It’s time to change the narrative. It’s time to tell the true story of public education. As part of I Heart Teachers mission, we hope to change that narrative, through public education programs, outreach, and public relations campaigns. We hope to encourage others to get involved in telling the true story of public education.
When I entered the profession in 2007, the narrative was our schools were failing and it was because of bureaucracy, ineffective teachers, and unions. I must admit, I bought into some of that nonsense prior to entering the profession. Today, it’s clear some are waging a propaganda campaign to privatize education for the benefit of a few wealthy individuals.
The real story features teachers pulled in a million directions from year to year due to ever-changing policy. The real story features public schools handcuffed with burdensome regulations and severe underfunding. The real story features high-performing schools in middle and upper-class neighborhoods, high-performing magnet schools that hand pick students, and low-performing schools due to high levels of poverty. In my district, Jefferson County Public Schools, we possess the best and worst schools. How can a failing district produce the best schools in a state? The real story includes the fact that no one, no public, no charter, no private school, has found a way to educate high-poverty students effectively on a large scale. No one.
I know what you’re thinking. You want to bring up a handful of schools across the country that are succeeding where others have failed. You would be well-intentioned, but seriously misguided. These schools operate by different rules, less regulation, normally hand pick students, and if they don’t hand pick them, they get to pick who remains in the school. These schools normally don’t include special needs students, students with learning or behavioral disorders, English language learners, or chronic misbehaving students.
Traditional public schools don’t have the luxury of picking students, deciding who to educate or who to exit. The real narrative features public school students, when compared to similar students at charter and private schools, are higher-performing. In other words, if you compare advanced program students in a traditional program with advanced program students in a private or charter school, the public school kids are higher-performing. If you compare high-poverty students within these same schools, the public schools still perform better. The reality is, charter and private schools don’t have to educate the lowest performing students, and they normally don’t.
If you goal is to create competition, then allow the traditional public schools to operate like charter schools. However, it’s clear our lawmakers don’t care about competition or leveling the playing field.
So, if we don’t want charter schools, and vouchers to private are not the answer, then what? How about funding our public schools fully. How about providing schools with quality technology and highly-skilled, highly-trained, and highly-educated teachers to provide the 21st century education our students so desperately need. How about returning autonomy back to our local schools so they can address their individual needs. How about wrap-around services that provide therapy, nutrition, after-school programs, and more to help those in poverty. How about providing the funding that allows our schools to become extensions of their communities – adult education classes for parents, three meals per day to address hunger, and programs to get students in the school and educators in the community, to name a few.
Recruit and retain the best people. Give an excellent 10-year veteran teacher a reason to stay in the classroom. Make the teaching profession desirable, increasing the applicant pool. We can do these things.
Retaining our teachers will save districts billions of dollars. Finding new revenues that don’t burden the poor is not that difficult. If our society truly cares about children and education, partisan politics shouldn’t get in the way.
In my next blog, I will discuss some innovative ways of improving public education and recruiting and retaining the best classroom teachers.