Cheating schools need oversight

Ohio school districts that cannot even fake academic success already are subject to an emergency process overseen by the state, through appointment of “academic distress commissions.” A proposal by the state House of Representatives would extend the system to districts where data is manipulated to make it appear schools are doing a better job than actually is the case.

Distress commissions are established only for the very worst school districts. Just two – in Youngstown and Lorain – have been set up.

In effect the panels are intended to jump-start school reform initiatives, with state oversight. The commissions consist of three members appointed by the state superintendent of schools and two named by the local school board president.

Lawmakers who want to expand the program are aware of state Auditor Dave Yost’s ongoing investigation of districts that submitted inaccurate school quality data – sometimes intentionally – to the state. The enormous Columbus city school system is one where several officials were involved in doctoring reports to the state.

As we have suggested previously, any school administrator caught engaging in the practice should be both fired and prosecuted. Nothing less than committing fraud is involved.

But lawmakers in the House understand that to move forward in districts caught cheating, state intervention is necessary. That is why the new system of distress commissions is being proposed.

Included as an amendment to the state budget bill, the House plan would alter membership on such commissions from the existing program. It would have three members appointed by the state superintendent of schools and two by the mayor of the largest municipality in the district. That has raised some concern.

Whatever the details, however, it is clear some sort of oversight commission – weighted heavily toward state control – should be established for school districts caught cheating. State senators should go along with the House proposal.