I read an article on March 27 in which former Governor Jeb Bush labelled the president as “a distraction in and of himself”. While I thought I knew the meaning of the word, I thought I would look it up to see how it fits the current situation. Webster’s Dictionary defines distraction as “an object that directs one's attention away from something else “. For one of the few times when listening to Bush, I found myself agreeing with him in his comments about President Trump but also quickly came to a realization that this definition certainly applies to Bush as well.
When you consider the damage his failed “school choice” policies have done in Florida and continue to do across the country as the push for privatization continues, the former governor certainly has become a distraction as he continues to make public comments that are highly critical of our public education system. Too many people drink the kool-aid that promotes privatization without asking why it makes sense to move away from what has been, and remains, a highly successful institution in our country.
Again thinking back to the definition, the “something else” that is ignored in the conversation about school choice and our public education system are the millions of kids, including 5.4 million Texas public education students, who are generally served very well by our system. That’s not to say that we don’t have gaps; we do and must continue to address those. The “something else” is the failure to acknowledge the impact of excessive testing and the lack of adequate funding of the system. In Texas, there is limited discussion of the declining share of the cost of education borne by the state. All of these distractions from the challenges we face are (in and of themselves, using Bush’s perspective) an effort to refocus the attention on the “feel good” story of the opportunities that school choice is purported to offer.
So how do we shift the focus back to the issues that are critical to the continued (yes, continued) success of our public education system? First and foremost, we must be vigilant and willing to respond to the distractions by telling the story on behalf of the students in our public schools. We must continue to advocate not just with our legislators but within our communities. Parents and community members generally have a very good feeling about the performance of their local district and campuses. That feeling “in and of itself” becomes a distraction from the real threat to our public schools.
There certainly are distractions from the issues and challenges facing public education and those who seek to privatize the system will use those to their advantage and will use them as a distraction … if we allow them to do so. Public education is in the spotlight in Texas and across the country. We must not be distracted from our purpose and must ensure that the discussion includes a focus on students and student outcomes by emphasizing the critical need to make public education a priority.