The U.S. Department of Education’s announcement of final priorities for the competitive $4.3 billion Race to the Top (RttT) program has unleashed speculation about Ohio’s position in the pack (see here and here). Weighing in on the application details, a spokesperson for Gov. Strickland told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Ohio is “one of the strongest-positioned states” and that Ohio would score well in “effective teaching and leadership” (the criterion garnering the most points). Fordham’s Andy Smarick has noticed that such high expectations have become the trend when various states size up their odds in RttT (see here) even though there is credible evidence to suggest otherwise (see here and here). 

As the application deadline draws near, several Ohio lawmakers have introduced bills aimed at bolstering the state’s competitiveness for these funds. If awarded RttT dollars, the Buckeye State stands poised to collect between $200 million and $400 million to be used toward K-12 education. Currently there are two sets of competing bills in the legislature.

The first set of companion bills, Senate Bill 180 and House Bill 312, have been introduced by Sen. Jon Husted (R-Kettering) and Rep. Seth Morgan (R-Huber Heights). These bills would allow alumni of the Teach For America program to receive an initial professional educator license, require the use of student performance data in teacher evaluation and licensure, and lift the current moratorium on e-charter schools (see our Senate testimony here).

This proposed legislation would strengthen Ohio’s standing in several high-value RttT criteria in which Ohio is lacking (see our analysis of Ohio’s competitiveness here). RttT guidelines clearly prescribe that student data inform teacher performance evaluations and licensure decisions. Allowing Teach For America alumni to seek teacher licensure would help satisfy the requirement for alternative paths to licensure that are not heavy on coursework but focus on real performance in real classrooms. Lifting the cap on e-charters would make Ohio seem a little more amenable to successful charter schools (though not by much, considering the otherwise hostile environment charters face, as outlined in our annual charter school sponsorship report).

The second set of legislation, Senate Bill 207 and House Bill 370, sponsored by Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) and Rep. Jennifer Garrison (D-Marietta), also calls for a removal of the e-charter cap - but not until 2011. This legislation also seeks the creation of a statewide longitudinal data system of student performance. The bills are extensive in specifying what types of data are to be shared between the Ohio Department of Education and Board of Regents.

As it stands, this legislation would have a much smaller impact than SB180/HB 312, as the RttT criteria it addresses are worth far fewer points. Also, the delay in lifting the e-charter cap until well after RttT funds have been distributed may not be interpreted well by the U.S. Department of Education. 

These proposals, while well intentioned, are temporary patches that may have come too late. They address only the fringes of education policy in Ohio and do not embody the true spirit of the Race to the Top program – wholesale, bold, innovative reform.

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