National education leaders speak to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee
Last week, Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett and former Commissioner of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (and the Fordham Institute’s Ohio committee chair) David Driscoll spoke to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee about education reforms in their respective states.
The Buckeye State is in the midst of its biennial budget debate, and with the budget bill now on the Senate table, state senators were eager to hear from two leading education practitioners who’ve traveled the road to reform before. And that road is a rough one; neither Bennett nor Driscoll minced words about Ohio’s financial challenges, the pushback lawmakers and policymakers will receive along the way, and the difficulty of achieving and sustaining comprehensive, statewide reform.
The good news for Ohio is that we’re not alone in pursuing bold reforms such as those embedded in HB 153. Bennett’s and Driscoll’s testimonies reaffirmed that the state is on the right track when it comes to school reform.
Bennett conveyed a sense of urgency around his agenda in Indiana, and much of what he described about the Hoosier State’s comprehensive education reform package sounds very similar to what has been proposed or is already in place in Ohio:
- a value-added growth model, and A-F letter grades for schools;
- plans to revamp the lowest one percent of district schools (though Ohio is proposing reconstituting or closing the lowest five percent);
- a move toward lifting caps on charter schools and expanding choice through a tax credit scholarship;
- a move away from LIFO and automatic salary increases and toward performance-based decision making (informed by rigorous teacher evaluations);
- collective bargaining reform (focuses contract negotiations primarily on salaries and benefits).
Bennett challenged Ohio lawmakers to learn from Indiana’s experience. As the Hannah Report wrote:
[Bennett] said reform starts by "acknowledging the mess" of disparate school data that doesn't add up, offering Indiana as an example: 42 cents of every education dollar does not go to classroom instruction; 25,000 students attend underperforming schools; only 75 percent of students graduate; and 99 percent of all teachers are rated "effective" by their principals. "I think that's a statistical impossibility," he said of the 99 percent figure. I think there are teachers who need to be removed from the classroom. I think there are good teachers who can get better.... If you find a similar study, you will find a similar mess here in Ohio.
Indeed, there are several themes from Bennett’s description of efforts in Indiana that Ohio would do well to borrow:
- A performance-based compensation system that goes beyond the traditional definition of “merit.” Ohio’s proposed system would allow districts to pay more for teachers in shortage areas or subjects and for taking on larger class sizes, and also aims to pay $50 per student making more than a year’s worth of growth. Indiana will reward teachers in similar fashion but also for mentorship and leadership roles, which builds professionalism and a sense of mobility and opportunity in the profession. Indiana also will leave seniority and credentials in place (as 33 percent of the sum) which is reasonable, at least in the interim before more performance data are available.
- Strong accountability for voucher-receiving schools. These private schools must test all students and be rated on the same A-F school as public district and charter schools, and will lose vouchers if they’re consistently rated poorly.
- A clear vision to communicate reforms to educators, achieve buy-in, and dispel myths from the outset. Bennett described the need to cut misinformation off at the pass. He and his team met with more than 38,000 teachers statewide, communicated via email and social networking sites weekly as reforms were being shaped, and formed an “education reform cabinet” made up of teachers through which to vet ideas.
David Driscoll’s testimony was equally powerful, in part because he sits on the opposite side of the political aisle yet agreed with Bennett on most matters, and in part because Massachusetts has experienced wild success (compared to other states) in terms of ensuring a rising student achievement tide for all students.
As the Hannah Report contrasted the two in its coverage:
Bennett… is a Republican and Driscoll, from the Boston area, is a Democrat, but both called for high performance standards for students, teachers and school administrators alike, with clear professional rewards based on merit rather than seniority or continuing education at teacher colleges. They also agreed on the need for educational options and said outside committee that the profit motive is not a valid argument against private school operators, as long as they produce academic results.
Driscoll, who was the commissioner of education for eight years (1999-2007), pointed to Massachusetts’ Education Reform Act of 1993 as the key impetus for change. That legislation lifted expectations for students (in the form of more rigorous academic standards, cut scores for proficiency, and graduation requirements); educators (in the form of content-area testing and accountability); and schools/districts (requiring a disaggregation of student data and transparent reporting).
Perhaps his most compelling argument came in the form of a response to Democratic Sen. Smith, who asked a question about non-school circumstances affecting learning (“social issues,” “family issues,” “learning disabilities”), and how these play into the education reforms Driscoll and Bennett were proposing.
Driscoll’s response was kind but unyielding. As Gongwer News Service captured:
Mr. Driscoll said one can compare schools with similar demographics and some will get better results than others. "Therefore, I think people who talk about these issues shouldn't stop with those issues.”
"That's the first set of facts. The second set of facts is what are we going to do about it?" he said. "The attitude of, well look at what we face, that is not the way professional educators should go about it."
You can see Tony Bennett’s full presentation here. David Driscoll did not provide written remarks.
Tony Bennett’s and David Driscoll’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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