Last week the Ohio Department of Education submitted a document officially known as the “OHIO ESEA FLEXIBILITY REQUEST.”  What that means is that Ohio submitted a detailed list of items that they wish to have waivers from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA; better known as No Child Left Behind). This request was an option recently given to states by the U.S. Department of Education.

Ohio’s request is a hefty 271 pages long and addresses 10 requirements from the existing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that Ohio is requesting waivers from (standard across any state waiver application).  We won’t address the entire request in this post, but instead would like to provide some background of the waiver document and how Ohio’s elected officials and the Ohio Department of Education so strongly value educators (at least that’s what they say in this document).  We’ll soon provide our perspective on the change proposed by ODE that has received the most press since this document was published — a new method for grading school and district performance.

For an introduction to the state’s ESEA waiver request, here are a some key lines from the opening sections (emphasis added).

One of the most significant contributing factors to the state’s achievement has been the open dialogue educators enjoy with Ohio Department of Education (ODE) officials, legislators and other policy makers. ODE routinely consults with Ohio’s two teachers unions, the Ohio Education Association (OEA) and the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) regarding its continuous improvement strategies and educational reform initiatives. The state’s 110,000 teachers and 5,200 administrators are considered to be the most significant contributors to student success in school buildings across the state. As such, the input of individuals who serve in these capacities is extremely important to the success of education policies and reforms.

Teachers and principals – you’ve been feeling this level of appreciation over the past year, right?

In the summer of 2011, staff from the Governor’s office conducted 18 meetings with educators across the state to understand sentiments on issues ranging from evaluations to compensation. In addition to the meetings, they received approximately 1,300 emails.

As I recall, those meetings were by invitation only by the Governor’s production assistantcampaign spokesperson…teacher liaison.  I wonder what she’s being paid to do now?  But I digress…

The Ohio Teachers Evaluation System (OTES) was developed collaboratively with representatives of teachers, principals, superintendents and the higher education community. Throughout the development of the evaluation systems, focus groups were convened, internal and external reviews were conducted, and feedback from administrators and Educational Service Centers was solicited and received. These evaluation systems were reviewed and approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Educator Standards Board.

In summary, Ohio has meaningfully engaged educators in the development of its ESEA flexibility request.

Yeah, there was that one small part where the legislators engaged educators by adopting a reformed education model through Senate Bill 5, unifying educators in opposition to the uninformed and harmful legislation, leading to its eventual repeal by over 63% of Ohio voters.And then the Governor proceeded to ignore the reasoned information provided by professional educators and adopted similar components through HB153, the budget bill.  That part is conspicuous absent from the waiver request.

The key role that the General Assembly plays in education requires that the state stay in continuous communication and seek the input of key legislators at any time that policy reforms are being considered. In light of the importance of education to Ohio legislative leaders, ORC Section 3302.09 specifically requires any changes to ESEA, as currently authorized under No Child Left Behind, to be approved by a concurrent resolution of both the House of Representatives and Senate. ODE discussed the flexibility request with the chairmen of the House and Senate Education committees and will solicit required action upon approval of our waiver request.

House Education Chair – Gerald L. Stebelton (R); Supporter of Senate Bill 5, House Bill 153, House Bill 136 (school vouchers)
Senate Education Chair – Peggy Lehner (R); Supporter of Senate Bill 5, House Bill 153 (including adoption of Teacher Retesting law after hearing opposition testimony), once bragged “We have begun to knock down the roadblocks that have prevented new charter schools from opening, we lifted the moratorium on new e-schools in Ohio, expanded the Ed Choice scholarship program

Some form of education may be important to these legislators, but we would prefer that the importance be on increasing support for informed improvement of public education in Ohio, not their efforts to divert funding to private enterprises focused on profiting on the backs of children.

Since the announcement of the flexibility opportunity, ODE began having regular consultations with staff from the Governor’s office to discuss the details and process for developing the state’s application. The Governor’s office has been kept abreast of ODE’s outreach and has provided key input into each of the principle areas of Ohio’s request. The State Superintendent briefed the Governor directly on our waiver request to solicit direct input and feedback for Ohio’s request.

Yes, that really says “The Governor’s officehas provided key input into each of the principle areas of Ohio’s request.”  Wonderful.  Who could ask for better representation?

Two more paragraphs and then we’re done.  Can you identify which key organizations are not highlighted in this paragraph titled Education Associations?

One of the first stakeholder groups that ODE approached regarding the proposed ESEA flexibility was the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) – Ohio’s association of school district superintendents and other local school leaders. BASA has assisted in facilitating meetings between ODE staff and representatives from other Ohio education associations to discuss this opportunity and solicit input and commentary. Organizations that were involved in these discussions included: the Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO), the Ohio Association of Elementary School Administrators (OAESA), the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators (OASSA), the Ohio Educational Service Center Association (OESCA) and the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA).

To be fair, the two major teachers organizations did offer letters of support for the waiver request, but they only offer their support in a broad scope and do not specifically address the exact requests contained in the document.  It’s disappointing that ODE believed it was most important to talk to administrators first and foremost to validate their groupthink.

And finally, ODE reports out some statistics about their efforts to obtain stakeholder input.  Here is the text directly from the waiver request document:

As mentioned previously, ODE provided various communiques to a wide range of stakeholders announcing the ESEA flexibility opportunity and soliciting input from recipients. Those communiques included the following:

  • EdConnections newsletter (sent to superintendents, principals and other educators regarding information about ODE policies, program updates and deadlines, as well as resources to help support student achievement)
  • Emails to various stakeholder groups:
  • Committee of Practitioners
  • Non-Public school representatives
  • Charter School representatives
  • Advocates for Students with Disabilities
  • ELL groups

Compilation of Stakeholders Feedback
Below is a compilation of the correspondence received via the email portal to date.

Page 115 of the request offers more details about this process.  “Both the web link and email portal became active on January 3, 2012.”  So in the 38 days that the web link and portal were active (waiver request drafted February 10), a scant 331 people visited the site and fewer than half submitted a comment.  By comparison, it is likely that more that 331 people will read this post before midnight tonight.  Perhaps ODE should contract with Plunderbund to market their message?

For many of you, this may be the first time you’re hearing about this waiver request that has already been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

Not that you’re surprised.  As we’ve learned over this past year, this is how the Governor’s office and ODE demonstrate, in their own words, “the open dialogue educators enjoy with Ohio Department of Education (ODE) officials, legislators and other policy makers.