Activism now: shifting focus from DeVos to ESSA

Thank you everyone for your activism in fighting back against the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.  Because of your activism, you brought a greater awareness to public education.  While we are disappointed that DeVos did receive the appointment, we cannot stop our activism now.

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Ohio recently released its draft ESSA plan.  This plan is devoid of an overall vision for education and does nothing to move Ohio away from a testing culture and towards a culture that is more responsive to the needs of children.

The Ohio Department of Education intends to submit this plan on April 3 even though they have the option to wait until Sept. 18.  When asked why they are choosing the earlier submission date, the response has been that that is what the field wants.

We MUST let the Ohio Department of Education know that submitting this plan in April is unacceptable.  They must bring stakeholders back to the table to set a course that will change the culture of education on Ohio.

Continue your activism.  Take the online ESSA survey now.  In each section, feel free to add whatever comments you might have about the topic, but make sure to include something that indicates that the plan does nothing to change our current testing culture and that the state needs to wait until September to submit so that it can be rewritten to reflect the vision Ohio wants for its students.

Yesterday, the State Board of Education discussed the ESSA plan, and it was obvious that several Board members have heard complaints from the field and are concerned about submitting this plan now.  I testified today about delaying the plan.  My testimony is copied below.  We have to keep the drumbeat going though on delaying the submission date until Ohio sets a vision that changes the testing culture.  We need literally thousands of survey submissions that make that statement.  Please take the time to take the online survey, then post on social media and ask others to do the same.  Deadline for comment period is March 6.

Thank you again for your activism.  Please take the time to read my testimony below.

Testimony to the Ohio State Board of Education on ESSA

President Elshoff, Vice-President Hollister, and members of the State Board of Education:

I am Melissa Cropper, a library-media specialist from Georgetown, Ohio currently serving as the President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. I come here today to speak not only in the role I serve representing educators, but also as the mother of a son who wants to become a teacher and the grandmother of a kindergartner and a one-year old who I hope will have the privilege to go through an education system that is vastly different from the current culture in which our children are educated.

In starting my testimony, I would like to draw attention to page two of the State Template for the Consolidated State Plan Under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The last paragraph of this introductory page says, “When developing its consolidated State plan, the Department encourages each SEA to reflect on its overall vision and how the different sections of the consolidated State plan work together to create one comprehensive approach to improving outcomes for all students. The Department encourages each SEA to consider: (1) what is the SEA’s vision with regard to its education system; (2) how does this plan help drive toward that vision; and (3) how will the SEA evaluate its effectiveness on an ongoing basis?”

For the past year, the Ohio Federation of Teachers has been calling for the Ohio Department of Education to use ESSA as an opportunity to set a vision for what we want for our children. In fact, it was around this time last year when I gave the attached testimony that says much of what I am repeating today. Yet we have been told over and over again that ESSA is basically a set of technical questions that need to be answered. You heard multiple times yesterday that this is not a complete plan but complete enough to be compliant with federal guidelines and that this is just the infrastructure that can be worked out more fully later. I ask you though, how can you have an infrastructure without first knowing the overall design?

We have an opportunity in Ohio right now to work together – State Board, educators, parents, community members, House and Senate Education Committees, and the Joint Education Oversight Committee- to set a vision for what we want for our children. That should be the foundation for any plan that is submitted. An ESSA plan, as the template document clearly states, should drive Ohio toward that vision.

I am not here today to lobby for any specific change that needs to be made to make the plan more amenable to OFT members. I am here to ask that we all work together to shape the vision that this plan needs. I do want to share with you what I have heard as I have traveled across the state. I can basically summarize the conversations in three main points:

  • Our children, in all parts of the state, are bringing an increasing number of non-academic challenges to the classroom.   These challenges impact their learning.
  • Our children are very disconnected from the value of learning because learning has been reduced to a test score.
  • Educator morale is at a dangerously low point that is impacting the system

We have a responsibility with ESSA to address these issues, and that starts by together setting a vision that focuses on the well-being of the child, creates conditions for powerful learning, builds teacher capacity, and fosters cultures of collaboration. Once we have a vision, we can then look at each section of the plan and ask what needs to be included or changed to drive us toward the vision. Furthermore, as future decisions are being made, we will have some guiding principles that we can use as a litmus test.

I mentioned in my testimony last year that what Ohio desperately needs right now is to rebuild trust. I believe that this is still true. I have been told that a document cannot build trust but rather implementation builds trust. While I somewhat I agree with this, I would also contend that a document can engender distrust, and if the public has gone through a process to give input into a plan and then does not see the input reflected in the plan, then the state has continued to feed into the distrust. I do not think this is the type of culture that you want to perpetuate.

I know you heard that the federal ESSA guidelines do not require the approval of the State Board of Education; however, you represent the people of Ohio, and you are the ones who will have to answer to your constituents. From what I heard yesterday, you have heard from your constituents that they are not comfortable with this plan. I am asking you to call for a Sept submission date and to use the extended time to bring together a representative group of stakeholders to review input that has been given so far, use it to help set the vision for the state, and work with the Department to ensure that every part of the ESSA plan drives that vision.

As I said in my closing statement last year, I believe in the promise of our public school system. I believe that when we combine the voices of the educators who can bring their expertise to the table with the voices of the parents and the community who care deeply about our children, we can create a positive, supportive system that works for all.   We can have high quality early education programs that prepare children for learning. We can design community learning centers that focus on educating the whole child and on helping each child overcome non-academic barriers. We can use data in a way that informs instruction and drives achievement. We can have accountability systems that support professional growth. We can turn around schools that face seemingly insurmountable odds. We can bring wonder and curiosity back into the classroom. We can encourage our children to dream big then help them achieve those dreams. We can only do this though if we take the time to work through a thorough inclusive process that is driven by a vision rather than by a contrived timeline.

Thank you for listening. I will be glad to answer any questions.

 

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