Thursday, July 28, 2016

Party Platforms and Public Education

With the Republican National Convention now behind us and the Democratic National Convention around the corner, it’s time to consider the platforms of each party as they relate to public education.  Of course, as of this writing, the Democratic Party has not published their platform but we can somewhat predict the elements relating to education.  It seems to me that we have become a country of extremes and that has had a polarizing effect on those who considerate themselves to be moderates.  I recall reading a book about how this extremism of political party ideologies has caused so many to pull back, to say that they cannot impact decisions relating to public education.

But we have examples that abound demonstrating that grassroots movements can have an impact and that those who are willing to engage can have a dramatic impact on outcomes.  There is probably no better example of that in Texas than the “revolt” over the number of end of course exams required for graduation.  A group of individuals got together under the umbrella of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) and their actions resulted in a reduction in the number of EOC exams from 15 to 5.  Yet another example is the grassroots efforts of a number of superintendents who worked closely with the Legislature to pass HB 5 in the 83rd Legislative Session, giving expanded opportunities to students across the state.  Yes, engagement does work and it begins with a grassroots effort.

With that as a backdrop, I encourage a review of the Republican Party platform, specifically reference to public education.  A summary of the Republic Party platform relating to public education can be found by clicking here.

“Highlights” of the platform include:
·         We will continue our fight for school choice until all parents can find good, safe schools for their children.
·         We reject a one- size-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level.
·         We likewise repeat our long- standing opposition to the imposition of national standards and assessments, encourage the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulate the states which have successfully repealed it. Their education reform movement calls for choice-based, parent-driven accountability at every stage of schooling.
·         Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education in which all students can reach their potential.
·         Administrators need flexibility to innovate and to hold accountable all those responsible for student performance.
·         We know the policies and methods that have actually made a difference in student advancement.  Choice in education; building on the basics; STEM subjects and phonics; career and technical education; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents and locally elected school boards.
·         We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools.  We especially support the innovative funding mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers and tuition tax credits.

It’s now up to each of us to assess how this platform impacts public education in Texas.  There are certainly elements with which I can agree but there are also elements with which I do not agree.  To be effective as public education advocates, we have to first know the facts and then provide valid arguments in support of, or to counter, positions of others.  It won’t be easy but others have proven that i starts with the individual engagement that drives a grassroots movement that then impacts decisions made by our elected officials.  It’s now even more important that we come together to Make Education a Priority.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Engagement and Advocacy

I had my first opportunity to vote when Richard Nixon was elected in 1972 ... and I jumped at that opportunity and every opportunity to vote in a general election since then.  I was raised in a conservative household with respect with respect for family values and a commitment to a public education system that groomed leaders of the world as we have come to know it over the years.  That commitment to our youth paid tremendous dividends.  But where we once valued education and once valued the right of every individual to an adequate public education, those values are being torn apart by many in the party that I have supported my entire life.

As I constantly read comments from the Lt. Governor and others who represent interests far right of those that I still hold close to my heart, I see tremendous challenges and a real threat to those who have a right to an education that will enable them to succeed in the coming years.  Having just watched some of the speeches at the chaotic Republican National Convention, specifically those targeting (and offending) the teachers who give so much every day in and out of the classroom, I am saddened and deeply troubled by the prospects for these young people to succeed. But they will persevere despite efforts by many to throw obstacles in front of them!

I am not closed-minded enough to choose my party affiliation or candidate for President based on one specific issue.  However, that doesn't mean that I have to agree with the party platform or the views of the nominee relating to public education.  What this does mean that I need to dig deeply and search for the candidate who will have the overall best interests of the American public at heart, someone whom we can trust.  I am not certain I have found that person so my decision will be based on "gut" as much as anything. 

Having gained a better understanding of my options and the implications of specific party platforms, it's now left to me and others to engage, to do what we can to ensure that the voices of our children are heard and that they have the opportunities to which they are entitled.  If I fail to engage in the discussion and fail to tell the positive story of public education, I am as much to blame as the politicos whose actions are governed by special interests and not by the needs of the masses they are elected to serve. 

The more than 5.2 million Texas public education students are counting on us to Make Education a Priority.  Are you ready to commit your energies and advocacy to these kids?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Is Our Public Education System Broken?

Earlier this week, I saw a tweet that caught my attention.  How often do we see any suggestion that public education is not failing as some would suggest?  And, more importantly, why would a well-respected publication be willing to publish an article that challenges so many of the criticisms leveled against public education today? 

Refreshingly, in an article titled America’s Not-So-Broken Education System, The Atlantic has tackled this issue head on.  Click here or above to link to the article itself.   When I initially saw the tweet, I have to admit I was somewhat cynical about the headline and what the story might tell.  But reading it spawned a whole new perspective on the challenges to public education and how we, as public education advocates, should respond to the constant criticism of public education. 

The reality is that we have grown accustomed to this criticism and, in many cases, have chosen to look the other way, to not address the challenges head on.  But that is what we must do.  For every argument made about the failures of public education, there can be a counter argument, one that is often more impactful if we simply take the time to do our homework and are willing to tell the story.  As the article so correctly points out, there are certainly areas that must be addressed sooner rather than later.  But the key is that there are efforts underway to do just that.  Sadly, these don’t make for headlines or good press and telling good news stories rarely generates enough press for those who want to remain in the limelight.

And that’s where we all come in.  Think about it for a moment.  When you were a child and heard repeated criticism, how did you respond?  Out of respect for your parents, you probably accepted what they said and moved on.  While you may not have agreed with them, you at least showed the respect for their position as a parent.  And the more you heard the same story, the more real it became to you to the point that you perhaps changed your thoughts to mirror theirs.  In short, you were influenced by repeated telling of the same story.

This, in fact, is one of the challenges we face today.  Whether through an A-F district and campus grading system or the continual criticism of the public school system, it begins to take a toll on all involved.  Teachers start to question their commitment to the profession and the impact that they are having on students.  Students in a troubled school start to associate with the rating of the campus, regardless of their individual efforts and grades.  The stigma of an underperforming school follows them everywhere they go.  If you are told often enough that you and your environment are failures, you start to believe it.

How do we escape this negative spin cycle advanced by so many?  One word … Advocacy, being willing to tell the good news story and being armed to counter arguments and purported facts about the failures of our schools and, by inference, our students and teachers.  With all of the challenges we face in public education, perhaps the most damning is the continued criticism of our public schools and what they are doing to educate tomorrow’s leaders.  Now is the time for all of us to focus on the positives, to talk about successes and what is being done to address the needs of an increasingly diverse (and growing) student population.  Now is the time for all of us to redouble our efforts to Make Education a Priority.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Education - Hope for the Future

July 7, 2016 was a day of yet another senseless tragedy, this time pretty much in my backyard in Dallas.  As I reflected on why these continue to happen and how we might turn the corner and return to some degree of calm and normalcy, I read an article in my local paper pondering how safe we all are at sporting events and venues.  I have thought a lot about what is needed, and conversation and engagement can be two of the initiatives that will start to bridge gaps that have widened over the past several years.

While I initially wondered if it is wise to put a headline of “Here’s hoping the ballpark stays a safe place” (Ft.Worth Star Telegram, op/ed by Mac Engel) on the front page of the sports section, the more I thought about it, the more I applaud the brevity and candor of the article.  But what really struck me in the article was a quote from Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor who died earlier in the week. 

"Whatever the essential answer to urgent and dangerous problems is, surely education is a major component.  Without it, nothing is possible.  Without it, there is no culture, no civilization, no compassion, no humanity."

In my blogs over the past couple of years, I have talked at length about the impact of public education not just on today’s youth but on the future of our country and civilization.  Wiesel’s quote captures this far better than I could have ever said it and I appreciate Mac Engel sharing it with all of us who read his column.  Sadly, many including the shooter in Dallas have resorted to violence as a way of expressing their frustration at events such as those that apparently prompted the actions taken.

But what if we took the time to sit down and talk out the concerns, specifically with an eye toward finding solutions.  The challenges of today are eerily similar to events that happened more than 50 years ago.  And the unrest will not be solved overnight.  But I do believe that there is hope through education, giving students an opportunity to understand events that have shaped our history and led to the freedoms we have today. 

While some would argue that we are losing some of those freedoms for fear of events like the shooting in Dallas, I believe that discussing these events, ramifications and possible solutions will go a lot farther than ignoring them or, as some have done, strictly focusing on blame rather than solutions.  It is my hope that public education will be an environment and platform to begin the discussion.  As Mr. Wiesel said, “If there is anything that could disarm fanaticism, it is learning.  It’s education.”

As public education advocates who are committed to fostering a better world tomorrow, it is critical that we all continue to Make Education a Priority, to focus on the importance of public education in creating a safer and unified world for our children.  

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Value of Investing in our Public Schools

The long-term return per dollar of incremental State investment in education is $49.69 in additional spending throughout the economy.” 

This is a powerful statement from a recent article published by economist Ray Perryman; the complete article can be found here.  While I did not take the time (nor do I have the expertise!) to conduct a financial analysis of the impact of investing public education, I recently published a blog highlighting the conceptual need to invest in our public education system.  Mr. Perryman’s article provides the concrete data to support that premise. 

Rather than simply restate his findings, I gave some thought to what this means (or should mean) to all of us.  Clearly, a more educated society will be better able to complete in an increasingly global economy.  Whether a student chooses to go on to college or into other careers, it is critical that our public education system provide an adequate foundation for the more than 5.2 million students in Texas public schools.  And that requires investment!

In spite of a school finance system that meets the “minimum constitutional requirements” (at least according the Texas Supreme Court ruling on May 13), our schools deliver on the promise of providing a quality education for students across the state.  Certainly, there are areas where the quality of the education falls below expectations but the need is to invest in those to bring them up to expectation, not use their performance as a reason and rationale to push for dismantling of our public education system.

Our schools produce a tremendous “product” but this has to be about more than the output of the system.  In a system where there is a highly diverse set of variables that impact the ability of our students to learn, we have to be able and willing to invest to fill gaps as they are identified.  And we have to have a system where this is done as part of our overall public education culture, not simply as a response to a mandate from TEA, the courts or any other third party.

Public education and the success of the system cannot be measured simply on the basis of a narrowly defined set of results (translated … STAAR) but must look at the other factors that will impact the ability of our students to become productive and contributing members to our society.  Mr. Perryman closed his article with a statement that, “Future prosperity, both for individuals and for society, depends on education.”   But education can only succeed with continued investment and a desire on our collective parts to Make Education a Priority.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Public Education and the 4th of July

As I reflect this morning on the meaning of July 4th in our country, I am reminded of quotes by several of our forefathers but one in particular that resonated is a quote from Thomas Jefferson, made in 1814.
“It is highly interesting to our country, and it is the duty of its functionaries, to provide that every citizen in it should receive an education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of its life.”

We are at a crossroads today in public education and seem to have forgotten the impact that a quality public education system has on the children of today and our country tomorrow, how this impacts our freedoms.  Does that mean that public education is the only avenue for educating today’s youth?  That certainly is not the case and we need to be aware that there will be circumstances and situations where another form of education makes the most sense for our children.

But the acknowledgment of options to public education does not absolve our state and federal governments of the responsibility to support and, more importantly, adequately fund our public education system.  If we are to remain a democracy, we must demonstrate a willingness to invest in our youth, those who will be the leaders of tomorrow.  Sadly, there are those who believe otherwise and it is now more important than ever for public education advocates to step forward and engage with those who are making the decisions on the future of public education in America.

The First Amendment grants each of us the opportunity to speak our minds openly and freely and this is a right that must be exercised by all of us on a continual basis.  It is not enough to simply believe in a philosophy that public education is the right of students in a democracy.  Those who hold such beliefs must exercise the right to freedom of speech and to share their views and voices with those making public education decisions, including the State Board of Education, TEA and our legislators at both the state and federal level.

Another of Thomas Jefferson’s quotes that struck a chord with me is that, “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.”  The more than 5.2 million Texas public education students have a right to a quality public education and the Texas Constitution, in Article 7, Section 1, outlines that obligation when it states that, “…it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

There has never been a more critical time for public education in our country.  There has never been a more important time for all of us to come together and to ensure that today’s public education students are guaranteed the right to a quality public education.  Now is the time for all of us, as we celebrate the independence of our country, to Make Education a Priority.

Happy 4th of July!