Education News for 03-29-2013

State Education News

  • Board of directors’ votes to shut down Akron Digital Academy (Akron Beacon Journal)
  • With just more than half of its nine-member roster present, the board of directors for the Akron Digital Academy voted 4-1 Wednesday night to shut down the online school…Read more...

  • Bethel works to meet reading guarantee requirements (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  • School board members March 21 approved a resolution stating the district would not be compliant with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee requirements for the 2013-2014 school year…Read more...

  • Students sharing successes (Warren Tribune Chronicle)
  • From designing bridges and 3D projects to exploring their creative side, area high school students also are getting a head start on their college degrees…Read more...

  • Tests point to improved designation for Youngstown schools (Youngstown Vindicator)
  • Based on preliminary data, city school and state officials expect the Youngstown district to move to the equivalent of “continuous improvement” on the 2012-13 state report card…Read more...

Local Education News

  • Small crowds attended Conneaut school shooter meetings (Ashtabula Star-Beacon)
  • A subject dear to parents, the safety of their children, didn’t help put people into seats at a series of recent meetings outlining Conneaut’s school defense plans…Read more...

  • Striking Strongsville teachers obtain documents (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  • Strongsville schools spent more than $1.1 million through the first two weeks of a teachers strike, according to figures the Strongsville Education Association…Read more...

  • ‘Still Frontier kids’ (Marietta Times)
  • Becoming a charter school would not sever Lawrence Elementary's ties with the Frontier Local school district…Read more...

  • Springboro school board posts contract proposals (Middletown Journal)
  • The Springboro school board has published contract proposals submitted by the board and the union representing district’s teachers and certified staff during their first negotiating session…Read more...

  • New school projects deficit in first 4 years (Springfield News-Sun)
  • Financial projections for the agricultural science school show that the academy would operate at a deficit for the first four years…Read more...

  • Documents detail cost of Strongsville teachers strike for district (Sun Newspapers)
  • According to recently released documents, the school district spent more than $1.1 million in preparation and execution through the first two weeks…Read more...

A Democratic Crisis in Cleveland

Is there a democratic crisis in Cleveland? Three issues suggest there might be.

Issue 1

Just over 4 months ago, 2,202,404 voters in Ohio voted to repeal Senate Bill 5 (SB5). SB5 being the draconian assault on working people and their ability to collectively bargain for fair and safe working conditions and pay. In Cuyahoga county the repeal vote was even more overwhelming - 69.2%. Yet the Mayor of Cleveland continued to introduce a plan that has widely been criticized for containing significant provisions of SB5

Introducing a plan that contains provisions that voters have overwhelmingly rejected is an incredibly undemocratic move. No matter how strongly one might believe that certain policy goals are needed, in a functioning democracy the will of the voters should be seen as sacrosanct, not something that can be conveniently ignored, as appears to be the case with Mayor Frank Jackson and his "Cleveland plan".

Issue 2

The "Cleveland Plan" seeks to undermine democratically elected school boards by creating a Cleveland Transformation Alliance, that

will be a public‐private partnership charged with ensuring accountability for district and charter schools in the city, communicating with parents about quality school choices, and serving as a watchdog for charter sector growth.

Why is such an entity required? The vast majority of Ohio's school districts are highly rated while being governed by elected school boards. It's a model that works. Why does Cleveland need to create an unelected non-profit body that would lack the same level of accountability voters demand, while simultaneously adding another expensive layer of bureaucracy? Education leadership and decision making is already byzantine in Cleveland, being the only school district in Ohio that is controlled by a Mayor. Observers might ask why it was ever a good idea to place Mayors, who typically have no educational expertise, in charge of education to begin with.

Issue 3

Creating an unelected body to manage the "Cleveland Plan" is bad enough, but the plan also seeks to make that body secretive and have its deliberations not be subject to public records.

The package of new legislation Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson says will once again “transform” Cleveland’s schools would create a new nonprofit group to make significant changes to the school district, including drawing together both traditional public schools and charter schools.

But unlike school boards for both traditional public and charter schools, that new group would not be subject to state public records and open meetings laws. That means that residents would not have the right to attend the new group’s board meetings, for example, or to see records about the new group’s financial operations or decision-making process.

It appears that the whole purpose of this proposed entity is so that it can be obscured from public view, unaccountable to tax payers and voters alike.

Reading many of the central aspects to this "Cleveland Plan", one gets the impression that its architects believe one of the major problems with Cleveland schools is too much democracy, when the opposite is clearly true.

A process with little credibility

NPR StateImpact has published a story about the Governor's education Czar and teacher liaison's unusual approach to developing a teacher evaluation system

As Dove explains it, her job now is to gather input from teachers on the new evaluation system and performance pay plans coming to Ohio public schools and to package it into a report later this year for Robert Sommers, the governor’s lead education advisor, and the Ohio Board of Education.

“I’m here to advocate for my profession,” said Dove, who met Kasich while working as a production assistant on his Fox News show, before she decided to become a teacher.

Sounds great in theory, only in practice the effort is less sincere

What Dove hasn’t been doing in her role as Ohio’s teacher liaison is talking with education union leaders. She and Sommers have held 19 meetings with teachers to hear their thoughts on how they should be evaluated and paid. But those meetings have been by-invitation-only. Leaders of the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers have not received invites.

“I’m going through the emails that we’ve received and looking for people that have valuable things to add. We’re meeting with those people,” Dove said.

As the NPR article points out, the Education Standards Board has already spent a number of years developing an evaluation system, and has done so in collaboration with teachers and their associations. It's a process with buy-in and credibility.

Why the Governor's Education Czar, Robert Sommers, and his appointed teacher liaison would want to try to develop this parallel track isn't totally clear, though the partisan disdain for education associations should be noted throughout the article.

What is clear is that this self selecting, somewhat petty and amateurish approach to public policy development can only lead to policy that has no credibility and sustainability.

Mr. Sommers may feel like he can avoid having serious discussions with education associations and their professionals, but with SB5's future very uncertain, any teacher evaluation system is going to need the buy-in from associations in order to pass muster through any collective bargaining agreement.

It's not like Education associations and federations are opposed to evaluation measures, as has been pointed out, they have worked diligently as part of the ESB to develop frameworks. Further evidence of reform minded approaches can be seen in the Cincinnati Public Schools, where we reported some time ago that the teachers entered into a merit pay and evaluation system not dissimilar to what some reformers would prefer.

If Mr. Sommers wants an evaluation system that has credibility, sustainability and can be adopted under collective bargaining, then it's high time he and his liaison started having serious discussions with all the major stakeholders, not just some select meetings with a chosen few, spattered with a few caustic Facebook and Twitter messages designed to needle many of those who the policies seek to affect.

Time for Governor Kasich to listen

We became aware of the Governor's office standing up some central Ohio teachers yesterday, for what was supposed to be a meeting to discuss new school funding formulas.

Columbus teachers who were present have a great write up of the incident. More troubling that some meeting mix-up however is the ongoing pattern of trying to avoid real meaningful teacher input

While the anatomy of the new school funding formula has yet to be determined, the governor’s spokesperson has gone on record saying the new model will be contain the “over-arching principal of driving more money into the classroom.” Mattei-Smith scheduled five meetings over a two-week period inviting teachers, superintendents and principals, but failed to include teacher-leaders from the Ohio Education Association or the Ohio Federation of Teachers until much later in the process.

This meeting information was initially only shared with administrative groups and not with the teacher organizations (OEA and OFT). Information about these series of meetings was only received after “prodding” Barbara Mattei-Smith for it.

What is currently passing for education policy and its development is a shambles. There simply cannot be any meaningful progress without serious consultation with teaching professionals. Attempts to craft policy without broad consultation is going to lead to terrible policy being made that is harmful to public education in Ohio, and the students who are served by it.

It's time for the Governor to personally meet with teachers associations and spend some time listening to professionals who are on the front lines of delivering quality public education every day. He then needs to take what he hears seriously.