Getting Out of the Way: How De-regulation Has Worked for Gifted Children in Ohio
Last week, the Fordham Foundation held an event in Columbus introducing their new report, “Getting Out of the Way: Education Flexibility to Boost Innovation and Improvement in Ohio.” The gist of the report is simple: the state should modify or eliminate laws and rules that tie the hands of districts leaders trying to innovate and manage operations. Specific areas ripe for de-regulation include staffing ratios, licensing requirements, allocating district resources (i.e. funding), minutes of instruction, and scheduling. This should all sound all too familiar to gifted advocates who have previously fought against the proposed elimination all standards of quality around gifted instruction and staffing in the gifted operating standards.
At the Fordham event, the key author of the report, Paulo DeMaria, covered the key points of the report and then a panel of experts (Tom Ash of BASA, Mark Schare, Worthington Schools Board of Education member, Steve Dackin, former superintendent of Reynoldsburg, and C. Todd Jones, State Board of Education member) answered a few questions regarding de-regulation. The questions and answers were all fairly predictable: panel members thought there were too many regulations; local districts should have more control etc. etc. At one point during the discussion, however, Mr. DeMaria made two interesting statements that I think should be explored a bit more deeply. His first statement roughly paraphrased was, “If you want a different outcome, you need to pursue different strategies.” Fair enough. He also asked the question, “How do we know that districts and schools will do the right thing?” His answer was that we just have to trust that they will.
To challenge these statements, perhaps it would be instructive to see what has happened to gifted education over the past few years so we can decide if the path we are now on is working. We can also determine whether the trust that we have placed in the hands of districts has resulted in the right thing for gifted students. After all, as gifted services in Ohio are offered at the discretion of each district, gifted education is truly the most de-regulated area of education in Ohio. Funding has been de-coupled from staffing over the past six years. Services, once tied to specifically licensed gifted personnel are now much looser. Many districts are now counting gifted students in general education classrooms as served even if the classroom teacher has no background in gifted education and no additional support is offered to the students. So what are the results of all this de-coupling, de-licensing, and de-regulating?
- Identification of gifted students has decreased by 8.5% since 2008.
- Services have plummeted to 23% of the gifted population. For reference, in 2000, the service rate was 41%.
- Licensed gifted staff levels have decreased by almost 25% since 2008.
- Over half of all districts in 2014 reported that they used some or all gifted formula funding for purposes other than to identify and serve gifted students.
- Only one-quarter of Ohio’s districts met the new gifted performance indicator in 2014, the elements of which are currently set at a very low threshold.
By getting out of the way of districts, the state has actually limited opportunities for gifted students.
Sadly, the most vulnerable of these gifted students, those who are economically disadvantaged are the least likely to receive an appropriate education. They are less than half as likely to be identified and only 81% as likely to receive gifted services as non-economically disadvantaged students. (Source: 2015 State of Gifted Education in Ohio). In fact, a national report on the excellence gap on high-ability students took Ohio to task for the appalling gap in performance between economically-disadvantaged high-ability students and those who were not.
Ohio’s gifted students will never receive the educational opportunities they so desperately need if state policymakers continue to “get out of the way” of districts. When the State Board of Education of Ohio takes up the gifted operating standard discussion again, members should heed the advice of Mr. DeMaria. If we want different outcomes, we need to choose different strategies. We need to strengthen accountability of gifted services, gifted identification, gifted funding, and gifted staffing. We need to ensure that services are truly services, that people making decisions about gifted students at the district level actually have expertise on this student population, and that all gifted students in Ohio have access to opportunities commensurate with their educational need.
Getting out of the way has clearly been a disastrous policy for Ohio’s gifted children. It is time to do something different so we can achieve a better outcome for these students.