The last Achieve report's impact may temper expectations for the new one

Buckeye state policymakers are currently mulling over recommendations from Achieve, Inc. to create a "world-class education system in Ohio" (see here). As we have a new governor and many new lawmakers, it may be worth reminding our state leaders that this isn't the first time Achieve has made recommendations for reforming Ohio's public education system. In fact, there are still lessons to be learned from the first Achieve report.

In March 1999, the governor and state superintendent were new to their jobs and the General Assembly was in its last session before major turnover due to term limits. Achieve released a report to provide these leaders with a candid assessment of Ohio's reform strategy and to identify those components that "must receive high priority if Ohio's ambitious education goals are going to be realized." And, for the most part, leadership stepped up to the plate.

The recommendations that Ohio has adopted from the 1999 report include:

  • establishing clear and measurable academic content standards;
  • requiring a more rigorous academic curriculum for all students;
  • putting in place an accountability system that links curriculum with assessment (although Fordham's report on state proficiency testing, released today, shows that Ohio still has work to do on this front as the state has set the bar far too low on its annual assessments);
  • disaggregating student data; and 
  • joining the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

It was no small task to make these changes. But for the progress made, one can't help but wonder how much closer we'd be to that "world-class education system" if Ohio had addressed other important issues in the 1999 report:

  • Dealing with persistently failing schools. Achieve called on the state to intervene in low-performing schools and even recommended closing schools that were beyond fixing. Ohio is still trying to deal with failing schools-district and charter schools-and it is still struggling to find ways to close persistently failing schools and to find better options for the children in these failed schools.

  • Empowering principals. Achieve recognized that principals play a critical role in school improvement and called on the state Department of Education to provide leadership development to principals. Achieve called for school leaders to become "agents of change" for school and student performance and even encouraged them to have some say over school resources. The state has taken small steps toward building principals' capacity and increasing their autonomy but there is still a very long way to go-a sentiment strongly echoed in Achieve's 2007 report.

  • Establishing end-of-course exams linked to college entrance requirements. Achieve asserted that linked standards would better motivate university-bound students and would, over time, enable universities to scale back the resources committed to remedial instruction. Consider the money Ohio could save on remedial college coursework if all students graduated truly ready for college. The Ohio Core is a long step in the right direction, but it will not be fully implemented until the graduating class of 2013.

At September's State Board of Education meeting, President Jennifer Sheets made clear that the board's highest priority is looking to Achieve's recommendations and "developing a comprehensive, seamless pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education system." Governor Strickland revealed recently that he would like schools to have a structure giving more authority and autonomy to principals (see here). And by moving the chancellor of the Board of Regents under his control and instituting the University System of Ohio, he has shown that he is not afraid of challenging the status quo.

These leaders have certainly recognized the importance and value of the recommendations put forth by Achieve this year, but they should not lose sight of the unfinished work laid out by Achieve eight years ago.

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