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Ohio's new governor-appointed education director talks reading, vouchers and accountability

Ohio Department of Education and Workforce director Steve Dackin talks about the new agency and his role on "The State of Ohio" on Jan. 5, 2024.
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Department of Education and Workforce director Steve Dackin talks about the new agency and his role on "The State of Ohio" on Jan. 5, 2024.

The new Ohio Department of Education and Workforce is now almost three months old, and is assuming authority over academic policy powers that were held by the state school board. While a lawsuit is still seeking to stop that change, the first governor-appointed director of the agency that replaces the Ohio Department of Education is getting settled in that role.

Department of Education and Workforce director Steve Dackin said he likes the priorities of the new cabinet-level agency, which "happened to be the priorities of the governor. And so that's a good match and that's a good alignment. And that's one of the reasons I chose to pursue this opportunity."

Dackin, a former state school board member, was the state school superintendent for 11 days in May 2022, resigning after questions about his involvement in the hiring process. He signed a ethics settlement later that year, which he described as difficult but "the right thing to do."

DEW was created in the state budget, which dissolved the Ohio Department of Education and moved academic policy powers away from the state school board, which is made up of 11 elected and eight appointed members. Governors going back decades have wanted more control over education policy. But critics have said putting a governor in charge of education will politicize it and make it less accountable to voters. Dackin said he has a good relationship with the board, and a public meeting at least once every two months is legally required.

"It is critical for us to have protocols in place where we get the kind of feedback that we need to hear directly from parents and other constituents. So we we're required by law to have a public meeting at least once every two months," Dackin said. "We intend to have a lot of the feedback loops that we already had as an agency prior to the transition in place to get feedback from constituents."

A lawsuit was filed by seven progressive-leaning state school board members to stop the transition, and a judge halted it in early October. But another ruling dissolved that order and the transition went ahead. That lawsuit is still continuing.

Dackin said a priority is the implementation of the Science of Reading program that was funded in the state budget, which includes more than $160 million for curriculum materials, teacher training and literacy coaches. It's an evidence-based way of teaching literacy that includes learning building blocks of words or phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary and text comprehension. Some 30 states have adopted it.

But there is a lawsuit that seeks to stop it, based on the single-subject rule for legislation.

“Let the court system do what the court system does. I know based on the research I've seen, that the Science of Reading produces results, unequivocally produces results," Dackin said.

The lawsuit was filed by the Ohio-based Reading Recovery Council of North America, which offers intervention programs based on the "balanced literacy" method. Reading Recovery Council of North America Executive Director Dr. Billy Molasso wrote in a blog post about the lawsuit: "With Ohio being just one of the many states that have fallen for the media/political circus that is [Science of Reading], I hope this is the first of many lawsuits to settle the wildly swinging pendulum that has plagued schools for decades."

There have been other lawsuits in the past that have sought to stop policy based on the single-subject rule, but they haven't been successful.

There's also a continuing lawsuit over the state's EdChoice school voucher program, which has been expanded to allow any family wanting state funds to help pay for private school tuition to get them, not just low-income families in failing school buildings. Interest in vouchers has soared since the expansion in the state budget, with only a small percentage of new applications coming from low-income families. Dackin said he thinks the state has received about 150,000 applications.

"The expansion of scholarship programs and availability of educational options to parents is something that I embrace and something that the agency will continue to embrace and build on," Dackin said.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at