Consistency around performance needed in Ohio budget debate

Consistency in public policy is hard to come by because
special interests, ideology, and ignorance of issues (manipulated by lobbyists
and other interested parties) all collide and compete for life in the cosmic
swirl of the legislative process. There is a distinct lack of consistency
around education policy in the competing budgets drafted by the Ohio House and
Senate that could be remedied if each body could focus their proposals around
issues of performance.

In their version of the state budget (HB 153), the Ohio
House put forth legislative language on teacher effectiveness that is some of
the most progressive in the country. (See op-ed above for details).

The House language is right per teacher effectiveness
because it focused squarely on performance. Unfortunately, the House got
charters wrong because it focused on everything but performance and
accountability. In short, the House version of HB 153 would make it easier for
for-profit school operators to function without oversight. It would neuter both
governing boards and authorizers of their oversight responsibilities and
authority and give operators carte blanche authority over virtually all school
decisions. Further, it would exempt these schools from compliance with
accountability requirements like annual testing. In short, the House would
create a new class of schools – corporate private schools funded directly by
the state and free of all state accountability requirements. Under this new corporate
school model student performance would matter not one iota, nor could it even
be measured and reported.

The Senate took the budget language it received from the
House and sought to fix it by purging the parts that dismantled anything to do
with charter school performance. Further, it built on Governor’s Kasich initial
budget proposals that tried to find a balance between expanding school choice
and ensuring that both charter schools and their authorizers are ultimately
held accountable for their performance. The Senate language sets performance
expectations for authorizers to open new schools. Specifically, a new school
can be opened only if at least 80 percent of its current portfolio of schools
does not rank in the bottom five percent of schools for academic performance.

Charter schools, by their very definition, enter into a
performance contract (a charter) with a sponsoring organization that acts as a
quality control agent. If the school fails to live up to its contract, its
sponsor can revoke the charter or choose not to renew it. The Senate version of
HB153 would maintain and strengthen the charter model in Ohio because it
focuses on performance and pressures sponsors to do more about it.

But, while the Senate got charter schools right it got the
teacher effectiveness language wrong because it deleted it entirely from the
budget. If the House language doesn’t make it back into HB 153 then Ohio’s law
defaults back to teacher effectiveness being equated with meaningless inputs
like paper credentials, certificates and length of service rather than actual
classroom performance and impact on student achievement. As with charters in
the House, it looks as if politics trumped matters of performance when it came
to Senate decision making per the issue of teacher effectiveness.

The current budget situation is messy. It somehow has to be
resolved between now and the end of the month when the budget is to be
finalized and signed into law by Governor Kasich. Most of the heavy lifting is
apt to take place in conference committee. If members can focus on issues of
performance above issues of politics it would give Ohio not only consistent and
fair education policy, but policy that would make Ohio a leader in the move
towards performance-based public education.

A
version of this article originally appeared on Fordham’s blog, Flypaper.

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