Ohio's K-12 system slips from 5th to 11th, but that's beside the point
Yesterday, Education Week unveiled its 15th annual “Quality Counts” rating of state school systems, with Ohio earning a B- and ranking 11th nationally. This year’s theme is education and the economy – a “detailed portrait of how states and districts are navigating the postrecession environment while seeking to maintain the momentum of standards-based school reform.”
While the theme is right, this characterization is somewhat misleading considering that school budgets continued to be propped up this school year with a large injection of federal ARRA funds and then a dose of Ed Jobs money to stave off teacher layoffs. Education Week’s attempt to frame the analysis as “postrecession” may be right chronologically, but in K-12 education at least, the worst is yet to come.
A year ago, state education leaders were touting Ohio’s fifth-place ranking, the Buckeye State’s best since Education Week began ranking states in 2006, as validation of the education reforms made in House Bill 1. Ohio’s successful Race to the Top proposal centers on moving Ohio from “fifth to first.” (Never mind that Quality Counts represents just one of dozens of ways to evaluate states’ K-12 education systems, and a better goal might center on actual improvements to student achievement rather than achieving a ranking relative to peer states.)
We were critical of claims a year ago that Quality Counts was the be all and end all of analyses. This year, we’re even more critical given that the analysis is still focused on the same (and possibly outdated) categories, and hasn’t accounted for the “new normal” in education wherein constant increases in spending are simply unsustainable.
So, does this year’s rating drop illustrate that Ohio is on a backward slide and the reforms over the past year have failed? No.
Education Week uses six categories to rate state school systems:
- Chance for success – an index that combines information on 13 life indicators “from cradle to career.” Ohio’s grade = C+.
- K-12 achievement – an index combining 18 state achievement measures, graduation rates, and more. Ohio’s grade = C-.
- Transitions and alignment – measures efforts to connect K-12 to early learning, higher education, and career. Ohio’s grade = C+.
- School finance analysis- combines myriad statistical measures to account for equity and spending levels. Ohio’s grade = C.
- Standards, assessments, and accountability – self-explanatory. Ohio’s grade = A.
- The teaching profession – looks at a variety of teacher policies and reforms. Ohio’s grade = C.
Ohio should be proud of its score in standards, assessments, and accountability, earning an A overall and 100 points apiece for the subcategories “standards” and “school accountability.” Ohio’s lowest marks relate to school spending, K-12 achievement change and equity, and college readiness, though these rankings fall somewhere in the middle of the pack (in other words, other states struggle with these areas as well).
Beyond the grades given in each category (which Education Week compiles for every annual edition), what this year’s report rightly does is differentiate promises from reality – and in this way should serve as a wakeup call to Ohio that other states are rapidly moving ahead of us in certain reform areas.
Education Week gives states credit only for reforms that have been enacted – not for plans made no matter how promising they might be. For example, even if Ohio districts follow through on promises to overhaul teacher evaluations as part of Race to the Top, none of these changes have taken place and they aren’t codified in law (as in other states), leaving troublesome room for districts to back out of promises down the road.
Perhaps the most illuminating part of the report is a simple checklist (under “The Fiscal Crisis and Education Policy”) illustrating several areas where Ohio has stalled compared to peer states. For example, the checklist places a “no” next to areas such as “Statewide salary schedule – did the state freeze or reduce teacher compensation?” and “Did the state change teacher layoff criteria?”
While many states have made such changes, Ohio hasn’t. While 22 states have adjusted funding or rules and benefits for teacher pensions, Ohio has not. While 11 others have loosened state regulations on class size, Ohio hasn’t budged – and our current school funding model would actually tighten class-size mandates.
Given the fiscal distress facing nearly every state, Education Week should score states on these issues and base the overall grade, in part, on how well states are responding to the new budgetary reality.
When it comes to loosening requirements, overhauling teacher personnel policies (such as evaluations, pay, and seniority-based layoffs), and giving districts and schools more flexibility in the face of budget cuts, Ohio should move into swift action. (See these recommendations, along with others, in our Education Imperatives for Ohio.) It is in these areas, not the overall grades (many of which are inflated), that Ohio should be worried about keeping up with the Joneses, or rather the Colorados and Floridas.
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