Why the Largest Ohio School District May Close
Largest School District and Most Problematic
As increasing numbers of problem situations associated with Columbus Public Schools arose in Central Ohio, I predicted around 2003 that the district would close, to be replaced with charter schools. I thought this might occur, even though a few of the local charter schools had faced insurmountable problems as well and closed down. Other charter schools had operated successfully and drawn students from traditional schools -- In fact, several Columbus City Schools District buildings have been vacant for many years, which is a cost drain on the system.
The closure and replacement I predicted did not expressly occur, but in 2013, the State Education Association (SEA) considered a total takeover the the Columbus City Schools District.
The reasons for the State takeover were surprising, although news media hinted at them for over a year: alleged teacher and administration cheating in some schools on standardized tests, along with falsified student attendance records in some schools. The number of schools with these problems is unclear.
I was not only nonplussed by these reports, but disappointed in our school system, wondering if No Child Left Behind had resulted in pressures to succeed so high that cheating was the only way to succeed under the system.
I knew that in many of our schools, teachers were made totally responsible for student outcomes on standardized testing, under penality of lost raises and possibly the loss of their jobs.
This type of success out of fear seems unfair and impossible to obtain by our teachers.
Some Internal Audit Findings 2010 - 2011
- Of 105 "withdrawn" student records examined at nine schools, 68 records showed students' enrollment broken on paper, but students were still attending school.
- Some schools temporarily demoted students to a lower year in school, ecluding them from the school building, school district, and other data groups.
- In one high school, academic marks were changed from failure to passing for three students, also reported to The Columbus Dispatch by internal auditor Carolyn Smith.
- Other discrepancies were found.
Data Scrubbing - Investigations Triggered by Audits
A scandal among Columbus City Schools was reported in 2012 and followed by the early retirement in 2013 of Superintendent Gene Harris, a former successful teacher in Columbus schools.
Termed "data scrubbing", the falsification of standardized test scores and student attendance records was investigated across the state by the Office of State Auditor David Yost. In February 2013, he reported that 48 school districts in the Buckeye States needed to make corrected reports in March.
Worse than the re-reporting headaches anticipated by the schools, nine additional district with, Columbus among them were cautioned that they might lose financial resources and some teachers' and administrators' might suffer sanctioned licenses. It was these nine districts that allegedly rigged attendance data by marking poorly pereforming students as "withdrawn" in order to remove their data from the totals of the districts, thereby increasing the districts' overall yearly report card grade (they can earn an F to an A+).
Comparisons for 2011 - 2012 School Year
Franklin County school districts include a total of 16.
Columbus ranks at the bottom of the list of 16 in district report card grade at a C (Continuous Improvement needed). One school district earned a B (Whitehall), while all the rest earned A or A+.
Columbus is the only one of the 16 with evidence of data scrubbing.
City schools enrolled 50,000 students in 2010 - 2011 and about 80% are in low income families. Another 17,000 attended charter schools instead of city public schools. Several city schools, even though refurbished, sit half-empty.
The reporting of all this triggered anger among Citizens that recalled that when Governor John Kasich took office in 2010, one of his first moves was, in essence, to attempt to return $400,000,000 in educational funding to the federal government by ignoring contractually required outcome goals for an unapproved set of goals. At the same time, he did not accept another $400,000,000 in federal funding to build a new passenger railroad system.
I heard some Citizens blaming the Governor in part for the problems of the schools and blaming Superintendent Harris for the remainder of the responsibility, basing their blame in their opinion that her salary/perks package was too high ($242,000/year, but less than most of the other superintendant salaries in the county) -- However, Harris refused four raises and a bonus during her long time with the urban Columbus City Schools (2001 - 2013), while she accomplished many incredible improvements, like raising the district report card grade overall from F (Academic Emergency) to C (Continuous Improvement needed).
The FBI Investigates
- FBI Investigates School Records
The FBI is conducting its own investigation into attendance data scrubbing.
- Ohio Ethics Commission
Ohio Ethics Commission is investigating Columbus City Schools board member...
Now with the data scrubbing dilemma, many wonder if the increase in high school graduation rate in the city from 50% to over 85% is legitimate. In 2012, the school board wanted to tie her continuance in her job to even higher standardized test outcomes than already accomplished district-wide, just as had been done with teachers. Many of the public that appreciated Harris's work felt that this was outrageous.
Further, a quote from a reader of The Columbus Dispatch in "Letter to The Editor" on 4/23/13 sums up another opinion of the public:
If you pay attention to the reports given out by David Yost, Columbus is in a league of it own for Ohio schools. Columbus cheating was orchestrated for years by very high officials in the district administration. And one of those officials hired the woman from Cleveland responsible for the attendance cheating in that school district! -- Keith Flinn (Averageguy); 4/23/13 at 12:54:46.0
Author's Note: I don't know who the "Cleveland woman" mentioned in the quote is, but the data scrubbing problem may have been going on for many years in Ohio.
Same Problem In Texas
State-appointed managers will take over the El Paso Independent School District. The US Department of Justice will not oppose eliminating the locally elected school board, since a testing scandal at several high schools occurred.
Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2013/04/30/2485165/justice-department-oks-ousting.html#storylink=cpy
Columbus Mayor, the Honorable Michael C. Coleman, appointed a City Education Commission to analyze needs among the public schools and the commission returned recommendations that the seven mnber Board of Education be disbanded and replaced.
At the same time, the President of the current board pressed for an ongoing search to be continued for a new Superintendent, rushing to ask Mayor Coleman to serve on the search committee, rather that to disband the board. Eliminating the board requires specific legislation to be passed, but this could be done.
Since 2000, the capital City of Columbus and the State of Ohio have made many improvements to a number of aspects of life. The city police department came under federal scrutiny, improved performance, and even hired their first female Chief of Police.
Mayor Coleman made a priority of gaining deeds to abandoned properties, demolishing structures, and refurbishing much of the city, increasing reasonably priced housing and bringing in new businesses.
Across the State, Governors Ted Strickland (D) and John Kasich (R) not only helped to increase numbers of jobs, but targeted crimes against children with some good results. They also secured the designation of the Ohio Space Corridor in the southeastern quarter of the state.
The problems of data scrubbing in Columbus City Schools can be addressed and eliminated.
The US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, made suggestions to the school board at an education town hall in Columbus on Friday, April 19, 2013 according to NBC4 News. One suggestion was to let the school principals lead the the teachers teach.
I hope this means to untie teacher's jobs from standardized test outcomes. Raises and job maintenance based on work performance is proper - and so is continuous performance as a requirement on one's job - I expect that from myself; but, threatening teachers' jobs in urban school districts with problems that include the environment outside the school undermining the education offered by the school is insane.
Mayor Coleman and Governor Kasich want to bring sanity to the school districts of the State of Ohio and I think that they can do so with community support and an effective action plan that will ultimately strangle data scrubbing.
- Internal Auditor Says Columbus City Schools 'Cooked Books; Needs Better Whistleblower Policy
An internal auditor finds that Columbus City Schools should have better fraud reporting and whistleblower policies. Read more.
- State Takeover Looms in Columbus - District Dossier - Education Week
Columbus schools face possible state takeover after evidence that schools "scrubbed" attendance records and altered student grades.
- Columbus school board halts superintendent search | The Columbus Dispatch
In an about-face, a divided Columbus school board dropped its plan to hire a permanent superintendent by the end of this month, falling into line with Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s wishes. Only two weeks ago, board President Carol Perkins attac
- Panel gives Coleman proposals for local schools | The Columbus Dispatch
Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s 25-member Columbus Education Commission unanimously delivered to him yesterday recommendations that could bring sweeping changes to public schools in Columbus.
Selling Old Schools Has Increased Since 2013
Sold for $300,000.
Sold for $300,000.
The building was vacant for 7 years and brought $2.6 Million to Columbus City Schools in its sale. A 1905 historic building, it is to become housing.
© 2013 Patty Inglish
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