As the days grew shorter and 2015 drew to a close, my colleagues gave you a recap of the big education stories that impacted the Buckeye State last year. With the new year upon us, it’s time to turn our gaze forward, polish the trusty crystal ball, and make some predictions about what will happen in the next twelve months.
But first, a few disclaimers. While I may possess some superhuman powers, it remains to be seen whether the power of prognostication is one of them. Check back in December to either gloat or pay homage to my soothsaying. Moreover, these are predictions, not necessarily what I want to happen. So keep calm and keep reading.
1. 2016 Elections mean not much of substance will actually happen
Election years always tend to tamp down the amount of legislation that winds its way through the General Assembly. This year, that tendency should be even more pronounced as Ohio’s own John Kasich battles for a spot on the Republican presidential ticket. This means no mid-biennium review bill and precious little action on education policy during 2016. It will likely be the quietest year since Kasich became governor. In fact, the only issue that will be addressed in law before the lame duck session—when, of course, all bets are off—is truancy and attendance. Ignored for too long, measures to help keep more Ohio kids in school will likely gain strong bipartisan support.
2. Ohio will hire a (safe) new state superintendent
Given the recent retirement of Dr. Richard Ross, predicting that Ohio will hire a new state superintendent is a gimme. So let’s make this more interesting: The State Board of Education, against conventional wisdom, will follow a safe course and choose a superintendent who doesn’t make waves. Don’t look for a national reformer with a history of shaking things up (sorry, Tony Bennett and Kevin Huffman). Instead, trying to put some of the bitter discourse of the last year behind it, the board will opt for a veteran Ohio school district leader.
3. Ohio will jump through the U.S. Department of Education’s hoops and retain the $71 million CSP grant
While some have celebrated Ohio’s big charter school grant award—well, mostly just us at Fordham—the overall response has been decidedly negative. So much so that the Department of Education has asked for additional information and assurances that Ohio can effectively administer the grant. Whether it’s because of Ohio’s role as a presidential bellwether state or the recognition by the feds that Ohio needs funding incentives to strengthen its beleaguered charter sector, the Buckeye State (after some more finger pointing) will be given the go-ahead to administer the CSP grant.
4. Ohio will continue its affair with the proficiency illusion
Ohio, like most states, has long given a little wink and nod to parents and the public when it reported state assessment results and over-identified the number of students performing at grade level—the proficiency illusion. Offered a chance to right the ship with the 2014–15 PARCC assessments, Ohio unfortunately chose to set a lower bar for proficiency than the national consortium recommended. With history as its guide and no real desire to administer tough love, expect Ohio to follow a similar course this year when adopting cut scores for its own newly designed assessment. This way, everyone wins. (Well, except for those families who believe their kids are on track for life after high school—when they will actually require remediation before taking college classes, or fail to pass the military entrance examination.)
5. GOP legislators will be forced to decide how important accountability really is
It’s a new era for education policy in America. Gone are the days when state legislators could simply shrug their shoulders when discussing school accountability and say, “The feds made me do it.” School grades, teacher evaluations, learning standards, testing opt-outs, and a slew of other issues will now (or in 2017 at the latest) need to be addressed by Ohio legislators. Will they have the strength to stick to their convictions and professed belief in school accountability? It will test the mettle of legislators—especially Republicans, who have championed these policies. At the end of the day, the bulk of Ohio’s system will remain in place, mostly due to leadership provided by the governor and House and Senate leaders.
6. The school funding debate will rage on
While it’s already been asserted that not much policy change will occur, that doesn’t mean we’ll be without things to talk about. Front and center in the education debate this year will be continued skirmishes over school funding. The ever-raging battle between districts and charters will loom large as districts continue to make the case that Ohio’s inartful funding method directly hurts them. Charters will strike back by pointing to the wildly inequitable funding amounts their students receive. The dissension won’t stop there as more and more districts—especially fast-growing ones—turn to the media to point out the absurdity wrought by funding “caps” that directly circumvent the state’s own funding formula.
7. Ohio will finally rate its charter school sponsors
It’s been a long time coming, but 2016 will see the Ohio Department of Education finally complete its rating of all charter school sponsors. The results will not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. No sponsors will receive the top rating of exemplary—in part because it’s an extremely high bar, but also because of the recent decision to weigh overall academic achievement and growth about equally when calculating the academic rating of each sponsor. That won’t be the biggest news, though. A plurality of sponsors will be rated as effective, and one-fourth of the state’s sponsors (mostly school districts) will demur from the more rigorous review process and simply stop sponsoring charter schools.
8. Online charter schools will occupy center stage in the charter school debate
Ohio’s online charter schools took center stage in much of the charter debate in 2015, and you shouldn’t expect that to change in 2016. The size of a couple of online schools alone means that they have a disproportionate impact on the overall success of the charter sector and on their sponsors’ grades. The issue is complicated further by recent comments from the head of the leading national charter school advocacy group as to whether online charters should be treated as a different type of school entirely.
9. Ohio’s new learning standards will change, but only slightly
The Common Core debate in Ohio has been ebbing and flowing for the last couple of years. It’s been quiet lately, though, and you can expect that trend to continue. The standards review process currently taking place should produce some refinements: probably little things like adding cursive and clarifying that informational reading isn’t about reading product warranties. That’s a good thing as Ohio makes the standards her own and makes sure that they are working for teachers around the state.
10. Gadfly readers will make their feelings known
In December 2016, loyal Ohio Gadfly readers let their silence speak volumes when asked whether they’d like a second annual edition of “Amateur Punditry.” A few brave souls even beg not to be subjected to another round of “so-called predictions.” Ouch…
There you go—plenty of education predictions to wrap your head around in 2016. I’m not sure about their overall accuracy, but I must admit to feeling pretty good about the last one. Whatever happens in 2016, keep following the Ohio Gadfly—and tell your friends to subscribe too—as your go-to source for education policy analysis and commentary in the Buckeye State.
Happy New Year!