Ohio's ed system: A lackluster leader

Ohio remains an education reform leader, comparatively, yet still has a ways to go to be top in the country in school reform efforts. That’s the conclusion from this week’s StudentsFirst’s inaugural State Policy Report Card.

StudentsFirst, a national organization led by former D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee, rates how closely each states’ education policies align with broader education reform goals. This ambitious research project examines whether states’ policies embolden and encourage reform along three dimensions: Quality teaching, parental choice, and school finance. StudentsFirst, for example, looks at whether states have established policies requiring teacher evaluations, teacher tenure based on effectiveness, and clear accountability for school performance—including charter schools.

Deservedly so, Ohio receives high marks in its education reform policies relative other states. In fact, Florida and Louisiana were the only two states that received markedly higher grades in “ed-reformedness.” With a C-minus letter grade, Ohio ranks tenth. Ohio scores especially high along the parental choice indicator—not surprising given the multitude of school choice options available to parents. These choices include the state’s 350-plus charters, and voucher programs for students in failing schools or students with special needs. StudentsFirst also righty recognizes improvements in Ohio’s accountability laws, most recently through passage of House Bill 555. This legislation establishes a clear, A-F grading system for school accountability, and holds charter schools to a higher accountability standard.

A tough grader, StudentsFirst also indicates that Ohio—and other states—still have miles to go in establishing a completely reformed education system. Part and parcel of Ohio’s C-minus letter grade are weaknesses in the Buckeye State’s charter school funding laws (which currently prohibit charters from accessing state facilities financing and funds charters at about a third less than district schools), its still-codified teacher salary schedule, and its class size requirements. These are all reforms that StudentsFirst and other reformers are right to push in upcoming legislative sessions.

For Ohio’s policymakers, StudentsFirst provides a very handy overview and evaluation of how Ohio stacks up to the nation’s top reformers and offers guidance for moving forward in coming months and years. An interactive website nicely supplements the written report, which includes a tool that allows users to compare reform policies across states. One can, therefore, get the long and short of teacher evaluation policies in Ohio versus, say, Alabama. But as policy changes move swiftly, StudentsFirst’s challenge will be to ensure that the information it provides stays fresh and timely. So in the end, we first tip our caps to StudentsFirst for this impressive and useful research, as well as urge StudentsFirst to make this report an annual effort.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and AEI hosted a conversation about the findings of this report earlier today. View the video online here.

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