Ohio Gov. John Kasich released a letter last week offering his support for secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos, who has made news recently due to concerns over her lack of experience and her controversial views on what should be valued in the education system.
The pair, who both support alternate education options to public schooling, lead some to wonder what is in store for Ohio education.
DeVos has not clearly stated what changes she would like to make if she receives the secretary of education proposition, but in the past she supported charter schools, voucher programs, stricter teacher and school accountability systems, and getting rid of Affirmative Action, among others things.
Critics worry that under both Kasich and DeVos, public schooling would not receive the correct funding and support it needs. In Ohio, 90 percent of students are in the public school system, and according to Edna Thomas, a former director for Columbus City Schools, many of these schools already do not have enough support.
“There are all these mandates but there are no resources. You can’t mandate without the support that’s needed. The resources and the funding are absolutely horrendous when it comes to supporting schools as far as complying to the mandates,” Thomas said.
However, not all students stay in public schools. The Ohio EdChoice voucher program offers up to 60,000 scholarships for students from disadvantaged public schools.
Like DeVos, Kasich has also supported vouchers in past. In 2016, a study commissioned by the Fordham Institute and conducted by Northwestern University looked into how effective the voucher system was in Ohio. The study ultimately ended up yielding mixed results.
Some public schools that were exposed to voucher programs improved. Chad Aldis, vice president of Ohio policy and advocacy for the Fordham Institute, said grades generally increased in schools that were eligible for voucher programs.
But the study also showed that several students who ultimately went to private schools dropped in performance, showing worse grades than their peers who stayed behind in public schools. However, David Figlio of Northwestern University offered some caution for these findings.
“The private school and public school kids were evaluated with the same test. These tests were a really big deal in the public schools and not a really a big deal in the private schools. These are tests that they use for accountability for public schools, but it is not something that is used the same way in the private sector. So it may be that it’s not a completely fair comparison,” Figlio said.
Aside from concerns about the effectiveness of vouchers, Aldis pointed out Ohio’s voucher system as a whole offers unnecessary difficulties for voucher student families. Currently, students must first apply and be accepted to a private school before they are eligible to become a voucher student, he said.
“I think that makes for a harder process and doesn’t empower families as much to truly exercise choice,” Aldis said. “We would recommend that students should be able to go to the department to determine their approval, be able to have a voucher in hand, and then be able to go to private schools, they would be more easily able to look into three or four different schools to easily find the best fit.”
The challenges facing Ohio schools may help explain ongoing concerns with DeVos — politicians do not have enough direct experience with schools. Some, like Thomas, believe crafting effective education policies would be easier if people with education backgrounds were involved in the process.
“They need to have more people who are in the trenches involved in making these policies. There are a bunch of politicians that have no knowledge of education and who our students are, what they come with,” Thomas said. “You can’t teach somebody you don’t love and who you don’t understand. You need to see the child, you can’t get a child to be engaged in learning if they’re hungry or if they’re homelessness, and we’ve lost that. Policy holders, they don’t see that.”