The Speaker’s Task Force on Education and Poverty: The State’s Superintendent Weighs In

On Thursday, September 28, 2017, the Speaker’s Task Force on Education and Poverty heard from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Paolo DeMaria.

From the start, Superintendent DeMaria challenged the committee by saying there is “no more important challenge that we must address.” Having set the tone for the remainder of his presentation, the superintendent dug into district, building, and student data from across the state, highlighting the newly released Ohio School Report Card data that were made available September 14.

Citing the fundamental changes that have been occurring in the state’s economy since prior to the recession, Superintendent DeMaria discussed the achievement gap that exists in Ohio’s education system, identification and interpretation of the state’s successes, and lastly, ways to improve upon the strategies that the state and districts are utilizing.

About 21 percent of Ohio’s children live at 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). If income is decreased to 150 percent FPL, that number reaches a startling 32 percent.  Poverty impacts a student’s life in a myriad of ways, and more often than not, those impacts spill into the classroom.  Superintendent DeMaria touched on the economic instability, adverse health issues, food insecurities, housing instabilities, and homelessness that impact almost one-third of the state’s children.  In the classroom, the stress of poverty creates a lack of readiness for students at the start and throughout their careers.

In addition to the superintendent, the task force heard testimony from Dr. Howard Fleeter from the Ohio Education Policy Institute.  Dr. Fleeter used figures from the state report cards to drill down data, such as grades, by race and economic standing.

Dr. Fleeter emphasized that 87 percent of African-American students in the state are considered economically disadvantaged.  Only 5.9 percent of A grades in the state belong to students who are African American.

“While all race and ethnicity student subgroups demonstrate an achievement gap between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, the achievement gap tends to be larger for minority students than for White students,” Dr. Fleeter explained.

Though the state data regarding the achievement gap appear grim, both Superintendent DeMaria and Dr. Fleeter gave examples from around the state of districts, buildings, and teachers who are making statistically significant improvements in the achievement gap. These successes show that students who are economically disadvantaged can reach the highest level of academic achievement.

Pictured below are the percentage rates for economically disadvantaged districts and how those districts perform.  Circled are the districts with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students performing well above average.

Steubenville was one of several districts highlighted by both presenters as a model for improvement that can be replicated by other districts and buildings. One hundred percent of East Garfield Elementary School students are economically disadvantaged, yet the school received A’s on achievement, progress, and closing the gap on its state report card.

Success stories like Steubenville highlight not only the good work the state has been able to accomplish, but the possibility for future attainment in years to come.

More information about the task force can be found here, in a recent Community Solutions Blog.