Governor Kasich’s mid-biennium education proposals focus on performance, transparency

The education provisions of Governor Kasich’s “mid-biennium review” (Senate Bill 316) had their first hearing in the Senate education committee yesterday. The proposals range from small, administrative fixes to sweeping policy changes. There had been much speculation that November's sound defeat of S.B. 5 by Ohio voters would cause Kasich and fellow Republicans to shy away from tough or controversial measures; a quick review of SB 316 shows that isn't the case.

In a nutshell, it is fair to say that all of the governor’s major education proposals are aimed at making sure everyone – educators, parents, and the public – has a clearer and more accurate understanding of how well Ohio’s schools are doing in preparing students for college and the workforce. For example, SB 316 would shine more light on the performance of Ohio’s schools by:

  • Putting in place a new A-F school-rating system that is easier for parents and the public to understand and which more accurately reflects schools’ and districts’ true performance. This change is part of an overall effort to prepare Ohioans for the more rigorous academic standards and assessments that are coming down the pike in the form of the Common Core academic standards.
  • Requiring performance standards for drop-out recovery charter schools and career-technical schools that recognize the differences between these schools and “traditional” district and charter schools. Drop-out recovery schools have been exempted from Ohio’s charter school academic death penalty and other accountability measures since their inception more than a decade ago. Career-technical schools have not been issued state ratings and report cards in the same manner as other schools.
  • Assessing the quality of public early childhood programs by requiring them to participate in the state’s tiered quality rating system. Students in these programs would also be issued individual “statewide student ID” numbers (just as K-12 public school students are) so that data will be available to measure early learning programs’ success in preparing children for kindergarten.
  • Strengthening the “third-grade reading guarantee” to ensure that students aren’t socially promoted to fourth grade without necessary reading comprehension skills. Ohio’s current reading guarantee has been decried as an unfunded mandate by local schools and gone largely unenforced. Kasich’s version raises the bar for students to be allowed to progress to fourth grade and specifies additional interventions (like intensive summer school) that schools are required to offer to struggling readers. Under the plan, parents would receive more information from their child’s school in grades K-2 about their child’s progress, or lack thereof, toward meeting the third-grade proficiency standard in reading.
  • Making public the success of Ohio’s teacher training programs by requiring the Chancellor of the Board of Regents to publish the number and percentage of graduates of each program by teacher-evaluation rating level. The bill makes further small adjustments to current teacher evaluation and testing requirements in order to make them more meaningful and workable at the local level.

Additionally, the bill would:

  • Require the development of standards for blended-learning (aka hybrid) education models.
  • Change how charter school sponsor performance is measured by requiring separate rankings for sponsors of conversion schools (primarily school districts) and sponsors of start-up schools. The bottom 20 percent of sponsors in each category would be prohibited from opening a new school until their portfolio’s performance improved.
  • Extend the deadline for the state to adopt school expenditure standards and for determining and comparing districts’ spending on classroom versus non-classroom expenses.
  • Require the state to integrate “career connections” into model curricula to better prepare and encourage students to pursue post-graduate opportunities other than four-year college.
  • Clarify that the “parent trigger” pilot in the Columbus City Schools would prevail over other restructuring options for low-performing schools should a school be eligible for both.

Governor Kasich still has yet to tackle a few areas of education policy that need attention here (school funding first and foremost; and separate legislation is expected as early as this week regarding Mayor Jackson’s Plan for Cleveland’s schools), but there is much to like in what the governor has put forth. Hearings by topic area will continue in the Senate education committee over coming weeks. Lawmakers will put their own stamp on the bill as it moves through the legislature, which is expected to happen swiftly because several major provisions need to be in place before the start of next school year yet much of the bill cannot take effect until 90 days after it is signed by the governor.

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