Kennedey Bell

Disconnect: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Discourse Over Ohio’s EdChoice Program

April 3, 2021   /  

Name: Kennedey Bell
Major: Communication Studies
Minor: Elementary Education
Advisors: Dr. Rob Razzante, Dr. Matthew Broda

My I.S. project, “Disconnect: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Discourse over Ohio’s EdChoice Program,” looks at the Educational Choice Scholarship Program in Ohio. This program sponsors students—whoare either at a certain poverty level or attending a school that the Ohio Department has designated “failing”, according to six standards that they have set—to attend a private school in their area. In late 2019, the list of schools that were considered failing more than doubled, sending out a panic both among public schools and among legislators in the Ohio Congress. I looked at the communication around this event, using policy documents, news articles, and interviews as my sources.

I became interested in this topic because of my interest in education. Historically, and as my project will show, these types of programs do little to solve issues in the educational field. My project shows that instead of solving issues in public schools or helping students receive a quality education, EdChoice serves as a band-aid to avoid real reflection on the state of education in Ohio. I see several next steps for research on this project: first, research into racial and class divides enhanced by EdChoice; second, interviews with legislators, private schools, guardians, and students to provide more diverse perspectives on this issue, and lastly, the use of new methods such as focus groups or moderated conversation between the state and the schools. Overall, I enjoyed the chance to briefly study this topic, and I hope that future researchers explore more.

Kennedey will be online to field comments on April 16:
noon-2pm EDT (PST 9-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

37 thoughts on “Disconnect: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Discourse Over Ohio’s EdChoice Program”

  1. Congratulations on completing your work on this important issue, Kennedey! We wish you the best in your plans beyond Wooster!

  2. Kennedey, it’s so clear your IS was fueled by your incredible compassion and sense of justice. I’m in awe of you! Good luck in Texas 🙂

  3. CONGRATULATIONS KENNEDEY! This is incredible work and such a creative approach. The educational system in the United States desperately needs more attention. What areas of your research do you think are most important for future researchers to continue looking into or advocating for?

    1. <3 <3 Thank you, Deena! That's a great question. My first recommendation for future researchers is to expand the amount of schools interviewed. I was only able to interview five participants because of issues with COVID (school administrators are already busy; COVID adds more stress). I think that having more private schools and more public schools, especially those that have been designated failing for more than a year, would offer valuable insight. I think it would also be helpful to look into the non-technical spheres (i.e. schools). Parents and students have a lot to say about EdChoice, especially if they use the program, so their thoughts should be included in studies like these.

      Secondly, researchers could study the effects of EdChoice on students after they've moved schools. One of the problems Participant D brought up is the inability to provide adequate education to neurodivergent/disabled students and that many students hadn't received funding after applying several months before. Does EdChoice help students at all?

      And finally (I promise!), an intersectional approach to this is vital. I was not able to focus on issues like race, class, gender, etc. in this project, but to understand issues of funding in education, it is very important to understand systems of power and how programs like these increase gaps in education.

  4. Yes, yes, YES! Scream it from the rooftops. Congrats, Kennedey! You should be proud of your work! I know you’ll do great things. You’ve been such an inspiration to me, and I know you’ll have an incredible impact on the world once we leave Woo. Sending all my love.

    1. I appreciate you so much, Morgan! I am forever jealous of your future students. You will be an amazing teacher <3

  5. Are there other implications/important pieces that you’ve noticed since turning your I.S in? If so, what are they?

    1. Absolutely! Actually, in doing orals, I noticed that I did not touch on the reverse of one of my main implications. Throughout the study, I focused on the legislators’ inability to recognize the needs of administrators. However, in doing research, it’s clear that while the administrators (those that I interviewed) were advocating for/against EdChoice publicly (in the media), few actively reached out to their representatives. Communication is therefore lacking on both sides of the divide. At the same time, educators are often advocating for many different issues at the same time, so how do they decide which issues need to take precedence? That will definitely be an area for future research.

  6. What was one thing you learned in the course of researching this topic that surprised you and had the biggest impact on your perception of the education system in Ohio?

    1. That is a great question, and there are so many things I could talk about, but I think that the most interesting thing that I learned is how experimental Ohio is with their educational system. According to the EdChoice Organization, a nonprofit that offers information on voucher programs around the nation, Ohio is the state with the most voucher programs. EdChoice (the scholarship) is the largest program we have, but we also have the Autism Scholarship Program, the Cleveland Scholarship & Tutoring Program, and the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program. Ohio is also more likely to adopt new programs for experimentation. While the Ohio congress may struggle with implementation, it is very clear that Ohio values education.

  7. I can really see your passion in your presentation!! Congratulations and I am so proud of you!! You’re going to do great things and I can’t wait to see them!!

  8. Kennedey, this was so interesting and, obviously, dear to your heart. The mix of Kenneth Burke and narrative worked well. In the current highly-politicized environment, I’m not surprised at the legislature not engaging deeply with educators. One question I have–and you may or may not have the answer to it–is what is the educational background of legislators who push for EdChoice? Or even of our state legislators generally? Do they tend to be graduates of public schools or private schools or is there no difference? I was curious as to whether you thought this experiential context might play a role in their positions. Congratulations on your project.

    1. Thank you so much for the question, Dr. Bostdorff! Unfortunately, I am not sure about the educational backgrounds of the legislators. I attempted to do some research into those who passed the “important” bills, but I was not able to find much. I think this would be an interesting context to add for future research, however. One of the recommendations I had in my I.S. is to create a moderated conversation between legislators, administrators, and guardians to generate understanding of one another; I think that this would be a great place to add that information.

  9. This is a very interesting topic that you researched and it seems to be well developed. Having a Mom who is an elementary school teacher, I have seen first hand how teachers advocate for funding and more acknowledgement based on their experiences in their world of teaching. Deena asked earlier in the comments, “what should future educators be advocating for?”. I would like to continue by asking, now that you have completed your independent study, what is another concept or idea that you wish you would have interviewed the teachers on?

    1. There were a few things that I was not able to focus on; however, I think that being able to discuss how they feel the relationship between school administrators and legislators should work would be able to give those who read this study a more firm understanding of what their next steps should be.

  10. Kennedey, great work. This is so interesting. What do you think is the future and/or future impact of EdChoice in Ohio 5, 10, 25 years down the line?

    1. Thank you, Dr. Ozar! I think that, in all honesty, there will be many changes made or needed to be made to EdChoice in the next 5-10 years. The new bill passed in November 2020 changed EdChoice significantly in how schools are added to the EdChoice-designated (EDS) list. Schools will be added based on whether 20% of their students are below the designated poverty line or based on whether they are in the bottom 20% of schools. I am not knowledgeable enough about the poverty-based side of EdChoice to discuss whether this will have a positive or negative impact, but I do feel that the ranking system of EdChoice still needs to change. While this will keep less public schools on the EDS list, there will always be 20% of schools at the bottom, regardless of their strengths or abilities. In addition, this change still does not offer public schools more resources in order to improve that which the Ohio Department of Education states is necessary. I believe that schools will continue to advocate against EdChoice until there is a more constructive way to improve public schools while still giving students choice and control over their own education.

  11. Great Job! I really enjoyed listening to your presentation. During your research did at any time did they include the thoughts and opinions of the students that participate in this program? If so do the students find any value in the program? It has been a while since I have been involved in any legislatorial issues. One thing that I did notice though was that many times they leave out the people that it effect the most.

    1. Thanks for the question, Jenn! I was able to find some experiences from students/parents that use EdChoice while doing my research, though they were not the majority in either the interviews or the news articles. It seems that overall, students and guardians value having EdChoice and being able to choose which school they attend. For the most part, guardians are choosing EdChoice because they 1) are choosing non-public schools as their students start in kindergarten and therefore do not have a relationship with the public school in their district or 2) because they have had a bad experience in their public schools. On the other hand, some of the participants I interviewed noted that guardians have sometimes struggled getting the resources they needed to allow their students to switch to the school of their choice because of slow response from the government. Overall, students/guardians were not the primary voices in any of my sources, but I was able to find information on their opinions.

      1. I wish that this would have been an option when I was in school, back in the dark ages. 😉 I went to a very good school. The only problem was that there were no real opportunities for advanced study programs in public schools. The only opportunities like that were in private schools and we didn’t have the resources for that option. So most of the time that I was in school I was bored and probably didn’t max out my potential. I know that there were other students in my class that would have benefited from a similar program. I think that the program might have potential but it needs some work and like you found better communication between the parties involved.

  12. Great work! I’m very proud of you and wish you the best in Texas. If you were to interview guardians of students involved in EdChoice, what do you think you would find?

    1. Good question! I think that I would find a mix of opinions. It’s clear that guardians really value EdChoice for providing their child(ren) with the education that they believe important, but it also seems that the legislature/Ohio Department of Education struggles keeping up with the demands of the scholarship.

  13. Well done, Kennedey! Did you have any assumptions about what you would find going into this project? If so, were they challenged?

    1. I think going into this project, I had a huge bias that EdChoice was terrible for public schools, that it was just a punishment, and that it was not actually helpful. Throughout this project, I was challenged time and time again. I slowly became more understanding of private schools, of the challenges public schools have and need to fix, and of the benefits that the program does have regardless of the issues legislators still need to solve.

  14. Such a relevant and timely topic right now. I appreciate your point about whose voices are being heard in this discussion and who is being ignored. This may be beyond the scope of your research, but do other states have similar programs that could serve as a model to negotiate some of these issues?

    1. Hi, Dr. Weller! There are 18 states with voucher programs that are similar to EdChoice, but interestingly, Ohio is the state with the most voucher systems! However, I have not looked into other states’ programs to understand where they operate differently from Ohio’s. I think it would be helpful to do a comparative study alongside interviews with legislators to understand why they have made the decisions for this programs.

  15. Congratulations Kennedey on completing your I.S!! We know how hard you have worked over the last few years. Watching your presentation and reading the answers given to the questions you have been asked definitely shows how much knowledge you have gained. You will be very valuable to any school system with which you are associated.

  16. ¡Felicitaciones, Kennedey! Congratulations on completing your Senior I.S.! Thank you for sharing your work in a very clear presentation on a complex topic. I enjoyed hearing how your approach to the questions evolved over time as you were exposed to new concepts. That’s the exciting aspect of research.

    I wish you all the best as you go forward!
    –Prof. P.

  17. I’m so proud of all your work, Kennedey! I hope you have a great time in Texas and can use your IS research to create greater equality in education for all!

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