“If I were, not president, but if I were king in America, I would abolish all teachers’ lounges, where they sit together and worry about, ‘Woe is us.’”
Ah, Governor Kasich. There you are.
After watching the first Republican presidential debate, I had briefly wondered whether the John Kasich I knew had taken flight. Amid such candidates as Donald Drumpf and Ted Cruz, you came across as sane, articulate, measured and humane. The man who delivered a thoughtful answer about gay marriage was a person my family, Ohio citizens for 15 years, had rarely glimpsed before.
Now, you’re back in full, bullish form, and the earth is continuing its steady orbit.
Gov. Kasich, I am not sure which teachers made you hate their entire profession. Perhaps a tenth grade algebra teacher made math that much more difficult for you; maybe an English teacher gave you B’s despite your fluency in the language. You may just apply your loathing of unions to every possible group, and teachers, who tend to be union-supporting Democrats, would be among those who irk you the most.
But Gov. Kasich, teachers are not your enemy. The organizations that fight for their fair pay and benefits are not your foes. Teachers would love to work with a government that respects their jobs and livelihoods, their importance in children’s lives and the extraordinary effort they put into improving their work.
Teachers are not, and do not want to be, your enemy. However, increasingly, you are becoming theirs.
I write this as a former Ohio public school student and a reporter for that school’s newspaper. I covered Common Core and the PARCC exams and how both affected teachers and students. I observed firsthand how you, as governor, have attacked public education as if it were a witch in 1692 Salem.
My first introduction to your destructive policies was Ohio Senate Bill 5, Issue 2 of 2011. A freshman at the time, I noticed the “Vote NO on SB5” bumper stickers in the parking lot, the T-shirts teachers wore with the same declaration. The measure, known formally as the Ohio Collective Bargaining Limit Repeal, would have restricted collective bargaining for Ohio’s public employees — not just public school teachers, but firefighters and police officers as well. Had Senate Bill 5 passed, Ohio’s 400,000 public workers could not have collectively bargained for healthcare and pensions anymore; would not have been allowed to strike; and would have had to pay more for pensions and health insurance.
On November 8, 2011, Ohio made its opinion of Senate Bill 5 loud and clear. Nearly 62 percent of voters opposed the bill. A majority of voters supported SB 5 in only five of Ohio’s 88 counties. We avoided your union-axing measures in 2011 not barely, but by a landslide. Senate Bill 5 showed how out of touch you are with public education in Ohio. I wish it was an isolated incident; however, your education philosophies and policies overall have exhibited disregard and disdain for public schools throughout your tenure.
Although 90 percent of Ohio’s students attend traditional public schools, you have cut those schools’ funding by half a billion dollars. At the same time, you have become a vocal, unapologetic advocate for charter schools despite their generally poorer ratings, increasing their funding by at least 27 percent as of July 2015. According to the advocacy group Innovation Ohio, charter schools now receive more public funds from the state per student than traditional public schools, despite the low percentage of Ohio children attending them. Your funding cuts have forced local governments to raise millions of dollars for their schools through high levies, despite your general opposition to raising taxes. My hometown, Shaker Heights, passed a 6.9 mill levy in May 2014 — which our teachers’ union considered “conservative” given how much money our schools need. We pay the highest taxes in the state of Ohio because we care so deeply for our public schools — because we must offset your detrimental budget cuts.
Meanwhile, the charter schools you champion — which enroll only seven percent of Ohio’s public school students — do rank first in one category: public sectors misspending tax dollars. According to a recent article in the Akron Beacon Journal, which reviewed 4,263 audits released in 2014 by the state, Ohio’s charter schools seemed to misspend public money “nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency,” totaling $27.3 million improperly spent since 2001.
That monetary misuse has done nothing to help students. Rather, charter schools have earned state ratings so bad that David Hansen, the Ohio Education Department official responsible for school choice and charter schools, had to tamper with them to save the schools from embarrassment. He resigned in July after admitting he omitted ‘F’ grades from online and dropout recovery schools’ state evaluations. According to Steve Dyer, a former Ohio state representative and current education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, the schools Hansen helped are those “run by the state’s largest political donors.” Clearly, your administration cares more about receiving money than giving it. Under your watch, Hansen prioritized partisan donations over holding schools accountable “for failing to teach kids enough material during the school year” — the designation an ‘F’ evaluation gives.
And besides accepting Hansen’s resignation, you have done nothing to fix that issue. Your promise in December 2014 to overhaul the charter sector and require more oversight has produced nothing — even though Hansen is only part of the problem, and even though the Akron Beacon Journal said charter schools’ misspending could exceed the numbers they found.
As governor of Ohio, you have also at least doubled the number of school vouchers available to students. You began that increase to help poor children escape terrible public schools; however, middle class children from good school districts can now receive vouchers — most of which cover religious schools — as well. The amount of public funds Ohio spends on school vouchers has skyrocketed from $99 million in 2010, the year before you became governor, to more than $200 million in the last school year. As Innovation Ohio noted, because voucher money comes from the funding public schools would otherwise receive, that ginormous jump has come from taxpayers — forced to subsidize religious and private schools instead of the public schools their children attend.
Moreover, you have openly opposed the fact that voters elect some members of the state’s Board of Education — in no small part, I’m sure, because at the beginning of August seven elected board members called for an independent investigation into Hansen’s tampering. Following that request, from six Democrats and only one Republican, you called the board “extremely partisan.”
However, William L. Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding and a former assistant state superintendent, told the Columbus Dispatch that an elected board removes politics from the group.
“The reason the people created the state board was to be a buffer between the superintendent and the governor’s office,” Phillis said. He brought up the issue of the state superintendent of public instruction, currently Richard Ross, whom the board — rather than the governor — hires and fires. “Let’s face it, to whom does Dick Ross report? Does he report to the governor or to an independent state board?”
After recent events, that answer isn’t clear. Without informing or involving the Ohio Board of Education, Ross helped lawmakers rewrite Ohio’s law on academic distress commissions and put it into House Bill 70, an education bill introduced to and passed by both Houses of the legislature in just one day. Although no opposition had time to state their cases — or even knew about the bill — you, Gov. Kasich, signed HB 70 into law July 16.
The new provisions are nearly despotic. HB 70 abolishes local control of schools after three years of failing grades, instead giving one state-appointed person the power to enact policies on pay, employment and charter schools — cutting local school boards, administrations and unions out of the equation. The first, and implicit, target of HB 70 is the Youngstown City School District, which the board had planned to aid through the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission.
As the Plain Dealer pointed out, HB 70 reveals the warped attitude towards public schools and school reform Republicans in Ohio’s statehouse hold.
“School reform is difficult. It requires consensus, lots of public debate and no small amount of trust,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. “But the stealthy legislative steamrolling of the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission shamefully proves that’s not how many Republican members of the Ohio General Assembly or the Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross see it.”
You have not spoken out against Ross’ deceit, Gov. Kasich. Rather, by signing HB 70 into law despite its murky origins, you seem to support it.
So, too, do you support the Common Core State Standards. Admittedly, Common Core is not as diabolical as HB 70 — compared to your Republican peers, you seem moderate because you support it. In truth, however, your staunch advocacy of Common Core provides yet another example of your folly regarding education. I detailed my thorough opposition to the Common Core in a column for my school newspaper in 2014; I won’t reiterate all those points again.
I’ll remind you of a few, though. First off, there are not just categories, but also subcategories and sub-subcategories of standards for English Language Arts, not to mention the 10 standards each that schools should meet for “History/Social Studies,” “Science & Technical Subjects” and “Writing.” Those 30 standards must be achieved in English classes, because clearly, English teachers don’t have enough to do already. The math standards, which extend to sub-sub-categories as well, are even ampler. We must hold high standards for our teachers and students; however, Common Core goes too far. By imposing such a ridiculous number of new tasks and requirements upon schools, the standards render learning a check-list. Have I learned to “analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work?” Check! Am I competent in my ability to “interpret expressions that represent a quantity in terms of its context?” Whoops, forgot that one, gotta go back to aisle six!
Common Core’s reading requirements frustrate me in particular. According to the standards, half of all elementary schools’ reading must be nonfiction; by 12th grade, that number must rise to 70 percent. The requirement for elementary schools threatens to end students’ love of reading before it begins. From what I have observed, nonfiction does not grasp children’s attention: it does not transport children to another world on a magic carpet or a spaceship. Fiction does that. Children learn to love reading through tales of magic and mystery, mortal and immortal alike, from the sagas of feeble Earthlings to those of alien superheroes. Nonfiction is important as well, to be sure, but I believe young students must read it in moderation — less than 50 percent.
As for high schoolers, the Common Core suggests spreading the burden of reading 70 percent nonfiction to math and science classes as well as English and history. That idea shows how out-of-touch Common Core is with reality. The likelihood of math and science classes sacrificing their regular curricula — which are already being complicated by the Common Core’s standards — to read such suggested documents as Euclid’s “Elements” or the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Recommended Levels of Insulation” is slim at best.
Perhaps most concerning about the Common Core State Standards is that they have not been tested. Forty-three states, the District of Columbia and four territories have overhauled their public education systems despite that disturbing fact. Although the Common Core State Standards have found bipartisan support, their effectiveness has only been hypothesized.
Surely, Gov. Kasich, you would decry any doctor who performed a heart surgery with an untested method. That new method could work, sure, but it could also kill the patient. The same is true for the Common Core and Ohio’s public education system. How dare you practice an untested surgery. How dare you act so foolish — so irresponsible.
I give you credit for firing Pearson, showing that you listened to the tens of thousands of Ohioans bemoaning the complicated, ineffective PARCC exams. Thank you. However, our problems will not end until you stop using the Common Core altogether. The new AIR exams will still pull from Common Core questions, just as the PARCC tests did. You saw how well that worked.
Even with PARCC’s conclusion, the state still administers troublesome, harmful tests. The Student Learning Objective exams, unaffectionately known as SLOs, are administered at the beginning and end of each school year at every public school in Ohio, as in other states nationwide. SLOs are part of the value-added system of student growth measurement. The SLO students take in a given class at the beginning and end of each year is the same — same topic, same length, same questions. However, logically, they should perform better on the end-of-year SLO than on the first one because by April, they have learned their class’ material. The amount a student’s score has progressed on the SLO is known as their “value added.”
The value-added metric is flawed, ignoring both students’ and teachers’ realities. Smart students may not test well, making their value-added scores false reflections of what they have learned. Furthermore, students start out at different levels in any given class, and some may start out with significant knowledge of a class’ material. I have some friends who scored A’s on their start-of-year SLOs. As a result, even though they scored higher on their SLOs in April than they did in September, their scores only increased by a few percentage points. Their teachers had taught them all the material, but their SLO scores showed very little value added. On the other hand, some students may start out knowing none of the course material, getting zero questions right on the September SLO. They may get only 50 percent of the answers correct in April, showing they still lack extensive knowledge in that subject, but their value-added scores look impressive.
In addition, different value-added scores may show different levels of progress for different students. For instance, one student’s SLO score jumping 25 percent by the end of the year would look worse than his peer’s score, which rose by 40 percent. However, if the first student’s previous SLO scores showed only 15 percent “value-added,” and the second student always learns about 40 percent of the material, the first student actually made more progress in the classroom. His SLO tests, however, do not give credit to his hard work.
Moreover, the SLOs’ timing causes problems. Most school years do not end until June; however, the SLOs — testing end-of-year knowledge — are administered in April. By their very design, they cannot be an accurate measurement of all students have learned. Administering the SLOs also detracts teaching time, because taking two SLO tests requires two class periods. With public schools in Ohio already losing dozens of teaching hours because of other state tests, not to mention the snow and cold days that tend to plague us, those two SLO days become significant.
Students do not even receive grades for taking SLOs. Instead, their value-added scores — a flawed metric that says little about student progress, and which is even under trial in New York right now — determine 50 percent of their teachers’ state evaluations. Understandably, that encourages teachers to tell students to fail their first SLO so that their value-added progress come April looks more impressive, no matter how inaccurate those scores become. To the faculty’s credit at my alma mater, Shaker Heights High School, none of my teachers ever encouraged their classes to do that. However, if they had, I would not blame them.
You seem to blame them, though. You seem to put teachers at fault for Ohio’s achievement gap — which, according to a new White House report, is bigger than the national average. You seem to hold teachers responsible for Ohio having the ninth-largest reading gap between its highest- and lowest-performing schools, the fourth-largest gap in high school graduation rates and the second-largest gap in math scores in the country.
I have news for you, Gov. Kasich: teachers may be superheroes, but rarely can they work miracles. When children come from impoverished homes — with parents who may not be around often, let alone available to help with schoolwork, and siblings to care for and a job to work for their family’s sake — good teachers can help, but only so much. When children have real-world problems and responsibilities, it’s hard for them to focus on school. Achievement gaps stem from the home, not the classroom, and you would do well to understand that.
At a Koch-organized conference in 2014, you said that at the Pearly Gates, you think God will ask you what you did for the poor. That’s why you expanded Medicaid in Ohio, despite most Republicans’ opposition. You can still do more for the poor, and education is the most necessary place to start.
However, you have yet to do that. Instead, you advocate standards and tests that restrict teacher autonomy and capabilities. You enact punitive, inaccurate evaluation systems that threaten teacher employment — and you wonder what teachers are complaining about.
At an education summit in New Hampshire August 19, you said teachers don’t understand state evaluation systems and exams.
“No, we’re not out to take their job,” you said. “If you need help, we’ll help you. If you’re a terrible teacher, then you should be doing something else because you’re going to find more satisfaction doing something else that you’re good at.”
“I’ll tell you what the unions do, unfortunately too much of the time. There’s a constant negative comment, ‘They’re going to take your benefits, they’re going to take your pay.’ ”
Clearly, the solution to that concern is not meeting with union leaders to hear their complaints or negotiate compromises. The solution is for you to become “king in America,” to shut down teachers’ lounges so they can’t express their grievances towards you. Your ignorant comment from August 19 suggest that teachers don’t even deserve free speech — in direct violation of the Constitution you claim to love.
Because America remains a democracy, you will not become our king. I pray to the high heavens you won’t become our president either. I have learned in the public schools you are defunding and degrading. I have spoken with the teachers you dismiss and disrespect. Until two months ago, I was one of the more than 1,740,000 public school students you have let down, time and time again, as our governor.
God may ask you about more than the poor at His Pearly Gates. If he asks you about education or children, you won’t have much to say for yourself.