Students First, a group looking to improve education through increased accountability for teachers and principals, more financial transparency in schools, and enhanced power for parents, is grading states on their education initiatives.
Ohio received an average grade, but fared well compared to other states.
StateImpact Ohio sat down with Greg Harris, the group’s Ohio director, to talk about what they think the state is doing well, and they what will push for this year.
Q: So how did Ohio do?
A: Well Ohio, and this report card is a snapshot of where we are now, Ohio got a C-. Which, actually in the context of this report card is pretty good, it actually makes us a top 10 rated state.
The things we grade are elevating teaching, which basically means we want to make sure there’s a very effective teacher in every single Ohio classroom. Empowering parents, and that includes things like ensuring parents are armed with the information they need to be able to make good choices for their children’s education, and governance, making sure that we’re spending smartly when it comes to our schools, making sure that as much money is going to the classroom and as little money is going into things like administration and back office functions.
Q: What are some things, in terms of these three elements that you mentioned, that Ohio is doing well?
A: Well under empowering parents, we urged the passage of legislation, it was House Bill 555, that basically gave a report card for all our schools, and while report cards aren’t perfect there’s a common frame of reference for that. Everyone’s been to school and knows what an A means and knows what an F means and everything in between. We want parents to be able to see how their schools are graded across different categories and to be able to make effective choices for their children based on those grades, and now we think this new system is much more accessible to them.
Q: You mentioned that we’re a C but there are things in action that – according to your standards – will improve education in Ohio. What are those things?
A: Currently we have a system where regardless of how a child performs, teachers’ evaluation, pay, performance is pretty much divorced from the students’ outcomes. When you evaluate teachers you have to factor in student performance in those evaluations, and so Ohio has now passed legislation saying that student performance has to play a role in terms of teacher pay and promotion. We think it needs to go further, we think tenure decisions need to be based on student performance.
Q: Some of the measures that you mentioned, like tying teacher pay to teacher performance, are things that the teachers’ unions in the state really don’t like. How much of this has to do with unionization in these states?
A: It has something to do with it. Look, there are different kinds of unions and we’re basically saying that if you’re a machinist or an autoworker, everybody gets the same raises, raises are based on seniority. But in education we’re not building machines, we’re building minds. At some point, to some degree, through multiple measures we have to be able to ensure that a teacher is effective, that is a teacher is helping a student grow from the beginning of an academic year to the end of an academic year.
Our current system also doesn’t really reward teachers who are really good at what they do. We want to see a system that really improves compensation for teachers that are very effective and creates professional development practices where the really effective teachers are mentoring the less effective teachers.
Q: The report card applauds Ohio for having increased oversight of our charter schools, but it also calls for a lifting of the ban on the number of charter schools that can open in a given year. Is there any concern that lifting that ban would lead to more, untested charter schools that maybe aren’t among the high-performing charter schools in the state?
A: Well the two go together. We very much recognize that there are many charter schools in Ohio that have not succeeded at educating kids and the authorizers that authorize those schools should be run out of the state. But under this system of greater accountability and swifter action to close failing charters, yeah I mean you can lift the ban, but you can’t lift the ban in a laissez-faire way, you have to lift the ban in the context of putting in place the stronger measurements.
You can check out Ohio’s full report card below.