Ohio Public School Advocacy Network

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

Main Goal of Public School Education?

What do you think should be the main goal of a public school education: to prepare students academically, to prepare them for work, or to prepare them to be good citizens?  When a national sample of Americans was asked this question by Phi Delta Kappan, fewer than half (45%) reported they view the main goal of public education as preparing students academically.  The rest are split between a focus on preparing students for work (25%) or preparing them to be good citizens (26%).  The 48th annual PDK survey is based on a random, representative, 50-state sample of 1,221 adults interviewed by cell or landline telephone, in English or Spanish, in April and May 2016.


One of Their Major Challenges

On November 21, 2014, Ohio’s public school superintendents kicked off a grassroots movement to give their citizens a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.  The Ohio Public School Advocacy Network has grown to include 140 school districts.  With the final days of the current school year coming to a close, now is a good time to address one of the major challenges facing the leaders of this movement.  That challenge is the tone of the conversations which will be occurring this coming year between Ohio’s citizens and their education policymakers in Columbus.  Face it.  We live in a hostile political environment in which some of our citizens are angry and disrespectfully lash out at their elected representatives.  As a result, an increasing number of our policymakers are leery of anyone who shows up and questions their thinking.  For citizens to have a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy, it needs to be a voice of civility and reason.

Something to Think About

Is preparing children for college or the workplace (as some believe) the main reason why we need good schools?  Or is it something else?  The following quote from noted educational historian Diane Ravitch provides anyone pondering this pivotal question something to think about: “Unless the schools provide our children with a vision of human possibility that enlightens and empowers them with knowledge and taste, they will simply play their role in someone else’s marketing schemes.  Unless they understand deeply the sources of our democracy, they will take it for granted and fail to exercise their rights and responsibilities.”

We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For

When citizens deliberate on important issues and concerns, they draw strength from one another.  This is the fundamental message from Kettering Foundation President David Mathews in his closing remarks at the 2016 Public Voice forum held on May 5 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  He explained that when we as human beings feel vulnerable and are looking for strength, rather than turning to those who come along and promise to be the strength we don’t have, we can turn to ourselves.  Referencing the phrase and song of the civil rights movement, he concluded that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  The video of his remarks is a reminder of the importance of deliberation in the current grassroots movement being led by the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide local citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.

Why an Engaged Public Is Necessary

For the past 25 years, I’ve been a devoted student of the work of the Kettering Foundation, a non-profit foundation which studies what it takes for democracy to work as it should.  In the foreword to a research report published in 1993 entitled “Meaningful Chaos:  How People Form Relationships with Public Concerns,” Kettering Foundation President David Mathews wrote something that has had a profound influence on my thinking over the years.  In it he explains that on important issues, the conventional approach is to try to reach the public through publicity.  However, to be authentic or legitimate, he said that public opinion has to be more than a manipulated response.  It has to be formed independently by the interaction of citizens with citizens.  He concludes that “when issues can only be resolved by public action (as in those situations where sacrifice is required), an engaged public is a necessity.”  For school districts faced with the prospect of a school tax issue, Dr. Mathews’ insight has shown that local residents are much more likely to support a tax increase if they have a voice in placing the issue on the ballot.  For the… Continue reading