Politics — the final arbiterWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
We often hear our elected leaders say we need to think outside the box when confronted with difficult problems. But what does such a box look like and how do you construct a problem-solving process that results in innovative solutions?
School board president Bob Vasquez is the latest to jump on the outside-the-box bandwagon with the suggestion that he needs a “blue ribbon” committee to solve the problems of Toledo Public Schools (TPS) with revolutionary ideas.
Vasquez told Toledo Free Press recently, “We talked about online classrooms. The superintendent, Mr. Foley, had to share a certain number of hours [teachers] have to have with students face-to-face. I didn’t know that and I’m sure the general public doesn’t know that.”
TPS’ former superintendent appears to have constructed a box around Vasquez that he has accepted as doctrine.
But, a review of the Ohio Revised Code and consultation with officials of the Ohio Department of Education found no such face-to-face student-teacher time requirements.
Contrary to Vasquez’s statements, in a traditional public school setting both virtual classes and schools can be used as educational alternatives for instructional delivery.
Just down the road in Columbus, the public school system has taken up the challenge and integrated virtual learning, albeit in limited ways. Columbus City Schools operates a Virtual Credit Advancement Program, providing a range of high school course materials. Virtual courses are accepted for full credit by the Columbus City Schools and students can take these online courses concurrently with courses at a traditional public high school.
Virtual educational technology has the potential to revolutionize how students learn!
Implementation of virtual technology in TPS schools along with the use of off-the-shelf software could produce major productivity improvements.
Fewer teachers would be needed for the same student population. Fewer administrators would be needed to oversee the smaller teaching and support staffs. The resulting cost of education to the taxpayer would decline. Of course, this would awaken the bureaucracy’s self-preservation instincts and likely result in TPS officials and union leadership opposing virtual technology with vigor.
School board members, many of whom covet higher office, don’t have incentives to pursue such efforts. It would upset the apple cart containing the campaign donations, endorsements and volunteers needed to attain their next office.
TPS board members should provide oversight. When Vasquez was presented with the roadblocks to using virtual technology, why did he not ask the key questions: What are the requirements? Can we change them or get an exemption? If not, how can we take advantage of the technologies and stay within state statutes?
So the box constraining progress is not state education laws and regulations, but appears to be union contracts, politics centered on the interests of employees and lack of effective oversight by the board.
I have often discussed and written about using technology, especially at the high school level, as a way to expand the limited course offerings at some TPS schools, assure advanced placement classes are available to all students and supplement and enhance student learning through off-the-shelf software. These ideas just expand on the Columbus program and integrate technology more completely and effectively into the learning environment.
Honor students and those taking advanced placement tests could take virtual courses at home, in a traditional public school or a community center. Learning is where you challenge your mind and it is not restricted to a seat in a classroom of a traditional public school.
The opportunities for virtual technology are endless if we are serious about practicing outside-the-box thinking.
Vasquez says he is looking for this revolutionary kind of change while creating a sustainable financial foundation. Yet his approach is anything but outside the box. He brings the same people to the same round table and claims he can reform the educational bureaucracy whose purpose is to maintain the status quo.
With the presence of politicians around the table, Vasquez has assured that politics will be the final arbiter of the solutions proposed.
Where are the independent outside-the-box thinkers who would demand the facts, ask why not and challenge the bureaucracy with innovative solutions?
Vasquez seems like so many of our leaders. They live their lives so far inside the box of politics that they don’t want or can’t see the box that constrains the real innovation and progress they claim to seek.
Steven Flagg is an education advocate and has been involved with education reform in Toledo for more than 15 years.