Editor’s note: Eight states have implemented statewide rigorous core curriculum for their students. Gov. Taft believes it’s time that Ohio does the same. The Ohio General Assembly is considering legislation that would do just that. Gene T. Harris, superintendent of Columbus Public Schools, recently testified before the Ohio Senate Education Committee on the subject. Her remarks are excerpted here.
As the superintendent of the second largest school district in Ohio, I worry about many things related to the schools and my community, but the one issue that keeps me up at night is whether our educational system is adequately preparing students for the information and technology age.
I recently toured the Honda automotive plant in Marysville. The factory floor was lined with computers and other technological innovations now doing work that was performed by assembly line workers just a few years ago. It was obvious from the tour that a person in the 21st century must have the skills and knowledge to work with information and technology to earn a living wage. To that end, I want to express support for S.B. 311, which would establish a more rigorous core curriculum for Ohio’s schools.
We have struggled in this country to ensure equality of access to our educational system. Historically, we denied equal access to women, those living in poverty, people of color, and those with physical and other challenges. We did not achieve universal access to our schools for all children until quite recently. All children today have equal access to a public education, but we must now ensure that all children have an equal access to quality education. For many years, the effort to provide equal educational opportunities to all children was hampered by researchers and educators who believed only certain children could learn. As a result of such beliefs, a two-tiered system of education known as “tracking” was created and used throughout the past century.
Current research tells us that tracking is wrong because all children can learn. Current research also tells us that if the learning environment is challenging and the teacher is highly qualified in the subject matter, all children can achieve. In Columbus Public Schools, we live by the motto, “All Means All.”
We believe that S.B. 311 is on the right track but we recognize that there are some issues of real concern with S.B. 311:
With regard to the “opt-out” provision to the bill, where some students could take alternatives to the core curriculum, we support deleting this provision to ensure that every student receives a high quality and rigorous education. We believe that the opt-out provision will re-establish a two-tiered system of education, operating on the disproved notion that all children cannot learn a rigorous curriculum.
With or without an opt-out provision, intervention services are paramount to ensuring equal opportunity to all students, especially in school districts with high concentrations of poverty. We all know and recognize that poverty complicates the teaching and learning process in urban school districts. The recently released kindergarten readiness data for Ohio only confirms the data we have collected for years: There is an academic gap at kindergarten between children from affluent families and children from families living in poverty. We have been working in Ohio to ensure that every classroom is led by a high quality teacher. The realization of this goal is complicated by the lower numbers of highly qualified teachers in math and science fields. We agree with the governor’s proposal to create incentives for those who teach in the math and science fields.
To really reduce dropout rates and provide more rigorous teaching and learning at our high schools, we must also focus on our middle and elementary schools. Our elementary and middle school curricula must be aligned to prepare students for the rigorous high school curriculum.
Of course, adequate intervention services, increased professional development, math and science teacher incentives, and curriculum alignment will require additional funding. We cannot skirt this issue.
S.B. 311 moves our efforts to ensure a quality education for every child in the right direction. With the appropriate changes and attention to critical details mentioned previously, S.B. 311 will be a good public policy for the state of Ohio.
Finally, this is not just about college entry and reducing the need for remedial classes at the college level, while I believe that is certainly a worthy goal. It is also about ensuring that all of our young people graduate from high school with choices—the choice to enter and succeed in higher education or the choice to enter the workforce with the opportunity to earn a living wage. It’s also about the future of this state. Requiring the Ohio Core for all students and financially supporting its implementation will help to make Ohio a more attractive option for business and industry.