Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a study entitled Evaluation of Ohio’s Ed Choice Scholarship Program. As stated in the forward to the report, the study concluded that students who choose to use Ed Choice vouchers to attend private schools perform considerably worse than observationally similar students who are also eligible for vouchers but choose to stay in public schools. This despite the fact that the students who choose to use the vouchers, as stated in report, are somewhat higher achieving and somewhat less economically disadvantaged than their counterparts who stay in public schools.
This is news that should give pause to legislators who are attempting increase the number of vouchers offered in Ohio, by 103 percent, through a last-minute, unvetted amendment to House Bill 481. It does this by taking away the safe harbor around testing — a statute that was put in place to acknowledge that issues need to be resolved in the current testing system before holding schools accountable to those results. In other words, the amendment allows the use of erroneous information to determine if students are eligible for Ed Choice vouchers, even though students do better on the test results the legislators are using as a benchmark if they stay in the schools that are now voucher eligible. Sound convoluted? It is. If our public schools are having the most success at educating the lowest performing, highest economically disadvantaged, most challenged students, shouldn’t the legislature be focusing on getting more resources into public schools instead of trying to get more students out?
This study should also cause the legislature to rethink another last-minute, unvetted amendment, the Youngstown amendment, that was added to House Bill 70 last year. H.B. 70 originally was designed to bring together parents, students, educators and community members in designing a plan that improves student outcomes by giving students access to wrap-around services. The bill was hijacked at the last minute to add state takeover language that puts control of the public schools in the hands of a CEO, opens the door to an accelerator to bring in charters, and promotes the use of vouchers — strategies which have been proven to be unsuccessful in helping students achieve.
Though I commend Fordham for sharing research results that, in its words, were more negative than they anticipated, I do take exception to the conclusion that it is necessary to continue the voucher program because a “competitive jolt can awaken sleepy, lazy, or slipshod schools to clean up their act.” To suggest that schools are only providing students a quality education because competition demands it is a slap in the face to educators who continually look for ways to improve how we help children. In the past 10 years, there has been more emphasis on using data to inform instruction, more use of building and district leadership teams to make instructional decisions, more efforts to get wrap-around services into schools, more job-embedded teacher-led professional development, more focus on high standards and more use of research-based interventions. All of this was done by dedicated professionals continuing to look for ways to improve outcomes because they care about kids.
It is time to acknowledge that our students bring challenges to classrooms that our traditional public schools are better equipped to handle than any other school system. It is time to tap into the expertise of educators in making instructional decisions. It is time to recognize that we have great teachers who can get amazing results when given the resources they need to help children succeed. It is time to stop the overemphasis on testing. It is time to focus on creating a truly student-centered education system instead of just finding ways to shuffle students outside the traditional public schools.
We have an opportunity with the Every Student Succeeds Act to re-examine the education system in Ohio. We all need to raise our voices in putting an end to competition that results in students losing and instead focus on making sure every student in every school has everything needed for a well-rounded public education.
Melissa Cropper is president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.