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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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Corky O'Callaghan

Shifting Away from Standardized Tests

In at least two bellwether states, efforts are underway to significantly expand how school quality is measured.  In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment has established a new school-quality framework that includes the many things stakeholders in education actually care about.  “Measuring those elements, while shifting away from standardized tests, we are working to build a new kind of data system—one that captures the things parents and teachers know,” states Jack Schneider, the Consortium’s director of research, in a recent article in Atlantic magazine.  According to Schneider, the California Office for Reforming Education has also begun to significantly expand how school quality is measured.

The Mission of K-12 Education

In May, Bob Hlasko completed work on his dissertation for the Graduate Faculty of the University of Findlay’s College of Education.  The subject of his study was what parents, educators and legislators perceive to be the mission of K-12 education.  I recently spoke with Bob, who currently serves as superintendent of the Cory-Rawson Local Schools, and asked him what he learned from his three years of research.  Here are some of his major findings:

  • Most parents rely on their own children’s experience rather than on the state report as the key indicator of educational quality.
  • Most parents believe their local schools are doing a good job.
  • While most educational mission statements are nearly all the same, when you drill down, those statements mean very different things to many people.
  • Education reform movements have failed because there is no common agreement regarding the mission of K-12 education.
  • Parents and educators don’t think they have a voice in influencing statewide education policy.
  • Parents and educators want local control because they want to be able to help define and own the mission of K-12 education.
  • Only until local educators, parents and other citizens are vested in helping to determine the… Continue reading

Not a Sprint But a Marathon

In her provocative new book, Who Do We Choose to Be? (which I recommend reading), Margaret Wheatley writes that “a movement is defined by the people willing to stay dedicated to their cause for a long time, those who takes risks, work hard, expect defeat, and still keep going.”  This sounds a lot like the mindset of Ohio’s public school superintendents leading the grassroots movement to provide their citizens with a stronger voice in shaping education policy in our state.  As one superintendent put it, “The work of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network is not a sprint but a marathon.”

Energizing a Neighborhood’s Commitment to Educating

When I was young, I remember how people in my neighborhood took me under their wings and taught me everything from playing the clarinet to doing the running long jump to taking care of my beloved collie, Randy.  In a working paper for the Kettering Foundation, John McKnight writes about the importance of an educating neighborhood:  “School reform in the United States has usually meant getting parents contributing to the school and the school becoming more efficient, technological, and test-driven.  While these reforms may be helpful, they fail to energize a neighborhood’s commitment to educating.  Implementing this commitment may be as important as traditional school reform ideas.”  Co-director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University, McKnight believes that an educating neighborhood is a vital part of school reform.  His research shows that it can result in lightening the burden on teachers who are now asked to do many things that are impossible for them to do, eliminating the we-they relationship that exists in many places between schools and their local neighborhoods, building a stronger neighborhood with, not only capacities to teach, but with new commitments to be responsible for the… Continue reading

Local Control Goals in District’s Strategic Plan

Citizens in the Vandalia-Butler City School District have put an exclamation point on their commitment to restoring local control of their school system.  At a community meeting attended by more than 130 people, goals were inserted into the school district’s strategic plan to strengthen their community’s voice in shaping statewide education policy.   These goals state that the Vandalia-Butler City Schools will:

  • promote Board of Education policies and practices which empower educators locally to optimize the learning processes for student success,
  • continue to educate students, parents, and the community on a broader understanding of academic excellence and student success,
  • continue to advocate for and maximize local control over teacher evaluation and development,
  • enhance public communication on the local control of schools and the role of federal and state mandates through legislative updates by email and the web,
  • encourage parents and the community to create an educational PAC (Political Action Group),
  • advocate a Board position on selected state and federal mandates that do not favor students and schools and how each impacts local schools, and
  • empower and support teacher and building innovations and adaptations which are creative ways to meet mandates.

Vandalia-Butler’s superintendent, Brad Neavin, is helping to lead… Continue reading

Public Support for Local Control

A key finding from the statewide voter survey conducted last month by Fallon Research & Communications, Inc. provides the most recent evidence that there is strong public support for local control of Ohio’s schools. Fallon reported that 50% of Ohio’s voters think it is better having local school districts making decisions about standards, while 44% think it is better having the state making decisions about standards.

A Very Important Question

For insight into major challenges facing our democracy, I often turn to my friend and colleague, Charlie Irish. One of those challenges which has been well documented through his work with the Kettering Foundation is the growing disconnect between America’s citizens and their public schools.  I recently asked Charlie if the grass roots movement to provide Ohioans with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy can help reverse this trend and begin to reconnect them with their local public schools.  Here’s what he said: ” This is a very important question.  I believe it can if, and only if, their voice is one that has emerged from genuine and sustained citizen to citizen interaction throughout the community.  When citizens share a deep understanding of what it means for a community to be accountable for education and why it is important for our democracy, they create a bond that cannot be broken.  On the other hand, if their voice is a merely a loud echo of language provided by school leaders, this promising grass roots movement will eventually run out of steam and slowly fade into the sunset.”

A Relaxed and Productive Discussion

Wednesday night, Meryl Johnson, who was recently elected to the State Board of Education, didn’t mince any words in stressing the importance of engaging citizens in the process of shaping statewide education policy. She assured 25 school and parent leaders in the Bedford City School District that our state policymakers pay close attention when they hear from Ohio’s citizens.  Wednesday’s discussion was organized and hosted by Bedford City School Superintendent Andrea Celico who provided the following overview:

Our discussion with Mrs. Johnson was relaxed and productive.  She opened the evening by sharing why she decided to run for the State School Board and what she has learned since taking office this January.  Our staff and parents were very comfortable sharing their heart-felt concerns which included the negative impact of high stakes testing of our students.  One of the most important outcomes of Wednesday’s discussion was everyone’s positive reaction to learning about the grassroots movement being led by the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.  Learning that other groups of citizens around the state are having similar discussions with policymakers seemed to generate a… Continue reading