Wow! It’s Been a While

When I went to post a new blog post today, I was shocked to see that I hadn’t posted anything in over seven months! Sure, things have been extremely busy with the biennial budget and the work being done to promote independence for Ohio’s private schools, but it’s still not an excuse. I’ve said it before, and will probably say it again: I’ll try to do better!

The biennial budget contained several provisions good for independent schools in Ohio and two disappointing items (one veto and one mistake). The major provision for OAIS member schools is the total exemption from high school graduation testing for students at schools accredited by ISACS. This is the reinstatement of an exemption earned two years ago that disappeared during a well-intentioned attempt to help more schools during the HB 487 process. Other private schools in the state will have the option of using alternative assessments rather than the AIR assessments being developed. We couldn’t be more pleased that the State of Ohio has recognized ISACS-accredited schools, in statute, as being the best in the state and are treating them accordingly under state law.

Another provision we are pleased with is the increase of money available for students attending school on state-funded scholarships, both EdChoice and Jon Peterson scholarships. The amount of money available for auxiliary services and administrative cost reimbursement has also increased. While OAIS does not advocate for increases in these funding sources and most OAIS schools do not accept scholarships, we do appreciate the state’s investment in the education our schools provide.

With the good came some bad. We were profoundly disappointed with the veto of the clarifying language regarding participation in College Credit plus by nonpublic schools. The Board of Regents clearly ignored statute when it crafted rules that forced private schools to participate in College Credit Plus against their wishes and the budget language clarified the legislature’s intent. Unfortunately, Gov. Kasich vetoed this clarifying language. It is our hope that the Board of Regents will attempt to work with nonpublic school associations rather than obstruct any meaningful compromise so that schools and students are both comfortable with how the College Credit Plus process works.

On behalf of the ISACS-accredited schools accepting Jon Peterson and EdChoice scholarships, we are also disappointed with Senate-added language that forces students at ISACS-accredited schools to take the AIR assessments while every other scholarship student in the state will attend a school where alternative assessments are provided. This language, added at the very last minute without any vetting by major stakeholders (except one), was apparently an avoidable error that we hope will be corrected soon.

There is still more work to do, but OAIS remains thankful that Ohio’s legislators continue to work to free OAIS member schools from the burdensome mandates that stifle educational innovation and excellence.

Bad for Ice Cream, Bad for Students

Consider a hypothetical: Imagine, if you will, a group of ice cream manufacturers who have a problem with Ohio. You see, for twenty years, Ohio has required every gallon of ice cream manufactured within the state to be tested to see how long it takes for a scoop to melt. At the time it was passed, and in years since, some lawmakers believe this test helps determine the level of enjoyment that consumers will have with their ice cream because they’ll know how long they can have it on a hot day before it melts.

There’s some important things to note about this test:

  • It doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of ingredients
  • It doesn’t tell you anything about the presence of absence of something that could make someone sick
  • It doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not it tastes good
  • There is no consumer demand for ice cream manufacturers to submit to these tests

Now let’s say that the manufacturers have pointed out to the State of Ohio a few more things:

  • The test costs money and requires resources that could be better spent elsewhere
  • A good result on the test doesn’t seem to help sales of the ice cream, and ice creams from other states that aren’t tested don’t seem to suffer from not being tested
  • Ohio is the only state requiring this test of ice cream produced within its borders and doesn’t require ice cream produced outside of Ohio, but sold within Ohio, to be tested at all

Hypothetically, if all of these things existed for ice cream manufacturers, how long do you think it would take for Ohio to repeal the use of this test? 3 months? 6 months? Maybe a year?

Sadly, a similar situation does exist in Ohio and it’s applicable to something more important than ice cream (no offense to ice cream). For close to 20 years, Ohio has required all chartered nonpublic school students to take and pass a 9th Grade Proficiency Test or Ohio Graduation Test in order to receive a diploma. No other state has this burdensome of a mandate on all independent and private school students in order for those students to receive a school diploma. You’ll notice a few similarities between the melting test and our graduation tests:

  • Ohio is the only state to require these tests for its independent school students
  • The test costs money and resources that could be better spent on teaching children
  • It is the state asking for independent school students to take these tests and not consumers (in this case, parents and college admissions departments)
  • Students at independent schools in other states can come to college in Ohio and not submit to such a test in order to gain admission to an Ohio college
  • High scores on the OGT or PARCC don’t and won’t get a student anything in terms of a better chance of admission to an elite school or the school of his/her choice
  • Scores on the OGT or PARCC don’t and won’t reflect the quality of education a student has received, nor do they or will they have any dependable relationship on determining whether a student will attend or graduate from college

While the ice cream manufacturers could probably be successful in getting their test repealed, it’s been tough sledding in Ohio. However, there is some reason for optimism. Just last month, the Chartered Nonpublic Graduation Requirements unanimously recommended to exempt chartered nonpublic students who aren’t on a state-funded scholarship from the graduation pathways requirements. While the General Assembly did not enact this recommendation in its lame duck session, I am hopeful and optimistic that others are starting to see what we’ve known for a while: Whether it’s ice cream or education, Ohio shouldn’t be in the business of putting needless restrictions or requirements that do nothing to ensure quality or success.

How Quickly Things Can Change – HB 487 and ODE

House Bill 487 takes effect today. Back in July, I posted a blog item hailing HB 487 and the benefit it will have for independent schools in Ohio. At the time, I could not foresee the lack of logic that would come with the “interpretation” of HB 487 provided by the Ohio Department of Education.

To briefly recap where ISACS accredited schools have been in Ohio starts with HB 59, the biennial budget. Through HB 59, ISACS accredited schools were exempted from the end-of-course exam requirements passed as part of HB 1 in 2009. ISACS accredited schools, however, agreed to submit to the mandatory national assessment of college and career readiness. The State Board of Education, wrongfully believing that Ohio schools issue an “Ohio diploma” (no such thing exists), then passed a resolution requiring these students to achieve a “passing” score on the ACT (another thing that does not exist) and pay for the mandatory state assessment themselves (unheard of in Ohio). To correct the errors of the State Board of Education, HB 487, among other things, blocked the State Board of Education from exceeding its statutory authority any further by prohibiting additional testing requirements and specified that the ACT/SAT opt out exists for all chartered nonpublic schools (instead of just ISACS accredited schools), but delayed the imposition of the opt out for a year and established a study committee to research the issue more and make recommendations.
Here’s where the lack of logic I mentioned above kicks in: After HB 487’s passage, ODE’s legal department “interpreted” HB 487 to declare that all chartered nonpublic students entering 9th grade this year, even those previously exempted from the exams in HB 59, would have to take the exams this year. Making this even more absurd is the acknowledgement that these same students will be covered by the exemption in October of next year, which means this year’s exams are irrelevant as to whether or not a student graduates from a nonpublic school and the exams essentially become a waste of time and money.
The committee established by HB 487 and the General Assembly’s lame duck session hold hope for correcting this egregious error in reading a statute. ODE often likes to talk about what it is that it’s doing to help the boys and girls of Ohio. It’s tough to figure out how making them take useless exams does anything to help anyone. Our boys and girls deserve better.

HB 487 – A Triumph for Nonpublic Schools

Since I started with OAIS in 2011, I have reminded folks (sometimes ad nauseam, I imagine) that Ohio is the most regulated state in America when it comes to independent and other private schools. No other state imposes the cumulative number of curriculum, testing and graduation restrictions on private school students that Ohio does. Despite the level of state aid that is directed to Ohio schools from state government, which is also one of the highest, if not highest, levels in America, there is no relationship between the restrictions and mandates and the aid received from the state. Aside from those schools with religious objections to state government involvement in education, there is no option for a private school, or even a traditional Catholic school, to opt out of funding and opt out of restrictions. The most intrusive requirement, for the past 20 years, has been the mandatory passage of the Ohio Graduation Test in order for a student to receive a diploma.

Thanks to HB 487, this trend is now in reverse. Committed legislators, who value the unique role that private schools play in our educational system, led the charge to give private schools an opt-out from the end-of-course exams while still maintaining some kind of accountability to the state. Beginning in October of 2015, private schools will have the option of mandating that all students take a national assessment of college and career readiness and publishing the results by graduating class. In the meantime, a select committee will meet to determine whether or not other testing requirements and options would be appropriate.
No private school chartered to operate in Ohio should have to change its curriculum to meet the mandates of a state-issued standardized test. The curriculum at private schools should be driven by professionals, parents, the marketplace and (when relevant) religious teachings. I am proud of the way the nonpublic school community came together to work for these common sense changes and I look forward to a continued discussion of the appropriate relationship and boundaries between state government and private schools.

Independent Schools Are Exceptional, Not Exceptions

In the process of doing some research for a project, I was going through some of the old documents on file with OAIS and I ran across an article prepared by my predecessor, Karin O’Neill. She pointed out, with accuracy, that part of the creation of the charter school and voucher movement was to create schools and situations where students could benefit from environments that were less regulated and less one-size-fits-all. She later noted that the practical effect of regulation in Ohio has been to make nonpublic schools more regulated than even the charter/community schools that were supposed to look like nonpublic schools.

I read this at the same time I was thinking about the implications for some of the studies recently released regarding the concept of private school authorizers and the use of exit exams for granting a high school diploma. As I have mentioned on Twitter, I think the idea of private school authorizers that Andy Smarick raises has a great deal of merit. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) tries to utilize nonpublic school accrediting associations as a liaison between the Department and member schools and ODE has greatly improved on their efforts since I came on board in 2011. With the amount of regulation that Ohio nonpublic schools are required to comply with on everything from school menus to teacher transcripts, I have no doubt there’s potential for savings on both the government side and the school side in centralizing these compliance efforts. I do take issue with the idea that the effectiveness of a school or an authorizer ought to be based on standardized test results. On the use of the exit exams, the conclusions of the study are, in my opinion, consistent with what OAIS school heads have been saying for years: There’s merit in standardized tests, and all of our schools use them, but they simply should not be used to determine who may or may not receive a diploma, especially at a private school that sets its own curriculum apart from what government mandates or thinks should be a standard.
All of this brings me back to the initial passage I ran across. I can really only speak for Ohio but I constantly have the feeling that legislators, decision makers, state board of education members and school leaders ought to collaborate with OAIS school heads to find out what we’re doing that’s working. It’s easy to say that independent schools achieve more because of higher admission requirements, higher average family wealth and all of the other reasons usually cited but the fact remains that our schools are growing in enrollment as a whole and we are consistently graduating students who are ready for college. WIth few exceptions, I’m not aware of any efforts by the public or charter school communities to reach out to find out what we’re doing that’s innovative and leading the way in education. Look at the many programs and institutes our schools are establishing. You’ll find 3 things in common with all of them: 1. The type of educational experience they offer is in demand by students; 2. Colleges are looking for these experiences in applicants; 3. There is a very high level of satisfaction by the parents and students participating in these programs.
The programs and institutes our schools are establishing are unique, but I don’t believe they can only be done at independent schools. Focusing on innovation at all types of schools and making schools exceptional will, in the long run, allow students to develop the creativity they will need to succeed in work and in life. Reducing unnecessary regulations, streamlining compliance with necessary regulations, allowing school professionals, not elected officials, to determine who may or may not go to college and encouraging innovation and collaboration will go a long way to increase the quality of all educational options.

Plain Dealer Article

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently ran an article on the efforts of OAIS member schools to repeal Ohio’s unnecessary testing requirements for private schools. The article can be found here:

Since our lawsuit in 1995, this issue has been an important one for OAIS schools. At the very heart of testing requirements is the challenge to the ability of a private school to shape its curriculum. There are many factors that make independent schools unique but the curriculum is at the center of it. The school’s mission and philosophy is shaped by its curriculum and vice versa. Any attempt to override that autonomy through the use of mandatory high-stakes standardized testing is a direct threat to an independent school’s freedom, especially when that testing dictates to the school to whom it may or may not issue a diploma.
I rarely read the comments sections of articles but I was curious to see the reaction of folks to the article, and with over 160 comments, there were a lot of reactions. I was pleased that most of them were positive. It is worth noting that one commenter said if independent schools receive government money through auxiliary funds and administrative cost reimbursement, they should have to follow “all” government mandates. There are those who believe that to be a valid position. It’s worth remembering a couple of things, though. First, auxiliary funds predate testing requirements by over 20 years, so testing is not the reason our schools receive the money. Second, administrative cost reimbursement is given to private schools because the amount of regulation of private schools by the state far exceeds what most states require of private schools. Third, our schools could either refuse or give all of that money back to the state, and state law would still require them to take the tests.
We should remember that the goal of testing students is to assess their progress and for accountability to stakeholders. Independent schools already use tests chosen by them that are much more effective for assessing students. Independent schools already have accountability to stakeholders because if parents aren’t pleased with the education provided, they may simply withdraw their child from the school. It’s the most simple, basic accountability you can get and there’s nothing more effective. If the state chooses to do that for its public schools, they’re free to do so, but don’t drag free-market schools into it. We can do an excellent job without mandates.

Another Disappointment from the State Board of Education

For the past year, those who have followed the actions of the State Board of Education (SBOE) have noticed a hostility to the attempts of independent schools to receive greater autonomy from burdensome regulations that make Ohio the most heavily regulated state for private schools in America.

The latest cheap shot from the board came approximately 5 minutes before their monthly meeting was adjourned. One member amended a pending resolution regarding the House changes to House Bill 487 to declare that the SBOE opposed any attempt to grant graduation testing flexibility to nonpublic schools, including the language contained within HB 487 to do just that. The language in HB 487 is supported by the nonpublic school community and provides accountability to the public while still recognizing the freedom that should come with private education.
This latest amendment, supported by 7 members of the Board (all of whom claim to support the role of private education in Ohio), is now the third time in the past year the SBOE has used an “emergency” resolution to oppose attempts by some or all private schools to rid themselves of unnecessary and unprecedented intrusions into the curriculum and assessment of private school students. At no time during any of these 3 “emergency” resolutions has the sponsor (who claims to support independent education) notified any member of the private school community that these resolutions are being offered. All 3 were designed to be offered and accepted with a minimum of input or deliberation.
Over the past year, both the House and Senate have taken major strides in recognizing the need for private schools to have the freedom to operate as they see fit. We couldn’t be more thankful for the efforts of the General Assembly to give us the independence that schools in every other state have. It is unfortunate some of that the State Board of Education members will essentially lie about their support of private schools while doing everything within their power (and sometimes outside of their statutory-given power) to oppose our efforts for more independence.
Actions (and votes) are certainly speaking speaking louder than words when it comes to Ohio’s State Board of Education.

HB 487 – Steps in the Right Direction

HB 487, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell), advanced out of the House and will soon receive consideration by the Senate. There are several improvements to existing law and policy that are contained within the legislation, as well as a couple of items that have received some media attention.

One of those items is the expansion of the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee (TGRG) to students on state-funded scholarships. The majority of OAIS members do not participate in any of the state scholarship programs but several do and it is important to those schools that the programs operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The most positive aspect of the TGRG expansion is the recognition of the fact that private schools are inherently different than public schools. Private schools are required to notify the parents of a student who may be in danger of facing retention in the 3rd grade. However, HB 487 also allows schools to keep the authority they should have, as private schools, to craft a remediation plan that is the best fit for, and in the best interests of, the student.
A negative aspect of the proposed legislation is the application of the policy to students receiving a Jon Peterson Special Needs (JPSN) scholarship. While it is true that students whose IEP exempts them from the testing will not have the TGRG applied to them, we need to do more to respect the work that members like Marburn Academy, Lawrence School and Springer School and Center do for their students. These are the best schools in the state for educating students with learning differences. If anyone is in a position to determine the proper grade level or promotion of a student,  it is the teachers and administrators at these schools. HB 487 does not have any language that would give consideration to these schools and we hope that changes.
It is certain that HB 487 will not go through the Senate unchanged. We look forward to working with members of the Senate to make a good bill even better.

Points to Consider in the 3rd Grade Guarantee Discussion


1. Using the average OAA scores of all voucher students and all public school students is flat-out misleading. Remember, other than the brand new income-based scholarship, EdChoice students only come from areas served by a failing public school. A better comparison would be between the test scores of the students at the private school they attend and the scores of the schools the voucher students would have attended had there been no voucher to use.
2. There is some debate over whether or not students on vouchers were an oversight when the 3rd Grade Guarantee was drafted but it is not even debatable that the legislation was written solely to consider the circumstances of public and charter schools and does not translate easily or well for nonpublic schools. If legislators are determined to require this guarantee to follow a state-sponsored scholarship, they will hopefully understand that the requirements put upon public schools do not work as well in smaller private school environments with varying curricular and pedagogical approaches.
3. The concept of “accountability” already exists and continues to exist in private schools, even without the extension of the Guarantee, so long as parents are informed of a private school student’s academic standing. Even without the Guarantee, the scholarship students will still take the OAAs and those results will be publicly available by grade. It’s standard practice in every nonpublic school to communicate test results to parents. If parents feel that the school is not holding up its end of the bargain, it will hold the school accountable by sending the student to a different school. There is no obligation for parents to send their child to a private school that is failing in its educational mission.
Although students taking part in state scholarship programs make up a small number of the overall enrollment at OAIS schools, this is still an important issue for those parents and student who do take part. Furthermore, Ohio has a history of regulatory creep from the public school sector to the nonpublic school sector and OAIS schools fervently believe in the independence of each member school. I know I can speak for our heads of school when I say we look forward to the important public policy debate and its overall impact on private school education in Ohio.

Ohio Needs to Find Middle Ground on Testing

When I took over at OAIS in 2011, transitioning from the world of being an elected official and coming into the world of education, one of the things I immediately noticed is the role of a head of school. Independent schools with lower, middle and upper schools often have division heads for each set of grades and the head of school wears many hats. In the meetings I have attended with boards and heads, I have always noticed the trust placed in the head by the board members. The head then places his/her trust in the school’s division heads and the relationships continue to flow to other staff members. The trust in those relationships stems from a faith in the professional decision-making of the individuals involved to do what is in the best interests of the students and the school.

When I look at the various positions taken on testing in private schools, a couple of things jump out. First, there seems to be little debate that students who are not on a tax-funded scholarship, or even a tax credit scholarship, should not have to take state-mandated standardized tests. Even in Ohio, that requirement does not manifest itself until the student reaches high school. Why Ohio continues to make this is a requirement is something that is worthy of discussion and hopefully change will come from that discussion.
Another thing that jumps out is the apparent chasm between those who disagree on the value of testing. In reading the latest column by a host of authors on, the position taken is that there should be no standardized test requirement at all. Instead, there is a faith placed in the marketplace that it will correct the deficiencies of schools based on their testing or lack thereof. On the other side are folks from the Fordham Institute and others who believe that all scholarship students taking the same tests will produce “apples to apples” comparisons that will help people make informed choices.  In fact, their solution includes testing non-scholarship students with the same tests as those on scholarship if the percentage of scholarship students is high enough.
There has to be a middle ground. For example, insisting that students on a special needs scholarship take the same standardized tests as public school students and EdChoice students makes no sense. It makes even less sense in schools like OAIS members Marburn Academy, Springer School and Lawrence School. These three schools specialize in the diagnosis and education of those with learning differences. Everything they do during the course of a day, including the diagnostic assessments they routinely use, is focused on figuring out what students know and don’t know and what methods work best for conveying content. Having these students take the OAA’s or PARCC assessments will be of no value in their work.
A middle ground also needs to include the judgment of administrators and professionals that run a successful school. The folks who run private schools may, for example, have preferences in using Terra Nova, Iowa or Stanford tests. I don’t know of many private schools in Ohio who do not administer at least one standardized test to their students. However, if a student is on a tax-funded scholarship, the judgment of that professional is either disregarded and the student takes the OAAs and not the other test or the student is double-tested, thereby missing more hours and days of actual learning.
Bill Parcells once said “They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” If policymakers insist that a test must be administered and that the results must be made public, at least they ought to let administrators choose the test based on the judgments of those who are running the schools. Would this destroy the ability of “apples to apples” comparisons? Not really, since Ohio is already prepared to adjust the scores of those taking other tests authorized by statute for graduation requirements. Would this destroy the ability of the market to determine what schools are working best? Not really, since parents could choose a school based on what they think is appropriate for their child from a testing perspective.
The worst thing Ohio can do is overlook what works for parents and schools in order to promote a theory. Ohio’s testing policy needs to have more boots-on-the-ground practicality and less think-tank absolutism.