President’s Corner

Reform, Reform and More Reform

by David E. Gee

It seems everywhere I go today I hear people complain that our public schools and their leaders are not doing their jobs well, that they must do this differently or that differently. It is not enough to merely fix what they believe is broken. The critics seem to want us to tear down all of the old to make room for a new wave of reform.

I am one who still looks to my local newspaper, television and other media sources for state and national education news and commentary. It is the media folks who announce with great fervor the quick fixes that will solve all of public education’s woes. When these quick solutions do not work, however, the critics don’t fault the fix, they fault education leaders. We are not working hard enough or we are not capable of managing change effectively, they claim.

A few years ago, a major initiative to reform public education suggested that school systems adopt a business model. The public jumped on board, declaring that superintendents should act more like CEOs, principals more like middle managers and so on. Then came the scandals involving executives of Fortune 500 companies. Now nobody suggests we should become more like the corporate world.

The critics of public education do, however, continue to promote more and more reform without giving any one strategy a chance to take hold and be evaluated. Will any of these quick fixes benefit children? We may never know as each reform seems to be another flavor of the week.

In the No Child Left Behind era, the call is for universal proficiency and high achievement for all students. While we all support this noble goal, it requires the political will, the financial capacity and the educational resources to ensure academic success for every student. It requires continuous improvement efforts, and it requires our education leaders to focus on systemic issues.

Reform is tough work that demands commitment and dedication. School leaders must be able to focus on the common good, communicate effectively and, as many education leaders have so often done in the past, put their jobs on the line to better the lives of our children.

Many of you are already making significant progress in this regard, but constant pressure to reach adequate yearly progress and new reforms make it difficult to sustain continuous improvement. That is why our national organization is taking the lead in providing you the tools and skills you need to manage change and continuous improvement initiatives. You cannot do it alone. With you and AASA speaking as a united voice, we can ensure efforts to continuously improve are legitimate, reasonable and given the time to work.

Nationally, we must focus on three fundamental principles of public schooling:

Getting children ready for school through comprehensive nutrition and health programs, early childhood education and ongoing support for families;

Getting schools ready for children by redesigning and transforming our schools’ organization, teaching and learning practices and leadership strategies to meet the needs of each student who comes to us; and

Getting children ready for democracy by preparing young people for active, responsible roles in society.

As we continue to educate every child who enters our doors regardless of his or her educational, physical or mental needs, I urge you to support AASA’s Stand Up for Public Education TM campaign. Don’t be dissuaded or discouraged by those who see education leaders as the problem rather than the solution. Turn to your national organization for assistance in sustaining continuous improvement efforts that help children have better lives today and in the future.

David Gee is president of AASA.