Thursday, May 30, 2019

OH: Takeover Battle Comes To Senate

Our story so far: The Ohio House has passed a bill scrapping Ohio's disastrous takeover bill, HB 70. The new language was incorporated into the budget (HB 166) and, having cleared the House, must go to the Senate, where education committee chair Peggy Lehner is not particularly sympathetic to public education. So Lehner and a committee of various "interested parties" put together their own proposal for offering "relief" from HB 70. It's another version of a state takeover, packed with $20 million in pork for "consultants."

Wednesday, May 29, was the Senate's day to hold a hearing about the issue, and all the players came out of the woodwork, some offering audacious and amazing words for or against the bill, with particular emphasis on Lorain, Ohio, a city and school system that has caused all sorts of problems by refusing to roll over and play dead.

Mark Ballard, hearing MVP
But we have lots of testimony to look at, all of which paints a picture of a direct head-to-head clash between pub lic education and those who would like to privatize it.  In fact, before we wade into this, let's start with some of the testimony from Lorain School Board President Mark Ballard, because this may win the Quote of the Day award:

A new law is being crafted, in secret, AGAIN - because you admit the last two laws were ineffective - all while Lorain is dealing with the negative consequences of those bills.

Now, if this new bill is approved, we will be required to collaborate with our CEO, even though he doesn’t believe in collaboration and refuses to meet with us.

And our end goal is to create a plan that is exactly...the... what we already had in place before you gave us a CEO?

Please remember this: If the state of Ohio thinks it can continue to experiment with it’s poor children because our communities are somehow too disengaged to fight for them, you are very mistaken.

We are the International City. And fighting for the right to have the same opportunities as middle class white people is something we have been doing all of our lives.

Chad Aldis (formerly with the Waltons and before that a staffer in the Florida legislature) showed up for the Fordham Institute, a right-tilted thinky tank advocacy group that has gone to bat for most reformy ideas. They also run a charter authorizing business in Ohio.

There are several reasons why this body should reject the House’s changes. First, although jettisoning the ADC model rather than improving it would be politically popular, it would come at the expense of students. The districts currently under ADC control have consistently weak academic growth, low college completion rates, and few students reaching proficiency in basic subjects. Some of the districts have been performing poorly for ten years or more. Their schools are producing graduates who aren’t prepared for college or the workplace—and families, communities, and local businesses are paying the price.

This is a standard reformy tactic-- emphasize the severity of the problem rather than provide evidence that your preferred solution is actually a solution .

Dayton, Ohio, is one of the larger communities that will soon fall under HB 70 if the law isn't changed. This, as much as the failures of the model in Lorain, Youngstown, and East Cleveland, is driving the opposition to HB 70-- the very real possibility that more "important" Ohio cities with actual clout will soon be hit by state takeover. The superintendent was at the hearing to get out and front, calling results of HB 70 so far very debatable and arguing that Dayton is already solving problems themselves and meddling from the state will not help, thank you very much.

Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association  was there to argue the solution isn't solving anything:

As my colleagues and our fellow OEA members in Youngstown and Lorain have experienced, the current state takeover law provides no citizen oversight through elected school boards, no voice for classroom teachers and has been bad for our kids. Our experience in Youngstown and Lorain has demonstrated that the Academic Distress Commission/CEO model does not work. We believe that no more districts should be taken over, and that the districts that have been taken over should be relieved of that burden. That is why the first part of House Bill 154 is so important - repeal.

It is also important to note that state takeovers are based on misleading state report cards that severely penalize students and districts in poverty. After the failed state takeover law is repealed and local control is restored, OEA stands ready to work with state lawmakers to fix Ohio’s broken and misleading report card system.

Jennifer Kluchar, a teacher from Youngstown, pointed out that the advent of urban chartersskims away students in a way that affects the culture of the public schools:

This is the context I need you to imagine: schools where the culture is “we come here to learn” versus schools where the culture is “we come here to be fed and loved, and because there’s no one at home to take care of us”,

Beth Workman of the League of Women Voters showed up to call for better fundng of flagging schools and to challenge the test-based definition of quality:

Quality is a very complex phenomenon, and it deserves a robust definition. Test results, which are most often a reflection of the economic status of the test takers, are a very limited way of gauging quality. And connecting consequences to them, is a very harmful way to force improvement. It doesn’t really work. It encourages a focus on improving test results, which both undermines high quality instruction and negates the validity of the test itself as a fair measure of learning.

ADC member teacher Steve Cawthon enumerated some of the problems instituted by the CEO and also observed that some of the progress signs that the CEO pointed to where the result of reforms that the distriuct had begun before the CEO took over.

Several folks testified to the atmosphere of fear that now perm eates Lorain schools, but perhaps most striking was testimony from Alexis Hayden, the union grievance chair, who noted that from a previous average of seven grievances, this year had racked up fifty-two grievances. In one year. And that's not counting the teachers who called, but ultimately decided not to file a grievance because they feared the fallout of doing so.

Kejuana Jefferson, one of the CEO's turnaround principals, showed up to compare herself to Sojourner Truth, heroically standing up against the powerful political forces of Lorain. Jefferson would be the principal hired for the middle school who had neither principal certification nor teaching certification beyond K-3. She's taken to slamming hers staff on social media. But she's sure the takeover in Lorain is working because the TNTP alignment process is going well and  there's some good data.

Henry Patterson, past VP of the ADC in Lorain laid out the five considerations for a turnaround to work: it will take time, be hard, and cost money. Also, it will require a collaborative CEO who works with local folks and an engaged ADC. HB 70 is broken and needs to be replaced with something that considers all five.

David Hardy, Teach for America product and current Lorain CEO, offered, if nothing else, some comments that further suggest that he was a terrible choice for a terrible job. He, however, is certain that HB 70 was right. But he does see progress in Lorain stymied:

The level of opposition to progress is relentless and the willingness by those who see local control as a means to oppress communities dominated by black and brown children is real. The viability of corruption is at a height that resembles the challenges seen in some of the most troubling situations our world has to endure. Thinly veiled threats, whispers of oppression, and attention seeking adults who are emotionally high jacked to testify against the very necessary change they refuse to see is present today and will be present tomorrow. At the same time our voiceless children and marginalized adults rely on others to speak their truth all while being exploited daily by lies and deceit-filled empty promises.

Hardy is not just speaking against the folks in Lorain, but the idea of local control in general:

In communities like Lorain, local control means control that is unaccounted for and the maintenance of more of the same; maintaining financial benefit on the backs of children of color, staining the very democracy that has put them in place with the stench of systemic racial inequities that continue to perpetuate the separation of the haves and have nots.

And Hardy offers an explanation for why he won't attend a school board meeting:

The answer is simple; I refuse to be a part of corruption.

Hardy has some big sweeping ideas, or at least the language to express them, and he certainly delivers a mean speech about the disenfranchisement of the people. Maybe he is a big thinker, but if so, he would not be the first visionary leader who couldn't turn his vision into the daily nuts and bolts needed to run a school district. You can try to whip people up into a state of frenzied excitement, but at some point they are going to turn to you and ask, "Okay, what exactly are we going to do today?"

Moreover, his view that Lorain is a corrupt cesspool of power held by a small cabal of corrupt leaders seems like an obstacle to collaborative success. His impulses seem to run to sudden authoritarian dictates (e.g. his announcement that everyone in some schools would have to reapply for their jobs), a dislike for explaining himself, and subsequent collisions with reality (e.g. his announcement that all those teachers wouldn't have to reapply after all). And while he talks a good game about having monthly town halls to go straight to the people--well, he doesn't live in Lorain.

Yes, being a school leader involves dealing with some people who are obstacles and problematic. It's a political job, and school super-powered CEO is a very political job created by political means. It requires someone who is both uber-knowledgable about all aspects of running schools and somebody who is a gifted politician; Hardy is just an example of what happens when you try to fill the job with someone has neither skill set. Even if he's right, and that he's the good guy stuck in a pit of corruption beset on all sides by villains, this is not how to deal with that successfully. Lorain is just the worst case scenario display of how bad HB 70 is, and Hardy just keeps demonstrating that.

Hardy has his supporters, including the local NAACP, and they showed up to advocate for staying the course. And no Ohio hearing about education would be complete without Lisa Gray of Ohio Excels, another one of those groups formed by business interests who want to shape education policy. Gray has worked with the Gates Foundation, Achieve, Teach for America-- the usual suspects. Gray has been a reformstery advocate for years (here she is in 2013 explaining how awesome the Common Core will be).

Ohio Excels proposal for replacing HB 70 is even more reformy. They would like to see a plan that targets schools that are trending downward, snapping them up before they even fail. Businesses and philanthropic groups (like, say, the Gates Foundation) should get to be partners (aka "help drive the bus"), and more mayoral involvement in leadership (aka "mayoral control"). And there should be "final consequences" for schools that don't improve, like state takeover-- though they should be allowed to escape that  y trying things like "partnering" with third-party providers or charter schools.

Gray's testimony helps establish the other extreme in the discussion-- rather than local control, let's just get the process of privatizing schools under way. It would be interesting to hear if Hardy believes that corporate privatization would yield better treatment of Black and Brown students.

Lehner was, by most accounts, not particularly sympathetic to the pro-HB 166 crowd-- apparently at one point, when a Lorain teacher tried to recognize the many students who had made the long trip, she scolded the teacher to turn around and face the senators (and then there's the classy Senator who called the student appearance a "nice show.") It remains to be seen what the Senate will decide to do with the education language now written into the budget the House passed, but if I were an Ohio voter concerned about public education, I'd be calling my Senator daily.


  1. Lehner and Sen. Brenner are well known in Ohio public educations circles as being unfriendly to teachers.

  2. Your continued coverage of Lorain in this fight has been amazing. I look forward to each article as it reveals what's really happening to these good people, taking their struggle to a larger forum. If HB70 is finally repealed, it's because of the parents who shouted loud enough, and your articles which explain the predicament so clearly. A sincere thanks from someone who loves Lorain dearly.