Deregulation Is The Last Thing Ohio’s Schools Need

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The following is an opinion article written by Dr. Renee Middleton, Dean of The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education at Ohio University


Last week, Governor John Kasich said in a speech to the Ohio Newspaper Association in Columbus that he wants to bring deregulation to Ohio’s public schools. I’m not going to beat around the bush; I think that this is not the answer to Ohio’s education needs. Simply put, based on what the governor has said on the subject so far, I think it is a bad idea.

Deregulation is a political buzzword, and how you feel about it tends to split along party lines. So, I can’t help but feel it’s strange when such a polarizing word is applied to education, what should be a field that inspires bipartisan collaboration.

What that buzzword really means, and what Kasich himself has said, is that he wants to bring business into our public schools. He wants to have businesses determine what Ohio’s children learn and how it is taught to them. He wants businesses to mold Ohio’s young learners. How absurd.

Teachers must impact policymaking and shape the profession. That cannot be the role of the business community, and it is not the business community’s role and responsibility.

Our students’ futures are not commodities to be traded on the open market like wheat or corn. Education is a right, not a product! While we must be fiscally responsible in how we manage our schools, our focus must always be on the student at their desk, not on the profits in the ledger.

The nearest approximation to deregulation we have in Ohio is our charter school system. Communities were told that these schools were the best chance to reform urban schools. Those promises have largely proven empty.

In recent numbers, 87 percent of Ohio children who attend a charter school attend one that earned a D or an F on the Ohio Department of Education school report cards. What’s worse is that many of these failing schools that had promised to save Ohio money, are actually gaming the system for more. After they are shut down, some charter schools reopen under different names. This allows the same failing school to be eligible for additional funding as a “new” school.

Governor Kasich has also said deregulation may be the answer to the heavy requirements placed on public school teachers. I have often commented that Ohio is asking our public school teachers to do more with less and cracks will inevitably show. The Third Grade Reading Guarantee, a bill supported by Governor Kasich, was named by himself as one of the licensing requirements that public school teachers might need a break from. His office should instead speak to the public school teachers, listen to what they need, and give them the resources necessary for success in schools, in students, and in communities.

If Governor Kasich wants to clear the way for teachers, he must clear the way for teachers to lead in the implementation of Ohio’s new learning standards.

The right to an equal and quality education under the law is what makes this nation strong. If deregulation is widely applied, I fear that we might see a growing state where that is not the case. Charter schools are not regulated to the extent of public schools, and their results speak for themselves. Public education is the foundation of American democracy and must be kept strong.

What confuses me as an education professional is how unnecessary this measure is. We have a system of checks and balances in place for our community to respond to bills. For instance, the State Legislature recently passed a bill creating the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). However, as the bill was initially drafted, it put a tremendous strain on Ohio’s school districts. The school districts spoke to our legislators; the legislators listened; and Senate Bill 229 was created to address the concerns of our school districts.

This is democracy in action. That is proof that when our schools need them teachers and Ohio’s legislators can work together to move swiftly and decisively.

Our communities do not need businesses offering cut-rate educations to Ohio. Join me in telling your state representatives that Ohio’s children are far too precious to become items in a budget. They are students, not commodities. They are our future, and they deserve to the best education Ohio can provide them.