“Basically, a time of transition.”
That’s what Rep. Andrew Brenner, a Republican from Powell and chair of the Ohio House of Representatives’ Education and Career Readiness Committee, calls 2017. At least in terms of the General Assembly’s work on education policy.
“[It was] a time of starting to listen to what’s going on in the field and starting to implement common sense reforms as opposed to just mandates that people can’t necessarily comply with,” he said.
One of those common-sense reforms, Brenner said, is the recent passage of a bill to create computer science standards for Ohio schools. Schools won’t be required to offer the classes, but can use higher level courses to replace Algebra II as a graduation requirement.
“That will be something that will help carry Ohio forward,” he said, “especially with workforce development.”
With more than 50 sponsors-- both Democrats and Republicans-- the bill’s goal was to directly address workforce needs in Ohio, something that has been a priority for Gov. John Kasich since taking office in 2011.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1.4 million computer programming jobs available in the U.S. in 2020 and 400,000 graduates with the necessary skills to fill them. Brenner, like Kasich and many other lawmakers, want more Ohioans to be prepared for those jobs.
But in the new year, Brenner said his committee, at least, will tackle bigger education issues. One of the first will be simplifying Ohio’s school report cards.
Ohio’s Complex School Report Cards
Over the past several months, both state and national education research groups that have reviewed Ohio’s school report cards said they contain a wealth of helpful information for parents, but having so many components can make it difficult for those parents to put the report cards to use.
The Columbus-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute recommended reducing the number of letter grades contained in the reports from, in some cases, as many as 14 to just 5 or 6.
Brenner said his committee has reviewed those recommendations, and he believes simpler might be better.
“I think for the most part a simpler report card so that the public understands what’s going on is needed, but you can keep the underlying data so that the school districts can utilize [it],” he said.
Brenner added that detailed data allows schools and districts to pinpoint problems and work with the Ohio Department of Education to fix them.
Legislation to rethink the report cards could be introduced as early as January, Brenner said, and it will likely be accompanied by a bill taking on high school graduation requirements.
This year, lawmakers approved alternative paths to graduation for the Class of 2018 after a review by the Ohio Department of Education found nearly a third of the class was not on track to graduate under more stringent requirements approved by the General Assembly in 2014.
2018 graduates are the first to have to meet the new standards that include earning 18 of 35 points on end-of-course exams, getting a remediation free score on a college-entrance exam, like the ACT or SAT, or obtaining an industry credential. Changes implemented this summer for the class, however, allow additional considerations, like having a 93 percent attendance rate or completing a senior project.
At its January meeting, members of the Ohio Board of Education are expected to vote on a recommendation for lawmakers to extend the 2018 alternative pathways to the classes of 2019 and 2020, but Brenner said his committee, instead, will look at legislation to make those changes permanent.
“You know, there’s going to be now a call then for the next school year and the next school year, so, to me, I’d like to see a long-term fix to this,” he said.
As to whether the changes actually make the graduation standards less stringent, doing a disservice to Ohio students as groups like Fordham have said, Brenner said the criticism implies that the Ohio graduation requirements are the “best thing,” or best standards for students to meet, and he’s not sure that’s the case.
“Standardized testing does have a role, but we need to have a little more balance in there,” Brenner said, pointing to softer skills students who do not attend college, but go immediately into the workforce need to be successful, like punctuality.
The House’s education committee will also consider a bill in the new year that’s the result of a case being considered by the Ohio Supreme Court. The bill, Brenner said, will clear-up the state’s definition of a full-time equivalent student.
The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT, filed an appeal with the court earlier this year after lawmakers tried to recoup $60 million in funding from the 2015-2016 school year. The state alleges it overpaid ECOT for the schooling of 9,000 more children than it could document in that school year and since has expanded that claim to the 2016-2017 school year as well. Ohio officials say the state overpaid ECOT by $20 million in that school year.
The Supreme Court ruled in December it would not halt the state’s attempts to recoup those dollars despite ECOT’s threats that it will soon close because of a lack of funding. Ohio officials have reduced its current payments to the school in an attempt to recover what they’ve deemed over payments.
Brenner said the controversy comes down to the definition of full-time students.
“I think had there been a proper definition, there wouldn’t have been a lawsuit filed,” Brenner said, but didn’t go into detail about how the anticipated legislation would change what’s in current law.
Brenner said confusion over how student hours are documented isn’t just a problem for online charters like ECOT, though, but is becoming confusing for traditional public schools as well. Those schools are starting to offer a mix of in-person and online learning.