April 25, 2014

First Glance: Kasich Previews Small Scale Ed Reforms

(Cross-posted from 10th Period, the person blog of IO’s Education Policy Fellow, Steven Dyer)

The Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday that Gov. John Kasich will be introducing some education reforms in his mid-biennium budget corrections bill, but he is almost desperate to have the Cleveland Plan included — the Dispatch described his request before the State Board of Education as “begging”. From the Dispatch story:

The governor’s plan will also call for new and tougher grading system for schools, standards for digital education, reporting academic performance of students attending technical schools and helping students find their passions and better understand the purpose of getting an education by providing opportunities for them to interact with business professionals and other outside-of-school activities.

These are all pretty minor adjustments, although it’s good to see the Governor embrace digital education standards — the State Board of Education recommended some in 2003 that have yet to be adopted. Another welcome change in direction is the Governor’s promise to propose standards for dropout recovery schools, hopefully using the ones that have been drafted and sitting on a shelf since 2005.

The other issues are more technical in nature and sound like a good idea, like allowing students more externship or observation opportunities in businesses. We’ll see if any state funding follows these ideas (paying businesses to host kids, for example), but in principle they make sense.

However, the big reform he’s seeking is the holding kids back until they can read in fourth-grade — reform that’s a familiar idea and has been making its way around the states.

Full disclosure: In my education reform that I developed between 2007 and 2009, early reading intervention was a key provision of my education funding model. I would have provided additional funding to districts when their kindergartners rated below a certain score on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA-L), and would have paid bonuses to districts based on how many kids were able to be caught up to grade-level expectations by fourth grade. I would have continued the additional weighted funding through eighth grade as well.

So I get the need to catch kids up by fourth grade. I know it’s an important milestone, and I want all kids to get there. However, I find it difficult to imagine how more kids can be caught up without additional resources, or taking resources from other educational opportunities. It seems to me that this plan is going to necessitate huge fourth grade classes and buildings. There is a value in kids of similar ages being in the same grades.

Does it do good to have kids who are two or three years older in a fourth grade class? And what about kids who excel in other areas and maybe ahead in other subjects? Do they get held back too?

Again, what the Governor is discovering is what we found out in 2009 — Reform is tough, hard and in most cases it involves difficult, nuanced choices. Do you continue to cut, as this regime has done, or do you provide additional state resources to meet higher and higher standards so local taxpayers don’t have to keep passing higher and higher property taxes?

I think this Governor’s efforts should give folks a good idea of how truly remarkable House Bill 1 was in 2009, and you don’t even have to like what was in it. For scale and scope, it is unlikely to be matched in this state. It took on nearly every major aspect of education reform, did it in one bill, and passed in the course of a few months.

You may not agree with its contents, nor its messengers, but you have to respect its effort.