Narrowing the achievement gap: education in Ohio in 2017
Posted on 01/18/17
Ohio’s education system will continue to falter unless we narrow the widening achievement gap between rich and poor districts. The question is: will we find the political will to adequately fund the solutions?
This work gained more urgency after Education Week released its “Quality Counts” report in 2016. The report shows Ohio’s education system tumbled from ranking fifth out of 50 states in 2011 to 23rd place in 2015.
The achievement gap loomed large over two important gatherings I recently attended: the Ohio School Boards Association’s annual Capital Conference and a stakeholder meeting for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The School Board Association Conference offered sessions on poverty among Ohio families and school children. The most telling data came during a presentation by the Ohio Education Policy Institute’s chief economist, Howard Fleeter. Dr. Fleeter found graduation rates and college enrollment are higher in districts with fewer economically disadvantaged students – hardly surprising. Since 1999, Ohio has increased funding by 13 percent to help poorer students. However, the number of students considered economically disadvantaged since 1999 has risen by 66 percent because of factors outside the education system. Dr. Fleeter argued that narrowing the achievement gap is one of Ohio’s most pressing problems heading into the next budget.
President Obama signed the ESSA in December 2015. The legislation replaced No Child Left Behind and, in the words of the president, “reaffirms that fundamentally American ideal – that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.” Since the bill’s signing, Philanthropy Ohio teamed up with the Ohio Department of Education for discussions about ESSA implementation and how it impacts Ohio’s school children. Attendees at 10 regional meetings across the state were asked important questions, including: “What is the most important issue facing our students and schools today?” Dealing with poverty and the resulting achievement gap surfaced as our biggest challenge.
A number of solutions emerged from the ESSA meetings and Capital Conference, including:
- State-funded intervention for students of low-income families as early as possible. This means preparing them for academic success before kindergarten and not merely providing child care.
- “Wrap-around” services at schools, e.g. nurses, mental health services (including drug and alcohol counselors), social workers and after-school and summer programs.
- Partnerships with local community organizations and services, and improved communication with parents to let them know when and where these partnerships exist.
- Structured academic programs during the summer to curb the effects of “Summer Learning Loss”
Providing these resources boils down to the State of Ohio making a commitment to quality public education for all children. Much of the focus among legislators in recent years has been policies meant to help business development at the expense of local school districts. State support for poorly performing charter schools has also pulled resources from local public schools.
In a state where the child poverty rate is rising (about 1 in 4 children already live in households below the federal poverty line), the pendulum needs to swing back. The state must generate or allocate more resources, reallocate money back to traditional schools from failing charters, and invest that money in narrowing the achievement gap.
The future success of all Ohioans, including those who will hire future graduates, depends on it.
- Terry Groden
Terry Groden is the Vice-President at North Olmsted City Schools Board of Education