Tue., Apr. 2, 2019
Sen. Lehner: 614-466-4538

Graduation Requirements Presentation

Following bill testimony, Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria appeared before the committee to provide senators an overview of the proposed changes to graduation requirements that have been approved by the State Board of Education and subsequently updated in March 2019. (See The Hannah Report, 3/12/19.) He abridged his comments for time.

The proposal endorsed by the board late last year would supplement existing graduation pathways with a new option through which students would demonstrate their knowledge in five areas: English; math; well-rounded content; technology; and leadership, reasoning and social-emotional learning. Students could meet the requirement in a given area through the usual state tests, or by other means such as taking a relevant College Credit Plus course or completing a demonstration project, for example. The proposal also includes a "culminating student experience," in which students would give some sort of presentation that demonstrates their evidence of knowledge and skills and competency in math, writing and research. It could take the form of a research project, art portfolio, community service project or career-technical education program, among other options.

DeMaria also noted that, per statutory requirements, ODE worked with representatives from the business community. They indicated that the culminating student experience should not be part of the graduation requirements, though they acknowledged the importance of hands-on experience and demonstration of skills that it includes. DeMaria said that the department committed to establishing strong training requirements and minimum expectations that would help bolster the plan, but said the business associations have not approved or endorsed the plan.

Chair Lehner asked DeMaria what steps the committee should take with regard to recommendations. He said that it would be best that the proposal be drafted in some way so that the deliberative committee process can begin and so that stakeholders can begin testifying on the proposal.

Sen. Fedor asked a series of questions, beginning with whether the plan reduced the amount of mandatory testing or the time spent taking tests. DeMaria said the proposal does not directly handle testing, though he pointed to other resolutions passed by the State Board of Education focused on reducing testing. She then asked DeMaria if parents and stakeholders were given proper opportunity to express constructive criticism. DeMaria said he felt the advisory group that put together the recommendations was very open to critique and feedback, noting that the plan was slightly adjusted to accommodate those students who do exceed at taking tests, allowing them some flexibility. Finally, she asked why the plan as proposed would be implemented with a sophomore class rather than a freshman class based on the proposal. DeMaria said that decision was meant as a compromise between their ideal scenario and what might be desired by the Legislature in order to move into a new system as soon as is manageable.

Lehner indicated that further discussion would be had on this topic in future meetings when more senators would be available to ask questions.

SB40FREE SPEECH ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES (Brenner A) To enact the "Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act" regarding free speech on college campuses.

Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values, provided proponent testimony, saying it is important to both his organization and his personal conservative values, having attended the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He said the purpose of the bill is to ensure that there is a "level playing field" for all ideas at universities. It would protect freedom of assembly, ban "free speech zones," prevents protestors from shutting down events via "heckler's veto" and require colleges and universities to have a free speech policy, he said. He provided examples of where those freedoms have been infringed upon in the past. 

Sen. Coley quoted a free speech policy of the University of Chicago about not restricting speech for the sake of civility and asked if Baer shared those views. Baer said he did, saying that open and honest discussion leads to empathy and said the bill would protect that right on campuses. 

Next, Caleb Dalton, legal counsel for the Center for Academic Freedom and the Alliance for Defending Freedom, provided proponent testimony, explaining that he has represented students and groups looking to defend the First Amendment on campuses. He quoted the U.S. Supreme Court and said that administrators on some campuses have enacted policies that infringe on the First Amendment. He said practices like that teach students that such restrictions are permissible and a normal part of society. He said that SB40 addresses many of the issues students and organizations face on college campuses and said that it would establish a baseline for universities follow. 

Dalton received no questions. 

Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Freedom (FIRE), provided proponent testimony next, explaining that his organization rates universities and their free speech policies using a traffic light system, where "red light" institutions have heavy restrictions on freedom of speech and "green light" institutions have strong protections for speech. He said that Ohio has 11 "yellow light" universities and just one "green light" university, Cleveland State University. He provided some examples of cases involving restrictions at Sinclair Community College and the University of Cincinnati. He said the situation is not "all or nothing" and said that targeted solutions can improve the campus environment. 

Sen. Brenner asked what policies separate the "yellow" from the "green." Cohn said that, while universities must balance the First Amendment against their legal and moral obligation to respond to discriminatory behavior, there is a legally established line between the two. He said that overbroad policies on issues like harassment, computer use, free speech zones and distribution of literature hamper free speech. He noted, however, that universities are generally not attempting to restrict speech with their policies. 

Finally, Jeff Dillon, legislative liaison for Americans for Prosperity, echoed the other speakers in his proponent testimony, saying that protecting free speech and discussion leads to "strong and confident minds" that are able to engage in robust dialogue. Coley agreed with Dillon, saying he felt many campuses stifle creativity. 

SB89CAREER-TECHNICAL EDUCATION (Huffman M) With regard to career-technical education and the compensation of joint vocational school districts located in enterprise zones.

Will Vorys, legal counsel for career tech education associations, provided proponent testimony on behalf of the Ohio Association of Career Technical Education (Ohio ACTE), the Ohio Association of Career Technical Superintendents (OACTS) and the Ohio Association of Compact and Comprehensive Career Technical Schools (Ohio CCS). He provided a very brief overview the career tech planning district (CTPD) system in Ohio and said that SB89 represented a joint effort of all career tech representatives to identify common solutions for issues facing the system. 

Sen. Tina Maharath asked about attendance reporting changes in the bill. Vorys said the bill would eliminate duplicative attendance reporting requirements so that only one entity need report attendance of a student for state purposes. 

Vorys told Sen. Fedor that CTPDs receive separate report cards from traditional schools and noted that the State Board of Education has adopted some changes that improve the report card, including enhanced measures that track activities that many CTPDs engage in. 

Following Vorys, a variety of representatives from career tech centers around the state gave presentations on various components of the bill. Nancy Luce, superintendent of Upper Valley Career Center, explained that the bill would allow teachers with specific career tech teaching licenses to substitute teach in other subjects, allow individuals who possess permits to teach adult education classes to instruct in more than one district and allow individuals with adult instructor permits — who are employed by a district to teach adult classes — to also substitute in career and technical programs at high schools. 

Brook Click, Education Management Information System (EMIS) and testing manager at Penta Career Center, said the bill would require the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to provide advance notice for changes to EMIS reporting requirements, allowing them to capture more dollars when ODE requests data for funding purposes. Click told Fedor that missing out on those funds prevents the career center from supporting new programs. 

Greg Edinger, superintendent of Vanguard Sentinel Career Technical Center, provided a brief overview of the Career-Technical Assurance Guide (CTAG) and articulated credit systems, which allow career tech students to earn college credit, similar to College Credit Plus. He said that the bill would allow students to receive those credits immediately on a transcript rather than after graduation. He told Sen. Terhar that this would bring career tech college-prep courses in line with College Credit Plus in simply awarding college credit. 

Finally, William DiMascio, educational coordinator for West Shore Career Technical District, underlined the high amount of testing that both traditional and career tech students must take, saying that the length of testing certainly has some negative effect on the student experience. He said the bill would allow career tech students to either attain a score that demonstrates workforce readiness and employability on a nationally recognized job skills assessment selected by the State Board of Education or obtain an industry-recognized credential included in the state-approved inventory. 

DiMascio told Fedor that they often speak with the state superintendent to address issues over testing, saying that some of those issues will be dealt with in his and the State Board of Education's proposal to adjust graduation requirements.  

SB110ACADEMIC DISTRESS COMMISSIONS (Manning N) To modify the operation of academic distress commissions in certain school districts.

Chief Cel Rivera of the Lorain Police Department provided proponent testimony, emotionally sharing his perspective on the struggles Lorain schools and the city itself have faced in recent years and since the implementation of an Academic Distress Commission (ADC). Rivera got part way through his testimony before he was asked to withhold his comments by Chair Lehner, who said that he and others would receive other opportunities to share their testimony on both this and other legislation dealing with ADCs. 

Rivera said that Lorain schools had undergone the stress of multiple changes in leadership and many years of social and economic downturn that lead the school into the situation it was in. While he felt morale in the city and schools was being restored, the ADC "changed everything overnight," insinuating that the process to select the new CEO who would run the school system was "tainted." Ensuing problems at the school included an "authoritarian style of leadership," a lack of communication and accountability and an exodus of administrators and teachers. He said that the state accountability system for schools further does not encourage improvement in students.  

Vice Chair Lou Terhar asked if he felt the Lorain school board and superintendent did everything they could do prevent the ADC from taking control. Rivera said that he felt the right people were in place who could have made the right moves to sustain the school, but factors including changes in leadership and changes in social factors like flight to the surrounding suburbs have made it very difficult. Terhar then asked if, had these individuals been in place three years ago, Lorain could have avoided the ADC. Rivera said he didn't think so, saying it'll take a generation or more for true change. He said that too much was working against the district at the time to make it possible. 

Sen. Manning asked how the morale in the city and district has changed over the years. Rivera said that Lorain used to be an excellent, innovative school district that produced many notable alumni. He said the city has only started to improve morale since decline of industry in the 1980s. 

Rivera told Sen. Fedor that the current CEO, without specifically naming David Hardy, has not been an effective leader, and was not holding conversations with the community. He noted the ADC has failed to meet for months at a time and does not discuss instruction or curriculum when it does. Fedor asked him if there is currently a clear path away from receivership. Rivera said he did not believe it would improve given the current state of things. 

Sen. Sykes said that they must look at results data to see whether improvements are actually taking place at the district and told Rivera that "this would not be the last swipe at this." 

Next, Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenaur provided proponent testimony, explaining that he initially sat out of the debates and controversy surrounding the ADC at Lorain until he saw the failure of leadership under the new CEO. He said the fatal flaw of 130-HB70 (Driehaus-Brenner) was that it ceded too much local control away. He said the bill, which would allow the mayor to make more appointments to the ADC to the point that it can have a majority local control, is a step in the right direction toward improving the conditions at Lorain and other districts under ADC control. 

Sen. Brenner and Manning thanked him for the testimony, the former noting that there may be language related to the ADC in the biennial budget. 

Fedor asked Ritenaur how the business community is responding to the current situation. He said that the ADC is the issue number one for the business community and said that the situation has made it difficult to attract businesses and residents to Lorain, especially those people with families looking for a school district for their kids. Fedor again asked if there was a clear path forward for the district. Ritenaur said there was not, given the current leadership. He said he feels the district is losing local leaders who were committed to the district the longer the ADC goes on. 

Sykes asked if the local school board should instead be permitted to appoint more members to the ADC. Ritenaur said that may be one way of going about the ultimate goal of reestablishing local control. He emphasized the need for the district to get a levy on the upcoming ballot in order to avoid further fiscal strife. 

Lehner recommended Ritenaur look at the language in the current proposed biennial budget. Ritenaur said that he felt the proposal there gave too much discretion to the ODE.