Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Smart as geese? Strickland's education proposals for Ohio

How fortunate to have the day off from school on the day the governor presents his plan for Ohio education.

Some highlights:

Extend the school year 20 days to students are in school for 200 days per year.

Extend the school day to provide after school programming in wellness and intervention services.

Teachers must go through a four year residency requirement before earning a license.

Bad teachers must go. Ditto bad principals and other administrations. (No specifics on how this will be handled. It will have to be evidence-based. See following point.)

Everything must be evidence-based.

Add to the core subjects: courses that teach creativity, problem-solving, communication, collaboration and leadership skills. (sounds like Ohio needs more drama teachers!)

Drop Ohio Graduation Exam and replace with all Ohio seniors must take the ACT and three additional tests before graduating. All seniors must complete a senior project that shows creativity, collaboration and higher level thinking skills.

Here's the education portion of Strickland's State of the State speech:

(For full text go here. )

Together, we must focus our energies and resources on the programs most vital to our future prosperity. First on that list is education.

In the 1830s, Samuel Lewis was hired as Ohio’s first state superintendent of schools. Lewis was given the task of making sure that every child in every town was provided a quality education.

Lewis needed to know how many schools we had, where they were, what and who they taught. He couldn’t get the information he needed any other way, so he climbed atop his horse and he rode from town to town and school to school. He spoke to teachers and parents and students and people he met in the town square.

Lewis’ journey took him a total of 1,200 miles as he circled Ohio and prepared a report for the legislature.

Lewis wrote in his report that public schools in Ohio must be “free to all, rich and poor, on equal terms.” He said there was no greater tribute to patriotism than supporting strong public schools.

And Lewis concluded that the commitment to improving Ohio’s schools must be made immediately. He wrote, “Every year’s delay is adding mountains of obstacles to be overcome. We need no longer direct public attention to the future – to our children’s children – to the third and fourth generation, before the promised blessings are realized. Nothing will be more hurtful,” he said, “than procrastination.”

Seventeen decades later, you can Google Lewis’ report and see that his words still ring true. And what’s more, if Lewis were to ride his horse up to one of our schools today, he would immediately recognize what he was looking at. He would recognize our school day. He would recognize our school year. In too many schools he would recognize the typical classroom with rows of students lined up to listen to a teacher and record, rather than interact, with the information being provided.

Now there is no doubt that by working together we have made improvements in our schools.

Over the last two years we reduced the tax burden on local communities as the state now provides the majority of funds needed for our local schools.

Together we took the school building program that Governor Taft and the legislature created, and we expanded it to fund hundreds of new and renovated school buildings. And our new schools are being built to efficiency standards that will reduce our energy costs for the life of the building. In fact, Ohio has the largest energy efficient school building program in the nation.

Our education system has been strengthened immeasurably by the vision of legislators and other leaders who have long been committed to seeing that Ohio’s schools rank among the nation’s best.

I share that commitment. And while I didn’t ride on horseback, I have spent the past two years visiting every corner of our great state. I’ve met with parents, educators, researchers, business and community leaders. I’ve looked at the best research available on what we should teach and how we should teach it. And in the last few months I’ve benefited from the considerable experience and wisdom of Ohio’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction Deborah Delisle.

It is absolutely clear to me that simply tinkering with centuries-old education practices will not prepare Ohio’s children for success in college, in the workplace, or in life. Therefore, today I present my plan to build our education system anew.

The plan is based on a very simple premise: we should design our education system around what works. I have embraced an evidence-based education approach that harnesses research results and applies those findings to Ohio’s specific circumstances.

Now there will surely be those who protest that education research isn’t perfect. But frankly, we cannot afford to ignore the best available answers. Medical research isn’t perfect either, but it saves lives.

My Ohio evidence-based plan is designed to provide the best education we can for all of Ohio’s students. The elements of my plan are supported by evidence, and that evidence will guide our implementation of the plan over the next eight years.

First, what we teach and how we teach will prepare Ohioans to thrive in the 21st Century.

Students will, of course, continue to learn the timeless core subjects like math and science that are critical to their success. But we will also add new topics including global awareness and life skills to the curriculum. And we will use teaching methods that foster creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, media literacy, leadership and productivity, cultural awareness, adaptability and accountability.

These are the skills that help people thrive in their lives. These are the skills our business leaders look for in the people they hire. These are the skills we find in people who create jobs, create products, and create entirely new industries.

Under my plan, the Ohio Department of Education will set standards for Ohio schools requiring innovative teaching formats. Interdisciplinary methods, project-based learning, real world lessons, and service learning will be the norm.

For example, a history teacher might build a lesson around a novel being read in an English class. Students might write a research paper that winds up in the school newspaper instead of being tossed in the trash can.

The learning experience will be built around the individual student. Lessons will not end when a fact is memorized. Students will be given a chance to interact with information, to follow up on the subjects that fascinate, to think critically and creatively and to use what they’ve learned to draw conclusions.

Our schools are not assembly lines and our students are not widgets. We will teach to each individual student’s need because we recognize that it is the surest path to seeing our young people reach their full potential.

Second, under my plan, we will expand learning opportunities.

Over a ten-year period we will add 20 instructional days to the school calendar – bringing Ohio’s learning year up to the international average of 200 days.

We will end the outdated practice of giving our most impressionable students only a half-day of learning. Ohio will now require universal all-day kindergarten.

We will provide resources to expand the learning day for all students with activities such as community service, tutoring, and wellness programs.

We will build on our ‘Closing the Achievement Gap’ initiative to take what we’ve learned from the existing program to help us provide enhanced intervention services in schools with high dropout rates.

We will create community engagement teams in our schools. We will place nurses in our schools. We will have professionals in the schools who will help educators, families and community service providers come together to help our children succeed.

And for the first time the state will provide dedicated resources for instructional materials and enrichment activities.

We will celebrate learning with new academic achievement competitions and awards that make learning as publicly praised as athletics. With the creation of the Ohio Academic Olympics, students will compete in science, in math, in writing, in debate, in the arts, and in technology.

Now, there are some who would say we’ll never fill the seats of a stadium for this kind of competition. But I’ll tell you this; the winners of this competition will be able to design the stadium.

Knowing that America’s children are among the world’s leaders in the amount of television they watch, we are claiming a few more hours of childhood for reading, thinking, community projects, and other activities. And in exchange for those few hours, we will give our students a lifetime of advantages.

Third, under my plan, we will improve educator quality.

There is simply nothing that we as policymakers can influence in our schools that is as consequential as providing top quality teachers for our students.

And before I go any further let me say something directly to Ohio’s teachers: thank you. Thank you for what you do for Ohio’s young people and for Ohio’s future. I hope that every day as you work you take a moment to remember that you can never tell where your influence stops.

So, under my plan, in recognition of the enormous importance of excellent teachers, we will revolutionize teacher preparation and development in Ohio with a residency program. Just as future doctors begin their careers under the watchful eye of an experienced colleague, we will give our new teachers the benefit of thoughtful guidance from an accomplished senior teacher. After a four-year residency, successful candidates will earn their professional teaching license.

We will recognize the development of a teacher’s skills and accomplishments with a career ladder that begins with their residency and can build up to lead teacher, a person whose credentials, experience, and student results warrant additional responsibilities. That means for the first time our teachers will have the opportunity to advance their careers based on objective evidence of student progress.

Our lead teachers will play an active role in overseeing new teachers in the residency program and assisting all their colleagues.

We will provide collaborative planning time so that the best ideas of the best teachers can spread across a school and reach the most students. Mentoring, coaching and peer review will be a standard part of a teacher’s job.

We will harness the expertise of the Chancellor of Higher Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to collaborate on professional development programs and innovative techniques for the classroom.

Let me say that not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. And the residency program will identify them. But even for teachers already in the field, we must have the ability to remove them from the classroom if their students are not learning. Right now, it’s harder to dismiss a teacher than any other public employee. Under my plan, we will give administrators the power to dismiss teachers for good cause, the same standard applied to other public employees.

We will create a Teach Ohio program to open a path to licensure for professionals who have the subject knowledge but lack coursework in education methods. Teach Ohio participants will complete an intensive course in classroom methods and then be eligible to begin the four-year residency program.

Scholarships will be made available for future teachers who agree to teach in hard to staff schools or in hard to staff subjects.

Our university teacher education programs will be redesigned to meet the needs and standards of our primary and secondary schools. The Chancellor of Higher Education will be empowered to reward university education programs that best prepare their students for success as teachers in Ohio.

We will strengthen our licensing standards for school principals while giving them the ability and the responsibility to properly manage their schools.

We will create standards for the mastery of both education and management principles for school superintendents, school treasurers and other business officials.

And you know, good ideas shouldn’t be something we stumble on accidentally. That’s why my plan creates a research and development function within the Department of Education. The department’s Center for Creativity and Innovation will monitor research and results from across the country and across the world to keep Ohio schools and Ohio educators informed of new advances.

We take these steps to strengthen the education profession because we recognize that our teachers, much like doctors and pilots, hold lives in their hands, and we must do everything we can to make it possible for them to do their jobs extraordinarily well.

Fourth, under my plan, we will measure ourselves against the world.

Ohio’s current graduation test does not measure creativity, problem solving, and other key skills. We will make our assessments both relevant and rigorous by replacing the Ohio Graduation Test with the ACT and three additional measures.

All students will take the ACT college entrance examination, not only to measure their high school achievement, but to help raise students’ aspirations for higher education. Students will also take statewide ‘end of course’ exams, complete a service learning project, and submit a senior project.

These four measures will give our graduating high school seniors the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, creativity, and problem solving skills, in short, to demonstrate precisely the skills that will help them succeed in life.

In grades 3 through 8, our assessments will also be entirely rewritten to test for mastery of the information and skills in the curriculum.

Our goal in our teaching and in our testing is nothing short of national and international leadership.

Fifth, under my plan, we will establish an unprecedented level of school district accountability and transparency.

School districts will undergo performance audits overseen by the Department of Education to make sure they are maintaining the academic and operating standards we’ve established.

Districts will report their spending plans before each school year and then account for every dollar at the conclusion of the school year.

And just as we provide an academic report card for our schools, we will provide parents, public officials, and taxpayers an annual fiscal and operational report card for every school district. That means that when we send districts funding to help students who need additional attention and instruction, we will now be able to track our dollars to see that they directly reach those students.

Failure to comply with our standards will result, first, in the assigning of technical assistance to help a school district correct its deficiencies. If the problem persists, a district will be required to present a comprehensive plan outlining how it will reach full compliance with our academic and operating standards. Continued failure would result in the district being placed in receivership, with entirely new leadership installed. And finally, if the district remains non-compliant, the State Board of Education would be required to revoke the school district’s charter.

In short, if a school district fails, we will shut it down.

And, as we establish a new level of accountability in our school districts, we must also establish accountability in our charter schools.

For those who may have misunderstood my position on charter schools, I want to be very clear. I support charter schools that meet the same high standards we demand of traditional public schools. Charter schools that hire quality teachers, show fiscal and academic accountability, are regulated by the Department of Education, and are not run by for-profit management services have a place in my plan.

Now, in order to implement our evidence-based model, our students will need educators, support staff, materials, and special programs necessary to deliver a 21st century education. And by defining what our students need, we have in the process defined the resources our schools need.

The first step in providing those resources is eliminating aspects of our current funding system that are, quite frankly, indefensible.

In the current system, when the state calculates how much tax revenue a school district has, the state uses phony numbers. You may have heard this called ‘phantom revenue.’ For example, in many school districts, rising property values do not produce additional property tax revenue. But the state formula for school aid assumes districts do get additional tax revenue. That’s not logical, and it results in many districts being punished because the formula says they have an abundance of phantom dollars that don’t actually exist.

Under my plan, the state will no longer ask school districts to pay their bills with phantom dollars.

Instead, my plan lowers what our local taxpayers are expected to contribute to local schools from 23 mills to 20 mills. The state will assume responsibility for providing the difference between what those 20 mills raise and the cost of the full range of educational resources our students need according to our evidence-based approach.

Additionally, districts will have the option of asking voters to pass a conversion levy. Now, a conversion levy simply maintains the existing millage on residential property for a district currently above 20 mills.

Districts that use a conversion levy, and all districts whose tax structure already allows growth on 20 mills, will see their tax revenues grow with increased property values, helping schools to keep up with inflation.

Last November alone we had more than 200 school districts asking voters to approve school levies. Under my plan, school districts that choose this option will not have to go to the ballot year after year just to stay even with inflation.

And, we will strengthen the historic partnership between the state and our local school districts. When I came into office, local school districts paid for the majority of school costs. In the upcoming two-year budget, even with grave economic challenges facing Ohio and the nation, my plan will take the state’s share of education funding to 55 percent. As our Ohio evidence-based plan is fully phased in, the state’s share will grow to an unprecedented 59 percent.

And when we do these things, I believe we will have finally and unquestionably met our constitutional obligation to our children.

What’s more, together we’ll make Ohio one of the first states with a school year 200 days long.

Together we’ll make Ohio among the first states to place 21st century skills like creativity, problem solving, communication and leadership at the center of its curriculum.

Together we’ll make Ohio the first state with a comprehensive residency program for new teachers.

Together we’ll make Ohio among the first states to require universal all day kindergarten.

And we’ll take these steps with a very deliberate purpose. It’s because, as President Kennedy once put it, “We want to be first. Not first if. Not first but, but first.”

We will graduate Ohioans ready to succeed in the modern economy and in modern life. Future generations will look back gratefully and say that when we came together on education, we claimed this new century for Ohio.

Now, the words I quoted earlier aren’t Franklin Roosevelt’s best remembered comments about economic hardship. His most famous words were: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That’s a wonderful sentiment. But the truth is, our people have a good deal more to fear than fear. The loss of a job, a home, health care, and a pension hovers over far too many of our neighbors.

So I stand before you today with the unshakable knowledge that Ohio has been an economic powerhouse for 200 years, and, my friends, I believe Ohio’s best days are yet to come.

Whether we progress swiftly or slowly, however, will be in direct proportion to how well we work together.

If you looked up at the sky as the weather turned cold and the birds headed south for the winter, you probably saw a flock of geese flying together in a V formation.

Many years ago a pastor asked his congregation, “Do you know why geese fly in a V instead of side by side?” And then he explained, they fly in a V because it allows each goose to reduce the wind resistance for the bird flying behind it. By flying in formation, the whole flock strengthens each individual bird, allowing each goose to fly vastly greater distances together than it could possibly fly alone.

My friends, surely we are as smart as the goose. We can share a common direction, a sense of common purpose, and in so doing we can strengthen each other even as we strengthen ourselves.

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