In addition to being the dawn of a new year, January 1st should have been a day of celebration for those of us in public education, because it signaled the end of the tenure of former Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Ohio, Dr. Richard Ross. In my forty years in education, I can’t think of a state superintendent who did less for public education and the children of Ohio than Dr. Ross. Apparently, rubbing shoulders with politicians like Governor Kasich and Ohio’s legislators while shamelessly promoting their failed agendas was more important to him than making sure the children in this state received the leadership they deserve. But, now, thankfully, he is gone.
So, one would think that whoever is selected to replace him would have to be a better leader than he was. But, the system is rigged to ensure that this will not be the case. The only person who will be permitted to become state superintendent is one who is willing to play nicely in the political sandbox (or cat box, as the case may be) and who is willing to be controlled by politicians. This set-up has neutered the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and the position of state superintendent to an embarrassing level. Dr. Ross didn’t engage in a meaningful discussion about what is good for kids during his entire tenure, and if this corrupt system is allowed to remain in place, there is little hope that our next state superintendent will perform any better.
But, it can be fixed. It won’t be easy, because it would necessitate neutering the very people who have stripped the ODE and the state superintendent of any meaningful power, but it can be done if “we the people” demand it.
Until Governor Voinovich’s term in the 1990’s, membership on the State Board of Education could only be achieved if a person was properly placed there by the electorate, just as is done with local school boards. This no doubt did not give the good governor the power he felt his vast wisdom on education deserved, so he did what politicians do; he made sure the law was changed to accommodate his personal and political agenda. As a result of Voinovich’s machinations, voila, the board became a combination of elected officials and those who were appointed by and beholding to the governor. And, thus the politicization of public education began in earnest. Decisions ceased being about what the research told us was best for children. Instead, they were based on political tomfoolery, and it has only gotten worse since.
Voinovich’s plan needs to be recognized for the failure that it is, and the State Board of Education should be returned to an all-elected, non-partisan board which should be given the responsibly of overseeing public education in Ohio, which includes selecting the state superintendent without political interference. Then, this person, minus that same interference, should lead educational discussions in this state. Maybe then, freed of its political shackles, the ODE can return to engaging in relevant conversations about how kids learn instead of continuing to engage in the political drivel that dominates educational discussions at the state level.
Second, both the House and Senate Education Committees should be abolished immediately. In fact, quarantining them might be a better option. If quarantined, they could continue to meet and engage in the foolish dialogue for which they have become famous (or infamous, as the case really is), but whatever they talk about would remain their own little secret. This would be a win-win for everyone. Committee members would still feel as if they are doing something meaningful (even though they are not), educators wouldn’t have their hands tied with the stupid ideas they develop, and politicians would stay busy enough not to have time to turn their attention to fixing your problems as they have “fixed” ours. It would be better for everyone that way.
Third, a five-year moratorium should be created under which no new educational law can be passed, with one exception, the exception being that any new legislation must repeal previously implemented legislation. Any legislator who tries to create a new law governing education should be banished to one of the quarantined Education Committees, never to be heard from again. Conversely, any lawmaker who writes a law that repeals previously enacted legislation should be elevated to leadership status and be rewarded with a lifetime achievement award.
Unless these changes are enacted, the ODE will remain a meaningless organization that does nothing for children. But, it could again become viable if it was populated with educational experts who provide real leadership to schools around the state based on what we know to be true about childhood development instead of being populated by bureaucrats whose sole reason to exist is to force schools to implement poorly conceived legislation. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.