In May 2019, Citizen Truth journalist Will Bacha reported on how Ohio Excels—a coalition of corporations focused on creating policies for elementary and secondary school systems—serves the interests of big-business rather than the needs of students. His article, “Another Private Sector-Public Education Partnership Raises Eyebrows,” describes how several members of the coalition’s executive board are “affiliated with large corporations or organizations that emphasize free-market growth.”
According to its website, the mission of Ohio Excels is “to provide an informed business perspective to help improve and transform Ohio’s education system so that it better prepares students to meet the demands of our evolving economy.” However, as Bacha reports, business-led education may not be the best way to improve students’ job prospects or the economy. Ohio Excels’ plans could produce a “pipeline” from public schools to corporations, and shift education policies away from well-rounded curriculum and towards a greater focus on business. “The programs and policies Ohio Excels is implementing are actually a way for corporations funding the program to ensure they will have a pool of workers fully conditioned to fit the needs of their companies right out of school,” writes Bacha.
If Ohio Excels is successful, it may not be long before other conglomerates are driven to seek national education reform using economic hardship as a smokescreen for corporate involvement. Ohio Excels plans to transform, or potentially substitute, common core curriculum by implementing an economic lens, effectively disguising its own policies as beneficial professional development. However, a closer examination of the coalitions’ program raises concerns: the proposed policies seem to be complex incentives designed to groom high school graduates for positions at the very corporations that created Ohio Excels.
Moreover, Ohio Excels leaders are pledging to reform the standardized testing process by reducing the number of required tests from seven to five. In Ohio, and most states, an emphasis on common core and standardized testing prevails, requiring students to show competency in multiple academic subjects to graduate. The new plan deemphasizes academics, permitting students to pass (or get as close as they can) only one English and one Math exam, thus prioritizing vocational instruction.
Ohio teachers have expressed concern regarding Ohio Excels on the grounds that its initiative threatens to narrow students’ pathways. Bacha interviewed Rob Soccorsi, a high school social studies teacher from Columbus, who affirmed “content-based knowledge and understanding” as the best way to prepare students for whichever professional direction they choose. “If schools emphasize a rigorous, content-rich curriculum, provide support, and hold all students accountable,” Soccorsi continues, “then the skills and workforce preparation will be a natural result, with the added benefit of students gaining broad knowledge to meaningfully and intelligently participate in [society].”
There has been little establishment coverage regarding Ohio Excels’ corporate education mission. Many of the articles written about it have been authored by board members (who glorify the program and its mission) or published in local newspapers. Only one community news show, Cincinnati’s WKRC, which is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, aired a story describing the new program’s impacts on students’ graduation requirements. Meanwhile, prominent national media networks have aired nothing.
Source: Will Bacha, “Another Private Sector-Public Education Partnership Raises Eyebrows,” Citizen Truth, May 15, 2019, https://citizentruth.org/another-private-sector-public-education-partnership-raises-eyebrows/.
Student Researchers: Melissa Dexter, Caileigh Hickox, Jennifer Nelson, Natalie Passov (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
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