The Problem of Differentiation in Public Schools

Op-Ed: What happens when public schools lose students?

As a school community member who attends many public schools, the answer to this question is “nothing.”

For many years, public schools have had the largest share of students in Ohio—over 13,000 students. Public schools can be very competitive in terms of grades, particularly in the higher grades. So many students in this area attend public schools that losing some students could have a greater impact on the graduation rates at these schools than losing a larger number of students.

When a school loses a large number of students, it loses the opportunity to maintain its current programs and to attract and recruit new students. It will lose the flexibility to hire additional teachers and staff, to change the program offerings and even to make major decisions about how students will be taught. While it may be possible to recruit new students and maintain the current student body, it may be much more difficult to change the program offerings, hire additional staff and maintain current programs for students who may no longer be enrolled. Over time, the school community and its community members will need to decide how to best absorb the change in students.

It is important to recognize that, with the exception of special education students and students with disabilities, students are not the reason that a school is closing. If public school students can’t do the work being done in the curriculum, if teachers can’t meet the expectations of the school, or if the school needs to change how it teaches to improve the quality of the program, then there must be a problem in the community or in the way the school is operated.

Public schools in Ohio face significant challenges, including the fact that they serve students from many different backgrounds and cultures. The challenge they face is what I call “differentiation”—making sure each student has the best possible educational experience. There are so many opportunities for students at different levels in their education, from high school to the

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