By Denise Dick
For reform of the city school district to work, it needs commitment from the community and funding from the state, an education fellow at a public policy think tank says.
“Obviously, the big challenge is funding,” said Stephen Dyer, education policy fellow with Innovation Ohio. “The Ohio Constitution says school funding is the state’s responsibility, not the local district’s. If the state insists on this radical new school governance, the least they can do is send the funding to do it.”
Innovation Ohio was to release today a report that recommends classroom-level reforms and integrated student or wrap-around services for the district.
It also warns the district should rely on research-based reform rather than reform proposed by ideologues. And it cautions against converting the city public schools into charter schools.
Smaller class sizes, reduced out-of-school suspensions and expulsions and universal preschool make up the classroom-level recommendations.
“The evidence that a low student-teacher ratio, especially in early grades, not only benefits kids but saves money down the road, is very strong,” the report said.
It points to classes with 13 to 17 students that had a positive effect on student achievement compared with classes of 22 to 26 students.
District CEO Krish Mohip said Monday night he doesn’t disagree with any of those recommendations.
“I’m really interested in sitting down with this group to see what they have to say,” Mohip said. “Everything they are saying resonates with me.”
In 2010, the district implemented a 15-1 student-to-teacher ratio in kindergarten and first grade. In 2012, the ratio increased to 18-1 in those grades as the district looked to trim costs.
Besides state funding, Dyer said reforming the city schools will take a community commitment beyond a few years.
It would take about five years to see an impact of universal preschool on test scores, for example, he said.
“The challenge with any reform is sticking with it and funding it,” Dyer said.
Research also shows a link between student discipline referrals and low test scores, the report said.
Mohip said in looking at the expulsion and suspension rate, it is too high, but he added the district needs to find the root cause leading to those expulsions and suspensions.
Universal preschool is an effort to provide public money for quality preschool instruction.
The city schools offers preschool in some of its elementary buildings. The Ohio Department of Education offered more preschool funding, wanting the half-day program lengthened to all day.
To move all-day preschool into schools with limited space, something else has to move out.
The report also points to integrated student, or wrap-around, services, in schools as an improvement path.
Before it became the Youngstown Plan, the legislation approved last year at the statehouse recommended such services for districts under control of an academic distress commission. Those services have shown positive effects in the Cincinnati schools, the report said.
Integrated student services attempts to “mitigate nonacademic factors in student success.”
Such services could include health services, legal aid, child care, pregnancy prevention and parenting workshops.
An effort spearheaded by the United Way of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley is developing a Taft Promise Neighborhood around Taft Elementary School.
Dyer said while wrap-around services may sound expensive, but they don’t necessarily have to be.
Health care agencies can donate services and build up their patient base while they do it.
Dyer said Innovation Ohio doesn’t agree with the way the Youngstown Plan legislation was devised, calling it “last minute and behind closed doors.”
But the organization wants to see Youngstown’s city school students do well, he said.
Finally, the report says there are indications that “ideologues at the state level will try to turn Youngstown into a privatization experiment.”
In Youngstown though, the charter schools are no better, and sometimes worse academically, than the public school districts, it says.