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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