Earlier this summer, Ohio’s state superintendent Paolo DeMaria announced his, effective in September. We at Fordham wholeheartedly salute DeMaria for his work on behalf of students and his leadership in helping schools navigate the challenges of the past year.
The state board of education is tasked with finding his replacement, and attracting a high-caliber education chief should be a top priority. To be sure, this won’t be a cushy job for the faint-of-heart. He or she will need to traverse heated political debates and win support from strong-willed lawmakers and board members. The state superintendent will also oversee the work of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), an agency that implements and enforces education laws. The good news, though, is that Ohio has lots going for it in the area of K–12 education. The next superintendent will have abundant opportunities to make a mark on policies that impact Ohio’s two million public and private school students. Consider five such opportunities.
Opportunity 1: Cement into place a revamped school report card. After months of debate, lawmakers recentlythe state’s school report cards. Supported by a number of education groups ( ), the new system should yield ratings that are fairer to schools and provide the public with easy-to-use information about school quality. While the legislature has created the statutory framework, the state board and Ohio Department of Education (ODE) will need to iron out some of the details in the coming months. Most notably, they’re tasked with setting rigorous but attainable “grading scales” for each report card measure and ensuring clear presentations of the ratings and underlying data. This technical work must be done right. But just as importantly, the next state superintendent will have to clearly explain the crucial role report cards play in a healthy, responsible, and transparent public school system. That type of vocal leadership can build the public support and confidence needed for the new report cards to be successful.
Opportunity 2: Energetically advance the state’s early literacy initiatives. Recognizing the link between early literacy and students’ , Ohio lawmakers passed the . Its most well-known provision is mandatory retention when students cannot demonstrate fluency on third grade reading assessments. But there are other crucial dimensions to the policy that help ensure that children receive the supports needed to reach that vital benchmark. These include required parental notification and reading plans for off-track children, and intensive interventions for retained students. Despite its importance, the policy has faced and . The next superintendent could jump-start this vital initiative by pushing for rigorous implementation and voicing support for early literacy.
Opportunity 3: Lay a solid foundation for the state’s brand-new enrichment ESA. In achock-full of exciting initiatives, one of the most tantalizing is the creation of an (ESA). This program will open afterschool and enrichment opportunities for low- and middle-income students by providing $500 per year that parents can spend on approved activities. The ESA holds much promise to narrow “opportunity gaps,” but its future beyond 2023 is uncertain because it’s being funded through temporary federal relief dollars. To sustain the program over the long-haul, lawmakers will likely need to commit state money and may even need to increase the outlay to meet parent demand, as dollars could easily run out if applications exceed the appropriation. Getting the program off on the right foot will be critical, and ODE will play a key role in making sure that happens. The agency will accept applications, select a vendor that creates the accounts and monitors spending, and inform parents about acceptable uses of the dollars. Active involvement from the state chief could help position the program for growth in the years ahead.
Opportunity 4: Push for excellent career and technical education and work-based learning. Recognizing the need to strengthen the technical skills of Ohio students, state policymakers have ramped up support for CTE. In the recently passed budget, lawmakers allocated for programs that reward schools when students earn industry recognized credentials. These funds will supplement the already generous categorical “add-on” dollars that schools have long received when pupils take various CTE courses. With such goodwill, the next state superintendent should have plenty of room to showcase high-quality CTE and workforce development initiatives. By the same token, he or she may need to put their foot down at times to ensure that these programs are truly opening doors to great careers—not rewarding that don’t allow students to stand out and get ahead in the workplace.
Opportunity 5: Champion great educational options for all Ohio students. Ohio has a proud history of pioneering educational choice, but recent policy developments have accelerated the move to empower parents and students. Today, Ohio has a plethora of public school options, which include district-run magnet schools, regional STEM schools, and public charter schools. Interdistrict open enrollment is an option for most Ohio students. High school students can take college-level courses via or CTE courses at their local joint-vocational school. With for state-funded scholarships, more Ohio students than ever have private-school options. In the most recent budget, lawmakers even recognized the dedication and contributions of parents who homeschool their children by offering modest tax relief. The next state superintendent will have ample opportunity to champion a rich plurality of educational options and support the growth of choices that meet the unique needs of all Ohio students.
Just like the president has many hats, the state superintendent plays many roles as well. He or she will need to work diplomatically with lawmakers and the state board to get things done. They’re responsible for supervising one of the nation’s largest and most diverse school systems, and for communicating state education priorities to the broader public. It’s a big job with big opportunities. And for someone who is ready to make a difference in the lives of millions of students, it might just be the job of a lifetime.