Last year the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill prescribing new standards by which primary and secondary school students are to be measured, and steps to be taken when they don't meet those standards. Senate Bill One grew out of recommendations made by the Governor's Commission on Student Success, a group of educators and community leaders who studied the problem of underachievement for the better part of a year. Now, the Governor has another education commission in place, focused this time not on students, but on teachers, and they're gathering information for yet another round of education lawmaking. 90.3's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice: Jackie Brown teaches sixth-grade math in the Grand Valley Local School District, which serves several small rural communities in Ashtabula County, about an hour's drive due east from Cleveland. Brown says she heard about this meeting, held by the Governor's Task Force on Teaching success, at a previous forum on education, and was asked to make the trip to Painesville to attend. She did, and she likes what she's seen.
Jackie Brown: I really think it's a good idea because so many times people are sitting behind desks making all the decisions, and now people in the community and educators and board members and business people are all getting an opportunity to voice their opinions on how to improve schools and I think that's a great thing.
BR: Brown is one of three or four dozen people - mostly educators - who turned out for the session. It's one of several being held throughout Northeast Ohio to get local input into a statewide initiative to improve teaching. Katheryn Canada is Project Director for the Task Force. The effort, she says, is just a continuation of the work accomplished by the now-dissolved Governor's Task Force on Student Success, which completed it's work about a year ago. It's findings provided the springboard for Senate Bill One, last year's education reform bill that refined academic standards throughout the state. But that wasn't the end of it.
Katheryn Canada: One of the provisions was to create a subsequent commission to study teacher quality. And that's the background for the governor's for the commission on Teaching Success - started in November 2001.
BR: Canada says the task force's mission dovetails with President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, which took effect past spring. Among other things, she says, the Bush initiative mandates a quality teacher in every classroom. That's a tall order, she says, and task force members are looking for ways to recruit, and more importantly, retain good teachers.
KC: Areas to be studied span the life of a teacher. Recruitment, preparation, support, professional development, compensation, and the reaching/learning environment, and leadership.
BR: Canada is careful to point out that the goal is not to beat up on the teaching profession, which has taken some heat over the years for poor student achievement, but rather to find ways to give teachers more, and better, opportunities to grow.
KC: We don't necessarily have the kind infrastructure here in Ohio to make sure that kind of training can happen throughout a teacher's career. So a barrier is figuring out how to create that infrastructure.
BR: State Senator Robert Gardner, agrees. Gardner chairs the Senate Education Committee, and is one of several lawmakers on the 46-member task force.
Robert Gardner: One of the things we found was that in-service, or professional development, needs to be sustained and embedded literally into the work-week and the work-year. So that the teachers are - ongoing - continuing to get the best practices and best support, and reinforcement for the kinds of things they're doing in the classroom.
BR: Reaction to the Teaching Success initiative among educators is mixed. Richard Decolubus, who heads the Cleveland Teachers Union and is often critical of state education policy, likes the premise, but he's skeptical about funding.
Richard Decolubus: I think the mistake they made when they formed the committee was to tell the committee "Don't worry about funding recommendations, that's not your responsibility." Because the committee will come back with some wonderful recommendations that will inevitably cost some significant amount of revenue. And then the legislature's going to say "Hey, great idea, we really like these, we'll put them fully into effect just as soon as the economy allows for them." And then it'll never happen.
BR: Or, Decolibus says, legislators will put new requirements into law but fail to provide funding, and already time-strapped teachers will have a tough time meeting them. Funding is a dominant concern in Ohio's urban school districts, but it's not confined to the cities. Jerry Marino is a board member in the Kenston Local Schools district, in the outer eastern suburbs of Cleveland.
Jerry Marino: Money is always a problem. Many of the ideas we have in order to improve teacher preparation is going to be costly.
BR: And with a down economy and state funding for education in limbo, Marino doubts that many school districts will be able to afford the commission's recommendations. Math Teacher Jackie Brown agrees that adequate funding is a challenge.
JB: But if you really want to make a difference then the money needs to be put where the difference needs to be made, and I think that kids and education is very important, and if a change needs to be made then funding needs to be found and cuts may be made elsewhere.
BR: The Governor's Commission on Teaching Success will continue to hold public meetings across the state through August, and report its findings and recommendations to the Governor by the end of the year. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.