Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Farewell Terry Ryan

I have had my run-ins with Fordham's Terry Ryan over the years, no doubt. Most recently we went a couple rounds on Diane Ravitch's blog. However, I always respected the heck out of him, even though his occasional tunnel vision on School Choice and other issues drove me nuts. As I'm sure mine did for him.

But his farewell posting at Fordham's Ohio Gadfly really nailed the state of Ohio's education policy landscape, in particular his frustration with the politics behind too many of Ohio's education policy initiatives. Most recently, it reared its head during the debate over whether to start differentiating Charter School funding based on success.

I've cut and pasted Terry's 12 lessons below -- just the titles, for space sake:

1) Ideas matter over the long haul, but campaign cash and raw interests carry the day in the near term.
 2) No one welcomes accountability.
3) Yet accountability is really important.
4) School choice empowers parents.
5) The state budget is a terrible venue for revamping education policies.
6) Education governance in Ohio is broken.
7) Today, city-based school reform is the most exciting development in Ohio education.
8) Really good schools can make a huge difference in the lives of kids.
9) Risk taking should be rewarded and encouraged.
10) Teachers need to be recruited, nurtured and rewarded.
 11) Ohio needs to rewrite its charter school law.
 12) Ratcheting back the rhetoric around school reform could do some good. 
I would quibble with a couple things. Sorry, Terry. Couldn't help myself!

It's not entirely accurate to say that no one welcomes accountability. Teachers unions signed onto the new Teacher Evaluation System that was developed in the Ohio Educator Standards Board and provided up to 50% of a teacher's evaluation to be determined by test scores. High performing Charter Schools all but begged to have their funding tied to success in the last budget. But the state wouldn't do it. So there are responsible parties on both sides of the spectrum that do, in fact, welcome accountability.

And as for School Choice empowering parents, in Ohio it only empowers the parents who take those alternative educational opportunities. Far more parents choose to remain in the traditional public schools than don't. And, unfortunately, right now that choice is hampered by the state's Charter School funding system because every kid not in a Charter School gets about 6.5% less state revenue than the state says they need to succeed. In Cincinnati and Columbus that amount is about 25%.

Imagine the exciting things that could be happening in those two cities if kids there had 25% more state funding?

Ultimately, though, Terry's overall perspective -- that too much politics is involved and the state needs to reward teachers while fixing things that are clearly broken -- is a perspective we all should take to heart.

I hope Terry finds a good foil in Idaho. My only regret is we weren't able to partner on some of the many things we agree on here. Terry's brand of forceful, yet reasonable advocacy for free market reforms will be missed. Fordham will be challenged to replace him!

I often lament that it was well-heeled politicos rather than Terry who implemented Charter Schools in Ohio. I think we'd be a lot better off had the state listened to Terry rather than their campaign contributors.

As for Idaho, I've been to that amazingly beautiful state a few times and have seen the Snake River Canyon several times. I offer this as a suggestion to Terry and his family: Have yourself an Idaho Spud - not the potato, the candy bar. It's amazing!

Powodzenia, my friend.