Governors Walker and Kasich Starve School Budgets, Redefine Education as Workforce Prep

In his fine book, The One Percent Solution, Gordon Lafer describes the red-state wave that occurred in the November 2010 election: “In January 2011, legislatures across the country took office under a unique set of circumstances.  In many states new majorities rode to power on the energy of the Tea Party ‘wave’ election and the corporate-backed Red Map campaign.  Critically, this new territory included a string of states running across the upper Midwest from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, that had traditionally constituted labor strongholds.  In addition, this was the first class of legislators elected under post-Citizens United campaign finance rules, and the sudden influence of unlimited money in politics was felt across the country.” (The One Percent Solution, p. 44)

Scott Walker became the Governor of Wisconsin in January of 2011, just as John Kasich became Governor of Ohio, and both states became Republican trifecta states, with both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office controlled by Republicans.  Walker and Kasich continue as governors of their respective states, though Ohio’s term limits will sideline John Kasich after 2018.  Tax slashing— with disastrous implications for public colleges and universities, among the many services of state government—has characterized both governors’ terms.  Although we might imagine that the programmatic needs of each state’s essential public institutions drive state budgeting, years of austerity in Ohio and Wisconsin are now reshaping what have in the past been thought of as essential public institutions.

A report late last summer from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) describes “a lost decade in higher education funding,” in which “state cuts have driven up tuition and reduced quality.”  CBPP reports that Ohio’s funding for its public universities has fallen 15.2 percent since 2008—a drop of $1,073 per student when adjusted for inflation.  Wisconsin is omitted from CBPP’s charts and tables because, “Wisconsin state lawmakers changed the funding model for Wisconsin’s Technical College system, shifting support from the local property tax to state General Purpose Revenue.”  But, “Excluding this shift, per-student funding fell by $1,626 or 24.8 percent, over 2008-2017.”  In both states tuition has risen. “Public colleges and universities also have cut staff and eliminated programs.”

Here is how Gordon Lafer describes severe cuts to Wisconsin’s state university system: “As the economy improved, Wisconsin ended the fiscal year on June 30, 2013, with a surplus of over $750 million. Rather than restoring badly needed services, Walker initiated a new round of tax cuts; eight months later, the state was facing a $2 billion shortfall for the 2015-17 budget cycle. Throughout this period, critical public services remained severely underfunded. By 2014, the state was providing $1,014 less per (K-12) student than it had in 2008…. It’s spending on higher education had been cut by 22 percent over the same period, and in early 2015 Walker announced plans for a 13 percent reduction in funding for the University of Wisconsin system—the largest in the state’s history….” (The One Percent Solution, p. 73)

Ohio’s public universities have also been experiencing a revenue shortage. A year ago, Zach Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio presented legislative testimony on the proposed 2018-19 Ohio biennial budget. Schiller worried about the danger of more tax cuts on top of all the other tax cuts imposed by John Kasich and the legislature since 2011: “For more than a decade, Ohio lawmakers have focused on income tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest at the expense of adequate investment in communities and people.”  Schiller examined the effects of a decade of tax cutting on specific state services including higher education: “College in Ohio remains unaffordable. Nationally, Ohio is ranked 45th highest in college costs with community colleges and public universities costing 11.5 percent and 14.5 percent more than the national average, respectively. We remain $150 million a year below the target for need-based college financial aid…”

Ohio’s Governors Kasich and Wisconsin’s Governor Walker have attacked not only their states’ higher education budgets but also the very ideal of public colleges and universities. In Ohio, Governor Kasich has attempted structural changes intended to turn education into mere workforce preparation.  In September of 2017, Kasich created a 27 member Executive Workforce Board that included no teachers or principals from the state’s local school districts, no leader of a public four-year university, and only two current or former leaders of community colleges. The Akron Beacon Journal‘s Doug Livingston describes a “group… packed with legislators, a couple of county commissioners, a hospital administrator and mostly company executives.”  One idea that Governor Kasich inserted into the 2018-19 state budget (It was later removed after an enormous public outcry.) was a requirement for public school teachers to undertake workplace externships as part of maintaining state teacher certification.  The purpose of the externships was defined: to help teachers “see what it’s like to work outside the classroom so they can better match their students to the needs of local employers.” Kasch’s Office of Workforce Transformation also recommended, though the idea was later deemed unworkable, that each school district’s superintendent appoint three members of the business community to become non-voting members of the district’s school board.

Now in March 2018, Kasich has gone further. In the recently proposed House Bill 512, Governor Kasich and legislative allies seek to subsume into the Governor’s Executive Workforce Board both the responsibilities of the State Board of K-12 Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction along with the Board of Regents of the state universities. Kasich has already virtually demolished the Higher Education Board of Regents by failing to fulfill his responsibility to appoint its members when resignations occur. Here is how the editorial board of the Akron Beacon Journal describes the merger at the heart of HB 512 along with some questions and concerns: “The bill would merge the departments of higher education and education, plus the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation…  The governor did not consult widely or effectively. For one, Paolo DeMaria, the state school superintendent and a logical source for input, was not asked for his thoughts by those putting together the proposal…  The governor already controls two of the three offices that would be merged. The potential exists for having considerable clout with the third, the Department of Education, along with (the) state school board… Yet though the department plays a big and obvious role in the work mission, the governor did not put the state superintendent on the workforce transformation board.  Neither has the governor filled seats on the state Board of Regents overseeing higher education. The nine-member board currently has just two members.”

We’ll see what happens with Ohio’s HB 512.  While there appears to be massive opposition to the governor’s plan, both houses of the legislature are are made up of supermajorities of Kasich allies.  One reason the Governor’s plan to subsume all of education governance into workforce preparation is widely unpopular is that it turns over democratic authority for public education education from a State Board of Education (with eleven of the nineteen members publicly elected) to a Cabinet agency appointed by the governor.  Governor Kasich’s plan is also unpopular because many understand education as more than job training, both at the elementary and high school levels and also in the state’s universities.

While Ohio’s Governor Kasich has tried to shift the state’s approach to education through governance changes without explicitly denying the relevance off the humanities and the social sciences, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has been far more blunt in his attack on a well rounded college education.  Back in 2015,  Walker’s 2016-17 budget proposal included not only a 13 percent cut in funding for the University of Wisconsin system, but—right in the budget bill—Walker inserted language to change the University’ historic mission statement, known as the Wisconsin Idea, a formal definition of the purpose of education that has been part of state law for over a century.

In the Washington Post last Thursday, Valerie Strauss published the Wisconsin Idea that Walker tried unsuccessfully to re-write: “The mission of the system is to develop human resources, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional, and technological expertise and a sense of purpose. Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition.  Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

Strauss reminds readers about exactly how Walker tried to rewrite the Wisconsin Idea in the state budget bill—“dropping ‘search for truth’ and ‘improve the human condition’ and replacing them with ‘meet the state’s workforce needs.'”

While Wisconsin’s governor was not able to get his new “workforce” definition of education substituted for the Wisconsin Idea, today, due partly to budget cuts passed by Walker and the state legislature, one of the University of Wisconsin’s campuses faces a radical redefinition of its mission and re-shaping of its course offerings.  On March 5, 2018, leaders of one of the University’s branches, the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, announced they faced a $4.5 million deficit. Strauss explains: “In 2015, Gov. Scott Walker… successfully sought from the legislature a $250 million cut from the tuition-reliant university system—an 11 percent reduction. That was on top of funding cuts in the hundreds of millions of dollars during the previous decade. Legislators also removed the principles of tenure and shared school governance from state law, thus giving administrators more power to lay off tenured faculty and unilaterally make decisions in which faculty and students once participated.”

Strauss reports that now in 2018, a new plan at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point eliminates 13 majors in the liberal arts—the humanities and social sciences.  Majors being terminated are American studies, art, English, French, geography, geoscience, German, history, music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology, and Spanish.  The University will continue to offer some classes in these disciplines along with a teacher certification program that incorporates courses in some of these areas.

As the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point eliminates majors in the liberal arts, it is adding  all kinds of career-driven new majors. The hope is to attract tuition-paying students to majors that appear to lead directly to employment: chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, finance, fire science, graphic design, management and marketing, aquaculture, captive wildlife ecosystem design and remediation, environmental engineering, geographic information science, master of business administration, master of natural resources and doctor of physical therapy.

Without a major in philosophy, it is less likely that anyone at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point will be aware of the warning from John Dewey, perhaps America’s most famous philosopher of education, and someone who cared very much about the role of education for shaping democratic citizens.  In a Pedagogic Creed written in 1897 Dewey defines what ought to be the included in our schools and universities and the danger of the kind of job-specific training Scott Walker and John Kasich are pushing: “The only possible adjustment which we can give to the child under existing conditions is that which arises through putting him in complete possession of all his powers. With the advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now.  Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions.  To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently.”


Ohio Governor and Legislature Threaten to Quash Democracy in Education Governance and Oversight

Ohio’s Governor John Kasich likes to have full control. And he views education pretty much as a tool for his highest priority: workforce development. Ohio’s economy persists in lagging, and Kasich seems to believe that if he can seize more control of education, that might be the answer. (The essential question of whether education has other purposes besides workforce development—preparing thoughtful citizens—developing critical thinking and imagination—nurturing appreciation for literature and the arts—will have to wait for a future blog post.)  Governor Kasich and his close partners in the legislature are pushing House Bill 512 to consolidate several departments that have education in their portfolios and remove power from Ohio’s 19 member State Board of Education, which Kasich already partially controls through the 8 members appointed by him. The other 11 are elected from districts across the state. The plan would also eliminate the State Board-appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction.

There is some mystery about the Governor’s intense advocacy for HB 512, because term limits ensure that he will no longer be the governor after voters elect a new governor in November.  Even if Kasich can consolidate power for all of the state’s educational functions into one super cabinet-level department in Columbus, he won’t any longer be the governor, and he won’t have any power over his new agency.

Here is how the editorial board of the Akron Beacon Journal describes the merger at the heart of HB 512 along with some questions and concerns: “The bill would merge the departments of higher education and education, plus the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation…  The governor did not consult widely or effectively.  For one, Paolo DeMaria, the state school superintendent and a logical source for input, was not asked for his thoughts by those putting together the proposal…  The governor already controls two of the three offices that would be merged. The potential exists for having considerable clout with the third, the Department of Education, along with (the) state school board… Yet though the department plays a big and obvious role in the work mission, the governor did not put the state superintendent on the workforce transformation board.  Neither has the governor filled seats on the state Board of Regents overseeing higher education. The nine-member board currently has just two members.”

A political fight over HB 512 has been taking place in packed hearing rooms in Columbus, as Kasich allies argue for more efficiency, and opponents protest another theft of democracy, following an earlier education efficiency plan rammed through the legislature in the middle of a summer night in 2015—the Youngstown (and now Lorain) school takeover.  The Youngstown Plan designed and delivered by Kasich and his allies puts an appointed “academic distress commission” (ADC) in charge of running Ohio’s poorest and lowest scoring school districts and an appointed CEO responsible to the ADC and the state. The elected local school board continues to exist, but only in an advisory role.

The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell describes the arguments being made by both sides around the governor’s 2018, HB 512 plan to consolidate the Ohio Department of Education, the Higher Education Board of Regents, and Workforce Transformation: “A bill to create that merger, which would also wipe out about 80 percent of the power of the state school board and give it to the governor, has drawn some support but also a backlash from educators and the public… Backers of the plan say combining the three will give students a smoother path to learning skills they need for jobs and a promising future. By eliminating the ‘silos’ of the three departments, they say, the state can lessen an ongoing problem of graduates lacking the right skills for available jobs and employers struggling to find people with those changing skills… But a wave of opponents say that placing the combined departments under the control of the governor, who would appoint the head of the new department, would take away the voice of voters to guide education policy… Though the (state school) board would remain in place, as mandated by the state constitution, it would lose policy-making power, the ability to hold hearings on changes and the right to make department officials answer questions publicly about their work.”

Ohio’s state board of education would continue to exist, but would lose all power apart from overseeing teacher licensure and investigating educator misconduct. One of its most prominent roles currently is its power to appoint the state superintendent of public instruction.  For the record, on Tuesday, members of the state board of education voted 11-4 to oppose HB 512.

As the raucous and packed hearings in Columbus continue, there is growing suspicion that the fight is really about politics, not policy—about political payback.  Kasich didn’t oppose the state board of education after it affirmed his own choice, Dick Ross, several years ago for state superintendent. Ross was forced to resign in November 2015, after it was discovered that an official in his Department of Education had lied on a federal Charter Schools Program application—claiming that Ohio had cracked down on charter school sponsors and charters that were academically failing or financially unsound.  In fact no such law had been passed, although at the time the legislature was considering improving the oversight of charter schools.  After Ross’s resignation, members of the state board of education voted unanimously to appoint State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, who has operated more independently and who has seemed to listen to complaints from the public about over-testing and the state report cards.

The Columbus Dispatch‘s, Catherine Candisky reports that Governor Kasich and State Superintendent DeMaria have not been on speaking terms. While both men, through their spokespersons, claim they have a cordial working relationship, Candisky adds that Kasich neither asks for guidance on K-12 education from DeMaria nor has Kasich appointed DeMaria to the Governor’s Executive Workforce Board, though DeMaria “has sought to be more involved ” and has requested such an appointment.

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and his Ohio Department of Education were also involved in the investigation that eventually closed the notorious Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.  Superintendent DeMaria refused to stop the investigation, despite pressure from legislators who had received huge campaign contributions from ECOT’s founder, William Lager.  At the end, the Ohio Department of Education participated actively in cracking down on the huge online school that overcharged the state during two recent school years (2015-16 and 2016-17), according to Ohio Department of Education calculations, by $80 million for phantom students.

Innovation Ohio’s Stephen Dyer believes HB 512 is really driven by retribution: “As Kasich recently told a forum last month: ‘What I really want… I want to be able to run the Department of Education… I don’t think we should have this elected board.’   Whatever the backroom dealings, it’s clear that Kasich is pushing HB 512 to punish the department for something, or some things.  One is clearly the board and superintendent’s role in closing down the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow…. But it appears that Kasich’s indifference to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction may have additional roots in DeMaria’s unanimous selection as Superintendent by the State Board.”

HB 512 is not the only symptom of problems with Kasich’s autocratic theory of school management. Big problems are emerging with the state-driven Youngstown takeover, Kasich’s pet 2015 project.  Three members of the school district’s  five-member, appointed Academic Distress Commission have resigned in the past two weeks. And the appointed CEO, Krish Mohip, has been openly seeking a job as school superintendent in Boulder, Colorado. Mohip has publicly explained that, after instances of vandalism at his house, he believes he cannot bring his family to live in Youngstown.  The Ohio Department of Education, given overall responsibility of the state’s Youngstown takeover district, has now appointed John Richard, the state’s deputy state superintendent, to Youngstown’s Academic Distress Commission.

It should not be surprising that citizens of Youngstown remain unhappy about the state takeover of their public schools. Mohip’s lack of sensitivity as an appointed outside overseer is a symptom of what can go wrong when efficient management rather than democracy is the priority.  Not only did Mohip insult the community by declaring it unfit for his family, but speaking about the 2015 takeover that made the locally elected school board a mere advisory body, he recently told Youngstown: “I am disappointed the board (of education) and community members haven’t gotten over that House Bill 70 (the state takeover) is here… It’s about building sustainability and a sustainable future for this district, and I feel we have a solid system in place.”

I wonder if Mohip has taken the trouble to build consensus within the community for the “solid system” Mohip says is now in place?

Presidential Candidate John Kasich: Delusional about Public Education Issues

Republicans have hardly been discussing education policy at all in this bizarre Presidential race, but last week in the Thursday night debate, Ohio’s governor, John Kasich lavished praise upon himself for what he believes are his accomplishments in reforming education. He also addressed something he clearly knows little about—the plight of Detroit’s schools.  Kudos to two reporters who jumped right in to expose the flaws in his arguments.

Kasich bragged about how school reform has led to the rebirth of Cleveland.  Many people would be surprised to view Cleveland as reborn.  It was  described in the NY Times last week by a new group of researchers to be the poorest large city in the United States. Whether one slices and dices the statistics the way these researchers do—calling Cleveland or Detroit the poorest—one thing is clear: neither Cleveland nor its school district has had a rebirth.

Plain Dealer education reporter, Patrick O’Donnell notes in his report on the Republican debate that Kasich bragged: “The African American Democrat mayor, the union, and business leaders came to see me and said, ‘Would you help us to pass legislation to really create a CEO environment so that we can take control of the schools?'” O’Donnell corrects Kasich’s memory of his own central role: “Cleveland has had a CEO—not a superintendent—as head of the district since 1998.  That’s when former mayor Mike White hired Barbara Byrd-Bennett (recently indicted in Chicago after heading the schools there) as the first CEO, following the state legislature voting in 1997 to place the district under mayoral control.  Kasich was chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee at the time.'”

O’Donnell explains that the Cleveland Teachers Union was not involved in the implementation of a “portfolio school reform” transformation plan in 2012 for the Cleveland District—a plan designed by the Boston Consulting Group and underwritten with a grant from the Cleveland Foundation. O’Donnell chides Kasich for misremembering: “While Mayor Frank Jackson, a black Democrat, and business leaders were behind creating the plan, the teachers union was not.  The union never ‘came to’ the governor seeking help, but was angry at being left out of the creation of the plan.”  When he heard Kasich’s comment in Thursday’s debate, CTU President David Quolke is reported by O’Donnell to have declared: “That’s an outright lie. That did not occur.” O’Donnell continues: “When Jackson announced his plan early in 2012, he had never consulted the union. That sparked weeks of long and tense negotiations between teachers, the mayor and city leaders about how teacher pay, duties, and layoff rules would be changed.”

As to Kasich’s debate claim that “Cleveland’s coming back. The Cleveland schools are coming back because of a major overhaul,” O’Donnell responds, “That’s still to be determined.”  The district was able to pass a school levy after the plan was introduced, but that levy must be renewed by voters next November, and the mass of Cleveland’s traditional public schools, including the city’s flagship high schools, are suffering from lack of investment.  Kasich and his all-Republican legislature have determinedly cut state funding for education during his term.

And on Friday, right after Kasich bragged about the transformation of Cleveland’s schools, O’Donnell reported: “The Cleveland Teachers Union had an overwhelming vote this week of ‘no confidence’ in school district CEO Eric Gordon and his understanding of issues facing students and teachers… The union said that of 3,153 members who voted this week, 97.3 percent voted ‘no confidence.'”  Under CEO Gordon, the district has withdrawn from ongoing contract negotiations with the Cleveland Teachers Union.

During Thursday night’s debate when he was asked about the current crisis in Detroit’s public schools, Kasich demonstrated that he has not been paying attention to what’s been happening in the state next door to Ohio. Seemingly unaware of catastrophic budget problems in a school district where teachers have been protesting rats, leaking roofs, and buckling floors and where the district’s financial crisis is so severe that it may miss a payroll in April, Kasich is described by Emma Brown of the Washington Post switching his response to what he believes are the redeeming qualities of mayoral control, a governance structure that operates in Cleveland but not in Detroit: “Leaving aside the question of whether mayoral control would really be enough to fix Detroit’s problems, there is this fact: Detroit is not under mayoral control.  The city’s schools have been under state-appointed emergency manager for years.”   Brown adds that Governor Rick Snyder’s, “state-appointed emergency manager of the (Detroit) school system was, until a few days ago Darnell Earley.  Earley previously served as the state emergency manager of Flint, Mich., from 2013-2015.  It was during that period that Flint began using the Flint River as its drinking water source, a move that led to elevated lead levels in the water and a public health crisis.”

In fact, last summer in Ohio, Governor Kasich and Beth Hansen—formerly Kasich’s gubernatorial chief-of-staff and now head of his presidential campaign—and her husband David Hansen—formerly head of school choice in the state education department until he was fired for designing a charter school rating system that favored the notorious online charters—worked together to design and fast-track a state takeover plan similar to the one that seems to be failing in nearby Michigan.  In a twenty-four hour period last June, the state takeover of the Youngstown school district and, in the future any school district with persistently low state rankings, was rushed without sufficient hearings through the Ohio legislature.

As Kasich bragged about his education policies in last Thursday’s televised debate, he demonstrated that he is not aware of problems in Michigan caused by exactly the kind of policy he has most recently been pushing through Ohio’s super-majority Republican legislature.  The Kasich brand of school reform is ideological: cut taxes and hence school funding; privatize by expanding charters; impose state takeover of public schools in the poorest cities. Kasich may like to believe his ideas will bring back Cleveland and Youngstown and Lorain, but there are a lot of people in Ohio who don’t believe his self-congratulatory myth.

Extra: More Details on Secret Planning of Ohio Youngstown Takeover

Ohio’s Plunderbund blog continues to release more details about the secret nine-month planning—led by State Superintendent Richard Ross and staff of Governor John Kasich—for the state takeover of the Youngstown schools.

Plunderbund is releasing details from e-mails it has secured from the Ohio Department of Education, e-mails that document Ross’s leadership of the planning and the intentional strategy of the handful of people involved to keep the scheme a secret until the day in late June when it was introduced, all details in place, as a 66 page amendment to another legislative bill. The plan was passed by both houses of Ohio’s legislature within 24 hours.

Ross did not, Plunderbund reports, share his involvement with the state board of education, the body to which he is accountable.

Extra: Plunderbund Releases More E-mails Confirming Kasich-Ross Role in Youngstown Plan

Ohio’s Plunderbund blog continues to investigate the active involvement of Governor John Kasich and his staff along with the direct involvement of State Superintendent Richard Ross in the nine month negotiations for the state takeover of the Youngstown schools and in the future any district with three years’ of “F”ratings from the state. Plunderbund is examining a long-sought e-mail record to trace the involvement of the state superintendent and the governor, who have claimed for months that Youngstown’s leaders came to them demanding the state’s deeper involvement in running the local schools.  The e-mail record Plunderbund is publishing demonstrates that Kasich and Ross instead came up with the idea and led the planning.

The idea, modeled on what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, was to create in Youngstown an “achievement district” and to turn over particular schools or the entire district to a charter management company, thereby seizing the schools from the control of the elected local school board.  Youngstown’s public schools, in the the heart of Ohio’s rust belt, serve a population of extremely poor students.

Beth Hansen, Kasich’s chief of staff at the time, was involved in the planning.  Her husband, David Hansen, later fired from his job overseeing Ohio’s charter schools at the Ohio Department of Education due to his design of a charter school evaluation plan that favored Ohio’s notorious e-schools and “dropout recovery” charters, wrote the federal charter school grant proposal, later funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to underwrite the Youngstown takeover.

School Policy Fast-Tracked, Kept Secret from State Board of Education in One-Party Ohio

According to the website of the Ohio Department of Education, “The State Board of Education is made up of 19 members – 11 who are elected and eight who are appointed by the governor.”  The website does not list the political affiliation of any of the members because being on the Ohio State Board of Education involves supposedly non-political oversight. The state board appoints and oversees (supposedly) the work of the Dick Ross, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction—also supposedly a non-political position.  Except that in Ohio, a state with one-party government, things don’t work as they are supposed to.  Power is wielded by the Republican governor and huge Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Patrick O’Donnell, who is to be commended for becoming a whiz investigative reporter on the abuses of public education by those in charge in Columbus, broke another story in yesterday’s Plain Dealer about how power works as policy is set around our state’s public education. O’Donnell reports that the new plan that was fast-tracked through the legislature for the Youngstown schools and, in the future, other struggling school districts—a plan that resembles Michigan’s emergency manager plan and the kind of state-oversight school districts that operate in Louisiana and Tennessee—was designed with the active involvement of Ohio’s state school superintendent Dick Ross, but that Dick Ross kept the evolving plan a secret from the state board of education that appointed him and to whom he reports.  Members of the state board, particularly the Democrats, are furious. This was all in the works as members of the state board took a field trip in May to visit schools in Youngstown and consult with educators there about how to support this district—one of Ohio’s poorest.

O’Donnell reports: “State Supt. Dick Ross never told the state school board that he was helping with the secret improvement plan for the Youngstown schools that was rushed through the legislature and was just signed into law.  Even as he offered guidance since late last year.  And even as the board planned, took, and discussed a trip to Youngstown to review how an existing improvement plan was working. Board members said they spent a day visiting schools, talking to parents and school leaders about what was working and what wasn’t, completely unaware that Ross had been working with another group of city leaders there on a plan.  That new plan was amended to HB 70 in a mad dash late last month, blasting from introduction to passage by both Houses of the legislature in a single day without any opportunity for opponents—or even Youngstown’s mayor or school board—to testify about it.  The plan, which will also apply to any other district declared as ‘failing’ and needing state intervention, was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich Thursday.”

A bit of history.  If you follow this blog you may remember that in late June, without prior warning in the middle of a a committee hearing, Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner, chair of Ohio’s Senate Education Committee, introduced a 66 page amendment to establish state takeover of the Youngstown schools by an emergency manager—and takeover in the future of any school district with three years’ of “F” ratings—rendering the elected school board meaningless and abrogating the union contract.  She attached her amendment to a very popular bill designed to support expansion of the number of full-service, wraparound community learning centers in Ohio.  Within hours the bill had passed the Senate, moved to the House for concurrence, and been sent to the Governor for signature.  There was never a full public hearing on the amended bill.  Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, had arrived in the Senate committee room to testify in favor of the bill promoting community learning centers.  When she was informed that Lehner would be amending the bill under discussion with a plan to take over Youngstown’s public schools, Cropper tried to address that issue in her testimony, but was informed that she could not speak to the amendment, which had not yet been offered. After Cropper sat down, the amendment was introduced, and, according to Doug Livingston of the Akron Beacon Journal, “four men in line behind her who had traveled from Youngstown stepped up to give favorable testimony….”

O’Donnell reported yesterday that when questioned by members of the state board about his role in the design of the new Youngstown plan, Superintendent Ross answered: “It came from Youngstown.  I provided assistance.”  “Ross told the board that a group of Youngstown leaders had been working on a plan as far back as eight to ten months ago….”   Mary Rose Oakar, a member of the state board, challenged Ross: “You had an obligation to come to this board and tell us what you were going to do.  You were part of it.”

When the mayor of Youngstown had met with members of the state board when they visited Youngstown in May, he had no idea at that time about the plan that was already being drafted into legislative language.  In June, the amendment introduced by Senator Peggy Lehner was 66 pages long.  Youngstown’s mayor doesn’t buy that the idea was developed and drafted into legislation by people from Youngstown: “I don’t find that to be a reasonable proposition.  It was written by Columbus.”

When questioned at the state board’s June meeting about the amendment she offered to take over the Youngstown school district, State Senator Peggy Lehner confessed where the real power lies.  According to a Hannah Capitol Connections report that is behind a paywall, “Lehner said Gov. John Kasich’s office, not Ross, had reached out to her about moving the proposal in her role as chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.”

O’Donnell reports that those on the state board expressing anger about Ross’s behind-the-scenes work on the Youngstown plan are Democrats.  While it is refreshing to hear the Ohio state board’s Democrats raising questions and expressing anger, it is unlikely that there will be serious repercussions for Ross.  Republicans (including the governor’s eight appointed members) dominate the state board by more than two to one, a very significant margin. Ohio’s State Board of Education is really not a non-partisan body these days.

NYC Scraps 3rd Grade Guarantee As Ohio Adopts It–Based on ALEC Model Law

In September of 2012, according to Ohio’s Plunderbund, Ohio’s then acting state superintendent of public instruction, Michael Sawyers claimed that Ohio’s new 3rd Grade Guarantee will help Ohio’s children.  After all, Governor John Kasich has consistently alleged that children behind in reading by third grade are more likely to drop out of school than stronger readers.

Sawyers extolled the 3rd Grade Guarantee as a dropout prevention program that will primarily support students who have fallen behind in Ohio’s poorest urban school districts.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the percentage of children projected to be held back in third grade at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year across Ohio’s urban districts is:  Youngstown, 59.8 percent; Cleveland, 57.8 percent; East Cleveland, 57.2 percent; Warren, 55 percent; Warrensville Heights, 54.1 percent; Euclid, 52.1 percent; Lorain, 51.3 percent; Columbus, 49.3 percent; and Dayton, 47.7 percent.

Contrary to Kasich’s and Sawyers’ belief that the 3rd Grade Guarantee will lower the dropout rate, this blog has covered a mass of expert research demonstrating that repeating a grade is not only unlikely to improve reading but also very likely to result in students dropping out later as they become over-age in grade during adolescence.

Expert research, however,  hasn’t stopped the American Legislative Exchange Council from developing and distributing across the legislatures of the 50 states model legislation to require that children pass the standardized reading test before they can be promoted to fourth grade.  The Ohio law taking effect in 2014 is a replica of ALEC’s model legislation.  According to Chapter 7, Section 2 (C) of the ALEC model law, “Beginning with the 20XX-20XY school year, if the student’s reading deficiency, as identified in paragraph (a), is not remedied by the end of grade 3, as demonstrated by scoring at Level 2 or higher on the state annual accountability assessment in reading for grade 3, the student must be retained.”

Norm Fruchter is a new member of New York City’s Panel for Educational Policy (New York City’s mayoral-appointed school board) and principal associate at  Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform (located in New York City).  Writing for Gotham Gazette, Fruchter reports that ten years ago, “Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced a new student promotion policy based on retention—holding students back in the 3rd grade based on their New York State test results.  Fruchter reports that Mayor Bloomberg “trumpeted this tough love approach” despite that it “generated a maelstrom of protest.”

According to Fruchter, two years ago, in June of 2012, Mayor Bloomberg and Dennis Walcott, then chancellor, quietly scrapped New York’s 3rd grade retention program by granting “principals discretion to promote 3rd through 7th graders who’d been held back multiple times or were significantly over-age for their grade—a covert admission that the get-tough policy wasn’t working.”

Fruchter celebrates the decision earlier this month by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new Chancellor, Carmen Farina, as this blog covered here, formally to rewrite grade promotion policy by considering “the integrated use of multiple criteria equivalent to an achievement portfolio,” with standardized test scores as only one factor in the decision.  “Thanks to this advance, the New York City school system now has the opportunity not only to restore sanity to promotion/retention decisions, but to tackle the core questions of how best to assess our students’ academic achievement and, most important, how to improve their outcomes.”

I wonder if it will take Ohio’s politicians ten years to recognize the error of the new 3rd Grade Guarantee now being implemented through the adoption of ALEC’s model legislation?



How Ohio’s “Reading” Cut Score Got Set to Determine Who Will Repeat Third Grade

Thanks to Ohio’s Plunderbund blog, we now know how the decision was made to determine how Ohio’s Third Grade Guarantee will work.  This is Governor John Kasich’s plan to require all children reading below grade level at the end of third grade to repeat third grade—to flunk.  This year, the 2013-2014 school year, is the crucial first year of this program.  It is estimated that 10,000 children will repeat third grade in Ohio next fall.

Most of us assume there is something scientific about how the passing score is set for a standardized test, but we see something very different in the audio recordings posted by Plunderbund of the September 11, 2012 regular business meeting of the Ohio State Board of Education at which the Board voted unanimously to set the reading test cut score at 392.  Michael Sawyers, then acting State Superintendent, made a PowerPoint presentation in which he recommends a cut score of 392 (when, he estimates, 10,000 students would be retained in third grade) over a score of 390 (by which he estimates only 8,900 students would be retained).

In the audio clip from the second part of his presentation, you can hear Sawyers explain how children living in Ohio’s urban districts will be far more affected by the Third Grade Guarantee than children in other school districts.  Ohio, he says, has 785 Local Education Agencies (including public and charter school districts) with children in third grade.  According to Sawyers, 72 percent of these Local Education Agencies will have less than 10 students each affected by the Third Grade Guarantee.  One third of the students to be retained attend school in one of 12 urban districts where poverty is concentrated.

In his presentation the acting State Superintendent does not wonder whether poverty itself may be affecting these children’s school achievement; nor does he evaluate other possible ways to help the children who struggle with reading—such as through universal, enriched pre-school—the kind of program documented to help close the achievement gap that is already wide when children enter school at five years of age.

He does add that 19 percent of Ohio’s school districts will have not one student held back by the Third Grade Guarantee, although he neither assigns an income level to these school districts nor acknowledges that they are likely to be Ohio’s wealthiest  districts.  According to yesterday’s Plain Dealer, the percentage of children projected to be held back in third grade across Ohio’s urban districts is:  Youngstown,  59.8 percent; Cleveland, 57.8 percent; East Cleveland, 57.2 percent; Warren, 55 percent; Warrensville Heights, 54.1 percent; Euclid, 52.1 percent; Lorain, 51.3 percent; Columbus, 49.3 percent; and Dayton, 47.7 percent.

Acting Superintendent Sawyers’ assumption is that Ohio’s Third Grade Guarantee is designed to help Ohio’s urban children.  After all, Governor Kasich has consistently pointed out that children behind in reading by third grade are more likely to drop out of school than stronger readers.  Sawyers presents the Third Grade Guarantee as a dropout prevention program.

While it is essential for children to learn to read in the early grades, and while it is known that weak readers struggle all through school, Acting Superintendent Sawyers and Governor Kasich (along with Jeb Bush who invented the idea of a third-grade-reading-guarantee when he was Florida’s governor) are ignoring a significant and conclusive body of research indicating instead that holding children back in any grade—flunking them—is highly correlated with their later dropping out of school.

In 2004, writing for the Civil Rights Project, Lisa Abrams and Walt Haney summarized: “half a decade of research indicates that retaining or holding back students in grade bears little to no academic benefit and contributes to future academic failure by significantly increasing the likelihood that retained students will drop out of high school.” (Gary Orfield, ed., Dropouts in America, pp. 181-182)

In 2002, Harvard researcher Timothy Hacsi points out what Ohio’s acting Superintendent apparently failed to notice: “Perhaps the most telling criticism of the movement to end social promotion is that the alternative stigmatizes and increases the disadvantages already faced by children from low-income families and children of color.” (Children as Pawns, p. 169)

David Berliner and Gene Glass report the research of Kaoru Yamamoto on the emotional impact on children of being held back: “Only two events were more distressing to them: the death of a parent and going blind.” (50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools, p. 96)  Berliner and Glass continue: “Retention simply does not solve the quite real problems that have been identified by teachers looking for a solution to a child’s immaturity or learning problems.” (p 96)

None of this research was apparently presented to the hapless members of Ohio’s State Board of Education. At the end of the acting Superintendent’s PowerPoint presentation at their regular September 11, 2012 meeting, they OK’d his recommendation with a simple unanimous vote.  That is how the seemingly-scientific passing score on the Ohio third-grade reading test got set.  In Cleveland, according to today’s Plain Dealer, that means approximately  1,000 third graders will enter mandatory summer school in hopes they can pass the third grade reading test by the end of the summer and be promoted next fall to fourth grade.