President's Corner

The American Public School

by Randall H. Collins

No other institution in the United States so universally and profoundly affects its citizenry than the American public school. Eighty-nine percent of the nation’s children attend public schools and, according to a report by Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, 86 percent of Americans graduate from a public high school.

Even taking into account the differences in curricula, funding and population among them, our schools share a universalness of purpose, content and principles to which an overwhelming number of Americans are exposed.

Pres_Collins.jpgRandall H. Collins

The public school is the incubator for the next generation of Americans. It is where our children learn how to read, write, question and figure. It is where they will first practice kindness, integrity and discretion outside of their homes. In school, they will experience successes and failures and learn how to handle both.

The public school possesses limitless potential, yet its responsibility is astounding. We must get it right. The distractions of errant legislation, narrowly focused high-stakes testing and the call to impose upon schools the business models that have little relevance to the art and science of teaching must be put in perspective. Only then can we tackle the real work of advancing the number of good, productive citizens.

As a nation that has maintained its unique American public school system, we have witnessed a society that overcame the Great Depression, was victorious in World War II, struggled with the sins of segregation, made unimaginable strides in medicine and science and continues to hold the fundamental principles of its constitution above all else.

As the leaders and custodians of this entity we call the American public school, we are called upon to preserve that which is free and available to every child, repair that which we know is not working, fiercely fight for equity for all students and resurrect our failing schools with proper funding, high expectations and skilled teachers. We are called upon to do these things with a sense of urgency so the fruits of these labors are realized for this generation of Americans.

How do we accomplish such lofty goals? How did America rebuild its navy in record time after Dec. 7, 1941? How was a vaccine developed for polio at the height of that epidemic? How did America keep the promise of a young president and put a man on the moon?

Strong leadership, a commitment of resources, singleness of purpose and a national desire to succeed ensured these successes. We need the same leadership, resources and focus that we, as a country, had when we met and conquered other equally challenging obstacles. The challenges facing America today are as great as they have ever been. A global economic crisis and a war on terror with many fronts demand that we prove our greatness once again.

We must not succumb to the temptations of avoiding the real problems of our world or despairing about them. We need not apologize for the American public school, the only educational institution in our country that accepts all children without exception.

Our contributions to the successes of the 20th century are undeniable. We have fared well and will flourish in the 21st century. The legions of promising young teachers who are entering the profession armed with both the skills and strategies necessary to meet the educational needs of all students and a belief that teaching is a calling will ensure our continued success.

Randall Collins is AASA president for 2008-09. E-mail: