The original framework of this post began to take shape while I was sitting through a budget meeting. As we went through our various justifications for our requests and then covered the whole proposal line by line, I continually thought about the reality of funding public schools in a day where it seems we have lost the three key components to our ability to succeed in our mission.
Respect, Trust, and Funding
Depending on your perspective, public schools have multiple resources to consider when providing the education necessary for our students to become productive citizens. What truly matters is our ability to control them. Doing so is much more complicated due to an inverse relationship. We can only control these resources by adapting ourselves to meet their needs. In education, we often call this “coming up with creative solutions” to meet the needs of a student or program that is in need. Unfortunately, we are applauded for these creative solutions when they work, derided when they do not, and the public in general does not receive a full understanding of what is really occurring. This, in turn, leads to a basic distrust in not only the ability, but the competence of both schools and the educational process. While this is sometimes warranted due to a bad experience, it stems mostly from political messages and maneuvering that fly in the face of the transparency they claim to be promoting. It is because of this that communities retain a low level of respect for what school employees do daily. This, in turn, leads to a lack of respect for the honest, hard work that many individuals in the school system do on a daily basis. A recent Harris Poll out January 23, 2014 found after surveying 2,250 adults that the level of respect between parents, students, and teachers is abysmal compared to years past. Whether it is due to poor memories, changing values, politics, or inconsistent performance; one fact remains:
Public school systems need to find a way to communicate with society that they have four very valuable resources that they also need to be effective. At the same time, we need to help the community understand just how finite they are.
Time: Authentic education that increases understanding and transferable skills takes time. There are no overnight fixes to issues around achievement gaps, teacher performance, or programmatic success. Public schools serve communities with diverse, individual needs. Their programs must address the needs of local communities rather than “one size fits all,” untested mandates. That is why a close working relationship between towns and schools is necessary if there is to be an understanding of needs, progress, and success.
Teachers: Currently, there appears to be a negative climate concerning teachers and the work they do. While many in the public raise their voices about a 6-7 hour work day, three months off during the summer, and a “low pressure” environment with “little or no accountability,” teachers continue to plan classes, correct student work with meaningful feedback, and work on curriculum during their “vacations.” Unfortunately, there is a disconnect concerning private industry and public schooling furthered by political maneuvering. This is done in an attempt to assuage feelings of anger by deflecting it from the origin to another group who “has it easier than whoever is upset.” While the public may not think teachers are overworked and underpaid (which some are and some are not) even with complete factual information, they will at least (hopefully) afford them the respect they deserve. Honest communication rather than political is the only remedy for this current rift. Hopefully, it begins at the local level, where communities are more fully invested in the future of their children.
Students: Students are in our systems for 12 years. Sometimes they are present for a longer or shorter period of time depending on the circumstances. Each individual student enters our buildings every day with a host of experiences that affect their ability to learn. As institutions of learning, we must be flexible in our understanding of the basic principles governing students’ ability to take in information, manipulate, and then understand it. Simply put, are they available to learn. These same students serve as a valuable resource when accommodating and modifying content, instruction, and assessment. Given the time and opportunity to work around difficulties students are having acquiring material builds an ever growing bank of strategies for student who have yet to come through our schools. After all, it is about the students…right? Unfortunately this becomes incredibly difficult to do when classrooms are too crowded with high needs students; students who just need some lessons in respect and self-determination take the time of those with real learning issues; and districts are not provided the needed resources recommended by their leaders. If students are truly our future and their future lies in a good education why are we not providing everything necessary to develop the natural resources they provide; the knowledge of how they best understand knowledge and its place in their world?
Taxpayers: These individuals are the lifeblood of any public school system. It is because of this that they should have all the information available before voicing to their opinion on funding to their government representative. Unfortunately, that is much easier in theory. Taxpayers should be concerned with how much money is spent and why. Therein lies the importance of educational leaders justifying what they put forth as essential for providing a “top notch” education. If leaders cannot explain what they need in a manner that everyone who is not well versed in education, then they should not receive what they have asked for. Everyone should understand that it is the government officials’ fiduciary duty to save the taxpayer as much money as possible. However, it should also be understood that the educational leaders know what they need and should be afforded the respect for which their own education and experience calls. The fact is that most residents and employees want the best educational system their district can create for their children, businesses, and property values. Unfortunately, the rift that is a result of poor communication and a lack of trust and respect is hurting prospects for improvement.
Ultimately those who are educated in the business of education should be listened to when explaining what is needed. After all…if an engineer is who you want building a bridge and a medical doctor is who you want operating on patients…who do you want educating students? Truth be told, until we put the educational process as a whole as a priority, both with money, respect, and trust it will not be…and no amount of creative solutions will make it better.