Director of Ohio’s Department of Education Discusses Adding “Workforce” to Name and Mission

The Ohio state education department has made history by adding “and Workforce” to its name, giving career education equal importance to traditional academic schooling. Steve Dackin, the appointed director of the recast Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, prioritizes building pathways to careers, as well as overseeing the state’s shift to the science of reading. Dackin believes that career education is even more crucial than addressing academic deficits caused by the pandemic, stating that “a good job is the quickest way out of poverty.” His main focus is on ensuring that students can read, write, and have the skills necessary for employment. Dackin brings experience in both school districts and career pathways, having served as a superintendent and administrator. He has also worked on research projects examining career opportunities in schools. The new director position is appointed by the governor, eliminating previous conflict of interest concerns. Despite controversy surrounding the shift to an appointed director and the limited powers of the state board and superintendent, Dackin is determined to fulfill the department’s expanded mission.

Dackin believes that education and workforce preparation cannot be separated. He underlines the importance of preparing students for the demands of an information-based economy and the skills needed for the workforce. He mentions the example of employers expressing their need for workers who pass drug tests and possess the necessary skill sets and employability skills, such as punctuality and teamwork. Dackin suggests rethinking the structure of high schools to better align with the demands of the modern workforce. He expresses interest in Indiana’s efforts to transform high school education and make work experiences a central part of the curriculum. Dackin emphasizes that his main goal is to ensure that every student is prepared for a good job, emphasizing again that employment is essential in alleviating poverty.

Dackin outlines the four priorities of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce: prioritizing basic literacy skills, preparing students for employment, addressing learning deficits caused by the pandemic, and focusing on students’ mental and emotional well-being. He highlights the importance of concentrating on a few key areas and excelling in these aspects to bring about significant change. Dackin explains that his alignment with the governor’s priorities was a crucial factor in accepting the director position. He believes that literacy is foundational and supports the governor’s focus on the science of reading, which aims to improve students’ reading abilities based on research findings. Dackin claims that quality teachers and principals, along with enforcing research-based reading approaches, can make a significant difference in students’ outcomes.

Dackin acknowledges the challenge of balancing workforce preparation and general education, noting that they are interconnected. He points out the need to reverse-engineer the K-12 experience to ensure that students leave high school with the skills required for employment. He mentions the research project he has been working on, which highlights the lack of information students have about career opportunities. He believes that every student should have access to labor market data to make informed decisions about their future careers. Dackin emphasizes the importance of multiple strategies and outcome data to guide the department’s vision. Scaling successful systems and ensuring equal access to quality education and job opportunities are significant challenges faced by the state of Ohio.

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