ISACS Meeting and a Diploma Proposal

I had the opportunity to attend (and present to OAIS heads) at the recent ISACS Heads of School Conference in Chicago last week (I managed to make it out before the snow!) This is my second year attending and found it to be very informative, especially the talks given by NAIS President John Chubb about the role and future of independent schools in our nation.

As those of you who follow along with @ohindepschools on Twitter may have noticed, Ohio did receive special recognition during John’s lunch speech to the attendees. John noted that one of the advantages that independent schools have (with the exception of Ohio) is that independent schools have more freedom to experiment and innovate with a curriculum because they do not have the pressure to conform to testing requirements. Some in attendance laughed while the Ohio attendees just nodded in acknowledgment of our outlier status.
OAIS members are fortunate to be bucking a trend of downward enrollment for private schools (OAIS enrollment has increased the past three years). In fact, two of our schools posted record enrollment numbers this year. There are several reasons why enrollment increases and decreases but it’s safe to say that those schools seeing increases are those that are constantly looking for new ways to inspire and educate students. It’s also safe to say that standardized tests doesn’t assist these schools in inspiring or educating students at all.
I have no doubt there are some schools in Ohio that find some comfort in the standardized testing system Ohio requires (One school featured in the recent Fordham Institute report even advocates for school “report cards”). If they do, that’s fine, they should be allowed to participate. If there are students on state-funded scholarships and the state wants some “accountability” for how those funds are spent, testing should have a role there, too, if the state insists. However, for schools that do not take scholarships and do not find value in the state’s testing system, there still ought to be a way for those schools to issue a diploma. Ohio law currently prohibits the issuing of a diploma by a nonpublic school unless a student passes all of the state-mandated graduation tests. With this prohibition, chartered nonpublic schools are tied to a testing system that no other state or territory mandates on nonpublic schools in this manner.
Louisiana is a good example of how the state can balance the desires of those who have bought into the state accountability system and those who seek to be rid of it. The state offers the ability to either receive a state diploma or a school diploma. Those seeking a state diploma must take all of the graduation tests required for public students and pass all of the required classes. Those seeking a school diploma must achieve the standards set by the school to receive a diploma. Recipients of school diplomas still have all of the rights and privileges of those receiving a state diploma. The key part of this is that there’s a choice. Parents and students can make the best decision of what kind of diploma they prefer and then attend a school that conforms with this belief. It does not require a student attend a school that detests, but must follow, standards geared to meet the needs of public schools set by those for whom private schools are an afterthought.
It is our hope that those who are constantly pushing for accountability will join in the effort to not just increase accountability for tax dollars in cases where it is appropriate, but also to advocate for decreasing mandates when they do little but hamper freedom and innovation.