Voucher kids need not pass reading test
By Bill Bush THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Third-graders in traditional public schools and charter schools will be held back if they can’t pass a state reading test, but those who receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools will not be.
- They are exempt from Ohio’s third-grade reading guarantee. But as a group, those voucher students performed worse on the reading test than students in the state’s school districts did.
Of the voucher students who took the test last fall, just over 36 percent, or almost 1,200, would be held back this year if the guarantee applied them.
That’s a higher failure rate than in the state’s school districts, where 34 percent of third-graders would be held back, based on the results of the fall test. Students can take the test again this spring, and yet again in the summer.
- The Ohio Department of Education website says that the guarantee “ensures that every struggling reader gets the support he or she needs to be able to learn and achieve.”
DISPATCH FILE PHOTO Richard Ross, state superintendent, has taken a hard line on the third-grade reading guarantee. An Education Department official said the legislature is responsible for the voucher-student exemption.
Richard Ross, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, has taken a hard line on the guarantee , saying that passing kids along who can’t read at their grade level doesn’t do them any favors. The guarantee “just has to be,” Ross told The Dispatch in December. “We just have to stop this nonsense and teach them to read.”
Asked why that shouldn’t apply to voucher students, Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said it’s “because of the way legislators wrote the law.”
Republican officials who pushed for the guarantee said it wasn’t their intent to exempt any publicly funded student from the guarantee, and leaving out voucher students was an oversight. (yeah, sure. .)
“We think they should be” required to pass the test to advance to the fourth grade, said Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, who pushed the guarantee through the legislature in 2012. “We think this will be the start of that conversation.”
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, who heads the Senate Education Committee, said there was no conscious decision to omit voucher students from the requirements of the guarantee. State regulations just generally don’t apply to private schools, she said. But she acknowledged that lawmakers could have applied the guarantee to voucher students.
“I think that’s something that will be looked at down the road,” Lehner said. “Schools that receive vouchers should be held more accountable for testing.”
- State Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, said it’s not true that there was never a conversation about whether a controversial education reform would affect voucher students, one of the three classes of publicly financed students in Ohio. She said that omitting voucher students was a deliberate policy decision of the GOP, a gift to a favored constituency.
“It’s a well-known fact that Ohio’s education system doesn’t have a level playing field of accountability,” Fedor said.
- The Ohio School Boards Association pointed out in legislative hearings on the guarantee that voucher students were exempt, said Damon Asbury, the association’s lobbyist.
The organization told legislators it was ironic that the reading test could help determine whether students are eligible for vouchers that would send them to schools where they wouldn’t be held accountable for their performance on the reading test.
It’s not well-known that voucher students are exempt, Fedor said. There is barely a mention of it on the state Department of Education’s website, and the department doesn’t post the reading-test results of voucher schools online alongside those of district and charter schools. The Dispatch requested them, and the department provided the voucher-student numbers on a computer disk.
Some states, such as Indiana and Louisiana, do apply all accountability measures to voucher students, said Mark Real, president of KidsOhio.
- “Our feeling is that we think good public policy should apply to everybody who accepts public money,” Real said.
The assumption was that voucher students would be performing at a higher level, he said. “That was sort of the hypothesis.”
Dan Dodd, executive director of the Ohio Association of Independent Schools, said that omitting voucher students was a statement that lawmakers trust private schools’ judgment.
“Many private schools feel that people pay or choose a private-school education because they rely on the professional expertise of the administrators,” Dodd said. “So to rely on a test, I suppose you could view it as ironic, but that’s not really how independent schools choose to measure their performance.”
They especially don’t want to make decisions based on a test “forced on them by the state,” Dodd said.
Larry Keogh, a lobbyist for the Catholic Conference of Ohio, doesn’t recall voucher schools coming up in the negotiations over the third-grade reading guarantee because state regulations generally don’t apply to private schools. Asked whether state law should apply, given the poor showing on the reading test, Keogh said it’s “a timing issue” because private schools don’t always get voucher kids from the earliest grades.
“We believe that the earlier we received the scholarship kids into our schools, the better that they will be able to perform academically,” Keogh said. “We’re confident that over a protracted time of a few years, those children will be acting at grade level and performing as such.” email@example.com
Over the decades, Ohio’s Supreme Court has claimed that Ohio’s Department of Education is illegal in the way it handles the educational process across the state, with demands that it be corrected and made fair and equitable. Governor Strickland was the only one in my memory who tried for solutions, desperately, against failing odds as the money was simply not there. At least he tried, valiantly.
One must realize that saving money and stark austerities (cutting everything drastically) was the hallmark of Governor Kasich, with a seeming ulterior motive of destroying what was left of our educational system. Cut backs crippled education with severe budget cuts and staff-slashing and school closings. Truly fine people were abused. White Hat Charter schools (Kasich’s buddy) was empowered with full license to do anything he seemed to want. Many of the “charter schools” have closed; leaving a broken system behind. Ohioans have not been well served. And yet, we are still closing schools, leaving worried and inconvenienced families worried about their kids and how they are going to cope.
This article is a fairly graphic display of the ethics behind Governor Kasich; one needn’t dig deep between the lines. Jan)