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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 11/2/2013

COMMENTARY

New group befriends beleaguered public education

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Marilou Johanek. Marilou Johanek.
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I'm a stakeholder in public education. So are you. We have a long-standing commitment to provide equal and adequate public education to every child in America.

Society adopted public schools to help level the socioeconomic playing field. Every young learner, regardless of background, deserves to be educated.

It’s up to the stakeholders in public education to guarantee that. It’s up to teachers, administrators, community leaders, politicians, parents, students, me, and you to keep public schools thriving.

It always has been in our national interest to ensure effective public education. But we lost our moorings about the purpose of that collective obligation.

Now we ask why public schools warrant our support, and how to define their success or failure. We demand an alternative. Political and corporate forces are reshaping public education by standardizing, quantifying, and privatizing it.

Public schools are buffeted by all sorts of competing agendas that seek to influence policy on charter schools, vouchers, value-added measures, unfunded mandates, high-stakes tests, and Common Core. Who wants a piece of the public school action?

Those who work in local schools are as frustrated as those on the outside, trying to make sense of the upheaval. Educators are exasperated with cyclical attempts at school reform that are hastily embraced and poorly developed.

Administrators are tired of begging for money. Property owners are sick of school levies. Parents are dismayed with eliminated programs, laid-off faculty and staff, and pay-to-play sports.

Students are numb and joyless about learning. They’re guinea pigs for revised expectations, exams, and for-profit education.

Public education is at a crossroads. It needs advocates to sustain it as an indispensable public service. Fortunately, a grass-roots campaign is forming to raise awareness of what’s at stake in public education.

Groups of stakeholders, calling themselves Friends of Public Education, are mobilizing in several states, including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. Their mission is to become informed activists in defense of public schools.

Dan Greenberg, an English teacher at Southview High School in Sylvania, was instrumental in starting Northwest Ohio Friends of Public Education. “I just can’t sit by and wring my hands and say, oh, I hope it [the public education crisis] goes away,” he said.

“If we don’t stand up and do something in the public schools in our community, they could be gone, changed to private entities,” Mr. Greenberg said. “I don’t think you can help but get mad or get upset and want to take action if you know the injustices that are being heaped on public education.”

Last summer, he said he contacted “people with a passion for public education” — parents, administrators, retired and current teachers, and community members “who I know care about schools.” The nonpartisan, citizen-driven group coalesced around common issues.

“The first goals are educating and uniting and building a base,” the 38-year-old father of three told me. The urgency for engagement in public education is evident, he said.

“We’re hoping when there are specific calls to action, people are educated enough and motivated enough to be engaged,” he said. “We felt as a group if we could talk to people and give them the facts, they’d be astonished and willing to act, understanding what’s really going on in education.”

The group’s first community event last month featured treasurers of four northwest Ohio districts discussing school finance. Equally worrisome for the 15-year Southview teacher is what he calls “the education reform monsoon.”

“Every season, there are all these acronyms for programs floating around that overwhelm everyone,” he said. “They’re under-funded, under-planned, very stressful, and they’re pushing people out of education.”

But there’s hope for public school pushback. Friends of Public Education groups are developing in other parts of Ohio. There’s talk of a statewide operation to coordinate efforts.

It started in Ohio’s northwest quadrant with a wake-up call to stakeholders in public education. “There are so many issues that people can rally behind, but education has to be at the top of the list for its ramifications,” Mr. Greenberg said.

“No matter what role you have in society, no matter where you are with kids or no kids, education is important and people need to listen and be informed because the future is riding on it.”

I’m listening. Are you?

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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