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School reform deserves Kasich’s careful attention

February 11, 2012
Salem News

Twenty percent of the young Ohioans who enter the state's public education system don't graduate from high school. The average is much worse - 35 percent - in urban areas.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is right to consider that a tragedy that is both unsustainable and avoidable. He also is correct in avoiding knee-jerk reactions to the problem.

During his State of the State speech Tuesday in Steubenville, Kasich outlined challenges that need to be met throughout Ohio's education establishment. With a few notable exceptions, he did not prescribe solutions, however.

When the governor did talk about specific initiatives, he did so in a way often not heard in Ohio or, for that matter, on the national stage.

For example, Kasich discussed expansion of the voucher system whereby some parents can get government help to enroll children in private schools, as an alternative to failing public institutions. Access to vouchers has been expanded greatly, making about 60,000 of them available this year, the governor noted.

For several years Ohio's work to encourage alternatives to public education focused on vouchers and charter schools run privately but with state funding. An enormous failing in that outlook was that state officials, in effect, merely threw money at the problem.

That is to say, they provided taxpayers' money for charter schools, but exercised little oversight. "Let me make it clear: If you're an underperforming charter school, we'll be on you," Kasich pledged Tuesday.

Better public schools are essential, of course. On Tuesday, speaking from one of the best in the state, Steubenville's Wells Academy, Kasich emphasized that.

But he stressed his reform campaign will be based not on fads or politically correct movements, but on effectiveness. "I have to spend the next year building a consensus," he told his audience, adding he wants to "find out what works, be data-driven, and do it."

Too much time and money has been wasted, not just in Ohio, but in many other states and at the federal level, on school reform campaigns that had little or no hope of working - and did not. Kasich is right to insist on an evidence-based model to improve public education in Ohio. If he can develop it, the year he plans to spend on the process will be time spent well.



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