Last week, I posted about Governor Kasich’s budgetary plan to require all core subject teachers in low-scoring school districts to take licensure tests. The text of this newly created section of Ohio Revised Code reads as follows:

Sec. 3319.58
(C) Each year, the board of education of each school district in the lowest ten percentiles of performance index score shall require each of its classroom teachers teaching in a core subject area to register for and take all written examinations prescribed by the state board of education for licensure to teach that core subject area and the grade level to which the teacher is assigned under section 3319.22 of the Revised Code.
(HB 153, p 1667-8)

I did not ask the question of WHY the Governor would include such a provision in his budget bill, so I cranked up the research machine in an effort to find out. I’m always optimistic that I will find a rational explanation, and this time was no exception.

Full of hope, my research first led me to the Governor’s Jobs Budget, Blue Book Five: The Reforms Book. On page 7, I found the answer I sought.

Test Teachers in Poor-Performing Schools
What will change
Teachers employed in a school identified in the bottom five percent of the state‘s schools on the basis of student results will be required to take licensure tests.

Why this change is important
Massachusetts successfully implemented a teacher-testing program that significantly improved student results. Teachers were tested on the content they were assigned to teach.

Struggling schools need to be sure teachers are competent and fully capable of teaching their assigned curriculum. Testing teachers to be sure they know their content and basic pedagogy is a key step in this process.

Testing will make sure teachers are competent in the subjects they are teaching. Limiting this provision to poor-performing schools will minimize costs and avoid unnecessary burdens on quality schools.

A quick clarification: The Reform Book states five percent, while the language in HB 153 clearly says ten percent. Since HB 153 is the official legislation, we must take this as the expected number. I was unable to locate any documentation that references this change.

Case closed. It became so obvious to me after I read that simple explanation.
“Struggling schools need to be sure teachers are competent and fully capable of teaching their assigned curriculum. Testing teachers to be sure they know their content and basic pedagogy is a key step in this process.”

And as I learned last week, the only thing the Praxis II tests do is “measure knowledge of specific subjects that K–12 educators will teach, as well as general and subject-specific teaching skills and knowledge . . . to ensure that candidates for licensure have acquired the minimal knowledge necessary for entry-level positions.”

Hmm….

Upon closer inspection, those statements did seem to be remarkably similar. Apparently this answer was going to be a little more difficult to find. I wondered if maybe Massachusetts was the key to this puzzle. After all, the Governor’s good book reads, “Massachusetts successfully implemented a teacher-testing program that significantly improved student results. Teachers were tested on the content they were assigned to teach.”

On to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:

Teachers must demonstrate that they have met subject matter knowledge requirements by taking and passing the appropriate sections of the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure. Pedagogical skills and knowledge are acquired and demonstrated in approved teacher preparation programs.

So what exactly are these Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure?

The Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure program was initiated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in 1998 as part of our statewide education reform initiative for educators seeking PreKindergarten to grade 12 licenses. The MTEL program includes a test of communication and literacy skills as well as tests of subject matter knowledge. The tests are designed to ensure that Massachusetts educators can communicate adequately with students, parents/guardians, and other educators and that they are knowledgeable in the subject matter of the license sought.

How do I prepare for these tests?

The primary approach to preparation for taking and passing one of the Subject Tests is adequate study at the collegiate level in the content defined by the Massachusetts licensure regulations and other state policies. Candidates should consult with their college advisors before registering to take the tests.

I was stunned. Apparently, since 1998, the entire state of Massachusetts has had a finely tuned licensure process whereby a person has to attend an approved educator preparation program at an institution of higher education, then pass these tests on pedagogy and subject matter before getting an initial 5-year license and obtaining a teaching job.  Ingenious!

So why shouldn’t Ohio follow this revolutionary process?  A response from the superintendent of public instruction for the state of Ohio:

Prior to 1991, candidates for licensure in Ohio needed only to complete an approved teacher preparation program and declare themselves to be free of a criminal record in order to obtain a teaching certificate. Beginning as recently as 1991, candidates have also been required to pass a standardized, paper-and-pencil examination on general knowledge, subject matter knowledge, and pedagogical knowledge (Ohio Department of Education, 1987). Thus, the critical element of quality control regarding public school teaching in many states has been the state’s approval of the college or university teacher education program.

In 1992, Ohio’s State Board of Education voted to revise both the state’s elementary and secondary standards and the teacher education and licensure standards. This action provides Ohio with a new opportunity to build a teacher licensure system based upon what teachers must know, be like, and be able to do to begin teaching.

Under this approach candidates for licensure would receive a restricted license upon successful completion of a preparation program and an assessment of general knowledge, subject matter knowledge, and pedagogical knowledge. This restricted license would allow persons to complete a 1-year residency under the
supervision of a fully licensed teacher. Upon completion of a successful residency and performance based assessment, they would be eligible for full licensure. These new assessments may include institutional evaluations of candidates, multiple-choice examinations, constructed response examinations, portfolios, or performance in real or simulated settings.

Ted Sanders, superintendent of public instruction for the state of Ohio, written and published in 1993.

That’s right — Ohio isn’t doing what Massachusetts is doing because Ohio moved BEYOND that process when revisions adopted in 1992 went into effect in 1998, the same year that Massachusetts was just starting on their current model. Some of you may recognize that 1998 change as the implementation of 2-year provisional licenses and the Praxis III process for evaluating new teachers.

Going even further, at the beginning of the next school year (August 2011), Ohio will be moving forward again with a more intensive 4-year resident educator license for new teachers that includes a mentoring component provided by experienced teachers within the school district.

So I am still left wondering why the Governor would make propose such a change. More from Ted Sanders’ 1993 article:

By restructuring the licensure system to focus on the competencies that are essential for successful beginning practice in schools in the process of change, genuine reform can occur. Schools, colleges, and departments of education will have much greater flexibility in designing effective teacher preparation programs, and prospective teachers will be held accountable for their practical skills as well as their knowledge. With the procedures of accreditation, licensure, and certification aligned in a complementary manner and with the primary focus on the competence of teachers, we can and will conduct the reform that is essential for our public schools and will, in fact, be “professionalizing” our field.
(Theory into Practice, Vol. 32, No. 2, Assessing Tomorrow’s Teachers (Spring, 1993), pp. 100-103)

I apologize if I led you to believe that you would find an answer for John Kasich’s logic here at the end, but I, too, am left with only more questions. Most prominently, I wonder about John Kasich’s fascination with the 1980s — he wants to undo a 1983 collective bargaining law, he had an 80s cover band called the Reaganomics at his inauguration kickoff and now he wants to roll back Ohio’s teacher standards to pre-1987.

If it’s okay with you, I’ll take a pass on rolling back 20+ years of educational research and innovation. Perhaps Kasich should give a shout-out to Ohio every once in a while instead of always shopping out-of-state.

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