Yesterday, Governor Kasich said everywhere he looks in Ohio he finds something else to fix, so it’s no surprise that his mid-biennial budget review read like a laundry list of proposed policy changes on energy companies, banks, taxes, etc.
Many of the items on that list also touched on Ohio’s schools.
Educators like to say third grade is the age at which students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. That mantra might have inspired Governor Kasich’s third grade reading guarantee.
The program would monitor students’ reading abilities, and require an intervention if they aren’t reading at grade level.
In fact, Kasich says if students get to third grade and fail the state exam, they won’t be moved on to the fourth grade.
Kasich says, “that is doing the children a disservice, that is doing the parents a disservice.”
About 12 years ago, Ohio tried to launch a similar program for fourth graders that never made it into classrooms.
Piet Van Lier, an education policy researcher with the left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, says at the time the Ohio Supreme Court found that program to be an “unfunded mandate.”
Van Lier says “not much came from [that program] so how is this going to be different?”
Other ideas from the governor include changing the way schools are evaluated to a letter grade system instead of the 26-point metric used now.
Kasich says the idea there is that he wants “parents to understand exactly how their schools are doing and at the same time we intend to raise the standards.”
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also a part of Ohio’s Race to the Top waiver application.
Schools that serve dropouts would also get a new system of assessments, and all early childhood programs would have to be graded too.
The mid-term budget also proposes expanding blended – that is mixing in-class lectures with online courses.
Kasich is also taking another stab at changing the way teachers are evaluated.
Last year, the state introduced a new system that relies heavily on student performance.
This year, his new idea is to let teacher evaluations be done by credentialed third parties, someone completely outside the school, to perform some of those performance reviews instead of peers and school officials.
That’s not going over so well with the unions.
Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, says she actually found herself agreeing with much of what Kasich had to say. She’s on board with the reading program and the push for more digital education, for example.
But she does not support the new teacher evaluations, especially if done by someone who doesn’t work with the teachers on a regular basis.
“What aggravates me is we say these evaluations are important – and I believe they’re important – but at the same time our administrators don’t have the time to do it,” Cropper says. “If they’re that critical we need to make sure they’re done properly, that we’re not just outsource them for somebody else to do but that we make it a priority for our administrators or for other people within our schools.”
Kasich also used his mid-budget review to make a pitch for the new Cleveland Transformation Plan, which could set precedent for school districts statewide. The plan includes sharing tax dollars with charter schools and replacing seniority with performance pay, among other things.
The governor hasn’t spelled out how or whether he’s going to fund these initiatives, a source of concern for some folks. But C. Todd Jones of the Ohio School Board says not all policy has to come with extra cash.
Jones says, “any school district that does not continually look for ways to reduce costs and save money and allocate it in other ways is either not operating effectively or is not honest about its finances.”
Kasich did include some dollars and cents in his budget review. Ohio’s colleges and universities are getting the $400 million they requested for construction projects, plus $675 million for K-12 construction.