Education On Governor Strickland’s Agenda

When you ask Ohio Governor Ted Strickland who has left an indelible mark on who he is today, he’s quick to answer.

“The most important influences in my life have been teachers.”

“Teachers have incredible power and monumental influence. What’s most important…is that (teachers) need to be respected by the government.”

Governor Strickland has begun to speak publicly about his 6 point plan to improve the educational system in the state of Ohio. Officially unreleased at this point, his plan leaves no student—or teacher—behind. Strickland recently spoke exclusively to The CEA Voice about his 6 point plan.

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“We’ve got a lot of work to do to meet our obligations to Ohio’s schools,” said Strickland. “The six principles of my plan do not deal with specific outcomes, but instead provide a framework for action. I believe that sound public policy should be built on principles that are good for the state.”

“We need to strengthen our commitment to Ohio’s public schools and public education,” added Strickland, describing the first point of his plan. “I strongly emphasize the word public. I believe the court of public opinion regarding vouchers* is beginning to change. They’re destructive to our students and wasteful of our tax dollars.”

“Ohio needs a modern education system directly linked to our state’s growth and prosperity,” said Strickland of his second point. “It should be tied to our state’s prosperity and civic well-being. The reason for a thriving middle class in Ohio is our commitment to public education and the organized labor movement, both of which need to be reemphasized.”

Strickland said identifying, building on existing school strengths and utilizing the best teachers to improve instruction comprised the third and fourth points of his plan.

“We need the best teachers to show us what works in the classroom,” elaborated Strickland. “We consult with you and follow your leadership. It’s important that we utilize what we can learn from our best teachers to improve instruction. It’s a well-known fact that most teachers who leave the profession do so within their first five years. We can retain those teachers by increasing their access to master teachers.”

“Ohio’s students must have a personalized education program that is relevant to their needs,” offered Strickland for his fifth point. “Teachers must have the freedom to teach without the fear of standardized test results communicating that you’re a bad teacher.”

“Finally, testing and assessment ought to be diagnostic,” the Governor said of his sixth point. “It should be prescriptive, showing students’ strengths and weaknesses. This is not how it is in its current incarnation.”

In March, United States Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling unveiled her plan of differentiated accountability. Up to 10 states would be accepted into the program and would be allowed to differentiate between the different levels of schools and the accountability options as mandated by No Child Left Behind Legislation (NCLB). Governor Strickland isn’t a fan of NCLB, nor is he fully sold on Spellings or her plan.

“We’re still looking at the differentiated accountability program and gathering information,” said Strickland. “In general, NCLB is too restrictive. Their approach to assessment is harmful to the education process. Allowing states to deviate from that is needed and very desirable, but I want to know what kind of requirements the Department of Education would impose on states in order to do it. I’m not full of trust for the Federal Department of Education’s leadership.”

Under the first point of Strickland’s plan, strengthening the state’s commitment to public schools could include increased accountability measures for charters, and a freeze on the expansion of vouchers in Ohio. The Governor does see obstacles in the legislative process to achieving that goal.

“In my first State of the State address, I mentioned that I wanted to end the use of vouchers in the state with the exception of the Cleveland voucher program,” responded Governor Strickland. “I wanted a lull in the for profit management charter companies and a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools.”

“When it comes to increasing charter school accountability, I don’t think we’ve been successful just by jawing about it. However, with Speaker Husted’s commitment to support of charter schools, an increase in accountability won’t happen until there’s a different legislature. There will be no expansion of vouchers in Ohio as long as I’m Governor.”

Pending legislation currently in the Ohio Senate will represent a challenge to Governor Strickland to make good on his commitment to not expand the voucher program. Senate Bill 57 would allow the parents of special education students throughout the state to get up to a $20,000 voucher to send their student to any school in the state— traditional public, charter or private.

Under this legislation, the student’s originating district would still be responsible for custody and maintenance of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) yet would not receive any funding to do so. The proposed legislation has received its sixth hearing in the Senate’s Education Committee, and could soon be sent to the floor for debate and a potential vote by the entire membership of the Senate. Strickland is unwavering in his opposition.

“Well, you know there was a similar effort made with the budget recently, and I carved that provision out with a veto,” said Strickland. “I’m not supportive of this legislation—it’s one more attempt to privatize public education with public dollars and public resources. I’ve been very clear with my attitude towards vouchers— public money should be used for public schools with public oversight.”

Governor Strickland went one step further, going on record for the first time ever as to what his actions would be if Senate Bill 57 survived the legislative process and made it to the Executive Office.

“If this bill comes across my desk in its current form, then I will veto it,” resolved Strickland.

The Governor’s proposal to replace State Superintendent Susan Zelman with a cabinet-level education director has drawn mixed reviews from teachers, elected officials and education policy experts across the state of Ohio. Strickland’s supporters see this as a move in the right direction, but others are concerned about the amount of power placed in the hands of one elected official.

Traditional public education advocates are concerned that a future election could place a pro-voucher, pro-charter school Governor into office. With the increased power that the Governor is seeking, that individual could be in a place to drastically alter the educational landscape of the state by making a shift away from support of traditional public education. Strickland isn’t buying that argument.

“We’ve got charters now without the governor having that kind of power,” responded Strickland. “It’s going to be difficult to get that power with the current legislature. Speaking candidly, I think the Republican leaders are truly concerned because then they believe I would limit charters and get rid of vouchers.”

Strickland is realistic about differing partisan interests concerning the future path of public education in Ohio.

“It’s going to take a Republican Governor and a Republican legislature in Ohio to expand charter schools and vouchers in the state,” said Strickland. “To reverse that, it will require a Democratic Governor and a Democratic legislature. As long as there’s the division we have now, we will continue to end up with the status quo we’re experiencing.”

* Authors’ correction.