By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association
Knowing when to move on with a lesson and when to slow down, when to allow a teachable moment to blossom even though it will mess up your lesson plans for the rest of the week, or when to give a kid a break and when to hold the line: this is the art of teaching.
But teaching is also a science, and we all experiment in our classrooms. Good teachers are constantly changing how we approach our practice of teaching, sometimes to keep the subject material fresh for us, sometimes to prepare our kids for a standardized test…but always, ALWAYS, to improve the education our kids are getting.
Sometimes those little experiments with a new method or a new resource garner great success, and we congratulate ourselves for our forward thinking and our willingness to try something different.
Sometimes those little experiments fail. Epically.
Last spring, I decided to teach a new book to my honors sophomores. I had always wanted to try reading a book for the first time with my students, so I did. After I read the first assigned selection, I had to force myself not to read ahead. I could not wait to get to school and talk about it. When class started, I said, “Didn’t you just love it? Where do you want to start our discussion?” I was met with disdain. They hated it. In fact, one of those students, for an essay contest we entered this fall, wrote an essay entitled “The Book We Won’t Forget”. He recounted this failed experiment with the book that was “revolting” and will “haunt” the students for the rest of their lives. The experiment certainly did not go as planned, but no one was too damaged, despite his hyperbolic essay.
The government experiments, too, particularly in public education, where the desire for improvement drives new policies and laws. But the difference between teachers’ experiments in the classroom and the state’s experiments is that we know our kids. We conduct safe experiments, where even the epic failures provide a lesson and where no real damage is done. If we have any concerns that something we want to try could hurt our kids, we don’t do it. Because to teachers, the kids come first.
To Ohio’s educational leaders, however, kids don’t come first. Charter schools continue to take money away from other public schools, despite documented corruption (David Hansen’s data-scrubbing) and continued research that shows students in traditional public schools outperform charter school students on standardized tests. In fact, a recent study showed kids in online charter schools lost nearly a half a year in reading, and 180 days in math. Writer Lindsey Layton, in her coverage of the study, pointed out that “it is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.” And our Ohio Department of Education, despite all this, just received $71 million to dole out to charter schools.  There is some hope in the fact that the federal government realized how foolish it is to give that amount of money to a scandal-ridden charter school system; earlier this month, the US Department of Education wrote to Superintendent Ross to say it was adding several stipulations that must be met before Ohio’s Department of Education will see any of that money. In spite of this rare moment of sanity in the world of charter school news, it seems clear to me that the charter school experiment, which is working in some other states, is failing miserably in Ohio.
Perhaps the greatest “experiment” being conducted now is the Youngstown Experiment, er, I mean Plan. A Columbus judge recently shot down an injunction which would have stopped a CEO, who is not even required to have a background in education, from taking over the district. This CEO “will have broad authority including the power to reopen contracts, hire and fire administrators and turn failing schools over to charter or other outside operators.”
I am not the only one who sees a somewhat suspicious connection between these two experiments; a recent Cleveland.com editorial implies that the lack of legislative debate on the Youngstown Plan exists because “the Kasich administration’s ultimate goal may be to convert the Youngstown district’s schools into charter schools.” Make no mistake; any public school could be subjected to a similar plan. One failing report card grade and a takeover could be imminent. I don’t believe for a minute that Youngstown is the only school district Kasich would like to see become a charter school; after all, for-profit charter schools make money, and money funds campaigns.
My students knew they were part of an experiment. But our students have no idea that they are subjects in a wide-spread state experiment, an experiment that may do irreparable harm to them. We have to be their voice. We have to pay attention to what our state’s leaders are doing with education in Ohio. We have to bombard social media, write letters to our legislators, and protest loudly that it is not acceptable for our kids to be used in this way. Otherwise, we will be just like the Michigan fan whose horrified “What-just-happened?” face was plastered all over social media after Michigan lost in spectacular fashion to Michigan State earlier this year. As Buckeyes, we love that. But as teachers, we can’t afford to wear that face. We can’t allow ourselves to be shocked at the loss public education will suffer if we allow the state’s experiments on our students to go unchecked. We must unite to stop the mad scientists.
 “Study on online charter schools: ‘It is literally as if the kid did …” 2015. 8 Nov. 2015 <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/10/31/study-on-online-charter-schools-it-is-literally-as-if-the-kid-did-not-go-to-school-for-an-entire-year/>
 “Ohio wins $71 million charter school expansion grant …” 2015. 19 Oct. 2015 <http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/10/ohio_wins_71_million_charter_school_expansion_grant_drawing_pride_and_distrust.html>
 “Ohio has some explaining to do before receiving $71 million …” 2015. 8 Nov. 2015 <http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/11/ohio_has_some_explaining_to_do.html>
 “Youngstown School Board plans appeal of judge’s ruling.” 2015. 19 Oct. 2015 <http://www.vindy.com/news/2015/oct/14/youngstown-plan-to-proceed/>
 “The charter school dimension of Ohio’s stealth heist of Youngstown schools: editorial.” 2015. 19 Oct. 2015 <http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/10/more_troubling_developments_in.html>