A Public Schooling Advocate’s Final Call

Type: Article
Topics: College- Career- and Life-Readiness, School Administrator Magazine, Technology & AI

February 02, 2023

Executive Perspective

It is with mixed emotions that I write this, my last column as the executive director of AASA. It has been my pleasure and an honor to have served our members and public education in America for a total of 55 years.

Much has happened during that period, and today public education is faced with unprecedented challenges but also realistic opportunities.

Three years ago, educators were faced with a pandemic unlike anything our current generation had experienced. Initially, educators were heroes, along with health workers and emergency responders. Parents with children at home began to appreciate and recognize the challenges of being a classroom teacher and tending to many children over the length of a school day.

Eventually, praise turned to anger as working parents wanted their children in school when wearing face masks became a requirement, when vaccines were recommended or required to participate in school activities. The political divisiveness that is now the norm inserted itself into the educational landscape as politicians saw opportunities in turning parents against their schools by claiming critical race theory was being taught, that school libraries held inappropriate books for children, that equity and social emotional learning were zero-sum strategies designed to take away from them to give to others.

An Opportune Moment

The stress that educators have been under for these past three years has led to higher than usual numbers leaving the profession. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing superintendents this school year is the shortage of personnel. Second to that is the pressure to erase the learning loss created by the pandemic and the widening of the achievement gap as seen in NAEP results. And sadly, the safety of our students and staff continues to be a factor as school shootings occur regularly.

If opportunity is the mother of invention, then these are opportune times. During my years at AASA, we have been advocates for bringing about much-needed changes to our schools. Two years ago, Bill Daggett and I chaired a commission of leading superintendents, foundation and business leaders, challenging them to come up with recommendations for actionable changes that would re­design our schools.

The result was our Learning 2025 initiative. Today hundreds of school systems and their leaders are engaged in making the substantive changes that will bring about a student-centered, equity-focused, future-driven education.

Personnel Priorities

The teacher shortage existed before COVID-19, but how we deliver instruction requires change. The single teacher with 25 students format needs to give way to a model where the teacher leads and is supported by a team that can include teaching assistants, student teachers, non-instructional personnel and community volunteers to mentor and tutor students while relieving the teacher of clerical work.

Certifying individuals to teach without the proper preparation is not the answer. Increasing class sizes and overwhelming teachers with paperwork will lead to greater burnout and resignations. We must explore changes that both facilitate the work of teachers and increase the diversity in the education workforce.

A student-centered approach would give the student a greater role in what they learn and how they learn it. Requiring all students in a class to learn the same thing at the same time ignores individual differences and aptitudes. Students should be allowed to move at their own pace until achieving mastery. Personalization of instruction is facilitated by today’s technological advances that can supplement in-person instruction either within or outside the classroom.

Full-Speed Pursuit

Many of the jobs that exist today will be replaced by technology. A future-focused education will concentrate on those duties that only humans can do. Our students need the chance to pursue alternative pathways. The four-year college degree is attained by fewer than 40 percent of our students. We need to better prepare the other 60 percent.

If we do not deliberately pursue the changes that need to be made to our educational system, we risk acknowledging that the critical attacks on public education are valid. If we are all here for the kids, then let us work together to ensure all children get an education that focuses on their needs, not on outdated practices.

I am retiring from AASA but not from being an advocate for public education.

Dan Domenech is AASA executive director. @AASADan