Teaching is hard. (Even if I weren’t a former high school teacher I would know that.) And it’s particularly hard when you feel like those who shape education policy are constantly changing the game for reasons that have nothing to do with what’s best for students. For instance, Ohio educators have discussed how Common Core is successful in their classrooms over and over and over and over and over again. And yet here we are, facing yet another standards repeal bill in the House. Unfortunately, this new bill’s attempt to repeal standards that are working in Ohio classrooms is even more unfair to teachers than previous iterations.
Previous attempts to repeal Common Core have included ridiculous requirements, such as forcing teachers to teach three separate sets of standards in four years. Unsurprisingly, that one failed to gain much traction. Even without mandating three sets of standards, HB 212 found a way to be worse. It requires that the board adopt new standards “not later than June 30, 2015.” Think about the implications: With no date given for when these standards are to go into use other than the June 30 adoption deadline, one must assume that the standards adopted on June 30 are intended for immediate use in the upcoming 2015–16 school year. That means that if this bill somehow miraculously gets passed out of committee, out of the House, out of the Senate, and doesn’t get vetoed by Governor Kasich—all in the next month—then teachers throughout the state will have less than two months to internalize the new standards, plan their curriculum and local assessments around the standards, and be ready for kids on the first day. Considering we’re five years into Common Core implementation and teachers are still learning to implement the standards, policymakers should be supremely concerned about asking teachers to master an entirely new set of standards in sixty days. And teachers should be horrified at the prospect.
But there’s even more: The bill has completely erased the requirement in current law for the state board to create a model curriculum. A model curriculum is based on the state’s academic standards and is designed to give schools an exemplar for how to design curricula aligned to state standards and assessments. Ohio Revised Code explicitly states that schools are not required “to utilize all or any part” of the model curriculum. Why, then, does HB 212 remove it?
I wish I could make the argument that removing model curricula is a step toward deregulation, but I can’t, because a model curriculum isn’t a regulation that schools have to follow. It’s an aid designed to support teachers, curriculum specialists, and anyone else in charge of making sure that curricula meet the needs of students. Removing something designed to support teachers—particularly during a hasty transition when they will most need models and of how to implement new standards—shows a lack of consideration for them. Sure, teachers might be able to scrounge up some curriculum maps or lesson plans from Massachusetts teachers who taught the Bay State’s pre-2010 standards. But considering how many Common Core opponents have fallen back on the claim that Common Core wasn’t made in Ohio and thus shouldn’t be used in Ohio, do policymakers really want to tell Buckeye teachers to use plans designed for kids from other parts of the nation? If HB 212 becomes law, not only will schools and teachers be forced to adjust to new standards within sixty days, they won’t have any guidance at all from our state board on how to operationalize the standards. Talk about starting from scratch.
Need more craziness? We’re not done yet. Later provisions in the bill demolish the state’s teacher evaluation system. Some teachers would undoubtedly rejoice at this move. But by removing the teacher evaluation system, bill sponsors seem to believe they’ve removed the only thing standing in the way of making a whiplash standards change acceptable to teachers—a trade-off, of sorts. If that’s the case, then bill sponsors are ignoring the fact that effective evaluation systems can actually be good for teachers. Luke Kohlmoos, who led Tennessee’s implementation of teacher evaluations, recently analyzed the evaluation data coming out of the Volunteer State and found that one of the working conditions associated with the retention of highly effective teachers is a functional evaluation. Receiving regular, high-quality feedback is an important part of improving practice, and for some teachers, this feedback only occurs via the state’s evaluation system. Robbing teachers of their chance to get better is unfair to teachers, and especially to kids.
To be clear, Ohio’s teacher evaluation system isn't perfect; work needs to be done in order to make it more effective. But there are ways to fix Ohio's system rather than throwing it out completely—ways that are endorsed by teachers because they make systems more reliable and fair. Policymakers would be right to pay attention to needed changes. A standalone bill would demonstrate their commitment to getting the evaluation system right without the distraction of other issues.
Unfortunately, HB 212 isn’t designed to address the flaws in the teacher evaluation system. Instead, HB 212 is a Common Core repeal bill that crudely repeals the teacher evaluation system. But getting rid of test-linked evaluations doesn’t make it okay to change standards again (especially when they’re working), ask teachers to learn those new standards in two months, or take away a useful support structure. Even worse, asking teachers who support the standards but have reservations about the evaluation system to make an impossible choice—between standards that help their students and an evaluation system that they may perceive to be unfair—is just plain wrong.