Thursday, February 2, 2017

Moving Beyond Personal

Okay, in the interest of full disclosure (but you probably already noted this), I have made frequent reference in my blogs and tweets to what I perceive as a personal agenda on the part of the Lt. Governor and others to dismantle public education as we know it today.  But I have concluded that that plays right into their hands and, for that reason alone, I will endeavor to focus on the issues and not the personalities.  So here we go.

My previous blog focused on my perspective relating to SB 3, the "school choice" bill.  There clearly are elements of that proposed legislation that will appeal to people of all demographics.  What was perhaps most appalling to me, however, was the blatant intent to NOT require private schools and other non-ISD forms of school choice to be held accountable by the very government that will provide funding under a voucher (by any name) program.  I just don't understand how dollars provided by the State don't, in turn, require some form of accountability other than a periodic audit of those receiving funds.

The very notion that parents alone are those responsible for accountability resonates with me to a point but clearly the rules are different for our public schools.  Imagine if parents of our public school children were the focal point of our accountability system.  Might we be better off and wouldn't we likely address the needs of so-called "failing schools" more readily?  But therein lies our challenge.

Many of the districts and campuses about which I have first-hand knowledge or exposure are successful primarily because of the engagement of parents on those campuses and with their children.  For any number of reasons, this is not the case universally and perhaps this is an issue we should explore and discuss more openly.  As I watched the press conference announcing the filing of SB3, I couldn't help but agree with the suggestion that we need to define best practices and then share those across the state.  Parental and community engagement are no doubt at the top of the list of "best practices" (and part of the troubling A-F grading system).

So how do we increase engagement in our public schools?  Most districts already have parent organizations, whether PTA's, district committees or other opportunities.  But are these focused on volunteerism as the end game or on developing an understanding of how parent and other volunteer efforts impact student outcomes?  In business, having a sound strategy is generally the difference between failure (or mediocrity) and success; how we engage parents should be no different.  What specifically do districts hope to achieve through development of opportunities?  Let's make certain that is understood and, more importantly, communicated to those from whom we are seeking greater engagement.

The bottom line ... the discussions about personal agendas should not be the focus (although they can be "fun" to talk about!).  We must shift the discussion and focus to the issues that impact the quality of education in the classroom and how we achieve that.  Where it becomes personal isn't to focus on the combatants but on the students in the classroom and the teachers who serve our students every day.  The needs of these groups dictate that we work aggressively to make education a priority.

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