The Good School; Principals or Principles

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

copyright © 2012 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or

A few organizations have attempted to answer The Good School Question.  Each asks, “What epitomizes a great learning center?”  “How might we, as a society, give birth to quality institutions?” The solutions are many.   All of  the associations speak of guiding principles. A few also strongly favor Principal or Teacher Leadership.  The various alliances advance the premise; our first and foremost priority must be our children.  In prose, beautifully composed, mission statements submit, adult wants cannot come before the needs of our offspring. Yet, after careful examination it is difficult to discern this truth.  Many aspirations. Many a mirage.  How might we know which is which? Once reviewed, every one of us will decide what works well in education and how might we execute a plan. Will principles, Principals, or pedagogy lead learners to salvation.

Some associations are familiar to most Americans.  Several, such as Michelle Rhee’s Students First, have recently come into being. For most of these prominent groups, the goal is to shape legislation.  The guise or what guides these alliances is an intense interest in our children.  Missions are eloquently composed.   However, a constant thread transcends each mission statement.  Cash Counts!

There is money to be made in Charter Schools.  Testing too is a gold mine industry.  Even lobbying for education policy has become a big business.

Backers such as the Broad Foundation bring big bucks to the charge.  “Transforming K-12 urban public education through better Governance, Management, Labor Relations, and Competition” is the banner headline displayed boldly in Broad Education literature.  The developer ‘s investment firm, cleverly characterized as an “entrepreneurial philanthropy,” stresses the need to “dramatically” change “urban education.”  The implication might be that suburban and rural children can and do help themselves. Possibly, this philosophy might be associated with an acknowledged truth stated in the original adopted Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965). Poverty is a significant problem. Except the profoundly poor are frequently enrolled in rural schools.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson understood this veracity; he lived it.  The father of the nation’s “War On Poverty” spoke of his own reality as he signed the education Bill into law, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.”  President Johnson also put forth a plan.  He said…

(ESEA) represents a major new commitment of the federal government, to quality and equality in the schooling that we offer our young people. By passing this bill, we bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for more than five million educationally deprived children. We put into the hands of our youth more than 30 million new books, and into many of our schools their first libraries.

We reduce the terrible lag in bringing new teaching techniques into the nation’s classrooms. We strengthen state and local agencies, which bear the burden and the challenge of better education, and we rekindle the revolution — the revolution of the spirit against the tyranny of ignorance.

The President did not say, as a nation, we need place the onus on our Teachers.  Mister Johnson did not claim to be the bearer of corporate gifts.  Quite succinctly, the Head of State spoke of the need to strengthen civil services within our State and Local communities.   Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed a deep desire to connect our children, not corporations and the dots these industries print on innumerable test sheets.

However, over time, the essential element expressed in the original legislation evolved.  While the progression was slow at first, with the 2001 Reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act, the language and the leaning changed.  No longer was equality for pupils and people at-large the issue of import. Instead private firms and their financial gains became the subject and the ones served.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) explicit “purpose is to raise achievement for all students and to close the achievement gap. This is done through accountability, research-based instruction, flexibility and options for parents, so that no child is left behind.”

In other words, our nation’s youth will be assessed relentlessly and repeatedly.  Scores gathered will be used to validate and generate further well-financed studies. Versatility for Moms and Dads was defined as a choice; lift your child out from the ruins of schools (selectively) deemed “failures” and place that little learner into a crisp and clean Charter School.

No one mentions that students who do not meet a set “standard” need not apply.  Attendance will be refused to those who might stain a record of exemplary performance.  Nor will anyone give voice to a disturbing statistic. “By the end of the 2004-05 school year, national K-12 education spending will have increased an estimated 105 percent since 1991-92; 58 percent since 1996-97; and 40 percent since 1998-99.”  The thought loudly articulate and promoted is, “Importantly, the increase in funds has been linked to accountability for results, ensuring taxpayers get their money’s worth.”

Actually the massive infusion of money into the school system ensured that, education could be bought and paid for.  The delivery of dollars, Entrepreneurs saw as an endowment to their cause. Philanthropy for profit.

The Broad charitable fund, just as Students First and its subsidiary Teach For America informs us that adults are both the nemesis of the young and the saviors our offspring need.  You might wish to evaluate the message of each fraternity.  It would seem from the rhetoric, there is a consensus; Teachers or adult Leaders are the salvation or the bane  of struggling students.  Circumstances such as poverty, hunger, and the lack of reading resources within a home matter not to those who profess a Teacher can provide all a child needs to learn. A parent’s education and socio-economic status are of little consequences when, as is posited by these “Foundations,” an excellent “tested” Teacher is available to lift a young learner up from the weight of Earthly concerns.

Let us examine the messages.  Perhaps, you too might see a trend.

  • Students First Mission…While there are many factors that influence a student’s ability to learn, a great teacher can help any student overcome those barriers and realize their full potential.

  • Teach For America is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.

  • About Broad Education…To become effective, efficient organizations that serve students well, American school districts and schools need strong, talented leadership.  

    Many more “coalitions” clamor for controlled corporate education change.  Stand for Children sees “Empowering” education as an “entrepreneurial” enterprise.  Trained “Leaders” will reshape our schools and policies that pertain to our progeny, our pupils.  

    Parents Across America may be the antithesis to the “No Excuses” clamor of corporate command.  The message “Our Children. Our Schools. Our Voices” speaks to actual students in a way that the aforementioned and much acclaimed associations do not.  In their own words . .

    What Works:

  • Proven Reforms: We support the expansion of sensible, research-based reforms, such as pre-K programs, full-day Kindergarten, small classes, parent involvement, strong, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.

  • Sufficient and Equitable Funding: Resources do matter, especially when invested in programs that have been proven to work.

  • Diversity: We support creating diverse, inclusive schools and classrooms whenever possible.

  • Meaningful Parent Involvement: Parents must have a significant voice in policies at the school, district, state and national levels. We are not just “consumers” or “customers” but knowledgeable, necessary partners in any effective reform effort..
  • The Moms and Dads who make up this collective reap no financial rewards for their work.  Cash does not count, children do!  Green backs do not grow Good Schools. These organizers do not have the dollars to lobby legislators; nor do the persons involved have easy access.  For these committed caregivers educated children are their just compensation. Parents Across America is not alone in their charge.  

    “Save Our Schools” the March and National Call to Action too, was born out of a need to respond to the corporate reform cry.  The creed this council promotes are much like those of the former.

    For the future of our children, we demand:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities;

  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation;

  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies;

  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities.
  • However, neither may present as profound a principle as one adopted by an organization, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that has worked for more than one hundred years in the interest of equal education for all children.  Please ponder what might best define the dynamics necessary for The Good School.  

    Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

    Today there is nothing short of a state of emergency in the delivery of education to our nation’s communities of color. As our communities quickly grow on pace to become a numerical majority, it is clear that confronting the issues we face is not just our challenge alone but all of America’s challenge. As a nation, we are failing to provide the high-quality educational opportunities that are critical for all students to succeed, thereby jeopardizing our nation’s ability to continue to be a world leader.

    As a community of civil rights organizations, we believe that access to a high-quality education is a fundamental civil right. The federal government’s role is to protect and promote that civil right by creating and supporting a fair and substantive opportunity to learn for all students, regardless of where and to whom they were born. This objective is advanced by many components of the proposed FY 2011 education budget and the Blueprint for Reform setting forth the Administration’s priorities for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). For instance, we applaud the Administration’s goal for the United States to become a global leader in post-secondary education attainment by 2020 and its efforts to develop specific strategies for turning around low-performing schools.

    While there are numerous positive aspects of the Administration’s education agenda, more comprehensive reforms are necessary to build a future where equitable educational opportunity is the rule, not the exception. As civil rights organizations, it is our responsibility to seek to close and ultimately eliminate the opportunity and achievement gaps experienced by communities of color. To this end, we outline six major principles that we will collectively advocate to strengthen the ESEA and ensure that the federal government provides the support necessary to protect every child’s civil right to a high-quality education:

  • Equitable opportunities for all;

  • Utilization of systematically proven and effective educational methods;  

  • Public and community engagement in education reforms;  

  • Safe and educationally sound learning environments;  

  • Diverse learning environments; and  

  • Comprehensive and substantive accountability systems to maintain equitable opportunities and high outcomes.
  • Might this mission be your own? If you prefer one of the other frameworks, please share why this might be. Principals? Principles? Or Principally Lessons that promote a love of learning? Personal anecdotes are much appreciated.  Experiences explored are lessons we might learn from.  Please share your thoughts. What is a Good School in your mind? Why? What has lead you down the path you chose?  We thank you for your reflections.

    References and Resources . . .