School Solutions                                             Page 48


The Other New Normal    




Welcome to the perfect storm of our generation. America has never needed and expected more from public education. While we spent the last two decades hammering the world flat, in the process we inadvertently wiped out what little job security was left for our children.

As Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton passionately argues in his recent book, The Coming Jobs War, today more than ever jobs equal national security. The Greatest Generation won us the Big War, while the next generation kept our economic edge. What happens next depends on the quality of education our children are receiving today.

Doing more with less is the new normal. Politicians like to say we don’t need more money for education; we need more education for our money. And so, in the words of John Ramos, the former superintendent of Connecticut’s Bridgeport Public Schools, “Help is not on the way.”

Double Standard
The national discourse on public education — with the prevailing attitude that our schools are failing — is based largely on misinformation and half-truths.

When a handful of firefighters or police officers or Secret Service agents misbehave, the pundits rightfully point out that those individuals don’t represent the entire system. Yet every struggling school is cited as an example of failure of public education as a whole. School choice is sold as a silver bullet, and “too many administrators” is sold as the cause of all that ails our public school system.

Even in today’s Information Age — perhaps more so in the Information Age — the truth has become elusive. The advent of social media has brought with it instantaneous information exchange, regardless of the veracity of that information.

Sustained Dialogue
My firm, K12 Insight, a member of the AASA School Solutions Center, works with hundreds of superintendents nationwide, along with their leadership teams and school boards, to help start an informed dialogue that will shape an alternate narrative. Today we are faced with two new normals. The first — doing more with less — is well understood. The second, while equally important, is less recognized. This other new normal requires leaders to take charge of getting their message out. Because when they don’t, others will, and odds are that message will be rooted in myth and misconceptions.

The K12 Insight approach is based on combining two well-established district practices — communicating with and launching surveys to stakeholders. Each by itself is not enough. Communication informs, while surveys collect data; neither, however, effectively engages those you’re trying to reach.

By combining communication with surveys that provide context around the issues under consideration, we help school districts design questionnaires that seek to understand why people feel a certain way, instead of merely discovering their preferences. We don’t simply conduct one-way polls. We pro-actively invite discourse by capturing the public’s input, leading to widespread support and silent majority engagement. Ultimately, we help administrators become leaders who listen.

We are judged not by what challenges befall us but by how we respond to those challenges. It’s time to stop seeking early retirement and start taking charge of telling your own story.

Oversimplification may be good for politicians, but it’s bad for the future of public education and sells our children short. We must do better. We can start by engaging in a more in-depth, substantial national narrative, one school district at a time, led by school superintendents and school boards.

Suhail Farooqui is chief executive officer of K12 Insight in Herndon, Va. E-mail: sfarooqui@k12insight.com



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