The future is looking brighter for Ohio’s students. There is a robust discussion across the state about how best to improve education and to tailor each child’s learning experience to meet his or her individual needs. Given its importance and complexity, this policy debate is healthy for our state and should expand.
The 2014 state policy report card recently released by StudentsFirst shows that Ohio ranks in the top 10 states for how well its policies meet the needs of students. Ohioans should be encouraged by this progress.
There is momentum in our state to ensure a great teacher in every classroom; research clearly indicates that teacher quality is the No. 1 factor within schools that affects student achievement. Starting this year, Ohio teachers are being rated on a variety of factors, including classroom performance and growth in student achievement.
These evaluations will help educators identify their strengths and weaknesses, recognize the best of the best, and give teachers the opportunity to get meaningful feedback. Two-thirds of evaluation criteria are set by districts, and the rest are aligned with state measurements that ensure students are achieving at grade level in subjects such as reading and math.
The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that gains made by students in Washington, D.C., Tennessee, and Indiana outpaced the rest of the nation. In each situation, much as Ohio is doing now, rigorous teacher evaluation systems that use multiple measures of performance were introduced. These measures matched the evaluation system with a heavy investment in professional development for teachers.
All Ohio teachers, from the very best to the middle of the pack, now are paid on the same salary scale. It’s time for the General Assembly to link fiscal policy with education policy by rewarding teachers for their effectiveness, not seniority or other arbitrary factors. If we can put great teachers in every classroom, and reward them for their success with students, that will go a long way towards building a socially just education system.
Ohio now has a transparent report card system, to ensure that parents get meaningful feedback about how well their child’s school is performing. This information makes sense for our communities, and provides an important snapshot to measure our success. Gov. John Kasich and state lawmakers should be applauded for their commitment to empowering families with good, clear information about school performance.
To build on this momentum, Ohio should strengthen its charter-school accountability laws. It should promote the growth of high-performing charter schools. It should strengthen parent-trigger policies, so that no parent is compelled to send his or her child to a failing school. We must strengthen our efforts to ensure that all children, no matter their race or family income, will receive a high-quality education.
Although this progress is encouraging, now is not the time to become complacent. The state policy report card provides a useful road map for school leaders, lawmakers, and community members to focus education discussions.
We must embrace high expectations for our students and ourselves. We cannot rest until a great teacher is in every Ohio classroom.
Greg Harris is Ohio director of StudentsFirst, an education advocacy organization founded by Michelle Rhee, a former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools who grew up in Toledo.
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