Eric Hanushek to Ohio lawmakers: Education policies must incentivize achievement

Last week, economist and education
policy expert Eric Hanushek testified in a joint meeting of the Ohio House and Senate education
committees. His testimony – which focused on the importance of ensuring that
all education policies, including school finance policy, create incentives for
achievement – came less than one week before Gov. Kasich’s budget was introduced.

The most debated education-related
policy changes here in Ohio over the last month have been about Senate Bill 5,
the Buckeye State’s controversial attempt to weaken public sector collective
bargaining in the state. (Terry testified in support of the aims of the teacher personnel provisions
in the bill, not expressly on rolling back collective bargaining rights.)

Hanushek’s presentation helped
reframe the debate in a necessary way: undoing LIFO, or changing teacher salary
schedules, or including value-added data in teachers’ and principals’
evaluations is not about weakening unions but about incentivizing
performance, driving student achievement, and ultimately improving the quality
of Ohio’s future labor force.

Given the highly politicized
environment surrounding the capitol lately, it was good to hear an outside
expert explain the research and remind lawmakers that the need to move toward
achievement-focused policies predates the Midwest’s turmoil over collective
bargaining and will certainly go on long after. Hanushek explained:

As important as the fiscal issues that motivate current
discussions are – they are actually secondary in my mind to other policy
concerns about our schools, although we shall see that there is also overlap.
The current fiscal situation is pushing us to make a variety of responses. We
should first respond to these pressures in ways that improve the system. But,
second, we need to recognize that – even if the fiscal situation of Ohio
improves – there are fundamental reforms that are needed.

His testimony included several
policy recommendations:

  • Maintain a strong system of standards, assessment, and
    accountability
    . This is one area that Ohio
    especially needs to pay attention to. Hanushek called for more data and
    transparency, and noted the importance of looking at value-added as well
    as absolute achievement data (both are valuable).
  • Empower local decision making. Hanushek noted that it’s “insane” to think that
    Columbus can run all of Ohio’s 600+ school districts and 300+ charter
    schools. What works well in one setting doesn’t always translate to
    another, and he was even hesitant to identify a “state or district doing
    it well” (asked by one lawmaker) – though he alluded to Washington, DC,
    and Florida.
  • Reward success.
    Many current policies don’t reward success and so we shouldn’t be
    surprised when the variable we reward drives people’s behavior (attaining
    master’s degrees and credentials, rather than pursuing improvements to
    classroom effectiveness). Policies at all levels of the K-12 system need
    to be overhauled to incentivize the right things.
  • Create meaningful evaluations. Hanushek praised Washington, DC, for its IMPACT
    evaluation system. Ohio lawmakers have yet to introduce details pertaining
    to a new teacher evaluation system that would adequately distinguish
    varying levels of effectiveness. Getting rid of LIFO is a good first step
    but Ohio has a ways to go toward creating a rigorous, fair, multi-tiered
    evaluation system that measures and rewards effectiveness.
  • Fund schools rationally and equitably. If we are to hold schools accountable, of course we
    need to fund them sufficiently, Hanushek argued. But “if the discussion
    starts and stops with discussions of the proper weight for this or that,
    you will have lost.”

Read his full testimony here.

Eric Hanushek’s visit to Ohio was
made possible by the generous support of the Cleveland Foundation, Diggs Family
Foundation, Farmer Family Foundation, Fordham Institute, George Gund
Foundation,  Mathile Family Foundation, Nord Family Foundation, and the
Lovett and Ruth Peters Foundation.

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