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Governor's plan poses tough test for schools
Governor's plan poses tough test for schools
By TONY LANGE
Reading guarantees, school performance and third-party teacher evaluations were among the education reforms outlined last month in Ohio Gov. John Kasich's mid-biennium review.
Education and workforce training are inextricably linked, Gov. Kasich said in his "Transforming Ohio for Growth" plan, a section of his review.
"Unfortunately, Ohio suffers from a system that can't accurately tell us how well we're really doing," the governor's plan says. "Ohioans deserve an education and training system that works for them. By increasing accountability and creating a more transparent education system, parents can feel more confident about the education their child is receiving."
As state legislators discuss Gov. Kasich's education initiatives, school boards, administrators and teachers from across the state are waiting on what the Ohio General Assembly will adopt as law and how much funding it will provide.
Meanwhile, local school superintendents are speaking their minds.
More than a decade ago, a proposal aimed at requiring fourth-graders to pass the state reading exam in order to reach fifth grade sparked opposition from parents and school administrators and never reached the classroom.
In his review last month, Mr. Kasich recycled that plan as a third-grade reading guarantee that would require school districts to provide remediation, including summer school, and retain struggling students.
Kenston School Superintendent Robert A. Lee said the third-grade reading guarantee is something that has been tried before, and he's surprised the governor is bringing that concept back.
"There isn't much research out there that shows retention has any type of academic value to improving that student," Dr. Lee said. "It actually works in a negative way in that I think there's a great chance of dropouts if you do retentions."
Motivating his third-grade reading guarantee initiative, Mr. Kasich's plan cited a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization based in Baltimore, which found one in six youngsters who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school "on time," a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
That is different from Mr. Kasich's statement that non-proficient third-grade readers are four times more likely to "drop out." The research also found poverty to be the driving force in non-proficient third-grade readers, which the governor's plan does not mention.
Solon School Superintendent Joseph V. Regano said he understands the concept, "but the problem is there's no data that kids retained because of this do better. If they want to do it, I understand it. The question is, who pays for that additional year?"
Part of the retention initiative would require schools to develop a reading intervention and monitoring plan for struggling students in kindergarten through second grade.
West Geauga School Superintendent Thomas Diringer said that's why Mr. Kasich's guarantee is conceptually better than the failed fourth-grade guarantee. "I think it's a better way to approach it than the fourth-grade guarantee, which seemed to be dropped on everyone," he said. "Not that there aren't some issues in the details, but I think it's something that districts have a chance to at least work at over several years."
Current law requires teachers to undergo two classroom observations per year, but most school administrators don't have the time to conduct all teacher evaluations, Mr. Kasich said in his review. "By setting up a system that allows for credentialed third-party evaluators, school administrators will now have more time to manage their school effectively."
Teachers, therefore, could be determined ineffective by someone completely outside the school district, Mr. Regano said. Solon school administrators have the time to evaluate every teacher, every year, he said.
"To bring in third-party people that don't understand the community and direction of the district, I think we're going to be arguing over this subject," Mr. Regano said. "Why would the teachers listen to what I have to say if I'm not the one evaluating them? For the state to go out and get independent evaluators and add more costs makes no sense to me."
A principal's primary role is to lead the instruction process, West Geauga's Dr. Diringer said.
"If you have people involved in that evaluation process, you're taking the principals out of a critical part of that, which lies in the face of good education practice," he said. "I would prefer that principals are freed up to do more teacher evaluations and let other people manage the environment like schedule things, deal with student discipline, etc., but I don't necessarily see that happening either. This is problematic not just for teachers and teacher unions but administration in school districts."
Based on outdated measures that only rate schools based on minimum competence, too many districts were labeled "excellent" in state reports last year, according to Mr. Kasich's review.
"By integrating a new formula that assigns grades A-F to all public schools and school districts, we will be able to provide a better understanding for parents of how their child's school is performing and where it can improve its performance," he said in the review.
Kenston's Dr. Lee said the rating system hasn't been good for several years.
"It's been very confusing, and you have people passing all the standards rated less than people passing less of the standards, and it's almost sending a mixed message that it's more important to grow than it is to pass standards," he said. "They need to make sure their report card doesn't become part of a political process that they back into the results they want and then they design the criteria."
If the new rating system is implemented, very few school districts would receive an A, and it would basically make schools look like they're not doing as good as a job as before, when, in reality, the governor is simply changing the determination of what's excellent and what isn't, Dr. Diringer said.
"It's going to create some problems even in good school districts like ours. There will be that perception that we're not doing a very good job in the eyes of some," he said. "We're basically being told professionally where it comes across as you've met these standards, we've continued to raise these standards, but, oh, now we're going to change the terminology, and you're not nearly as effective as you thought you were. It's really kind of unfortunate," Dr. Diringer said.
"But it's part of the political environment in which we live today."
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