Your voice needed for charter reform

Welcome back. Many of our members who work in education are back in their schools already. Some still have a day or two before returning, but the air is thick with summer memories and hopefulness for the fresh start of a new school year. Thank you for spending much of your summer in classes to improve and expand your skills as educators, in conferences to learn how to better serve our students, and preparing all the things you know make your classroom more engaging and rewarding.

Your commitment to education is admirable. For years now, we have been telling legislators, the media, and everyone who will listen that the demands of teaching are becoming so great that the teaching profession is in danger. A recent New York Times article about teacher shortages verifies our concerns. As AFT President Randi Weingarten replied though, the problems are much deeper than economics. The factors driving teachers out of the profession have much more to do with the lack of autonomy that teachers have in their profession and the growing demands of an unfair accountability system that is based on test scores rather than on the true value that teachers, paraprofessionals, and education support staff bring to the life of a child.

Though teachers have had little to no input into the policies that are destroying our system, we still get the blame. Anyone who listened to the Republican presidential debates heard at least three candidates – Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie- brag about taking on the teachers unions. Can we seriously question why we have so many problems with our education system when the people who seek to lead our country want to build a system that shuts out the professionals’ voices?

We cannot just blame one person, one party, or one branch of government for everything that is wrong in education though. There is much blame to be spread. That’s why your voices matter so much. Instead of putting all our faith and hope into a person or party, we must coalesce around issues and demand that our voices be heard.

We have a perfect opportunity to do this with charter reform in Ohio. We need to speak loudly in support of House Bill 2. This legislation will create strong accountability for charter schools in Ohio – an important start to taming what many have come to call the “wild, wild west” of charter schools.

HB 2 is waiting the one act that will make it law – your state Representatives must vote to “concur.” This will combine and adopt all of the strong elements of this bill with improvements approved by the Senate into one substantial new set of ways to hold charter operators accountable for the public dollars they get from us and the academic results they produce – or don’t.

Your state Representatives failed to make this happen when they went on summer break without voting. Shameful, yes. But we can’t let them think that we forgot about this issue over the summer. Our students may sometime experience a summer slide, but we remember clearly how the legislator abruptly passed an amended HB 70 to allow public school districts to be turned over to charters, yet failed to pass charter school reform. We need to strongly remind them that Ohio is long overdue for charter reform.

Your state Representatives are in your neighborhood now. While still off for the summer, your state Representatives are home, in the districts where they represent you. In your hometown. You should go talk to them. Visit them in their hometown office or invite them to your school. Tell them how important it is to our students that the state make sure public dollars are not wasted, mismanaged or embezzled because there are lots of other schools where students do very well and could use more resources and support.

Charter schools get more than $1 billion of our public tax funds each year, yet news story after news story expose profiteers running away with the money, or simply point out that the vast majority of charter operations fail to educate students. This is unfair to students, their families and taxpayers.

Tell your state Representative to concur on House Bill 2. Call them. Meet with them. Tweet at them using their Twitter handle and the hashtag #concurHB2. Post comments on their Facebook pages. Tell them to concur on HB2 as their first order of business when the House reconvenes session.

Your voice matters on this issue and will matter in many issues yet to come. We need you to join the chorus and make a difference. Raise your voice – now.

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Government of the people, by the people, for the people…except when it’s not

…”that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Never did those famous words of Abraham Lincoln mean so much to me as June 24 when I saw “the people” left completely out of the legislative process.

Let me back up just a little bit though to give you some context. The Ohio Federation of Teachers is a strong advocate for the Community Learning Center model in which parents, teachers, students, administration, community members, and anyone else interested have a voice in determining the needs of their neighborhood school and work to bring community resources into the schools to make them accessible to students and to meet the needs of children. We have seen this model work successfully in Cincinnati, and, for at least three years, we have worked to bring awareness to this model by bringing legislators, educators, and a variety of people to Cincinnati to see how it works. In addition, we worked with Rep. Denise Driehaus (D – Cincinnati) and Rep. Andrew Brenner (R- Powell) to draft legislation about the Community Learning Center model.

The result was a fantastic bill that focused on a model that addresses poverty by bringing the community together to identify the needs of the children and to draw upon the community resources to meet those needs.

That bill was HB70 – a bill that had wide bi-partisan support and easily passed through the House.

On June 24, 2015, that bill was hijacked. While the bill was in the Senate Education Committee, a 66-page amendment was added to change how Academic Distress Commissions operate within Ohio. Granted, it is not unusual that amendments are made to bills, but typically amendments are introduced and then people are given some time – a week, two weeks, a month, longer?- to respond. In other words, the people referred to by Abraham Lincoln have an opportunity to testify or to talk with their elected officials to say what they think is good or bad about the amendment.

In the case of HB 70 though, the amended bill passed through the Senate Education Committee, the full Senate, and back through the House for concurrence in ONE DAY. No time for legislators to talk with constituents to see if this amendment was “by the people.” No time to determine if this amendment would work “for the people.” Rather this amendment was done “TO the people!”

Granted there were a few Youngstown notables who came to testify in favor of the amendment. Somehow they knew about it before even some legislators. And I don’t doubt that they truly believe that this is a plan that will work for Youngstown. The problem is, this amendment could potentially impact urbans and other districts across the state yet no one else had any input into deciding what it might look like or even an opportunity to say how the amendment could potentially be made better. Clearly, the voices of the people were not wanted in this process. Someone – the Governor? the State Superintendent? the Senate President? thought it better to push this amendment through in one day rather than give people (educators, parents, community members) an opportunity to provide input.

While the original bill had wide, almost unanimous, bi-partisan support, the amended bill lost all democratic support and even some republican support. I guess some politicians do still believe that “of the people, by the people, for the people” means that you should at least have time to think about whether something is good for the people before passing it into law.

(Side note: Ironically, many of the legislators who voted to pass the 66-page amendment to the original bill in one day without any hesitation later claimed they could not pass an amended charter school bill because they needed more time to think about it, even though the amended version has been around a while. Go figure.)

So what’s so bad about this amendment? The intent of the original bill was to bring community resources into a school so that the needs of students could be met whether the needs be mental, physical, social, emotional, or academic. Though the model does address poverty issues, it certainly is not intended for only high-poverty schools. In fact, all students benefit from a community learning center model because the model allows for communities to tap into their resources to add to a child’s educational experience. In other words, the original bill promoted keeping kids in their neighborhood schools and using every existing resource to make that school the best it can be.

The amendment to the bill though does exactly the opposite. It provides ways to take both students and resources out of the schools with the potential of eventually shutting down schools or even an entire district. The new academic distress commission model makes every student eligible for a voucher, encourages bringing in an “accelerator” (which has complete autonomy) to bring charters into the system, pays surrounding schools to take students from the impacted schools, and gives a CEO the ability to shutdown public schools or turn them into charters. Yes, a CEO who will be appointed to run the district instead of the elected school board or the superintendent. So again, instead of bringing the community together to draw resources into the schools and commit to making them better, the amended part of the bill gives authority to one person who can privatize and charterize the system and send kids somewhere else instead of investing in their neighborhood schools.

“The people” still can exert some influence in this process though and this is where we need to read the fine print, step in and take action. The original part of this bill still exists and still allows for districts to become Community Learning Centers. Even within the amended portion, there are pieces built in that would support this model. For example, the CEO of the district is charged with bringing together stakeholders for both the district and for each individual school. These stakeholders are supposed to set expectations for the district and assist with building relationships with organizations that can provide services to students. In addition, The CEO is authorized to implement innovative education programs that address the physical and mental well-being of students and families, provide mentoring, provide job resources, disseminate higher ed information, offer recreational or cultural activities, and provide other services that will contribute to a successful learning environment.

We need to latch on to these pieces of the bill and reclaim the promise of public education as was originally intended when this bill was drafted. We need to work with our community stakeholders to push for this to be the model chosen in our schools that are in academic distress rather than a model that will farm our children out to other systems. We need to bring this model to schools that are not yet in academic distress so we can start addressing some of our children’s needs that are preventing them from experiencing academic success.

Above all, we need to elect and support legislators, governors, school board members, and other government officials who will tackle the poverty issues our students are facing, not only in the schools but in the communities where they live, and find solutions to these problems. Instead of shuffling our children around from school to school to school, our state officials need to invest in neighborhoods and neighborhood schools. We, the people, must hold them accountable to doing so. Only then will we have a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

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Thank you to our teachers, nurses, paraprofessionals, support staff, and public service employees

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, National Nurses Week and Public
Service Recognition week, I want to thank the thousands of members who
dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others. One day, or even one
week, is not enough time to express our sincere gratitude for all that you
do on a daily basis for the people you serve, their families and our
communities.

My life has been personally touched by people in these professions. Mrs.
Reichardt was my reading teacher in both third and fourth grades. I
worshipped the ground she walked on, not only because she taught me a love
for reading, but also because she was such a kind person who always had an
encouraging word to say – that support and encouragement is especially life-
shaping for young children.

I remember fondly Donna Hawkins who was not only the school secretary while
I was a young student but also continued in that capacity when I began
working as an educator at Georgetown Jr.-Sr. High School. I brought to this
profession a strong passion to help children and open their eyes to the
wonderfulness of this world. Donna taught me everything I needed to know
about how to navigate the school system so that I would not be overwhelmed
by any bureaucracy associated with my job. She took me under her wing and
made sure that I had the support and advice to be successful in anything
that I attempted to do. And she kept that school running efficiently through
countless different administrative changes. She left this world far sooner
than we were ready to let her go. Fortunately for us, she shared her
knowledge and her goodness of heart with her daughter Christy who continues
to serve the school community in ways that go far beyond her job description
as so many educators and public servants do every day.

On a very personal level, I will always remember the nurses at Cincinnati
Children’s Hospital who made my son Tom as comfortable as possible when he
was undergoing chemotherapy. I’ll never forget when Tom left the hospital
following his last treatment: Nurses who had cared for him through a very
difficult time for our family lined the hallway and sang a celebratory song
as he left the hospital to send him back to the rest of his life on a
positive and happy note. That was such a touching moment that went far
beyond what those nurses were required to do. It came from a place of love
for their work and for the people they serve, just as you put extra time and
effort into being the best you can be for those you serve in your jobs.

I have been blessed to meet hundreds of incredible people across the state
who glow when they talk about the work they do to help others – people such
as Jaye Hayes, a paraprofessional offering additional help to students in
Toledo; Cheryll Harris who helps children and families during difficult
times through her work at Franklin County Children Services; Dar Borradaile
who sparks a love of aircraft maintenance in students at Miami Valley; Pat
Forrai-Gunter, who tends to and cares for her school community as a school
nurse in Cleveland; Bev Lucas, an engaging and passionate high school
teacher in New Lexington; Allan Bobincheck, a bus driver whose
responsibility in Beachwood is to deliver our children to their destinations
safe and sound; Mike Smithback, a professor drawing out students’ passions
at Terra Community College. These people, and countless others like them,
restore my faith in what our future can and should be.

Unfortunately, their voices are too often excluded from conversations where
decisions are made about our work. Worse yet, they are often treated as
second-class citizens, attacked, demeaned, dismissed.

Take, for example, what has happened in Cleveland this past week. Teachers
who dedicated their lives to educating children are being improperly
portrayed as lazy, slovenly employees who do not work toward student
success. This is a political attack. It is unfair and incredibly false. Just
read the newspaper articles. Read the quote from Michelle Pierre-Farid. I
won’t dignify it by actually quoting it in my blog. Let’s just say that it
completely disrespects the thousands of educators who show up on a daily
basis to make sure that the children in Cleveland have opportunities for a
decent future. What the newspaper articles are not telling you is that
teachers in these investment schools in Cleveland are fully invested in
student success. That is why they chose to be assigned to these schools. And
they have ideas that will actually help drive that success – ideas that will
have much greater impact on student outcomes than the administration’s push
for an unnecessary dress code. The best ideas the administration can put into an academic
improvement plan are dress codes and weekly lesson plans, indicating that the
teachers there do not dress professionally and they do not do lesson plans –
false characterizations on both pieces that only feed into the current false
media portrayal of teachers. What benefit is there in painting these false
pictures of teachers? Politically motivated attacks on educators fail to
raise student outcomes. Perpetrating falsehoods decreases public trust in
our schools. It is a disservice to children, their families and our
communities to dismiss the wisdom and expertise of the teachers who daily
give their all.

At Terra Community College, six individuals were recently dismissed with no
indication of having done anything wrong or having failed to meet work
obligations. These are faculty members who serve as content experts on
panels assembled by the Ohio Board of Regents, including one who achieved a
rare accomplishment for a community college by securing a National Science
Foundation grant for a robotics program. Yet these people are dismissed
without any prior warning or explanation.

Teachers in our career tech centers were asked to participate in writing
WebExams for their fields, but when they saw the final product it fails to
reflect their input. Why bother with the pretense of engaging a teacher’s
expertise if the advice is going to be overlooked? That is the ultimate
disrespect.

In spite of all the negativity in the media though, in spite of an
accountability system that was designed to put blame on educators rather
than looking at the deeper root societal problems that need to be solved,
the latest PDK poll shows that 64 percent of the public still has trust and
confidence in the men and women who are teaching in our public schools – a
number much higher than the approval rating of the people who create the
policies that tie the hands of our professionals.

It is time to give some respect to the people who are closest to the work in
our schools, in our hospitals, in our public service system. And not just
lip-service, but the kind of respect that is shown by truly listening to the
people doing the work and using their expertise to make the changes that
make a difference. This is the way, beyond simply having an appreciation week, to show that we truly value and respect the professionals who make our lives so much better.

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An open letter to legislators

Recently, the OFT Educational Issues Standing Committee wrote a position paper on testing in Ohio. The paper was designed in a question/answer format for legislators and other stakeholders who might not be familiar with all the terminology that is being used in discussions and focuses on providing our professional perspective on how assessments can drive student learning, our views on the current system, and our recommendations for further action.

Below is the letter that prefaces the document. Please read the letter and then link to the full report.

In addition to writing the report, we have actively been gathering information about your experiences with the testing process this year. If you have not yet taken our survey, please do so now.

The Senate Advisory Committee on Testing also has a website that allows for feedback on the test. Click here to leave input on that site.

An open letter to legislators

It’s time to end the testing mania. There is a better solution to ensure that our children are learning and thriving.

America’s fixation on high-stakes testing is denying our children the rich, meaningful education they deserve. Across our country and here in Ohio, test-driven education policies are hijacking public education. The testing fixation is taking time and money from key educational priorities. It is narrowing the curriculum, forcing teachers to “teach to the test.” It is causing unnecessary and cruel stress on children and their families. It is driving excellent teachers out of the profession and undermining school climate.

The thousands of teachers, paraprofessionals and school support staff represented by the Ohio Federation of Teachers have witnessed firsthand the destructive effects of the testing mania. Today, we are seeing the joy of learning disappear as districts cut art, music, sports, social studies and science to focus strictly on math and reading tests. Our students, sadly, are missing out on learning experiences that promote innovation, creativity, problem solving, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge—the skills that will allow our children and Ohio to thrive in the global economy in the coming decades. Meanwhile, an ever-growing body of research has established that standardized testing is woefully inadequate as the central mechanism for capturing student learning. We are devastating our public schools to no end.

To your credit, our Legislature is now attempting to respond to parent and educator outrage about overtesting and to better understand the testing crisis. Unfortunately, recent bills and reports have focused far too much on quick fixes that create even more frustration and confusion, and policy debates have become entangled in the mechanics—which tests to use, how many tests should be given, and how much time should be spent on testing and test preparation. Instead, we need to look at the bigger picture of what we want to accomplish with testing and whether our current system accomplishes it—or needs to be replaced with a proven, comprehensive assessment system, such as those used in high-performing education systems around the world.

Ohio is to be commended for embarking on the first step in taking the debate about testing beyond mechanics. The Senate Advisory Committee on Testing is composed of practitioners in the field who can lend their experience and expertise to making thoughtful decisions to ensure Ohio has an assessment system that supports meaningful learning and student success.

We should not give up on assessment and accountability, but there are far better options than yet more standardized testing. There are assessment systems that truly capture what is happening in the classroom and give students, parents and teachers a clear sense of how well students are learning and achieving.

We cannot reach the right answers if we are asking the wrong questions. To devise a workable solution to overtesting, we need time to take a step back. We urge you, at this time, to put a hold on decisions attached to high-stakes testing for three years while you take the time to convene educators, evaluate the current system and develop a long-term strategy for how to provide a high-quality education for our children.

The attached issue paper on testing is our first step in helping with that process. It offers our professional perspective on how assessments drive student learning, our views on the current system, and our recommendations for further actions. We also offer you experience and expertise from the people in the classroom and in our schools every day. Our members are eager to engage in deep conversations with policymakers on how to improve the current system. Also, the Ohio Federation of Teachers is currently working on a series of issue papers that will clearly and succinctly address the issues involved in testing and accountability. We hope that you’ll read these policy briefs and contact us in order to hear more from our members firsthand.

We can work together to reclaim the promise of public education and bring our schools the true support they need. Ohio needs a rational system of assessment that will benefit the most important people in this discussion: our students. Their future depends on getting this right. Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
Melissa Cropper President
Ohio Federation of Teachers

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Below is our list of recommendations for moving forward in our current system. For more detail about each recommendation, please read the report.

1. Pause stakes for three years.
2. Increase transparency and end gag orders.
3. Examine current tests and testing practices.
4. Develop a new approach to testing.
5. Allow local control on determining growth measures.
6. Require that classroom teachers be involved in determining the formative/diagnostic assessment system at the local level.

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Happy New Year! Add this resolution to your list

Happy New Year! Though many of you have already made your resolutions for the new year, I am going to ask you to make just one more. Resolve to make 2015 the Year of Accountability.

Okay, I could feel you cringe as you read that. I can imagine what you might be muttering under your breath right now. Year of Accountability? Haven’t we been living in that age for several years now? Have we not for quite some time been held hostage to high-stakes testing, convoluted value-added ratings, unproductive busywork, comparisons to other countries, unfair media attacks, and both the threatened and actual privatization of all of the wonderful, varied and necessary work our members do for children, their families and communities? Where have you been, Melissa? We are being held accountable for everything imaginable, and even more egregiously for those myriad things that are out of our control.

I hear you, and you are absolutely right. Accountability in recent years has become a dirty, ugly, emotionally-charged word that makes even the best educators and public employees cringe, not because of any desire to escape accountability, but rather because the focus is all wrong and the measures and methods being used do not give accurate representations of what our members are doing and accomplishing. In fact, the current education system is forcing good educators to waste valuable instructional time on activities they know add no value at the expense of quality instructional practices.

So why do I call on you to make this the Year of Accountability?

Because the time has come, in fact has long been here, for us to hold legislators accountable for the decisions they make that impact education and the future of our children and our communities.

We are the professionals in the field. We are the experts in the classrooms working directly with the children. We live the impact of the decisions that are being made by policymakers and lawmakers. We see the consequences that bad laws have on children. When we raise our voices together though and take collective action, we get results.

Just look at what our members were able to accomplish this past year. In the spring, more than 7,000 members engaged in a postcard campaign urging legislators to reject harmful changes the House was attempting to make to the evaluation process. Those postcards worked. In the fall, members testified against a bill that would have required three different sets of standards in four years. Those voices stopped the crazy legislation. In December, members met with State Superintendent Richard Ross to give input on the report he will give to the legislature about reducing testing in Ohio. That input makes a difference. Although many members have voiced concerns to their legislators though, the number of members who remain silent still far outnumber those who are actively engaged in having a positive impact on education policy.

Imagine what we could do if we all resolved to be activists – if each and every one of us committed to reclaiming the promise of public education by pushing back on bad reforms and advocating for what we know our children need in order to succeed.

We know the challenges our students are facing. We see the struggles they bring to the classroom. We understand that our children need more from us now than they ever have before. As educators, we have a strong desire to bring out the best in each and every child. We want them to learn how to think critically, work collaboratively, and grow in knowledge and skills. We want them to have exposure to the arts, physical education, libraries, and a wide variety of elective classes that will help them discover who they are and how they can build a life that will not only make them financially stable but happy. We want them to be healthy – physically and mentally. We want to be the best educators we can be so that our students can become whatever they want to be. We know, from experience, what works and doesn’t work. We know what we need to help us do our work and to help children reach success. We have a vision for what a high quality education system looks like. We need to share that vision with the governor, state senators and representatives, the state superintendent, and members of the state board of education, and hold them accountable for building an education system that respects us as professionals and includes us in making sound decisions about education.

But we can’t wait for those decision-makers to ask us for our input. We must push our way in the door and demand that our voices be heard, our experience be respected, and our expertise be honored.

Our legislators are reconvening now to set their agendas on critical issues they will deal with over the next few months – testing, charter school reform, school funding, standards, working conditions, collective bargaining, just to name a few. Are you willing to let them make decisions about these issues based on their own experiences and biases? Do you want them to listen to reformers who are not in the classrooms dealing with the realities?
If not, then you need to make a commitment to tell your story this year. Talk about what is happening in your classroom. Discuss the impact of past decisions. Share your ideas on reaching our common goal of giving children the best education possible. Talk with them about what you know children need in order to be able to learn and thrive.

I know you are busy, but I promise you, this will not take a lot of your time. In fact, you might even find it cathartic. Instead of internalizing the stress, mumbling under your breath, and venting your frustration on social media, commit to having a constructive conversation with a legislator.

You don’t have to travel to Columbus. There are lots of other ways to share your experiences. Invite a legislator to visit your classroom. Set up a local meeting with your legislator in your town. Send an email. Write a letter. Make a phone call.

Even more powerful, invite parents and other community members into the conversation. Share with them what is happening in your classroom. Let them know what is in your control and what is being controlled at a higher level outside of your reach as well as theirs. Invite them to join you in conversations with legislators about what we want and need for children.

Refuse to let anyone else control the education conversation. Write to your local newspaper. Respond to news stories you see. Share positive stories through social media. Correct posts that tell the wrong story.

As your statewide union, OFT is here to help. We can help set up meetings. We can help get your letters to the editor published. We can provide you with research on current topics, or any other way that you want help. We speak for you and work for you every day, but your voices are the voices that are respected in your communities, and to the legislators in your area, your voices represent votes. Our collective voices across the state can make a difference. We can reclaim the promise of public education instead of allowing others to take our children down the wrong path.

Resolve today to be an activist. Click here to see all the ways that you can be involved. Start small if you wish, but pledge to hold our legislators accountable in some way today. Join us in making a difference.

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Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

To all teachers,

Today is your day.  If I had the power to do so, I would grant you the day off.  You have certainly earned it.  But I also know you, and I know that you would not really take the day off.  You would grade papers or prepare a lesson or analyze data or develop an assessment or think of an intervention for a struggling student or worry about a disadvantaged child.  So maybe it is only appropriate that Teacher Appreciation Day happens on a school day when you can spend time with those who need you and appreciate you the most.  I know that there are many days when you do not feel appreciated, and I could write on and on about the reasons you would be justified in feeling that way. Today should be a positive day though so I will simply share with you some quotes that I think explain why you continue to do this job day in and day out.

A good teacher is like a candle:  it consumes itself to light the way for others. (Anonymous)

Teachers teach because they care.  Teaching young people is what they do best.  It requires long hours, patience, and care. (Horace Mann)

The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires. (William Ward)

Every child should have a caring adult in their lives.  And that’s not always a biological parent or family member.  It may be a friend or neighbor.  Oftentimes it is a teacher. (Sen. Joe Manchin)

You teach because you care.  You teach because you want to inspire.  You teach because you want to light the way for others.  You teach because children need you to care for them.  

We can never thank you enough or show enough appreciation for all that you do – both seen and unseen.  While you may not hear it often enough, you make a difference every day.

So on this Teacher Appreciation Day, I will leave you with a quote from Andy Rooney.

Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us.  Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

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What we want to hear in Governor Kasich’s State of the State address

This week leaders from all areas of the state will convene for the 76th Ohio Federation of Teachers State Convention. We have a long and proud history of being a solution-driven union that represents the professional voice of people working in the field to educate our children and provide other services that prepare our children to learn. We know that the strength of Ohio lies in having strong communities and that the promise of strong communities is found in our neighborhood schools. More and more though, this promise is being stolen from the families who live in these neighborhoods and from the professionals who have dedicated their lives to giving children paths to success. This promise is being stolen by those who wish to privatize education, building a competitive system that dilutes resources and creates winners and losers instead of focusing resources on meeting the needs of every child even in our most troubled neighborhoods. Even more problematic is the overemphasis on testing as a reliable measure of accountability and the continued narrative that tears down and wears down educators instead of respecting their voices and using their expertise to shape a system that meets the changing needs of our students. With the creation of policy that focuses on rankings and ratings instead of on listening, learning and growing, Ohio is losing the promise of what an education system can be – a path for every learner to meet his or her potential. We, at the Ohio Federation of Teachers, are determined to Reclaim the Promise of Ohio by working with students, parents, community groups, organizations and policymakers in reclaiming the promise of public education, early childhood care and education, higher education, and quality public services.

On Monday Feb. 24, Gov. Kasich will give his State of the State address. In this speech, he will have the opportunity to share his vision for children in Ohio, their opportunities for education and assistance that will help them thrive and grow. Will he allow Ohio to continue to go down the road of corporate reform policies that lead to the privatization of education or will he make a commitment to work with us on Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education by making sure that every child has a safe neighborhood public school with well-prepared and supported teachers, a full engaging curriculum, and access to wraparound services?

He will have an opportunity to tell us on Monday.  Here are some thoughts we would like to see  him express as well as some actions we want to hear him say he will do:

  • Education is a public good not a competition. All children deserve to have neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning. Competition dilutes resources and creates winners and losers. Instead, Ohio should be ensuring that schools are responsive to the needs of their neighborhoods and are including teacher, parent, student and community voices in providing a quality education system for all learners.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do: 

Stop the expansion of vouchers programs in Ohio. For schools that must choose a turnaround model, require a model that must include parents, teachers, students and community members in the design of the school.

  • All schools should be expected to provide a quality education for all learners and should be held to the same standards of academic accountability, fiscal accountability, and transparency. Education should be about helping children learn, not about making a profit. 

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Reform charter school laws.  Eliminate the statutory exemptions for charter schools in the areas of academic accountability and fiscal accountability. Require transparency in record keeping and public records. Permanently shut down for-profit schools and set stricter requirements for the sponsors of charters.

  • Poverty matters. While it must never be used as an excuse for children not succeeding, it also must never be ignored. Our students living in poverty often have greater needs with fewer resources to meet those needs. Children with greater needs require more supports to meet those needs such as smaller class sizes and targeted intervention help. In addition, all children deserve to have access to a full, engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning , not testing, and one that includes art, music and the sciences. While educators are being held accountable for closing existing achievement gaps, the governor and the legislature must be held responsible for closing existing opportunity gaps.                                                                                                                      What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Work with schools across the state to identify the needs of students in different areas and develop a funding system that allows those needs to be met.  Fully fund traditional public schools and stop diluting resources by funding vouchers and poor-performing charters. 

  • The needs of the child are best met when education is viewed as more than a test score. In order for children to be prepared to learn, they need to have their basic needs met. These needs include social, emotional, physical and mental needs. Ohio must look at ways to efficiently and effectively use public and private resources to meet all these needs of students so they are able to achieve at their highest potential. Student cannot be expected to read at grade level if they are not given all the supports they need to help them learn. This is NOT just a teacher or school responsibility. This is a state responsibility.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Study and replicate effective Community Learning Centers programs such as the Cincinnati Public Schools model.  Keep parents, teachers and students involved in determining the needs of the students and how best to meet those needs.

  • Teachers are professionals. Their voices need and should be heard in shaping policy. Educators should be respected for the work they do. Instead of continuing to focus on an accountability structure that forces teachers to defend their work and hope for perfect testing conditions in order to justify their employment, Ohio should be pouring resources into supporting continued professional growth, creating good teaching and learning environments (including structuring the day so that teachers have time to plan engaging lessons, build relationships with students, and collaborate with peers), and sharing and celebrating best practices.                                                   What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Eliminate requirements that only add work to the day without adding value to the learning experience. Work with teacher unions and other educator groups in setting policy that focuses on developing quality teaching and learning environments that allow for more time for teachers to prepare high-quality, engaging lessons and for students to engage in meaningful learning experiences and less time on testing.

  • Ohio teachers do an extraordinary job of educating our students. Over the years, the state has set higher standards for success. Our educators continue to rise to the challenge. We know that education must constantly evolve to reflect the changing needs of learners and of our society. We are now entering into a new era of the Common Core Standards. These standards allow us to teach content in a much deeper way but require shifts in how teachers teach and learners learn. In order to get the results that are intended by the Common Core, students, educators and schools need time to adjust to new methods of teaching and learning. In addition, schools need time and resources to make sure they have the proper learning tools and technology. Caution and an emphasis on implementation are required so that the desired results can be achieved.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Delay high stakes decisions attached to testing.  Put emphasis on teaching and learning. Make sure teachers have proper professional development and schools have sufficient resources. 

  • Quality early childhood education is critical to getting children started on a successful learning path. All young children should have opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate programs that foster their social and emotional development. Early childhood care providers and educators should be well-prepared and supported.                                                                                                                           What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Ensure that all preschool age children have access to high-quality early childhood education programs. 

  • Higher education should be affordable and accessible to all. The faculty and staff within these institutions should be professionally supported and have a voice in academic decisions.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Make higher education affordable. Respect the voice of the professionals in setting policy that affects higher education.

  • Our state is only as strong as the sum of our communities. Each community in every corner of Ohio is only as strong and vital as the families and individuals who reside in them. In order to build and foster strong communities, Ohio must preserve state revenue to fund needed services and supports for families. In strengthening our communities, Ohio must maintain and expand high-quality public services that support and keep communities safe, healthy and vibrant. Tax changes since 2005 are already costing Ohio $3.5 billion per year – this is money that should be invested in the programs and services that make our communities stronger. These changes have been made with promises of more jobs and more economic growth that quite simply have not materialized. The governor continues to state his desire to eliminate the income tax entirely, and right now slowly but surely we’re draining the state of needed revenue and making our system more regressive in the process. Policies such as these weaken Ohio.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Preserve state revenue. Focus on job creation. Invest in communities.

  • The voice of Ohio’s workers must be preserved. Collective bargaining states have higher wages which lead to more money to put into the economy – everyone benefits from a strong labor voice in Ohio. On the other hand, six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are right-to-work states, proving that right to work is wrong. States with right-to-work laws also have lower rates of health insurance coverage, higher rates of poverty and infant mortality and lower spending per student on basic education with worse scores on reading and math tests. Right to work is wrong. These laws create problems for states, communities and families.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Declare opposition to these laws (or any other efforts to diminish labor voice) because right to work is wrong. 

The Ohio Federation of Teachers will continue to be a solution-driven union that champions the social and economic well-being of our members, children, families, and communities. We welcome your voice in calling upon the governor to help us Reclaim the Promise of Ohio by reclaiming the promise of public education, early childhood education, higher education, and quality public services for strong communities. These are just some of our many ideas for strengthening Ohio. We welcome your input to this conversation.  Comment below, visit our Facebook page at Facebook.com/OhioFedofTeachers and Tweet with the hashtag #RealOhio.

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