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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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While the debate over EdChoice is the proverbial shiny object currently drawing nearly everyone’s attention, some of our nation’s most influential conservative voices are proclaiming that school choice is not enough and that conservatives need to re-engage in shaping the “substance of what we want children to learn.” By substance, they include “preparing young people for informed citizenship, restoring character, virtue, and morality to the head of the education table, and building an education system that confers dignity, respect, and opportunity upon every youngster.” Their focus in reigniting the education reform movement which they contend has stalled is chronicled in a new book, How to Educate an American: The Conservative Vision for Tomorrow’s Schools. The pivotal issue that needs to be addressed is: Who will be at the table to discuss what we want children to learn? Will it include the American people and the communities in which they reside or will it be limited to an alliance of private and public interest groups and education policymakers?
One of our colleagues, Kathleen Knight Abowitz, recently co-authored an opinion piece for Cleveland.com. about the harsh reality of whose voices are being elevated and whose voices are being diminished when Ohio education policy is created. In addition to serving as a faculty member in the College of Education, Health and Society at Miami University and school board member for the Talawanda City School District, Kathleen is one of the founding leaders of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network, a grassroots initiative to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.
Boardman is one of the pilot school districts leading a grassroots initiative to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy. Last week, one of those citizens, Lynda Beichner, testified at the public hearings regarding amendments to EdChoice legislation. When asked to reflect upon her experience, she shared the following insight: “For me personally, it felt good to be able to participate in the process. As a parent, I can’t imagine my testimony had much impact in Columbus, but I do think it sent a message in Boardman – people seeing this as a topic worthy of attention. I also think it went a long way to show our staff that we as parents support them and understand a little bit of their frustration.”
My friend and colleague, Charlie Irish, believes that the current debate over EdChoice will prove to be a seminal moment in the role that schools and communities assume in the education of our children. As we struggle with what to do, he recommends that we ask ourselves an important question: Are we fighting to preserve an institution, or are we fighting to preserve an idea about what education means in a democracy? I urge everyone to read what Charlie has to say.
During his recent State of the Union speech, President Trump issued a full-throated attack on what he calls “failing government schools” as he pushed for a program of federally funded vouchers. In response, Jamie Vollmer weighs in on this attack against our public schools. One of our nation’s leading advocates for public education and the author of Schools Cannot Do It Alone, Jamie has created a package of videos and printed materials called The Great Conversation that can be used to help generate community discussions about the future of America’s public education system.
In his new book, Stepping Forward: A Positive, Practical Path to Transform Our Communities and Our Lives, Rich Harwood speaks about the future of our country: “Let’s be real. No no one believes that the seismic challenges we face today can be solved overnight or even through a series of large-scale initiatives. The task is to demonstrate the nation is moving in a better direction — onto a more promising trajectory. Where the circle of people taking action is ever expanding. Where trust is being rebuilt. And where civic confidence is growing. This is the path to restoring belief and, ultimately, to gaining the collective confidence that the nation can tackle larger systemic challenges.” By stepping forward and bringing citizens together to make a difference for public education, the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network is part of this expanding circle of people taking action.
Charlie Irish is a long-time friend whom I often quote on my blogs. I do so because he is a thoughtful educational leader who looks for the deeper meaning in major issues impacting our public schools and the communities they serve. His most recent insight involves the connection between the controversial expansion of EdChoice and a newly published book, Learning How to Hope, written by one our colleagues, Sarah Stitzlein. In a piece which now appears on the website of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network, Charlie takes a deeper look at EdChoice. In it, he asserts that “the struggle EdChoice has precipitated is about more than just money (though the amount at stake is huge). It is about how we will exercise our hope in the future.”
The author of The Pitfalls of Reform, John Tanner believes that we need to build a better mousetrap if we are ever to get past this era of test-based accountability. In a recent podcast, he talks about his work in helping to create statewide “true accountability” systems. John has been in Ohio several times and is currently engaged in discussions about kicking off a true accountability initiative here.
Has the exponential growth of EdChoice school districts for the 2020-2021 school year created enough concern that Ohio’s lawmakers will mitigate the damage that school vouchers inflict on public school budgets? In a recent guest editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Susie Kaeser addresses this pivotal question. A long-time community supporter of public education, Susie is co-founder of the Heights Coalition for Public Education, a community support organization for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District. She also serves as the education specialist for the League of Women Voters of Ohio and on the transition team for the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network’s initiative to bring citizens together to make a difference for public education.
Yesterday, superintendents representing different regions of Ohio met in Columbus to discuss challenges and opportunities facing their public schools. One of the topics that was addressed is the grassroots initiative of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy. As a result of yesterday’s discussion, the groundwork was laid for expanding this grassroots initiative from 10 to 20 school districts this coming year.