Politically, everybody got a little something from last Friday's education rally at Ohio State University. Gov. Ted Strickland got media attention and the presence of a national education rock star to boost his education plan. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan-the rock star-got to talk about his education vision without directly endorsing the governor's school reform plan.
The governor's plan needs all the help it can get these days, given the serious drop in the state revenues that are needed to pay for it. The plan is facing a serious bashing in both the Senate and the media (see here). Secretary Duncan, however, refused to play the role of the U.S. cavalry.
Many reporters left the rally perplexed about what their story leads would be. The most interesting news-for education policy wonks-was the governor saying poorly performing public district schools should be closed and that he is thinking about pushing a plan to get several other Midwestern states to band with Ohio to seek collectively some of the $5 billion in special federal education "race to the top" stimulus funds. Ohio needs all the revenue it can get after the Columbus Dispatch reported, Sunday, how difficult it will be to meet the state's education spending projections (see here) to fully phase-in the governor's plan over the next decade.
Dale and Nathan DeRolph, of the infamous DeRolph school-funding case, put in an appearance as one of the rally's warm ups. Dale, the father, is now on the local school board. Nathan, the son, and the focal point of the case as a teenager, now is 33. Nathan said, when he was 15, he had to take an American history test sitting on the floor of his high school classroom because all the desks were already occupied. He looked around and saw conditions were far better in other schools so he decided to sue. They want the governor's school spending plan to become law.
That, however, seems less and less likely. Reacting to the drubbing the education plan is taking publicly and probably perplexed why critics don't believe him when he talks about how great this plan is, Rep. Stephen Dyer (D-Green) gave the crowd of about 1,000 a few hints as to how vituperative the coming days might become. The House-passed measure is now in the Senate where it faces serious resistance from Republicans, who control that chamber by a 21-12 margin. Dyer argued that critics oppose the scientific method (see above), oppose investing in education, oppose funding poor rural districts, and oppose the most effective funding formula the state has ever devised. So much for the caution Amanda Wurst, the governor's press spokeswoman had given the day before, warning of the dangers of rhetoric perpetuating a "toxic environment" (see here).
When his turn finally came, Secretary Duncan called for data-driven student tracking and reporting, identifying what works and what doesn't in the classroom, raising academic standards, rewarding teacher excellence, removing poor teachers and rewarding excellent teachers, turning around failing schools, and investing in and duplicating great schools including effective charters.
But, he did not endorse the governor's plan. Later, in a press conference, when asked, specifically, about an endorsement, Duncan declined to give one. Strickland, diplomatically, said he didn't expect one.
It was clear that Duncan was in Columbus to repay Strickland for helping to deliver the state to President Obama in the 2008 election, to buck up Democrats in a key state, and to promote his and the president's-not Strickland's-educational vision. If some of the president's aura helps Strickland, okay. But Duncan, clearly, was more interested in pushing the president's agenda.