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Lawmakers Move to Block Unionization of Ohio's Charter Schools

Ohio's charter schools are notorious for poor pay and conditions, often treating educators as temporary help. In recent months a number of Ohio's charter school teachers had begun to either contemplate, organize or vote to unionize in order to be able to collectively bargain better conditions and benefits.

It seems the high priced lobbyists that charter operators hired to ward of any meaningful reforms have been busy with a side project to put a stop to employees being treated like professionals. Buried in the Ohio House's substitute budget bill is this little nugget

Excludes community school employees from membership in the State Teachers Retirement System and School Employees Retirement System if the employees elect to organize under federal collective bargaining laws and the community school is subject to those laws.
It is unlikely that employees would organize knowing they would lose their pension benefits - one of the few benefits charters are forced to provide. This is a pretty ugly coercive piece of legislation that serves only to enrich for-profit charter operators at the expense of educators.

If ever you needed proof of what Ohio's charter experiment is really about, this is it.

Ohio's Lawmakers Propose Killing PARCC

We recently spent the day with about 100 educators discussing education policy issues with legislators from around the state. It was clear from those discussions that legislators were fed up with the testing blowback they are hearing from parents, educators and students.

As a response to this crisis, the Ohio department of Education had put forward some modest proposals to reign in over-testing. Proposals that the Governor echoed when he introduced his budget. The Senate Education Committee chair, Sen Lehner formed a Senate Advisory Committee on Testing to analyze the problems and come up with some solutions.

We had expected legislators to wait until the Senate Advisory Committee on Testing had produced a report before any further major changes were proposed. However that appears not to be the case with PARCC itself, the poster child of over-testing, being the target.

In the Ohio House's substitute budget bill, there is this amendment

Prohibits GRF appropriations from being used to purchase an assessment developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) for use as the state elementary and secondary achievement assessments.

Requires the state elementary and secondary achievement assessments to be "nationally normed, standardized assessments."

Prohibits federal Race to the Top program funds from being used for any purpose related to the state elementary and secondary achievement assessments.
Things are about to get very interesting in the high-stakes world of high-stakes testing.

The State Of Testing Legislation In Ohio

Here's a rundown of the current state of testing legislation in Ohio

House Bill 7 (Buchy): “Student Safe Harbor”

HB 7 assures that PARCC and end-of-course exams would not be used as a factor in any high-stakes decisions that determine whether students are promoted, retained, receive course credit, etc. during the current school year. This does not include retention under the third grade reading guarantee as the OAA is used for that purpose this year. The bill also provides more flexibility to retake end-of-course exams and ensures schools will not lose funding for a student who does not take state assessments during the current school year. The bill contained an emergency clause and signed into law on March 16th.

Senate Bill 3 (Faber/Hite): Education “De-Regulation” and Testing Provisions

In addition to provisions that would exempt “high-performing” districts from a number of regulations, SB 3 contains many of the legislative recommendations from Superintendent Ross’s report on reducing testing time. Notably, the bill does not include the elimination of SLOs for teachers in pre-K to 3 and grades 4-12 in non-core subjects. On the testing front the bill would:
  • Make writing and math diagnostic tests optional (rather than required) in grades 1-3.
  • Eliminate the fall administration of the third grade reading test. The test would be administered in the spring. Summer administration of the test and alternative assessments would be available for those who need to pass the third grade guarantee.
  • Put a time cap of 2% of the school year on state/district required testing and a time cap of 1% on practice for tests. Districts could exceed the caps with passage of a school board resolution after at least one public hearing.
SB 3 was also amended on March 24th to set the student growth measure in the OTES alternative framework at 35% (rather than 42.5%) and the teacher performance percentage at 50% (rather than 42.5%). The amendment also allows the use of multiple measures to fill the remaining 15% in the alternative framework. SB 3 was passed by the Senate by a vote of 24-9.

The Senate has also established an Advisory Committee on Testing comprised of teachers, administrators and others to make recommendations to the Senate on whether to keep or adapt the new tests or adopt an alternative. They are expected to issue recommendations by early May.

House Bill 64 (R. Smith): State Budget Bill

As introduced, HB 64 follows Governor Kasich’s executive budget recommendations. The bill included all of Superintendent Ross’s legislative recommendations on testing including the elimination of SLOs for teachers in preK-3 and grades 4-12 in non-core subjects. The bill would:
  • Put a time cap of 2% of the school year on state/district required testing and a time cap of 1% on practice for tests.
  • Make writing and math diagnostic tests optional (rather than required) in grades 1-3.
  • Remove the fall administration of the third grade reading assessment. The test would be administered “at least once annually.”
  • Require (beginning in 15-16) that a teacher's student academic growth factor be determined using a method established by the Department of Education for teachers for whom value-added data from assessments, either state assessments or approved- vendor assessments, is unavailable.
  • Allow the student academic growth factor to count for less than 50%, but not less than 25%, of a teacher's evaluation if the method determined by the Department applies.
The budget bill is still pending in committee and has yet to be revised by the House from Kasich’s initial budget proposal.

House Bill 74 (Brenner): Testing Revisions

HB 74 is currently before the House Education Committee and includes many of the provisions of Rep. Brenner’s testing legislation that cleared the House last session, with some notable changes and additions. The bill would:
  • Limit each assessment or end-of-course exam to no more than three hours.
  • Require that ODE put out an RFP for new assessments for which multi-state consortium are ineligible.
  • Change graduation requirements by reducing end-of-course exams to 5: eliminating English II and geometry.
  • Eliminate the requirement of online testing for 15-16.
  • Establish numerous studies or actions for ODE or the state board: security of student data, use of tests for multiple purposes, online use, capacity for online readiness, comments on content standards.
  • Eliminate writing and math diagnostics grades 1-3 with the exception of math in the 2nd grade.
  • Limit KRA to one hour and allow districts to administer beginning August 1st.
  • Require ODE to develop a measure for student growth that must be used by all districts that entered into an MOU to not use value added data on next year’s evaluations.
  • Have SBOE revise teacher evaluation framework to reduce time needed.

Thanks to OEA Government Relations for compiling.

Poll: Voters support charter school reforms ensuring transparency and accountability

A recent national poll is giving lawmakers new incentive to push for charter schools that are more transparent and accountable to students, parents, and the taxpayers who invest in them.

The poll shows overwhelming public support for measures addressing fraud, mismanagement, and poor student performance linked to charter schools. Improving teacher training and qualifications, preventing fraud, serving high-needs children, and making sure that traditional public schools are not hurt by charter schools also received strong support from those surveyed.

The survey, which involved 1,000 registered voters, was released by In the Public Interest (ITPI) and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). CPD also released a recent report alleging that tens of millions of dollars have been lost to charter schools nationwide due to fraud and mismanagement.

“$100 million in taxpayer dollars have been wasted and over 100-thousand children attend charter schools that are failing to meet the needs of children,” said Kyle Serrette, director of education at CPD. “It’s time for lawmakers to add stronger oversight provisions before more money is lost and more children are enrolled in failing charter schools.”

Some of the poll’s other key findings include the following:

  • 62 percent of voters want to hold constant or reduce the number charters in their area;
  • 63 percent rate the quality of education at public schools in their neighborhood as excellent or good;
  • 68 percent hold a favorable view of public school teachers; and
  • When it comes to problems facing K-12 education, school choice ranks last.

Overwhelming majorities, some as high as 89 percent, also indicated support for proposals contained in the Charter School Accountability Agenda being pushed by ITPI and CPD. The Charter School Accountability Agenda contains the groups’ solutions for making sure that charter schools fulfill their original purpose—to serve as incubators for new and innovative ways of teaching and learning that could later be adopted by traditional public schools. The proposals are based on standards outlined in the Annenberg Institute’s report for improving charter schools.

Charter school growth has increased exponentially in recent years but critics charge that lawmakers have done very little in developing standards to ensure that these schools give all students a quality education and are accountable to the communities they serve. Currently, more than 2 million students attend the nation’s more than 6,000 charter schools, which make up 6.3 percent of all taxpayer-funded K-12 schools.

State Board of Ed Member: It's Time to Move Beyond Test-focused Policies

District 3 State Board of Education Member AJ Wagner has written this letter to Sen. Peggy Lehner regarding over-testing

Dear Senator Lehner and Members of the Committee:

I am writing to you to share my opinion which is formed by the February 2015 Policy Memo from the National Education Policy Center on "Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-focused Policies." I urge you to carefully consider the analyses and recommendations in this Memo.

A compelling body of research exists about the problems with test-focused reforms, as described in the Memo. (available online at http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/esea). Key concerns include:

i) Research suggests at least two major problems with test-driven school reforms. First, the tests themselves have validity issues. The resulting scores are only loosely linked to the wide array of topics and depth that we all want for our students. So attaching high stakes consequences to those test scores results in decisions being made on weak data. Second, and probably even more important, when we attach high stakes consequences to test scores we change what and how our children are taught. This is not always bad, since much of what is tested is indeed important. But the overall effect is to narrow our children's learning opportunities, squeezing out important and engaging lessons.

ii) Not surprisingly, then, we now face the failure of more than a decade-and-a-half of test-focused reforms. Even though we've been focusing on the content of our tests and even though we've been preparing students to demonstrate knowledge on tests, the testing trends after No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) implementation are almost identical to the trends before NCLB's implementation. Not only did we come nowhere near the NCLB goal of almost-universal proficiency on standardized tests, we gained no benefit at the cost of broader, deeper learning - and at the cost of pursuing evidence-based practices that could have helped our children.

I urge moving away from test-focused reforms, and to a state role that encourages a focus on sustained and meaningful investments in practices shown to be effective in improving the educational opportunities and success of all students, particularly those in highest need. There are no magic wands, and the formula for success is very straightforward: children learn when they have opportunities to learn; closing opportunity gaps will close achievement gaps. Key recommendations from the Memo include:

i) Assess students, teachers, and schools using frameworks that paint a more robust, accurate, and complex picture, with multiple data sources and scientifically credited methods of analysis. For example, for students, we might look at authentic performance assessments (http://fairtest.org/k-12/authentic assessment), and for schools, we might look at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform's "Time for Equity Indicators" (http://timeforequity.org) or the National Education Policy Center's "Schools of Opportunity" criteria (http://opportunitygap.org).

ii) Enrich opportunities through proven interventions such as high-quality early-childhood education beginning before birth. Extend learning time in ways that engage students, rather than just more time on drill-and-kill test preparation. Demand more of our schools, but only when providing the supports for students and teachers to succeed. Address problems not only at the level of individuals, but also at the level of systems. Test-focused reforms detract attention from deeper and more systemic factors that can hinder any student's opportunity for success, including such factors as poverty, racial segregation, inadequate resources, narrow and ineffective curriculum and assessment.

iii) Involve students, families, educators, and educational researchers in more substantive ways in decision-making processes involving educational policy and reform. It is particularly important to have powerful, listened-to voices arising from the communities that have been targets of educational reform.

This is a brief summary of the Memo, a document supported by over 2000 researchers and professors from colleges, universities, and other research institutions throughout the United States. I urge you to, please, consider the evidence based practices put forth by the National Policy Education Center.

My prayers and best wishes are with you for these important Deliberations.

Judge A.J. Wagner, Retired
Member of the Ohio Board of Education
District 3

Would You Let An Unlicensed Doctor Operate On You?

We highlighted some dangerous deregulation policies in SB3, a bill recently passed by the Ohio Senate. One of those policies would allow high performing districts to employ unlicensed "teachers". Dr. Renee Middleton, Dean of the Patton College of Education, Ohio University issued this warning:

Americans in the twenty-first century accept without question the assumption that doctors must be licensed to practice medicine. But that, of course, has not always been the case, especially in the United States. In the early 1880s, West Virginia became the first state to enact and effectively implement a genuinely restrictive medical license law.

Education and Medicine are at their best when qualified practitioners meet and exceed state standards. That is why standards are so important. When some is “licensed to practice,” it lets the public know that the individual has met a “minimal” standard of practice. While students can fluctuate in their ability, teachers and standards are a constant – or at least they should be. A high bar must be set for those who wish to be “licensed for practice.” Ohio has stood on that belief for over a century.

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans are attempting to redefine minimal or acceptable “standards of practice.” Sen. Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) and Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) are attempting to pass SB3, a bill that deregulates education and the need for a “license to practice.” SB3 would allow for “high-performing school districts” to be exempt from hiring teachers with licenses and credentials currently required throughout the state. Based on data involving arbitrary graduation rates and random performance indicators, roughly 20 percent of school districts in Ohio would qualify as high-performing, with another 50 districts reportedly close to exempt status.

Hite and Faber fail to realize that knowledge of a subject – or even expertise in a subject – does not in and of itself qualify someone to teach. Teaching has a pedagogical science behind it.

If the state does not allow unlicensed drivers on our roads, why would it want to allow unlicensed teachers in our classrooms? Would you, as a parent, send your child to an unlicensed doctor simply because that doctor works at a hospital that is considered high-performing? No, you would not. Teaching is not surgery, but it is brain science, and not everyone is trained or skilled to do it.

If “high-performing” school districts hire non-licensed teachers, they will not be high-performing for very long. In fact, if a district slips below the “high-performing” threshold, its exemptions would be taken away – meaning non-licensed teachers would be teaching in underperforming schools. There simply cannot be sustained excellence without a commitment to professionally licensed teachers.

Through most of the nineteenth century, anyone could call themselves a doctor and could practice medicine on whatever basis they wished. An 1889 U.S. Supreme Court case, Dent v. West Virginia, effectively transformed medical practice from an unregulated occupation to a legally recognized profession.

Teaching is a profession! Federal legislation requires colleges of education to be accredited based on a nationally based set of standards. Ohio requires teachers to be “licensed to practice.” Why? Because teaching is a profession. SB3 would take us back to the 1800s and allow anyone to teach. Do we really want to go there? Studying how individuals learn helps teacher candidates’ transition from sitting in a classroom to standing in front of one. It teaches them how to relate material to students and positively influence student-learning outcomes and academic achievement. It allows them to hit the ground running in a way in which those without the background, training, experience, and pedagogical skills simply cannot do.

Just as we have standards for our students, we must have standards for the profession of teaching. Hiring a non-licensed professional to teach a class may seem innocuous, but it would set a dangerous precedent. Hiring someone without established prerequisites allows for a subjective, “good enough” mindset that will only hurt our state and our students in the long run.

I strongly encourage our state representatives to vote no on SB3, and I strongly encourage you to call your legislator and tell him or her that teaching is a profession and that our children deserve to be taught by professionals.

Respectfully,

Renée A. Middleton, Ph.D., Dean
The Gladys W. & David H. Patton College of Education
Ohio University
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