As a veteran 29-year elementary school teacher, I am giving the name of “Opposite Day” to what occurred last Wednesday morning in Room 313 at the Ohio Statehouse. Teachers and parents both know that young children look forward to a special school day when they can do the opposite of what they are supposed to do; wear their shirt inside out, pants backwards, chew gum… some grown ups today may remember their Opposite Day tradition in school long ago.
On November 5th, in the name of “Education Reform,” Michelle Rhee’s “dream team” of Students First spent three hours in “Opposite Day” mode, describing their corporate, profit-driven vision for “transforming our public schools” to the Ohio House Finance Committee and its audience members.
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Let’s begin our StudentsFirst “Opposite Day” list:
1) “The money must follow the child in order to improve our schools.”
Take a look at the evidence here in Ohio; for two decades the money has been following Ohio’s children OUT of the doors of our public schools and into the doors of charter schools. Despite losing over six billion dollars over the past fifteen years longitudinal data shows that our public schools continue to vastly outperform their charter school counterparts.
Just in the last year…
• $ 771,000,000.00 of our hard earned tax dollars were taken from our public schools and given to for profit charters in the name of “the money follows the child.”
The “return” on Ohio’s investment?:
• 77% of Public Schools were rated Excellent with Distinction, Achieving or Effective
• 23% of Charters were rated Effective/Achieving, none were rated Excellent with Distinction
• And the bottom 111 performing schools in Ohio last year?
All were charter schools.
This is the opposite of proven educational reform, let’s call it for what it is; “the money follows the child to build corporate enterprises under the guise of school choice.” Ohio’s top two charter school CEOs, David Brennan of White Hat Charters and William Lager of ECOT charters are earning multi-million dollar salaries while graduating only 30 – 40 % of their students, an “F” average and paying their teachers about $34,000 a year.
Let’s follow the money when it leaves our public schools… it is not coming back to our children in the form of a quality education.
2) “85% of Parents approve of their neighborhood public school and its teachers, giving them an overall “B” rating, yet the public schools overall receive a C or D rating.”
Sacramento, California is a long way off from Ohio so maybe our Students First guests aren’t aware that in Ohio, YES… our parents overwhelmingly approve of their neighborhood public schools and their children’s teachers BECAUSE 77% of our public schools are receiving A, B and C ratings while 77% of Ohio’s charter schools are receiving D and F ratings.
Parents and teachers have seen the negative effects of students “ping ponging” back and forth from their public schools to charters and back to public schools again. As charters are closed, often times at mid-year, hundreds of children are shuffled back to their public schools without adequate records and a significant loss of instructional time. Just as tragic is students’ loss of community and social connections with classmates which contribute to academic deficits and delays.
Draining our public schools of vital funds by continuing to invest in underperforming charter schools is the opposite of proven education reform. Now is time to stop experimenting with our children’s academic progress, sense of stability and community and re-invest in our public school system which has proven to be the most effective over time.
3) “There is no correlation between class size and student achievement;” StudentsFirst recommends changing Ohio’s law to lift the limit of 25:1 teacher to student ratio so that the “best” teachers can be recruited and paid a “CEO’s salary” to reach possibly hundreds of kids at a time on-line.
Every professional, experienced educator knows that reaching each child and building a close relationship is key to designing strategic, effective instructional strategies and interventions for each student in their classroom. Building a close-knit community to motivate and inspire our students to work as hard as they can to become the best students and human beings possible is the foundation to successful teaching and learning.
This is impossible to do when 100 plus children are connected to their teacher on-line in a virtual classroom. It doesn’t matter if the on-line instructor is making a CEO’s salary and has won the Nobel Prize for Science or not. Educating and caring for our kids is about face-to-face, heart to mind connections between students and their teacher many times over during the course of the school day.
Here is evidenced based research supporting smaller classroom sizes the StudentsFirst team seems to have missed:
The federal government’s non-partisan Institute of Education Sciences examines “rigorous scientifically-based research” to make recommendations for producing major advances in the effectiveness of American education.
One of the top four recommendations from the IES is reducing class size in grades
K – 3 where the average student in small classes scores about 60% higher on reading and math achievement tests.
4) “Teaching is not a profession because there are no rewards for performance:” as stated by Ms. Rebecca Sibilia of StudentsFirst.
Opposite Day! Opposite Day!
Excuse me? I have to wonder what criteria Ms. Sibilia is using to judge the career and commitment of educating our children as a “non-profession?”
Ms. Sibilia, in your profession as the Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Fiscal Strategy for StudentsFirst, have you spent six years earning your bachelors and masters degrees plus decades of post graduate work to keep abreast of current research and best practices in your chosen profession?
Ms. Sabilia, in labeling teaching as a “non-profession,” have you ever spent the days, weeks, months, years and decades of your life with 22 – 30 children each day under your care, guidance and instruction every step of the way?
Like most educators, I have been inspired and changed by the teachers who challenged, encouraged and cared for me.
Like most educators, I have chosen to give my intellect, my energy and a large chunk of my heart over the course of my career to thousands of children in my classroom and school community.
In turn, coming full circle, my students have inspired and changed me.
In closing, here lies the disconnect between the “business model movement” to privatize public education and the true nature of the teaching profession; drawing the definition of a professional as contingent upon “rewards for performance” diminishes the very essence of our teaching profession.
Educating our children is a collaborative endeavor rather than a competitive one. Teachers spend a good deal of their time before, during and after school supporting, encouraging and advising each other on how to lift up our students. We are a collective, we pull together as a community.
Who is to say whether a child’s 11th grade calculus teacher is more important in her journey forward or her first grade teacher who taught her to read so that she could decode, decipher and analyze her calculus text?
Who should be valued more with additional monetary compensation, the guidance counselor who helps a family on the brink of homelessness find temporary housing or the school nurse who tests the blood sugar level three times a day for our diabetic students? Where are the test scores to determine 50% of their merit pay?
We teach our students to research the facts, let’s examine the research regarding merit pay reward systems for the teaching profession. Extensive studies have been done in New York City, Chicago and Nashville. There has been no proven link over time to support an increase in student achievement linked to a merit pay system for teachers.
5) Here is a novel idea:
Let’s reverse this “Opposite Day” course in these muddled methods of applying a market-driven, competitive business model to educating our children.
How about examining non-partisan, evidenced based scientific research for effective educational reform?
How about examining the best components of Ohio’s Evidence Based Model of school funding which won a national award for being the country’s most “bold, courageous, non-partisan” education reform of 2009?
How about if we open the doors of the House Finance Committee in Room 313 of Ohio’s Statehouse and invite a team of experienced, professional educators, principals, superintendents and educational policy experts to present recommendations for effective and proven educational reform for Ohio’s children?
Let’s make decisions collectively and collaboratively, as a diverse group of professionals based on rigorous, non-partisan scientific research rather than follow unilateral recommendations by profit driven corporate enterprises such as StudentsFirst.
Finally, we are standing up for our children and public education has been the foundation of our democracy and the democracy they will inherit. Let’s commit the process of educational reform to preserving equal educational opportunities for all Ohio’s children so that they can build secure and successful futures in a strong democratic society.
Let’s do it now, together, before it is too late.
Maureen Reedy is a 29-year veteran educator who was honored as Upper Arlington’s Teacher of the Year in 2001, Ohio’s Teacher of the Year in 2002 and has advocated for Ohio’s children and public education at the local, state and national levels. Maureen was one of the state leaders representing educators in the repeal of SB 5.
Most recently, Maureen ran for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives, narrowly losing in a gerrymandered district. StudentsFirst spent $250,000 in a direct mail campaign endorsing Maureen’s opponent as the pro-education candidate, even though she has never before been a classroom teacher.
In this era of targeting massive educational funding reform, the Ohio Republican Party spent well over a million dollars in the last 2 weeks of the campaign in a massive negative tv, radio, direct mail and robo call campaign to make sure that a teacher would not be representing Ohio’s children and citizens in our Statehouse.
Opposite Day indeed…