Today, Gov. John Kasich laid out his modest education reform proposals, with zero property tax relief to help districts accomplish them, despite an estimated large source of revenue coming from fracking.
State leaders are still waiting for the elephant in the room -- the Cleveland Plan -- to coalesce and develop into the major reform package Kasich is seeking. Kasich developed a separate sheet on that Plan, and he urged legislators to adopt it as is from Mayor Frank Jackson. The fact sheet was actually developed by Jackson's office, not Kasich's.
There were a few surprises. First of all, his call for digital learning standards did not refer to eSchool standards (which should be developed in the next year and were developed first in 2003 but never adopted); they referred instead to the development of so-called "blended learning environments" -- the same things former Education Czar Robert Sommers infamously claimed could handle student-teacher ratios of 50:1. There is little question about blended learning's potential to improve student achievement, especially if constructivist models are used. However, if they are used simply to reduce the need for teachers by driving up ratios, then they are less effective.
In addition, Gov. Kasich is to be commended for recognizing that it's difficult for administrators to handle evaluating teachers as many times as he would like. However, his answer is not to provide state support to help administrators with the function; it is to outsource the teacher evaluations, which could lead to a huge new opportunity for groups to come into Ohio and evaluate teachers with whom they have zero experience working and don't know at all. This is another blow for taxpayer control of the education system they are paying for.
He also recommended the creation of interventions to head off kids who aren't on schedule to complete reading by fourth grade, with a guarantee that they wouldn't be allowed to advance in grades if they don't. He cited evidence that being behind in reading can lead to greater dropout rates, which is true. Having lower student:teacher ratios in the K-3 grades can more than double graduation rates for economically disadvantaged kids too, but that peer-reviewed research wasn't included in Gov. Kasich's plan. In either case, there will be no property tax relief provided by the state for districts to do this new programming, which means it will be another unfunded mandate that local districts will have to cut services or raise taxes to implement.
Kasich is also to be commended for developing dropout recovery standards (which have been sitting on a dusty shelf since their development in 2005), but it is unclear whether the performance measures he suggests using are going to be driven low enough that most dropout recovery schools will remain open. Again, it's not clear from the outline whether Kasich will adopt the 2005 standards or ignore those and develop his own, but the 2005 standards are not mentioned in his fact sheet.
Kasich's plan calls for student assessments and student growth to be used in the measuring (likely performance index and value-added measurements) of dropout recovery success. One would think graduation rates should play a role in the evaluation of dropout recovery schools. After all, isn't the goal of dropout recovery schools to graduate kids?
All in all, the cost of this modest reform package, despite its limited scope, still will be borne by local property taxpayers. That is, perhaps, its greatest short coming, especially considering how much additional revenue could be had for property tax relief if the state simply charged oil and gas companies what Texas does for extracting our natural resources.
The House Finance & Appropriations Committee will begin hearings on these new measures (set to be delivered in several bills) tomorrow. Stay tuned.