Ohio's reforms better than most, but still have a way to go

Ohio earned a C- rating, placing the Buckeye State tenth in the nation in StudentsFirst’s second-annual “State Policy Report Card.” StudentsFirst is a national education-reform organization led by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. The highest-rated states were Louisiana and Florida, which both received a B- rating. For its policy report card, StudentsFirst bases a state's ratings on three reform “pillars”: Teacher quality, parental choice, and fiscal- and governance-related issues. Fairly high praise for the Buckeye State, but as the mediocre rating indicates, Ohio still has plenty of room to improve.

According to StudentsFirst, Ohio’s areas of strength include:

  • Increase Quality Choices (B) – Ohio’s expansive voucher programs and performance-based charter contracts are cited as strengths.
  • Empower Parents with Information (C+) – Ohio’s new A-F school report cards are given high marks.
  • Spend Taxpayers Resources Wisely to Improve Outcomes for Students (C+) –Ohio’s improvements in fiscal transparency are commended. One example StudentsFirst cites is recent legislation that requires the department of education to display the link between school spending and academic outcomes.

The weaknesses include:

  • Value Effective Teachers (F) – Ohio’s minimum salary schedule for teachers (based primarily on seniority and credits-earned) remains in law, and is a significant barrier for education reform. However, not all is bleak in this area, as the report card rightly notes: Districts that participated in the federal Race to the Top program are now required to adopt a performance-based compensation system.
  • Provide Comparable Resources for All Public Options (D-) – Ohio’s school funding system is cited as inequitable. Public funds don’t “follow the child” and charter-school students receive less per-pupil funding than their district peers.
  • Use Evaluations for Personnel Decisions (D+) – Ohio receives low marks in this area, as it has not yet tied teacher evaluations to layoff and tenure decision making.

StudentsFirst adeptly wades through Ohio’s quagmire of education policies, even linking the policy realm under examination to the applicable section of state law. Helpfully also, the report card provides comparisons to other states, allowing users to identify the state with the best-in-class policy. This is all valuable, useful, and good information for Ohio’s policymakers. But in the end, Ohio’s C- rating, which equals the state’s rating from last year, reminds us that ed-reform still remains an unfinished work.

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