The political system is broken
As I write this, Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Richard Ross, is under fire from some state legislators for the Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE) failure to post failing scores for the world to see on dropout recovery and online charter schools, which he was required to do by law. The conspiracy theorists in the legislature feel the Department’s failure to post these scores was an attempt to hide from all of us just how pitiful these charter schools are performing, as if we didn’t already know that, and they may be right about their conspiracy theory claim. After all, charter schools are Dr. Ross’s pet project as well as Governor John Kasich’s, the man he is beholden to for his job and for whom he is the mouthpiece in education. But even if the politicians are correct in their assertion, their comments and their outrage about this particular incident once again shows the frightening mentality that exists in politics in our state capital.
Some legislators have actually have been quoted as saying they think this latest ODE debacle has eroded the confidence people have in Dr. Ross so much that he can no longer be effective, apparently unaware that most of us in the field never felt that trust in the first place. The fact is one would be hard pressed to think of a single positive thing he has accomplished during his time as state superintendent unless, of course, you give him high scores for shamelessly promoting the failed education policies of Governor Kasich and Ohio’s legislators.
Having said this, to be fair to Dr. Ross, it is ludicrous for legislators to think that removing him as state superintendent only to replace him with another political lackey whose role would be nothing more than carrying out the governor’s flawed educational agenda and complying with foolish, legislatively-created mandates would result in improvement. Legislators apparently still do not understand that, while Dr. Ross has certainly been inept, they are even more so. The system they have created, the one where every educational decision is based on a flawed political platform and on who the biggest campaign contributors are and not on what is best for kids, is more broken than any one person is.
So, if they force him out, but continue to expect the next person to blindly follow all the stupid mandates they create, how is that better? The best thing they could do for the children of Ohio would be to fire themselves from the discussions at the same time they fire Dr. Ross.
Having said that, there is a lesson in all of this that I hope doesn’t escape your attention.
The fact is, legislators who are calling for Dr. Ross’s head the loudest are criticizing him for “going rogue” and for not following the law they created; the law demanding “transparency” in charter school data (politicians just LOVE that word); the law that would use this data in a completely inappropriate way to “prove” things it really doesn’t prove at all.
In other words, he is receiving his public flogging for daring to defy people who feel they are much smarter than he is and for, perhaps, daring to think on his own for a moment.
See where that has gotten him?
Well, guess what. Local educational leaders are asked to follow similarly ridiculous mandates on a daily basis, and the threats we receive are more likely to be having our state funding withheld or having our professional licenses revoked. Lawmakers just aren’t as public with the threats against us as they have been with Dr. Ross, but their reaction to his defiance exposes the mentality that exists against those who dare think for themselves.
Doesn’t that scare you just a little bit?
Maybe now you will understand a little better why more local school leaders don’t speak out against the people who hold the power and the purse strings. Thinking for yourself could cost you your career.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.