Legislation being considered in the Ohio Legislature would adjust how the state handles poor-performing schools. The bill seeks to hand back more local control, but its critics argue that it doesn’t go far enough.
The legislation, Substitute H.B. 154, was brought up for discussion this week in an Ohio Senate Education Committee meeting. It would abolish the controversial Academic Distress Commissions (ADCs), which take over failing schools, and substitute them with School Improvement Committees (SICs). Although their authority would be similar, a state-appointed SIC would be made up entirely of nearby residents, while the ADCs have no such restriction.
Currently, after a school district has failed to improve over the course of several years, the ADC takes over governing the school, with a CEO who leads the process. ADCs control three districts at the moment. In the new legislation, the SIC director would take over the role of the CEO and have similar leadership authorities.
If the substitute house bill becomes a law as is, then a school that receives one “F” grade in performance by the state would have the option to opt into state interventions, but such interventions would be voluntary. A second consecutive “F” grade would make the school district eligible for additional interventions.
Although the interventions are not forced, the state uses financial incentives to encourage school districts to take them. If the district opts into the incentives after the first “F,” then the state would pay 100 percent of the costs for the interventions, but if they wait until the third consecutive year, then the state would only cover 50 percent of the costs for bringing in outside analysts.
If a district opts to receive state intervention, they would be required to have a third-party root cause analysis, create a local stakeholder committee and develop a long-term improvement plan that would be required to have benchmarks with which progress can be measured. The plan will have to be approved by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and frequently reviewed by the transformation board, which would be a newly formed board meant to provide oversight for the process of improving failing schools.
If the board decides that a school still needs intervention after six years, it would be taken over by the state and governing would be conducted by the SIC, rather than the locally elected school board. The SIC would be made up of three members appointed by the state superintendent with a background in education or education policy, one teacher appointed by the district’s union, one member of the business community appointed by the mayor and the president of the district’s board of educators or their designee. All members of the SIC would have to be from the district’s county or an adjacent county.
In districts that are currently operating under an ADC, the ADC would be abolished and replaced by an SIC unless an alternative approach is pursued by the district and approved by the transformation board.
Lisa Gray, who testified on behalf of Ohio Excels, said that her organization approved of the changes to the law in this legislation. Ohio Excels is a coalition of business leaders seeking to improve the quality of education in the state.
Gray said that the ADC approach did not achieve the success that the public expected and that students needed and deserved. Gray said that the inclusion of teachers and the local mayor in the process improves the overall approach and that the requirement that the SIC be made up of members of the local community would improve the process by not bringing in outsiders.
However, not everyone agreed that this granted enough local control. Scott DiMauro, who testified on behalf of the Ohio Education Association, argued that although the substitute bill did make improvements, it still had a lot of problems.
“The major shortcomings of the draft bill continue to be the lack of checks and balances to the unilateral authority granted to the school improvement committee,” DiMauro said. “The director and school improvement committee would replace the chief executive officer and academic distress committee that exists under current law.”
DiMauro encouraged the Legislature to take away the SIC’s authority to control union contracts and increase the teacher involvement on the transformation board and SICs. He also suggested that schools currently under ADC control should be given back to the local school boards and given a reset so that state control only occurs if they continue to fail. Additionally, DiMauro encouraged earlier intervention to prevent total state control from ever being necessary.