Here we go again. Our state politicians are headed down the same road they traveled for more than 20 years, wasting untold millions of dollars of our taxes—and showing zero results while ignoring local experts. The latest, in a long line of examples, is our new high school graduation requirements.
A few years ago, our state implemented graduation requirements that basically said, if students were not college ready, then they will not graduate high school. When it became obvious that the outcome would be a huge decline in the number of high school graduates — and a political nightmare — a State Superintendent Workgroup was formed to find a temporary solution. As a member of that workgroup, it became obvious that the new graduation requirements were a result of public university presidents to get more students enrolled in college, and not in the interest of high school students. Ohio public university presidents were concerned about the huge decline in undergraduates; therefore, they needed additional undergraduates to support their over built higher education system.
My observation was confirmed when during a meeting I asked a State Board of Education member: “Why were public university presidents given such a prominent role in determining high school graduation requirements, when K-12 educators where not even consulted?” The response was, “I do not wish to answer that question over a public microphone.” Later, I was told that the pressure came from a State Board of Education member who was appointed by Governor Kasich and whose day job was to get more high school graduates enrolled at four-year universities.
The workgroup suggested a fix for the class of 2018, which prevented the crisis our politicians created. The fix was accepted and eventually expanded to the class of 2019. In the meantime, another Superintendent Workgroup, which included k-12 educators, was assembled to suggest a long-term solution. This group came up with rigorous requirements that not only demonstrated which students where college ready, but also gave students with no desire to attend a four-year university the ability to graduate with demonstrated skills that would benefit them in the workplace.
However, as the second workgroup completed its work, along came another group, Ohio Excel, with its own plan, which is more similar to the original requirements that created the crisis. Ohio Excel is well funded and has strong political connections. Backers of Ohio Excel support online charter schools (like ECOT, who stole millions of our tax dollars). The Superintendent Workgroup and Ohio Excel presented their ideas to the State Board of Education. After hearing both proposals, the State Board voted 14-1 to support the workgroup’s plan.
After years of work from educators and others concerned about Ohio’s graduation requirements, and the support of the Ohio Board of Education, common sense should have led our politicians to support the workgroup’s plan. However, politically well-connected lobbyists with lots of cash convinced our politicians otherwise.
Why do online charter schools care about graduation requirements? Many of these so-called “public” charter schools are run by private-for-profit companies, who’s only concern is profit. The more students struggle to graduate from traditional schools, the more students try online alternatives, who are funded by our tax dollars. The private company sponsoring the online charter school makes millions regardless of the success or failure of their students. My experiences have demonstrated that many of the students the online schools accept return to traditional schools further behind than when they left, but the private-for-profit still received our dollars.
Therefore, the groups supporting Ohio Excel increase profits when traditional schools fail.
Knowing this, why would politicians listen to such a group, especially over the recommendations of others who have devoted their professional lives to students? The online schools contribute heavily to politicians. The problem for politicians was that they could not allow Ohio Excel’s graduation requirements to come to an up or down vote as they could held responsible for the outcome of such a vote. Therefore, they are slipping Ohio Excel’s graduation requirements into the budget bill so they can claim they voted for the overall bill, not the graduation requirements, and not be held to account.
The only way we the people will put an end to such deplorable political practices is to hold our politicians accountable. Remember, when you public school graduation rates fall, the culprits are our politicians; stop the cycle of political gamesmanship at the expense of our youth. Hold our politicians to account.
Craig Kupferberg is the Allen County Educational Service Center Superintendent