Ohio House School Funding Hearing – Part 2 – The Bad

wrote yesterday about the many aspects of Wednesday’s Ohio House Committee hearing on education funding that I thought were positive. The witnesses who testified were four of the pillars of American conservative education reform – Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute, Students First (Michelle Rhee’s group) and Marguerite Roza of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, which provided the blueprint for the Cleveland Plan.

I repeat that it is unfortunate similar pillars on the more progressive side of the issue, like Diane Ravitch of New York University, or Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford have yet to be consulted.

While there were a few positive pieces of Wednesday’s testimony, there were significant concerns as well:

  • There was not a single mention of the state providing any property tax relief by taking more of the responsibility in paying for education. After seeing nearly $650 million in new operating money on the ballot just this November, one would think the committee and panelists would address the issue. Again, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times that Ohio must make a more accurate calculation of the cost of education and reduce the need for property taxes to pay for it. Today, the state has no funding formula and has removed $1.8 billion in state revenue from education, forcing a greater reliance on property taxes to pay for schools. If this trend does not change, and soon, I fear nothing else will matter.
  • Hanushek said on several occasions that putting more money into the system won’t fix it because there isn’t evidence that spending more materially impacts student test scores (a dubious claim, by the way). Yet he agreed that there should be additional funds spent in districts to accommodate poor kids, special education kids and English Language Learners – all of whom struggle mightily on tests – to help them achieve more success. I’m still trying to understand how this is not a contradiction.
  • Hanushek also, amazingly, claimed there’s no evidence that class size ratios make a difference, except in a few, very specialized examples. He said that we should put our best teachers in front of as many students as technology will allow. Yet all the great teachers I ever had would have been terrible teaching huge classes because their style was Socratic; asking questions and getting student participation. That will not work in classes with hundreds of students. Also, the federal government’s Institute of Education Sciences (and the research it examined) said something very different from Hanushek. Class size reduction in K-3 grades is the first of the four things the IES said evidence showed worked.
  • All of the panelists talked about radical changes to the way teachers are paid. Students First suggested eliminating Section 3317 of the Ohio Revised Code and basing pay on performance, not unlike SB 5 (and we know how that worked out). Again, in Ohio, teachers have agreed to evaluation systems that base up to 50% of their evaluation on test scores. We had them agree to consider using test scores for evaluation in House Bill 1 – the bill in 2009 that contained the EBM. And we did this before Race to the Top. Teachers developed the system through the Educator Standards Board; the 50% figure wasn’t dictated by policymakers in Columbus, it was developed by teachers. So the whole idea that Ohio’s teachers aren’t willing to consider changing their evaluations is just simply bunk. I was particularly struck by how effusive the panelists and committee members were in their praise of the teachers they know or are in their districts they represent. Yet Hanushek suggested that low test scores are a result of bad teaching. Again, if our scores are so poor, as he suggests, then he seems to be saying that we have all these bad teachers. Yet, in his testimony, he talked about how great and good-hearted most teachers are.
  • The panel talked about merit pay extensively, yet no one brought up that the first major longitudinal study of merit pay showed it had zero impact on student outcomes.
  • The panel also only talked about success in relation to test scores. No mention of graduation rates (surprisingly) or critical thinking skills, or the myriad other aspects of education that would help inform a discussion of educational excellence.

I wish we would try to figure out if we can quantify critical thinking, creativity, etc. and build that into an accountability system. Instead, the panel focused on Value Added data, which they admitted is a complicated and dicey calculation, though I think it’s a bit better than straight proficiency scores. In some areas of the country, Value Added scores have been so unstable that one year a classroom rates the best in the district, the next year it rates the worst.

For example, Ohio’s Value Added Measure is proprietary, so it’s not really able to be scrutinized – and it was never meant to judge excellence anyway. It was meant to help educators figure out where students needed help in reading and math.

These were a few of the major concerns I had with what was said. In short, Hanushek said bad teachers are the reason for bad test scores, even though test scores are almost perfectly correlated with poverty. Therefore, we need merit pay (that doesn’t improve scores) or make being a teacher an even tougher job than it is today.

Meanwhile, the speakers gave us no property tax relief and little more than ‘let’s get a few great teachers teaching as many kids as possible.’ All in all, very disappointing and problematic approaches to the complexities of educating 1.8 million kids.

Tomorrow: Charter Schools