One year later: A look at how Ohio performed during the first year of Race to the Top

Just over a year ago, Ohio won $400 million in Race to the
Top grant dollars and promised to implement a number of significant reform
programs. The U.S. Department of Education just released a progress report
for the Buckeye State detailing how it has fared in year one, as well as the
work that remains.

First, it might be helpful to revisit the major commitments
Ohio made. They were to:

  • Increase the high school graduation rate by 0.5
    percent per year with the eventual goal of an 88 percent graduation rate. Right now
    only 84.3 percent of students graduate from Ohio’s high schools.
  • Reduce the graduation rate gap between white and
    minority students by 50 percent. The current gap is 16 percentage points.
  • Reduce the performance gap between Ohio students
    and some of the nation’s highest performers like Massachusetts.
  • Double college enrollment for Ohioans under the
    age of 19. Ohio ranks 35th in terms of adults with a two-year degree
    of higher.
  • Adopt and implement high-quality academic
    standards aligned assessments.
  • Ensure great principals and teachers in every
    school (however that’s measured).

Ohio has more than 600 school district, 3,500 district
schools and over 300 charter schools so it had its work cut out for it when it
applied for RttT dollars and then won. The list of goals stated above is no
easy task.  So how is Ohio doing a year
into the process?

Year 1 Successes

  • Ohio adopted the Common Core State Standards in
    English and mathematics, ensuring a system of new high quality standards. Ohio
    also developed numerous web-based resources to help educators and
    administrators learn and understand the importance of the standards. 
  • Ohio developed a teacher evaluation system of
    which 50 percent must be based on student growth, many details still need to be
    worked out on this though. Around 130 school districts volunteered to be part
    of the pilot year that started in the 2011 school year. By the 2013 school year
    all districts and charter schools must participate.
  • Ohio is still on track for developing a
    statewide longitudinal data system that includes pre-kindergarten through
    higher education data by 2013.
  • An increase in pathways for aspiring teachers
    and principals. Year one of RttT saw several legislative victories including
    the potential for Teach For America to set up shop in Ohio. 
  • Established the Ohio Appalachian Initiative- a
    collaboration among 22 rural districts to help share data, train teachers, and
    engage members of the community.

Ohio has scored some significant implementation victories in
the first year and compared with laggards like Hawaii and New York one could
argue the first year has been a real success for the Buckeye State. U.S.
Secretary of Education Duncan summed the situation up nicely when he told the Columbus Dispatch “Ohio is in really
good shape,”

 

However, everyone agrees a great deal of work remains if
Ohio is going to move from meaningful activity to increasing student
achievement. Year 2 and beyond looks to be the years when action has to start
translating into success and most importantly gains in things like test scores.

The following issues remain on the table:

  • Continuing to reach out to educators to help
    them understand and successfully implement the Common Core Standards. 
  • Putting in place workable teacher evaluation
    systems. While the state provided a framework for the evaluations districts can
    choose to create their own or adapt the framework provided, potentially resulting
    in a variety of different evaluation systems with some being stronger than
    others.
  • Getting Teach For America corps members into
    schools around Ohio is proving to be a challenge. Raising external funding in tight
    fiscal times in not easy, especially when there are many competing interests
    for scarce dollars. School districts are also having a hard time selling the
    idea of TFA to unions and their teachers when many are, or have in recent
    years, been laying
    off
    teachers.   

Ohio should be applauded for their accomplishments thus far,
but now the tough job of beginning to implement the new policies begins.
Hopefully, the progress report for year 2 will tell a similar story of success.

This piece originally appeared on the Ohio Gadfly Daily.

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