Last week, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland laid out his plans for balancing the state budget and developing new programs in his 2009 State of the State address. On this week’s Lincoln Avenue, local Representative Bob Hagan weighs in. As Hagan reminds us, while this kind of speech presents the Governor’s plans with great certainty, the reality will be messier.
What I liked best in Strickland’s speech is the idea that K-12 education needs significant change, not minor reforms. While I don’t support all of the strategies he laid out, I do think that extending the school year, more interdisciplinary teaching, project-based learning, and improved training for teachers are all good ideas. But, as educator Bill Mullane explained on Lincoln Avenue last year, making dramatic changes in education is incredibly difficult. From Mullane’s perspective, that’s because of the power of the familiar. Most of us had similar school experiences, and it’s hard for us to imagine organizing education in a different way.
But as Hagan explains, the challenge isn’t just about resistance to change from parents or teachers. It’s about the political process. Strickland presented his ideas as actions that the state will take, but in truth he can’t do much on his own. The state legislature has to approve policies and budgets. The Ohio House and Senate will develop their own plans, which may or may not reflect Strickland’s ideas. The final product will result from negotiation and compromise. In principle, compromise sounds like a great idea. In theory, that would generate policies that take into consideration the needs of different constituencies. In practice, compromise – especially political compromise -- rarely generates true innovation.
We see this with the on-going debates about health care, on both the state and federal levels. Real innovation would involve some sort of single-payer system – a completely different way of approaching health coverage. Compromise leads us to plans that seek to extend the current system to cover more people.
In a tight economy, I think we’re more likely than ever to lean toward compromise. We take the conservative route because we don’t want to risk wasting our limited resources. That’s the challenge that the Ohio legislature now faces: how to design policies for change in an environment of worry.