“This is about leadership.” Such was the closing comment of state superintendent Dick Ross at this morning’s Columbus event “Always Reformed, Always Reforming.” It was a remark spurred by the findings from Fordham’s recent publication Half Empty or Half Full? Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reforms. At this event, school and policy-making leaders gathered to discuss the findings of Fordham's newest publication, a survey of Ohio's superintendents who are tasked with implementing a host of eduational reforms.

Steve Farkas of the FDR Group led off the event with a presentation of the findings the survey of 344 of the state's 614 superintendents. The survey found varied opinion from school leaders for the Buckeye State’s recent reforms. Among the seven reforms we inquired about, superintendents strongly support the Common Core and individualized learning. District superintendents, however, are far less enamored with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee and school choice options (vouchers and charter schools).

A panel discussion followed with Fordham’s Terry Ryan moderating and Senator Peggy Lehner, Kirk Hamilton, and Steve Dackin participating on the panel. Senator Lehner is the chair of the Senate Education Committee, Kirk Hamilton is the executive director of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA), and Dackin is the superintendent of Reynoldsburg City Schools near Columbus.

Panelists (from left to right): State superintendent Dick Ross, Steve Farkas of the FDR Group, Kirk Hamilton of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, Steve Dackin of Reynoldsburg City Schools

The first topic of discussion was the Common Core. The panelists agreed that the Common Core has considerable potential to improve education for Ohio’s youngsters. Lehner remarked that educator support for the Common Core has helped Ohio’s lawmakers “weather the storm” of recent anti-Common Core agitation. Also agreed upon was that K-12 education must push ahead by integrating technology into classrooms and individualizing learning. Both, the panelists thought, can better inspire and engage children in their education.

Less common ground was found when it came to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee—Ohio’s recent law requiring third graders to demonstrate proficiency in reading before entering fourth grade. Dackin reported that, for the most part, his district has been pushing hard in primary education even before the law. Meanwhile, Lehner maintained that the policy is the right policy—Ohio has far too many kids who can’t read—and a state law, on the books, will push districts harder to prioritize the basics of early education.

Finally, the panelists found the least consensus when it came to school governance: Specifically, what role should local communities have (which as Hamilton pointed out, vary widely in culture and values) and what role should the state of Ohio play in students’ education? A brief exchange between Lehner and Hamilton sums up the complexity of governance—public education is akin to a marriage: It takes hard work to get it right—and sometimes there are arguments and sometimes there’s dysfunction.

Implementing education policy remains complex, the panelists seemed to agree. And, all this brings us full-circle to Dick Ross’ statement.  Implementing serious—and often complex—education reform for the betterment of Ohio’s 1.8 million school-aged children is “all about leadership.” Are superintendents willing and able to faithfully lead the implementation of these changes?  Time will tell, and here’s hoping.

To read the full findings of Fordham’s survey of Ohio superintendents, please click here. For more reaction to the report, please visit the Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio.

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