State school board candidates differ on several key priorities

Young financial adviser Shea, retired teacher Binegar run for seat that represents Greene and Clark counties

Voters in Greene and Clark counties will choose a new state board of education member in the ongoing election, as retired special education teacher Mary Binegar runs against financial adviser Brendan Shea.

Shea said the biggest change needed in Ohio schools is eliminating learning standards that are tied to the Common Core effort of last decade. Binegar said the biggest issue is how Ohio’s K-12 schools are funded, saying the state has to make sure all students have equity of opportunity.

The 19-member state school board helps to set K-12 education policy for Ohio schools, in concert with the state legislature. Eleven members are elected and eight others are appointed. They serve four-year terms and are paid hourly for board work, with compensation averaging about $7,500 per year.

The state board approves education standards, sets cut scores for state tests, makes changes to the school report card system and makes disciplinary decisions on accused educators, among other duties.

District 10 stretches from Clark and Greene counties down through a 17-county swath of southwest and south-central Ohio. Incumbent Nick Owens is not seeking re-election.'

Why run for office?

Binegar called public education “the foundation of our democracy” and said a well-educated population is a key in our society. “We have to do everything we can to strengthen and support our public education system,” she said. “Having been part of that system … it’s important to have strong educator voices on that board. I want to be a strong voice for those children in public schools.”

Shea said he’s heard from families who are concerned about Planned Parenthood sex education programs in schools, religious liberty issues and eventually a rush to require COVID-19 vaccination. “I’m a parent myself … and I want to bring the voice of a concerned parent who wants to be engaged and wants to have a say,” he said. “One who certainly doesn’t want to be forced to do something that truly violates a deeply held belief.”

Testing/report cards

Shea said he’s not an expert on the current testing system, but he does feel that Ohio needs a better balance. He wants testing to measure where kids stand, but says an “obsessive focus on testing” has had a negative impact and hurt teacher morale.

He would like to see a component added to the report card measuring parental involvement. He said parents are the biggest determining factor of a child’s success, and while schools do a heroic job, they can only do so much.

“(We need) some metric that asks something of parents, that in some way measures their engagement,” Shea said.

Binegar wants Ohio to reduce its amount of standardized testing, calling that a major issue for her. She said the current test framework is not a fair system and schools end up spending too much time on test-prep and testing itself.

She said the idea of the report card as a regular sharing of information with the community “is a real positive thing” if done correctly because many residents don’t have a good grasp of what’s going on in their schools. But she’s like to see the report card focus less on the standardized tests.

“I’d get rid of the A-F grades. They have such an emotional impact on people,” Binegar said. “It creates an image that things are not going well when many things may be going well. People just see what that score is.”

More on biggest issue

Shea said his biggest opposition to Common Core is that the standards “are not especially rigorous” and moved Ohio backward. State education officials called the standards harder, and test scores in Ohio and several other states dropped after they switched to Common Core standards and tests.

“Philosophically I think the standards reveal themselves to have some agendas,” he said. “There was a real move toward … focusing more on things like reading practical manuals and court documents and less of a focus on English literature and fiction.”

Binegar said the state needs to provide enough base funding “so every student has the same opportunity for a great education,” while allowing each community to add in some way.

“We have to … get away from the property tax, get away from the emphasis on where a child lives,” she said. “(Now) their zip code determines more about the kind of education they get than any other factor.”

Equity, poverty, race

Binegar said making the education system more equitable is one of her key issues, along with state testing and school funding. She said test scores often just track socioeconomics, and there are hurdles to educating high-poverty populations.

Shea said he’s a strong proponent of equal opportunity. But he also criticized the equity resolution the state board passed in July, calling it pandering, and saying things like white supremacy are not “the issues keeping people down.”

“They’re really making it primarily about the subject of systemic racism, and that’s not something that I believe should be the focus,” Shea said. “I don’t believe it’s the problem that they’re saying it is.”

They're really making it primarily about the subject of systemic racism, and that's not something that I believe should be the focus. I don't believe it's the problem that they're saying it is

- Brendan Shea, state school board candidate, on board's equity resolution

Social and other skills

The candidates were asked about Ohio’s strategic plan for schools, which puts social-emotional learning and skills like leadership and problem solving roughly on equal footing with English, math and science.

Shea said he hadn’t read the full document, but shared an anecdote from his father, a career teacher, that many fewer of his recent students do the work and the reading compared to decades ago.

“I’m concerned about the trend of feel-good stuff and participation trophies, all of that. I don’t like that,” Shea said. “But if this is an attempt to try and find out, how can we instill virtue in our kids … I’m a big reader of the founding fathers, and virtue was talked about very much as being needed for a constitutional republic like ours to survive and thrive.”

Binegar cited the social-emotional learning piece of the state plan, calling it critical in the education field because “when children have strong social-emotional skills, their academics improve greatly.”

As a special educator, my purpose was always that you not only help the child through school, but prepare them to be good citizens … to prepare them for life.

- Mary Binegar, candidate for state school board

“As a special educator, my purpose was always that you not only help the child through school, but prepare them to be good citizens … to prepare them for life,” she said. “You have to have those social-emotional skills — being able to deal with pressure, handling time management issues, taking responsibility for your actions.”

Other issues

** On Ohio’s graduation rules, Binegar called for more stability, less reliance on standardized tests, and multiple pathways to a diploma, saying project-based approaches allow students to show they can put into practice the things they’ve learned. Shea also said students should have multiple options toward earning a diploma and said final decisions should be in the hands of people closest to the student.

** Asked about lessons from the COVID era, Shea said one positive is that parents have been forced to be more engaged and rise to the occasion. Binegar said this time has brought equity issues to the forefront, including internet access in rural versus suburban areas. She called for more training on online teaching.

Brendan Shea

Residence: London, Ohio

Occupation: Financial adviser

Age: 32

Political experience: Ran once for state house seat

Education experience: No formal roles

Facebook: Shea for Ohio

Mary Binegar

Residence: Springfield

Occupation: Retired teacher

Age: 71

Political experience: No formal roles

Education experience: Retired special education teacher, including 26 years at Urbana HS and 4 years at Tecumseh HS

Facebook: Binegar for State Board of Education

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