Where do we go from here with our schools?
By David Estrop
“Where do we go from here with our schools?”

It certainly appears to be an interesting, timely, and important question for our state. After more than 20 years of testing, testing and more testing of students on several different state tests, I would suggest that it appears we are no closer to answering this question then 20 years ago.

We have seen educators evaluated, remediated, professionally developed and ultimately blamed because test scores in Ohio have remained stagnant or declined. We have seen the state (which is ultimately responsible for our public schools based upon the Ohio Constitution) threaten schools and school districts with everything from loss of funding to state takeovers, and still the needle has largely remained stuck.

Have we learned nothing from all this test data? Actually, I think we have learned a lot. However, I want to suggest that we are looking in all the wrong places for solutions to improve student achievement. Competent educators are a critical ingredient to success, but so are a lot of other things. Twenty-plus years of testing have shown quite clearly that poverty does matter and that students, schools and school districts in poorer communities perform at a lower level compared to their wealthier peers. In Ohio, we have largely been unable to change this relationship between poverty and achievement.

So, since we cannot make every student, school and/or school district wealthy, what can we do? Well, here is my recommended list of educational reforms: 1. All-day kindergarten: I suspect most think we have all-day kindergarten, and we do in most communities. However, the state only financially supports kindergarten for a half of day. We need to fix this.

2. Public pre-school programs: Early intervention will ultimately pay off for everyone. However, I would also suggest that public pre-school programs funded by the state be mandatory for any school or district that is not achieving at the desired level.

3. Extended school year: When students are provided with the time and resources they need, they can catch up and stay with their peers. I would recommend mandatory extended school year programs for all schools and districts that are not achieving at the desired level.

4. Extended school day: Extended school days should not be more of the same of the regular school day, but should provide our children with safe environments where they can have skills reinforced and opportunities explored.

Some will argue these recommendations would not treat all schools and school districts the same, and they would be correct.

But not all students, schools and/or districts are the same. Some have greater needs and left unaddressed, the results for students, schools and communities facing substantial poverty will remain unchanged. It is time to recognize and address the need for additional time and opportunities for some districts.

As someone once noted, “Nothing is so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” One size does not fit all, and that would be true for these reforms.

How do we pay for it? That is certainly critical, but let’s agree on what needs to be done, then work on deciding how to pay for it. I’ll bet there are great ideas out there; I certainly have some.

David Estrop, Ph.D., is former superintendent of schools in Wooster, Lakewood and Springfield.