A key part of year-end celebrations is looking back and pondering the events of the past twelve months. Such reminiscing isn’t always pleasant, as there are inevitably things that we’d rather forget, but it’s important to take stock of what’s happened as we prepare for what’s next.
A key part of year-end celebrations is looking back and pondering the events of the past twelve months. Such reminiscing isn’t always pleasant, as there are inevitably things that we’d rather forget, but it’s important to take stock of what’s happened as we prepare for what’s next. With that in mind, here’s a brief overview of four of Ohio’s biggest education stories from 2022.
Pandemic learning loss
As was the case during the two prior years, the breadth and depth of pandemic-caused learning loss was a major headline in 2022. In September, an analysis of state test results from Ohio State University professor Vladimir Kogan found a mixed bag for elementary and middle school students: Achievement seems to have rebounded in English language arts, but recovery in math is much more sluggish, as students remain about one-half to a whole year behind in that subject. Students in the upper grades, meanwhile, are making less progress than their younger peers. Eighth grade learning losses have not rebounded, and tenth-graders actually seem to be falling slightly further behind in ELA.
Unfortunately, state data weren’t the only source of bad news. A fresh round of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card,” also revealed massive learning losses. Between 2019 and 2022, Ohio’s eighth grade proficiency rate fell from 38 to 29 percent in math and from 38 to 33 percent in reading. Fourth grade losses weren’t quite as alarming, but proficiency still dropped 1 percentage point in both subjects.
Given these results, it’s clear that Ohio has a lot of work to do to ensure that students make up the academic ground they lost during the pandemic. This is especially true for schools that serve large populations of economically-disadvantaged, Black, or Hispanic students, as they fared worse academically than their peers. After the pandemic, many of Ohio’s preexisting achievement gaps are wider than ever.
Attacks on school choice
In the early days of January, a coalition of school districts known as the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding filed a lawsuit aimed at striking down the EdChoice Scholarship Program. EdChoice, which is Ohio’s largest private school choice program, served over 50,000 kids during the 2020–21 school year. If the plaintiffs prevail, that number will drop to zero—ushering in a host of real-world consequences for thousands of Ohio families, students, and taxpayers, and opening the door for challenges to Ohio’s other three voucher programs. The case is currently pending in the Franklin County court system.
Vouchers weren’t the only school choice program under attack this year. Charters also found themselves in the crosshairs thanks to attempts by the Biden administration to alter the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). For nearly three decades, CSP has offered grants to support brand-new charter schools and, more recently, high-quality networks looking to expand and serve more students. Congress approved another round of funding for CSP in March. But soon after, the Biden administration proposed an unprecedented set of new rules that would have made it close to impossible for many charters to access the funding. To make matters worse, the comment period was unusually short (only one month, compared to the usual two), and the charter school community wasn’t consulted about the changes.
As the comment period drew to a close, a group of eighteen governors—including Ohio Governor Mike DeWine—submitted a letter expressing their opposition to the new rules and called on the Biden administration to remove the most troubling provisions. The feds eventually backed down, and the finalized rules didn’t include many of the worst elements from the initial proposal.
Research is clear that, when it comes to students’ academic performance, teachers matter most among school-related factors. Given the steep learning losses caused by the pandemic, and the urgent need to get students back on track, teachers are more important than ever. But in districts throughout Ohio, local leaders are expressing increasing concerns over teacher shortages. In January, some schools reported not having enough adults to meet kids’ needs. Those reports persisted throughout the spring and carried over into the start of the new school year.
The good news is that state leaders and advocates seem to be paying attention. The Ohio Departments of Education and Higher Education sponsored regional meetings this fall aimed at gathering ideas for how to improve teacher recruitment and retention efforts. Various education groups have also proposed solutions, including Fordham. The bad news is that, despite widespread discussions of teacher shortages throughout the year, Ohio doesn’t have detailed statewide data about the size and scope of the problem.
Revamping education governance
Lawmakers tried to go out with a bang this year. In early December, the Ohio Senate passed SB 178, legislation that would overhaul the state’s education governance structure. Major changes include transferring most of the powers of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to a new agency, the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), which would take the place of the Ohio Department of Education. The director of the DEW would be appointed by the governor. It should come as no surprise that such a huge proposed change received plenty of media coverage. But despite all the clamor, the bill didn’t get passed out of the House before the end of lame duck session. However, although it might not have passed this year, all indications are that it will be a priority for the Senate when the next legislative session begins in January.
And there you have it. It’s been another eventful year in Ohio education, with ups, downs, and everything in between. Stay tuned for Fordham’s predictions about what the new year will bring.
Fordham’s Ohio Gadfly readers were drawn, it seems, to practical matters in 2022. Our most-read blogs of the year cover topics such as curriculum, career education, and school choice. It is nice to know that, in a time of hot button rhetoric and political mania, topics closer to families’ and students’ lives garnered so much attention.
Here’s the countdown.
5. Assessing a standards-aligned physical science curriculum (Jeff Murray, April 15, 2022).
This review of a middle school physical science curriculum garnered a surprising amount of readership back in April. Perhaps with science standards being adopted in states across the country, finding high-quality teaching materials aligned to them is becoming a higher priority for practitioners. Data from a controlled trial of the Amplify Science Middle School (ASMS) curriculum were promising.
4. The big blur: How to erase the boundaries between high school, college, and career (Jessica Poiner, April 4, 2022).
Earlier in the same month, our look at a report from the organization Jobs for the Future (JFF) also caught readers’ attention. JFF attempted to address the “seemingly intractable disconnect” between high school, higher education, and the workforce by “blurring the line” between high school and postsecondary education. They proposed new, cost-free institutions that would serve students between ages sixteen and twenty and offer work-based learning, namely through clear, step-by-step, guided pathways that lead to postsecondary credentials and associate degrees within specific fields. A bold proposal worthy of readers’ interest.
3. How to make Ohio’s state test results more useful to parents (Aaron Churchill, July 26, 2022).
Ohio’s family score reports are a helpful means of communicating to families about student results on state standardized tests. However, they would be even better if they arrived more quickly after test administration, included a longitudinal picture of student performance over time, and clearly signaled whether each child is on-track for success in college or is in need of additional supports to reach that goal. We hope Ohio’s leaders will get the message and step up their game when communicating this vital information to parents.
2. Voucher critics are starting to say the quiet part out loud (Jessica Poiner, August 30, 2022).
Critics of private school vouchers were active throughout 2022, including filing a marquee lawsuit that would, if successful, shut down Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program permanently. One such critic took his complaints in a whole new direction in August, suggesting that (in the absence of a moratorium on the program) all voucher recipients should have to attend their local public school for 180 days prior to applying for their voucher. “If you’re going to take money away from public schools so kids they’ve ‘failed’ can ‘escape’ to private schools,” he opined, “shouldn’t you actually give the district a chance to succeed first?” We took exception to this recommendation, noting its tone of “paternalistic privilege” and its “willful ignorance about the reality that many students face when they walk through the doors of their local public school.” We felt that this critic’s crystal-clear expression of disdain for families and children could not go without response, and we are gratified that you were equally moved to read it.
1. Columbus teacher strike ends with significant reforms, worrying financial risks (Vladimir Kogan, September 6, 2022).
The first few days of the 2022–23 school year were disrupted by a teacher strike in Ohio’s largest district. It made big news and then was over, with the union adjudged the winner by popular opinion. Ohio State University professor Vladimir Kogan, a long-time observer and analyst of Columbus City Schools’ policies and actions, followed the negotiations and the media coverage in detail. He penned this guest blog on the potential consequences of the fracas, as well as its resolution, and it was our most-read piece of the entire year. Many of Kogan’s predictions for longer-term fallout are still a year or more in the future, but discussion of the superintendent’s surprise retirement announcement earlier this month was filled with questions of the strike’s impact.
Thanks, as always, for your devoted readership. We look forward to another year of bringing you analysis, commentary, and reviews you find important and compelling. Know someone who might like to subscribe to the biweekly Ohio Gadfly newsletter? You can send ‘em this link.
Happy New Year!
Beginning in late summer, we published a series of policy briefs designed to help frame the biggest education issues facing Ohio lawmakers in the upcoming budget cycle.
Here’s a quick look at the issues we covered and our policy recommendations.
Ohio policymakers have strongly supported parental choice in education for decades. Today, more than 250,000 of the state’s 1.6 million students attend public charter schools, enroll in private schools with the support of state-funded scholarships, or participate in interdistrict open enrollment.
In this brief, we explored ways that they could continue to strengthen school choice. Recommendations focused on ways to improve funding for charter schools, expand eligibility for private school scholarships, and make interdistrict open enrollment a reality throughout the entire state.
You can read the full school choice brief here.
Funding questions already loom large over the upcoming budget season. The state’s current funding formula, which was enacted during the previous budget cycle, remains a work in progress, as state lawmakers will need to decide whether to fully fund the new system. But it’s not just about the final price tag. State leaders must also ensure that the funding they allocate to schools is spent wisely and in support of students. With these priorities in mind, we offered several recommendations aimed at moving Ohio toward a more efficient, productive, and transparent funding structure.
You can read the full school funding imperatives brief here.
Media coverage of teacher shortages was common across Ohio in 2022. But the stories often focused on pandemic issues or current societal forces when many of the pipeline problems have been building for years.
We spelled out how longstanding issues around teacher licensing, out-of-state reciprocity, compensation structures, and retirement policies combine to keep talented individuals away from the profession. Our recommendations include concrete ways to recruit, hire, and retain the best talent for Ohio’s classrooms.
You can read the full teacher pipeline brief here.
In 2012, Ohio took an important step toward strengthening early literacy education by enacting the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. However, education disruptions experienced during the pandemic have shaken that foundation, and the negative impacts continue to be felt by our youngest students.
Despite efforts by some to remove the retention requirement for third graders reading below grade level, legislators seem eager to respond with new policies and initiatives in the upcoming state budget. We laid out three key principles they should follow as they look once again to boost early literacy: Empower parents to support their children, implement high-quality literacy programs, and maintain strong accountability for the schools and educators that do this vital work. Adhering to these precepts, we offered specific recommendations that aim to help our youngest readers reach their full potential.
You can read the full early literacy brief here.
The process of crafting of Ohio’s next biennial budget will begin in earnest in January. We are hopeful these papers will help inform and inspire lawmakers to enact policies that can drive higher student achievement in the Buckeye State.
It’s the new year, and that means football, resolutions, and predictions. Foreseeing the future, of course, is risky business—nothing is certain except death and taxes—but we can be pretty sure that the coming year will be a busy one for Ohio policymakers. After all, crafting the next state budget is on the docket for 2023, and as Statehouse insiders will tell you, that means lots of policy will get discussed. How exactly Ohio’s education debates will shake out is anyone’s guess. But here’s my best attempt at making five predictions of what will happen in the new year.
- School governance reform will cross the finish line. Late in 2022, state lawmakers worked in earnest to overhaul school governance. Led by the Senate, the reform proposals in Senate Bill 178 sought to clarify (and downsize) the role of the state board of education, strengthen accountability for the Ohio Department of Education via more direct oversight from the governor’s office, and create a high-profile leadership position tasked with carrying out career-tech initiatives. The bill won support from a number of school leaders, especially in the career-tech sector, as well as some education groups (including Fordham) and business-minded organizations. The proposal unfortunately stalled in the waning days of the 134th General Assembly. Despite the setback, governance reform remains badly needed in the Buckeye State. Ohio’s education system has been stuck in low gear for too long, held back by the convoluted structure of the state board of education that promotes clumsy implementation of key state initiatives and weakens leadership at the department of education. Lawmakers are rightly fed up with this incoherent governance model. My prediction: A serious school governance overhaul, much in line with Senate Bill 178, will pass in 2023.
- Ohio lawmakers will ratchet up school funding while reining in some aspects of the new funding formula. Ohio legislators seem poised to increase funding for K–12 schools in the next biennial budget (FY24 and FY25) in an effort, at least, to keep spending in line with inflation. But the main question on school funding will surround the state’s new funding formula and whether lawmakers will maintain the model. One area likely to face scrutiny is the formula’s base cost model, an extensive set of calculations based on salary data and staffing ratios that help determine districts’ funding allocations. The model overall calls for much higher state spending on K–12 education—so high that legislators came nowhere close to fully funding it in FY22 and FY23. While funding for education is very likely to rise, meeting the new formula’s full prescription remains a tough budgetary act. One option is to yet again partially fund the formula. That, however, is a dissatisfying way to fund schools and might even provoke litigation. Another approach is to work within the general structure of the new formula but try to rein in some of the features that result in escalated spending. Figuring out what those tweaks should be won’t be an easy task, but for a few starter ideas, legislators could look here for recommendations from our school funding policy brief.
- Lawmakers will begin to take a tougher line on school accountability. State policymakers put school accountability on pause for the 2019–20, 2020–21, and (for the most part) 2021–22 school years. The reason, of course, was the pandemic, as test data evaporated and more pressing concerns took priority. Now with the pandemic in our rearview mirror, the hiatus is over as schools are once again expected to focus on student academic learning. But it’s no secret that accountability policies haven’t always been popular in the statehouse. That sentiment is unlikely to change overnight, but there are forces that could push the pendulum in the other direction. One significant factor is the mass of data that show the pandemic’s toll on student learning. The recent NAEP data for Ohio, for example, reveal serious declines in math and reading scores, especially among low-income and Black and Hispanic students. Policymakers’ patience may wear thin if schools continue to make slow progress and these learning losses persist into 2023. Other factors that might push a stronger focus on academics—and accountability for higher achievement—include a continuing slide in college enrollments and college readiness rates and employers becoming increasingly concerned about finding employees with basic math and English skills. Last, with state funding increases on the horizon, some legislators may simply want stronger assurances that dollars are being used to increase student learning.
- Culture war debates will cool down a bit, but local schools will continue to grapple with widely divergent perspectives on education. Over at Education Next, Rick Hess and Ilana Ovental have a fascinating new article showing the dramatic rise and fall of various education topics, as covered in the media, over the past two decades. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, and teacher evaluations all had their time in the sun, but have since fallen off the radar. In their place, media coverage of critical race theory, gender issues, and protective masking have risen sharply over the past few years. If past is prologue, attention on these matters could wane over the next year. But even if interest slackens—and along with it, legislator attention—local schools are likely to continue to face a delicate balance in juggling vastly differing opinions, often split along partisan lines, about how to handle these subjects. Here’s hoping that school leaders will act wisely and be forthright with parents and community members as they navigate these waters.
- Ohio will have a universal private-school voucher program by year end. Over the past two decades, state legislators have gradually expanded eligibility for Ohio’s private-school voucher programs. Building on a pilot for Cleveland students, Ohio launched EdChoice in fall 2006, and it has unlocked private-school opportunities for students slated to attend low-performing schools. In 2013, legislators expanded voucher eligibility to low-income students entering kindergarten (and scaling up by one grade each year), regardless of their assigned school. Then in late 2020, Ohio lawmakers increased eligibility for the income-based voucher by raising the eligibility threshold from 200 to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Taken together, this broadening of eligibility has made about half of Ohio students eligible for a voucher today, and more than 75,000 students use one to attend a private school. Legislators in the last General Assembly introduced (though didn’t pass) two bills that would have moved Ohio to a “universal” private-school choice program that makes all children eligible for state support. There is a strong case, in my view, for Ohio to take this final step—following similar moves in Arizona and West Virginia. So my last prediction is that lawmakers will finish what they started more than two decades ago in Cleveland, and at last empower all Ohio parents to make the educational choice that is the best fit for their family and child.
There you have it, five predictions for the 2023. To stay posted on education issues such as these, subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, and bookmark our blog, the Ohio Gadfly Daily. It should be an exciting year in education policy, and we’ll see what happens by year’s end!