There were a lot of big education stories in 2014. The 5of8 fight, school shootings continuing to happen is still unacceptable, big increases in local levies due to budget cuts, disgraceful behavior by State Board of Education members, disgraceful behavior by ODE officials, 3rd grade reading guarantee comes online and Ohio's K-12 technology for implanting a lot of policy didn't. Here's our top 4 stories from 2014.
4Common Core Push Back
2014 was the year when resistance to the Common core State Standards became a mainstream phenomenon. Initially 46 states signed up to the standards, but at least 12 of them have repeal legislation pending in some form. In Ohio, the effort to push back against the CCSS began in late 2013, but bubbled all year, right into November 2014, when the Ohio House passed a bill out of committee.
No one expects repeal efforts to land on the Governor's desk in 2015, but with the Governor likely offering himself as a Presidential nominee requiring tee party votes in a primary (some of the most vocal CCSS critics), an incoming Republican legislative class packed with more extreme ideologues due to gerrymandering, and the standards themselves continuing to be burdened by poor implementation, nobody should be surprised to see this issue continue to burn.
3Corporate Education Reform Stalls Out
We saw signs in 2014 that corporate education policies were either failing, or being received by widespread skepticism. When Teach for America, beloved by the monied class, hits trouble you know there's a big shift going on. Perhaps the biggest shift has been the realization that these policies have birthed an explosion in testing that, if left unchecked, leaves scant time for actually educating students.
In Ohio, even the legislature began to wake up to the testing crisis it had helped create, by offering a bill that would reduce testing. That bill, which was far from perfect, would eventually die in the lame duck. We are almost certain to see new legislation introduced in 2015, especially when the Ohio Department of Education issues its report on the exact number of required exams, along with recommendations to potentially decrease that number. That report is due January 15th. The fact that this report will be published right at the legal deadline is a good indication it is going to cause a stir, and has not been an easy task.
The use of Standardized tests for the purposes of teacher evaluations continued to receive body blows too. At the beginning of the year, the American Statistical Association cast grave doubt on its use, and at the tail end of the year, the Board of Directors of the National Association of Secondary School Principals followed suit. Now past the point of implementation and entering the high stakes phase of these evaluation policies, we're going to see an ever increasing rise in calls for reform of the use of Value-Add, as its unfairness and unintended consequences become more and more apparent.
Nowhere was the pushback again corporate education reform more evident than in the Reynoldsburg, where teachers went on strike for 3 weeks to oppose merit pay proposals and over crowded classrooms. With huge community support behind them, the 350 teachers defeated the boards proposals and were able to return to their classrooms with a contract that would deal with class sizes, and forgo a merit pay system proven to be unsuccessful.
2The Flameout of Ed FitzGerald
Once every 4 years, voters in Ohio have an opportunity to reconsider the direction of the State's education policies when they elect a new Governor. Few could argue that Governor Kasich has done tremendous harm to public schools with his draconian budget cuts, union busting attempts and ill-thought out policies (more unwanted vouchers, more corrupt charters, 3rd grade reading laws, trigger laws no one uses, the failing Cleveland Plan, the Columbus Plan that voters rejected, and on and one). This makes the spectacular flameout of the Democratic candidate, Ed FitzGerald all the more galling.
FitzGerald wasn't defeated because of his policy positions. Voters actually preferred candidates who were pro public education as evidenced by the success of electing so many such candidates to the State Board of Education. Neither was FitzGerald defeated because the voters were enamored by the Governor and his record. It was the lowest turnout election on record, with the governor getting barely as many votes as his did in 2010. No, FitzGerald was simply a terrible candidate who ran an even worse campaign.
We considered making this our #1 story of 2014, but in the end, not even this could top our final choice.
1The Charter School Quality Crisis
2014 saw an explosion in reporting on the Ohio charter school boondoggle. A billion dollar business that continues to fail students and rip off tax payers. Charter schools in 2014 weren't any different than 2013, but the volume of reporting finally brought the desperate situation to the attention of the mainstream. Report, after report after report, throughout the year highlighted the corruption, fraud and failure of these schools. Even pro-charter school boosters got in on the act at the end of the year, producing reports showing that Ohio's charters were failing their students.
The year ended with tough talk from the Governor promising to clean up the mess. The question for 2015 will be whether the Governor can follow through on his tough talk and finally deal with this education disgrace that is harming tens of thousands of students each and every year.