measured by the state report card, under Mohip and the Academic Distress Commission, Youngstown is still earning an “F.”

Youngstown’s state-appointed Academic Distress Commission named a new CEO just last week: Justin Jennings will leave his position as Superintendent of Schools in Muskegon, Michigan to lead the Youngstown Schools. Jennings may well be a good choice, but one wishes the choice could have been made by Youngstown’s elected school board. Jennings rose to the job of school superintendent from within the Muskegon system. In his first year on the job as superintendent in 2017, Jennings earned a “minimally effective” rating from the local school board, but he improved his performance rating to “effective” at the end of the school year in 2018.

In Lorain, the HB 70 state takeover has been a disaster.  The appointed CEO, David Hardy has refused to bring his family to live in Lorain. He has alienated the school community, the teachers, students at the high school, the police department, the elected school board (which HB 70 permits to exist but without any power), several members of the Academic Distress Commission itself who have quit, and virtually the entire community.  After the chair of the Academic Distress Commission resigned in the winter, Paolo DeMaria, Ohio’s state superintendent, appointed Randall Sampson as a new chair.  Sampson has initiated a formal evaluation of David Hardy’s performance.  The Chronicle Telegram‘s Carissa Woytach explains that in mid-March at his first meeting as chair of the Lorain Academic Distress Commission, Sampson said, “he was working on evaluating the district leader. Per Hardy’s contract, the commission was required to evaluate him after his first 180 days in the district, 365 days in the position and thereafter on a yearly basis.  None of those evaluations were completed.” In Lorain, despite what has been described variously as months of confusion, rancor, crisis, and growing chaos, David Hardy remains on the job.  State Superintendent DeMaria and the president of the elected Lorain Board of Education are currently engaged in heated debate about the conditions in the Lorain City Schools as the state superintendent defends the ongoing HB 70 state takeover and the appointment of David Hardy.  As measured by the state report card, under Hardy and the Academic Distress Commission, Lorain is still earning an “F.”

It is too early to know how the state takeover of the East Cleveland schools will go. East Cleveland is the poorest community in the Cleveland metropolitan area and said to be one of the poorest communities in the nation. At least the newly appointed CEO is local; he is from Maple Heights, another inner-ring suburb of Cleveland. Henry Pettigrew was the former assistant superintendent in Maple Heights, and he promises quickly to raise East Cleveland out of academic distress. The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell quotes Pettigrew: “We are going to do the rebirth of an American urban school system… Some people have written us off. Some people said it couldn’t be done… open your eyes and watch.”   O’Donnell comments: “Whether Pettigrew retains support as more details of his plan unfold will be key to its success… He… asks teachers and district leaders, ‘What are YOU going to do… how are we intentionally changing our behavior?'”  O’Donnell continues: “His full plan is not yet available.  But he said he wants to make decisions and faster changes in classrooms to help kids.  An early goal: Increase the district’s ‘Performance Index,’ the state’s composite of all state test scores across all grades, from 56.4 to 66 out of 120 points next school year.  That would improve the district’s grade on that measure from an F to a D and likely jump over about 20 districts after having the second worst score in the state last school year.”  Pettigrew says he will improve school attendance by ensuring that teachers offer “more interesting lessons in class.”  He will affirm and encourage the students, monitor student progress by computer, and engage parents.

I will simply comment that living as I do in the school district next door to East Cleveland, I have known a number of extremely dedicated and experienced teachers over the years from both Shaw High School and Kirk Middle School.  Surely the district needs to reduce the high rate of chronic student absence, but I wish Pettigrew weren’t starting out blaming the district’s teachers by implying that the district’s low test scores are a result of uninteresting lessons.

In 2017, Harvard University’s Daniel Koretz published The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, a book length critique of our nation’s two-decades old, test-and-punish school accountability scheme—the basis of Ohio’s school district report cards by which the state identifies school districts for state takeover by academic distress commissions.  Koretz is an expert on the design and use of standardized testing as the basis for high-stakes evaluation of schools and schoolteachers.  He demonstrates that school evaluation based on high stakes testing unfairly penalizes the very kind of schools Ohio targets under HB 70: “One aspect of the great inequity of the American educational system is that disadvantaged kids tend to be clustered in the same schools. The causes are complex, but the result is simple: some schools have far lower average scores—and, particularly important in this system, more kids who aren’t ‘proficient’—than others. Therefore, if one requires that all students must hit the proficient target by a certain date, these low-scoring schools will face far more demanding targets for gains than other schools do… Unfortunately… it seems that no one asked for evidence that these ambitious targets for gains were realistic. The specific targets were often an automatic consequence of where the proficient standard was placed and the length of time schools were given to bring all students to that standard, which are both arbitrary.”  (The Testing Charade, pp. 129-130)

Koretz is very clear about how Ohio’s focus on bringing districts out of “academic distress”—moving them from “F” grades on the school report card based on test scores up to “D”grades—distorts teaching itself in the schools where student poverty is concentrated: “First, many good (educational) activities… fall outside the range most standardized tests can sample well… Second, while good instruction in general will improve students’ mastery and therefore, should increase scores, it won’t increase scores on a specific test as much as instruction—and test-prep—aimed squarely at that particular test.  In other words, teaching to the test can increase test scores more rapidly than high-quality teaching not focused narrowly on the specific test used for accountability.” (The Testing Charade, pp. 139-140)

Koretz explains further that punitive evaluation based on high-stakes testing is likely to drive educators in the schools serving the poorest children to narrow the curriculum to focus on test preparation or to find other ways artificially to raise scores.  After all school districts’ ratings and even teachers’ jobs in some cases have depended on their quickly raising scores.  Koretz writes: “Lower performing schools often face severe barriers to improvement—for example, fewer resources, less experienced teaching staff, high rates of teacher turnover, higher rates of student transience, fewer high-performing students to serve as models, fewer parents who are able to provide supplementary supports…. Faced with these obstacles, teachers will have a stronger incentive to look for shortcuts for raising scores. Ironically, one of the elements of school reform intended to help low-achieving students appears to have backfired, making these incentives worse.  The key is that the performance targets are uniform and are coupled with real sanctions and rewards. When these targets require faster gains than teachers can produce by legitimate means, teachers have a strong incentive to search for whatever methods might raise scores quickly… There is ample evidence that test prep is more pervasive in the schools serving disadvantaged kids, and some signs that cheating (the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. scandals where educators erased answers or otherwise raised scores) is more common.. What matters for rewards and punishments (for schools and teachers) is the performance—or at least the apparent performance—of the school system, individual schools, and often individual teachers.”  (The Testing Charade, pp. 68-69)

Finally, Koretz concludes: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the costs of test-based accountability have been huge. Instruction has been corrupted on a broad scale.  Large amounts of instructional time are now siphoned off into test-prep activities that at best waste time and at worst defraud students and their parents.” (The Testing Charade, p. 191)

And all this is most likely to happen in conditions like the ones created by Ohio HB 70, in which schools are threatened with state takeover if they do not quickly raise scores. The members of the Ohio Legislature must pass Ohio HB 154, which will repeal Ohio HB70, the state takeover of so-called “academically distressed” school districts.