What Did He Say?

Governor Ted Strickland. Image source: Toledo Blade.

While slowly making my way through the winter wonderland yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to Governor Strickland’s State of the State address. I was surprised, and pleased, that half of his speech — 3148 of the 6300 words — was devoted to his plan for reforming education in Ohio.

I was equally surprised, and not so pleased, at the news reports that came later. Many of them took his words out of context, or didn’t tell the whole story. Take, for example, this excerpt from the Associated Press story:

The state will also require universal all-day kindergarten and is scrapping the Ohio graduation test and replacing it with the ACT college entrance test.

But here’s what he actually said about the tests:

Ohio’s current graduation test does not measure creativity, problem solving, and other key skills.  We will make our assessments both relevant and rigorous by replacing the Ohio Graduation Test with the ACT and three additional measures.

All students will take the ACT college entrance examination, not only to measure their high school achievement, but to help raise students’ aspirations for higher education. Students will also take statewide ‘end of course’ exams, complete a service learning project, and submit a senior project.

These four measures will give our graduating high school seniors the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, creativity, and problem solving skills, in short, to demonstrate precisely the skills that will help them succeed in life.

See the difference? It’s not about simply replacing one test with another. It’s about addressing the very real concern that we can’t focus on 21st Century Skills when all of the emphasis is on 19th century learning.

Here’s another example. Again, the Associated Press:

Gov. Ted Strickland says his upcoming budget will boost the state’s share of education funding to nearly 60 percent of schools’ cost.

And from the speech transcript:

When I came into office, local school districts paid for the majority of school costs. In the upcoming two-year budget, even with grave economic challenges facing Ohio and the nation, my plan will take the state’s share of education funding to 55 percent.  As our Ohio evidence-based plan is fully phased in, the state’s share will grow to an unprecedented 59 percent.

Maybe I’m being a little nitpicky here. What’s one percent among friends? In our district, though, it’s more than twice the technology budget for the whole district. And the 59% figure is when the plan is fully phased in, which could be a decade from now. The implications for cash-strapped schools who are trying to pass levies this spring are enormous. Why would someone approve a new tax measure if the newspaper says the governor has it covered? Unfortunately, the schools can’t wait around for the state to write a check.

When I took American History in high school, there was a lot less of it. And we didn’t have to take any high-stakes tests. Maybe that made it easier for my teacher. But he taught us to always consider the source of information we read. We spent six weeks digging through primary sources about the battle of Lexington and Concord. People write things from their own points of view to justify their own actions, decisions, and opinions. Two eyewitness accounts of the same event will often differ, because the witnesses report things from their own frames of reference.

In this age, I can talk to people from around the world for free any time I want. We can watch live video of events like the inauguration or the state of the state address. In many cases, we can interact with the newsmakers as the news is being made. Whenever possible, we should be using primary sources for our information. And we have to be teaching our students to question their sources and compare different accounts to find a clearer picture of the truth.

The education plan, as a whole, is encouraging. But don’t take my word for it. Go read what he had to say. Or, if you’d prefer, you can listen to it. You can even watch it if you want. But use the primary source. Don’t rely on the media to tell you what he said.