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Large Majorities of Americans Reject Corporate Education Reform Policies

It's hard not to read the The 47th annual PDK/Gallup poll of the publics attitude toward public schools, and not come away with the conclusion that the public has rejected the corporate education reform paradigm in significant numbers.

Respondents overwhelmingly indicate that there is far too much emphasis on standardized testing, and that test scores are not the best way to judge schools, or teachers.

The public is also opposed to the use of student test scores in the evaluation of teachers

The "College and Career Ready" slogan isn't being embraced
A strong majority (about eight in 10) of Americans believe how engaged students are with their classwork and their level of hope for the future are very important for measuring the effectiveness of the public schools in their community.

Fewer rated the percentage of graduates attending college and getting a job right after high school as very important. Testing came in last as a measure of effectiveness with just 14% of public school parents rating test scores as very important, making it the last in the list of options.

64% of Americans and a similar proportion of public school parents said there is too much emphasis on standardized testing in the public schools in their community with just 7% believing there’s not enough.

When asked what ideas were most important for improving public schools in their community from a list of five options, testing ranked last in importance once again
So what do Americans think the biggest problems facing schools are, if it's not the nonsense corporate reformers have been saying it is? The number one problems schools face is financing.

Time and time again citizens tell politicians they want to see investment in education, and yet politicians in recent years have spent more time listening to anti-tax groups like StudentsFirst, and profiteers like Ohio's charter school magnates.

Worker Rally Eclipses Koch Brothers Funded Anti-Worker Conference

On August 21st, thousands of working men and women came together at McFerson Commons in the Arena District of downtown Columbus.

The crowd listened to a number of speakers talking about the importance of the American Dream, and how it is workers, not billionaires and profiteers that create and sustain it. One of those speakers was retired school teacher, Mary Binegar.

Here's her prepared remarks
As an educator in the public school system for 33 years, I am proud of the contributions that public employees make every day to better the lives of those who live and work in our communities.

Public education has been a center piece for all Americans in creating opportunities to learn, grow, find work and have a shot at the American Dream.

We need to invest in our public schools and our public services. However, Americans for Prosperity’s idea of the American Dream is to devalue public education and privatize our most valued public services and assets.

We have seen firsthand here in Ohio the dramatic lack of accountability when education is privatized -- profits, not education become the priority.

The American Dream is achieved by putting students first, not profits — by making access to a quality public education available to all by investing in it rather than taking money out of it and giving it to profiteers.

Ohio’s students deserve great public schools whether they are “traditional” schools or taxpayer-funded charter schools. Unfortunately, too many students in Ohio are being ill-served by the large number of poor-performing charter schools. These charter schools take away scarce public tax dollars from traditional public schools attended by the vast majority of Ohio’s students

Many charter schools offer a false choice to parents who are told their student can go to a charter school but they do not realize that the charter school performs much worse academically than the public school where the student came from. I have seen far too many students return to their home school far behind in their courses after several months in a charter school.

In fact, many charter school educators in Ohio are seeking union representation because they want to have a voice in providing an excellent, safe, and nurturing learning environment where students will reach their full potential.

Now, as a retired teacher, and not part of the Social Security system, I have earned and depend on a defined pension and health care benefits to make ends meet and have dignity in retirement.

Americans for Prosperity have actively campaigned to take away retirement security for public employees. How is taking away earned pension and health care the American Dream?

We’re better than this. It’s time that all working people speak up together and challenge the corporate ceo’s and their agenda to divide workers, and devalue the work that we do.

Together, we can move our agenda to raise wages, put family first and retire with dignity. This is the American Dream and I’m here to defend it.
The gathering then marched to the Convention center to demonstrate in front of the Koch Brothers conference attendees.

Dick Ross, ODE, and the State, Sued Over Youngstown Secret Privatization Plan

From the Press release
The Ohio Education Association (OEA) along with the Youngstown City School District Board of Education, the Youngstown Education Association - an affiliate of the OEA, Ohio Council 8 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Jane Haggerty, a taxpayer and Youngstown voter, filed a lawsuit in Franklin County to stop the scheduled state takeover of Youngstown City Schools.

The suit against the State of Ohio, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross, and the Ohio Department of Education, claims the law that sets up a state takeover was rushed through the Ohio legislature without receiving three readings in each chamber, as required by the Ohio Constitution and in a manner that prevented thorough debate and consideration of the law, including input from educators and local citizens. The suit also claims the law violates the right of local citizens to have elected representatives oversee their school districts.

“Educators want to be able to advocate for their students,” said OEA president Becky Higgins. “The plan to turn over decision-making authority in the Youngstown schools to single person – a CEO – would effectively silence the voices of educators. That’s unacceptable. Educators are committed to improving the Youngstown schools and they need to be heard.”

The plaintiffs asked the judge for a preliminary injunction to block the establishment of a new “Academic Distress Commission” that would name a CEO to run the schools until report card ratings improve. The appointed CEO would have the authority to replace administrators, set class sizes, alter existing contracts and set compensation.
The constitution is pretty clear
Article VI §3 states that:

...each school district embraced wholly or in part within any city shall have the power by referendum vote to determine for itself the number of members and the organization of the district board of education, and provision shall be made by law for the exercise of the power by such school districts. The constitution recognizes that the board of education is in charge of its district.
That does seem to preclude having a non elected CEO run things.

The plans troubles don't end there. There are also reports that the crafting of the plan may have broken Ohio's sunshine laws
Two state lawmakers charge that the Youngstown City Schools Business Cabinet was a public body and that its behind-closed-doors meetings violated the Sunshine Law.

The cabinet devised the Youngstown Plan, the legislation that allows a chief executive officer to be appointed to manage and operate the city school district.

“These meetings were meetings about public education policy,” said Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th. “Taxpayer dollars were affected with it, and it was a secret.”

The meetings purposely excluded parents and teachers, she said.

Lepore-Hagan and Rep. Teresa Fedor of Toledo, D-45th, want Richard Ross, state superintendent of public instruction, to resign.
ODE and the State are going to have an uphill fight over this one.

Covering Up Chartergate

"Chartergate" - that's the name being given to the fallout from data being omitted from politically connected online charter schools, skewing sponsor ratings to be more positive. These actions were perpetrated by ODE's school choice director, David Hansen. Hansen was quickly forced to resign. ODE and the Governor were hoping that would end the controversy, but yesterdays letter by 7 school board members (the majority of elected members) has reignited the discussion about opening up an independent investigation. The President of the Board, a Kasich appointee is looking to avoid such an investigation, with incomprehensible reasoning.
State board of education president Tom Gunlock said in an interview that he agrees the law was violated and the situation needs addressed. But he said the letter from his colleagues goes a step beyond what he thinks is necessary.

"It's appropriate to make sure we abide by the law," Mr. Gunlock said of Mr. Ross's plan. "I'm happy where we are today. Am I happy it occurred in the first place? Absolutely not. But I'm willing to understand that nobody's perfect in this world and things happen and what you do afterward is very important."

Mr. Gunlock said that unless contrary evidence surfaces, he's inclined to believe Mr. Hansen acted alone and that Superintendent Ross played no role in the situation. The superintendent has told board members that a review of Mr. Hansen's emails showed he acted alone.

"What happened was wrong, it was a mistake," Mr. Gunlock said. "It was by one person overstepping their authority. To date, nobody's found anything that would lead one to believe something criminal was going on."

He added, "There's nothing you can do when people do stuff when they're not supposed to. Things can happen in any organization where people go outside the chain of command and do stuff."
This response is embarrassing. "Things happen" is not an appropriate response to a scandal affecting a billion dollar business.

How are we to know that Mr. Hansen acted alone without a serious independent investigation? Because we have the word of a man who was either complicit in the scandal or incompetent not to review the sponsor ratings and their design before making them public? Either way we need to do more than a quick search of some emails.

Questions that need immediate answers, under oath include:
  • Did Mr. Hansen have any conversations with Mr Ross or members of the administration about the design of the sponsor ratings?
  • Did Mr. Hansen, or anyone else from ODE meet with anyone from the Charter school industry to discuss creating sponsor ratings? If so, who, and what was the nature of those conversations?
  • Did Mr. Ross review the sponsor ratings system before they were made public? If not, why not? If so, how did this illegal rating system move forward?
  • Did Mr. Hansen develop and publish these ratings on his own, or were other staff members involved? What was their direction, and from whom?
The list of open questions requiring answer is long. Every one knows this wasn't some innocent mistake. Charter school lobbyists have been crawling all over ODE and the statehouse since the first mention of reform was uttered. Mr. Hansen is the husband of Gov. Kaisch's chief of staff and now Presidential campaign manager. You don't sacrifice someone as politically connected as that unless there is far more to be revealed. Yet this is the Governor's response to this growing scandal
Gov. John Kasich sees no need for a special investigation of how data from bad charter schools were scrubbed by the husband of his campaign manager.

“I mean, the guy is gone. He’s gone,” Kasich said about David Hansen, who resigned as the state education department’s school-choice director last month, shortly after it was revealed that he had arbitrarily removed poorly performing charter schools from state evaluations. Hansen is the husband of the governor’s former chief of staff, Beth Hansen, who is the manager of Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“We don’t tolerate any sort of not open and direct communication about charter schools, and everybody gets it. So that’s kind of the end of it,” Kasich said on Tuesday at a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
[...]
“It’s just a political thing,” Kasich said. “You just shake your head that people aren’t grown up enough to know that education’s not about adults, it’s about children. And that sideshows have no place in all this.”
The failure and fraud allowed to persist in the Ohio charter school sector is exactly about adults enriching themselves at the expense of over 100,000 students. That is exactly why an independent examination of ODE and its leadership is so crucial.

The 2015-16 Evaluation Mess

Here's what ODE bullet points as the main changes to the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System
State law (Ohio House Bill 64) brought changes to the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System for the 2015-2016 school year and beyond. The bill extends "safe harbor" provisions for educators who use value-added ratings from state tests for the student growth measure portion of their evaluations. The legislation also modifies the alternative framework, one of two models districts must choose from when evaluating teachers and principals.

Safe harbor provides flexibility with value-added data – Because of the transition to new state tests, which offer value-added data as one means of calculating student academic growth, the General Assembly also extended and modified safe harbor provisions. That means that school districts will not use value-added ratings from state tests for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years as part of educator evaluations or when making decisions regarding dismissal, retention, tenure or compensation – unless they establish a memorandum of understanding to do so. Teachers will continue to receive value-added reports that will provide them with diagnostic information about their students’ progress.

Alternative framework changes – Districts still must choose either the original model (which weights performance and student growth equally at 50 percent each) or an alternative model to follow as they conduct teacher evaluations. The alternative model now weights teacher performance at 50 percent, student growth at 35 percent and an additional component as 15 percent of the total. If selecting this framework, districts may use one or any combination of five options for the additional component:

Student surveys;
Teacher self-evaluations;
Peer review evaluations;
Student portfolios; or a
District-determined component.
On the face of it, an improvement. Though the continued insistence on relying on unreliable VAM data is still, after all these years, after all the studies showing it doesn't work, is frustrating.

Now go read the FAQ ODE has produced, and one quickly realizes that once you start asking questions based on the real world, HB64 has created a tangled mess of more work - work that will once again be abandoned in 2 years time when the safe harbor expires.

The legislature should simply scrap all this state mandated evaluation nonsense, and allow districts to develop their own evaluation systems, leaving ODE to provide suggested frameworks, and assessments.

It is simply not possible to get to a system that fairly evaluates all teachers in an apples-to-apples way, and that amount of effort being expending in attempting to do so is distracting from the primary mission of educating students.

7 State Board of Education Members call Superintendent Dick Ross a "Prime Suspect"

Seven members of the State Board of Education have written a letter to State Superintendent Dick Ross demanding an independent investigation in to the practices of ODE as they relate to the illegal rating of charter school sponsors and the potential unconstitutionality of the Youngstown plan developed in secret without the boards knowledge.

Here's their letter in full
Superintendent Richard Ross
Ohio Department of Education
20 South Front Street
Columbus, OH 43215
August 3rd, 2015
Dear Dr. Ross,

We are taking a beating in the media, and we deserve it.

Our collective failure to properly oversee the administration and employees of ODE allowed the improper ratings of charter school sponsors. Unless we do a full and thorough investigation of ODE, matters could get much worse. You may believe that the evaluation incident was an isolated one, but we would be negligent in the performance of our duties if we accepted that as truth without looking further into ODE practices.

Unfortunately, the proposal to bring in three outsiders to determine how the sponsor evaluation should be completed falls far short of what is required for the public to regain confidence in ODE. Like it or not, you are a prime suspect in what has occurred. Mr. Hansen may have taken the fall, but you were his boss. Whether by mismanagement, or deliberate instruction to Mr. Hansen, you are culpable as well. We need more than an evaluation of how we move forward. We need an investigation into ODE practices that allowed this to happen. We cannot correct the mistakes of the past if we refuse to examine those mistakes, determine what they are, determine how they occurred, evaluate how to prevent them from occurring in the future, and taking the corrective action to assure this does not happen again.

We need to look at more than the evaluation issue. We need to look at how and why we have failed to investigate complaints brought to our attention. Our practice of having sponsors investigate their schools is a huge conflict of interest that results in an entirely unreliable and incredible investigative outcome.

If we are serious about our credibility, the board, not you, must engage an independent firm to investigate you and the Department of Education to determine compliance with the laws and administrative rules of the State of Ohio, the laws and administrative rules of the United States, and the policies and procedures of the Ohio Department of Education all as applied to the oversight, operation and licensure of community schools in the State of Ohio. The firm or individuals selected must be experienced in conducting similar investigations, have no vested interest in the outcome, and reflect the bipartisan nature of our board. The investigation should have a deadline and all appropriate information gathered should be available to the public as soon as possible (so long as it does not interfere with the gathering of information as part of the investigation).

Such investigation must include a determination of the role you and ODE played in formation of “The Youngstown Plan.” It is important to determine how that plan has bypassed Article VI Section 3 of the Constitution of the State of Ohio which states, “Provision shall be made by law for the organization, administration and control of the public school system of the state supported by public funds: provided, that each school district embraced wholly or in part within any city shall have the power by referendum vote to determine for itself the number of members and the organization of the district board of education, and provision shall be made by law for the exercise of this power by such school districts.” The faulty sponsor evaluations ignored the law. Are we now participants in ignoring Ohio’s Constitution?

Such investigation must include an audit of all contracts between the Ohio Department of Education and sponsors of community schools and all contracts between community schools and their sponsors to determine compliance. As the State Auditor has recently reported, he investigates financial issues. It falls on us to investigate legal matters to assure there is no area of law being ignored by community schools or their sponsors. Community school contracts are subject to many rules and laws. Given that ODE has overlooked the law on one known occasion creates the need to assure there are no other violations of the law being overlooked. If there are any violations, we must then determine if ODE had any part in those violations.

Such investigation must determine the accuracy of investigations conducted by sponsors of their sponsored schools at the request of the Department of Education and must further determine if complaints made to you and/or ODE have been set aside, ignored or otherwise not investigated. We look forward to working with you to implement the recommendations listed above as we work to restore the public’s confidence in the Ohio Department of Education.

Very truly yours,

Pat Bruns
Member, District 4

Michael Collins
Member, District 6

Stephanie Dodd
Member, District 9

Ann Jacobs
Member, District 1

Mary Rose Oakar
Member, District 11

Roslyn Painter-Goffi
Member, District 5

A.J. Wagner
Member, District 3
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