Education is a major issue in the race to become Ohio’s next governor. Both Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Rich Cordray say students take too many tests, but the candidates diverge on how they plan to reduce testing and support schools.
The major party candidates recognize that improving Ohio’s schools can lead to closing the skills gap, where companies are having a harder time finding a competent workforce.
Republican Mike DeWine says this is a process that must start early, even before a child begins kindergarten. He proposes raising the eligibility level for publicly-funded early childhood education, expanding access to 20,000 more kids. This, DeWine says, will help children of low-income families who tend to begin school at a disadvantage.
“We have an obligation I think to reach these kids and if we’re going to reach them we’ve got to do it very, very early,” says DeWine.
When it comes to support, Democrat Rich Cordray wants to bring a variety of programs to the schools. This includes mental health care, dental care, after-school programs and parent support groups. These “wrap-around services” are something Cordray says have been shown to work in districts like Cincinnati.
“It means that the services will be provided right there at the school where we know the students are going to be, day in and day out, as opposed to the families bearing all the burdens of the logistics and the organization and the transportation and all to get those kinds of services. What often happens is the services falls through the cracks and the kids don’t get served,” Cordray says.
Both Cordray and DeWine have said they want to find a way to reduce standardized testing. Cordray, more specifically, says he wants Ohio’s schools to bring it all the way down to the federal minimum.
“For too long Ohio’s schools have been obsessively focused on test scores rather than real education we are one of just 12 states, just 12 out of the 50 with high stakes testing requirements for high school graduation. Over testing, together with inadequate funding have narrowed school curriculum and narrowed many other meaningful ways to engage students,” says Cordray.
DeWine also believes Ohio’s students can be held to a high standard of learning without rigorous testing.
“Allowing teachers to teach the subject matter and to focus on that is very, very important and I think the pendulum, frankly, has swung too far towards the testing. You have to have tests, we’re having too many now,” says DeWine.
That pendulum, according to DeWine, swings too often for teachers and administrators. He says part of his plan is to not make too many changes, in order to bring some stability to Ohio’s school system.
DeWine adds, “We have to resist the temptation of constantly changing, you know, moving the goal line. Teachers just throw up their hands sometimes when they talk to me and say ‘just tell us what the rules are but for heaven’s sake stop changing them.’”
Cordray says teachers need more input. But he also notes a national education news organization once ranked Ohio’s schools fifth in the country, but the latest evaluation had the state ranked 21st. Cordray says to him, that shows schools need more support than what they’re currently getting.
“We owe this decline in part to state lawmakers funneling resources away from our public schools, weakening our public schools. And overregulating the classroom in ways that make it harder for teachers to teach students in the ways they were trained to do,” says Cordray.
Charter school accountability is another big topic on both agendas, with the ECOT scandal at the center. The now-closed online charter school overcharged the state by $80 million for students it claimed to have but couldn’t prove.
Cordray, the state’s former attorney general, says policymakers should’ve done a better job keeping ECOT in check. His proposal would be to ban for-profit companies from operating schools.
“Our schools are not businesses and our children are not customers but those involved in the ECOT scandal put profit above our students’ needs,” says Cordray.
DeWine, the state’s current attorney general, defends his record on ECOT, saying he was the one who appointed the state’s counsel to get that money back. He says he would pay-for-performance model, to add accountability for taxpayer money.
“What we need to demand from the people who are running these schools is accountability and accountability means they don’t get paid until we find out what that child has learned," DeWine says.
As part of his education plan, DeWine would also add more focus on vocational training in school, emphasize computer science and coding, and on the college level, have universities freeze a students tuition upon enrollment so it doesn’t go up from year to year.
Cordray’s plan also includes advancing early childhood services, doing away with state takeover of local districts, and expanding universal pre-K programs.
Libertarian gubernatorial nominee Travis Irvine agrees that the state needs to hold charter schools more accountable for student learning, he adds that more control needs to be restored to the local level while also reducing testing.
Green Party gubernatorial nominee Constance Gadell-Newton says she would work to make education more decentralized and adaptable, promote gifted schools, and allow schools to turn down funding for school resource officers, ending what she calls the schools to prison pipeline.