Dear Mr. DeMaria,
In your summer email to Ohio’s teachers, you noted that you find this to be an exciting time for public education in Ohio. “Exciting” is not the word I would use. “Frustrating” comes to mind as a better description of our current situation. You kindly asked for input, sir, and I feel compelled to give it.
Earlier this summer I reunited with a friend from my first year of teaching. We had lost touch and hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. She asked me, “How’s teaching? Besides the state stuff.” Trust me, when a teacher says “state stuff” to another teacher, we all know what that phrase means. It might be helpful for you to understand it as well, given your new position as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
In the last several years, the State has issued more mandates to public schools in Ohio, including an extremely time-intensive Resident Educator requirement for the first three years of a career, mandatory evaluations of all teachers, SLOs, PGPs, new state tests, and more. If we could let something else go, that might not be so bad. But we still have to do the most important parts of our job: planning engaging and meaningful lessons, collaborating with colleagues, getting to know our students, assessing student work, contacting parents, and attending staff meetings and professional development workshops. Many of us also advise extra-curricular clubs or coach sports. We tutor after school, we attend our students’ games and recitals, we lie in bed at night reworking a lesson in our heads or agonizing over how we can help our students who don’t have enough to eat or who have no support system at home. The job has never been easy and it has always been exhausting, but never more so than now.
We’re tired, Mr. DeMaria. We are tired of having to prepare for high-stakes tests when we all know that tests do not represent the whole picture of what a child knows or how far he has come in his time with us. We are tired of being individually judged as teachers based on those test scores, when there is a surfeit of factors that impact how a student performs on a test, many of which are out of our control.
We are frustrated by the way the state tests are seemingly designed to hurt our District Report Card. If a student receives a score deemed Proficient, the multiplier we get for that student is 1.0. If a student scores one level higher, the multiplier is 1.1. An Advanced score earns us 1.2. But if a student scores one level below Proficient, the multiplier is .6. Did you expect it to be .9? Most logical people would. But that is not how it works. If a student falls two categories below Proficient, the multiplier is a .3. In essence, we are being penalized more for low scores than we are rewarded for good scores. I would love to hear the justification for this. The general public, of course, will most likely not know about this nonsensical math formula. We will just look like we are failing our students.
Public perception matters, Mr. DeMaria, because even though it has been twenty years, the state legislature has failed to fix an unconstitutional school funding system and consequently, we must rely on our communities to pass levies. That’s not likely to happen when the Report Card indicates that we are not effectively teaching our kids. And because Ohio’s schools are funded primarily based on property taxes, students living in areas of poverty have fewer opportunities because there is less money available to the district. We are tired of working under an unconstitutional funding system which penalizes districts for having families who struggle financially, because financial struggles often lead to educational struggles.
Furthermore, the constant barrage of news about Ohio’s charter schools is frustrating. We know they are not as effective as public schools in educating kids and yet they receive an inordinate amount of money to do so. 37% of Ohio’s charter schools which received federal funding in the last ten years were among the worst performing schools, or never even opened. $30 million dollars went to these charter schools instead of public schools, charter schools that are not providing an effective or even adequate education, and some that never served even one student. By and large, charter schools are not doing an effective job of educating Ohio’s students, yet they continue to cost taxpayers and school districts millions of dollars. It is offensive.
We are tired of scandals among people who are supposed to advocate for Ohio’s kids and schools: ODE officials altering data to make charter schools seem more successful and state superintendents creating secret plans to put a CEO in charge of a struggling school district. We don’t want to feel that it’s “us vs. them” when it comes to ODE or the state school board. We want to feel that we are partners with these entities in providing the best education to Ohio’s students. We want to feel supported and appreciated, and frankly, we do not. Our trust has been violated.
We are frustrated when we are painted as union bullies who just want more money for ourselves. Collective bargaining is a keystone of our association and when we negotiate a contract, we are advocating for our students’ needs just as much, if not more so, than our own.
We are tired of defending ourselves and our profession. When Donald Trump Jr. completely disrespected and denigrated public school teachers in his speech at the RNC, OEA President Becky Higgins addressed Ohio’s teachers on her Facebook page. She reminded us that what we do for Ohio’s students matters, she expressed her gratitude for us, and she encouraged us to guard against letting Trump’s words make us doubt ourselves. This is what a leader does, and this is what you should be willing to do as Ohio’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Defend us, advocate for us, encourage us, lead us.
We are tired of being held responsible for any failure of Ohio’s education system. It is demoralizing and demeaning. We don’t control curriculum, standards, or resources, all of which can change from one year to the next, but we do an outstanding job with what we are given. Frankly, I think Ohio’s public school teachers are the only reason the system hasn’t completely collapsed.
I’m sure that the feeling of excitement you expressed in your email is due to your new position. It’s a new challenge; that can be invigorating. And we are on your side. We want to be partners with you. But there has been much damage done to the relationship between the teachers in this state and the educational leaders. We hope that you will be able to rebuild that relationship and be a true partner for us in our efforts to give Ohio’s children the very best education possible. We are already doing a phenomenal job in this endeavor; it would be nice to see the frustration we feel fade and the excitement you feel become contagious. I extend an open invitation to you to visit my classroom whenever you like; spending time with the kids and teachers of Ohio can only make you more successful in your new job.
With best wishes,
Teacher, Minerva Local Education Association
 “News: Ohio Wasted Millions in Federal Funding on Charters that …” 2016. 29 Jun. 2016 <https://dianeravitch.net/2016/05/26/news-ohio-wasted-millions-in-federal-funding-on-charters-that-never-opened-and-on-very-low-performing-charters/>