In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education reported in “A Nation at Risk” that America’s public schools were failing. For nearly four decades, this has been the underlying narrative driving the education reform movement in our country. Today, however, thanks to COVID-19 and the shutdown of our public schools, this old narrative is being challenged. The heroic response of our teachers to the current pandemic has established the new narrative that they can be trusted do what is best for our children, their families and our communities.
Kathleen Knight Abowitz teaches in the Educational Leadership Department at Miami University. She also is helping to lead a grassroots movement to help Ohio’s citizens take back their public schools. In her book, Publics for Public Schools: Legitimacy, Democracy, and Leadership, she explains why deliberation is so important when encountering many of the problems currently facing our public schools:
“Citizens’ powers to shape their local schools’ vision and policies are mostly limited to participating in local school board elections or, more indirectly, one-way communications with their local/state/national legislative representatives. School boards will hear from a few more motivated or vocal citizens at compulsory open forum times at school board meetings, but the random and irregular nature of citizens’ comments in such forums means that board members cannot rely (in terms of quantity or quality) on such irregular input for decision making. Yet on a consistent basis, school boards and administrations encounter wicked problems that are perfectly suited for citizens, in deliberation, to exercise a more substantive voice in school decision making (Abowitz, 2013).”
It is one thing to read about a bill that would hand over control of Ohio’s education system to the governor’s office. However, it is quite another thing to actually listen to Gov. John Kasich, himself, say, “What I really want is I want to be able to run the department of education.” If you support the work of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy, you need to take time to read this article and listen to the audio.
A year ago, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act which is designed to limit the federal government’s purview on PK-12 education by shifting the balance of power to the state and local level. This November, the Coalition of Rural & Appalachian Schools issued key recommendations for critical aspects of ESSA. In the final section of the CORAS report, the authors affirm their belief that at the heart of ESSA is the need for sensible and rigorous collaboration between state and local agencies in the education of our children: “A state-dominant enterprise is unable to foster the learning experiences that are appropriate and applicable to students of the local community; a “purely decentralized locally-driven arrangement does not have the necessary resources to ensure that education prepares each student to become active participants in our a greater democractic society.”
Today, I was digging through the archives of the School Administrator which is published by the School Superintendents Association and revisited an article co-authored by my friend, Harry Eastridge (who is now deceased), and me. The gist of the article entitled “Getting Caught in Your Underwear,” is that in the rush to get through the school day, important decisions routinely are made without consulting the people who will be affected by them. Even when we take the time to establish special committees and other representatives of the people to help connect us with the broader community, most residents still feel left out of the process and do not clearly understand the problem school leaders are trying to fix. As a result, school districts often get drawn into what are called “solution wars” where residents battle over the right thing to do and then end up trading one set of problems for another. To avoid getting caught up in our underwear (one of the favorite expressions of my mentor, Jerry Bell, whose Oklahoma roots equipped him with an abundance of horse sense) and complicating matters, all we often need to do is simply… Continue reading
For the past 25 years, I’ve relied upon the seminal research generated by the Kettering Foundation to help guide my thinking in my work with our public schools and the communities they serve. One of the Foundation’s most important findings is not only people’s sense that they don’t own their schools but that their lack of ownership is a major problem for American democracy. In his book, Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy, Kettering Foundation President David Mathews asserts that “ironically, those with the greatest opportunity to shape the lives of the next generation are at the end of a long chain of authority stretching from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue through state capitals to districts to local schools and finally into classrooms.” He adds: “I believe there are ways for them to enrich our schools and, at the same time, reinvigorate our democracy, which is inseparable from education.” With that said, one of my few frustrations in life is that the Foundation’s valuable work is not reaching the leaders of our nation’s public schools. To rectify this situation, the Santa Rita Collaborative and the Kettering Foundation have initiated a study to begin to learn… Continue reading
Will the Donald Trump mania currently grabbing all of the media attention endure through the Republican primaries? I don’t think so. But that is beside the point. Whether it is the growing public support for political outsiders such as Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson on the right or Bernie Sanders on the left, the American people are making a very strong statement that they have had it with all of the spin, deception and political correctness coming at them each day. All they want is to be told the unvarnished truth. And that means the good, the bad and the ugly. For the leaders of our nation’s public schools, the desire for straight talk serves as a golden opportunity to expose the truth about how the education reform movement is impacting our teachers, students and communities. Without question, along with that straight talk will come increased public support for our schools and increased political clout for our local school leaders.
In a recent book review for the OH ASCD Journal, Moira Erwine encourages members of her Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development to read America’s Schools at a Turning Point: And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future and to have community discussions about how the education reform movement is impacting our public schools. Moira, who is Director of Professional Development and Curriculum Instruction for the Educational Service Center of Lorain County, Ohio, writes:
“Can we shape the future of America’s Schools? Author Corky O’Callaghan urges Americans who believe in our country and want to make a difference to read his book—America’s Schools at a Turning Point—and have courageous conversations with the public. The increasing burdens put on public schools have hit all of us hard this year as we all struggled to prepare for next generation assessments. Many of us were also hit with parents who were opting out. The impact of education reform illustrated in Chapter Two realistically addresses over-testing and the division we are feeling in our communities. Who is missing from the… Continue reading
In stark contrast to the conventional parent involvement strategies utilized in most school districts, local school officials in New York City are being encouraged to go door to door and engage school parents where they live in meaningful conversations about their children’s education. “Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said. “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.” There is evidence showing that unlike what is taking place in New York City most types of parent involvement have at best a minimal impact on a child’s education. Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a professor at Duke, analyzed surveys of American families in conjunction with children’s academic records. They found that most types of parental involvement, like fund-raising or sitting on the parent teacher association, had little or no effect on children’s academic performance. Dr. Robinson said it was emotionally appealing to think that parents going to school events or helping with homework would lead to better academic results, but his research did… Continue reading
In my blog on September 6, I mentioned that the meeting between school, township and city officials in the Vandalia-Butler City School District occurred on September 30. The actual date was August 30.