State Officials Deserve an “F” Not Our Kids and Teachers

Our public schools are important to Lakewood. They’re important to me, too; my wife and I look forward to sending our children to good Lakewood schools when we start a family.

So I want to share a few thoughts about Lakewood’s “report card” which Ohio’s Department of Education released last week. This included three Cs, one D and an F.

I think the whole statewide report card system deserves an F, for fraud.

I met with some employees from our school district, shortly after the report card came out. They called Ohio’s report card system inconsistent, counterproductive, and fundamentally “bogus.” I have looked into it since, and all of their objections are substantive. The report card leaves out not only external factors that influence students’ performance, like income level, but ignores entire categories of student experience. In particular the diversity in Lakewood schools is not counted at all, yet preparing young people to deal with a diverse America has enormous, real value to them and to society.

The report card standards also shift, year after year, making the report cards unhelpful even for comparisons over time within one school district. The Department of Education acknowledges most of this, too. The Columbus Dispatch wrote that state officials have warned “Don’t make direct comparisons between these scores and past scores until the system has stabilized after a few years.” The state superintendent admits that report cards “aren’t the only gauge of a school’s or district’s achievement.”

So what’s even the point of these report cards? I tend to agree with critics who say they’re simply the product, intentional or otherwise, of a political agenda that objects to public education itself. Of course no measurement system is perfect—so why try to impose one system, on every school district in Ohio, and then attach simplistic letter-grades to the results? As one Lakewood teacher said to me, “the state report card is designed to make it look like we failed.”

I think that’s true. The politicians shaping that system in Ohio (while also cutting funds to local governments) want public schools to look bad. Because that’s an excuse to move even more public money out of our schools and into for-profit charter schools. It isn’t just schools, either; in state and national government right now there’s reflexive opposition to anything which provides a service instead of a profit. Schools, Medicaid, libraries, parks…

I’m determined to stand up on behalf of public resources. I will work to protect them from privatization, and to make needed services available for all.

I will also be an advocate for our public schools. Lakewood school staff have told me that the report card system is too often legitimized, even by its critics; when officials try to critique the overall methodology but still celebrate a high grade, that sends a message to our communities that these bogus report cards are actually important.

Local leaders should be willing to reject the whole report card scam, and let people know that they take school quality more seriously than simplistic report cards can measure. I will do that, and I will also take Lakewood teachers up on their invitation to come visit the schools, ask questions and evaluate what’s going on firsthand.

We can and should remain interested in our public schools, but I’m confident that Lakewood teachers are addressing their challenges sincerely and professionally. I’m ready to support equally sincere, professional and fair evaluation.