Another Sunday brings us yet another biased article by the Columbus Dispatch written with no attempt at being factually honest while trying to focus blame on the public education system instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue around questions that the two researchers cited within would pose in an attempt to improve student learning. Click on the link in the opening sentence if you haven’t read their take on the story yet — we’re not republishing it here.

Jennifer Smith Richards’ slanted viewpoint causes her to overlook key information from the two “experts” that she thinks she is using to back up her assertions of corruption surrounding attendance reporting.  Instead, she misses the points offered by Michael Gottfried, a young economics professor from California with no education experience who performed a study on schools in Philadelphia.  Gottfried is quoted as saying,

“If the numbers are real, if the kids are actually going to school, those kids should be doing better in reading and math.”

The operative word being should.  Indeed, what a great research question Gottfried reveals with such a statement instead of Richards’ assertion that the numbers CAN’T be real and let’s condemn the district (again) and claim that the obvious solution is corruption in the schools!  But if she would have read Gottfried’s 2007 study, Richards would have learned that he fully admits that other, less readily identifiable factors must exist surrounding student attendance that should merit further discussion.  Additionally, Gottfried’s stated in his conclusions,

“It is possible that different results and interpretations may be found in other school districts of varying urbanicity.”

Shocking, right?  But why would an academic scholar make such statements while a journalist would only jump to conclusions based on personal opinion?

Another important and ignored fact from the Dispatch’s expert, Gottfried, is that his dataset was from the late 1990’s and included tests that were less stringent than today’s Ohio tests (many more recent studies are also revealing significant changes in practices since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001).

Richard’s second expert, Douglas Roby, conducted his 2004 study on this topic based in Ohio, and in his study he explained that while his results had significance, they were anything but conclusive and merit more study, especially in urban districts that did not have statistically significant results (again, late 1990s). From Roby’s study:

“Even though there are many variables (some uncontrollable by school officials) affecting student attendance throughout all school buildings in Ohio, positive and exceptional student attendance efforts should be revealed and considered for school buildings with attendance concerns and problems….There are other variables that could be the focus of continued analysis, such as student socioeconomic status, aptitude and their relationship to school attendance patterns and student achievement.  Student age, perceived relationships with teachers, and perceived value of attending school are other variables to consider for student attendance/student achievement research.”

In the end, instead of doing some actual journalistic research to verify their assertion that “there’s no good explanation” for what has allegedly occurred (she’s never actually stated the specifics), Richards simply wants to lob accusations at the local school district instead of contributing to the more intellectual discussion of determining why there might be a disconnect in the lives of these children.  With these lazy shortcuts that only serve throw our school districts under the bus, we have to wonder if Richards won’t soon have a Republican seat in the Ohio Legislature.

Because if the Dispatch was truly interested in answering the question of wrongdoing instead of slandering the local public school district, the author could have conducted some simple research on all Ohio schools and uncovered the following details that were NOT a part of her article.

First, a graph comparing a school’s attendance rates and Performance Index score (composite of student achievement test results):

First, 92% of Ohio’s schools report an attendance rate over the state standard of 93% (shown by the vertical bar on the graph).  While it is easy to see the upward trend of scores, it is even more apparent that not only do many of the state’s schools have scores below the top 10%, there appears to be a threshold of attendance around 95-96% at which top student achievement can and is attained.

Statewide, 74% of the schools that have Performance Index scores below the state’s benchmark of 90 reported an attendance rate of over 93%.  Based on the Dispatch’s accusations, this would imply that Ohio has over 640 schools across the state that simply MUST be falsifying their attendance numbers, including 146 charter schools!

But if the Dispatch ran this information and obtained this chart, they would be faced with the dilemma of having to report negatively about some of Ohio’s charter schools, including two located right under their noses in Columbus.  See those red dots at the lower right of the graph?  Those data points represent the following charter schools who reported 100% attendance for the 2010-11 school year along with low student achievement scores.

  • East Columbus Drop Back In – Columbus
  • Striving to Engage Potential – Kenton
  • Massillon Digital Academy, Inc – Massillon
  • Arts Academy West, The – Cleveland
  • Zenith Academy East – Columbus
  • Imani Learning Academy – Toledo
  • Groveport Community School – Groveport
  • Graham Digital Academy – Saint Paris
  • Fairborn Digital Academy – Fairborn

So where’s the article about these schools?  Where’s the call for an audit by the state?  Where’s the outrage?

To be honest, I really don’t care about these charter schools, their abysmal performance results, or whether there is some in-depth audit by the state about their attendance practices, but it’s absolutely wrong to pin accusations on them about cheating or inappropriate maneuvers without conducting any form of legitimate inquiry to discover what has actually occurred.

Now, the Dispatch has continued their course of trying to cause irreparable harm by claiming fraud by the public schools without releasing a single shred of specific evidence of improper behavior.  Instead, hearsay again rules the day as they continually seek to defame the schools by claiming to have “experts” that back up their position.

As we’ve shown above, the Dispatch’s “experts” do not provide this support and neither does Ohio’s own data.  Ohio either has a systemic problem that exists in the majority of schools across the state, or the connection between attendance and student achievement isn’t as strong for Ohio’s standardized tests.  Or….perhaps the Ohio Department of Education’s rules for reporting attendance are flawed, resulting in numbers that confound the researchers yet follow every legal guideline as provided by the state.

The Dispatch could have used this information in the way that the educational researchers would have, to help ask questions about what could lead to lower achievement scores for students with relatively high attendance rates, especially in the state’s Big 8 urban districts — 260 of the schools with “high attendance, low achievement” come from these high poverty areas.  Well over 100 charter schools that would be considered “high attendance, low achievement” are also located within these cities.  Again, are they all engaged in systematic cheating or does this highlight a different problem in education connecting poverty and performance?

But we also know that the Dispatch doesn’t care about that pesky thing called “data” when they can display a complete lack of professional journalism and sell sensationalist conspiracy theories in an effort to damage the reputation of the public schools and the community they serve.

Shame on you once again, Columbus Dispatch.


  • Jennifer Smith Richards

    As your analysis points out, there are schools that meet the state’s minimum attendance requirement but fall below the minimum performance index benchmark. But maybe you missed the key point of the story? It’s rather unusual for schools to have exceptionally high attendance rates and very poor academic outcomes. (Your minimum was a PI of 90, which could mean a B grade for that
    school, and I don’t think most of us would consider low-performing.) In the case of all schools in Ohio, few have attendance rates of greater than 95 percent and performance index scores of below 80. In fact, there are only 73 of these schools out of more than 3,600.

  • Katie Addy

    It’s really interesting (read: pathetic) that the grade level she chooses to report OAA passing rates on is fifth grade. I find this especially interesting because that’s the only grade level where the statewide average passing rate is below the 75% mark on all three tests. Where was that disclaimer in the article? Nothing like playing upon the ignorance of the public when it comes to the ODE-admitted overly rigorous 5th grade test to make an article seem valid!

  • gregmild

    There are actually 78 schools reported by ODE (79.8 & 79.7 are rounded up in their data unless you export it and look in the spreadsheet more closely).

    The PI score of 90 is a ODE-adopted benchmark (see the value-added reporting though Battelle for Kids), not something I selected arbitrarily. Given the alleged connection between achievement and attendance, using state benchmarks for both categories provides a better measurement for comparison purposes.

    Of the 78 schools meeting your identified criteria, 36 of them, slightly more than 46%, are Ohio charter schools. This is an astonishingly high figure given the fact that fewer than 9% of the schools in Ohio are charters. Having fun with those numbers would essentially mean that 100% of the schools 36 separate charter school “districts” fall into your category of suspicion.

    Finally, of the 78 schools meeting your chosen criteria, 34 of the schools fall into the Big 8 urban districts led by Cols and Cincy with 15 & 10 schools respectively. For Cols, this amounts to approximately 13% of their schools. For Cincy we get a higher figure — just shy of 18%. Youngstown has only 2 schools in that category, but that also amounts to nearly 13% of their total number of buildings.

    Of course, compared to the 100% figure put up by all of those charter districts, 13 & 18% seem like nothing. 😉

    I don’t discount that questions about why Ohio has schools that don’t follow a past researchers study findings are valid, but you were wrong to jump to an accusatory tone instead of granting those involved the presumption of innocence. The education community can utilize situations like this to research the situation and uncover possible solutions (ask your experts if they wouldn’t LOVE to dig into this), but instead you chose to only vilify the schools and cast them as guilty parties.

    Will you be writing a follow-up on the lawlessness of Cincinnati tomorrow? What about the 36 charters, especially the 8 sitting on 100% student attendance including multiple “Digital” academies?

    I’ll gladly share your work as you uncover the process those online schools use to report attendance. On a related note, here’s a story-starter for you:

    Can anyone explain how the fully online Ohio Virtual Academy reports it’s attendance rate of 99.6%? Meanwhile, ECOT claims an attendance rate of 93% while simultaneous reporting a whopping 2,315 non-dropout withdrawals for 12TH GRADE ONLY last school year. In grades 9-12, they reported 5,118 of these withdrawals and 6,828 in all grades. Add in ECOTs reported dropouts and we have a K-12 total of 9,873 and a 12th grade only total of 2,987 students dropping out of a school/district with a listed enrollment of only 10,454.
    Do that math and tell me you aren’t suspicious of someone cooking those books. As a percentage of their total enrollment (6,828 / 10,454), we arrive at a jaw-dropping 65% of ECOT’s students leaving the program in a single school year. Are those figures suspicious enough for the Dispatch to engage in some investigative journalism and ask some REAL questions about what is going on with education in Ohio? Maybe ask Speaker Batchelder or Governor Kasich why ECOT is allowed to continue with such practices.

  • education is changing

    Last time I knew, schools are assigned a reporting week in October for attendance. They must report attendance for that specific week to ODE. The attendance for the other weeks in the school year are not included as part of the attendance indicator. Many schools offer incentives, such as, DQ coupons, snack coupons for the cafeteria, etc., to students who attend all week. And schools try to get all absences excused (opposed to unexcused) during the designated week.

  • gregmild

    That first week of October is actually the “count week” that determines district funding. The state defines student attendance in terms of those students enrolled for a “full academic year” by the State Board of Education. An explanation of “full academic year” can be found through the ODE site in a pdf file:

    The 6-page document contains more detailed information, but a precise definition is found at the top of page 3.

  • Edubrat

    ODE’s stats are definitely flawed!!! ODE data systems are terribly inaccurate and mismanaged. Otherwise how could a student graduate pre kindergarten before they were born (actual data in EMIS reflects this) and lets really look at how ODE managed NCLB shall we? (millions of dollars sent to scammers because ODE had no oversight) I mean it is clear that any ODE data is not worth a damn. But that is only the beginning….I hear another example of ODE’s inability to handle anything correctly involving data and governance is in the works with one of the news channels! What kind of people are running oversight of their data systems? That will all come out too!

  • Think.

    A strategy used often by Kasich and his ALEC allies is to negatively publicize an issue (in this case, the evils of public schools) and then offer an extreme solution that will miraculously solve the problem. Perhaps this article is part of a campaign for a “Columbus Plan.”
    They got away with it in Cleveland, didn’t they?

  • orion89

    And while you’re at it Ms. Richards, look at the campaign contributions to legislators who vote for favorable legislation and lack of oversight on charter schools. I think you’ll find a strong link between charter school operators and some of our more infamous legislators.

  • wetsu

    The Dispatch continued today, although I see many comments that indicate that more people are getting fed up with the assault. Keep up the good work PB, it’s going to take a lot more work for us to get the message out.

    gregmild, did I see where you attempted to comment to the article? Did it not go through? It wasn’t “edited” was it?

  • gregmild

    Not edited, just the problems with their site. It ended up as this post instead, so I guess that’s all good.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • Jennifer Smith Richards


    I understand that your benchmarks weren’t arbitrary, but I do think they were less relevant in the context of this particular story.

    I agree with you that it’s worth examining this issue on a broader level, including charter schools. And I appreciate the tips on charter e-schools.

    Also worth taking a look at.


  • Who trusts the Columbus Dispatch? Only an idiotic hypocrite would kick the casino out of the arena district which would have aided the convention center in increasing business (especially on non-event days) and then come up with a plan for casino taxes to pay their poorly managed hockey team’s rent.

  • arizona

    you might notice that the majority of the eschools that you are railing against for reporting 100% attendance are RUN BY SCHOOL DISTRICTS. Fairborn Digital is run by Fairborn City Schools, Massillon by Massillon City Schools, Graham Digital is run by Graham Local schools, Lakewood Digital is run by Lakewood Local, Marion City Digital run by Marion City Schools, Southwest Licking Digital run by Southwest Licking Local, Lorain High School Digital run by Lorain City schools. But the blame where it belongs.

  • gregmild

    Marianne, I wasn’t railing on those schools so much as questioning the rationale by the Dispatch that high-attendance coupled with low-performance was their key indicator to call for an investigation into practices. If that was true, then those schools (regardless of sponsor) should be front and center in their investigation. As we know, they have not been mentioned at all. The question of attendance reporting in the current model should be another point of discussion simply because those schools should not be expected to follow the same, strict daily check-in procedure that traditional buildings do, yet we also need to be mindful of holding digital schools accountable for student learning. That concept adds on another layer to this attendance discussion that pushes the need to step back and look at the entire law from a holistic viewpoint to evaluate ALL of the reporting practices and identify our desired outcome for reporting student attendance to the state and how it is to be used to improve student learning and family accountability instead of as a punitive measure against schools and teachers who have little or no control over whether children show up to class (in person or online).

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