Reforms not leading to performance


Ohio’s Senate Bill 216 (SB216) is a tremendous start of an exciting new chapter in Ohio educational reform.  Ironically, I must accept partial responsibility for several of the laws this bill would eliminate.  My support at the time was well intentioned and guided by reasoned policy theory and practice.  The people who put these laws in place were also well intentioned, guided by a fervent desire to improve the future of Ohio children, and to assure Ohio was competitive in the global economy.  After nearly a decade, however, the results show we must move on from these reforms because they haven’t delivered on our vision.  The reforms weren’t our goal. Student success was the goal.


Performance challenge

NAEP is considered the gold standard in measuring student academic progress. 

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Ohio NAEP results have shown an overall increase of 1.8% since 2002.[1]  That isn’t per year growth, that is over the entire 15-year period.  If you look at a full NAEP scale graph you can see we have made no visible progress.

These data points and others suggest it is time to rethink our reform efforts.  SB216 is the beginning of this effort. 

SB216 starts removing burdens of several failed reform policies and positions Ohio to start the hard work of dramatically improving or replacing past policies.  Modern reform efforts are increasingly focused on the importance of personalized, student success focused work.  This work is only possible if Ohio focuses on attracting and retaining professional education talent and reducing top down school control.


Other reforms needing major overhaul or removal 

SB216 touches on several other reforms needing substantial revision or removal.  I would suggest the following should receive attention.

  1. The A-F report card.  Accountability is critical.  This accountability instrument has not moved performance.  It is inconsistent with aspirational, high quality continuous improvement and innovation systems found in health care and the private sector.

  2. Teacher licensure.  There is little to no evidence teacher licensure has increased the quality of classroom teachers or school administrators.  Finland’s educator preparation systems are infinitely more successful in this regard.  They focus on dramatic improvements in the quality of candidates and the value of the pre-employment educational experiences.

  3. Rules and regulations related to instructional design.  Legislatures don’t pass laws around the way in which doctors do brain surgery and they shouldn’t pass laws around the way professional educators teach. 

  4. Standardized testing.  Modern assessment capabilities provide teachers with fast, useful information about student learning and provide incredible proof of learning documentation.  These assessment approaches make state developed assessments obsolete.  Additionally, mastery-based, personalized learning require just-in-time testing instead of once a year standardized testing. 

  5. Curriculum standards.   Our current focus on math and reading has sterilized educational experiences and has not acknowledged the full range of knowledge and skills required to be successful in life.  Our curriculum standards must be broadened to include a broader definition of content, habits of success, life skills, and wayfinding talents.  The NLCG MyWays initiative can inform the progress we need in this area.

Success comes from failing, learning, and moving forward 

Our efforts over the last 10-15 years have been driven by our desire to improve educational results.  The reforms we implemented were thoughtful and, at the time of implementation, showed great promise.  But now we know they haven’t gotten the results we wanted.  Thomas Edison famously tested over 3,000 different filaments before he discovered the one that made the electric lightbulb possible.  Thomas Edison is known for his incredible inventions and for his bringing light and electric power to the world.  But his greatest accomplishments came not from being correct, but being willing to fail over 2,999 times, learning from the failure, and moving on to new options.  SB 216 is the first acknowledgement that our current reforms, just like the failed filaments, must be learned from and then let go.  We must move forward into a new generation of reforms.  Passage of SB216 is the first step in this journey.

Thank you for your time and attention.


[1] Data used in this analysis is from USDE, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Robert Sommers