COLUMBUS, Ohio – Opponents spoke out against House Bill 239 (HB 239) Tuesday evening at the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee meeting. The bill, jointly sponsored by Republican State Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Democratic State Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus), would eliminate four of the seven end-of-course exams. Two of the exams being eliminated are American History and American Government, and that is the issue for opponents.
The specific law being changed is Senate Bill 165 (SB 165). It was introduced at the time by Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina). The law requires teaching and testing of the country’s original documents as written: the US Constitution with a special focus on the Bill of Rights, the Ohio Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Northwest Ordinance.
In her testimony before Chairman Louis Blessing III (R-Colerain Township) and the committee, Manning had this to say about the elimination of the American History and Government tests: “The state standards will still be taught if these assessments are eliminated.”
“SB 165 of the 129th General Assembly, which became law in 2012, required the State Board of Education to incorporate into the state social studies standards, for grades 4 to 12, academic content regarding the original texts of the Declaration of Independence, Northwest Ordinance, U.S. Constitution, and Ohio Constitution,” she continued. “Teachers will still incorporate the material into lessons since it is part of the state standards.”
State Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell), also a co-sponsor of the original bill as a state representative, told The Ohio Star that “the Founding Documents need to remain as part of the testing.”
“One of the reasons we started public education in this country is because we need an informed citizenry and these courses and testing are integral to that,” Brenner continued. “Without testing there’s no guarantee this will be taught. It’s why we have rubrics, standards and testing to begin with – to know what is being taught.”
Four men submitted testimony against ending assessments that include questions about America’s legal and cultural cornerstones. William J. Federer, a renowned historian, prolific author, and frequent lecturer wrote that “if testing is reduced, studying will not take place, and the history will be lost.”
Federer also shared key quotes from famous historical figures, including commentary from prize-winning historians Will and Ariel Durant who wrote The Story of Civilization. They examined the rise and fall of the significant world civilizations in their 11 volume history series. Following that series, in their 1968 book The Lessons of History, they penned these words: “Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted…civilization would die and we would be savages again.”
Another opponent was Chris Long from the Ohio Christian Alliance. Long shared the history of SB 165, an idea which he and his organization has supported for 20 years. He shared with the committee that Ohio students have been making progress.
“In general, knowledge of our constitutional form of government and our founding documents has increased among our graduates,” he said. “This is due in large part to The Founding of American Documents Curriculum which requires one full credit hour of course study with an end of course exam.”
“Without the examination,” he continued, “teachers will not be compelled to take the time for this course study of our founding documents. It is for this reason that we oppose H.B. 239.”
The two additional opponents also presented testimony against eliminating the history and government tests. In the high-stakes testing environment, concern about teachers not having time to adequately equip students with the information they need to understand our history and be good citizens was a consistent theme.
Tom Zawistowski, president of the We the People Convention and former president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, was a strong supporter of the requirement to teach and test the Founding Documents as written. He shared with The Ohio Star: “In 2012 the Legislature passed laws that required the teaching of American history and the testing for that.”
“That law was violated by numerous school districts, and now they’re coming back to completely remove it,” he continued. “The citizens of Ohio want our children to learn not only American history, but Ohio history. And we expect the Republican majority to make sure that is done.”
Sen. Brenner noted that HB 239 may not even be necessary. The Ohio Senate is completing work on the biennial budget and some senators are considering using the budget to cut the number of high school tests from seven to five.
“If we combine the American History and American Government tests into one, we can cut them down to four,” Brenner suggested. “That gives Ohio students a real opportunity to know and remember their history and thereby preserve freedom for another generation.”
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Beth Lear is a reporter at The Ohio Star. Follow Beth on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.