NewsEDlection 2016

John Kasich’s Education Record: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Matt Barnum | March 21, 2016

Photo: Getty Images
Corrected March 22: The original article stated that the Cleveland mayor received control of the city's schools in 2012; mayoral control was actually instituted in 1998. In 2012 the mayor was given more control over funding of charter schools, merit pay for teachers, performance-based layoffs, and longer school days.
Of the five remaining presidential candidates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich seems to have the most extensive, though also the most contradictory, record on K–12 education.

Yes, he has backed Common Core, but he then scrapped the tests aligned to them that have been adopted by many other states. Yes, he has said he wants to drive more money to poor school districts, but he doesn’t seem to have been successful in doing so. Yes, he presided over a much-maligned charter sector (before finally signing legislation last year to reform it), but he has also backed turning around school districts in Cleveland and Youngstown by, ironically, expanding the city’s charters. He spoke with The 74 in great depth last August about his education priorities and accomplishments:

 

So what are we to think of John Kasich’s seven-year education record in Ohio, particularly when so many initiatives he proposed or supported have yet to bear fruit? Let’s survey the evidence:

The Good: Kasich actually understands — and supports — the Common Core standards
Kasich, unlike his Republican rivals, actually seems to know what the Common Core is and what it isn’t (like, a federal takeover of education).
While governor, Kasich presided over the implementation of the new standards; he also fought back efforts to repeal them. As a presidential candidate, he has regularly defended higher standards, both on the campaign trail and the debate stage. However, Kasich approved abandoning the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests after a rocky rollout that included numerous technical glitches. (Research on the new tests suggests they’re better aligned with the Common Core standards than previous exams.)
The bad: Under Kasich, funding of Ohio schools became less equitable
Between 2008 and 2014, state-provided school funding in Ohio dropped, in inflation-adjusted, per-pupil dollars, by about two percent. (In this regard, the state was not alone — the majority of states reduced school funding during that time — and, in fact, Ohio cut less than most other states.)
One Rutgers report gives Ohio high marks for how equitably it distributes school funding and for how much money it puts towards schools relative to GDP. However, between 2009 and 2013 the state has declined somewhat on both measures. In his 2015 budget, Kasich pushed for more money to go into poor school districts, fielding criticism from fellow Republicans for playing “Robin Hood.” The ultimate budget did not end up including most of Kasich’s proposed funding changes.
Research has found that spending more money on schools generally improves outcomes, particularly for students in poverty.
The ugly: Kasich’s fight to fix Ohio’s terrible charter schools
A vocal supporter of school choice, Kasich has presided over a widely derided charter sector, riddled with scandal and mediocre performance.
Charters in Ohio were established in 1997, so they long predated Kasich’s governorship. During his tenure, the numbers of charters in Ohio have increased from just over 300 to more than 400. The schools’ quality however have remained relatively poor on average. According to a Stanford study, charters’ performance in 2013 was almost identical as in 2009 — in both cases worse than traditional public schools in both reading and math.
Efforts to improve charters were derailed in early 2015 when the Cleveland Plain Dealer revealed that the state’s system for grading charter authorizers — the entities responsible for overseeing charter performance — had been illegally changed, by the removal of low grades from online charters. These e-schools have been found to be particularly ineffective at raising student achievement.
Two prominent operators of controversial for-profit and generally ineffective charters have been major campaign contributors to Republicans in the state, including Kasich himself.
The grade-scrubbing scandal led to to the resignation of the state’s school choice director, Dave Hansen, who incidentally is also the husband of Kasich’s presidential campaign manager. (Hansen worked for the Ohio Department of Education, which is led by the state superintendent, who is appointed and overseen by the state Board of Education; Kasich, as governor, names eight of the 19 board members.) There’s no evidence Kasich knew about Hansen’s efforts to change the grades.
By late last year, though, Kasich had signed a charter reform law — passed by a broad, bipartisan coalition and hailed by both charter quality advocates and teachers unions — intended to increase transparency and accountability in the sector. The early implementation of the new law has already run into some challenges, most notably efforts from for-profit charter operators to change the way they’re graded, which experts say will reduce the scores’ accuracy.
Verdict’s out: Kasich’s move to rescue schools in Cleveland and Youngstown
In a Republican debate earlier this month, Kasich said, “[Detroit] is not much different than what happened in Cleveland, Ohio, where the African-American Democrat mayor, the union, and business leaders came to see me and said, ‘Would you help us to pass legislation to really create a CEO environment so that we can take control of the schools?’ … It worked beautifully. Cleveland's coming back. The Cleveland schools are coming back because of a major overhaul.”
Kasich was referring to legislation that he signed in 2012, which was supported by the Democratic mayor, many local legislators, and the Cleveland Teachers Union. But after the debate, the president of the union called Kasich’s claim that the union came to him asking for help an “outright lie.”
The law expanded the power of Cleveland's mayor to fund charter schools, reduce reliance on seniority in cases of teacher layoffs, introduce performance-based pay for teachers, and allow for longer school days.
It’s difficult to tell how the plan has worked. The city has long had some of the lowest-scoring schools on state and national tests, though they have also made some gains in recent years. (We can’t say whether any of those improvements, though, are due to Kasich’s recent reforms.)
Unlike much of the rest of the state, Cleveland’s charter schools slightly outperform district schools. There is also evidence that reforming seniority-based layoffs will improve student achievement, and positive (but more mixed) research suggesting that performance pay will do the same.
 
Kasich has also backed significant changes in Youngstown, though these have been more controversial and less collaborative. Targeting the largely low-income district, he signed a hastily passed bill last year that gave the state the opportunity to take over districts deemed “failing” and significantly expand charter schools in such cities. Kasich reportedly said in private discussions that he wants to turn the entire Youngstown school system over to charters. The school district sued to block the takeover, but a judge rejected the suit.
State takeovers have a mixed track record for improving student achievement. It does not appear that Youngstown charters outperform the city’s district schools.
Unlike the Cleveland plan, local legislators have been some of the primary opponents of the Youngstown takeover. State Sen. Joe Schiavoni said the effort could “end public education.”
At The 74’s Education Summit last year, Kasich contrasted Cleveland and Youngstown schools, saying the former was making progress while the latter city was not. “The Youngstown schools have basically been in a failure mode for nine years. And I have been warning people in Youngstown that this not tolerable,” he said.


Kasich on Youngstown schools:

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