One Last Plea: School Leaders Need To Get Off The Dime

March 11, 2017

The status quo in K-12 education is not acceptable.

Most supporters of public education blame our legislators for the current condition. Educators are forever coping with a funding crisis brought on by spending cuts, a detrimental change in the funding formula, or an additional scheme to re-direct public money to private schools.

But the onus belongs as much or more on public school administrators.  They allow legislators the luxury of operating in a vacuum by offering up no plans of their own to compete for the public’s attention and support.

“Give us more money,” educators typically say. “Then leave us alone.”

Think about that for a moment. Seeking the restoration of lost funds is a necessary first step but it does nothing more than maintain the status quo. Even the current push to increase teacher pay boils down to an effort to hold on to what we have.

There is no overall plan to improve education in the state. Nor is there any desire to create one.

Teachers toil away in the trenches, individual school districts create their own initiatives, but there is no overall plan to improve education in the state. Nor is there any desire on the part of public school administrators to create one.

Good Information Sources

Bringing Up Arizona is handing off its mission of advocating a better education for all.

A good set of online resources have been developed or improved upon that will provide much of what you need to know about education in Arizona.

You should bookmark these websites:

For news and information

AZEDNews, a service of the Arizona School Boards Association, has grown into a really terrific source for just about all education news.

For analysis

Arizona Research on Education is a relative newcomer that refreshingly seeks to ground the education discussion in actual data. Its founder, the extremely knowledgeable Joe O’Reilly, is a longtime researcher for Mesa Public Schools.

In addition, the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials have added new research capability in the able hands of Anabel Aportela.  Her work can be found on the AZEDNews website.

For opinion

You have your choice of blogs. They frequently shoot from the hip, partly in a race to be out there first with their opinion, but they can provide useful information as well as insight.

One good choice to follow is Restore Reason. Author Linda Lyon, president-elect of the Arizona School Boards Association, can really get her dander up in support of public education.

Thank you for the interest and support you have given Bringing Up Arizona.

They are caught up in tending to internal problems. They value their own prerogatives much more than putting their heads together. They think more about what distinguishes one school district from another than what they have in common. They want nothing to do with making promises or setting objectives for themselves.

But that’s where the rock meets the hard spot. The Legislature, and even the public, is not going to write a blank check without getting a promise of improved results. And without that, the other side in the education debate will continue to sock it to public schools.

For three years Bringing Up Arizona has been advocating there has to be a better way. Public school administrators need to jolt themselves out of their inertia to propose an across-the-board plan that will provide a better education for all.

  • They need to assert themselves. They need to go from playing defense all the time to playing offense. They need to transform the terms of the debate from staying put to moving forward.
  • They need to put forward a set of initiatives that will capture the public imagination. Ask for nothing, they will get nothing. Ask for everything, they also will get nothing. This means making tough choices on what will bring the biggest bang for the buck.  They need to be focused and very specific.
  • They need to tell us what these initiatives will cost. They need to promise results.
  • They need to speak with a unified voice. They need to campaign for their plan on their home turf and statewide.
  • They need to rally the public to support their plan, rather than going first to the Legislature.  The objective is not an initiative that would require voter approval.  It is to create a public groundswell powerful enough to force Republican legislators into co-sponsoring and enacting their program.

Herein lies a great opportunity for public school administrators to re-define the education debate on their terms.  Who better suited than the most expert, knowledgeable among us?  Unfortunately they choose not to take the opportunity.

This difference of views is one more way that Bringing Up Arizona is an outlier.

Public school administrators hide behind a whole set of rationales and rationalizations. They hope for something better in the next legislative election. They overestimate the extent of restrictions on speaking up. They believe that working behind the scenes to weed through the never-ending stream of damaging legislation serves them better than taking a stand.

As a result, they end up forever bargaining against themselves. The negotiation always will be about how much they will concede, rather than what they might gain.

It’s tragic, sad, in the end just too frustrating.

Equally frustrating, they are missing in action when it comes to defending the principles that are important to them and conveying the huge challenges they face in bringing along every child.

One individual exception to their reticence is Linda Lyon, president-elect of the Arizona School Boards Association, who writes an outspoken blog called Restore Reason.

But for the most part, public school administrators frustratingly leave it to others to stick up for public education. With that, they are wasting away a huge opportunity to leverage the legion of support that might be available to them if they put forward a concrete proposal the public could rally around.

The Legislature could choose to resist the public pressure and not pass into law what they propose, but public school administrators aren’t even trying.

Unless they get off the dime, their supporters are doomed to forever spin their wheels trying to hold on to the status quo. The schoolchildren of Arizona will never achieve anything better than what they have now.  It’s tragic, it’s sad, in the end it’s just too frustrating.