Moving Towards Better Education Policy,
One Step at a Time
by Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association
- Adequately funded public schools across the state
- Low-performing charter schools shut down
- Authentic assessments replacing the mountain of standardized tests
- An end to the practice of tying teacher pay and ratings to standardized test scores.
I can’t even put into words how much better our education system would be; how student and teacher morale would improve, how many programs and courses could be restored, how much more authentic learning could happen in classrooms across the state…
Knowing that these reforms are what schools need, teachers, parents and children have worked for these changes, in a variety of ways, throughout this school year. They have hosted forums, engaged in conversations with community members, started support groups on Facebook and contacted elected officials.
Despite all of the advocacy, however, none of these issues has been resolved.
Knowing that these issues still linger, it’s easy to get depressed and frustrated. However, if we ever want to win this struggle for public education, we can’t afford to get discouraged. We have to focus on the things we have gained this year.
Before this school year started, how many people knew what the State Board of Education did, let alone that we even had a State Board of Education? Yet, because the State Board of Education sought to remove “5 of 8” language for staffing education specialists, like art teachers and counselors, people across the state were moved to action. Over 70,000 emails and letters were sent to Board members, and although the “5 of 8” language was ultimately still removed, the awareness and engagement that came from this issue has prompted state legislators to take up the cause thanks to advocacy efforts from parents and teachers.
There have been gains on charter school accountability as well. The narrative that we need more “school choice” is changing, as people realize that school choice, with little or no oversight, leads to big profits for charter school tycoons like William Lager and David Brennan, not better schools for Ohio’s children. Countless newspapers have run stories about charter school abuses, and there are efforts in the legislature to create laws that force charter schools to be more transparent.
The area of testing is where we’ve made the most gains. Although many didn’t realize, as the year began, just how terrible the standardized testing situation was going to be, a great awakening happened this winter, as classrooms turned into testing zones. People began to realize that the tests were about labeling teachers, not helping kids. They saw the money and time that was wasted on the tests, and the toll the tests were taking on children. They knew that something needed to be done, and so parents, teachers, students, school board members and administrators advocated together. School boards made resolutions against the tests. Superintendents across the state spoke out, explaining the testing flaws. Parents and students shared their stories, explaining the undue anxiety and suffering children were experiencing.
From the outcry came action. Senator Peggy Lehner formed the Senate Advisory Committee on Testing. Finally, there was a committee that included a broad-base of education stakeholders. Among them were teachers from around the state. This shouldn’t have been a big deal, but considering how many state education decisions have come without teacher consultation, this was huge. The Committee’s recommendations included a reduction in the number of tests and the amount of time spent on testing, as well as more accommodations for students on IEPs and a “safe harbor” for the impact of test scores on teachers and school districts. While the recommendations don’t pull the plug on standardized testing, they do offer significant improvements to the system. If adopted, the changes will have a positive impact on schools next year.
So, while we haven’t achieved the education system we know is best, we have made gains. We have raised awareness of the issues, we have engaged more people and we have forged alliances with parents, administrators and many others, knowing that we are far more effective advocating for change together than on our own. While I know the struggle for great schools and sensible education policies is a process that will take years, the progress we’ve made this year gives me hope that we will eventually achieve our goals.