Consistency around performance needed in Ohio budget debate

Consistency in public policy is hard to come by. Special interests, ideology, and ignorance of issues (manipulated by lobbyists and other interested parties) all collide and compete for life in the cosmic swirl of the legislative process. There is a distinct lack of consistency around education policy in the competing budgets drafted by the Ohio House and Senate that could be remedied if each body could focus its proposals around issues of performance.

In its version of the state budget (HB 153), the Ohio House put forth legislative language on teacher effectiveness that is some of the most progressive in the country. It would connect measures of pupil academic growth to teachers and further connect teacher effectiveness to key personnel decisions. Teachers would be rated, in part, on the academic performance of their students over time, and they would receive ratings according to four tiers ??? highly effective, effective, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory.

With a fair and rigorous system that measures gradations of teacher effectiveness using state assessment data, expert and peer evaluations, building- and district-level performance metrics, and even student evaluations, school systems can make smarter personnel decisions. They can reward their ablest instructors and put them in the classrooms where they are most needed, target support for teachers who warrant it and weed out those who are not a good fit for the profession. Layoffs can be based on performance instead of solely on seniority. These improvements would upgrade teacher effectiveness over time as they focus on what teachers ultimately contribute to student outcomes.

The House language is right per teacher effectiveness because it focuses squarely on performance. Unfortunately, the House got charter school policy wrong because, there, it focused on everything but performance and accountability. In short, the House charter language would make it easier for for-profit school operators to function without oversight. The House language would neuter both governing boards and authorizers of their oversight responsibilities and authority and give operators carte blanche authority over virtually all school decisions. Further, it would exempt these schools from compliance with accountability requirements like annual testing.?? The House would create a new class of schools ??? corporate private schools funded directly by the state and free of all state accountability requirements. Under this new corporate school model student performance would matter not one iota, nor could it even be measured and reported.

The Senate took the budget language it received from the House and sought to fix it by purging the parts that dismantled anything to do with charter school performance. Further, it built on Governor Kasich's initial budget proposals that tried to find a balance between expanding school choice and ensuring that both charter schools and their authorizers are ultimately held accountable for their performance. The Senate language sets performance expectations for authorizers to open new schools. Specifically, a new school can be opened only if at least 80 percent of its current portfolio of schools does not rank in the bottom five percent of schools for academic performance.

Charter schools, by their very definition, enter into a performance contract (a charter) with a sponsoring organization that acts as a quality control agent. If the school fails to live up to its contract, its sponsor can revoke the charter or choose not to renew it. The Senate version of HB153 would maintain and strengthen the charter model in Ohio because it focuses on performance and pressures sponsors to do more about it.??

But, while the Senate got charter schools right, it got teacher effectiveness language wrong ??? by deleting it entirely from the budget. If the House language doesn't make it back into HB 153 then Ohio's law defaults back to teacher effectiveness being equated with meaningless inputs like paper credentials, certificates, and length of service rather than actual classroom performance and impact on student achievement. As with charters in the House, it looks as if politics trumped matters of performance when it came to Senate decision making per the issue of teacher effectiveness.

The current budget situation is messy. It somehow has to be resolved between now and the end of the month when the budget is to be finalized and signed into law by Governor Kasich. Most of the heavy lifting is apt to take place in conference committee. If members can focus on issues of performance above issues of politics it would give Ohio not only consistent and fair education policy, but policy that would make Ohio a leader in the move towards performance-based public education.

??-Terry Ryan

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