Show ponies and workhorses
A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.
The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012. (Since this original publication of this article, the strike has ended.)
While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school funding plan. In a Sunday news article, the Dayton Daily News highlighted the DECA charter schools, which includes a newly-opened elementary school (sponsored by Fordham) and a high school. DECA serves mostly economically-disadvantaged students from inner-city Dayton; yet, despite this challenge, the school received the state’s highest rating, “Excellent with Distinction” (A+), on its 2010-11 report card—the last year ratings were given to Ohio’s schools.
Also in Sunday’s paper was a recap of a recent roundtable moderated by the Dayton Daily News, during which local educators and education stakeholders discussed the hottest schooling topics. The conversation, which included Fordham’s Terry Ryan, revolved around issues in blended learning, school choice, and school funding. Springfield Local School District superintendent David Estrop, for example, spoke about the opening of a district-sponsored virtual school. The school offers instructional choices that include traditional teacher-led instruction, blended learning, and online courses. For districts like Springfield to survive, Estrop asserts, “it’s innovate or perish.”
Meanwhile, in Columbus, the state auditor continues his investigation of schools’ tampering with student attendance records. The auditor’s office has found that as many as 50,000 student test scores—equivalent to the size of Columbus City Schools—were excluded from a schools’ performance report card. The auditor’s office is presently investigating which scores were legitimately excluded and which were not. In a September 16 article, the Columbus Dispatch revealed further the extent of the alleged fraud. The article indicates the possible principal involvement in fraudulently removing student records in a few of Columbus City Schools’ buildings. The auditor’s tedious and costly investigation of serious student attendance record fraud should cause major reform in how schools enter, control for, and report accountability data.
Though the education world’s eyes have been fixated on Chicago, let’s not forget that significant and important education policy changes are happening in our own backyard. Ohio’s workhorses—whether they’re charter school leaders like Judy Hennessey of DECA, public school superintendents like David Estrop, or the host of investigators from the auditor’s office—are doing the yeoman’s work of making better quality education possible for more of the Buckeye State’s students.