About a month ago, I took a look at four of the most significant education policies that were set to be debated in conference committee.
About a month ago, I took a look atthat were set to be debated in conference committee. Now that the budget is finally over the finish line, here’s an overview of how those four policies turned out.
Academic distress commissions
The debate over how to turn around persistently low-performing districts reached a fever pitch earlier this year, so it’s no surprise that the budget process included several proposals for how to change(ADCs). The governor’s proposal—which originated with the Ohio Department of Education—and the House provisions appeared quite different on the surface, but both effectively ended ADCs. The Senate, meanwhile, a completely different proposal in its Education Committee. In the end, none of the proposed plans made the cut. Instead, the budget was silent on the academic distress commissions that are currently in place in Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland, and established a moratorium on any new commissions for the 2019–20 school year. The moratorium gives lawmakers some additional time to work out a policy fix, so expect plenty more ADC debates over the coming months.
Ohio has beenfor nearly three years. Early versions of the budget from the governor’s office and the House didn’t include a permanent solution. The Senate, on the other hand, offered a comprehensive set of requirements based on a offered by , the , and Fordham. Editorial boards at the and sung the praises of the proposal, and legislators seemed to agree; they included the proposal in the final version of the budget and Governor DeWine signed it into law. That’s great news for lawmakers, who can breathe a sigh of relief that the controversial graduation requirement debate is over, and for students, who finally have a permanent set of rigorous but attainable graduation requirements.
Quality charter school funding
In his budget,an increase of $30 million per year in state aid for high-performing charter schools, and the House echoed his proposal in their version of the budget. The Senate decreased the total funding allocation to $20 million, but the conference committee restored the total to $30 million. Eligible schools will receive an additional $1,750 per pupil for economically disadvantaged students and $1,000 per pupil for other students. This is a huge win for charter schools. Ohio charters face compared to their district counterparts, and these additional state dollars will go a long way toward helping existing charters serve their students well. These funds should also to open new schools, expand high-performing networks, and recruit high-performing, out-of-state networks.
Many education advocates expected the budget cycle to include fierce debates about ADCs, charter schools, and graduation requirements. But the Senate’s changes to theprogram—which offers state-funded scholarships to low-income students, as well as students who attend low-performing schools—came as a bit of a surprise. These changes include expanding eligibility to all low-income students in grades K–12 starting in 2020–21; a new, year-round application window; an automatic increase in the number of available scholarships if the number of applications exceeds 90 percent of the current cap; and changes to how scholarship amounts are computed. The impact of these changes cannot be overstated. Each year, there are hundreds of students for EdChoice. Expanding eligibility—and making it easier to apply thanks to a revised application window—means that more families than ever before will have access to school options.
It's been a busy budget season, and these policies are sure to have a big impact on Ohio’s education environment. But there are alsothat will need to be unpacked in the coming weeks—and more to be debated in the coming months. Stay tuned!
Governor Mike DeWine is expected to sign the state budget bill,, into law today. HB 166 is chock full of education provisions that extend far beyond the dollars and cents of funding allocations. Some of these provisions will have major impacts on how schools operate, while others are new proposals that, if implemented with fidelity, could significantly improve educational outcomes for students. Here’s an overview of the changes and why they matter.
Postsecondary readiness, accountability, and testing
Academic Distress Commissions
- What the budget did: Preserved the that are currently in place in Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland, but established a moratorium on any new commissions for the 2019–20 school year. The Superintendent of Public Instruction must resume establishing commissions beginning on October 1, 2020.
- Why it matters: The moratorium prevents Dayton Public Schools—the only district that could have been placed under the control of an academic distress commission based on a low overall rating on its forthcoming school report card—from ending up under state control for at least the next year. It also gives legislators some additional time to make sure that the structure in place for ADCs is the right one moving forward.
- What the budget did: Put into law a new and permanent set of graduation requirements that will start with the Class of 2023. These provisions are based on a by , the , and Fordham. These requirements expect students to earn passing marks on two high school end-of-course exams or meet career-technical or military-readiness targets. Graduates must also earn at least two diploma “seals,” among a variety of state- and locally-approved options, and meet longstanding course-taking requirements.
- Why it matters: Unlike a offered by the State Board of Education, the enacted provisions are objective, comparable, and valid. Students will have a variety of ways to demonstrate what they know and can do, but high expectations are applied to everyone. , the Buckeye State can finally stop debating what to do about graduation standards.
Value-added grade scale for state report cards
- What the budget did: Modified the scale used to determine the letter grades assigned to districts and schools for the value-added progress indicator that tracks pupil growth over time. For instance, under previous law, a value-added index score of two or above was designated as an A. Under the new law, a score of just one or above will be designated as an A. The legislation changed the performance benchmarks for the other ratings as well.
- Why it matters: These changes will result in for many schools and districts, which will in turn also inflate overall grades. The increase in A-rated schools will make it more difficult to pinpoint schools that are significantly boosting student growth. And with fewer low value-added ratings, it may also reduce student eligibility for the traditional EdChoice Scholarship program, which is based in part on district schools’ value-added ratings.
Automatic closure for charter schools
- What the budget did: the automatic closure of any charter school that earned low school ratings during two of the three most recent school years. The budget altered this provision to require mandatory closure after three consecutive years of poor ratings. This change takes effect immediately when the act becomes law.
- Why it matters: At first glance, this could appear to be an example of lawmakers walking back accountability, as it could reduce the number of charter schools that are subject to automatic closure. But Ohio’s sponsor evaluation system has put more pressure on authorizers to close poor-performing schools, and the state’s overall accountability framework has become more rigorous (for both district and charter schools), resulting in more charters being at-risk of mandatory closure than originally intended under this law.
Dropout prevention and recovery schools
- What the budget did: There were three major changes for dropout recovery charter schools. First, the budget modified the state test passage rate indicator, which measures student proficiency on high school exams. Second, it requires the Ohio Department of Education to recalculate 2017–18 report card ratings for dropout recovery schools, and prohibits the automatic closure of dropout recovery schools based on report cards issued during the 2017–18 and 2018–19 school years if a school’s overall rating meets or exceeds standards based on the updated passage rate indicator. Finally, it altered automatic closure provisions to match the changes made for other charters. Automatic closure now occurs after three consecutive years of a “does not meet standards” rating.
- Why it matters: Correcting a technical problem with how Ohio measures the academic performance of students in dropout recovery schools is important, and it’s common sense to also align dropout recovery schools’ automatic closure rules to those governing other charter schools.
- What the budget did: There were to the . (1) All low-income students in grades K–12 will be eligible for EdChoice income-based scholarships starting in 2020–21; without this change, eligibility would have been limited to students in grades K–7. (2) Traditional and income-based EdChoice scholarships will now have a year-round application window. (3) If the number of applications for traditional EdChoice scholarships exceeds 90 percent of the current cap, an automatic increase in the number of scholarships available will go into effect the following year. And (4) scholarships are computed based on the amount prescribed by law, or the base tuition amount of the school in which a student enrolls minus applicable tuition reductions—whichever amount is smaller.
- Why it matters: Ohio has a thriving school choice environment, of which its are a huge part. The EdChoice Scholarship program, in particular, has provided thousands of low-income families with the opportunity to choose the school that best fits their student’s needs. The changes put forth in this budget not only extend these options to more Ohio families, especially those with middle and high school students, they also make it easier to access them.
Charter school funding
- What the budget did: Allocated $30 million per year in supplemental state aid for high-performing charter schools. Schools will receive an additional $1,750 per pupil for economically disadvantaged students and $1,000 per pupil for non-disadvantaged students.
- Why it matters: Ohio charter schools face , so these new funds are sorely needed. They will likely be in kick-starting the opening of new schools, aiding in the growth of high performing charters, and making Ohio an attractive location for quality out-of-state networks looking to expand. In other words, these new funds will translate to an increase in quality school options for the students who need them most.
- What the budget did: Allows a charter school sponsor (i.e., authorizer) that earns an overall rating of “effective” or “exemplary” for at least three consecutive years to be evaluated by the Ohio Department of Education once every three years going forward.
- Why it matters: The sponsor evaluation system is a critical part of ensuring that charter schools are held accountable for performance. But the compliance and practices components of these evaluations are an incredibly time-consuming and burdensome process, preventing sponsors from devoting more of their time to oversight and technical assistance. Allowing high-quality sponsors to be evaluated once every three years instead of annually lessens these administrative burdens.
- What the budget did: Under previous law, school districts were required to offer to sell or lease school facilities that hadn’t been used in two years to charter, STEM, and college-preparatory boarding schools located within the district borders. The budget changes state law to require a district to offer to sell or lease facilities that have not been used for only one year.
- Why it matters: It’s that charter schools are often forced to locate in inadequate facilities. By requiring districts to offer their unused facilities after one year instead of two, lawmakers have taken a step forward in solving the (though there’s still plenty left to do).
Other funding initiatives
Funding for industry credentials
- What the budget did: Established a $25 million dedicated to helping high school students earn industry-recognized credentials. Half of these funds will go to establishing and operating the Innovative Workforce Incentive Program, which will pay public schools $1,250 for each qualifying credential earned by a student.
- Why it matters: Industry credentials can lead to rewarding and well-paying careers, but of Ohio graduates earned one in 2017–18. Appropriating a sum that targets credentialing programs and incentivizes student completion ensures that Ohio continues to expand K–12 pathways toward post-secondary attainment, a crucial part of meeting .
Student wellness funds
- What the budget did: Over the next two fiscal years, allocated a $675 million pot of funds for all public schools, awarded on a per-pupil basis according to the percentage of low-income children residing in a district, to improve student wellness by addressing non-academic needs.
- Why it matters: The evidence that student wellness services can impact academic outcomes is , but supporting student health and wellness for its own sake is commendable. If the state by offering schools detailed information on quality service providers and keeping track of which programs improved student outcomes, then Ohio could become a national example.
- What the budget did: , which was passed in 2018, requires public school teachers to be “properly certified or licensed,” which means they must possess one of the state’s approved . The budget eliminates the requirement for teachers in traditional districts, charter schools, and STEM schools to be “properly certified or licensed.”
- Why it matters: More and more educators are entering the classroom via non-traditional routes. In Ohio, many tend to work under long-term substitute licenses until they meet state requirements for traditional or licensure. Requiring these teachers to be “properly certified or licensed” would cost Ohio schools, especially that hire more non-traditional teachers, a vital aspect of their hiring and recruitment flexibility. By eliminating this provision from state law, the budget makes it easier for charters and school districts to compete for much-needed talent by permitting them to hire talented but non-traditionally trained individuals.
NOTE: Governor DeWine used his line-item veto power to eliminate these licensure provisions for school districts.
Alternative teacher preparation
- What the budget did: Nontraditional teacher candidates who apply for an are required to complete a , which provides candidates with training in foundational areas such as student development, assessments, curriculum, and classroom management. Under previous law, these programs were offered by nonprofit organizations. The budget alters the law to allow candidates to complete programs that are operated by for-profit organizations as well, so long as they are approved by the Chancellor of Higher Education.
- Why it matters: Nontraditional teacher candidates face many barriers to entering the profession. This change would remove one of those barriers by increasing the training options that are available. Requiring programs to be approved by the chancellor also functions as an important quality check.
Proficient (adj.): “Well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge.” —
Proficiency on Ohio state exams has long had little to do with being “well advanced.” In, 66 percent of Ohio students met state proficiency standards in eighth grade reading, while just 39 percent were proficient in eighth-grade reading on the more stringent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Other with more rigorous standards—e.g., Colorado, Florida, and Massachusetts—report proficiency rates on state tests that are approximately in-line with these national exams. In fact, Ohio’s proficiency standards are so relaxed that the state cautions that meeting this mark doesn’t indicate being on-track for college and career success (reaching “ ”—a level above proficient—does).
Proficiency standards aren’t just a wonky topic. They have real-world consequences. When students are told they are “proficient”—though they fail to meet rigorous academic targets—they may be misled into believing that they’re on a solid pathway to college. Potential costs include the following: Misinformed students could begin coasting through their coursework when they should be pushing themselves to reach higher academic goals; they might begin planning for admissions to college, only to be feel regrets when they can’t get in; and they might skip opportunities that can prepare them for rewarding careers that don’t require four-year degrees.
These are all risks associated with setting soft proficiency standards. But how often does this situation happen? An insightful analysis by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) shared at last week’s State Board of Education meeting indicates that it occurs all too often. Consider the following charts, drawn from the agency’s draft report that depict the relationship between state end-of-course (EOC) and ACT exam scores. The black dots represent individual student’s scores on the corresponding subject-area tests. Note that these exams were taken by a large majority of students in the class of 2018, the cohort represented in the figures. The EOCs shown here are typically taken during pupils’ sophomore years and the ACT as juniors.
Figure 1: The relationship between Ohio students’ EOC and ACT scores, class of 2018
Note: I modify charts presented in ODE’s report to display the thresholds—the red lines—needed to achieve proficient on the EOCs (a on both exams) and to achieve college scores on the ACT (a score of 18 in English and 22 in math).
Three things jump out from these charts:
- First, we see a positive relationship between the exam scores. As indicated by the upward-sloping blue lines on both charts, students who perform well on state EOCs tend to perform well on the ACT. Though not a perfect, one-to-one correlation, the results remind us that achievement on state exams matters, as they are predictors of performance on college entrance exams.
- Second, in both subject areas, many high school students are being deemed proficient who do not reach college remediation-free levels on the ACT. This situation is depicted in the bottom right quadrant of the charts where a heavy concentration of dots exists. While ODE’s report doesn’t provide exact numbers, we can see visually that a substantial number of students are deemed proficient on the high-school EOCs—and likely satisfied with their achievement—who don’t reach ACT scores that predict college-level success.
- Third, as depicted in the upper-left quadrant, we see that some students fall short of EOC proficiency but achieve college-ready scores on the ACT. In some cases, it’s possible that disappointing state exam results may have been the wake-up call needed for them to achieve higher scores on the ACT. Thus, there may in fact be a benefit to this type of “misclassification,” rather than the substantial risks involved when over-identifying students as proficient. Moreover, there isn’t a negative impact on these students in terms of graduation as Ohio recognizes remediation free achievement on college entrance exams if students struggle on EOCs.
Ohio policymakers shouldn’t lead students into believing they are on the pathway to college success when they’re not. There are several options, some that I’ve discussed  Another option is to overhaul the classification system and start fresh. For instance, Ohio could adopt categories such as “approaching college-ready expectations” or “meeting college-ready expectations.”, that could resolve the dilemma. Policymakers could eliminate the accelerated category and make proficient the second-highest achievement level, thus aligning proficient more closely with college ready benchmarks.
Regardless of which approach is adopted, policymakers should make clear that these more stringent targets aren’t the high school graduation standard—that should be set somewhat lower than college-ready—and they could also stop using straight-up proficiency rates in its schoolsystem (relying instead on the for accountability purposes).
Many, maybe most, Ohio high school students still. They deserve the truth about whether they’re on pace to achieve their post-secondary goals. Unfortunately, when it comes to state exam results, the signals seem to be getting crossed, as too many students are being told they’re proficient—suggesting “on track” for college or even “well advanced” in their studies—when they aren’t. In communicating state test results to parents and students, remains the best policy.
 A small portion of Ohio students likely took only the SAT exam and a minority of students took the state integrated math II EOC instead of geometry.
 This would significantly reduce the number of students being told they are proficient but not college ready, but it would also deem more students as not proficient who meet college-ready ACT targets. In my view, the costs of the latter type of misclassification are lower than those associated with errors in the other direction.
NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.
In some ways, David Boone looked like many of his Harvard classmates. He had top grades in high school, a packed list of extracurriculars, and internships at places like General Electric. Less typical was the fact that he is black and had been homeless while attending MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland.
His story,, illuminates what schools can do to alter the course of young people’s lives—and the fundamental changes that systems must make to support the millions of young people facing challenges similar to David’s.
I came to know David while he was in high school, and I was Chief of Staff for Cleveland public schools. Thanks to his magnetic personality and endless optimism about his future, his energy and aspirations were infectious. He worked hard to be the first in his family to go to college. Having watched him grow since ninth grade, I was not surprised when he was admitted to Harvard.
Once there, David did well in his classes, started a robotics club, and found a group of friends. Yet he struggled with how to get help from college professors who—unlike high school teachers—needed to be tracked down. He also worried that he would be identified as the “affirmative action kid.” Despite these challenges, David did what so many do not: He graduated.
Too many young people, especially students of color and low-income students, start college but do not finish. The number of wealthy students who earn a four-year degree has increased from 46 percent for children born in the 1970s to 60 percent for those born in the 1980s. For their low-income counterparts over the same time period,.
This gap in completion is problematic for many reasons, including degrees’ huge economic benefits: Those who earn a bachelor’s makethan those without a degree.
Thankfully, however, more low-income students are going to college than ever before, in large part because school systems like Cleveland have done important technical work to ensure students stay on track in high school and provide necessary interventions. Under my leadership in Cleveland schools, we focused on tying together program design aligned to careers and college pathways, implementation of student supports and services, data analysis, and community partnerships to knock down barriers students were facing.
But districts can and must do more. And they can start by—an especially urgent question for low-income students and students of color. It’s not enough to get into college. College readiness needs to include having the skills and supports necessary to persevere, thrive, and graduate.
David and I both learned the difference. He was academically prepared for college, as I was, but neither of us felt we belonged. My high school counselor proactively helped some students think about college, yet I was not one of them. I navigated the whole process alone and was shocked by how unfamiliar everything was when I matriculated. Luckily, I had mentors who could connect the dots of what I was experiencing to how it would shape me. They gave me a sense of belonging so that college eventually became a place where I thrived.
To ensure that the many highly-capable, low-income students, students of color, and students like me and David earn a degree in a manner that maximizes the college experience and students’ full potential, we need to radically redefine college preparedness.
We must refocus the critically important role of the high school guidance counselor to be one that works to lead every child to college or career, not one consumed by transactional tasks that currently mire the role. That starts with a smaller student-to-counselor ratio so that counselors get to know, mentor, and support students. It’s also critical that districts recruit candidates who are representative of the children they serve and train them on the latest research on how best to support students of color and low-income students on their path to college graduation. Counselors must begin conversations about college early and create a set of organized experiences to prepare students for how they’re likely to feel walking onto a campus, especially when they are part of an underrepresented group. And the relationship continues long after getting into college by staying connected to students in their postsecondary and professional careers.
Finding the “right” college is more complex than selecting a school, choosing a course of study, and securing financial resources. We must guide students to places with substantial academic and non-academic assistance; show them that they’re capable of building network that are academically and personally supportive; and ensure that all see themselves as capable of being successful.
For those that choose the pathway to college, we need to send a clear message to every student: College is your home, and you belong there.
Christine Fowler-Mack is the Chief Portfolio Officer at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and a Future Chief with Chiefs for Change.