Back to School Specials from Ohio’s Statehouse
by Maureen Reedy

Just in case you’ve missed this as you’ve been scouring the stores for school supplies, “Back to School Specials” are being delivered to the children and teachers in Ohio’s schools, straight from our Statehouse chambers.

As the sweltering heat wave subsides, our kids will barely have time to rush into their new classrooms, meet their teachers, make new friends and high five old ones, before the “Statehouse Back to School Specials” begin.

Statehouse Back to School Special # 1:  Third grade could last forever with the “One Size Fits All” Third Grade Reading Guarantee…

Newsflash!! Our legislators know better than experienced educators how to best assess and measure student growth.

The testing “heat” will be really be ramped up this year with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee for our youngest students in K – 3rd grades.  Data is the engine that will drive the school day as teachers are forced to teach test prep “curriculum”, from the second day of school on, to prepare students for one test, on one day of their 3rd grade year, that will determine if they move on to 4th grade or not. Just one point could be the barrier that keeps a child from moving on when perhaps he is not well cared for, undernourished, or is suffering from stress related trauma on testing day.

Gone are the multiple measures of academic growth that allow for developmental differences and different learning styles. Gone are teacher-developed assessments that are tailored to meaningful, developmentally appropriate curriculum and instruction that engage our students. Gone are the joy of discovery, and the gift of time for children to develop and build their academic skills with expert, authentic instruction and assessments from professional educators who know each child from the “inside/out.”

Research-based professional practices simply don’t matter anymore as our financially strapped school districts are mandated to spent hundreds of millions of dollars statewide to measure our children with untested, unfunded, developmentally inappropriate tests based on the new Common Core assessments which have yet to be field tested.  We only need to look at the recent first round of Common Core assessment results in New York to see what is in store for Ohio’s children; a drastic drop from 60% proficiency to 30% proficiency in just one year, with a growing movement of thousands of parents choosing the “opt out” alternative for their child, a formal refusal to participate in the testing.

Statehouse Back to School Special # 2:  Art, Music and Physical Education will be more fun than ever, now that standardized tests are on their way!

Yes, that’s right!  Another chunk of childhood, as we know it, is being bitten off by the frenzy for metrics in teacher evaluation. Soon to be gone for our children, are the creative, stress free outlets of drawing, singing, running, jumping and playing in art, music and physical education classes, which serve both as important curricular areas of study, and, as a release from the pressures of the school day.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that while some Ohio teachers face new job reviews based on their students’ standardized test scores, others will be graded this year in part on how well their students can clap a rhythm or how fast they can run a mile.

Teachers in Worthington schools are working on an elementary music test that likely will require students to read and clap a musical rhythm. For physical education, the state gives examples that include strength and aerobic tests at both ends of the year.

Mim Chenfeld, a Columbus resident, renowned arts educator, author, international key note speaker and the recipient of the 2012 Lifetime Legacy Award for the National Association for the Development of Young Children, reacted to these proposed tests in her recent letter to the Editor of the Columbus Dispatch…

“Our children, teachers and families already are at maximum stress levels over the existing testing that has caused widespread controversy, practically demolished opportunities for creative and joyful educational experiences and, incidentally, made millions and millions of dollars for test-writing companies.

We do not need more tests, especially in areas that have eluded effective tests. Music, art and physical education are three curriculum departments that have historically invited children into ways of learning and enjoying that, in numerous situations, provide joyful sanctuaries where students succeed and provide opportunities for lifelong engagement…

Please stop the testing already. Enough is enough.”

Statehouse Back to School Special # 3:  Parents, soon your child could have a new teacher with just 5 weeks of summer training as an educator!

That’s right, while thousands of college graduates are standing in line for jobs in Ohio’s schools, having devoted years of study to the field of education and student teaching in multiple educational settings over a two year period, Teach For America candidates, with degrees unrelated to education, no field experience and 5 weeks of training, have been invited by our legislators to begin teaching in Ohio’s schools.

Never mind that over 80% of Teach For America candidates leave the classroom after just 2 years of teaching, our children can serve as the first rung on their career ladder! Never mind that TFA program has grown so controversial within its own rank and file that former TFA recruits are currently launching a campaign against the TFA organization; our legislature has decided that experimental, untrained educators are ok for Ohio’s students.

Better yet, how about adopting the TFA model to create five-week crash courses for college graduates to become surgeons, dentists, and airline pilots?  This could be a great cost saver across the board, especially in low-income areas where the impoverished, needy patients and clients reside; Surgeons for America, Dentists for America and Pilots for America could give two years of their time while building their resumes to move on to more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. Let’s try it!

Statehouse Back to School Special # 4:  When it comes to funding our public schools, graduation rates don’t matter, campaign contributions to our legislators do!

Why else would our legislature continue to vastly expand the voucher “give-away program” with each successive state budget, taking money and vital resources out of our higher performing public schools to fund the two-decade, seven billion dollar failed charter school experiment?

Why else would legislators look the other way and continue to pour money into the coffers of David Brennan’s failing White Hat Charter Schools when Ohio’s supreme court has issued a forced court order for White Hat to open their books for financial disclosure purposes?

Why else would legislators continue to deplete funding for our public schools who have an overall 81% graduation rate and vote for vouchers for ECOT Charter Schools when they have an abysmal 20 -30% graduation rate?

Could it be that our legislators have blinders on because David Brennan of White Hat, and William Lager of ECOT, are the largest donors to the GOP in the last decade, with well over five million dollars in the coffers at the statehouse?

Why else would legislators ignore the disruption to our kids, our schools and communities, and fund charters that open their doors, receive multiple violations, shut down for poor academic performance and are allowed to re-open with a different sponsor, a new name and a different staff the very next day?

Why else would Governor Kasich, who used to be against local school levies, flip-flop and support the proposed Columbus School levy… could it be he has had a change of heart?  Or could it be that the caveat for change is that local control has been removed by the legislature as the district is forced to share levy funding with charter schools?

Back to School Special # 5:  Enough is enough, is enough!

As parents, taxpayers, educators,  and concerned citizens it is time to find a forum to stand up together and push back against legislative loyalties driven by campaign contributions dictating educational policy in Ohio.

Our kids come first, not profits. Not one single person, management company or corporation should receive vital state education funding for advertising and profiteering purposes while building a profit margin for million dollar CEO and disproportionate administrative salaries.

Every hard earned tax dollar should be used, not to build a profit, but to re-invest in resources to help our children succeed in school; up to date technology, textbooks, and literature, professionally certified, high quality principals and career educators, full-time nurses, guidance counselors, social workers, school psychologists, intervention specialists, ESL teachers, paraprofessionals for our special needs students, gifted instructors, librarians, art, music and physical education teachers.

Perhaps Governor Kasich and our state legislators could put partisan politics and political contributions aside and gather together in the rotunda where President Abraham Lincoln lay in state over 150 years ago and apply his creed of “A House Divided, Cannot Stand,” to the schoolhouses of our state.

Draining our public schools of vital funds and resources by continuing to invest in underperforming charter schools is the opposite of proven education reform. Now is the time to stop experimenting with our children’s academic progress, sense of stability and connection to their community. Our state legislators need to join together in a courageous effort to re-invest in and strengthen our public schools, the bedrock of our local communities, which have proven to be the most effective over time.

Ohio’s schoolhouses divided cannot stand.

Let’s stand up, together, for our public schools, before it is too late.

— Maureen Reedy