Tag Archives: Ohio

School Board Demographics Don’t Match Student Demographics  — And That’s a Problem

This post is part of a series about Bellwether’s recent work on school governance and school board effectiveness.

Today’s average public school board member is a white male with a family income of over $100K a year. 

The majority of today’s public schools students, on the other hand, are female, students of color, and very likely to be from low-income families. Many are first-generation Americans navigating their own lives while also serving as de facto interpreters for their parents. 

If school board members don’t look like the students they represent, how can boards understand and value the needs of our most underserved students — and make decisions through an equity lens?

Bellwether recently completed research on Rhode Island’s governance practices, including how  school boards operate. Similar to the findings of a 2018 National School Boards Association report, we found that more than 60% of board members in Rhode Island are white and have advanced degrees, while fewer than 6% grew up in poverty or received special education or English language learning support. In contrast, 49% of Rhode Island’s public schools’ students are people of color: 31% are Hispanic/Latinx and close to 10% are Black/African American. 40% of these students are from low-income families, almost 20% are identified as having a disability, and almost 10% are English language learners.

Rhode Island is not alone. A recent study of Ohio’s school boards illustrates how lack of representation and understanding hurts underserved students. In the case of Ohio, citizens from more affluent areas run for school board and are elected, and then amplify the voices of families from their neighborhoods. As a result, affluent students and their schools receive greater resources.

For more equitable school board decision making, here are three suggestions for state departments of education, school boards, and leaders:

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Bright Spots in Ohio Election Light Future Path for Early Childhood Education

Ohio map via Wikimedia

Early childhood advocates are understandably disappointed by Tuesday’s presidential election results. Many had high hopes that Hillary Clinton, who has made advocacy for children and families a signature of her long political career, would pursue bold plans to expand pre-k and help families pay for quality childcare — as her campaign proposed. With Donald Trump’s election, the prospects for significant new funding or federal action to expand access to quality early childhood education are much dimmer.

There is some good news about early childhood in last night’s election results, however. Even as Ohio voters selected Trump as President, voters in Dayton (see Issue 9, here) and Cincinnati (see Issue 44, here) approved new tax measures to expand access to preschool for those cities’ youngsters. Dayton’s Issue 9 increases the earnings tax to fund infrastructure investments and preschool for 4-year-olds. Cincinnati’s Issue 44 increases property taxes to generate $48 million in new revenue for public education, $15 million of which would go to subsidize preschool for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds.

These victories may be minor consolation for advocates who hoped that Clinton’s election would create the best opportunity since 1971 to build a more robust national system of early care and education. But they’re important on two fronts: First, they illustrate that progress on early childhood will continue regardless of what happens at the federal level. Second, they show that the core of action for improving learning opportunities and support for young children and their families over the coming years is going to be at the local level, when communities pool together diverse coalitions of early childhood, business, education, civic, and other leaders to support shared investments in kids. We’re going to see more of this progress in the coming years, in cities and communities across the country.

The Definitive Ranking of 2016 Candidates… by Charter Performance

Note: Several candidates are missing from this chart. The states represented by Rand Paul (KY) and Bernie Sanders (VT) do not currently have charter laws. The states represented by Martin O’Malley (MD), Lindsey Graham (SC), Jim Gilmore (VA), Jim Webb (VA), and Scott Walker (WI) were not included in the 2013 CREDO study.

Charter schools are growing. The number of charter students has grown from 1.2 million to 2.9 million in less than a decade. Within two decades, a third of public education’s students – or more – could be educated in charter schools. That’s why the next president’s perspective and record on charters matters.  But what can we tell about the candidates based on how their states do with charter schooling?

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Ohio Problems, Ohio Solutions

Ohio-Map

Image from http://undergrad.osu.edu

We recently offered 10 policy recommendations to address the discouraging performance of Ohio’s charter school sector. We think the building blocks of our recommendations (e.g. strengthening the autonomy-accountability bargain, improving authorizing, creating smart incentives) are relevant to all states, and we suspect the specifics of some recommendations might fit the bill in some states.

But our report was written in response to conditions in Ohio. Several provisions in the Buckeye State’s law are unusual, and after more than 15 years of charter experience, Ohio can now see the long-term consequences of many of its policy decisions.

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