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America’s schools are at a turning point. Our children are being over-tested, our teachers are physically exhausted and emotionally demoralized, and our tax dollars are being diverted to replace our public schools with a privately managed, free-market system of education.
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John Tanner is one our nation’s leading critics of standardized student testing. In a provocative article for the American Association of School Administrators, he contends that standardized tests aren’t about instruction but, instead, were designed to rank order or distribute students to allow for meaningful comparisons within and among schools. He serves as executive director of Test Sense in San Antonio, Texas, and is author of the book, The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement.
The following quote highlights an important reason why our citizens need to be engaged in discussing and helping shape education policy: “From a democratic perspective, the question isn’t whether there should be higher standards or a common core curriculum; it is who gets to say what the standards and curriculum should be. That’s where a meaningful public voice seems to be missing, whether it is at the local, state, or federal level. And being kept on the sidelines may be one of the reasons a lot of Americans have lost confidence in our system of schooling.” This quote appeared in a Kettering Foundation research report entitled “Putting the Public Back into Public Education: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for a Troubled Relationship (2015).” A highly regarded international research institution, the Kettering Foundation’s primary research question is: What does it take to make democracy work as it should?
In their effort to generate public support for their schools, many Ohio school superintendents share a common concern about a problem I’ve often heard expressed in my work in school districts over the past 20 years. It is that the only time we (superintendents) make a concerted effort to reach out to our citizens is when we need their help in passing a tax levy. I agree with this concern and would like to propose a solution to the problem. What if tax levy leadership teams were utilized to build community-wide discussion networks to discuss and help shape statewide education policy. In addition to keeping citizens productively engaged in between tax levy campaigns, the discussion groups would attract citizens who may vote no or who are often on the fence when it comes to their support of school tax issues. The bottom line is that these discussions would create a deeper understanding of the challenges facing our students and teachers and increase support for our public schools.
Kathleen Knight Abowitz is a mother of two children enrolled in her local public schools, a former school teacher, a volunteer leader of citizens in her community who discuss statewide policy issues impacting their school system, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Miami University, and an author. In her book, Publics for Public Schools: Legitimacy, Democracy, and Leadership, she discusses the value of citizen participation. She writes that “citizens participation provides much-needed political legitimacy for public schools. In addition, citizen participation helps support a more holistic and effective approach to education, because parents, schools, and civic associations cannot educate children well by operating alone or at odds with one another.”
There is more evidence that top-down mandated education reforms are not working. On April 12, the national Network for Public Education reported that the billions of dollars spent on annual testing and Common Core have produced meager change. In fact, based upon NPE’s analysis of test data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, achievement gaps have widened. “It is past time to stop blaming students, teachers, and schools, and place the blame for stagnation where it belongs: On nearly 20 years of failed federal policy based on failed assumptions,” stated NPE President Diane Ravitch. Ms. Ravitch is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst and a research professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.
On March 21, the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 216 by an overwhelming margin of 33-0. Referred to as the Ohio Public School Deregulation Act, S.B. 216 is designed to reduce the amount of unnecessary mandates and regulations affecting Ohio’s public schools. At a time in our country when our political system is caught up in a constant state of grid lock and unable to get anything done, this was a major feat. So, how did it happen and what can be learned from it? In a word, it was effort driven by a strategy of collaboration rather than confrontation. Rather than trying to pressure our state senators by throwing them under the bus with criticism about what they are currently doing or not doing, a small group of superintendents from western Ohio respectfully met with their state senator and began a frank and open discussion about some of the barriers getting in the way of teaching and learning in their local schools. This conversation was then expanded to other senatorial districts throughout the state until consensus was reached about what should be done. Yes, it was basically that simple. … Continue reading
Battelle for Kids is an influential voice in shaping the accountability system for Ohio’s public schools. In a recent policy statement entitled “Shaping Accountability for the 21st Century,” Battelle for Kids President and CEO Karen Garza wrote: “Historically, state-level assessments have been developed around what is easy to measure, not necessarily what matters most to support students’ long-term success. As school systems embrace new ways of preparing the whole child, more complex, comprehensive models of assessment are needed to measure progress around this changing definition of success. These new models of assessment—such as project-based assessment, student-led assessment, and performance-based assessment—require more time, intensive professional learning, and more support for educators to employ in the classroom. But when done well, they provide educators, students, and parents with much richer information about students’ learning and future readiness.”
Below is the blessing and final admonition to the passengers on the Mayflower as they embarked for a new life in the New World. It is a powerful analogy for the leaders of the Ohio Public Advocacy Network whose goal is to provide their citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.
As we all know, the political division in our nation has reached the point where we are unable to solve many of our nation’s most serious problems. It is time for us to turn things around and start listening to one another and working together. A well-written article in The Atlantic magazine puts into clear perspective the cost of abandoning an institution, our public schools, that is designed to bind, not divide our citizenry. The article, entitled “Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake,” is lengthy but worth taking the time to read and share with others.
More than 100 citizens attended the recent community meeting to discuss school safety in the Avon Lake City School District (Ohio). Highlights of the two-hour discussion are available on the district’s website. In a candid interview with Avon Lake Superintendent Bob Scott, I asked him what he learned. His response: “Providing people with information is not always enough. Like many other important topics, school safety requires a two-way conversation. My overall takeaway from our discussion is that most of the public concern was focused on the mental health aspect of school safety. Our citizens understand that we have to be able to identify students who need our help in order to prevent an incident like the one that tragically occurred in Parkland, Florida. This, of course, does not discount the importance of safety plans and safe facilities. Avon Lake and school districts across the country have planned, implemented, re-evaluated and continuously modified safety plans even prior to Columbine. What we have learned is that barriers and drills may reduce the possibility of a crisis and may reduce casualties during a crisis, but relationships and communication are our best safety… Continue reading