The Republican majorities in the legislature are moving to prevent what would be a real mess — perhaps one-third of high school seniors in Ohio failing to graduate this school year. As Doug Livingston of the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com reported last week, 51,758 seniors, or 38 percent, have yet to meet the necessary marks for graduation. That is, they haven’t gained 18 out of a possible 35 points on end-of-course exams, or earned professional credentials or achieved remediation-free scores on the ACT or SAT test.
The percentage isn’t a surprise. State lawmakers confronted this problem and granted the class of 2018 a reprieve. Students were permitted to add points (toward the 18) for such things as regular attendance, a higher grade point average and hours of community service or work. For some districts, graduation rates actually improved.
In January, yes, nearly a year ago, the State Board of Education urged lawmakers to extend use of the “alternative pathways” to the classes of 2019 and 2020. State Rep. Tavia Galonski, an Akron Democrat, proposed legislation in May to make the extension. Put another way, Republican legislative leaders long have had reason to act, allowing districts, students and families to avoid unnecessary anxiety, not to mention misdirected spending of time, energy and resources.
How did the state land in this spot? State lawmakers have the right instinct. They have sought to raise education standards as part of Ohio becoming more competitive and enhancing the quality of life. What has been frustrating to watch have been the fits and starts, lawmakers taking aim at this objective for no less than three decades. A pattern has been established: The legislature raises expectations and then retreats when the results disappoint.
The missing element has been the required laying of a foundation for student success, or improvement. It isn’t enough to increase standards. That step must be accompanied by the hard work and expense of preparing students, especially those who face growing up in severe poverty and coping with the trauma it inflicts.
As Doug Livingston reported, 55 percent of seniors in the Akron Public Schools lack the necessary credits or test scores. In Canton, the share is 53 percent. Extend the alternative pathways, and those percentages will climb sharply. Yet the right idea is to see those shares rise — while applying the tougher standards.
That won’t happen without deploying sufficient resources where needed. It involves taking the cue of LeBron James, the Akron district and the I Promise School, identifying at-risk students and providing the true support they need. It means investing adequately and demanding improved performance in providing early education.
There is an opening for advancing on this front. Mike DeWine, the governor-elect, has called for enhancing dramatically the quality of public child care and early education programs. A panel of state lawmakers has looked closely at the impact of severe poverty on learning, though it seems to have lost momentum. A group of school officials has been discussing ways to repair the broken school funding formula.
This is a moment to get things right. It calls for extending the alternative pathways while moving to put at-risk students in position to perform better, linking aspiration to reality. That translates to providing the support they need — before requiring them to meet the necessary higher standards.