Since taking over as governor, John Kasich has been calling for different agencies to—as he puts it—move at the speed of business.
In his latest budget proposal, Kasich has shifted that mindset into the education field, trying to align classrooms with the business community. Teachers unions are not happy with the path Kasich is taking.
“I’ve been around children all my life,” says Janet Eshelman.
Eshelman, a third grade teacher, grew up as one of nine children. She’s been an educator in New Knoxville, in west Ohio, for the past 25 years.
“There isn’t anything I don’t like," she said. "I love it when children learn. I love when they don’t realize that it’s the end of the day already and that they’re having fun learning."
Eshelman says her mission as a teacher, aside from teaching the basics of her grade level, is to develop young minds for life outside of school.
“I’m all about students becoming successful, just in a way of being happy," she said. "It doesn’t have to be making money it means happy with what they do and passionate about what they do."
But Eshelman and many other teachers around the state are concerned about where the state is going when it comes to the culture of education.
Integrating business and the classroom
Gov. John Kasich’s budget includes several provisions that integrate the business world with the education community.
This includes measures that retools the way people with workplace experience get educator licenses, creating non-voting spots for company leaders on local school boards and requiring teachers to shadow a business in order to renew their licenses.
That last proposal is especially concerning to Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
“It’s just kind of another slap in the face,” Cropper said.
The OFT and the state's other teachers' union, the Ohio Education Association, are both against the measure. Cropper says this continues the myth that teachers are out of touch with the world around them.
“There’s this notion that teachers don’t understand business and they’re not able to make connections between their topic and the business world,” she said.
But Ryan Burgess strongly disagrees. He’s director of Kasich’s Workforce Transformation Office. He says this on-site workplace experience requirement streamlines the ability for teachers to see what students need to know in order to be employees with different industries.
“Business owners are saying we’re not receiving the talent that we need to grow our businesses. So if teachers have the ability to go on-site with these business owners and see the jobs that are involved it hopefully will better position them when they are having career counseling conversations with their students,” he said.
A logistical nightmare
Ohio has about 120,000 teachers and they must renew their licenses every five years. Cropper doesn’t see how local districts would be able to get every teacher time off and place each one with different companies.
“It would be a logistic nightmare.”
Cropper argues that Kasich’s overall strategy to intermingle the private sector with classroom education is one-sided.
“Education should be about community involvement," Cropper says. "And that’s more than just business people—that’s everyone in the community working with the education field to meet all the needs of the child, and I think the governor’s approach is very, very heavy on the business side."
An equal partnership
“We want it to be even. We want this to be a two-way street in terms of communication,” Burgess said.
Burgess contends that Kasich’s plan doesn’t work unless there’s equal partnership between local businesses and schools. Though private sector business owners and workers run for office and serve as elected members of many school boards, Burgess says Kasich wants to add in three non-voting spots for business leaders too.
“They’re consistently saying that they’re not receiving the talent that they need to grow their businesses so here’s a chance for them to get in the room with educators and articulate specifically what skills are needed for employees,” he said.
Burgess and the Kasich Administration say the proposals in the budget did come from months of data collected by a committee looking into improving workforce development, which included input from communities, teachers and administrators.
A suggestion to mull over
Back in New Knoxville, Eshelman says her small town is already a tight-knit community where everyone gathers together for concerts and basketball games.
She’s throwing out another suggestion to lawmakers mulling over Kasich’s plan to synergize the business world with education.
“It would be nice if they could job shadow us for more than a day, a week and come home and see that we’re grading papers we’re doing things at night too," Eshelman said. "Because we care about our children, we care about them deeply, we want them to be happy and successful in life."