Ohio Needs a World-Class Education System

Jennifer Sheets

On February 13, 2007, Achieve, Inc., presented to the Ohio State Board of Education a study of education policy, entitled Creating a World-Class Education System in Ohio. An earlier benchmarking study for Ohio in 1999 had evaluated the state’s educational reform strategies at the time against the best domestic practices and has contributed substantially to Ohio’s progress over the past eight years. A decade ago, Ohio was essentially stuck in the middle when compared to other states. On cross-state comparisons of current National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, Ohio is now in the top quarter of states.

The new Achieve study is responsive to the State Board’s focus on understanding the implications of the new global economy for K-12 education in Ohio. No state has felt the impact of the globalizing economy more than Ohio. With the continual decline of manufacturing jobs, Ohio has struggled to move toward a knowledge-based economy. The fastest-growing and highest paying jobs require higher levels of education. The state’s ability to regain its economic competitiveness is dependent on the ability of its schools to provide a world-class education to its citizens, and not simply a strong education when compared to other states. This perception is shared by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who on November 7, 2006, proclaimed the importance of “building an education system, from pre-school through college, that doesn’t just compete with our neighbors like Indiana and Kentucky, but rivals the best in the world…”

It is against this backdrop that the State Board requested a study that would take stock of current education policy by comparing Ohio’s K-12 system with the best in the world and provide the state with recommendations for closing any gaps. To my knowledge this is the first study of a state system that employs benchmarking to international best practices. Achieve engaged Sir Michael Barber (former education and domestic policy advisor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair) and McKinsey and Company (an international management consulting firm) to assist with international benchmarking.

The Achieve study both validates the efforts that Ohio has undertaken in the past years and makes clear that without substantial, comprehensive, and coherent reform, the state’s K-12 education system will not be positioned to deliver high quality educational opportunities for all students, and thus will not support economic growth for Ohio. The study identifies three defining elements of the highest performing educational systems—high challenge, high support, and aligned incentives—which become the touchstones for the international benchmarking and the foundation for the report’s recommendations. These elements validate that Ohio has been on the right track. Our strategic plan over the past seven or eight years has been built around raising the bar (high challenge), building capacity (high support), and measuring results (aligned incentives).

The study’s recommendations represent a comprehensive set of initiatives that will move Ohio from current practice toward best international practices. They are grouped into seven clusters that address standards and assessments, principals as instructional leaders, teacher development and support, student support and motivation, equitable funding linked to accountability, school and district ratings and interventions, and access to high quality school options.

The combination of high challenge, high support, and aligned incentives integrates the seven sets of recommendations into a comprehensive reform package that fully implemented, greatly enhances the impact of any single measure. For example, the report calls for expanded student access to high quality choice options but links this recommendation to proposals for improved means and information for parents to take advantage of them; more rigorous performance-based entry and exit standards for charter schools; lower non-performance based barriers for new schools; and greater accountability for EdChoice voucher schools.

The Achieve report also avers that Ohio must address school funding, but that this must be done while attending to allocation and accountability for those funds. To this end, the study calls for measuring, benchmarking, and evaluating school-level efficiency; driving fiscal resources to the building level based on the number and needs of its students; revising the funding formula to more accurately account for the true costs of educating each student; providing a predictable revenue stream to each school; and periodically adjusting the funding system based on an ongoing empirical review. (These recommendations were echoed in the State Board’s recent report “A New Direction for Ohio’s School Funding: Designing a System that Relates Resources to Results.”) The recommendation to empower principals as instructional leaders dovetails with a call for funds to be allocated to the building level. Recommendations related to accountability, school intervention, and schooling options are interwoven with funding and resource allocation—fiscal support tied to results.

The State Board is committed to building on the strong K-12 results of the past eight years to realize an education system that ensures the preparation of our young people as well as the vitality of our state. Over the next several months the State Board of Education is undertaking a public engagement campaign to share the recommendations of the Achieve study and secure the input and feedback of the public regarding the report. We know that the State Board cannot implement this agenda alone. We will need partners—including elected officials and education groups. The State Board is ready to propose initiatives that are transformative—not for the sake of being transformative, but because in today’s rapidly changing world, Ohio cannot afford to be satisfied with incremental improvements.

by Jennifer Sheets
President, Ohio State Board of Education
 

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