In mid-November, between two and three hundred superintendents, school board members, school administrators, teachers, retired teachers, and other interested parties attended a rally at the Ohio Statehouse to express their concerns about the new high school graduation requirements due to take full effect next school year. The reason the rally was held is because school leaders have seen firsthand (again) what happens when politicians and political appointees who either don’t know how people become educated or refuse to accept how people become educated mandate rules under which children must become educated. They invariably create a mess, and the mess they are creating for kids with this mandate is too damaging to ignore.
As a rule, we educators have become experts in navigating the foolishness created in Columbus, because they offer us so many opportunities for practice. Usually, we can figure out a way to lawfully address illogical political mandates while minimizing the damage they inflict upon children. But these new graduation standards are so poorly conceived and so unforgiving that thousands and thousands of high school students are in danger of being unfairly denied a high school diploma, and there aren’t many avenues available to help them dodge the bullet this time. This particular political debacle was too important for educators to adopt our normal “keep our mouths shut and forge ahead” mentality.
The rally wasn’t an argument against high standards or accountability, as some critics suggested. It was a rally against people who do not know what they are talking about giving themselves the power to make rules that would adversely affect kids for the rest of their lives. It was a rally against these same people sitting in a room in Columbus and dictating to students they have never met what classes they must take, what tests they must pass, and how many points they must achieve to be given the opportunity to move on with their lives. This was a rally against people who are a part of big government overstepping their boundaries (again) by dictating the rules under which people must live, all while trying to convince us that they believe in local control. That, and not a fear of accountability or an aversion to high standards, is why this rally was held.
The response by some of the very people who have created this mess was entirely predictable. Instead of wondering why so many educational leaders feel these new rules are unfair to kids, state school board member C. Todd Jones, who is front and center in the “I know better than you” movement, labelled the rally the “march to mediocrity.” Now, in case you were wondering, that was meant to be a disparaging remark directed at people who dared to disagree with his way of thinking. You see, when many politicians or political appointees, which is what Mr. Jones is, have their superiority questioned, instead of considering that perhaps they don’t know as much as they think they know, they simply disparage those who dare question them, often uttering pithy little sound bites like “march to mediocrity.” For good measure, they like to sneak in a “fear of accountability” insult as well. But, pithy little put-downs are not good enough this time.
Jones’s dismissive remark about mediocrity is particularly ironic since he is only on the state board of education because Governor Kasich placed him there. In fact, he and another Kasich appointee, state school board president Tom Gunlock, are both entrenched in the notion that they have some God-given right to dictate to others how they should live their lives, regardless of whether they are right or wrong in their thinking. Their mission is apparently to do their best to carry out the governor’s education agenda. That would be the same education agenda that the Washington Post exposed as lacking in substance in a July 2, 2015 article titled “What Ohio Gov. John Kasich is Doing to Public Education in His State.” In her article, which ran during the governor’s failed run for the Republican nomination for President, Valerie Strauss gave specific examples of the governor’s educational reform failures while suggesting that Americans should “look at the education mess that has developed under his leadership.” Yes, their mission is to promote THAT education agenda. So, Mr. Jones is probably the quintessential expert on mediocrity (or worse), and Mr. Gunlock is right there with him. For either of them to be piloting the education bus and criticizing anyone who dares question them is laughable.
It’s not high standards for kids people at the rally were afraid of. Our fear stems from when people like Jones, who is a lawyer, not an educator, and Gunlock, who is a businessman, not an educator, are handed power they do not deserve and who think nothing of lording it over others while discounting what we know to be true about how people achieve success.
It’s also not accountability we are afraid of; it’s accountability that is artificially created by people who make up their own rules and who have no qualms about enforcing their personal biases on others, even when they are wrong. That’s what my peers and I fear, and that is what parents of children in Ohio should fear even more.
So, if a “march to mediocrity” and a “fear of accountability” is objecting to know-nothing politicians and political appointees like C. Todd Jones and Tom Gunlock ruling the educational roost, then I’ll gladly participate in that march, because that would be the most “accountable” and “un-mediocre” thing I could possibly do.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.