Now that the field of candidates vying to be the next governor of Ohio has been narrowed to two, voters could soon get a better sense of the path the state’s education system may take under their leadership. Gov. John Kasich wasn’t afraid to take on education reform, but the success of some of those policies is yet to be seen.
"More choice, more accountability, more dollars in the classroom instead of bureaucracy will improve our schools and we are going to have a significant reform agenda," Kasich says.
Gov. John Kasich gave his first State of the State Address on March 8, 2011, just weeks after taking office. Laying out his policy agenda for the upcoming year, Kasich spent very little of the hour-long address discussing education.
But "there was a lot to do when Gov. Kasich took office," says Chad Aldis is with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank with research arms in D.C. and Columbus.
In a recent editorial, Aldis recounted Kasich’s education legacy, and started with a reform that’s still being debated at the statehouse: A-F grades for schools and school districts.
“It’s very easily understood by the general public in terms of what’s good and what’s bad," Aldis says.
But the system that’s easy to use on its face has caused controversy, says Timothy Freeman, a former principal and now with the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators.
"While nobody could argue about the concept of accountability as an educator, when you see how its mechanized and how it hits the ground, you have to wonder how it was informed by people in the field," Freeman says.
Freeman says the calculation methods behind the grades are overly complex.
Aldis adds with more than a dozen letter grades on the reports, there’s also just too much for parents to take in. But, he says, the A-F system has had success in other states, providing transparency and clear areas to focus resources for improvement.
Refine or scrap?
At least one member of the General Assembly is pushing to scrap the report cards altogether, to start fresh, but Aldis says refining is a better option.
“Hopefully we can figure out ways to make this better, but not get rid of a system that has fairly high long-term potential," Aldis says.
Third-grade reading guarantee
Kasich’s third-grade reading guarantee has also caused some debate since its implementation in 2014. The program requires third graders to be reading on grade level, as measured by state test scores, before they can be promoted to fourth grade.
Aldis says the policy is based on an old adage and backed by research.
“Kids up until third grade learn to read so that in fourth grade and beyond they can read to learn," Aldis says. He says research shows kids who are not reading at grade level have higher dropout rates.
But so do kids who are held back a year, says Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, which is what Kasich’s reading guarantee requires. Cleveland schools have a new written literacy curriculum and provide summer reading camps to keep kids on track, but Gordon says it’ll take time before the program’s success can truly be measured.
"We have not yet seen a cohort all the way through to graduation so we don’t actually know have stronger readers persisted even if they had to be held back to be a stronger reader or did holding students back actually harm them even though they read better as a result of it?" Gordon asks.
Expanding charter schools -- and controversy
Perhaps the biggest education-reform effort Kasich undertook, though, is that of the state’s charter school system. This is where Fordham’s Aldis says there was the most work to be done.
“There was always a hint and a rumble that more accountability was needed," Aldis says.
The Fordham Foundation is a charter sponsor in Ohio, and a sister organization to Aldis’ group, and just like the dozens of others, was placed under a new accountability system that Kasich proposed.
Next came H.B. 2. It set up a process to close ineffective charter schools and end sponsorship authority for failing sponsors. It gave the state Department of Education more oversight and ended some unethical purchasing and hiring practices.
Policy Matters Ohio’s Victoria Jackson says Ohioans only have to look to the most recent Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow scandal. The now-closed charter school is accused on inflating its attendance numbers. For Jackson, the top priority is preventing charter sponsors from profiting off of taxpayer dollars.
“It incentivizes them to cut corners and maybe not serve students with disabilities because its more expensive," Jackson says.
On the other hand, Fordham’s Aldis says the charter-school system is just now getting to a point of stability. Bad sponsors have been pushed out and those left can focus on achievement in the future.