Anyone who reads my articles knows I am hyper-critical of the Ohio legislature’s insistence on meddling in the world of education despite their indisputable record of failure. One needs to look no further than the current legislative discussion, which is focused on once again changing graduation requirements for high school students, to understand my criticism.
While state law has always played a role in determining the academic requirements necessary to earn a high school diploma, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the legislature’s hijacking of education began in earnest. That is when lawmakers decided to insert themselves into day-to-day decisions instead of providing oversight on a macro level, going so far as determining specific tests kids had to pass to be deemed successful, a practice that continues to this day. When politicians decided that high school students in the graduating class of 1994 needed to pass the ninth grade proficiency tests in addition to earning the appropriate number of credits to graduate, the assault was clearly on.
We could spend time discussing on what basis the geniuses in Columbus decided that ninth grade tests were appropriate for 12 graders to pass to earn a diploma, or we could even debate who determined the ninth grade tests that were selected were really ninth grade assessments in the first place, or we could even discuss who decided that ninth grade skills equated to success in life after school, but we can save those discussions for another time.
What we need to remember is that this first legislative “solution” to ensure that all graduating students were prepared to leave high school ready to succeed in life began with a class that graduated TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, and by our lawmakers’ own admission they still haven’t gotten it right.
Think about that. Twenty-five years of failure by the very people who have no qualms about holding educators accountable for their work.
How hypocritical is that?
Legislators will claim they were forced to create laws governing education, because school teachers and administrators were doing a pathetic job educating our youth. “If you would have just done your job right,” they will say, “we wouldn’t have to tell you what to do.”
They make their argument while conveniently ignoring the fact that millions of kids were leaving high school highly educated and were achieving great success in their post-graduate lives. During this time of supposed educational incompetency the United States maintained its standing as the most powerful economic machine in the world.
Exactly how did that happen if everyone was so uneducated?
You would hope that at least one legislator in more than two decades would have asked the question, “If our schools are so bad, how are they turning out millions of successful young people and why do some kids succeed while others fail?”
But, apparently not one of them has been able to come up with those two simple questions.
Are our legislators really so clueless about how kids develop that they believe the reason for discrepancies in achievement is because of poorly written graduation requirements?
Apparently. But, they are wrong … again.
Politicians should be ashamed for having engaged in the same discussion for 25 years while crafting no meaningful solutions, but shame is not part of their DNA. After all, they’ve been “solving” our health care crisis for that long, too.
Graduation standards are not the reason some students leave high school ready to conquer the world while others leave with minimal skills, which explains why constantly rewriting them hasn’t changed a thing.
Yet, instead of trying to determine why some young people become successful while others don’t, how do our legislators spend their time? Why, by writing new graduation standards, of course.
There does seem to be at least one legislator aware of the lunacy of adjusting graduation requirements year after year. State Representative Niraj Antani recently expressed concern about repeatedly changing graduation requirements, when he said, “My biggest concern is we can’t change the rules of the game every year. So, once we make this next change, we really need it to be in place to give our students, teachers, and school districts certainty for graduation requirements for the next decade.”
While I’m certain Rep. Antani was sincere with his comments, he is incredibly naive if he thinks a) there is any chance lawmakers will come up with something meaningful, and b) if they did, there is any chance future lawmakers won’t change it.
History has shown us there isn’t and there isn’t.
Yet, onward they march.
Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.