Let the Debate Begin: Education Policy Priorities for 2010 and Beyond

Ohioans of every background and political inclination agree that our state needs a system of public education that attains three critical goals: 1) maximizes the talent of every child; 2) is as strong as any in the world in overall achievement; and 3) closes the persistent performance gaps between rich and poor, black and white and brown.

Governor Strickland's education reform plan, enshrined in HB 1, moved Ohio forward in some areas (e.g., teacher tenure, teacher certification, and high school end-of-course exams), but backwards in others (e.g., evidence-based model of school funding). In our view, Ohio still has a long way to go if it is to create a system of education that focuses squarely on high-performance for all children and schools.

There is little doubt that the gubernatorial debates in 2010 will focus in large part on education; both on Governor Strickland's school funding fix and Republican challenger John Kasich's reform ideas and counter proposals. The governor has been working the state playing up his recent reforms (see here). Kasich, meanwhile, told a gathering of supporters in Lebanon recently that, "We need a revolution in the way we educate our kids" (see here).

As the candidates talk up education and hone their positions for 2010 we thought we'd share the Fordham Institute's five education policy priorities and offer a comparison of where Ohio is now and where we think the state needs to go in each policy area in the coming years.

Note, the following draws extensively on a decade's work by many analysts and organizations, including Governor Ted Strickland's school reform plan , current Ohio statutes and regulations , Achieve, McKinsey & Company, the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, the National Governors Association, The New Teacher Project, Education Sector, the National Working Group on Funding Student Learning, the National Center on Performance Incentives , the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers , Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses, Ohio at the Crossroads: School funding - more of the same or changing the model, and Ohio's own State Board of Education and Department of Education , as well as prior Fordham studies. For a list of resources and a full version of this document in PDF format, see here.

Policy Priority I: Ensure that Education Funding is Connected to Student Performance and to the Actual Learning Needs of Individual Students

Ohio has seen per-pupil funding in the state rise by nearly 30 percent in the past decade (in inflation-adjusted dollars). During this same time academic achievement has realized only anemic growth. Ohio needs to move from merely providing more money for more inputs to crafting policies that maximize school efficiency and effectiveness.

Policy Priority II: Recruit the Best and Brightest to Lead Schools and Empower them to Succeed

Great schools are not apt to flourish unless they are led by great leaders. Fully half of Ohio school principals are 50 or older. We have the opportunity to set the groundwork for a new model of school leadership that focuses squarely on student performance and school-based control of resources, talent, and programs.

Policy Priority III: Improve Teacher Quality

The evidence is overwhelming that quality teachers are the prime driver of student success. "To be competitive nationally and internationally, we need the best and brightest teachers working in all of our classrooms with all of our students," argued the Ohio Grantmakers Forum in 2006 (see here).

Policy Priority IV: Expand the Quality of, and Access to, a Range of High-Performing School Options

The traditional one-size-fits-all model does not meet the interests and learning needs of our increasingly diverse student population. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), fewer than half of Ohio's fourth and eighth graders are proficient in reading and math. But the results for children of color are substantially lower; barely one in ten black students is proficient by eighth grade.

Policy Priority V: Create World-Class Standards and Stronger Accountability Mechanisms

The world's best education systems challenge their children with high academic standards and rigorous, equitable assessments. There is general agreement that Ohio's current academic standards are mediocre. For example, Fordham's State of State Standards reports conferred on Ohio's standards a C average in 2000 and a D+ in 2006.

In July 2009, Governor Strickland signed House Bill 1, requiring Ohio to rewrite its academic standards and assessments. There is considerable risk, however, that this rewrite could make a bad situation worse. Specifically, the law calls for standards and assessments to focus more on so-called "21st Century skills"--e.g., media literacy, cultural awareness, adaptability, responsibility, etc.--than on the "three Rs" and actual knowledge. Of the seven new legislative mandates facing Ohio standards-setters, six deal with trendy 21st Century skills while only one focuses on core content.

At the same time, Ohio has committed to working with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers in the effort to create common national academic standards (in reading/writing and math, beginning with high-school exit expectations). This is potentially a positive move for the Buckeye State. If the "common standards" come out well, if they are extended to the lower grades, and if suitable assessments follow, at least in these two subjects Ohio could benefit from participation in this national effort. (It's important to note, however, that the national project does not address science, history or other key elements of the curriculum.)

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Despite recent reforms and improvements, Ohio's education system has further to go before it can be considered high-performing for all of its children. We believe that by embracing the five policy priorities sketched out above, the Buckeye State can not only become a national leader in public education but can deliver public schooling at a cost the state can afford over the long haul.