It took some doing, but Ohio came up with a solution for its under-performing schools that is proving to be worse than the problem.
That’s what happens when, in a single day, the legislature holds hearings on an amendment to a bill then passes it into law, allowing for no discussion of the bill’s implications.
The result is what school systems in Youngstown, Lorain and Cleveland are now dealing with as they’ve been stripped of virtually all local control.
In Lima, it’s a dark cloud hovering over an unsuspecting city, yet one that has school Superintendent Jill Ackerman and Mayor David Berger justifiably worried.
A BAD BILL
House Bill 70 was supposed to be a cure-all when it became law in 2015. Its message to under-performing schools was a simple one: Correct your problems, or the state will correct them for you.
That sounded good — tough love. But almost four years into it we’re finding tough talk doesn’t always equate into sterling results. In fact, there’s plenty to be concerned about for anyone in Lima who is paying attention.
The law calls for a state takeover of any school district in Ohio that receives three consecutive F grades on its overall state report card. The Lima School System already has one, receiving an “F” in the most recent state report card last September. Should it fail to show improvement the next two years and have two more F’s, it will be forced to hand over the keys of the school to a state-appointed CEO.
So what’s the problem of bringing in someone new to shake things up?
In this case plenty.
There is no requirement that the CEO be familiar with the community in which he or she will be working. Nor is there a requirement that the CEO have any experience in education. In short, it’s a recipe for disaster.
The CEO would have all the powers of a superintendent as well as the local school board. This includes the power over the budget, the curriculum, the pay scale, the hiring and firing — even the calendar. There is no avenue for dispute.
Local officials would be banished to the bench, with the elected school boards only having the power to levy taxes. Residents — the one’s paying the bills – would lose their voice. In affect, such an approach decreases collaboration, ignores local communities, and perpetuates the belief that “Columbus knows best.”
If after five years no improvement occurs, the mayor of the city in which the district lies would be put in charge. Never mind if such person lacks the time or experience to take on such a task.
FAILURE NOT AN OPTION
The stakes are high not only for Lima, but Allen County. The region simply cannot afford to have an under-performing city school system on its resume as it competes for economic development and tries to lure new residents to this corner of the state.
To Ackerman’s credit, she desperately has been trying to raise students’ test scores. She can boast some success with The South Science and Technology Magnet School receiving a grade of B for its overall building success. The career & technical education program received a B for the overall graduation rate and an A for post-program outcomes.
Ackerman also is among those across the state who are lobbying the General Assembly to repeal the law. This needs to happen. Increasing academic performance cannot be accomplished through the top-down, Columbus knows best approach. It requires the involvement of a community, including elected officials, school administrators, educators, parents, civic organizations and students.
CHALLENGING THE TEST
There’s also no question Ohio’s heavy reliance on standardized testing makes for a flawed grade card. Consider a school district’s graduation rate only counts for 15 percent of its overall school grade. Shouldn’t that be the most important measure of a school?
We also find it hard to believe only 1.4 percent of Ohio’s schools are good at preparing children for the future. That’s what the “Prepared for Success” measure on the standardized test claims. Just nine Ohio school districts out of 646, earned an “A” on the measure. On the other hand, 555 districts, or 86 percent of the total, earned a “D” or “F.”
The state report card should be used to identify areas for improvement and to drive conversations on how Ohio’s 1.7 million students can be better served.
In this case, the true “F” may belong to the Ohio Department of Education. With all the children who graduate from Ohio public schools finding success in college, the job market and the military, how can the state agency put out a report card claiming the vast majority of the state’s schools do not prepare graduates for success?
It doesn’t add up, nor does it call for a school takeover.