COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich on Monday signed a bill that steps up public education standards across Ohio and includes a requirement that some third-graders be held back if they cannot read at grade level.
The third grade reading guarantee was the hot-button topic in Senate Bill 316, a multi-faceted education and workforce development bill that the Republican governor signed in Cincinnati. Kasich said he doesn’t intend the new law to be a form of punishment for 8- and 9-year-old boys and girls who want to move on to the fourth grade, but more of a necessary investment in their futures.
“If you can’t read you might as well forget it,” Kasich said at a bank operations center in Cincinnati where he was joined by state lawmakers for the ceremony. “Kids who make their way through social promotion beyond the third grade, when they get up to the 8th, 9th, 10th grade. . . they get lapped, the material becomes too difficult.”
The Kasich administration often refers to a recent Annie E. Casey Foundation report that found that children who cannot read at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out before the 12th grade.
“No one should be surprised,” Kasich warned. “We will not delay any holdback in the third grade if you can’t read.”
The education bill was part of the governor’s mid-biennium review of the state’s budget and policy initiatives. Kasich clashed with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Peggy Lehner, of suburban Dayton, after the Senate deemed the governor’s initial idea of holding back students who could not read at the “proficient” level as unfair and too onerous.
Lehner opted for a lower threshold that gradually steps up the level of reading required for a child to be promoted as other safeguards are put in place, such as improved teaching standards, more reading intervention and summer programs. That will assure that not all the scrutiny falls on the children but challenges schools to do more to help students learn to read.
Kasich initially blasted his fellow Republicans in the Senate for weakening the bill, but has since relented. He thanked Lehner on Monday at the bill signing for her work on the bill.
“Education in this country is at a crisis. There are a whole lot of reasons for why we’ve arrived at where we are,” Lehner said. “The governor referred to the future of blended learning. And part of our problem is we are in transition, we are changing from one way of learning to a whole new way of learning, and I think some people have been sort of left behind in that. This legislation is the beginning of major education reform in the state of Ohio.”
The blended learning approach that Kasich referred to is a provision in SB 316 that will incorporate more technology into the classroom, so much more that teachers could eventually find their roles drastically changing, the governor believes.
“We’re going to get to the point where online learning is going to be the order of the day,” Kasich said. “I think we will ultimately get to the point where teachers’ roles will change to the point where ultimately they will be coaches rather than be teachers because the online curriculum, the online capability is going to excite kids in a way in which they understand.”
Other provisions in the new law will slightly change the system for evaluating teacher performance and will require the General Assembly to come up with a new school report card system by March 31, 2013.
The new law also contains a number of provisions aimed at giving more people a shot at getting a job. Ohio borrowed its Learn and Earn idea from Georgia. It will allow people on public assistance to continue collecting welfare payments while getting job training. Currently in Ohio, accepting job training skills nullifies a person’s public assistance payments, serving as a deterrent for some people to move off of welfare.
And Employment First is a new program that will encourage employers to hire people with disabilities into meaningful, paying jobs as opposed to sheltered workshops. Currently, 40 percent of Ohio adults with disabilities live below the poverty line as compared to 14 percent of all working-age adults, according to Kasich’s office.
“The Lord is smiling when he sees the fact that we are going to give those with disabilities a chance to be what they were created to be and to maximize who they are,” Kasich said.