Education plays big in Kasich’s revamp for Ohio

WKSU - March 16, 2012

Ida Lieszkovsky
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Third-grade reading mandate and independent teacher evaluations play big in the governor’s new plans  

The program would monitor students’ reading abilities, and require an intervention if they aren’t reading at grade level.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 Gov. Kasich’s third-grade reading guarantee.

 “But if they can’t read at the third-grade level, we’re not going to move them to the fourth grade,” Kasich says. “That is doing the children a disservice, that is doing the parents a disservice.”

Not the first time to try it 
In fact, about 12 years ago, Ohio tried to launch a similar program for fourth graders that never made it into classrooms.

 “The Ohio supreme court found it to be an unfunded mandate,” says Piet van Lier with Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning think tank.  “That fourth-grade guarantee, not much came from it, 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.  Here’s Kasich again.

 “We want parents to understand exactly how their schools are doing and at the same time we intend to raise the standards.”

Part of Race to the  Top 
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.

Kasich also wants to expand blended learning – that is mixing in-class lectures with online courses.

And he’s 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 would perform some of those performance reviews instead of peers and school officials.

Teachers say proper evaluations take time
That’s not going over so well with the teacher unions.

Melissa Cropper is president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. She says she 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.

This week, Gov. John Kasich said everywhere he looks in Ohio he finds something else to fix. So it’s no surprise that his mid-biennial budget review includes a lengthy list of  policy changes on energy, banks and taxes. StateImpact Ohio’s Ida Lieszkovszky reports that many of the items on that list also touch on Ohio’s schools.

 “What aggravates me is we say these evaluations are important – and I believe they’re important – but at the same time our adminstrators don’t have the time to do it.
“If they’re that critical, we need to make sure they’re done properly, that we’re not just outsourcing them for somebody else to do, but that we make it a priority for our administrators or for other people within our schools.”

Cleveland gets a special push
Kasich also used his mid-budget review to make a pitch for the 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 Boards Association says not all policy change has to come with extra cash.

 “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 does propose some dollars and cents in his budget review. Ohio’s colleges and universities would get the $400 million they requested for construction projects, plus $675 million for K-12 construction.

Education plays big in Kasich’s revamp for Ohio

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