As every year does, 2021 began with much optimism. Vaccines were rolling out, businesses were reopening, and the economy was on the mend. But then, as always, reality set in. While most Americans were vaccinated, the pandemic dragged on. The economy continued to pick up, but so did inflation. The year in K–12 education followed a similar pattern.
As every year does, 2021 began with much optimism. Vaccines were rolling out, businesses were reopening, and the economy was on the mend. But then, as always, reality set in. While most Americans were vaccinated, the pandemic dragged on. The economy continued to pick up, but so did inflation. The year in K–12 education followed a similar pattern. As we’ll see from the compilation below, there was disappointing news—most notably around student achievement—but also some significant policy wins that offer hope for a brighter future.
- School funding. Throughout the first half of the year, Ohio lawmakers were busy crafting the state’s biennial budget. In the realm of K–12 education, the school funding formula took center stage, as House lawmakers put forward an ambitious overhaul. After much debate—and a number of tweaks to the original plan—lawmakers enacted a new funding formula. Among the key shifts is a
model for school choice programs, an important structural reform that should help alleviate cross-sector tensions. Legislators also created a new that determines the bulk of the state aid for districts and charter schools. Those calculations create a closer link between educational costs and funding amounts, but they also have the potential to cause in future years. Oh, and remember, the new formula is already expensive, calling for increases of $2 billion per year in state education spending—roughly 15 percent more. Considering that price tag, legislators chose to partially fund that increase over the next two years, leaving decisions about full funding to future General Assemblies.
- Learning loss. Shortly after schools closed in March 2020, analysts began warning about the effects of remote instruction on student learning. In the following months, various data pointed to serious academic troubles. Students not logging in for éphane Lavertu estimated that, when compared to prior cohorts, students lost about one-third to a full year of learning, depending on grade and subject. On average, low-income and minority children lost more ground, worsening pre-pandemic achievement gaps. There’s no time to despair, as the clock is ticking to get students back on track and ready for life after high school.
. Lower diagnostic . News reports of schools of students. In fall 2021, we got a more comprehensive and systemwide look at the educational disaster, as Ohio released results from its first round of post-closure state exams. As was the case across the nation, student achievement fell substantially in math and reading. In a of test scores, Ohio State University professors Vlad Kogan and St
- Critical race theory. In something of a surprise, one of the biggest stories of the past year was CRT. Believing that identity politics and “woke” versions of history were filtering into elementary and secondary schools, conservatives voiced concerns in board meetings and beyond. Progressives pushed back, arguing that the fears were overblown, or that heeding those demands would force teachers to bypass certain topics. The ruckus drew the attention of Statehouse lawmakers who
—though didn’t pass—bills that sought to prohibit “divisive concepts.” No matter how you feel about the debate, one hopes that educators are exercising wisdom and appropriately balancing concerns on both sides. When presenting America’s past, for example, schools could start by making sure that students are taught a history that’s both .
- Educational choice. To end on a high note, this was a big year for school choice in the Buckeye State and . Let’s count the ways that lawmakers strengthened choice in Ohio. One, they removed caps on the number of available EdChoice scholarships and raised the private school . Two, they increased the supplemental funding available to , doubled the state’s , and removed the on charters. Three, they provided modest to parents who either homeschool their children or enroll their children in a non-chartered private school. Four, they launched to encourage individual giving that opens more nonpublic school options. And five, they created an that helps low- and middle-income parents access afterschool and enrichment programs. All told, these remarkable steps continue to empower more Ohio parents with the quality choices their children deserve.
With that, we at the Ohio Gadfly close the books on 2021. Keep up to date with all that’s happening in the new year by bookmarking our, following our , and subscribing . Cheers!
Every holiday season, those of us at the Ohio Gadfly try to predict what the new year will bring for education. This year is no exception. With aand a in our rearview mirror, as well as an ongoing pandemic riding shotgun, the road through 2022 looks to be pretty eventful. Here are, in no particular order, five predictions about what might be in store for us next year.
1. The pandemic—and its impact on education—will continue to dominate headlines.
It seems like a no-brainer at this point, but it’s worth repeating: The Covid-19 pandemic and its many, many effects will continue to drive the news cycle. It’s still too early to know if and how the Omicron variant will impact schools, but there’s no doubt that district and building leaders will have to continue grappling with health and safety issues like. —especially in areas like transportation—and may even be exacerbated as cold and flu season starts in earnest. Perhaps the biggest Covid storyline, though, is how schools will struggle to handle learning loss. The shiny newness of having kids back in person will have worn off come spring, and a will fully sink in. Some schools will , but others won’t. And by fall, state and local leaders will have two years’ worth of to pore over. How schools use these data—and how they address learning losses and equity gaps—will likely determine education headlines over the next several years.
2. The state board will select a new state superintendent, but the process won’t be pretty.
After five years at the helm of the Ohio Department of Education, Paolo DeMariain July that he planned to step down. Finding a replacement has already proven to be eventful for the state board, thanks to the of their first choice for interim superintendent and some . A nationwide search is underway, which means the possibilities are endless. In practice, though, it’s going to be difficult for the board to agree on someone— —and it’s unlikely the new superintendent will receive unanimous approval the way DeMaria did. Furthermore, although the state board technically hires the superintendent, other state leaders will be watching and likely offering input. in the board’s activities, and the governor’s office typically plays a behind-the-scenes role in big decisions like this. Ohio will get a new superintendent in 2022—but the road to get there is going to be rife with drama.
3. Report cards will enjoy a brief honeymoon period.
Next year, after, detailed school report cards will return—but this time, they’ll look a little different. In 2021, after years of debate, state legislators finally passed some sensible changes to the report card framework via . The biggest adjustment for parents and taxpayers in 2022 will be saying goodbye to A–F letter grades and hello to a five-star system. Given that the changes passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, it would be fair to assume that the new report card will have a warmer welcome from the education establishment than its predecessor. But with substantial learning losses still lingering, the new system’s increased emphasis on performance index and value-added scores (both of which are determined by state tests), and a long-standing resistance to accountability always waiting in the wings, it’s likely that the honeymoon will be brief.
4. Even with a new funding system in place, money for schools will still be a hot topic.
The headline of this year’s budget was athat could eventually cost the state an additional $2 billion a year. For now, though, lawmakers only approved paying for a portion of that price tag—and that means funding conversations will continue into the new year as the legislature gears up for another budget cycle in 2023. Whether to fully fund the new system isn’t the only money issue on the table, though. Next year will mark the first full year that school choice programs in Ohio are by the state. Hopefully the change will cool some of the floating around. Meanwhile, districts and schools still have millions in to spend. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever get a detailed accounting of this spending, but it’s possible that some schools are opting to use their funds in . 2022 could give us a glimpse of those decisions.
5. The race for governor will be more focused on education than in previous years.
In the fall, Ohioans will once again head to the polls. Several big decisions await them, including a choice for governor. It’s too early to know how primaries will shake out, but right now it seems like the election will be a face-off between incumbent Mike DeWine and either, the former mayor of Dayton, or , the current mayor of Cincinnati. Historically, gubernatorial races haven’t been decided by education policy issues. But the lingering events of 2020—not just the pandemic, but also an increased focus on racial justice and equity issues—are still big talking points in Ohio, especially when it comes to how they impact schools. As a result, the Buckeye State could find itself mimicking Virginia’s most recent election, where voters . Even if education isn’t the deciding factor, though, Ohioans will likely hear far more about it than in years past.
And there you have it. Some fresh things are on the horizon—like revised school report cards and new state-level education leadership—but for the most part, many of the familiar faces and issues will be sticking around for another year.
Happy New Year!
Fordham Ohio’s blogging output this year was varied and prodigious. We value each and every one of our readers, whether you find our pieces by following us on, regularly checking out , or . (But honestly, if we like each other enough at this point, why not just take the plunge and commit to that ?)
As the year ends, let’s take a look at which of our blogs most grabbed the attention of you, our readers.
First up are two vitally important guest blogs:
- (Vladimir Kogan and Stéphane Lavertu, 2/8/2021).
In February, Ohio State University professors Kogan and Lavertu were among the first to analyze data from the fall 2020 administration of third grade ELA state tests. The results showed huge negative impacts of the Covid pandemic on third graders’ reading achievement. “It is important to recognize,” wrote Kogan and Lavertu, “that school closure is not the only reason student achievement took a hit during the pandemic. In addition to the challenge of adjusting to new and unfamiliar modes of instruction, some children also had loved ones fall seriously ill or even die due to complications from the virus. Many families have also faced financial hardships as unemployment reached record levels.”
- (Vladimir Kogan and Stéphane Lavertu, 9/7/2021).
Seven months later, Kogan and Lavertu published a sophisticated analysis of spring testing data. Despite a return to in-person learning and learning recovery plans, beefed-up summer school offerings and tutoring, and expanded Wi-Fi access in areas across the state, schools across Ohio still saw steep learning declines among their students.
The researchers pinned much of the negative effects on remote teaching and argued for as much in-person education as common sense safety measures would allow. “But more than simply prioritizing in-person instruction,” they concluded once again, “we must ensure that students, especially those who have suffered the most learning loss, are getting the supports that they need to get back on track.”
In between those two guest pieces was the crunch time of the biennial budget debate in Ohio. Two of our budget analyses captured your attention:
- (Aaron Churchill, 6/9/2021).
In early June, the Ohio Senate unveiled the education priorities it wished to include in the budget, and they centered strongly on school choice. Some of the initiatives were tweaks of existing programs, such as boosting voucher amounts for thousands of students and providing full funding for Ohio’s quality charter school program.
However, it may have been the new proposals that drew readers’ attention. These included the creation of an ESA program to support afterschool learning, offering tax relief to homeschooling families, and more.
- (Aaron Churchill, 7/6/2021).
And what education-related changes made the final cut? That was the topic of this, our most-read post published in 2021. The analysis was among the first to dig into the version of HB 110 signed into law by Governor DeWine. It covered charter school and voucher program provisions, tax-related items, and a number of important accountability changes. But the big noise around the Statehouse in 2021 was the school funding formula, and this piece offered a recap of how that debate panned out.
But before all the budget madness, two other issues garnered strong readership early in the year:
- (Aaron Churchill, 1/13/2021).
At the end of December 2020, the federal government approved a second round of Covid-relief funding, a significant amount of it aimed at helping hard-hit schools across the country. As the new year dawned, the question of how Ohio might spend the nearly $2 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II) dollars loomed large. (A third—and even larger—federal relief package for K–12 education would pass in March 2021.)
“Research and common sense suggest that in-person expanded learning time and high-dosage tutoring would probably give students the best chance of catching up,” Aaron wrote. These, he said, “make sense, given the temporary nature of these funds and the hopefully short-term need for remediation.” However, he warned that districts should be wary of “more permanent expenditures such as across-the-board pay raises or hiring additional full-time staff, which could be difficult to sustain when the emergency dollars dry up.” Nearly a year later, we’re still left wondering how exactly schools are spending these funds and whether they’re being used wisely.
- (Aaron Churchill, 2/18/2021).
Flying in the face of, several Ohio lawmakers filed bills in late January to cancel the spring administration of state tests. They cited four main objections, to which we responded point by point.
“To ensure that decisions aren’t being made based on false assumptions,” Aaron Churchill concluded, “we need data about where each student stands against state academic standards.” With accountability waived and students safely returning to school, there was no good reason to cancel exams for another year. Ohio needed to begin its return to normalcy as soon as possible, starting with “solid baseline information about student achievement in the midst of much turmoil.”
Gladly, the tests were not cancelled. And unlike in many other states, Ohio’s schools tested almost as many students as usual, quite an accomplishment in the midst of a pandemic.
Of course, the calendar is no deterrent for our dedicated readers. Certainbig readership for years. Thank you, all. We truly appreciate it. Thus it is that the most-read Fordham Ohio blog in all of 2021 actually comes from November of 2020.
- (Jessica Poiner, 11/20/20).
It stands to reason that a piece written shortly after the presidential election didn’t find its full audience until after that elected leader actually took office in January. And the various possibilities for student loan forgiveness floated during the campaign made many people sit up and take notice. While nothing concrete has yet come to pass in regard to the plans described, there’s still a lot of interest in loan forgiveness. If things begin to happen, we can expect this piece to continue to garner attention into 2022.
We will be back on the beat in January, and we look forward to covering the education issues and events that matter to Ohio throughout the next year.
Among the many things that I’ve come to better understand as a new parent is that children’s books are a literary genre of their own. Who knew there’d be board books, peek-a-flaps, and battery-powered books that make sounds? Some books have clever storylines and rhymes. Some have exquisite artwork. They literally come in all shapes and sizes.stress the importance of daily reading to infants and toddlers. Good children’s books—ones that both child and parent enjoy—can make reading time all the more fun. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorites from the past year (though they were not necessarily published in 2021). And I’ve learned something else along the way: Our local library is indispensable—because children’s books ain’t cheap!
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So there you have it—one dad’s favorites of the year. Of course, there areof excellent choices in children’s literature. No matter what you pick up, keep on reading!