I’ve been on the road the past few weeks visiting schools and districts across the state of Texas, on the front lines of the War on Education, if you will. Spending all this time in schools and classrooms conducting observations, meeting with teachers and education leaders, and exploring way to help schools continue to improve and address needs offers me a unique perspective on what is truly happening in our schools day-in and day-out. I can tell you that those opponents want to undercut and undermine public education have no idea of all the good things happening. Nor do they realize the damage that their campaign is causing. Because even though there are countless successes happening daily, neh, hourly in all our classrooms, the stress that teachers, students, principals, counselors, parents, etc are under is also innumerable. The lack of resources and pressures of a punishment model accountability-system combined with the increasing challenges that the students bring with them (indeed, for the 1st time in history, the majority of public education students are in poverty) create pressure cooker for all involved. This pressure cooker makes a job that should come natural (learning is innate) into a highly stressful and seemingly impossible task.
Yet, the powers that be too often continue to pile on to the burden of educators and students instead of creating conditions that will allow them to succeed. For example, most states have cut funding in the past decade and some continue to cut. Teachers are continuously forced to do more with less, but their pleas for help fall on deaf ears as the critics continue to blame the victim. But go figure, as the center on budget and policy priorities illustrates, money does matter in K-12 education. This new research study shows a direct correlation with school funding and performance. You really can’t get blood from a turnip.
To counter this, educators must engage with stakeholders (i.e. voters) and work to demonstrate the value that taxpayer money spent on education truly offers. This is difficult as time is already such a scarce resource and the opponents are very adept at painting teacher unions and other advocacy organizations in a negative light. The good news is that the recent Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll shows that teachers still rate highly as a respected profession. As educational leaders we will need to get creative in order to translate that positive perception into actionable items that can help us perform our jobs better.
As we enagage with our stakeholders and fight back against the enemies of public education we must also fight the false rhetoric surrounding school vouchers. We must also be aware that we are losing market share to charter schools. While charter schools certainly have a place within the framework of our nation’s educational system (as do private and parochial schools), they are not the panacea as advertised. Moreover, their new growth (see below) is often coming at the expense of traditional public schools.
It is imperative that educators, parents, students, and community members not only demand that we have the best schools for educating our future leaders, but also work to foster its growth and nurture its continuous development. You can read more about that here.