Commission: We are all responsible for the education of our children

The Public-Private Collaborative Commission delivered this week its report, Supporting Student Success: A New Learning Day in Ohio (see here). Led by Nationwide CEO Jerry Jurgensen and Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris, the commission recommended how to prepare Ohio's students, families, schools, and communities to meet the raised expectations of the Ohio Core curriculum. The commission's advice: it takes a village and all residents must be involved.

The commission calls for moving responsibility for public education out of schools and into the community. "In our vision, accountability for learning and student success will no longer be fixed only on schools; rather responsibility for accelerating every student's learning will be shared by the community," according to the report.

The commission's call echoes the position of the national initiative "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education" (see here). The ideas of that group have now apparently become the ideas of the commission in Ohio. These ideas are not new to America or to the Buckeye State. Fordham board member Chester E. Finn, Jr. debated fellow Fordham board member Diane Ravitch and the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, (see here) on these very issues in recent weeks. Some of what was said is relevant here. According to Finn, the pleas of the "broader, bolder" group downplay "basic academic skills and cognitive growth" and "learning that occurs in formal school settings during the years from kindergarten through high school."

The commission, not surprisingly, envisions an Ohio where out-of-school community-based learning opportunities (think internships, after-school care, and summer programs) are integrated with what is happening in the classroom, where social services connect to children through the school system, and where the transition of services from birth through post-secondary education is seamless. This vision is being pushed by heavy hitters nationally and now it has become the agenda of leaders in Ohio, including the state's superintendent of public instruction and higher education chancellor, the superintendent of the state's largest school district, and the head of one of the state's biggest and most successful companies.

Is this the right agenda for Ohio? Not if it comes at the expense of the policy goal of ‘academic excellence' for all children. Yesterday's push for achievement hasn't yet produced the learning gains Ohio needs. But based on recent student achievement gains it may be starting to do so (see here). There is even evidence that the achievement gaps that have plagued this state are starting to close. As noted by Finn in his debate with Ravitch and Weingarten, "The surest way to curb tomorrow's gains is to change the policy focus and ease the pressure." Yet, this is exactly the direction Ohio seems intent on going, and it is a direction taken without much evidence to support it.

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