Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Public Education: Real Adults Figure it Out!

The Austin group, Save Texas Schools, is working hard and making great strides in getting legislation that could bring an end to the counter productive strategy of 'closing' under performing schools.

Called 'reconstitution', it is supposed to be the remedy for schools with a subgroup of the student population, defined by race, gender or socioeconomic status which falls short of minimum achievement on Texas' standardized test, four consecutive years.

So far Texas House Bill 1238 is gaining broad based, both the African-American and Hispanic caucuses, Texas American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT), former Texas Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff (of Raise Your Hand Texas. Ratliff was one of the most effective and fair minded Republican leaders in state government), Austin Interfaith (the Industrial Areas Foundation organization in Austin), as well as educators, parents and community leaders from across Texas' capitol city, not to mention Central Dallas Ministries fledgling effort in Austin, Urban Connection-Austin, led by our man on the ground Dean Smith.

One aspect of their proposal which is critical, is the engagement of the public in the process. Public education can never really work, where administrators develop proscribed methods of involvement which ultimately keep parents and the community at arms length. Public schools are democratic institutions. They require parental engagement and community support that goes far beyond being an audience for the aspirations of principals and educational careerists.

When parents are welcome, when there are processes that provide opportunities for learning by and alongside their children's teachers. When they understand the grading system (beyond learning how to read a report card), and its implications for their children's future; when parents know that they are part of a community of lifelong learners and stakeholders who understand that everyone else's success depends on their child's success, those parents, whether rich or poor, become the most passionate advocates for public education. I've seen it happen and worked with parents who have been transformed through their child's education and a creative partnership with their school.

Contrary to the opinion of some, we have not tried everything in this regard. That's why 'reconstitution' is not a viable, workable option.

Such wide support for HB 1238 proves what many of us have known for years: you can't punish your way to success in education.

Critics of public education who advocate a 'scorched earth', 'slash and burn' approach to fixing schools, act as if there's another group of kids we can educate if we mess up these. We don't. We either find a way to help them succeed, or we suffer the consequences for decades to come.

The responsibility of real adults - parents, politicians, community leaders, religious community, educators and others - is to do what adults are supposed to do when the encounter great problems: they don't ring their hands, pass the buck, continue the same unsuccessful patterns and then raise their hands in surrender.

Real adults figure it out!

Thanks to our friends in Austin for committing themselves to finding real workable solutions to real problems.

Oh, and what if these proposals don't work? You don't close the schools - you try something else. In other words, keep working and figure it out.

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