Ohio unions are hand in glove with writers of Buckeye State's Race to the Top application--why this is a bad thing

Before jumping prematurely to the conclusion that Ohio's ability to achieve union buy-in for its Race to the Top plans is a good thing, let me stop you. Buy-in, cooperation, coalition-building are all nice ideas (and valued in the Race to the Top application -- states garner significant points for achieving LEA support), but unless Ohio unions? have had a dramatic change of heart as to what constitutes "reform," this collaboration sounds like trouble. Take this message (sent to district superintendents across the Buckeye State on December 30, 2009) from Ohio's state superintendent of public instruction, Deborah Delisle:


Please join representatives from the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Education Association, and the Ohio Federation of Teachers for a conference call to provide additional guidance and technical support in the completion of the Race to the Top Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

While unions in states such as Florida, Michigan, and Minnesota are in an uproar over their states' RTTT applications (calling them "fatally flawed," "unconscionable," insert insidious adjective ), Ohio's education chief sends out what sounds like a party invitation thrown by herself and two of her closest friends. All the more odd considering that the OEA and OFT don't host conference calls providing direction to districts applying to other federal grant programs.

Why are the OEA and OFT willing to provide "guidance" and "support" to school districts applying for Race to the Top funds, while other states' unions aggressively campaign against the program? One reason the OEA supports Ohio's application is simply that our proposed reforms (from what we've seen so far in the MOU and Ohio RTTT documents ) don't embody anything new or bold ??? Ohio's application is merely an offshoot of the governor's already-enacted education plan.

Another view is that the OEA and OFT have hijacked the process and are cooperating with the ODE so as to ensure that not one iota of real reform is written into the application. This wouldn't surprise us one bit. Either way, Ohio's intention for "reforming" K-12 education is clear ??? the state's primary motive appears to be raking in more federal cash, not improving student achievement or anything else touted by Secretary Duncan as the goals for Race to the Top. The only "race" this state is engaged in is a contest of mediocrity.

-Jamie Davies O'Leary

Jamie Davies O'Leary
Jamie Davies O'Leary is a Senior Ohio Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. She works with a coalition of high-performing Ohio charter school networks, facilitating their advocacy efforts and providing research and technical assistance.