Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ohio: CCSS on the Ropes, Maybe

The Ohio PTA has called an all-hands-on-deck because it looks like HB 597, the "Get That Damn Commie Core Out of Our Schools" bill is rumored to be on the lame duck legislature's plate.

It is possible that this is all part of an Ohio scheme to put on a last-minute surge to try for the 2014 State Most Hostile to Public Education medal. They've been really working it, from the attempt to cut elementary specialists off at the knees to the proposal to trash teacher pay scales. So how did this bill end up back on the big pile of crazy?

HB 597 has been around since the summer, pitting the two wings of the GOP against each other. Its sponsors come from Glen Beck wing of the party. The bill's stated intention is to rid Ohio of the Common Core, which is embedded somewhere within Ohio's more expansive more-than-just-ELA-and-math standards.

But the bill has turned out to come with plenty of fun extras. Originally it included a provision that 80% of all works taught in 8-12 English classes be from English and American authors prior to 1970. The sponsors called that a "drafting error" which I suppose means "crazy thing we decided to take out before we submitted this." The bill also required phonics and... oh, did I forget to mention that this didn't just remove the Common Core, but replace it with a new set of standards. Those appear to be based somewhat on the old Massachusetts standards, but include some tweaks. So something pretty much like CCSS, only with some cool chrome accents.

One controversial tweak is a replacement of old science standards with standards that include a provision to "prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another." Some people, including, apparently the bill's sponsors, seem to think the new science standards open the door to teaching intelligent design. It also bizarrely restricts science teaching to scientific facts, but puts the kibosh on teaching scientific method. Apparently, science teachers are supposed to just teach facts and leave students to assume that these facts were delivered in a vision or straight from wikipedia.

Social studies would be restricted to "real" knowledge, which-- what the hell? Since we're no longer aware of the scientific method, I'm not even sure how real knowledge is constructed. One thing it apparently is not is "designed to avoid perpetuating gender, cultural, ethnic or racial stereotypes" because that language was scraped off the MA standards when they came to Ohio.

Then there's the provision that says that the state cannot impose any financial penalties on a school district just because it chooses to ignore the state's standards. Which of course means that the local districts could adopt any damn standards they want. When these guys say "local control," the by damn mean it. 

The Republican head of the Senate education committee, State Senator Peggy Lehner has characterized the repeal attempt as "a circus." Before you start cheering for her, note that she thinks the repeal effort is terrible because the Common Core are the greatest thing since critical thinking was used to slice a loaf of bread into a state of college and career readiness.

Jessica Poiner, writing over at the Fordham blog in the summer, noted with alarm the lack of any state control of districts under this bill. She also unfurled one of the Fordham's favorite talking points from the summer-- it would be really expensive to throw away all those fine investments made in the Core and start over. You can call this the "stay the course" talking point, or the "throw good money after bad" talking point.

It is, in short, a stupid reason for sticking with the Core. "We spent a bunch of money on a bad piece of equipment that doesn't do what it's supposed," is not logically the first part of a sentence that ends with "so let's spend even more money on it and never replace it." When the engine in your car blows up, you don't say, "Well, let's buy new tires for it."

So what's a supporter of public education to do? Well, for one thing, the kerfluffle is a fine reminder that in all things political, sometimes the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy, too. Also, when educational amateurs go head to head with educational amateurs, it's education that gets punched in the face.

The Ohio PTA wants everyone to call and write their legislator and tell it to vote no (a sample letter template appears below), and I think that's maybe probably the correct answer, though passage of the bill would inevitably result in such a massive crash-and-burn debacle that the Ohio legislature might be forced to get help from actual grown ups and professional teacher persons. The letter is not a winner because it is A) making the stay-the-course money argument and B) suggesting that educational experts really want to protect the lovely Core. I wouldn't send the damn thing without rewriting it. Something simple like "Dear legislator: Common Core is terrible crap, but this bill probably makes matters worse. And if anybody over there has any more stupid ideas about screwing with public education, please just keep them to yourself until forever."

I'm not sure I'm rooting for either side in this clusterfinagle; there are no heroes here. I have a hard time imagining the legislature passing this, even if some GOP folks were spanked in the election for not hating Common Core enough. It's hard to envision a responsible government leaping into such a stupid set of rules, but for the past few years, every time I've "Surely they wouldn't do something that stupid" I've turned out to be wrong. Best wishes to Ohio on their medal quest. May you do your teachers and children a favor and lose.

Sample letter:

Dear Representative _____________

I live in _____________ and I urge you to oppose H.B. 597.

Our local school district, like many other districts across the state, has invested a significant amount of time, effort, teacher education, and money toward the implementation of Ohio’s New Learning Standards since 2010.

If Ohio halts the implementation of Ohio’s Learning Standards, this investment will be lost in more ways than monetary! H.B. 597 jeopardizes the future of Ohio’s public schools and educational opportunities for Ohio’s children.

Forcing an ongoing upheaval in Ohio’s academic standards is reckless and is in no one's best interests. This legislation is bad for Ohio and is bad for our schools.

Please listen to the education experts in your constituent school districts and oppose H.B. 597.

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