Post-SOTS, Legislators Should Consider Private Schools, Too

Gov. Kasich just delivered his State of the State and while the partisans on each side will cheer or boo some of his proposals, I suspect that the most bipartisan support will be in his plans for education. Ohio does have serious problems when it comes to dropouts and vocational education and the efforts to get kids on the right track and staying on the track will pay dividends in the future.

One area that is also in need of reform is the state’s relationship with and requirements of private schools. Private schools are, by nature, unique: If they all looked the same as each other, or the same as public schools, there wouldn’t be so many of them. They are unique in many ways but virtually all of them are based on a mission of what it is that they want to achieve with students, and how they expect to do that. For some, an education that is rooted in a Biblical worldview may be the mission of a school that is supported by its community and its parents. For others, an education that develops a set of skills and knowledge that will give the best chance for achievement in college is what is desired. Other schools may emphasize the individual’s place in the world and develop a curriculum to promote the independence of the individual. Whatever the mission may be, private schools ought to have the freedom to develop those missions and curricula, and determine themselves who is worthy to be called a graduate and receive a diploma.
That’s not exactly how it works in Ohio. Unlike other states, where the determination of the qualifications of a student are made based on the student’s course work and demonstrated achievement of the expected skills set forth by the school, Ohio’s private school students are also expected to pass tests that the state believes help demonstrate “proficiency” before they may receive a diploma from the school. With the new assessments coming in, the standard of proficiency will be raised to “college and career readiness.” Neither standard has anything to do with the judgment of the professionals who operate and teach in private schools; the standards are created and updated by government officials and then contracted out to corporations to generate tests reflecting those standards.
By any measurable standard, OAIS schools, as a group, are the highest achieving group of private schools in the state of Ohio. Our schools are led by heads who have earned the trust of their school’s board of trustees and those trustees hold positions where they bear the responsibility and burden of steering the school into the future. There really aren’t bailouts that are available for OAIS schools; our schools will not be propped up financially by anyone else if they fail. The pressure on the school’s officials to continue a record of success represents the most basic and most effective kind of accountability that is available: accountability to parents and to supporters.
Given these things, it’s difficult to determine what, if anything, the state-mandated tests provide to parents or students in terms of information that they do not already have. Nearly 100% of our graduates go to college, so someone has determined they are college and career ready. The rate of remediation for OAIS students is exponentially lower than the rate of students statewide, so they are not just college and career ready, but ready to achieve as soon as they hit campus. If the college acceptance rate goes down, or the remediation rate goes up, it is certain that these facts will catch up to the school and the school’s health will suffer as a result. Too many of these cases, and the school will cease to be a viable option. All of this will happen even without state-mandated exams.
As legislators begin to deliberate over the important items contained in the State of the State, it is our hope that they also consider the effect of state rules and regulations on the private school sector. Our schools should be able to determine who graduates from without getting approval from the state. Ohio has been an outlier for too long; it is time to catch up with the rest of America.