You probably don’t know Richard Stoff. In fact, unless you are really interested or immersed in the world of business there is no reason for you to know him, since he is President and CEO of the Ohio Business Roundtable. The truth is I hadn’t heard of him either until soon after the last gubernatorial election when he was quoted as praising the wonderful work our current governor was doing for education. Since I believe there have been few governors who have been worse for education than Governor Kasich, his comments piqued my interest.
So, I decided to investigate him and the Roundtable a little further.
What I found is that he had also praised Governor Strickland’s educational initiatives. I found this interesting given the fact that Strickland’s and Kasich’s education agendas were so vastly different. I contacted him to find out how it was possible for him to publicly support such diametrically opposed platforms. He didn’t really answer that question, but my query did result in an invitation to his office in Columbus for a discussion on educational improvement that lasted nearly two hours.
I must say that I found him to be a decent, intelligent guy with whom I enjoyed talking and who has interesting views on how to improve education. Wrong, yet interesting. The problem with guys like Richard, who has a title like President and CEO, is that he has a bully pulpit that he can use to present bad ideas as if they are good ones. He also has the ears of people in power like Governor Kasich and members of the education committees in legislature. As a result, he can impact public perception and policy, even bad policy. My challenge to him during our discussion was to stop doing that.
I also suggested to him that, given the fact that I have very little experience in the world of business I wouldn’t dream of telling him or others with his expertise how to best run the business world, and that I found it interesting that he, with just as little experience in education as I have in business, does not hesitate to tell those of us who actually do know a little about educating children how we should be doing our job. I’m not sure he understands the limitations of his understanding of the world of education as well as I understand mine with respect to business, because he keeps opining about something he has very little knowledge about; that being educating children.
In any event, because we developed a healthy respect for each other, Richard and I have occasionally communicated during the time since our first meeting, the latest occasion being when he wrote an op-ed piece for the Columbus Dispatch in which he praised the implementation of the Common Core as the means of improving productivity in Ohio.
That statement itself is ludicrous, but there was one other part of his article that I found particularly entertaining, so I thought I would have a little fun with him.
You see, Richard is a firm believer that the test data we have on children actually represents a valid means of evaluating either a school or a teacher. In fact, he suggested that not using this data would be akin to “playing a football game but not keeping score.”
He obviously views children as products and in his mind if the product fails a little data will tell us why and who is at fault. Of course, the problem with this philosophy is that children aren’t widgets. They are complex beings whose success is impacted by thousands of factors, many of which cannot be quantified.
But, knowing how infatuated Richard is with data, I suggested to him that, if we are to believe the latest data from the U.S. Small Business Administration, “over 50% of small businesses fail in the first five years,” and it is a failure rate that has stayed pretty consistent over time, a time during which he has been the leader of businesses in Ohio.
Now, a 50% failure rate is one that, even on our worst days, most of us in education do not approach. So, I suggested that, as the person responsible for business success in Ohio, he should acknowledge his
failure and step aside for someone more competent to lead new businesses in our state. Certainly we can find someone who can lead businesses to greater success, can’t we?
Of course, Richard hasn’t stepped down from his position, because he knows how ridiculous it would be to hold him accountable for other people’s failures. He also understands the multitude of factors that lead to business success or failure and that he is little or no control over many of them.
It’s interesting why he (and others who support this kind of nonsense) will not apply the same standard of reason to the misuse of data in education with respect to evaluating the jobs teachers and schools do. Apparently what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center