Tis the season for school reform and both President Obama and Gov. Strickland are pushing their school reform agendas hard. In comparing and contrasting the efforts of these two Democratic leaders some similarities emerge, but so do some interesting differences.
Where there is agreement: Both the governor and the president want to spend more money on public schools; both, also, want new investments in early education. These are long-standing Democratic positions so no surprises here. But, and this is new, each is seeking more seat time in schools for kids. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could have been speaking for both Strickland and Obama when he said recently, "I fundamentally think our children are at a competitive disadvantage. The children in India and China who they are competing [with] for jobs are going to school 25, 30 percent more than we are." Gov. Strickland wants to add 20 days a year to Ohio's school calendar.
Where they disagree in kind: Both Strickland and Obama say they see quality teachers and better teaching as pivotal to improving student achievement. Here, Strickland's plan is less bold than Obama's, but controversial enough that it has garnered the ire of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. The governor's plan seeks to overhaul teacher tenure (making tenure decisions in nine years, up from the current three), and his plan would create new teacher licensure requirements and a teacher residency program.
President Obama goes further and challenges one of the central orthodoxies of teacher unionism when he proposes merit pay. The president has even hinted at the possibility that such pay should be connected to student test scores. Obama acknowledged that the teacher unions don't like his plan when he told Hispanic business leaders recently, "Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom."
The need for improved academic standards and testing are also common to the education plans of both the president and the governor. However, details are sketchier. Obama says the "solution to low test scores is not lower standards-it's tougher, clearer standards." The governor, meanwhile, seems captivated with adding new standards for hard to define, and harder yet to measure, 21st century skills.
It also appears that the governor and his team would abandon test-based accountability if they could. He told the Columbus Education Association recently, "Teachers must have the freedom to teach without the fear of standardized test results communicating that you're a bad teacher. Finally, testing and assessment ought to be diagnostic....This is not how it is in its current incarnation," Strickland said.
To their credit, the Obama administration has declared that it will not abandon the testing-based accountability provisions of No Child Left Behind. The Obama team has gone further and actually is also pushing for national, voluntary standards that states could opt into.
Where they disagree in full: In both his 2007 and his 2009 budget proposals Gov. Strickland sought to cut funding to charter schools while increasing their regulatory burdens. He has also sought to ban for-profit school-management companies from operating in the Buckeye State. President Obama, on the other hand, has been an advocate for more federal charter school spending and has spoken openly about his support for charters.
The president told a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently, "the number of children going to the Cleveland Public Schools who are actually prepared to go to college [is] probably one out of seven or eight or ten. And that's just not acceptable. It's not acceptable for them. It's not acceptable in terms of America's future. And so we've got to experiment with ways to provide a better education experience for our kids, and some charters are doing outstanding jobs." Further, Education Secretary Duncan, when CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, built one of the country's premier portfolios of charter schools-which now serves about 23,000 students. This included a 1,450-student school operated by the for-profit charter operator Edison Learning. It also included holding schools to account for results.
The tension around education (reformers vs. teacher unions) within the Democratic Party has been much discussed since the August Democratic National Convention in Denver (for a recent example see here). President Obama and Governor Strickland seem to be in different factions when it comes to school reform and their party. We wish the president well in this struggle.