It took former Governor Ted Strickland almost his entire first term to implement his evidenced based model for education (EMB) in Ohio. Lengthy collaboration between multiple stakeholders produced the first real attempts at education reform in Ohio since its funding mechanisms had been judged to be unconstitutional.
Governor Kasich made it clear he would scrap this approach before it had time to be implemented. What he proposed to replace it with wasn’t clear, and still isn’t.
In less than six months we have a partisan state board of education in disarray and unable to find a suitable candidate to lead any reform effort. A promoted interim superintendent whose first task is to lay off members of his organization in order to cope with budget cuts. New teacher evaluation and merit pay framework provisions, with few real details, that were cooked up over a weekend by non-education expert legislators, and another law designed to curb the Ohio teacher professions association heading for likely repeal.
Did we mention the biggest mess of all? Almost $3 billion in cuts to public education while simultaneously sending more money to charter schools and for-profits and no funding formula for schools to plan around going forward.
Just how was this mess created
After making it clear that the EBM was dead, Governor Kasich’s first step wasn’t to collaborate to develop his own education reform plan and find a constitutional funding mechanism, but instead to attack his parties political foes via SB5’s union busting measures. SB5 was a direct assault on public employees, but especially teachers. SB5 curtailed collective bargaining, instituted an ill-thought out merit pay rubric that had only minimal support primarily from corporate education reformers, and relied heavily on discredit value add measures using high stakes testing of students.
Concurrent with this, the Governor sought to remake the independent state board of education. The first step was to ensure the votes were his by appointing tea party members to the board. Even going to the extent of replacing one of his own, board president and Republican Robin C. Hovis with Debe Terhar, described by the Dispatch as a "Cincinnati Tea Party conservative"
What followed next was unexpected and unprecedented – the State Superintendent was threatened, and then forced out.
A tearful Deborah Delisle resigned yesterday.
"Last Friday, it was made known to me by two members of the governor's staff that my tenure was limited," Delisle said during the board's monthly meeting in Columbus. "They said they have the votes to replace me."
Her resignation takes effect April 30.
Delisle said she was asked "to support the governor's budget and remain ambivalent about it. I said I hadn't seen it. ... I perceived (the comments) as bribery or a threat."
She said she was told that "if I did good, there would be a nice exit strategy."
Several board members reacted with anger and tears of their own.
"This is disgusting," said member Robin C. Hovis, a Republican who was replaced as board president earlier in the meeting by a tea party proponent. "I denounce it."
He predicted that Kasich will pick a "puppet superintendent" and replace Ohio Department of Education staff members.
That “puppet” was to come in the form of the Governor’s education czar, Bob Sommers. Sommers, a former charter school executive from Detroit subsequently withdrew from contention claiming somewhat bizarrely that lawyers advised him that his ability to do the job would be limited because state ethics laws would keep him from having contact with the governor's office for a year.
While it’s not known the true reason for his withdrawal, it is suspected that he did not have enough votes from the state board of education to be appointed. The rancor and bad press from the Delisle ouster having caused some board members to rethink their independence.
That lack of independence early on was now causing a serious problem for the board in the search for a replacement. Having initially made sure the pool of candidates to choose from were only drawn from the ranks of corporate education reformers and believers, their list of candidates was getting smaller and smaller.
In a surprise last minute effort by the board to save face interim Superintendent Stan Heffner was appointed.
It was becoming clear that the Governor's other assault on public education and teachers was failing too.
Public sector workers had come together in a manner not seen in over 30 years to oppose SB5’s assault on the middle class, culminating in a record breaking 1.3 million signatures being collected to place a repeal initiative on the November ballot.
The Governor himself seemed confused about SB5, claiming wrongly that "Senate Bill 5 doesn't require merit pay for teachers.”
The vacuum caused by these missteps was filled by all manner of ill-conceived policies being inserted into the state’s biennium budget. From huge giveaways to for-profit charter schools, to SB5 like provisions, the crazy was turned up to 11.
Recognized by many, the new Republican majority in their rush to exert their political force were on the verge of destroying education in Ohio. Denounced from all angles, including the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute who said the budget released by House Republicans "risks making the Buckeye State the nation’s laughing stock when it comes to charter school programs." The legislature was forced to backtrack from the most extreme policy measures, but what passed was still a radical assault on public education.
Where we are now
We now face almost $3 billion in education cuts over the next 2 years, and no funding formula going forward to replace the EBM with. Districts are having to make massive budget cuts to budgets already stretched thin.
A discredited State Board of Education, and a State Superintndent with less resources to implement a much larger mission. That mission now includes the Department of Education getting back into the Charter School Sponsorship business - an effort it failed so spectacularly at the first time around it had its authority stripped. Simultaneously the department needs to develop, in short order, merit pay and teacher evaluation systems - where the only collaboration with teachers to date has been an insulting web form. Soliciting ideas form teachers - ideas for a system that already has its framework in place via a budget bill.
Whatever the motives of the Governor, and it does become hard to ascribe genuine values to them, there can be no doubt that his bullrush approach to "reform" has left an environment of mistrust, anger and confusion in its wake. Governor Kasich has a lot of damage to repair, yet there are few signs he intends to do so.
Indeed, by placing himself at the head of the pro-SB5 campaign, a campaign that will undoubtedly cast further aspersions upon teachers, is unlikely to prove beneficial anytime soon.