Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A 304 Page Bill Changes More Than That

Recently, there have been several advertisements urging the voters in Ohio to support Issue 2—the referendum vote on the controversial Ohio Senate Bill 5. These advertisements urge people to support issue 2 because they claim that all Senate Bill 5 does is require public employees like teachers, police officers and firefighters to contribute 10% of their salaries towards their retirements and pay 15% of their health care costs. 

However, the final version of Ohio Senate Bill 5 was 304 pages. If all this bill did was require public employees to contribute 10% of their salaries to their retirements and pay 15% of their health care costs, it would not take 304 pages to explain that. These advertisements are trying to create a straw man argument to get people to think that this bill is one thing—namely reasonable—when in reality it is something completely different. Everyone in Ohio should know that this bill does a lot more in those 304 pages than those two simple items presented in the advertisements.

For the record, the vast majority of teachers and many other public servants around the state already contribute 10% of their salaries to their retirements. Furthermore, over the past year, many teachers and public workers have agreed to pay more of their health care costs at the bargaining table through the collective bargaining process. According to
Politifact.com, “Many public workers [in Ohio] contribute 10 percent of their salary toward their pension while the employer contributes 14 percent.”

Everyone in Ohio who would consider voting for Issue 2 should know that Senate Bill 5 does a lot more than these ads imply. This should make everyone wonder what is in the 304-page bill that they are not talking about. It reduces the voice that teachers have to advocate for their students and it diminishes the say that teachers have in what they are required to do in the classroom. It requires teachers to be rated into one of four categories by an evaluation system that has not been developed by the state. The bill requires 50% of this evaluation to be based upon measures of student growth, which will most likely be calculated using “Value Added Models” derived from standardized test scores of students. Currently, value added scores are only available for teachers who teach math and reading to 4th through 8th grade students. To evaluate all teachers, the state will have to develop other measures, at great cost, and will probably try to create tests for more subjects and more grades. This will mean that the state will be testing students not for the purpose of assessing students’ learning so much as it will be for evaluating their teachers. There has been no answer for how they will evaluate art, music, physical education and other subjects for which a standardized test does not exist. The increased use of standardized tests will mean more education funds will go to testing companies and educational consultants, many of which are supporters of the politicians pushing for these reforms, and less money will end up in classrooms. It also means that the state government and more likely the new “common core consortia” at the national level will have more say over what is taught, while teachers will have less input. More funds will likely be spent on teacher evaluators and less on students. Students will spend more time taking tests and less time learning. This is just a small summary of changes required by the proposed legislation. So, in reality the 304 page Senate Bill 5 requires a lot more than increased pension and health care contributions by public employees.