Professors speak on points of Strickland’s education plan

Vince Peluso

Extension of school year, tuition freeze among gov’s goals

Gov. Ted Strickland made one thing clear in his State of the State address last week – education is a priority for his administration.

In the midst of an economic downturn, this came as a surprise to several Kent State education professors.

Associate professor Martha Merrill has studied international education for more than 20 years and has traveled across the globe. She was pleasantly surprised with what she heard in the speech.

“I am very interested in the governor’s plan,” she said. “Most governors don’t spend that much time of a speech like that on education. I think it’s a visionary plan and could be very good.”

Strickland plans on extending the Ohio school year to 200 days to meet international standards, continuing the public university tuition freeze, offering better training for teachers and adding more emphasis on critical thinking in high schools.

“It can be done,” Merrill said. “But it’s not free. If you’re going to do more critical thinking that’s fine, but you can’t do that if you have 30 or more students in a room.”

Merrill believes Strickland’s plan for expanding the school year would be a welcomed change for high schools if done properly.

She recalled that when she studied in the former Soviet Union, students went to school five and a half days a week for longer hours than American schools, but there was less out-of-school activity.

“There are a couple things that go with expanding the year. How do you pay for it?” she asked. “Also, the American school system came out of the agriculture schedule because students needed the summer off to go work in fields.

“But that really isn’t the case anymore, so expanding the year is possible. However, if all you’re doing is filling in multiple choice, standardized exams more, then I don’t think it’s very helpful.”

Mark Kretovics, an associate professor of higher education administration and student personnel, thought one of the highlights of Strickland’s speech was his plan to replace the Ohio Graduation Test with the ACT.

“That allows everyone to take at least one college prep test,” he said. “In many people’s cases, they might not be able to afford the test. Now the state would pick up the bill, so it opens the door for more students to go to college.”

Kretovics stressed the need to place less emphasis on standardized exams and more on actual learning.

He believes that too much pressure is put on teachers to have their students pass standardized exams, such as the OGT, and not enough emphasis is put on helping students learn.

“I’d like to get rid of these constant standardized tests,” he said. “When there is so much emphasis on standardized tests, it forces teachers to teach to the test because that’s how they are evaluated. They aren’t evaluated on (how) well their students learn, just on how they do on the test.”

Strickland did not specifically outline how the state will pay for any of these new measures.

Ohio is facing a $7 billion budget deficit and, because of unemployment, tax revenue is expected to decline, which makes Kretovics question how Strickland plans to pay for these new measures.

“It’s admirable,” he said. “It’s good to put it as a priority, but if you look at Ohio it hasn’t hit the bottom yet. So when you’re talking about training teachers and expanding programs, these things cost money that I don’t know he has.”

Contact health, education and human services reporter Vince Peluso at [email protected].