Does Ohio’s Low Standard For School “Excellence” Hinder Authentic School Improvement?

I sent the following e-mail to my state senator, Peggy Lehner

Dear Peggy Lehner, Congratulations on being chosen Ohio Senate Education Committee Chairperson. As a long time Kettering resident, I am proud of you.

You have a great platform to focus the public’s attention on important issues concerning K-12 education in Ohio. You are probably getting a lot of suggestions, so, I hope you will add the suggestion from this e-mail to the list.

One important function of government deals with the setting and monitoring standards. We have a lot of confidence, for example, in the high standards for quality and safety of food that is government inspected. In government inspected schools, however, citizens have little reason to have confidence in the evaluation process. We have a situation where school after school is deemed “excellent” when even a casual observation shows that the school is far from excellent.

If the state government, via the Ohio Department of Education, takes responsibility for evaluating local schools, then it should take its responsibility seriously. It is clear that in Ohio, “excellence,” as determined in the Ohio Report Card system, is equated with minimum scores in core curricular areas on objective tests from a sufficient number of students. Ohio has a very low standard for judging what schools are “excellent.”

Low standards for “excellence” perpetuates complaisance. In 2009, I sought election to the Kettering School Board and, as part of my campaign, said, “Public education needs transformation.” Schools like Kettering should be working hard to break through to new levels of quality. The transformation that is needed will be difficult to achieve, why make the effort? Why disturb the comfort of those working and happy in the current system?

I heard a school board candidate in an adjacent school district say that since his district already was “excellent,” if elected, he simply would work to maintain the status quo.

The problem is, the status quo, in even the highest rated districts is simply not good enough. Somehow, we need to elevate the discussion about public education by asking, “How can you tell if a school is excellent?” We need to elevate the discussion about public education by finding new criteria for evaluating schools.

I’m thinking the Senate Education Committee would be a great venue for such a discussion, and I’m hoping you might inquire within your committee if there would be support for planning a hearing that engaged experts in discussing the question: “How can you tell if a school is excellent?”  Imagine the witnesses you could call to talk about how to think about excellence in education, about how to design benchmarks for excellence, and about how to improve Ohio’s current system of school evaluation so that every school is motivated to continually improve.

I hope sometime I can discuss this idea with you in more detail.

Sincerely, Mike Bock

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9 Responses to Does Ohio’s Low Standard For School “Excellence” Hinder Authentic School Improvement?

  1. Eric says:

    Mike, we’ll be lucky to preserve what we’ve got as we tumble over the budget cliff. Special interests will work in Columbus to preserve the status quo at the expense of schoolchildren while mainstream media loses the scent:

    Your state board member is Jeffrey Mims. He’s expressed an interest in the sort of conversation you suggest. The General Assembly is too removed to achieve the goals you seek, and the State Board is likely too weak.

    A more concrete starting place would be to undo the backward momentum from the Strickland reforms. Ohio has moved from fifth to eleventh in Quality Counts, and lots of potential for further regression.

  2. Rick says:

    Jeff, Mims is hopeless. His only answer is More Money. In economically challenged times as these, he is irrelevant.

    Mike, you make an excellent point. The tests are not tough enough. They need to be ratched up over time. There are powerful interests opposed to tougher tests, but they must be defeated.

  3. Eric says:

    Mims is hopeless…

    So why was he elected? Why the endorsements from Stanic and Lasley? He indicated a desire to bring people together–was he deliberately disingenuous in his campaign?

    You seem to be suggesting the OEA would deliberately endorse a candidate lacking the skills necessary to keep his own campaign promises–are Ohio’s teachers using their political might to bring forth Manchurian candidates?

  4. Eric says:

    The General Assembly is too removed to achieve the goals you seek, and the State Board is likely too weak.

    Problem Solved:

    COLUMBUS – Today Gov. John R. Kasich announced that Robert Sommers will serve as Director of the Governor’s Office of 21 st Century Education.

    Sommers comes to the Governor’s Office with more 25 years of experience in education. Over the course of his career, Sommers has developed a proven track record of success in developing innovative programs that prepare students for academic and career challenges. As the Chief Executive Officer of Butler Tech in Hamilton, Sommers helped propel the school from the 41st-ranked career center in the state in overall student performance to first.

    Most recently, Sommers served as Chief Executive Officer of Cornerstone Charter Schools in Detroit. After only its first year in existence, Cornerstone Charter Academies’ two schools were named in the top 10 charter schools in the first-ever study of public, charter and private schools in the Detroit metro area.

    Sommers received his Ph. D. in Research and Leadership from The Ohio State University. He also has earned a Masters in Agricultural Education from Ohio State and received his bachelor’s degree in Education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is a member of the Association for Career Technical Education, the United Way, and the American Association of School Administrators.

    Thank you, Governor Kasich!

  5. Mike Bock says:

    Rick — If all students could pass a more difficult version of the current tests, it would be a big improvement and an amazing accomplishment, but since these tests focus on a very narrow definition of “excellence,” producing results on these test would be insufficient to indicate that a school is “excellent.” The issue, as I see it, is that there has been little thought given to how “excellence” should be defined,and instead, we have settled for a very inadequate and misleading definition.

    Eric — thanks for the heads up about Robert Sommers. It sounds like he has had an interesting career. I imagine with his background, he would encourage local school boards to assert themselves. I’d like to interview him. Your suggestion to contact Jeff Mims and the State Board is interesting. That group is hardly on my radar, but, I guess, it has a role to play, and, if it chose to do so, the State Board could show some initiative and leadership. I wonder if the State Board would consider public hearings to discuss the question of Ohio’s standards?

  6. Eric says:

    I wonder if the State Board would consider public hearings to discuss the question of Ohio’s standards

    Check out the board minutes from December 2000, when the board approved operating standards for Ohio schools.

  7. Rick says:

    Eric, why was Mims elected? Because school boards, state boards of education, the OEA, and the medial all believe that more money is the answer.

  8. Stanley Hirtle says:

    Money is not a sufficient condition to improving schools but it is a necessary one. Most of the worst schools are where there is the least investment. That’s far from the only thing but it is part of the solution. If we pay for what we value and we invest in say hedge fund managers but not teachers, what does that say? Some conservative ideologues want to eliminate public schools, bust teachers unions, reduce pensions for teachers. However conservatives want to invest in things they care about (the military, public expenditures for businesses, church run social services, highways to suburbs) and few will disinvest in things they care about.

  9. Esther Hawkins says:

    I am so offended by the “school of excellence” banner hanging on the building where I sent my autistic son to 4th grade– he ended up with a partial 2nd grade “education” (they kinda skiped science and social studies altogether) and PTSD.

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