It’s the start of another year, and that means it’s time for us at the Ohio Gadfly to predict what awaits in the next twelve months. In light of last year’s historic budget bill, there’s plenty on the agenda. But we also expect there to be a few surprises along the way.
Here are, in no particular order, three predictions about what might be in store this year.
1. Science of reading implementation will continue to dominate the headlines.
The talk of the education town last spring was a sweeping effort to establish a roster of important early literacy reforms that would ensure Ohio schools are using curricula, materials, and instructional practices aligned with the science of reading. The good news is that this legislative effort was mostly successful. (Attempts to defend Ohio’s retention requirement were, alas, unsuccessful, but that’s another story.) Now that these reforms are in place, it’s time for the real work to begin.
We expect the newly established Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), led by governor-appointed director Steve Dackin, to have a list of approved, high-quality, science-of-reading-aligned curricula and materials published within the first two months of 2024. Doing so will be crucial, as districts are required to use curricula and materials from the approved list this fall. We also expect that, this spring, the Ohio Department of Higher Education will release their initial summaries of the reading instruction strategies and practices being used in each of the state’s teacher preparation programs.
Obviously, neither of these is a bold prediction. They are, after all, required by law. But how districts and preparation programs respond to these actions matters, and that is far more uncertain. We’d like to predict that districts will recognize the importance of high-quality curricula and materials and won’t hesitate to adopt something off of the state’s list; that they will welcome state-assigned reading coaches with open arms and eagerly take advantage of the state funding available for professional development. We’d also like to predict that teacher preparation programs will recognize the importance of effectively training prospective teachers, and that the state’s summaries of their practices will inspire change as needed.
Unfortunately, the implementation outlook is hazy, and thus we can’t—and won’t—make those predictions. Although state officials will surely do what they’re required to do, we predict that there will be districts and preparation programs that drag their feet. Several districts will take advantage of a loophole allowing them to request a waiver to use discredited instructional methods. Several preparation programs will ignore the need to overhaul their programs in the hope that no one will notice if they just keep doing what they’ve always done. To combat this quiet resistance, we expect state leaders to push back, and advocacy groups to closely monitor implementation, call out problems, and suggest solutions.
2. The new department will put the W in DEW.
Early literacy wasn’t the only marquee item in last year’s budget. The legislation also overhauled K–12 education governance by shifting the majority of duties previously held by the State Board of Education to the newly renamed Department of Education and Workforce. The department will have its hands full with early literacy, ongoing pandemic academic recovery efforts, and the recent expansion of school choice options. But in keeping with its new name, it’s a sure bet that one of the primary points of emphasis will be workforce readiness.
Specifically, we predict that the department will increase its emphasis on expanding work-based learning opportunities, increasing industry-recognized credential attainment, ensuring that credentials are meaningful and valuable, and improving transparency around student outcomes data. Fortunately, Director Dackin is well suited to take on this challenge. During his testimony before the Senate in December, Dackin noted that when he was superintendent of Reynoldsburg City Schools, the district developed one of the nation’s largest STEM pipelines for students, serving more than one-third of the district’s students. He also previously served as the chair of the Youth Committee of the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio. Under Dackin’s experienced leadership, the department will surely get off to a great start putting the W in DEW.
3. Chronic absenteeism will continue to be a big deal.
Over the course of the pandemic, student absenteeism skyrocketed. In 2018–19, the statewide chronic absenteeism rate was 16.7 percent. In 2021–22, it jumped to 30 percent before dropping to just below 27 percent during the 2022–23 school year.
State and local leaders have responded to these troublingly high numbers in ways that range from excellent to less than helpful. On the excellent side of the spectrum, the Stay in the Game! Network is helping improve attendance in a few districts and charter schools. And in early November, Ohio’s Attendance Taskforce released a series of important recommendations aimed at improving prevention and early intervention efforts. On the other side, some lawmakers—undoubtedly with encouragement from the field—have actually sought to make it easier for students to miss school by establishing a questionable list of “legitimate excuses” for student absences despite the disastrous long-term effects of absenteeism.
Over the course of 2024, we predict an ongoing battle similar to the one in 2023. Those who recognize the important role attendance plays in student success will continue to seek ways to improve prevention, identification, and intervention efforts. Those who have priorities other than student success—like looking good on ratings—will renew their efforts to make skipping school easier, and will double down on attempts to make it harder to transparently track absenteeism data. As for the statewide chronic absenteeism rate, look for it to slightly—but not substantially—improve in light of efforts to raise awareness about the importance of attendance.
And there you have it. 2024 seems poised to mimic 2023 in some big ways, but there’s also plenty of opportunities for things to be better. Here’s hoping they are. Happy New Year!