Ohio HB 237: Why I cannot support it in its current form

Since a colleague of mine introduced Ohio HB 237 to repeal common core, I have been asked why I have not supported the bill. I have been accused of being a “progressive,” a “RINO,” “not listening,” and a few other names that aren’t appropriate for this post. The problem is, I actually read the bill.

While I have given many reasons why I have not supported 237, I have not put them in writing to date. It is my hope that this post will help supporters of 237 understand that I am not a gung-ho supporter of common core, but that I also have numerous problems with this bill. I also hope that my commentary will be used as a constructive tool which could be used to improve the bill.

Why I did not co-sponsor the bill

I chose not to cosponsor the original bill because much of it did the exact opposite of its intended purposes. For example, the original version of the bill would have expanded sharing of student data instead of restricting it. In fact, my HB 181, introduced before 237 (which is clear by the bill number), handled student data concerns in common core. We ended up incorporating some of these points in HB 487, a large education reform bill that carried my name and was recently signed by the governor. You may read about 487 and view a chart of its major provisions by clicking here.

Months after the original HB 237 was introduced, a substitute bill was accepted by the house education committee. I still have major reservations about the language in the revised bill and I do not support the bill in its current form. It still does not properly address student data for those who say 487 did not go far enough, and it provides no path forward to improve Ohio’s education system. There are many other reasons, which I will outline here.

The discharge petition

My colleagues and I have been asked to sign a discharge petition to send the bill to the house floor for an up or down vote. I have not signed the discharge petition because the current form of the bill is not ready for the floor of the house. HB 237 needs to be rewritten. It is not “ready for prime time,” so to speak — the original, or the substitute. Major revisions to legislation are done through the committee process or by the bill’s sponsor, not on the floor of the house. I am not the chairman of the education committee, I do not set the committee schedule, I do not decide when the bill comes up for a vote, and I am not the sponsor of the bill in question. It is also not my responsibility to rewrite Rep. Thompson’s bill, particularly when all he has done is cause strife among our colleagues on this issue.

Some of my colleagues have signed the discharge petition. Many of them have signed it based on the perception that the bill will remove common core from Ohio and eliminate all challenges associated with academic content standards. But perception is not reality. Most legislators read a bill when they are ready for a vote. As the bill is read and examined those legislators that supported the discharge petition may not vote for the bill on the floor. In any case, the questions raised by this legislation will need to be answered and addressed prior to any action on the bill.

Analysis of Ohio HB 237

Below are sections from the Sub. House Bill 237 (you may read it here). The link is to the Senate version of the bill, because, for whatever reason, the House website does not have the substitute language. The companion bill that was introduced in the Senate is the updated version. It is the responsibility of the bill’s sponsor to make sure that the current version is online. The Senate bill was introduced after the original House bill, and just happens to carry the same bill number. However, it is the same verbiage as the Sub. HB 237.

 

Sec. 3301.078.  (A) The state board of education shall not adopt, and the department of education shall not implement, the academic content standards for English language arts and mathematics developed by the common core standards initiative or any similar initiative process or program. Nor shall the state board use the partnership for assessment of readiness for college and careers (PARCC), the smarter balanced assessment, or any other assessments related to or based on the common core standards.

I agree completely with the elimination of PARCC, but the bill needs language which would allow for an alternative assessment(s) which isn’t rushed into creation. I would prefer leaving the choice for what type of assessments are used up to local school districts, including PARCC if they want it, as long as the assessments have proven academic rigor and can be indexed against other assessments. There should be a pool of potential assessments from which to choose. My HB 193 (introduced long before 237) addressed this issue by offering alternative assessments that local districts selected. They would be reviewed and approved by the Ohio Department of Education, indexed for comparison, then used by each district. Nothing like this is addressed in HB 237. These tests, which are selected by the local districts, could then be aligned to the standards selected by that district.

This section of HB 237 is retroactive. You cannot tell the state board of education that they can’t adopt something which was already adopted four years ago, so this language will have to change. I would prefer that the language say something such as, the state of Ohio shall adopt higher standards which are not tied to the federal government. The new minimum standards should be reviewed publicly and be adopted and phased in over a two to three-year period. We do need to make sure, though, that each district is selecting standards that will allow students to achieve their dreams, whatever those may be.

I also have a problem with just throwing something completely out when parts of the English and Math standards are good. In fact, 80% of the current standards are based on Ohio’s old standards. Were there bills to throw those out?

Additionally, teachers have been training to master these new standards over the past four years. The state of Ohio spends around $800 million per year for teacher curriculum training. Approximately 30 to 35% of the $800 million is spent on math and English or language arts. If we dump the current standards, the state will have wasted a little over a $1 billion. In a House district like mine, where most of my school districts pay for everything out of the residents’ pockets rather than receiving money from the state, are you going to tell all of my residents that they have to pay for all of this again? And, that they have to redistribute more of their tax dollars to other districts, such as the one which the sponsor of HB 237 represents, that receive a large portion of money from other areas of the state? I’m a conservative. I don’t believe in wasting money, raising taxes, or continuing to take the hard-earned tax dollars of my constituents and sending them to other areas of the state. We do it now to make sure that everyone has an education; however, I cannot support doing it because a group of people – most of whom are not even in my district – are pounding me over the head to fight to eliminate common core. In the district I represent, I have had fewer than one dozen people contact me in opposition to common core. Yet, people from other areas of Ohio are trying to tell me what is best for the residents of my district, whom, in many cases, pay for the education of these people from other parts of the state.

 

Any actions taken to adopt or implement the common core state standards as of the effective date of this section are void.

Getting rid of standards is easy; replacing them will be hard. This section does not address the bigger problem, which is, what do you replace them with, or do you even replace minimal standards? I believe the state needs minimum standards. If you just leave this language as is, the state school board might adopt Common Core 2.0, which may cost millions of dollars more, but not really change anything.

States like Indiana, the Carolinas, and Oklahoma have dropped Common Core, but have essentially replaced them with another version of Common Core, because they tried to rush a fix in overnight without the proper due diligence needed. My fellow conservatives like to send me articles of other states that have dumped common core and replaced it with something else. Yet again, they’re not reading the legislation. When you read it, and look at what they’re actually doing, they’re replacing common core with another common core.

Of course, right now, every district in Ohio has the right to adopt, or reject, whatever they want. The legislature does not have to change anything in order for your district to reject common core. If we passed HB 193, there would then be no alignment of the standards to PARCC, and the whole problem would be solved.

 

(B)(1) A school district board of education shall be the sole authority for adopting academic content standards that exceed the standards adopted by the state board under section 3301.079 of the Revised Code.No official of this state, whether appointed or elected, shall join on behalf of the state or a state agency any consortium, association, or other entity when such membership would require the state or a school district board to cede any measure of control over education, including academic content standards and assessments of such standards.

Local school boards already have this authority. Most do not do anything about it because they do not want to be blamed for failure. Instead, they deflect the problem by blaming the Ohio Department of Education or legislators.

I also believe there still needs to be a check and balance where the state can step in if a local school board adopts complete trash for standards. After all, they are our tax dollars being spent, so there needs to be some statewide oversight. And, if children graduate from high school uneducated, they will wind up on the public dole, costing taxpayers even more money. We have to have minimum standards that are high enough that everyone can be self-sufficient after graduation.

 

(2) The state board shall provide a minimum of ninety days public notice of any proposed adoption or revision of academic content standards on the department of education’s web site. The state board shall request comments on the proposed changes from the general public, including parents, teachers, experts on academic content standards, representatives of political, educational, and faith-based organizations, and nonpartisan policy institutes.

The state board shall not adopt or revise any statewide academic content standards until the state board holds a public hearing in each congressional district in the state. The state board shall post notice of each hearing on the department’s web site and in a newspaper of general circulation in the respective congressional district.

For the most part this section is acceptable. However, I do not see how the state school board’s going to every single congressional district is necessary. Have board meetings in each of the four or five major cities in the state.

What happens, however, when the board needs to change the standards due to technical reasons? Will they have to give hearings in each congressional district yet again? That to me would be a waste of time, money and effort. This process is expensive, time-consuming and overbearing. Make use of technology to inform the public. If people care, they’ll get the information.

It should also be noted that public hearings were held when common core was adopted. While I was not in the legislature at that time, records show that the House education committee, Senate education committee and Ohio Department of Education held meetings. All of these were public. People just weren’t paying attention. Rather than saying that common core was passed under this supposed cover of darkness, just acknowledge that people weren’t paying close enough attention four years ago rather than blaming the process. This section of the bill re-states what was basically already done four years ago, with the exception of the requirement to visit individual congressional districts.

 

(3) Any academic content standards adopted by the state board shall be limited to the subject areas prescribed under division (A) of section 3301.079 of the Revised Code.

(C) Notwithstanding anything in the Revised Code to the contrary, no state funds shall be withheld from a school district or school for failure to adopt or use the state academic content standards or the state assessments.

What happens if a local school district decides they do not want any content standards and do not adopt anything? Under this language, the taxpayers of the state of Ohio will be required to pay the school districts even if they don’t do anything. This is completely unacceptable. State law already prohibits requiring districts to adopt content standards.

For example, what if learning to read doesn’t begin until the 3rd grade? What if only first-year algebra is offered, and not until the senior year in high school? What if there are no science classes at all? Yes, this would be local control, but we still have to think about whether these students will be prepared to achieve their dreams upon graduation, or whether they will end up becoming burdens on the state because the local district did not do their job. Kids still have to be educated, and we are constitutionally required as a state to provide education to all students.

 

(D) If the United States department of education requires as a condition of a federal education grant that the grant recipient provide personally identifiable information of students or teachers, the grant recipient shall provide aggregate data only. The grant recipient shall not release personally identifiable information without informed written consent of the student’s parent or guardian or of the teacher.

D(1) Access to the information shall be restricted to the fulfillment of contractual obligations to process data on behalf of the school district. Such contract shall include a stipulation that the personally identifiable information shall not be shared with additional parties.

This section is not acceptable. HB 487 is far more prescriptive. Personally identifiable information includes much more than names and addresses. It includes everything about a student, including their scores. Prohibiting disaggregation would cause Ohio to violate federal law. We disaggregate data all the time around race, gender, economic status, disability status, and other fields. The way this is written, it would eliminate all accountability. There are no specifics with regards to the release of data at the local level, and that is the larger problem. Districts hand out data all the time. We addressed all of this in 487.

You may also read more about the specific data-related sections of HB 487 by clicking here.

 

Conclusion

HB 487 has already addressed many of the concerns that 237 attempts to fix. In many cases, 237 fails to resolve the issue or makes matters worse, as I have explained. HB 181 and 193, both of which were introduced prior to 237, eliminate the problems with student data being shared with the government, and break the connection of standards to curriculum to PARCC. Portions of 181 and 193 were incorporated in to 487, but we have not yet gone far enough. However, 237 would undo many of the positive changes we have made, make matters worse in several areas, leave us without minimum standards, cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and cause further upheaval for our students and teachers.

The current strategy of those who wholly oppose common core is not providing us with a path forward for reform that can pass both chambers and be signed in to law by the governor. I would invite Rep. Thompson, and any others who are concerned about common core, to join together in writing a new bill that would address the remaining issues with thoughtful consideration and consultation with all interested parties. Anyone who wishes to be a part of a positive coalition to achieve the real reforms we need is welcome to contact me.

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