Joel Malin and Kathleen Knight-Abowitz of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, write here about the forces determining education policy in Ohio. 

Ohio education policy is a train wreck. It is not benefiting students or teachers or society. So who is it benefiting?

In our view, it pays to start asking larger questions about EdChoice to understand how education policy is made in Ohio. Why, for instance, did this dramatic increase in voucher eligibility occur? Why would lawmakers experiment with such an expensive initiative, when studies of such voucher programs – including a rigorous study of EdChoice – have most often revealed large, negative impacts on student learning? And, in what universe does it make sense that schools would be judged, and voucher eligibility triggered, by students’ scores in 2013 and 2014 (but not 2015-2017)?

The great uproar around EdChoice should have us asking about how policy is made: specifically, whose voices are being elevated, and whose are being diminished, when Ohio education policy is being created?

Taking a step back, we can see that the policies adopted in Ohio are part of a broader pattern of favoring business and for-profit interests over those of community members, including parents, students, and teachers. In fact, community members’ perspectives are regularly ignored in favor of business lobbyists, charter school operators, and national influencers like U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos or companies like Pearson Education.

Ohio Excels, for instance, is a recently formed, powerful business interest group that’s “quickly emerged as a heavyweight lobbying force in education policy” in Ohio, as described recently by Aaron Marshall in Columbus CEO magazine…

Many of the assumptions and methods of the business world do not neatly transfer into education. In addition, parents and communities want students to be good citizens and well-rounded thinkers, as well as good workers, when they graduate from schools.

When private sector interests dominate education policy discussions, other perspectives are routinely ignored.

Most important are the views of professional educators, who have firsthand knowledge and expertise that can shape our policy decisions in realistic and positive directions. Their participation would also serve to prevent lawmakers from making disastrous, foreseeable errors.

Education policy in Ohio and a few other states, including Indiana and Florida, has been powerfully shaped by the interests of for-profit, pro-business, and private education providers in the past decade.

In a broad and general sense, they are right, of course. The voices of educators have been silenced. Control has shifted to for-profit, pro-business, and private providers.

But what they are missing are the two most important links in this chain of influence: the D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which lobbies constantly for pro-business policies, and ALEC, which writes model legislation that promotes vouchers and charters.