Kasich’s school idea sparks reactions

MARIETTA – Ohio Gov. John Kasich threw out the word “deregulation” in public schools in a speech last week, and local school officials said they are concerned and uncertain about the governor’s potential plans.

Kasich made the comments to the Ohio Newspaper Association in Columbus last Thursday. He said in general, he feels that giving local districts and their respective communities more control over instruction will help improve the quality of education.

Local school officials and legislators differ in opinion about what direction Kasich should take or whether the concept of deregulation is a positive move.

“Anytime I can get more control over my district, I would welcome that,” said Bruce Kidder, superintendent of Frontier Local Schools. “I think that’s a very positive step forward in realizing that the problem needs to be solved as close to the students as possible.”

Rob Nichols, Kasich’s press secretary, said deregulation was a talking point the governor was thinking about for the future, not anything tied to any policy or plan.

Education experts say deregulation could mean anything from removing regulations on class sizes to loosening teaching certifications to allow members of the business community to play a role in curriculum.

Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, said it’s ironic Kasich made the comments when he has pushed for teacher evaluations and has been in favor of legislation cutting public school funding.

“Class size, where there’s a documented impact, I think a lot of those standards are helpful to students to be successful,” Phillips said. “If what he’s looking at is removing operating standards while cutting funds, that doesn’t sound good.”

Washington Elementary School Principal Scott Kratche is striving to decrease class sizes. Kratche said if possible, he would have all classes below 20 students.

“To compare a class of 20 with no teacher aide, that’s a huge benefit to those kids then a class over 30 with no aide,” he said. “It puts a hardship on the large class size.”

Ohio Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he is in favor of certain deregulations and does not believe small class sizes automatically make for a better learning experience.

“Class size factors vary based on teachers,” he said. “Arbitrarily setting a number creates problems elsewhere. You have to give flexibility to local districts.”

Ohio has an regulation that requires there to be one teacher for every 20 students, but the state has loosened requirements to allow districts to make exceptions as a result of budget cuts.

“If you’re talking about a high level of highly motivated high school students that’s one thing,” Phillips said. “But if you’re talking about at-risk students in second or third grade that face the prospect of being held back, the prospect of having bigger class sizes is concerning.”

Warren Local Schools Superintendent Kyle Newton said any speech about deregulation to improve public schools could be a mask for covering up more funding cuts.

“When you talk about deregulating education, that scares me, because it sounds like you’re trying to disrupt our schools while hiding behind ‘power to the people,'” he said.

Kasich’s idea of allowing the business community to have more power in the education process is hailed as a positive way to broaden the scope of instruction as well as an example of the governor’s preference toward charter schools, which are run in a fashion more similar to private schools.

Kratche said letting business and the community step in to provide supplemental education can enrich learning, as an accountant could come in and teach to an accounting class. But teachers, he said, still need to do the teaching.

“There are specific credentials that teachers have that not everyone sees the benefit of, but they are there,” Kratche said, who previously was a physical education teacher.

Kidder said that the idea would help give control to those who are closest to the schools.

“That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t hire the best candidate for the job, but it would be a nice option that would give us more control over what we do,” he said.

Thompson said giving the business community more of a role in schools can have benefits.

“There have been some positive examples in western Ohio where businesses come in to help for local expenses in schools,” he said. “I think the business approach helps. They can be great partners for internships, too.”

Phillips urged local school officials not to be quick to pick sides until more is learned about any plans the governor may have.

“I would encourage educators to look at the details before getting on the bandwagon,” she said. “Hang tight, and wait to see how it will affect our schools.”