AJ Wagner Resigns from Ohio Board of Education
by Mark Urycki
The Ohio Board of Education will be getting another new member. Five new people were elected to the board this month. Now, one of the handful of Democrats on the body is resigning. A-J Wagner is moving to Pennsylvania to be with his grandchildren. Wagner took a few shots at board policy before leaving.
A-J Wagner may be a Democrat but he was appointed to fill a vacant position by Republican Governor John Kasich two years ago. He then ran for election and won the seat outright.
The former Common Pleas Court Judge has been an advocate for poor districts and students living in poverty, especially the youngest: when kids’ brains are developing from 0 to 3 years old.
In his letter of resignation Wagner wrote that he will –quote- “leave the Board having accomplished nothing in that regard.”
"Preschool does matter; teaching does matter but neither of those things matter as much as brain development from zero to 3. That has a far greater impact.”
Have you been disappointed in your time on the board in what you’ve been able to do or the board has been able to do for improving public schools?
“It is disappointing. I became a voice, and there are others on the board who add to this, but became a voice for ending the testing that they’re doing and ending the way they’re approaching what is really “test and punish.” There’s a motivational theory here that really doesn’t work. And that is that if we test and we tell them that they’re doing bad make them work harder that they’ll do better.
What happens, says Wagner, is that students give up or drop out.
The school board had 6 Democrats out of 19 members. Eight are chosen by the Governor. One Republican, Ann Jacobs, generally voted with the Democrats but she is retiring. The Democrat Wagner says conservative state legislators largely determine education policy and the board generally goes along with them.
One policy he disagrees with is the stricter new graduation requirements for high school…
"There’s only one test and the measurement is: “Are you college prepared or you on track to go to college? You know 40% of our jobs do not require and college but we’re still not going to give you a diploma if you can’t make it into college.”
Wagner says the ones who suffer the most are the poor students who have myriad stressors that handicap their school performance.
"What I hear is poverty isn’t an excuse, poverty can’t be an excuse. By that one throwaway line they justify their ignoring the whole set of issues that come with poverty. "
Wagner argues that the state’s stress on high stakes testing has not been successfully forcing most students to do better.
"Our scores on national and international tests are not improving. We went in the last 3 years from being number 5 in education in the country in Ohio to being number 24. We are not getting better; we are getting worse and we’re doing so on the backs of the poor. “
Another issue that A-J Wagner disagrees with most education board members about is charter schools. He notes some are very good but he says most are at or below the quality of public schools. And he says much of their income comes from local district levies, forcing local layoffs.
“The first thing that they’ll cut, because they don’t have enough money anymore is art, music, phys-ed and the kind of programs that really help develop a well-rounded creative critical-thinking person. We just do that anymore. It’s just Test, test, test.”
Wagner does see some hope for his issues at the board of education. Some 200 Local School superintendents showed up to protest at this month’s board meeting in Columbus…
“The superintendents have basically said ‘no more, we’re done.’ Superintendents aren’t political people and they’ve reached the point – and their school board has reached a point- where they’re saying “this isn’t working. This is crazy and you’re embarrassing us and you’re causing us problems and we can’t teach kids like this.’ And they’re now coming to the table and saying ‘please listen to us.’ “
A-J Wagner’s term is not up until 2018. Governor Kasich will appoint a successor. Wagner, who has published 4 children’s books says he wants to write a book about the U-S Supreme Court and its changing position on discrimination.