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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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This past weekend, “CBS Sunday Morning” featured an uplifting story about a school bus driver who once served at the highest levels of our national government. Stories like this remind us of how many wonderful people have dedicated their lives to serving our country – and continue to do so.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” For me, this quote by Margaret Mead is more than a platitude. It has been a reality that I’ve observed up close and personally in my work with school districts across Ohio over the past four decades. Time and time again, I’ve seen small groups of concerned citizens step up to pass levies and make a difference in other ways. Today, we are caught in the crosshairs of a culture war that is not only impacting the health and safety of our local schools and communities but has become a serious threat to our democracy. The Ohio Public School Advocacy Network is being led by “small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens” who can help play a pivotal role in determining how this story ends.
In an effort to learn how school districts are effectively dealing with the anger surrounding masks, vaccines, CRT and other divisive issues, I recently spoke with one of our Ohio Public School Advocacy Network superintendents who was confronted by several upset parents opposed to the district’s mask mandate. The superintendent’s response to these parents was to call each of them and listen to their concerns. Below is an email from one of them:
I just want to say I really appreciate you calling! I understand where you are coming from, and I know you are in a tough situation as a superintendent. Everything you said makes complete sense to me and I understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you explain the situation to everyone as you explained it to me, I don’t see how people couldn’t change their minds. Again, thank you very much! Have a great day.
When I asked if this email is representative of how many of the parents responded to the personal phone calls, the answer was yes. The superintendent then added: “The bottom line is being kind and taking the time to listen to… Continue reading
Charlie Irish, who is a statewide leader of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network, recently participated in the 2021 National Issues Forum sponsored by the Kettering Foundation where he serves as an educational partner. In reporting on the forum, he said he was especially struck by a presentation from the Hamilton County Library System which is hosting deliberative conversations about COVID and other pressing issues: “Libraries exist to support freedom of speech and expression. So deliberation is a natural extension of their institutional mission. But schools aren’t too far from that. They are about education and the pivotal role education plays in supporting civic life and our democracy. Maybe schools could learn something from libraries.”
In states where educational leaders rely upon the passage of local tax levies to help fund their public schools, the closest over the years they have come to engaging in mortal combat is waging levy campaigns. As anyone who has been involved in these campaigns can attest, they can become extremely emotional and divisive. Today, however, we are facing something even more insidious. We are facing levy campaigns on steroids. The daily vitriol now being generated by our political system is much more damaging to the health of our communities and future of our public schools than periodically asking citizens to increase their taxes. In an insightful conversation with Derek W. Black, the Chair in Constitutional Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law, he explains how the landscape for public education has changed and then suggests a pathway for navigating through the turbulent waters heading our way.
This past week, the Boardman Local School Board and Administration publicly recognized the legislators, school officials and advisors who led the successful movement to create and adopt Ohio’s Fair School Funding Plan: “It was exactly nine months ago to the day that Representative John Patterson spoke here in the Boardman Performing Arts Center – explaining the urgent need for the Fair School Funding Plan. The Boardman Schools could not be happier than to welcome John Patterson back to thank him and the team of colleagues in the Fair Funding movement for a successful job well done! More than three years of intensive study, debate and compromise delivered a funding formula that will allocate funding based on the actual cost of educating a child. This is a huge first step as Boardman Schools will stay engaged in the process to seek full implementation of a constitutional funding system for Ohio’s students.” In addition to Representative Patterson, several other Fair Funding leaders were present at the school board meeting, including: Ryan Pendleton, Treasurer of the Akron City Schools; Jim Betts of Betts & Associates; Kevin Miller, Director of Government Relations with the Buckeye Association of School… Continue reading
Why have we become so politically divided in this country? Political philosopher and Harvard professor Michael Sandel offers a surprising answer in a provocative interview on Canadian public television. For me, watching the video of this interview has served as a breath of fresh air that explains a lot about what has been happening in our nation.
The Atlantic reports that critical race theory has become an obsession this year for Fox News. After being cited 132 times on Fox News shows in 2020, this year its mentions on the cable news network have practically doubled month after month. It was referred to 51 times in February, 139 times in March, 314 times in April, 589 times in May, and 737 times in just the first three weeks of June. As of June 29, 26 states had introduced legislation or other state-level actions to “restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism,” according to Education Week, and nine had implemented such bans.
In a recent study conducted by the Dayton Daily News, investigators found that schools in the greater Dayton area largely don’t require discussion of current events related to racial justice or teach history related to racial equality. According to report, several Dayton area Republican state representatives are sponsoring at least one of the two Ohio House bills recently proposed to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” around race.
Jeff Porter is superintendent of a wealthy suburban school district in Maine. In the summer of 2020, he said he had no idea his community was about to become part of a national battle when a father began accusing his district of teaching critical race theory. “I was very naïve at the beginning of the year,” said Porter in a recent interview with NBC News. “I thought it was a concerned parent who had taken it a little too far. I didn’t understand this until recently, but these were tactics from national organizations to discredit the entire district.” This attempt to discredit our public schools is gaining momentum in Ohio and many other states and needs to be taken very seriously.