Ohio Superintendent to Lawmakers-Please Ignore the Illiterates Behind the Curtain

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Ohio recently passed a law to curtail social promotion from the 3rd grade for students requiring extra help in reading. Not everyone is thrilled as a Ohio Newspaper recently reported “Pike-Delta-York Superintendent Ken Jones thinks the state is overstepping its boundaries with the mandate.   ‘School administrators and parents are smart enough to figure all that out. We don’t need the state coming in and telling us how to operate or telling us how to move kids through our system,’ he said.”


I’m sure Ohio school administrators are plenty smart, but they might want to go look at some data before making their mind up about the need for this policy. The figure below draws data from the NAEP data explorer, showing the percentage of Ohio students scoring “Below Basic” and “Proficient or Better” on the 2011 4th grade reading NAEP by ethnicity.

Superintendent Jones does seem to have one thing right- he and his fellow Ohio Superintendents apparently know all about “moving kids through the system”- even the students who desperately need more help in mastering basic literacy skills. Note that among Ohio’s Black students that four times as many scored Below Basic as Proficient. The fact that fifty-four percent of Ohio’s Black 4th graders couldn’t read in 2011 hardly constitutes a firm basis for a “steady as she goes!” declaration.

Superintendent Jones may feel confident that he and his compatriots have this whole reading thing figured out, but it is little wonder why Ohio legislators and Governor Kasich saw things a bit differently. If I really wanted to be cruel I would go look up the numbers for Cleveland in the TUDA…err…wait….too late!

More than twice as many White students scoring Below Basic as Proficient,  almost 13 times as many Black students scoring in the illiterate area as Proficient, seven times as many among Hispanics. Little wonder that Ohio lawmakers also decided to depart from the status-quo again and turn the district over to the Mayor.

What makes anyone think that this policy will make things better? Well there are no guarantees that Ohio will implement it as well as Florida, but here is what happened in Florida:

I’m sure that life would be easier for Ohio Superintendents if lawmakers would just keep sending the money to the districts without asking any questions. I’m also however certain that it would not make life for students any easier if Ohio continued to ignore what is plainly a literacy crisis.

9 Responses to Ohio Superintendent to Lawmakers-Please Ignore the Illiterates Behind the Curtain

  1. Good info.

    Where did they go wrong? Has teaching kids how to read and comprehend become such a difficult task ?

    Our schools have turned into social engineering projects instead of schools to educate.

    WE have kids learning in groups which is a disaster but that doesn’t seem to stop them from doing things this way.

    Administrators were fools to follow instead of lead. I tend to think that’s where they messed up.

    Instead of focusing on the students and doing what works, they were more concerned about getting $$$ funding and following the Progressive fads.

    The time – tested traditional education with phonics, traditional math, teacher centered (vs student centered) with professional development that focuses on academic content vs. pedagogy and political indoctrination, etc. doesn’t fail in the Catholic schools.

    Public schools are nothing but a vehicle for the failures of the progressive educators.
    Supers should have been smarter than that.

    • Spoken by someone seemingly far removed from public education. As Gallup shows us, more than 3/4 of Americans are are highly satisfied with their children’s schools and their own education. Social promotion has always been parent-driven, though researchers could find plenty of evidence to support the idea that retention did not improve achievement because the social stigma was far more detrimental. It’s not that supers should have been smarter – they are often one man/woman facing a school board and community that does not support holding kids back.

  2. Of course, this didn’t originate with teachers and schools. I find it hard to believe that teachers regularly sought to pass kids on without achievement. The problem began – owing to local control – with systems in which a child could not be held back prior to high school without the parents’ consent. Thus, rather than fighting a battle with their constituents that they could not win, schools began to acquiesce to their clients demands, knowing – or hoping – that a failure and proficiency actually meant something at the high school level. Alas, it was always too late at that point. But the idea of social promotion did not begin or progress with teachers – it was always community and parent driven.

  3. Matthew Ladner says:


    The research showing detrimental effects of retention are mostly methodologically unsophisticated studies often performed on bad retention policies, such as the Texas practice of “redshirting” 9th graders.

    The more sophisticated research on more thoughtful retention policies in Florida and New York City not only show academic gains, but the RAND Corporation study on NYC specifically found positive self-esteem benefits associated with the policy.

    It turns out that learning how to read is good for your confidence.

    I agree with your assessment regarding why retention is often avoided at the local level. This reinforces the case for a thoughtful state-level policy, which is exactly what the misguided superintendent claimed wasn’t necessary.

    • Oh, I agree Matt. I was just pointing out that because communities – ie. parents – fight so vociferously against retention, and teachers/schools accommodate those needs, they can in turn find some justification for social promotion. I don’t necessarily agree. But this is on the parents.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    Jay and Marcus had an extended critique of the earlier retention studies in their original study on Florida. They’re not even remotely comparable. Like Matt said, the best you can say is they show retention doesn’t work when we follow the suggestion that local schools should make their own decisions on retention.

    • I agree with your point on letting “local schools … make their own decisions on retention.” Or at least I think I do. The implication is that communities and parents will not always make the “best” decision for their own kids. Am I right to infer this?

      • Greg Forster says:

        The decision is the school’s. You have a theory about why the schools make such poor decisions; above, MWAB reports that where she comes from the opposite is the case. I have no dog in that fight because I don’t have any data on it. What matters to me is that the schools are making poor decisions and state retention policies help alleviate the situation.

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