Dr. Richard Ross has been the Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction for just over two years. In these short two years, Ross has messed up big time, and we’re calling for his termination. To be clear, Ross is “the executive and administrative officer of the state board of education in its administration of all educational matters.” You can read the full description of his duties in the Ohio Revised Code, but here are a few highlights:
- The superintendent shall provide … assistance and advice to all school districts in reference to all aspects of education, including finance, buildings and equipment, administration, organization of school districts, curriculum and instruction, transportation of pupils, personnel problems, and the interpretation of school laws and state regulations.
- The superintendent shall conduct such studies and research projects as are necessary or desirable for the improvement of public school education in Ohio, and such as may be assigned to the superintendent by the state board of education. Such studies and projects may include analysis of data contained in the education management information system established under section 3301.0714 of the Revised Code.
- The superintendent shall prepare and submit annually to the state board of education a report of the activities of the department of education and the status, problems, and needs of education in the state of Ohio.
As superintendent, Dick Ross’ essential role is to make sure that all schools are functioning at their absolute best. If/when allegations or concerns are brought to the ODE or to the Board, Dick Ross has a responsibility to fully investigate or at least address those concerns, regardless of whether they come from ODE officials, teachers, students, parents, or concerned citizens. He has a responsibility to be a leader in education.
Much to our dismay, Ohio’s schools have continued on their tragic downward path–bringing our students and teachers with them. Dick Ross, one of the top education officials in this great state and a key member of Kasich’s administration, has a responsibility to not only acknowledge controversy but to tackle it, head on. He is, after all, supposed to be “improving” our schools…right? While our kids get sucked into a blackhole of failing charter schools, Dick Ross and the Kasich crew remain seated atop their ivory tower. Here, we present to you four times that Dick Ross totally failed to do his job and should have been fired for it.
1. The Horizon Science Academy of Dayton Scandal
Just a few short months after his appointment to the Board of Education, information surrounding conduct at the Horizon Science Academy of Dayton made its way to ODE. This was Ross’s first opportunity to do some good in Ohio. Instead, Matt Blair, the Horizon Science teacher who first brought issues to ODE’s attention, says that he was ignored by the BOE and ODE.
After receiving no attention, despite reporting the school’s dangerous conditions, test-tampering, and sexual harassment to the state, Blair penned a powerful op-ed. He and his allies continued to push for the state to investigate these allegations (a full chronology of their efforts can be seen here). His grievances and requests for an investigation finally were acknowledged a year after the original complaints were made.
Four former teachers from Horizon Science Academy of Dayton testified before the state on major conduct issues. There are 17 Horizon schools in Ohio, all run by Concept Schools. The state gave the impression that they would investigate all Horizon schools, seeing as the conduct issues in question pertained to management of Concept Schools. State Board of Education member Mary Rose Oakar called for an investigation of all 17 schools, explaining that even if the schools outside of Dayton don’t have reported violations, an investigation would be able to identify if there are issues consistent with the other school, or be able to clear them.
But the problems brought forth regarding the Dayton charter school seemed indicative of a much larger issue with management and administration. From the Plain Dealer: “four former teachers at Horizon schools in Dayton told the state board that officials at the school possibly completed state tests for students, that many teachers are unqualified, that some teachers show videos day after day in class, that women are treated as second-class citizens and that teachers encouraged sexually harassing behavior including groping of female students.”
After listening to the teachers who had been attempting to work with ODE for a year, officials from ODE stated that the four teachers may face sanctions for not coming forward sooner (note: this is over a year after the original complaint), meanwhile accusing these teachers of pulling a “political stunt.” As more information came forward, Dick Ross continually refused to call for an investigation of the wider charter network. Where was his leadership on this issue? How could the state superintendent ignore such horrendous allegations for over a year, only to allow his subordinates to threaten the teachers that he is commanded by law to represent?
2. Unnecessary Religious Requirements
In his 2014 State of the State address, Governor Kasich announced his “Community Connectors” project. A simple and potentially effective model, the project is basically a mentoring program that attempts to address high school drop out rates. The Ohio Legislature swiftly responded with House Bill 483 which would allocate $10 million in lottery profits to the project for the summer of 2015. In Kasich’s original announcement and in Ross’s legislative testimony, faith-based organizations were an option for potential partnerships. They were not a requirement. But, somehow, the program ended up requiring that grants only be awarded to partnerships that include at least one faith-based or religious organization. Why would that be?
The decision–which apparently came from the top (i.e. Dick Ross)–surprised legislators and other leaders on the issue. Sure, faith-based organizations could be a great asset to the program… but isn’t requiring a religious affiliation a bit restrictive? Not to mention… maybe unconstitutional? Ross later stated that he could change the requirement, but only if it looked like ODE would get sued. This was in early January, about a month before the grant application period ended. Way to go, Ross.
3. Negotiating Youngstown Schools…Without Youngstown Schools
Just two weeks ago, Governor Kasich signed into law House Bill 70. The bill was originally quite popular and bipartisan with the well-meaning goal of actually doing something about failing schools. The problem we’re dealing with now is an amendment added in the eleventh hour, ushered through the legislature without any opportunity for opposition testimony, and signed by Gov. Kasich. The amendment essentially allowed the state to take over Youngstown City Schools, granting the state authority to appoint a “CEO” of a school district to override any union agreements, and–with a special commission–even close entire districts. But who constructed that deal? You got it, Dick Ross.
According to members of the state board of education, Ross went behind the backs of the board members to construct a deal with Youngstown. Board members planned a trip to Youngstown, met with teachers, toured the schools, and worked to come up with a solution. Ross silently watched and listened to the board without mentioning once that he had been cooking up a different sort of solution. “It’s embarrassing that we went to Youngstown to see what was going on and see how we could help them and come up with a solution,” said A.J. Wagner, a state board member, “And then there’s a different alternative being looked at and we’re not told about it.” How’s that for confidence-inspiring leadership on the part of Dr. Ross.
4. Charter School Data Scrubbing
Part of Ross’s job (per ORC 3301) pertains to the collection and analysis of data. But, this year we learned that under Ross’s watch, David Hansen, the ODE Director of School Choice (also one of Kasich’s BFFs/husband to Kasich4America campaign manager) had removed some charter schools that received ‘F’ grades from the state’s evaluations–illegally. Though Hansen scrubbed the data, it’s Ross who oversees its collection and analysis. This act resulted in two charter school sponsors getting bumped up to receive even more state funding. What did Ross do? He “sat by [Hansen] as he was questioned but offered no comment.” Later, in a prepared statement, Ross basically said that dropout rates and failing schools would be included in future evaluations. He did not say how the error [read: cover-up] would be remedied in the 2014-2015 data evaluations. For some, this is the final straw. Joe Schiavoni, Ohio Senate Minority Leader, and others are calling on the Board of Education to fire Ross.
We join them in that call. If you do too, please take a moment to sign our petition urging for his removal from the office he holds on the grounds of incompetency and non-compliance with his mandated duties.