in response to our interview with Ohio's First Lady

First Lady Frances Strickland's February 27 interview in The Gadfly sparked this response from Dayton educator Mike McCormick, superintendent of the Richard Allen Schools:

Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland's recent interview with the Ohio Education Gadfly is cause for concern. Mrs. Strickland's thoughts concerning the state's K-12 schools are a blend of 1960s nostalgia, anti-charter-school animus, and wrong-headed retro strategies, especially for urban students.

She tells us that Governor Strickland's proposed education czar means he's serious about K-12 education reform. This may or may not be the cure for what ails our state's classrooms. But the top-down approach, with mayors (New York, Chicago, Cleveland) and retired generals (Washington, D.C.) playing chief education officers, has had mixed results at best.

It appeared initially encouraging that the First Lady was willing to concede that "you can reduce the achievement gap by focusing on basic facts," what she dismissively refers to as "procedural knowledge." The achievement gap between urban students and those in most of the rest of the state is the most critical issue facing Ohio's urban centers. There are few urban success stories these days, but when they occur, the following ingredients are always in place: longer school days, longer school years (including Saturdays), a laser-like focus on academic content standards, rigorous assessment, data-driven instructional strategies, and demanding behavior expectations. This may not sound like fun but students thrive in such settings. Students also call their peers to accountability and reap the many benefits of surpassing established goals and exceeding high expectations.

Mrs. Strickland, however, does not want "accountability in the basics . . . (to) drive our curriculum like it is." This seems to ignore Ohio's well-established, academic content standards, the just-completed phase-in of the Ohio Achievement Tests, and local districts' adoption of texts and materials aligned to content standards and achievement tests. Just as troubling is her almost cavalier dismissal of agreed-upon academic content at and across grade levels and the introduction of revised Local Report Cards which now take into account academic progress over time.

The First Lady is most perplexing, however, with her contradictory stance on Ohio's charter schools. She claims that charters are ". . . not being held accountable to the same standards that public schools are and, at the same time, draining money away from the public schools that (they) desperately need." The short retort is: wrong and wrong. While it is true some charters have failed to distinguish themselves from their public-school counterparts, an equal number have. And there is emerging evidence that charters routinely outperform traditional public schools while being held to identical academic standards. The financial drain is an old and equally erroneous refrain. State dollars follow the student. However, local millage does not. Few, if any, traditional public schools have made changes to reflect lower enrollment and higher per-pupil revenues or have taken full advantage of staff-reduction opportunities.

The First Lady's interest in Ohio's schools is commendable. Hopefully, the attention and subsequent debate will make it possible to find middle ground and improve education in the state. For Ohio's low-performing urban schools, traditional and charter, hope and help are long overdue.

If you have something to say about The Ohio Education Gadfly, say it in an e-mail to an article author or to the editor, Mike Lafferty, at mlafferty@edexcellence.net. Correspondence may be edited for clarity and length.

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