There have been complaints about how the Local Report Card system unfairly rates school districts in Ohio for years.
As more districts are scored incorrectly, in their opinion, more parents pull their kids out of the district and send them to charter and private schools taking millions of dollars out of public schools with them.
Ironically, according to State Senator Teresa Fedor, for the most part, neither of those options (charter and private schools) are doing all that hot from an achievement standpoint.
With 90% of Ohio students attending a public school, lawmakers finally decided to take a crack and figuring out how to fix the problem this summer by passing a state law the created a special committee with certain expectations for what it would do.
That committee failed to meet a number of requirements set forth in that state statute.
But before we get to that, you have to understand the problem; and to understand the problem, you have to know how we got here.
Ohio started issuing report cards on school district performance in 1998 — they went through a significant reform 7 years ago, in 2012.
At that time things switched to an A-F grading system based on 6 component classifications and 15 performance measures.
The goal of the report cards is to give parents and idea of how well school districts around them are educating students.
Additionally, it acts as a way to track challenges the district faces and progress overcoming them.
Ultimately, though, it is used as a way to follow federal law which requires states to measure student achievement and track which schools are exceling and which need improvement.
Currently the overall grade a district gets on the report cards in Ohio is calculated from these 6 component classifications: Achievement, Progress, Gap Closing, Improving at-risk K-3 Readers, Graduation Rate, and Prepared for Success.
They are weighted so that Achievement and Progress count more than the other components.
Federal law requires each state has a system of “meaningful differentiation” that identifies low performing schools so they can be improved.
The system must also identify a statewide category of schools for comprehensive support and improvement and list the lowest-performing 5% of schools in the State.
Ohio is one of 13 states that use A-F grading system; other states use Index Rating, Descriptive Rating, Support Labels, and 1-5 Star Rating systems to meet federal guidelines.
On it’s surface the system looks like it should work, but State Senator Teresa Fedor says once you start looking deeper into the formulas used to determine scores for the classifications and measures, things start to unravel.
“This report card has been rigged for years and it’s designed to do exactly what it’s doing; that the taxpayers are paying for charter schools that aren’t working, private schools that are not doing the job; and we need to reassess our whole education system,” said Fedor.
Fedor is a former school teacher. She gave up that career to run for office and has been the voice of students and their parents since coming to the Statehouse.
She isn’t alone in advocating for kids. The Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) has been trying to get the State Report Card fixed for years.
When a majority of lawmakers finally agreed to deal with the situation this summer, they intentionally chose BASA to participate in the process.
The committee was to be made up of the Ohio Department of Education’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, or their designee; 4 majority members (Republicans) of the legislature (2 from each chamber); 2 minority members (Democrats) of the legislature (1 from each chamber); and 3 school district superintendents (1 each from a rural district, a suburban district, and an urban district).
The committee was suppose to convene for the first time no more than 30 days after the budget went into effect, which would have made the first meeting sometime in mid-August.
That meeting never happened. The committee never actually met until November 6th; remember that date, we’ll come back to it.
Next, by state statute, the committee was supposed to go over quite a bit of stuff and seek input from independent experts, as well as 4 stakeholder groups: Educators, Advocates, Parents, and the Business Community.
What the committee actually did was hold 3 public meetings, and never heard from the Parents stakeholder group before adjourning the committee and writing its report to the General Assembly as it was instructed to do by December 15th.
The meeting were held November 6th, November 13th, and December 4th.
Not only did the committee not start on time, it failed to hear from parents, and because it was running out of time it failed to do something else it was statutorily required to do: make recommendations.
It did meet its deadline to file its report by December 15th so, thumbs up?
A statement provided to us today from BASA indicates surprise over the chairman of the committee taking the actions he did and not developing recommendations. Their full statement reads:
“We were pleased that the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) was specifically named in legislation to appoint three superintendents to serve on the Legislative Local Report Card Committee. The three superintendents worked very hard to prepare BASA’s recommendations for changes to the state’s Local Report Card. These changes were based on the work of BASA’s own Local Report Card committee, comprised of superintendents from around the state. BASA’s recommendations were supported by OASBO (Ohio Association of School Business Officials) and OSBA (Ohio School Boards Association). We were surprised that the chairman of the Local Report Card Committee adjourned the committee after the third meeting with no work on the committee’s part to develop recommendations. Our superintendents were ready to roll up their shirt sleeves and work with the legislators on meaningful changes to the Local Report Card. We understand, though, that the legislators were up against a deadline to file a report by December 1. Our hope is that they will continue to work on developing recommended changes to create a more fair and accurate Local Report Card and that they will include the superintendents in the conversation. Including practitioners who understand the impact of the Local Report Card at the ground level is a crucial part of the process. BASA, OASBO, and OSBA continue to work with the Ohio Department of Education to take the proposals presented and develop a list of recommendations for legislators to consider.”
The chairman of the joint committee was State Senator Louis Blessing III (Colerain Township-R). It was his responsibility, with the help of his co-chair State Representative Don Jones (Freeport-R) to organize and run these important meetings.
When the committee released its report, because it had not done the work it was charged with doing by state statute in developing recommendations to make to the legislature, it passed all the wish-lists of those they heard from in the process on instead.
Instead of even distilling down all nine groups recommendations to areas of broad consensus, the report just regurgitated their thoughts.
When asked for comment about the failures of the committee a spokesperson for the Senate GOP Caucus provided this statement:
“This was a joint legislative report which is really a starting point for multiple ideas and recommendations, it isn’t the finish line. Any new legislation will go through the normal committee process, undergoing hearings and encouraging public input from parents, educators and the administrators.”
Setting aside how it side-steps the actual crux of the problem for a moment, it is 100% accurate.
Any future legislation would have to go through the normal committee process and hearings would be scheduled, people of all stripes would be able to testify, and the bill vetted, worked, and one would hope the best product would come of that.
But that’s not the point.
Lawmakers passed the budget that created the state statute; rules, if you will.
Those rules called for certain things to happen. Lawmakers in charge of making those things happen didn’t follow the statute.
This is not the first time that lawmakers have trampled the law; it happened with the State Budget itself when the majority party, couldn’t get both chambers to agree in time to meet a constitutional deadline.
Nothing happened to anyone of course, when they simply failed to follow the law. It was played off as no big deal because, you know when it needs to be, the State Constitution is more like a guideline apparently.
So too is the situation with the Local Report Card Committee being played off as no big deal.
Because lawmakers didn’t complete their job, when this issue is presented to their colleagues much of what was already done will be repeated.
The whole point of the study committee is to save time by culling the chafe and leaving only the best, few, generally agreed upon options.
And while it will have saved a fraction of time by accumulating nine different groups thoughts into one spot, each of those nine groups are going to likely repeat that all of that stuff again anyway.
The seat at the table given to BASA, for the work they have done addressing the situation turned out to be an empty gesture, at the end of the day.
Other than hearing testimony and asking questions here and there, their involvement equated to no final product, and the group that was single out by lawmakers to participate in a meaningful way will be relegated back to being an advocate when legislation does finally make its way to lawmakers.
Can lawmakers fix the State Report Card System, probably. They certainly have plenty of ideas, now they will have to sift through them and do the committees work for them, wasting valuable time coming up with something months after it should have been done by this committee.
Because lawmakers are not coming back to the Statehouse to work until sometime in mid-January, and with the Capital Budget nearly upon them, only the bills with the highest priority for the majority party are going to see any real push this spring.
Then they will be gone for the summer and the fall campaigning for re-election.
And when the campaigning is over, and it’s the middle of November of next year, there will be a scramble to get things passed at the last minute like there always is; and not everything will make it.
The question will be, is report card reform going to be one of those issues that just dies at the end of session unresolved?