The new A-to-F report cards for Ohio’s schools and school districts were released this week and, as we sat stunned by the craziness of it all, we received a copy of this letter by Dr. George Wood that sums up the situation from the perspective of a seasoned educator. Dr. Wood is the Superintendent of Federal Hocking School District and Executive Director of The Forum for Education and Democracy. We thank William Phillis from Ohio E & A for letting us reprint it here.

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Response to New State Report Card
George Wood, Superintendent, Federal Hocking Local Schools
August 23, 2013

With the release of the new state school report cards we are again being led down a dead-end road. There is no evidence that the way the state reports on student achievement, or school performance, primarily by using standardized test scores, helps children learn or our teachers teach. The ‘new’ report card simply continues this attempt to grade our schools with tools that are not up to the job.

In the Federal Hocking District we are pleased that our schools received an “A” on the one measure that really matters-graduation rate. Our schools have one of the highest graduation rates in Ohio, and we have some of the highest standards for graduation in the state (including requiring that graduates earn more credits than the state minimum, pass all state tests, and produce a senior project and a graduation portfolio). It should also be noted that among those students that graduated in 2013, and were FHHS students for four years, 87% of them are going on to higher education having been admitted to Ohio University, Marietta College, Middlebury College, New York University, and Ohio State.

Unfortunately, most of the new state report card is based upon the standardized tests students take. These tests have never been shown to have a positive effect on students after they leave school; be it in college, the workplace, or the military. While they are one measure that helps us identify some strengths and weaknesses in our program, they should not be the sole measure of the success of our children.

Further, the new report card continues a history of Ohio constantly changing the rules and standards for schools without sound reason or research to make such changes. Over the past two decades we have had a myriad of state programs and mandates on testing, teacher evaluation, and curriculum. In fact, by my count, in the past eighteen years Ohio has instituted, dropped, changed, and added over three dozen mandated standardized tests at virtually all grade levels. As the new report card is issued schools are grappling with a new mandated curriculum (known as The Common Core), a new teacher evaluation system (the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System), soon to be released new high school end-of-course tests, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, and new health and safety regulations.

The constant changing of the rules almost seems to be designed to make our schools look bad. All over Ohio schools that have had positive report cards in the past saw their scores tumble. One of our schools went from being rated “Effective” by the state last year to having an “F” grade in achievement-how is that possible?

It should also be noted that these new programs are more of the ‘unfunded mandates’ for which the State is so well known. There are no additional dollars directly provided to districts to implement these mandates (you can apply for grants, but even if you do not get one you still have to carry out the work). For most districts, such as ours, the current state budget has continued the trend of reduced or flat funding. We have now seen in the past two decades more than half a dozen school funding plans and have yet to see any of them carry out the Ohio State Supreme Court’s order to fix school funding.

Yet while state funding goes down or is static, their attempt at controlling our schools goes on. At Federal Hocking the state provides around 52% of our budget, but through the new state reporting system and the new state mandates they are attempting to control 100% of our agenda.

While we will use the new state report card as one measure of our work, we will not rely upon it as a sole or even the best measure of what we are doing. In fact, it would be short sighted for us to focus solely on test preparation, as it would have a negative effect upon our children limiting the range of educational experiences we offer them in our schools.

Our agenda will be driven by a set of progressive operating principles put together by our staff and approved by our school board in the true spirit of local control. Experience tells us that the state will, in the blink of an eye, change the rules we face again and again. (In fact, as I write this the rules for the testing of high school students for graduation are so unclear they are not even posted on the Ohio Department of Education web site.) In order not to keep trying to dance to the tune played in Columbus we will focus on what is best for our kids. We may not get the best grades on the state report card, and we may be singled out for additional scrutiny by the state. But we will continue to keep our focus on the most important standard of all, providing our families with the schools and classrooms that move our children on to graduation and a productive life after school.

Evangelize!
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  • Think.

    The constant changing of the rules IS designed to make our schools look bad. To promote the acceptance of for-profit schools, ALEC legislators continue to pass laws that increase our state’s reliance on high-stakes testing. If the public school systems look ineffective, people will desperately rush to take advantage of Ohio’s expanded school voucher program.

  • dmoore2222

    Bravo! Excellent assessment of the situation. The Ohio Department of Education is disfunctional and everyone knows it. So why even bother giving any credibility to what goes on there. And the Ohio Board of Education is a rubber stamp for the republican race to the bottom agenda.

  • Stef

    The thing I find most funny, the ad at the top of this page is for an online charter school.

  • Katietoo

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Superintendent Wood and Plunderbund. We must keep fighting the attempts by corporate deformers to destroy public education. The only ones benefitting from the Common Core and its myriad “assessments” are Pearson, Broad, Gates, Walton, etc.. They are laughing all the way to the bank as students, teachers and families that need public Ed are suffering.

  • Retrofuturistic

    The worse they can make the public schools look, the more people will move to charters— and when that happens public money goes into private-unregulated hands. The CEOs of the charters will keep more of the money and provide fewer services. This is the Christian Republican goal. It has nothing to do with improving education and everything to do with putting public money into private, unregulated hands.

  • Retrofuturistic

    I agree. I lost respect for them when they tried to put Creationism into Ohio’s “science” curriculum.

  • amyvav

    Thank you, Dr. Wood, for your courage and leadership. I hope that your comments inspire other superintendents and school boards to advocate for our students and educators.

    I am about to prepare my plans for next week, our first full week back to school. The first day of which my morning students will be spending with a sub as my colleagues and I review our Value Added “grades” and try to explain where we went so wrong as to earn an F for our building.

    It is difficult and unsettling trying to teach according to one’s educational beliefs and principles, while at the same time scrambling to create, analyze, and adjust instruction to pages and pages of data based on a few hours of testing done by an adolescent under inhumanely stressful conditions.

    I love my students, and I love teaching them. As I look out at them on Monday morni… oh, sorry – afternoon, a copy of your letter will be on my desk as a reminder of the professional integrity that we must all refuse to sacrifice.

    Power to the teachers!!

  • sick of it

    The constant changes assures that several highly paid pencil pushers will have jobs. Their continuous changes keeps everyone confused and in need of their assistance. If we ever allow teachers to teach and students to show what they know in the classroom using multiple types of assessments, those over paid pencil pushers will be out of jobs.

  • LT

    You can’t trust a school superintendent to be honest about their school district. It would doom them and their job. Of course, they will tell you things are fine. That’s why they get paid.

    The idea that we can measure schools by graduation rate is so silly that only a public school graduate could be impressed by it. Twenty years ago, in a school district, it was publicized that you had pass a ninth grade proficiency test to graduate from 12th grade. Hello, people. You should have to pass a ninth grade proficiency test to pass ninth grade.

    The truth is that Ohio schools (like many others) are largely failing. This guy doesn’t have courage. He has a desire to keep his job. The only way he can do that is by persuading people that failing education is actually good education.

  • LT

    The schools don’t need any help to look bad. They are doing that quite fine on their own. School competition is actually a good thing because it forces schools to provide a meaningful product or lose business. The lack of competition for education dollars is part of the problem.

    Until schools are put in the place that their livelihood depends on real success (not simply dumbing down standards to keep promotion and graduation rates hight), there will no improvement.

    The people pointing that schools are failing are not the bad guys. It’s the schools that are the problem, and the parents who tolerate them.

  • Paul

    The ads you see are based on your previous search history.

  • Jinnifer Roach

    i beg to differ…schools are only failing because the media tells us that by reporting the grades that the state gives the schools based on the standardized tests that we must give our students and those tests are generated by for-profit testing companies that provide dollars to politicians…it is not the superintendents or the teachers that are providing a “failing education” it is the radical right-wing politicians that want public education to become private so they can profit–ask rupert murdoch–so they mandate all this crap that has nothing to do with educating children but more to do with finding ways to demonize public schools and public school teachers so that the public believes we are failing and the only solution is to run them like businesses and be run by business men…

  • Michael King

    you are joking, right?
    The Republican controlled Ohio state legislature has done everything in its power to totally screw up our education system. The State Supreme court ruled multiple times that the way our schools were funded is unconstitutional and the legislature has done absolutely NOTHING to resolve the issue. They just keep adding stupid standardized tests that don’t really show anything. And to add insult to injury, Kasich tried to kill off the teachers’ unions to prevent them from having any voice in how the schools were run. I’m so glad that my children have graduated from primary and secondary school so that they don’t have to suffer the nonsense created by our Dept. of Education and the state legislature. God help their children.

  • Terri Everhart

    If we made prisoners sit through the same things our students endure during testing, it would be deemed cruel and unusual punishment!

  • Telchar Bladesmith

    So much blind and willful ignorance in one person. How is this possible? ….oh, I forgot…fox/rush/beck/hannity/jones/kasich/walker/koch/kohls/john birch society and the rest of the right wing nut jobs who live in a bubble that forcefully rejects reality and anything remotely resembling factual data and think Ted Cruz being born in Canada is perectly acceptable (because they apparently have declared that Canada is really a foreign country) but Obama being born in Hawiaii is not. The right wing lunatics make me fear for our country’s future.

  • Laura Anthony

    Really? A product? Then maybe we should punish the manufacturer’s of the defective products. Why should the schools bear the brunt of the blame? If a child is failing in school, let’s fine the parents. They made the product and continue to mold that product every day. Don’t expect aftermarket parts to fix the problem.

  • LT

    The factual data is that schools are failing. “Educated” today is far less than it was thirty years ago. Facts are facts. The education system, as a whole, is failing.

  • LT

    You are absolutely correct. The breakdown in homes is a major factor in education’s problems.

  • LT

    You are entitled to differ, but that won’t change the facts. Schools are failing, not because of the media, but because students aren’t learning what they need to know.

    Standardized testing shows what students know. It’s how you measure progress, and it is objective, for the most part. The major outcry against standardized testing is from teachers and politicians who do not want to be held responsible for failure. The numbers don’t lie. They aren’t made up. And you can’t massage them to make them look better.

    I don’t really care whether education is public or private. The fix is to give the money to parents to spend on education wherever they think their child will be be educated. Quit paying for failure, and you will stop getting it. When schools realize that you have to actually educate to get money, they will find a way to do it.

    You can cry about profit in education, but the teacher’s union doesn’t mind their teachers and their union leaders making a profit off the backs of the children who are increasingly ill-equipped for life.

  • LT

    Of course I am not joking. Education is far too serious to joke about. The teachers unions are killing education.

    When we put education in the hands of parents, and give them the basic choices about education, things will change. When schools realize that they won’t get money unless they are a successful school, they will figure it out. The things that made the American economy great historically–like innovation, hard work, and achievement–are the same things that will make American education great.

    Here’s the reality: Today’s students are vastly ill-equipped for life and further education, and it is the fault of such as are posting here who refuse to admit the truth and prefer to keep the status quo at the expense of our future. It is time for a revolution. Parents need to stand up and demand change.

  • amyvav

    What would make education great in America is if people who have no background, training, or understanding of the learning process stop trying to impose their will upon the rest of us. How dare you blame me or my colleagues for this disaster!!! I just spent my entire weekend preparing to try innovative strategies to help every one of my students succeed – whether they individually meet your totalitarian, elitist definition of high achieving or not. Children are not products. Teachers are not machines that can be adjusted in order to mass produce identically perfect automatons. Education is not a business. It is a right. You are not an advocate. You are an antagonist. And a successful one at that!! I am feeling thoroughly annoyed and angered by your comments. However, I am also confident in myself and my students. So, I will toddle my unionized self off to bed and sleep soundly. I have a busy week of educating the masses ahead of me.
    Solidarity to you all!

  • Think.

    From what reliable and non-biased source are you getting your “facts?”

  • Think.

    Well said- enjoy the weeks to come educating your students, and understand that the majority of us parents are on your side.

  • bright

    You have actually cited no facts. You have stated your opinion.

  • MathTeacher412

    A child spends less than 15% of a calendar year in an Ohio public school classroom. The other 85% of their time is spent elsewhere. If children are increasingly “ill-fitted for life” it has much to do with their home environment. I have taught for 29 years in a small community. I’ve seen the changes in our population–from 20% economically disadvantaged to 70%. The drug culture has worsened just in the last five years. Many of our kids come to school just to get a healthy meal and have some stability in their lives. You want money given to these parents to make decisions about their children’s educations? Some of them don’t even know where their children sleep at night. Then you want to throw the teachers’ unions into your irrational diatribe for good measure?

    You have a very unrealistic, opinionated view of what is going on in education today.

  • amyvav

    Thanks!

  • Anthony Wend

    Common Core is not an attempt by “corporate deformers”, it is a far left wing propaganda curriculum pushed by Obama’s progressive legions.

  • Anthony Wend

    Dr. Wood’s poorly written sentences and a complete lack of knowledge of several topics show why he is unfit to lead a school district. He laments “a lack of local control” , but fails to recognize ” common core” is a top down power grab by the Obama administration, progressives, and supported by the teachers unions, all of which I’m sure he supports. Common Core is full of socialist indoctrination and insists that all students in the US learn exactly the same thing, allowing for no local variance and teacher “creativity”. Teachers’ unions, liberals, and Democrats now decry what they have voted for. To paraphrase Pres. Obama’s radical, racist preacher Jeramiah Wright ” America’s teacher’s chicken’s have come home to roost”. By the way, Dr. Wood says funding for schools has been stagnant or decreased for the last 20 years, this is false, it soared from 1993- 2008 by 160% after inflation, it has stabilized since. Spending is not the problem for US schools( US spends the most per pupil in the world/ 26th test scores), lazy and ignorant parents created by the welfare state and teachers unions which refuse to dismiss bad teachers and deny school choice(except for the 60% of public school teachers whom send their children to private schools) are! Teachers never want any oversight over their performance, so any objective barometer like a test, scares them. the rest of us taxpayers who pay their salary , lavish healthcare and pensions are judged on production, sales, margins, results, but of course, they don’t like it.

  • Anthony Wend

    Wow, liberal teacher hyperbole at it’s worst, “a few hours of testing done by an adolescent under inhumanely stressful conditions.” So, sitting at a desk in an air conditioned building taking( oh nooo) a test to confirm what knowledge a student may, or may not have gained is ” Inhumane”. LOL This attitude exemplifies the give every kid a ribbon and coddling of children attitude which does not prepare them for college(they have inhumane exams there), jobs where they are expected to meet deadlines, sales goals, production requirements, save lives, put out fires, fly $million aircraft full of 100’s of people, etc, etc. I was in the Army, in Kuwait, getting shot at, when I was 18, that was my choice. It was not inhumane, I’d much rather have been in a schoolroom, surrounded by cute girls, taking a horrible, grueling, test which scars the poor little kiddies for life, test. You will do your students a disservice by lionizing Mr. Wood’s letter, warning them of the big, bad, boogeyman test. Life is full of tests every day, they better get used to it. The students will take the test, walk out, click on their cell phones and the scars will be healed miraculously, get over yourself teach.

  • Anthony Wend

    More insane hyperbole, this attitude is why our students rank 26th in the world, when we spend more per pupil than any country in the world. Taking a test is cruel and unusual?? They have little, ity bity tests in college for precious little Johnny and Mary Sue, you know, maybe we should eliminate them all and give all the little pumpkins an A+ and send them into the world to fail more miserably than now?

  • Anthony Wend

    “Educating the masses, Solidarity to you all! “Spoken like a good little Marxist, you probably got those quotes off the communist links on both major teachers union’s websites. You arrogance is typical of teachers, who think that parents and professionals in other fields dare not give an opinion as to how you indoctrinate the ” future workers of the movement”. You work 60% of the days of a year of the people who pay your salary, lavish medical and 30 years of pension starting at age 53, while others work on for at least 12 more years and you spew venom for them.

  • SEmom

    Do you have a child in the school system? I would compare my child’s 5th grade educational experience, in a failing school district, to what I experienced in 7th or 8th grade.

  • SEmom

    We rank 24th in the world because we educate the masses while most countries educate a small group of elite and funnel the rest into the work field at an early age. Let’s add those test scores into the mix.

  • LT

    From studies of various places, along with interacting with teachers, parents, and students, on top of substitute teaching in schools and working as a volunteer with youth.

  • LT

    No, because the education is so bad. Today’s 5th graders are where I was in 2nd and 3rd grade. That may be a generational thing, since I don’t know how old you are. But today’s students are vastly undertaught.

  • LT

    The facts are widely available. I don’t cite them because they are common knowledge by people who have taken the time to look at the issue, or even by people who have taken the time to talk to their kids or their neighbor kids.

  • LT

    I think you are entirely right, but your 15%/85% is misleading. If you take out the sleeping time, then kids are spending about half their time in school and school related activities (from roughly 8am through about 4-5 pm if you count extracurricular and homework). That leaves 5-6 hours a days not in school or school related activities, much of which is spent consuming TV and internet.

    I want parents to have options. Just this week, the US Justice department filed suit in Louisiana to keep African-American students in failing schools. That is a travesty. And no one is talking about it. Students today are trapped in failing schools and people are unwilling to do anything about it.

    Calling my comments an “irrational diatribe” is, well, an indication of failed education. If you knew the meaning of “irrational” or “diatribe” you would know that my comments are neither. Please take some time to consider what I have actually said.

  • LT

    Michael, Perhaps the first step in things would be a remedial course in reading comprehension. I did not blame teachers. I think the majority of teachers do a good job with what they have. They are hampered by a failing system.

    I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that with a bachelor’s, three master’s degree, and doctorate, I probably have more background, education, and understanding of learning than you do. Combine that with 18 years of teaching in various contexts, both foreign and domestic, in profit and non-profit organizations, in addition to a significant amount of counseling and remedial work, not to mention being the parent of three young kids.

    I know what I am talking about. I don’t have a dog in this fight. You are trying to protect your job and your income.

    I think parents are a significant part of the problem. I think under-resourced communities are a significant part of the problem. I think culture is a significant part of the problem. I think the last fifty years of government intervention is a significant part of the problem.

    Standardized testing is not. It boggles my mind that a teacher finds it problematic that we should actually find out what kids know.

    Today, we are graduating a record amount (for the modern era) of kids who can’t read and perform basic life skills. The solution is not to keep doing what we have done. When it’s not working, why shouldn’t we change it?

  • MathTeacher412

    Saying that kids spend half of their time in school is irrational. 180 days a year (in most states) times 7 hours per day (which is high) is 1260 hours in a calendar year. 365 times 24 hours in a day is 8760. Do the division. 0.14–so less than 15% of their time is spent in school. I am sorry, but sleeping time belongs to their parents. If parents aren’t making sure they are sleeping, then the teacher’s job is even harder. You seem to be attacking teacher’s and attacking is diatribe. I stand by irrational diatribe.

  • LT

    You are apparently a math teacher … do the math … rationally. A kid leaves for school between 7:30 and 8 (sometimes earlier, rarely later). School and school activities go until 4-5. 8-4 is eight hours, not seven, and seven is not high; it would be very low. My second grader leaves home about 7:45 and gets home around 4. That’s over eight hours, and he has no after school activities.

    They then come home and do homework which can be another hour or two at least, and upper grades have more. That’s ten hours, putting it around 6 if they do it straight through. They go to bed around 11 (which is too late). That means of their waking hours, 10 are spent in school or school related activities, and 5 out of school. Let’s say Saturdays and Sundays have no homework because kids were really diligent on Friday night (something unlikely, but let’s play along). Let’s say they rise about 9 (that’s early probably) and go to bed around midnight. That means they have about 15 hours assuming there is no school activities or homework.

    And no, sleep time doesn’t belong to the parents. The parents are sleeping too, or enjoying a bit of quiet.

    Now, mathteacher, let’s figure it up: 50 hours in school and related activities (5 days x 10 hours a day), and 55 hours out of school (5 days x 5 hours + 2 days x 15 hours). That’s just over 50% out of school and just under 50% in school. I am not counting summers for obviousl reasons, since kids are not in school. But even if you count them (75 days or so x 15 hours a day), I don’t think that gets you to 85% out of school.

    But all that is just distraction from the issue. It isn’t the amount of time they spend in school, but whether or not they are learning what they need to learn. If you take politics out of it, the facts show that they aren’t.

    I am not attacking teachers. If you think that, then you haven’t read closely. A diatribe is “a forceful and bitter verbal attack” (according to the Oxford English Dictionary). I have made no forceful and bitter verbal attack against any one, much less teachers.

    Irrational means without reason, and my posts have been well reasoned, and very reasonable.

    So again, irrational diatribe is simply inaccurate.

    Please read what I actually say and consider it before posting a knee jerk response.

  • Will A.

    You’re making sweeping statements without providing an iota of evidence. I think you should go promote your corporate agenda somewhere else.

  • Will A.

    I think it’s a far right wing propaganda curriculum pushed by Satan’s conservative legions.

  • LT

    The evidence is abundant. Google is your friend here. If you don’t want to use that, then go to the library and do some research. It is easy to find. Or if that is too much trouble, just walk your streets and start talking to people. All informed people know it already. The only people hiding it are people with an agenda.

    I have no corporate agenda. I am not even sure where that came from. That makes no sense at all.

  • Think.

    Your sources are anecdotal- not factual. It’s time to jump off the “schools are failing” bandwagon and search for some legitimate data..

  • Katietoo

    Both the left and the right are complicit in this. Keep looking. Follow the money. Hint: the money is not going to public school students or teachers!

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