Ohio’s legislators’ misguided belief in their infinite wisdom of education reform continues to be exposed as Senate Bill 316 — their most recent attempt at demonstrating their knowledge of schools — has become law.  The latest display of their ignorance of the education system can be found in the requirements that exist as a part of the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee.”

The “guarantee” is detailed in Ohio Revised Code 3313.608 and has been explained as a way to ensure that all students are proficient readers before moving on to the 4th grade.  A key component of the new law is a series of new tests for students in all of the primary grades that require both a massive amount of added non-instructional time as well as significant additional expenses (with no additional state funding) on schools and districts as they implement these new assessments.  These tests are intended to identify those students (ages 5-8) who are below proficient in reading.  As a result of this identification, these students are required to receive reading intervention services, including a “reading improvement and monitoring plan” for each student that includes a couple interesting (i.e., asinine) requirements:

  • Opportunities for the student’s parent or guardian to be involved in the instructional services
  • A reading curriculum during regular school hours that does all of the following: (a) Assists students to read at grade level; (b) Provides scientifically based and reliable assessment; (c) Provides initial and ongoing analysis of each student’s reading progress.

Before I digress much more, I simply want to highlight the ignorance of including such statements in this law.

First, parents already have an unbelievable number of opportunities to be “involved in the instructional services”, and any teacher of a struggling reader would literally beg for that child’s parents to become more involved.  Many teachers will regularly send books home with children and parents and are always willing to provide guidance to parents to enhance their ability to assist their child with reading.  The “requirement” that schools must do this for those children who need intervention wrongly implies that this opportunity doesn’t already exist for all parents.

Second, the requirement that districts have a reading curriculum that actually works (to paraphrase) is laughably simplistic and again implies that such programs don’t already exist in schools.  The reality here, if the legislators had bothered to ask anyone who might know, is that such reading programs have been the standard in Ohio’s elementary schools for well over a decade.

While these items demonstrate a basic ignorance of learning in today’s schools, there is another requirement now in law that demonstrates a blatant ignorance of the teacher credentialing process and/or economics.

The same Ohio legislators who sought to reduce teacher compensation through Senate Bill 5 last year and who have cut public school funding (including to the Ohio Department of Education), included a requirement in the 3rd Grade Guarantee that will cost individual teachers over $17,000 each — most likely an out-of-pocket expense.

From ORC 3313.608(C)(6):

Each student with a reading improvement and monitoring plan under this division who enters third grade after July 1, 2013, shall be assigned to a teacher who has either received a passing score on a rigorous test of principles of scientifically based reading instruction approved by the state board of education or has a reading endorsement on the teacher’s license.

At this point, the Ohio Department of Education isn’t even working on identifying a rigorous test due to their belief that this absurd law must be changed (likely related to their inability to find funding for an additional testing process themselves).  From the ODE website:

Should the changes not occur, the State Board will review and select a reading instruction test in early 2013. At this time, the selection process has not yet begun and there are no details to share.

Absent the revisions (where was ODE when this law was being passed in the first place?), all teachers working with students who fall under this law’s provisions will be required to have a reading endorsement as part of their teaching license.  Currently, a reading endorsement can only be earned by completing an approved program of study at a college or university.  This is no small feat, either.  With all Ohio’s universities being converted over to the semester system, the typical approved endorsement program can be found to consist of 21 semester hours and 7 courses.

For a teacher working full-time (and with their own family in most cases) it would be unreasonable to expect them to take more than one course per semester. Therefore, the teacher that started classes this Spring would take over two full years to complete the endorsement.  If everything went on schedule that would have the teacher completing the coursework by the end of Spring 2015 semester – just in time for the 2015-2016 school year and two years later than Ohio’s legislator’s have required in their law.

And if that timing wasn’t bad enough, the cost is atrocious.  At The Ohio State University, the largest university in the state, the reading endorsement program consists of seven courses, three semester hours each.  The chart for tuition and fees for the 2012-2013 academic year is below (click chart to enlarge).

A single one of those reading endorsement courses this spring would cost the teacher $2,367.90 in tuition and fees alone.  That total does not include parking on campus, textbook(s), or the likely cost of a babysitter for the 15 nights of class.

Hey teachers, any of you have an extra $2,400 just lying around?  Because those legislators who want to cut your pay also want you to fork that over each semester in order to legally teach your struggling students (on top of that degree and license you already earned, of course).

That $2,367 price tag is only good for spring and summer semesters, however.  In the fall, expect OSU to once again raise their tuition by 3% to $2,438.94, which will run for your next three classes.  After you’ve paid for those, tuition will again increase by another 3% for your remaining two classes — $2,512.11.

In the end, the summary of a teacher’s tuition and fees will look like:

Term Tuition & Fees
Spring 2013 $2,367.90
Summer 2013 $2,367.90
Fall 2013 $2,438.94
Spring 2014 $2,438.94
Summer 2014 $2,438.94
Fall 2014 $2,512.11
Spring 2015 $2,512.11
Total $17,076.82

And when the teacher finally finishes these courses, they get the added bonus of forking out an additional $139 to take the required Praxis II test required by the Ohio Department of Education to finalize the endorsement.

Seriously — this is what Ohio’s legislators passed into law as a legal requirement for teachers of struggling readers in grades K-3. Does anyone think the prospect of paying out an additional $17,000 dollars will somehow attract teachers to teach our struggling learners?  And how does the legislature think a school district will entice a teacher to take out more student loans in order to stay in a kindergarten classroom?

Beyond the obvious absurdity of the legislature overlooking the outrageous out-of-pocket cost to teachers is the ridiculous notion that such a change could happen in such a short time frame. (Who out there wants their child’s teacher to also be attending graduate school full-time?)

I’m just plain sick and tired of Ohio’s legislators making these uninformed decisions about education items like these that would be so easily uncovered if they could be bothered to listen every once in a while and actually stopped to imagine the full ramifications of the bills they’re so eager to show off.

Finally, for those of you who have children in grades K-3, please consider donating to their teacher’s college fund.  They’re going to need it.