Czar leaves as "work calls"

It was announced in late breaking news that the Governor's education Czar, Robert Sommers will be leaving his highly paid post to start his own education consulting company. In his own words

Shortly after his appointment by the governor, the Plain Dealer ran an article with the headline "Can Ohio Gov. John Kasich's education adviser and state superintendent co-exist?", the answer was no, since Sommers was seeking the post for himself.

But even as Sommers was passed over and Stan Heffner assumed the role, the question still remained. Could an education Czar and State Superintendent co-exist? Stories, like this one abounded of the Governor's office of 21st century education duplicating and working at crossed purposes to the Department of Education.

He leaves while Ohio's school funding mechanism is in shambles, school budgets in ruins, and a workable teacher evaluation system is yet to be developed. He advocated for the policies that have led to this situation, and leaves for corporate pastures greener now that the destruction is complete, and all the actual work left to be done putting it back together.

He acted like a corporate raider to the end, and it's not like we didn't see it coming.

We constantly call on the administration to include educators in the development of policy. Not because we believe they have all the right answers, though they have many. Not because they have all the experience, though they have much. But, because unlike those who espouse the latest fads, they are the ones who will still be on the front lines executing policy and doing the work of educating our children long after the fadsters have gone.

That's the real work that calls.

Lesson Learned?

Just a few short days ago we wrote

Their difficulties will certainly have been further complicated by severe funding cuts as a result of HB153 raiding school budgets, and alienating most school districts and communities with bills like SB5 and HB136. It's hard to collaborate with hundreds of stakeholders when the previous 12 months have been spent attacking them and their mission.

If the administration have learned this lesson we should expect to see more outreach and consultation, and eventually arrive at a funding formula that works for most. Otherwise the administration is going to find itself having traveled a bridge too far.

any signs that the administration is going to take a more collaborative, friendly approach? Erm, no.

That's a recent tweet of the governor's education Czar, Robert Sommers. The last sentence he refers to?

What happened at the OSBA is a warning to old-school traditionalists: Adapt to the public's call for meaningful school reform or be left on the sidelines.

Sounds a lot like the old rhetoric of get on the bus or be run over by it. Lessons can be hard to learn.

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.

Sommers sweats gifted student question

The reckless budget includes moving $60 million for gifted student services into a larger pot of state aid with no spending requirements. As budgets are slashed across the board the clear ramification of this will be the wholesale elimination of gifted student programs around the state, as districts use this money for general revenue and operating purposes.

This is proving to be politically difficult for the administration. One the one hand it wants to claim it cares about excellence in education, but the realities, with examples like this, are running contrary.

These difficulties can be seen and heard in this interview with the administration's education czar, Mr. Sommers

Administration - cut ESP's first

Despite analysis and news reports to the contrary, the administrations education Czar continues to state that school districts can and should meet their massive budget shortfalls without local tax increases.

Mr. Sommers said the budget proposal is as much about trying to correct a faulty funding system as it is about a lack of money. "We're real clear: Don't raise taxes at the local level either. It's time to think about ways to be more efficient in our production of educational success."

A report from the political think tank Innovation Ohio said the cuts to schools would result in the layoff of 30,000 teachers and support staff. Mr. Sommers said the administration's message has been to not start cuts with teachers and principals.

"I think any school that starts by cutting teachers is short sighted," he said.

Schools should instead make reductions in non-instructional costs such as administration, food service, transportation, human resources, etc., he said.

Clearly as much as the focus has been on teachers, this reckless budget also impacts education support professionals too. Indeed, if you take Mr. Sommers at his own word, ESP's would be first on the chopping block.

On top of the errosion of these middle class jobs, a lot of parents are going to struggle to find ways to safely get their kids to and from school because they have inflexible work schedules.

The services ESP's provide to both parents and teachers, often unrecognized, will come into stark relief if no serious adjustments are made to this reckless budget.