A.J. Wagner, J.D.
Ohio Board of Education, District 3
7 Stonemill Road
Dayton, Ohio 45409
November 18, 2016
Honorable Tom Gunlock, President
State Board of Education of Ohio
25 South Front Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215-4183
Dear President Gunlock,
It is with much regret that I submit to you this Letter of Resignation from the State Board of Education to be effective at the end of today, November 18, 2016.
I leave the Board because of personal family matters that will require Joan and me to move from Dayton in the next few months. I leave with much gratitude to the Board and the citizens of District 3.
I am grateful to Governor Kasich for his willingness to appoint me to the Board prior to the 2014 election. I am pleased that all of the United States now knows of the important, good qualities of his personality. He has represented Ohio well to our great nation.
I am grateful to you for your guidance and your steadfast commitment to Ohio’s kids. We may not always agree, but I know that every vote you cast is with a sincere concern for children, and I am confident of your integrity and good character. It has been an honor to serve with you.
I feel likewise as to each and every member of the Board. I am grateful for their service and friendship, and I am honored to have been a part of our collective effort. Our discordant votes were often portrayed in a manner that belied my respect and admiration for these terrific public servants. I wish them nothing but the best.
I must be sure to include Senator Peggy Lehner in my gratitude. Her political courage and skill have been critical in the effort to make charter schools accountable. I am proud to have called her my friend for more than four decades.
I am grateful to the staff at the Ohio Department of Education. They have proven, time and again, immense dedication to Ohio’s children. They care more than I ever thought possible.
I am grateful for the great advocates for children that I have met over the past few years. I hope you continue to listen to the active and retired teachers, principals, and superintendents who have vital experience to share with the Board on policy and system design that will benefit Ohio’s children.
I am grateful for all that I have learned in the past two years, and I am grateful for the voice I was granted during my short tenure. I believe education is changing, and not necessarily for the better. Funding shortages, unnecessary testing, the Ohio report card system, shortage of teachers, elimination of music, art, nurses, recess, counselors and other essential services for our students will certainly haunt Ohio for years to come.
I am grateful to you, the Board, and Superintendent DeMaria for exploring the issues surrounding the new graduation requirements. Changing all our high schools to college preparatory schools will have dire consequences for those who cannot, because of intellect, emotional struggles, physical limitations, or financial need, attend college. More than 40% of the jobs in Dayton area today require no college. The number of states requiring graduation testing has gone from 27 down to 14 as the other jurisdictions come to grips with the negative consequences of limiting diploma access.
I joined the Board with a hope of moving the needle on programming for children in poverty from ages zero to three. I leave the Board having accomplished nothing in that regard. So, I leave with one more articulation of recommendations for what can be done to improve education in Ohio. This is hardly a complete list, but I hope I hit some of the more important areas.
The overall outline of what I recommend is taken from a December 2015 study by the Southern Education Foundation authored by Leigh Dingerson, a consultant with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.
1. Access to high quality early childhood and pre-K education including programs that assist parents of infant children ages zero to three. Although Ohio is contributing more to pre-school for four year olds, the problems of education begin before birth. A child raised in poverty will be far behind her counterparts in middle and upper socio-economic classes by the time she is three years old. Lack of exposure to positive reinforcement, vocabulary, intellectual stimulus, medical care, and sleep, combined with over exposure to stress, violence, negativity, poor nutrition, and poor health beginning in utero requires the earliest of interventions with parent and child. Programs are available from around the country that demonstrate the positive effects of early childhood intervention. James Heckman, Ph.D., a Nobel Prize winning economist from the University of Chicago, has established that for every dollar spent on such programs, we can save seven dollars in future expenditures on health care, remedial education, criminal justice, and public assistance.
2. Inclusive school leadership committed to creating strategic plans that include authentic input from teachers, parents, community partners, non-instructional school staff, youth, and other stakeholders. Most importantly, leadership must include the development of caring relationships with and among each of these groups.
3. Quality teaching including professional development focused on the needs of struggling students. Teacher development, especially in areas of high poverty, should include training on how to deal with the stresses experienced by their pupils.
4. Positive discipline practices such as restorative justice, social and emotional learning supports, and a student-centered learning environment. Funding that allows a return of counsellors in sufficient numbers to deal with improper behaviors with the goal of eliminating suspensions.
5. A strong curriculum that is rich, culturally relevant, and developmentally appropriate for each child. More and more our schools are being divided along racial and ethnic lines. This makes it imperative to have culturally appropriate materials, and where possible, teachers that look like their students. College preparatory standards are great and useful for a child with the desire and ability to attend college, but standards must be flexible for those without the talent or money needed for college success. I repeat, more than 40% of jobs in the Dayton area do not require any college. Students who are capable of performing these jobs should not be denied a diploma because they are not college ready.
6. Wrap-around supports such as health care, nutrition services, mentoring, and social and emotional services that support students and their families.
7. Investment, not divestment. School funding must come into constitutional compliance. We must stop raiding the public school share of state and local funding to finance non-transparent, private entities that fail to follow full academic and operational standards without full accountability to the public. Change in governance has never resulted in significant educational improvement. Witness Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago, all taken over by the state with disastrous consequences.
I also add this cautionary note from “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” by Diane Ravitch. Copyright 2016. Available from Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, a division of PBG Publishing, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.:
“Poverty matters. An exceptional school here or there may break the pattern for a tiny number of students—usually with the benefit of extra private funding and extended time—but the pattern will persist so long as social conditions remain unchanged, so long as there are districts and schools with intense concentrations of students who are both racially segregated and impoverished. We must set national goals to reduce poverty and increase racial integration.
“Schools, too, must certainly improve. The status quo today is intolerable. After many years in which the nation has placed its highest priority on test-based accountability, we have little to show for it other than small increments in test scores, billions squandered on testing and test preparation, and vast numbers of teachers and administrators demoralized by utopian goals and harsh sanctions.
“No other high-performing nation in the world tests every child in grades three through eight every year. We should not either.
“No other high-performing nation in the world evaluates teachers by the test scores of its students. We should not either.
“No other high-performing nation in the world welcomes non-professionals to assume the roles of teachers, principals, or superintendents. We should not either.
“No other high-performing nation in the world has abandoned its public school system and turned public dollars over to private entrepreneurs, amateurs, and religious organizations. We should not either.
“Never before in our own history have we allowed for-profit corporations to operate schools with public dollars. This must stop.
“Never before in our history have investors and entrepreneurs targeted the public schools as profit centers. This must stop.
“Never before in our history have public schools been forced to make standardized testing their main mission and purpose. This must stop.
“The status quo today is promulgated and funded by the US Department of Education, major foundations, hedge-fund managers, and ideologues at right-wing think tanks. It consists of high-stakes testing, rewards and punishments, and privatization. We must reject the status quo. We must dramatically improve our public schools to meet the needs of all children. We must preserve public education for future generations of children.”
I have had my chance. I now return my seat to the voters of District 3 with the hope that my successor will do better than I did. I hope that voices are raised louder than mine was, and I hope that legislatures become responsive to those voices.
After our first meeting, you told me that there are dozens of groups representing adults that lobby for educational issues. You challenged me by saying that dozens of organizations lobby us for adult issues, but nobody advocates for the kids, that’s what we must do. I hope my legacy is that I did.
A.J. Wagner, J.D.
Ohio Board of Education, District 3
cc: Governor John Kasich
Paulo DeMaria, Superintendent of Public Instruction
Montgomery County Board of Elections