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Did Kasich’s Education Reforms Make a Difference In Ohio?

As Ohio prepares to elect a new governor, Ohioans are also assessing the legacy Gov. John Kasich will leave after 8 years at the helm of the state, but in the world of education, leaders say it will take time before the success of Kasich’s reforms can be judged.

Here are three of those reforms and what policy analysts and education officials think about their impact on Ohio’s schools.

1. A-F School Grades

The A-F school and school district grades given annually on state reports cards have taken years to implement fully. In fact, the 2017-2018 school year marks the final implementation of the report cards—giving schools their first ever summative grade, an overall grade that takes into account each subcomponent of the report card measures.

At the statehouse, though, at least one legislator is proposing scrapping the entire system because of some controversy over the grades themselves. Timothy Freeman, associate executive director of the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators and a former high school principal, says that’s because many superintendents believe the grades don’t actually show what’s happening on the ground.

“While nobody could argue about the concept of accountability as an educator,” Freeman said, “when you see how it’s mechanized and how it hits the ground, you have to wonder how it was informed by people in the field.”

The calculations behind the A-F grades need adjusted, Freeman said, and Chad Aldis with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute agreed, but he doesn’t want the grading system to be thrown out completely.

It has had success in other states, Aldis said, providing transparency and clear areas to focus resources for improvement.

“Hopefully we can figure out ways to make this better, but not get rid of a system that has fairly high long term potential,” he said.

2. Third Grade Reading Guarantee

Aldis called Kasich’s third grade reading guarantee a priority for the administrator. Implemented in 2014, the program requires third graders to be reading on grade level, as measured by state test scores, before they can be promoted to fourth grade.

“Kids up until third grade learn to read so that in fourth grade and beyond they can read to learn,” Aldis said, adding that children who are not reading at grade level by that point in their education have higher dropout rates.

But so do kids who are held back a year, said Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, which is what Kasich’s reading guarantee requires.

CMSD has written new literacy curriculum and provides summer reading camps to keep kids on track, but Gordon said it’ll take time before the program’s success can truly be measured.

“We have not yet seen a cohort all the way through to graduation so we don’t actually know, have stronger readers persisted even if they had to be held back to be a stronger reader or did holding students back actually harm them even though they read better as a result of it?” he said.

3. Charter School Reform

Perhaps the biggest education reform effort Kasich undertook is that of the state’s charter school system. The changes came through multiple pieces of legislation, but Aldis believes House Bills 555 and 2 were the most impactful. Both dealt with oversight and accountability, especially for scharter school sponsors.

“There was always a hint and a rumble that more accountability was needed,” Aldis said.

The Fordham Foundation—a sister organization to Aldis’ group—is a charter sponsor in Ohio, and just like the dozens of others, was placed under a new accountability system that Kasich proposed.

Policy Matters Ohio’s Victoria Jackson said HB 2 brought a number of changes as well—it set up a process to close ineffective schools and end sponsorship authority for failing sponsors. It gave the state Department of Education more oversight and ended some unethical purchasing and hiring practices.

While Jackson said those changes have helped, Ohioans only have to look to the most recent Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow scandal—a now closed charter school that was inflating its attendance numbers—to see that more can be done.

For her, the top priority is preventing charter sponsors from profiting off of taxpayer dollars.

“It incentivizes them to cut corners and maybe not serve students with disabilities because it’s more expensive,” she said.

On the other hand, Aldis said the charter school system is just now getting to a point of stability. Bad sponsors have been pushed out and those that are left can focus on achievement.

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Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered. She joined the news team in October of 2012.