A recent email response from one of Ohio’s State School Board members called the “5 of 8” rule “outdated” and stated that there are many other specialist positions that school must hire these days.  While it is true that there are many additional specialists that schools and districts need to employ these days than when the rule was created, the specialists that are mandated by this particular rule are uniformly critical to all children while other needs vary widely across the state.

printable-map-of-ohioIn fact, I would make the case that the “5 of 8” rule is outdated because it does not require all of the key specialist positions in schools as it should.  These positions (elementary art, music and physical education teachers, school counselors, library media specialists, school nurses, social workers) are even more critical now than they were 31 years ago.

It is true that districts are now needing to hire additional instructional specialists for English Language Learners, etc., but the new proposed change also lumps in non-instructional jobs such as EMIS coordinator which is not truly optional in today’s day and age in Ohio.  The very notion that such a position needs to be codified is quite silly as no district can perform their required duties to ODE without this non-teaching position.

Board members have also stated that opponents’ claims that this change will eliminate the arts and physical education are overblown as those content areas are required to be taught via Ohio Revised Code, but the truth is that the elimination of this rule opens the door wide open to permit school districts to downgrade the quality of instruction in these curricular areas in grades K-8.

The reality is that art, music, and physical education in grades K-8 are not required to be taught by educators who are specifically licensed in those areas. These classes are still permitted to be taught by educators with a K-8 or 1-8 generalist license up through grade 8, or a P-3 license holder in the primary grades.  By eliminating the 5 of 8 rule, the State Board will be clearly stating that they do not believe that these subjects require any degree of specialization.  To further emphasize this point, in grades K-6, teachers don’t have to have any content specialization in those subjects to be Highly Qualified.

You can easily verify this information by looking at ODE’s certification and licensure dictionary for these three key subject areas where you’ll see that general education teachers are “qualified” to teach these classes.

Arts: http://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Teaching/Educator-Licensure/Additional-Information/Certification-and-Licensure-Dictionary/Visual-Art.pdf.aspx

Music: http://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Teaching/Educator-Licensure/Additional-Information/Certification-and-Licensure-Dictionary/Music.pdf.aspx

Physical Education: http://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Teaching/Educator-Licensure/Additional-Information/Certification-and-Licensure-Dictionary/Physical-Education.pdf.aspx

The State Board members’ overly idealistic viewpoint has them convinced that school boards around Ohio always place the needs of the students above all other issues, but they must accept the very real truth that not all school board members across the state share their same viewpoint about the high value of these specialized positions for our children.  The tragedy is that Ohio’s inadequate school funding structure is such that districts are actually requesting this “flexibility” surrounding the 5 of 8 rule in order to make cuts to these foundational jobs.

We need implore State School Board members to use their leadership positions to defend Ohio’s children and retain the 5 of 8 requirement to make the statement at the state level that these positions are absolutely critical and valuable for all children across Ohio.  The State School Board should take this stand in conjunction with taking on an advocacy role to repair the school funding situation in Ohio to ensure that districts are never faced with the prospect of having to consider cutting the arts, physical education, counselors, librarians, nurses, and social workers.

Now is the time for Ohio’s State Board of Education to turn this particular discussion about the value of specialists into a larger discussion about the need to correct funding.  They can use their position to direct Superintendent Dick Ross (they are his boss, after all) to testify to the General Assembly on behalf of Ohio’s children, parents, teachers, communities, and local boards of education to end the practice of turning a blind eye to Ohio’s still-unconstitutional state funding model (and calling what we currently have a “model” is being generous).

This can be a real turning point for the State Board of Education and for Ohio’s schools if they will take a stand on keeping the requirement for these invaluable educational positions and turn the narrative toward the more important issue of correcting Ohio’s failed school funding process.  This decision could ultimately be this School Board’s legacy.

The State School Board needs to step up to protect and defend Ohio’s children, not change the rules to accommodate for the General Assembly’s failures.