I’m a political junkie. I have vivid memories of my father taking me to the 1984 Iowa caucuses. I wasn’t yet old enough to vote, but I was so excited to be in a room where people were passionately advocating for what they believed in. My dad stood up for Walter Mondale, but as I listened to the debate that night I went and stood with the George McGovern camp. Thus began my track record of supporting candidates who didn’t exactly take the country by storm.
While my track record of picking winning candidates is suspect, my belief in the importance of advocating for what I believe in hasn’t wavered. The magic of those 1984 caucuses to me wasn’t so much that people stood up for their candidate, but that they stood up and advocated for their issues. It won’t be surprise to anyone that my issue is public education. Sadly, it is an issue that gets almost no attention.
I attended a presentation today by education guru Rick DuFour where he suggested that current “education reform” could be characterized by the following initiatives:
- Provide vouchers and charter schools
- Punish “failing” schools
- Make it easier to fire educators
- Make it easier to bring non-educators into schools
- Close “low performing” schools
- Provide “merit pay” for a few educators based on standardized test scores
Marc Tucker, in his book Standing on the Shoulders of Giants says, “We can find no evidence that any country that leads the world in educational performance has gotten there by implementing any of the major agenda items that dominate education reform in the United States.” Our legislators are failing us as they seek to “reform” public schools. They continue to try to convince us that schools and teachers will be motivated by fear, although there is no evidence to suggest that strategy has ever been successful.
As I advocate for public education I want the candidates to speak to my issue. I want them to go on record about their opinions on charter schools, vouchers, how they will support public schools, and how they will provide the resources necessary to offer students the support and programs that our communities tell us they expect. If their answer is that diverting money from public schools to charter schools is the answer, I will oppose them. If their answer is that it should be easier to fire educators, I will oppose them. If their answer is that we should punish schools who are contending with immense challenges, I will oppose them.
I will also oppose candidates who simply do nothing. When you google the state representative for my school district the first hit of any policy substance is his support of a bill that would allow children of any age to fire weapons. This is where he has chosen to exert his energy as a legislator. It is almost impossible to find him on the record with any talk public education. His time in the legislature is notable only that his party has failed to follow Iowa law in providing timely funding for public education and the notably small increases in school funding when they do finally pass a budget. Our legislators cannot be allowed to be mute on the issue of public education.
We can’t accept the answer that Iowa lacks the resources to adequately fund our schools. The Iowa Economic Development Authority suggests that Iowa has one of the lowest “costs of doing business” in the country (http://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/WhyIowa), yet our legislators continue to tell us that there aren’t the resources to adequately fund our schools. Right or wrong, our state budget reflects our values. In recent years Iowa’s budgets would suggest that we value tax cuts for big businesses at the expense of funding education. Wouldn’t it be great if there was evidence of this plan being effective? Oh wait, there is evidence. Iowa only has to look to Kansas to see the implications of our current path (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/us/kansas-parents-worry-schools-are-slipping-amid-budget-battles.html). Why would we possibly follow their example?
It is June. November seems a long ways away, but it isn’t too early to stand up and be heard. Don’t let a candidate in your district, state, or country not speak to your issue. I am going to politely demand that my candidates speak about education. In the presentation by Mr. DuFour that I mentioned earlier he stated that public schools must improve because “the consequences of failing in school have never been more dire.” We have to do right by kids. The election of 2016 is actually about the world that my 17 year old son will inherit. The people who passionately advocated for their issues in 1984 would surely want me to passionately advocate for my issues today.