Ryan Wertz and Paula Sondej, ODE World Language Consultants
ODE 101: A Crash Course on Ohio’s PreK-12 Educational System and the Role of Your State World Language Consultants
For many educators, the Ohio Department of Education, or ODE as is commonly called, is a mysterious place. Most educators’ first experience with this agency comes when they apply for their initial teaching licensure. This is when many discover that the ODE, like other large state government agencies, is a bureaucratic labyrinth that requires patient navigation. With the current focus on accountability, ODE seems to many educators like an Orwellian “Big Brother,” always watching over one’s shoulder from a vantage point that seems just out of view. For others who have taken the time to get to know the agency, the ODE has become a trusted friend – one who is there to provide information, resources and support in many different forms. In this latest edition of Around the State, we would like to clear up some of the mystery that surrounds this agency by providing a clearer understanding of the roles the ODE and your state world language consultants play within the greater context of Ohio’s vast educational system.
As times have changed and budgets have tightened, so, too, has the ODE undergone significant transformation in recent years. When Ryan left the classroom seven years ago to begin working as one of your state world language consultants, the ODE was staffed with more than 900 employees busily working in four different divisions. Since then the agency’s workload has more than doubled as a result of many new initiatives related to Ohio’s successful bid for a federal Race to the Top grant. However, at the same time the Great Recession exacted a considerable toll on the agency, resulting in considerable downsizing and significant reorganization. Today the ODE employs just over 500 people organized into two streamlined divisions.
As you can imagine, a much-expanded workload and fewer employees has presented the ODE with significant challenges. What we can tell you, though, is that the agency is staffed by the most amazing group of dedicated and highly talented educators whose common bond is unwavering support for Ohio’s 1.8 million primary and secondary students and those who teach them. Our colleagues share a cohesive vision for ensuring the academic success and excellence of all learners, and that makes the ODE an exciting and vibrant place to work!
The new, streamlined ODE is divided into two divisions: the Division of Accountability and Quality Schools and the Division of Learning. The Division of Accountability and Quality Schools consists of the Center for Accountability and Continuous Improvement and the Center for
Student Support and Education Options. Conversely, the Division of Learning is made up of the Center for the Teaching Profession and the Center of Curriculum and Assessment. It is here where your state world language consultants are assigned. The various divisions and centers are led by Ohio’s 37th State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Richard A. Ross, who served most recently as Governor Kasich’s education advisor prior to his arrival at the ODE.
A common misconception about the ODE is that educational laws and rules are made by this agency. In reality, it is the Ohio legislature which considers and passes education bills that are promoted either by the governor or by legislators who respond to demand by their constituents. These bills are first vetted by the education committees of the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate before they are voted on by the full membership of both chambers. During the vetting process, ODE leaders are often called in to provide analysis of the impact of proposed educational bills. Once they are approved by the full legislature, educational bills are signed into law by the governor.
Once laws affecting education have been passed, the 19 members of the State Board of Education create educational policies and rules that facilitate the implementation of these laws. The State Board of Education’s decisions are steered by the following vision:
The State Board of Education’s vision is for all Ohio students to graduate from
the PK-12 education system with the knowledge, skills and behaviors necessary
to successfully continue their education and/or be workforce ready and
successfully participate in the global economy as productive citizens. Ultimately,
all students will graduate well prepared for success.
The Ohio Department of Education is charged with providing oversight for Ohio’s PreK-12 educational system, and it falls on the ODE to determine how to effectively implement and enforce the policies and rules created by the State Board of Education. The ODE essentially does four things:
1. It establishes academic content standards in the different subjects that are taught, which set expectations for what all students should know & be able to do;
2. It makes sure through licensure and other means that educators have the skills, knowledge, and resources to help students reach higher levels of achievement;
3. It measures, publicizes and rewards educational results, and it holds all educators and students responsible for them; and
4. It establishes and enforces the criteria that students must meet to graduate from high school.
To help you understand the role of your world language consultants within the greater context of the ODE, here is a list of our primary responsibilities in no particular order:
Participate in cross-office and cross-agency teams to advise policy-makers and facilitate the creation and implementation of high-quality, research-based, educational policies and rules;
Periodically revise the K-12 World Language Learning Standards in keeping with the latest research and innovations and oversee their implementation;
Periodically create and implement model curriculum tools to support the implementation and use of the revised learning standards;
Provide content support to K-12 world language teachers via ongoing customer service and periodic professional development;
Support ongoing implementation of the state’s credit flexibility provision;
Advise and assist the Office of Educator Effectiveness with matters related to the ongoing implementation of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES);
Provide oversight for initiatives that are spelled out in the ODE’s various memoranda of understanding with foreign ministries of education;
Provide oversight of the state’s visiting international teacher programs;
Maintain the agency’s J1 visa sponsorship program in compliance with U.S. Department of State regulations;
Provide technical assistance in maintaining capacity in commonly taught languages and building capacity in less commonly taught critical languages;
Lend support to international education initiatives; and
Represent the state of Ohio in various world language organizations.
We are fortunate in Ohio that our state values world language education and supports efforts in our content area by staffing world language consultant positions at the ODE. Not every state benefits from the presence of state-level world language content experts. Currently, only 24 states including Ohio employ content specialists to support the efforts of K-12 world language educators.
One thing to keep in mind is that our ability to provide individualized customer service is greatly limited. Every month we receive many invitations to lead sessions and workshops at individual schools and districts, but with some 612 public school districts and 366 state-chartered community schools in Ohio, it is impossible for us to provide our many constituents with this level of personalized attention. Instead, department policy requires us to use our time judiciously by offering occasional sessions and workshops at regional meetings and statewide conferences.
As you consider the roles of the ODE, note that this agency does not play a significant role in post-secondary education. Many K-12 educators are unaware that a separate agency – the Ohio Board of Regents – has oversight for Ohio’s public colleges and universities. As a result of this configuration, articulation between the K-12 and post-secondary educational systems has long been problematic in our state. In a move designed to improve communication and cooperation between the two institutions, the Ohio Board of Regents recently moved into the Ohio Department of Education building. Only time will tell if this move will actually result in improved coordination between the two agencies and better articulation of programming for learners.
We hope that by writing this article, we have provided you with a better understanding of how Ohio’s various state education entities work to support your efforts in the classroom. In closing, we would like to leave you with some important ODE contact information, just in case you ever have an occasion to seek the agency’s assistance:
- ODE Web Site: http://www.education.ohio.gov
One-stop shop for all information related to K-12 education in Ohio
- ODE Toll-Free Line: 877-644-6338
Reach all agency offices using this number.
- Office of Curriculum and Assessment: 614-466-1317
Curricular support for all content areas, including world languages.
- Office of Professional Licensure: 614-466-3593
All matters related to initial licensure and licensure renewal.
- Office of Educator Effectiveness: 614-387-2214
General assistance on matters relating to OTES
- Lau Resource Center: 614-387-2265
Support for efforts around the needs of English Language Learners (ELL)