AASA School Solutions                               Pages 49


Rising to Defend the Best in

Public Education   


As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. In recent years, when national polls have showed Americans ranking numerous issues above public education, most of us were disappointed. Today, even though public education now ranks as one of the top national concerns among the public, this much-deserved attention isn’t translating into more resources or even positive headlines.

We wonder: What is the problem?

It seems the national public education narrative remains an amplified version of what it has always been — complete with myths and misconceptions — even though the stakes are now higher than ever, and many public education leaders are struggling to cope.

Messaging Tools
The difference today is that the narrative is powered by social media. Regardless of whether you believe the impact to be positive or negative, the fact is that social media is transformational — and here to stay. All of which begs the question: Will public school leaders master the future, or will they become extinct by failing to adapt?

We’re now at a true crossroads. Either we come together with a sense of urgency, courage and clarity to preserve the best that public education has to offer, ultimately bringing about constructive reform, or we falter and witness the dismantling of an institution that has been the very bedrock of our democracy.

Being a vendor rather than a teacher, administrator or board of education member, I hesitated even to pen this column. “Who are you to speak in a manner so blunt?” you might ask. Please don’t mistake my sense of urgency for arrogance.

As a parent and, perhaps more importantly, as someone for whom America is an adopted homeland, I care deeply about the future of public education. I know as well as you that not every call to reform education through charter schools or vouchers is driven by a desire to provide our children with higher-quality learning. The sad truth is that those with deep pockets, many of whom desire to make them even deeper, know how the game is played. So you need a systematic strategy that minimizes, even eliminates, the misinformation emergencies that threaten to hijack your agenda.

A Level Playing Field
The good news is social media provides us all with a level playing field, one on which we all have an equal chance to tell our stories. While it used to be expensive to move the masses, today you can create a groundswell with limited funds. But you must carefully strategize in order to tell your story most effectively — and reap the maximum benefits.

Here are three things that you as a superintendent urgently need to meet the challenges you and public education face:

Clarity: Understand how the game is played in terms of policy-making, lobbying and public trust-building.

Courage: Embrace your responsibility rather than sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the negative impact on your district.

Organization: Learn from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. No matter how bold or visionary, one lone superintendent cannot turn the tide. Take advantage of AASA, the National School Boards Association and your state affiliates, and work together to enact real change.

As Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne said in “The Shawshank Redemption”: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”

But hope must be backed by action. And now is the time.

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


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