Ohio’s collective bargaining law gives a boost to value-added

The nation's first mandatory merit pay system for teachers won't be implemented in Florida, where the concept has kicked around the state house in recent sessions. Not in Colorado where some districts have experimented with it, nor in Texas, where the concept has also received close attention.

Instead the first state to adopt mandatory merit pay for educators is Ohio, once home to one of the nation's most robust labor movements.

SB 5, signed into law late last month by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, reduces the number of issues that are subject to collective bargaining for public employees including fire fighters and teachers. The bill also bans those publicly employed from striking and prohibits public agencies from paying more than 85 percent of workers' health insurance costs.

But what the bill also does will likely have widespread impacts on school districts throughout the nation, because it also requires that pay raises for public workers will now be based on performance rather than length of service.

Representatives of the Ohio teachers union said adoption of the merit pay measure will create a crisis" in the state schools largely because the system will be based on the controversial value-added formula.

Supporters, like House Speaker William G. Batchelder, a Republican from the central Ohio city of Medina, called the measure a victory for taxpayers "who have had to foot the bill for costly public labor contracts negotiated through a collective-bargaining process that favors unions," he said in a statement.

A referendum drive has already been started.

Unlike many other states, Ohio has some experience with value-added evaluations and education. Annual state report cards on schools are based on the value-added formula and have been for nearly a decade.

Also, about half of the state's school districts already voluntarily use the value-added system for evaluating teachers. Ohio state officials now say they are committed to using the $400 million won in Race to the Top grants to launch the program statewide.

Still, there are serious challenges ahead.

Matt Dotson from the Ohio Education Association told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday that "currently there aren't any student growth measures that exist that are designed to be valid and reliable for high stakes decisions like teacher compensation."

The Ohio law requires state officials to develop new standards to evaluate teacher performance and student achievement. Under the law, half an educator's overall evaluation would be based on the new standards, which in turn would determine compensation.

Critics of the value-added system have pointed out that higher test scores are not always the result of teaching and that other key factors includethe role of parents and economic conditions. There are concerns that reliance on the system would create classrooms where students are only taught to the test.

But the idea is being pushed by the Obama administration and has become an issue in many state house legislative sessions this year - including in California.

AB 5 by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Van Nuys, would replace California's existing teacher evaluation system with a far more comprehensive process - although both local school boards and district bargaining units would have to agree to the changes.

Nonetheless, Fuentes' bill requires that the student scores from the Standardized Testing and Reporting programs be used as part of the evaluation - that's something that has drawn bipartisan opposition even as leadership has allowed the bill to move forward so far.

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