Stephen Dyer describes the latest move by the corporate reform crowd in Ohio. In typical “reformer” fashion, their idea of a solution to school problems is to eliminate democracy, local control, the voice of the people. The law he refers to is similar to the “emergency manager” law in Michigan, which gives one person total control of struggling school districts. It is similar to New Jersey’s state-appointed superintendent, who ignores any input from those who live in the community. It is similar to ALEC model legislation, which encourages states to remove local control so that privately-managed charter schools may be imposed, regardless of local opposition. The so-called reformers have a problem with democracy.

The law was passed by the Ohio Senate, 18-14, with five Republicans voting against it. For the past five years, Youngstown has been run by an “Academic Distress Commission.” The Governor has decided the way to “fix” the schools is to have one uber-Meister, in charge of all. In other words, the politicians are just enacting hunches. We know where this one will go: charters and vouchers.


Stephen Dyer writes:


I’m not given to hyperbole. I’m not one of these guys who tells you that something is the “Death of Democracy”, or that education reform efforts are trying to completely privatize the public education system. I really try to be level headed when analyzing various education policies, no matter how out there they may be.


But when I received an amendment to House Bill 70 — the plan to fix Youngstown City Schools — I was absolutely stunned. It is, without a doubt, a direct attack on Democracy. Why some feel the best way to fix a school system is to create a dictatorship, I have no idea. Democracy’s biggest problem is what has always been Democracy’s biggest problem — we keep electing people who think that the best way to fix a school system is to give absolute power to one person … and other crazy stuff.


According to the amendment, which I’ve posted here, Youngstown (and any other district that’s in “academic distress,” but for the moment only Youngstown) would be taken over by a “Chief Executive Officer” who would have “complete operational, managerial, and instructional control” of the district.


That’s right. All those elected officials the people of Youngstown bothered putting into office? Forget them. Because, apparently, the problem with the elected board is they’re not making decisions fast enough? I really don’t get this.


Anyway, the amendment would allow this CEO to make all decisions. In fact, throughout the amendment, the CEO would be given “sole” authority to reconstitute buildings, put any whackadoodle in charge there, decide which schools get which resources, which schools get turned into charters, etc….


And there would be zero input from the public. That’s right. He (or she) could just do this because they felt like it. Total dictatorship.


And here’s the thing. Only when the district gets an overall C grade on the state report card will the district even start to get out of this academic distress thing. So, essentially, we are creating a city-wide, more or less permanent dictatorship in Youngstown.


Why do I say this is permanent? Because all the grades on the state report card are based on test scores, which are nearly perfectly correlated with a district’s poverty rate. So Youngstown, with its nearly 100% poverty rate has almost zero chance of ever getting out from under this dictator’s thumb.


The “reformers” don’t buy the idea of democracy, you know, of the people, by the people, for the people. The urgency of the situation, they believe, requires a single decider to impose his or her will. You have an inkling of what they will do: eliminate public schools and replace them with charters. Perhaps friends of the Governor will get the contract; or a for-profit corporation. The CEO doesn’t need local approval for anything he or she imposes. Stephen is correct in his terminology. That’s dictatorship. The people of Ohio should not stand for it, not matter what ALEC wants.