Last week, Terry and I wrote about Teach For America and its potential to improve inner-city public education in Ohio. We cite a couple examples of TFA alum who are transforming education in our nation's cities--and in the following article, we spotlight Sam Franklin, a TFA alum who is working to improve public education in Pittsburgh. As a graduate of Kenyon College, Franklin has ties to Ohio. We hope you'll be inspired by his story. - Aaron Churchill
This article originally appeared in Carnegie Mellon Today. It is reprinted with permission.
Profound speech in hand, Samuel Franklin walked into his classroom of underprivileged sixth-graders for his first day in Teach for America. He planned to emphasize how they would team up to beat the odds, proving their critics wrong. But as the words came out of his mouth, he realized how silly he sounded. The students were waiting for him to start teaching.
Franklin, who had noticed inequalities in the public education system throughout his own time in school, had no doubt in his mind that he wanted to join Teach for America after finishing his undergraduate studies at Ohio’s Kenyon College. Teach for America recruits graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged public schools.
Franklin began his assignment in the Oakland, California school believing that with proper support and motivation, every student can succeed. His school’s student population was made up entirely of minority students from low-income families. After
“Nothing lasting thrives in a hostile environment. Just as too many charter supporters are hung up on defending all charters all the time, their tireless opponents are bent on creating false distinctions and are constantly attacking them from every imaginable direction. Double standards and hypocrisy are in ample supply on both sides.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr., Terry Ryan and Michael Lafferty, Ohio Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the frontlines, 2010
The following quote summed up a key lesson learned from the charter school experience in Ohio over the first decade of its controversial life. Three years later, the lesson still rings true. And no doubt the long political struggle around charter schools has hurt the state’s overall charter school quality (great operators have far friendlier states to choose from), made it difficult for Ohio to improve its charter law (this struggle has been characterized by zero-sum battles at the state house), and retarded the power of charter schools to fulfill their potential (hard to thrive in hostile environments).
We’ve not shied away from taking on radicals on either side of the debate. Many in the charter community dislike us because we think accountability for school performance as measured by standardized tests is as important as school choice itself. Meanwhile those on other side don’t like us because we support school choice and indeed authorize 11 charters in Ohio.
We’ve not shied away from taking on radicals on either side of the debate.
The West Carrollton school district, just southwest of Dayton, is the latest Ohio school district to pass an open enrollment policy allowing students from any district in the state to enroll in one of their schools. West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford told the Dayton Daily News that, “Our purpose is to be the school district of choice in Ohio. We want to give any student in the state the opportunity to experience the same great education that students currently living in the West Carrollton district are experiencing.” West Carrollton serves about 3,800 students, 58 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, and the district received an Effective (B) rating from the Ohio Department of Education in 2011-12.
Superintendent Clifford, Ohio’s 2013 superintendent of the year, acknowledged the decision to become an open enrollment district was driven by economics. “Our enrollment numbers right now are flat to slightly declining,” Clifford told the Dayton Daily News. District enrollment has declined about 13 percent since 1999 and Clifford argues, “In order to keep all of the great staff we have right now, we need to grow our student base. As we keep students, we can keep staff.” Each student that enrolls in West Carrollton from another district brings about $5,700 with him or her.
The Ohio Legislature approved an open enrollment policy in 1989, and under state law school boards are able to decide among three options:
Under Ohio state law, public schools will be required to have a teacher evaluation system in place by July 2014. Half of the teacher evaluation formula is to be based on student learning growth on exams. For some subjects, this puts schools in awkward situation of having to evaluate for example, gym or art teachers—subjects that don’t have established exams and tests.
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has published manuals for evaluating teachers of these hard-to-measure subjects. But, as Terry Ryan recently reported—some of these guidelines border on the absurd.
Even the august champion of teacher evaluations, Bill Gates, worried about “hastily contrived” teacher evaluations. He writes in the Washington Post:
Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.
Mr. Gates reiterated his point by citing Ohio’s recent gym teacher evaluation manual as an example. Gates’ commentary provoked responses, from Anthony Cody in Education Week and Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.