The Governor’s education director lied to me.  No big deal, right?  Well, before he lied to me, he lied to the Senate Finance Committee, but that was after he lied to the House Finance and Appropriations Committee, and after he lied to a roomful of state superintendents, and after he lied to all of Ohio in the FY2012-13 budget.  

Here’s the details of the lie and why you should be concerned.

During testimony on the voluminous House Bill 153, Ohio’s budget bill, I can only find evidence that three people specifically mentioned the Governor’s provision to retest teachers in Ohio’s lowest performing schools:

  • Dr. Robert Sommers, Director, Governor’s Office of 21st Century Education
  • Stan W. Heffner, Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Me

Remember, Ohio’s House Bill 153 was the biennial budget bill that included a full slate of educational reform efforts.  This particular component would require all teachers in “core subject areas” in the lowest 10% of schools to retake Ohio’s teacher licensure exams.  As our regular readers know, I opposed this provision in my testimony on the basis that it is a misuse of the tests and is not supported by the claims made in the Governor’s budget proposal.  I have been vehemently opposed since the bill’s inception.

Heffner supported the provision, for which I filed a formal complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission over his pending employment with the company that currently provides the teacher licensure exams required by the law.

As for Sommers, the Governor’s education expert?  He can be credited with creating the provision in the first place, and he specifically promoted the provision, even reiterating the original budget bill’s claim that this practice has been working in Massachusetts.

Sommers lied.

Sommers first lied in the original budget (page 7 of the Reforms Book):

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

Sommers then lied to an audience of education professionals on March 21 (approx. minute 45), when he said:

Massachusetts has been doing this for years.  They attribute a lot of their progress based on this.

Sommers lied again the next day to the House Finance and Appropriations Committee:

We are also going to test teachers in chronically failing schools. This process has been very successful for Massechuetts [sic] and is identified as a major factor in their educational system improvements.

When the bill moved to the Senate Finance Committee, Sommers took the opportunity to again lie to legislators who were relying on him for expert guidance:

We are also going to test teachers in chronically failing schools.  This process has been very successful for Massachusetts and is identified as a major factor in their educational system improvements.

I first questioned the link to Massachusetts back on April 20, and have been writing letters and occasional posts since that time.  I was unable to find any documentation on the Massachusetts Department of Education website even back then, curious for a practice that they have “been doing for years” and which is “identified as a major factor in their educational system improvements” according to Sommers.

Even more curious was the recent reply I received from Dr. Sommers in response to an email I sent a few weeks ago.  In that email exchange that I posted on October 1, Sommers tried to defend his position and directed me to the apparent foundation of Ohio’s teacher retesting law:

Unfortunately, you are incorrect in your observations of Massachusetts laws. Please note the right afforded in Massachusett [sic] to retest teachers in chronically underperforming schools. Details can be accessed at the following site. See specifically the references to retesting in level 4 and 5 schools.

Thus his most recent lie about teacher restesting – to me.

Some points about the information available at this link could be debated to be connected, but are expressly less restrictive or punitive than the new Ohio law.

Sommers directed me to a regulation that applies only for Mathematics and that it is purely at the discretion of the superintendent or school operator:

Requirement of taking a mathematics content assessment The superintendent or the school’s receiver, if any, may require all mathematics teachers at a Level 4 school to take a mathematics content assessment approved by the Department. The commissioner or the school’s receiver, if any, may require all mathematics teachers at a Level 5 school to take a mathematics content assessment approved by the Department.

Further, this regulation has exceptions that would exempt the overwhelming majority of Ohio’s teachers:

(3) Exceptions

(a) A mathematics teacher who would otherwise be required to take a mathematics content assessment pursuant to 603 CMR 2.07(1) shall not be required to take it if the teacher:

  1. has passed the Elementary Mathematics, Middle School Mathematics, or Mathematics test of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure or has passed or been deemed under 603 CMR 7.14(14)(g) to have passed the Mathematics subtest of the General Curriculum test of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure; and
  2. is appropriately licensed for the mathematics the teacher is teaching.

Exception #1 would exempt any teacher who obtained their license in Ohio, and exception #2 would exempt any licensed math teacher. Of course, since this is only for mathematics, any other teacher would obviously be exempt from retaking the licensure exam.

This regulation also only applies to “Level 4” and “Level 5” schools in Massachusetts, a designation that requires the consideration of “school MCAS performance over a four-year period.”  The Ohio law affects teachers in the very next year. And while Massachusetts has the restriction that “Not more than 4% of the total number of public schools may be in Levels 4 and 5, taken together, at any given time,” the Ohio law includes the lowest 10% of schools.

That completely encompasses the implementation of the Massachusetts regulations, and while the two are very dissimilar, I’d be hard-pressed to call Sommers a liar about these comparisons.

But remember that Sommers claimed that “Massachusetts has been doing this for years.  They attribute a lot of their progress based on this.

And that, my friends, is a lie.  A lie he began telling in March 2011, and has continued to tell to Ohio’s legislators, reporters and taxpayers throughout Ohio.

In Massachusetts, the new law that created Level 4 and Level 5 schools (part of Massachusetts’ school improvement process) was not effective until January 19, 2010, only 15 months before Ohio’s budget bill was first crafted.  And at this point, we have evidence that the parameters of the law were still being created.  From page 7 of the State Board of Education minutes of January 26, 2010:

Deputy Commissioner Karla Baehr said the Department is trying to move forward with draft criteria to identify Level 4 schools, and that federal Title I-G dollars would support Level 4 schools. Deputy Commissioner Baehr said the new legislation and regulations equate underperforming with Level 4. The deputy commissioner said this year performance would be used to identify the schools, while next year improvement will also be a factor.

The first list of Level 4 schools were identified in March 2010, in order to begin preparations for the beginning of their turnaround work in the 2010-2011 school year.

Follow that?  The 2010-2011 school year; the year ending in June 2011, 3 months after Sommers began his parade of deceit claiming the this provision is touted by Massachusetts.  In fact, if you scan ALL of the other documentation being used in this BRAND NEW process to help turnaround schools in Massachusetts, you will find no evidence of the regulation Sommers cites as evidence of Ohio’s need to implement this law.

I know what you’re thinking —  perhaps they don’t update their website regularly, right?

I wondered that, too, so I called the Massachusetts Department of Education.  Something that “they attribute a lot of their progress” to must be readily available somewhere, so I called and spoke with Ken Klau, an employee in the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Center for Targeted Assistance about the provision referenced by Dr. Sommers in his ongoing promotion of teacher retesting.  Mr. Klau was completely unaware of the obscure regulation referenced by Sommers or any other teacher retesting practice and he confirmed that the entire process of Level 4 and 5 schools had just begun in 2010, meaning that no Level 5 schools would exist for 3-4 more years.

Being relatively untrusting of the Department, I needed to talk to someone who would definitively know if any teachers in the state had been required to retake licensure tests.  I called and spoke to the president of the Boston Teachers Union, representing over 5,500 educators.  President Richard Stutman unequivocally confirmed that no teacher retesting provision or practice exists in Massachusetts.  And President Stutman would be one to know, considering that Boston is specifically affected by having 12 Level 4 schools in their school district.

Again, Dr. Robert Sommers has lied over and over and over and over and over again.  Every time Sommers has claimed that it has been working in Massachusetts, he has lied.  The Massachusetts practice that Sommers claims proves that Ohio needs teacher retesting simply DOES NOT EXIST.

What would cause Dr. Sommers to fabricate this provision, insert it into the Ohio budget, and then continue to lie about it time and time again?  Is it merely a power trip?

And what will it take to convince anyone in the legislature to care?

Is there no one left with any integrity that will stand up and repeal this law?