Ohio’s leading legislator in implementing education reforms, who I have frequently urged you to contact about needed changes to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee law, has stopped listening to constituents.  Senator Peggy Lehner, chair of the Senate Education Committee appeared on 10tv’s Capitol Square program last Sunday and clearly stated that she is firmly behind the law as it has been enacted, especially the mandatory retention component that will hold back any third grader who doesn’t achieve the arbitrary cut score on Ohio’s standardized reading assessment this Spring.

Said Lehner, after stating that neither the state nor school districts were ready, “One of my biggest concerns is that we don’t have the political will to stick with this.”

Lehner went on to say that this will be a hard sell — “a tough year” — when the numbers of children being retained are revealed, but that this law is absolutely necessary.

Notice that Senator Lehner didn’t talk about the research that reveals that mandatory retention does long-term damage to children; research that reveals that retention is an added risk factor for dropping out, especially for children of poverty — the children who are disproportionately affected by this law.

No, Senator Lehner is no longer interested in listening to facts that contradict her beliefs about this law, she is simply interested in stubbornly holding the line on this law that will cause irreparable harm to children.

Of course, when this new group of 3rd graders are retained, and when they begin to drop out of school at a higher rate in the next 7-8 years, where will Senator Lehner be?  Gone, not to be held accountable.  Even if Lehner is re-elected in 2016, she will be out in 2020 due to term limits, and will likely be retired as she’ll turn 70 in that same year.  So really, what does she care?  The research shows that while retention often shows short term bumps in achievement, the long-term effects are too damaging and the likelihood of dropping out increases.  For the current third graders that are retained for missing “the score” on the one-day test, they will now hit high school in the same year that Lehner’s time in the Ohio Senate runs out — 2020.

By 2020, the damage will be done by Lehner and her stubborn “political will”.  There is no way to “undo” this damage later on — the mandatory retention component of the law must be removed now.  There are no take backs.

At the end of the interview, Lehner adds in a final comment that further points out another clearly absurd component of this law and just how jumbled her rationale for holding the line is.  Lehner states that this law is imperative “because after third grade we quit teaching reading”.  In other places, this has been explained by the phrase “in K-2, kids are learning to read, but in grade 3 and up, kids are reading to learn”.

If this was true, and if it’s so imperative to retain these children in third grade because they will be unsuccessful in all of the other subjects (science, math, social studies, etc.) without knowing “how to read”, then why does the law allow schools to provide the students with 4th grade level content in those other areas while remaining in 3rd grade for reading?  Think about that logic — schools are being forced to retain students because they allegedly can’t read on grade level and without that ability “can’t” be successful in the other subject areas, yet they are allowed to provide “appropriate fourth grade instruction in the other subject areas“.

Seriously, how does that even make sense?

This law is a joke.  A sadistic, misguided, poorly-informed, one-size-fits-all joke that will impose irreversible harm on thousands of 8- and 9-year old kids.

Thanks for keeping an open mind, Senator Lehner.