A Lot in Common

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is the core of SBOE District 11, and its health is vital to the whole region. District 11’s representative needs to be ready to work with Cleveland and with the other 26 school districts in the district.

A conversation last week with the Heights Coalition for Public Education focused on Alfie Kohn’s 1999 book The Schools Our Children Deserve. Kohn’s book sounded an alarm about the amount and kinds of testing imposed on schools. What he warned about in 1999 became an even more obvious threat under No Child Left Behind, and it will take us a while to reverse that trend.

It’s pretty well-documented that school district test scores are tied to community income and academic attainment, so imposing mandates on school districts that test scores mark as poorly-performing amounts to imposing them selectively on poor kids. Lawmakers imposed vouchers and mayoral control on Cleveland first, and they’re trying out other solutions like academic distress commissions that can be applied to smaller school districts.

In most cases, this amounts to sending other people’s kids to schools that the lawmakers wouldn’t let their kids attend. It’s human nature to favor your own; but for lawmakers with a constitutional responsibility to build equity and adequacy in Ohio’s common schools, this constitutes a major breach of responsibility.

Instead of great public schools for all, we see legislation like Senate Bill 3, which would exempt successful districts (as identified by test scores) from certain education policies. Proposed areas for exemption include requirements to hire licensed teachers, restrictions on class size, and new-teacher mentoring. If those regulations are good for poorer schools, why are they bad for richer schools?

So while poorer schools get “intervention” plans designed by lawmakers and bureaucrats in Columbus, richer schools would get exemptions. Richer school get recess; Poorer schools get test prep.

The schools of District 11, not just Cleveland, are squarely in the sights of state lawmakers. As I met with the Heights group, it was clear that they’re affected by some of the same issues affecting Cleveland.

Within my first term on the State Board of Education, I will reach out to all 27 school systems in District 11 in an effort to bring them together. Maybe all that will do is help us to realize that we share some of the same frustrations. But just maybe, it will enable us to find our common voice and approach state lawmakers with one message. My promise is to try it.

This post originally appeared on the website of my 2016 campaign for State Board of Education, http://bill4board.us.

Author: StgCoach

Retired teacher and public education leader. Pastoral musician, community activist, parliamentarian, and photographer.