Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"One Thing Remains…" Submitted by Andrea Townsend, Director of Administrative and Pupil Personnel Services at Greenville City Schools

It seems we can hardly pick up a newspaper, watch a news program or a political ad without hearing about upcoming or proposed changes in our education system. As a school district, we have spent a great deal of time combing through the almost daily updates regarding changes in policy and practice for Ohio’s public educational system. Some of the latest buzz words we are hearing a lot about are Third Grade Reading Guarantee, New Learning Standards, State Assessments and Teacher Evaluation System. The list seems to go on and on. It is easy to be overwhelmed by all that is going on in education these days, but if we look closely a pattern can be seen. This pattern can be summed up nicely in a quote from the Appendix of Ohio’s New Learning Standards, “At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post–high school lives.” All of Ohio’s children deserve to be taught what they need to be able to succeed in our society, the very best preparation for life that we can give them.

There is a big shift in our public education system to accommodate the pattern in policy coming from state mandates. If we summarize where Ohio is in terms of public education, it is worrisome. In Ohio we have dramatically changed our state wide assessments twice in two years. Assessment demands are the highest we have seen and the funding has flat lined. These changes do not seem to be making a positive impact. According to the Washington Post, Ohio has dropped from 5th to 23rd in the last five years and we have jumped to 9th in highest achievement gap. It is easy to point fingers of blame on standards, testing, politicians or legislatures, but one thing remains… All of Ohio’s children deserve to be taught what they need to be able to succeed in our society.

There has been a lot of discussion about standards lately. In Ohio, the learning standards are designed to help ensure that all students are college and career ready no later than the end of high school. It is important for all of our high school graduates to have what skills and knowledge they need to be able to enter the workforce in such a way that they could earn a living or pursue an education without the need for remediation. These are basic expectations of a public school system. Unfortunately, not all of Ohio’s graduates possess the skills that they need for the work force or college. Despite the fact that Ohio is seeing a drop in the number of High School graduates that require remedial coursework in college, The Ohio Department of Education reports that statewide 32% of graduates continue to require remediation. Almost one third of our high school graduates are not prepared for college. This could be the result of a poor set of standards or too much testing, but one thing remains… All of Ohio’s children deserve to be taught what they need to be able to succeed in our society.

Our legislatures have been speaking often about the need for better legislation in public education. We heard about safe harbor, dismissal of the PARCC assessment, and a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with less testing and more local controls. The newest version of ESEA continues to call for shrinking the gap between the achievement of all students and the achievement of subgroups representing learners diverse in ethnicity, socio-economic status, and or learning abilities. This country is founded on the belief that everyone has certain basic rights such as the pursuit of happiness. Ensuring that all students have access to the curriculum that prepares them for the opportunities of their choice demonstrates our belief in the basic tenants of our government. Despite this, however, we see some of the largest subgroup gaps nationwide, right here in Ohio. This could be the result of poor legislation or high stakes testing, but one thing remains… All of Ohio’s children deserve to be taught what they need to be able to succeed in our society.

As you hear, read, or talk about the state of public education in Ohio these days, I hope you choose to focus on that one thing that remains… Ohio’s children. All of our children deserve the best education, the best opportunities to learn, the best teachers and the best resources. If we choose to focus our time and tax-payer monies on mandates without funding, legislation without impact, and leadership that does not impact change, we are choosing not to focus on the one, most important thing that remains… All of Ohio’s children deserve to be taught what they need to be able to succeed in our society.

I propose we begin to teach all of our children to succeed in our society. I am sure you are aware that life can be challenging. Why not start now designing opportunities for all children to learn to solve problems, resolve conflicts, and engage in challenging work? Our current system of segregating the subgroups and providing interventions instead of high quality instruction, is not closing the gap, thus perpetuating the cycle of disenfranchisement. According to The Ohio Department of Education, “Every student should succeed in learning. When a group or groups of students are not succeeding, educators need to review why and make changes.” The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) statute and implementing regulations emphasize the requirement to educate children with disabilities in regular classes with their nondisabled peers: "While the Act and regulations recognize that IEP teams must make individualized decisions about the special education ... IDEA’s strong preference that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities be educated in regular classes with their nondisabled peers with appropriate supplementary aids and services."

If the one thing remaining is the only thing that really matters, then it is time to redesign instruction for the benefit of all learners. It is time to focus our attention on the real work of public education… preparing learners to succeed in our society.

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