In previous articles I have written that the daily email I receive as a superintendent updating me on the latest political shenanigans occurring in Columbus is a “good news, bad news” proposition. The good news is that it is always nice to be informed about the latest antics that are occurring in Columbus; the bad news is that I often feel as if my head is going to explode when I read about them. More often than not, it is hard to imagine that an intelligent group of people is engaging in the kinds of conversations that occur among our “leaders” at the state level, but they most certainly are. So, this latest update lands squarely in my “head is going to explode” category.
It seems that lawmakers are now scrambling to fix the mess their ridiculous “accountability” system has created for online charter schools whose enrollment has ballooned thanks to the closing of ECOT, Ohio’s largest online charter school. When ECOT closed because of its financial scandal, its students had to attend school somewhere, so many enrolled in other online charter schools while others enrolled in traditional public schools, perhaps even the one in your community.
This update focused primarily on the influx of students attending other online charter schools, particularly those in danger of being shuttered, because their students historically don’t perform well on state tests. The primary discussion point is that if those schools that have accepted ECOT students are saddled with their test results, their accountability rating will be adversely affected. In some cases, it is even possible that those schools that have previously been in danger of being closed due to their students’ poor test performance may be pushed over the edge by these additional students. That rightfully scares the leaders of those schools to death.
One such online charter school is Ohio Virtual Academy (OVA). OVA’s administrators have told lawmakers that they have received approximately 4,000 students from ECOT, and they have argued how unfair it would be that their school’s future may depend on students who haven’t been enrolled with them prior to this year.
To be fair to the folks at OVA, you would hear this same refrain from every public school superintendent in Ohio, as well as any other clear thinking adult, but this is a topic that apparently confuses our legislators and one that requires their intense debate.
It is lunacy that any school would be held accountable for students they have not educated. Of course, it is also lunacy that lawmakers continue to hold schools solely responsible for student success even if they have attended their schools. But, holding other people accountable for things over which they don’t have complete control is what our leaders do.
Now, let’s be honest here; if the majority of students displaced by ECOT’s closing were high performing, highly successful young people who were going to positively impact the ridiculous “accountability” data the state has created, this debate would not have occurred. The reason it did is because the administrators at OVA understand that many of those students were not academically successful at ECOT, have not been academically successful at any other school they have attended, nor will they be academically successful in the next school they attend, because their failure is not a result of the school in which they are enrolled, but due to other factors.
But, this is a concept our lawmakers choose to ignore, thus they continue to engage in idiotic discussions such as what percentage of an increase in enrollment is too high or too low to hold the new school accountable for student achievement. Is a 10 percent increase the magic number; or is it 20 percent; or maybe it could be 14.87354 percent? Yes, believe it or not, THAT is what these people discuss, and none of their discussion is based on logic.
One might think that the topic of conversation would be the tens of thousands of students in Ohio who have failed regardless of the school they have attended. Perhaps they could focus on why, exactly, they consistently fail and what, perhaps, can be done to help them achieve success.
But, nooooooooooo, engaging in that kind of discussion wouldn’t even occur to them. Instead, they’re more interested in changing their current rules to be fair to schools than they are in discussing something meaningful such as why some children succeed while others fail.
This debate made its way through the Senate and House Education Committees, which are populated by members of our state legislature, with the former headed by Senator Peggy Lehner and the latter headed by Representative Andrew Brenner. These are two political committees that have yet to engage in a single meaningful discussion about how to help children become more successful, and you can add this debate to their list of failures.
It is indefensible that our legislators are more concerned about protecting their pet project, which is online charter schools, than they are in helping tens of thousands of students around Ohio learn what it takes to be successful. THAT is where their focus should be.
But, it never is, and that is why, once again, they have missed the point.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.