Ohio Public School Advocacy Network
A recent study reveals that fostering non-cognitive skills does more to influence students’ future outcomes than does helping them raise their test scores. Looking at the data for 570,000 students in North Carolina, C. Kirabo Jackson, an economics professor at Northwestern University, found that ninth-grade teachers who improved their students’ non-cognitive skills—which include motivation, the ability to adapt to new situations and self-regulation—had important impacts on those students. They were more likely to have higher attendance and grades and to graduate than their peers. They were also less likely to be suspended and to be held back a grade. These benefits persisted throughout high school.
When it comes to providing true accountability for our nation’s public schools, John Tanner makes a compelling case that our nation’s current testing system isn’t working. Yesterday, the author of The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement shared his research on student testing with 60 school and community leaders during a day-long symposium at the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio. Tanner, however, he didn’t stop there. He also explained that he is working with educational leaders in Texas to create an accountability system that does work. The symposium was sponsored by the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network which is working to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.
On February 19, the Madeira City Schools Board of Education passed a resolution calling on its state leaders to make changes to the Homestead Exemption Program that would provide additional financial assistance for the district’s senior citizens. Madeira Superintendent Kenji Matsudo, then followed up by sending this message to state and local elected officials and other educational advocates in his school district: “Our Madeira senior citizens overwhelmingly support their beloved school district but, unfortunately, changes to the program a few years ago do not allow all of our Madeira senior citizens to take advantage of the program. Please see the attached resolution passed by the Madeira Board of Education on February 19, 2019 and work to make changes to the Homestead Exemption Program by turning it back to how it was in 2007 – include all senior citizens, regardless of their income.” Matsudo is one of the leaders of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network which is working to give Ohioans a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.
“Ask anyone from a school accountability expert to a parent of a school-age child, and you will get near universal agreement that we have a dysfunctional standardized-testing system in the United States. Educators do not like the annual statewide tests: They inform school penalties, not learning, because the results come so late in the school year. They fail to match any specific curriculum, and generally don’t deeply measure students’ analytical capabilities or the dispositions employers and colleges value. Our nearly 20-year experiment with yearly federally required exams has boosted math scores, research indicates, but those gains have petered out as accountability pressures have grown more acute. And efforts over the last decade to produce better tests have been met with tepid enthusiasm.” This quote serves as the introduction to a recent article in Education Week titled, “Is It Time to Kill Annual Testing? It is well written and worth reading.
Last evening, a dozen teachers, parents and other community members met in North Olmsted to learn about the initiative of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide Ohio’s citizens with an opportunity to discuss statewide education policy issues and concerns impacting their local schools and communities. North Olmsted is one of 20 pilot sites participating in this grassroots initiative. In March, the OPSAN leadership team from North Olmsted will host a community forum to discuss the impact of high stakes student testing.
Growing concern about the high stakes testing of our students has reached a tipping point and is now being addressed in many regions of our country. On March 11 in collaboration with the Schlechty Center, the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network (OPSAN) is hosting a symposium with John Tanner, author of The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Actual Incompatibility with Improvement. This symposium is free and will be held at the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. To register, contact Tracy Spies at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the founding principles of our democratic republic is that we elect other people to speak on our behalf. Throughout most of our lives, it has been drilled into our heads that this is how our system of representative government works. As a result, many citizens believe their patriotic responsibility begins and ends in the voting booth. Keeping citizens on the sidelines, other than on election day, is a serious threat to the future of our public schools which need the full support of an engaged, knowledgeable and empowered public in order to take them back.
Our new book, Cleaning Up the Mess from Sacred Cows: A Strategy to Take Back Our Public Schools, is now available on Amazon.com. It is authored by Charlie Irish (a former public school superintendent) and me and addresses the harsh reality that our public schools are in trouble. Not only have our teachers and students been overwhelmed by three decades of sweeping education reforms, but the long-standing relationship between the public and its public schools is hanging by a thread. Our book exposes the root of the problem as misguided conventional wisdom which, until now, has been immune from criticism. In Ohio, a grassroots movement challenging this sacred-cow thinking is serving as an important source of learning for the rest of the country.
For the past two decades, research institutions like the Kettering Foundation that study societal trends have been warning our nation that the long-standing relationship between the public and our public schools is hanging by a thread. In his book, Is There a Public for Public Schools?, Kettering Foundation President David Mathews wrote in 1996 about the loss of public ownership in our nation’s public schools. A decade later, he revisited the issue in Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy: “Unfortunately, a good many people today no longer believe that they own the public schools or that they have the responsibilities that ownership implies. This is not an issue of whether people are confident that these institutions are doing a good job, feel close to them and would pay taxes for their support. Ownership is a more fundamental issue: When people drive by a schoolhouse, will they say, ‘this is our school” or only ‘that’s the school’? What they say will influence the future of public education in America.”
A widely accepted unwritten rule in public education is that school superintendents are expected to set the agenda for what gets discussed. While, at first glance, this cultural norm may appear to be insignificant, it is an important symbol of the conventional thinking that is keeping citizens on the sidelines. In some ways, it is eerily reminiscent of the time when we were in school and had to raise our hand and gain permission from our teacher before we could speak. Today, many citizens still think they need to gain permission before they can speak.