State considers new model for takeover of low-scoring schools

Just five days after the latest state report card labeled some local schools with “D” and “F” grades, the state Senate is weighing a proposal for a new system of state takeover for schools with the lowest-scoring students.

Substitute House Bill 154, which was before the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, would give districts much more time to improve before a takeover occurred — six years of locally guided turnaround efforts, with state and outside support.

JULY: Dayton schools pivot after state takeover paused

But for schools that kept failing to show approved measures of progress, the state would eventually step in with a School Improvement Commission. That’s very different from the version of the bill the House passed this spring, which would have banned state takeovers of schools altogether.

The bill raises questions of who should lead efforts to improve low-scoring schools, what measures demonstrate progress, and how much time should be allowed for that progress to become visible.

State Sen. Andrew Brenner argued Tuesday that allowing six years before the state takes over — roughly half of a child’s K-12 years — is simply too long.

“The kids are on the bus, the bus is headed over the edge of a cliff, and you can either go slowly over the cliff, or make an immediate 90- or 180-degree turn to keep them from going over the cliff,” Brenner said.

JUNE: New school takeover bill headed to Senate hearings

But multiple people who spoke to the education committee said it’s not as simple as just turning a steering wheel in some other direction. State Sen. Teresa Fedor said the existing three state takeovers (all in northern Ohio) were based on a flawed state report card and should be dissolved.

Youngstown school board member Ronald Shadd asked why legislators thought a state overview panel would have better answers than local leaders.

“The state has had control over academics in Youngstown since 2010, then revamped that control in 2015,” Shadd said. “Today, even with the CEO having complete operational and managerial control, our new state report card is out and we have done worse. … In the last 10 years, the state has failed Youngstown.”

Canton school board member Eric Resnick said he opposed all state takeover plans for schools and asked the committee, “Who’s going to take over a failed state legislature?”

MARCH: State leaders criticize existing school takeover law

Under the new bill, school districts with an overall “F” on the state report card would work with a state-approved consultant on a “root cause analysis” of their low performance. Then they would build and implement an improvement plan, with approval from a state “transformation board” and an agreement with the teachers union.

Learn to Earn Dayton CEO Tom Lasley, who helped craft the principles of the bill before the Senate, said Ohio needs a more nuanced system for low-scoring schools. That matches Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner’s comments from this summer, arguing for a series of smaller benchmarks to indicate whether schools are making progress, rather than relying totally on the state report card’s overall letter grade.

“I believe that what is being proposed in this legislation does represent a positive step forward for the underperforming schools in the state of Ohio,” Lasley said.

Fedor disagreed, saying the bill is being rushed and rammed through, pointing out that some people who testified before the committee Tuesday didn’t realize the language had already been changed.

2018 STORY: Trotwood gets a “D” to avoid state takeover

Lehner has said the committee is trying to listen to all stakeholders and may still amend the bill further. Fedor said that Wednesday’s planned testimony on the bill was canceled Tuesday afternoon

Even if the bill does pass the full legislature, school takeover has always been tied to state report card results. But the legislature is expected to change that too, with a committee report on the report card due on Dec. 15.

In fall 2018, Trotwood schools earned an overall “D” grade to narrowly avoid state takeover. Dayton schools were at risk of takeover this fall until state legislators placed a moratorium on takeovers while they considered this bill. Now Jefferson Twp. schools got an overall “F” on last week’s report card, leading to concerns about their next step.

Lasley said districts could learn from Dayton’s response. When the district averted takeover in 2016, they celebrated publicly and claimed victory. This time, Lasley said, just days after improving to a “D,” he watched district leaders intently working on root cause analysis of academic problems to take the next positive step.

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