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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 08/25/2011

The problem school boards have with the public

This was written by Michael Rochholz, board president of the Schoolcraft Community Schools in Schoolcraft, Mich. and member of the Michigan Association of School Boards.

By Michael Rochholz

As a school board member for 10 years, I have frequently asked myself: Does the public really understand the public education system? How it works? How many daily successes take place? How different school is today from when they were once students?

Based on my board work and the public education initiatives I’ve been involved in at the local, state and federal levels, I see that the public doesn’t know enough about public education and therefore, is not insisting on adequate representation in the political and policy arenas. It’s easy for others to bash public education when there’s no one to defend it.

The truth is that while some school boards breed public cynicism through their actions or inaction, the vast majority work extremely hard to provide excellent tools and outcomes for their administrators, teachers and students through vision- and data-driven policies.

Many boards acknowledge the need for improvement but that very act is often misconstrued as a lack of performance or quality. Private businesses, of course, are always seeking improvements and are not accused of poor performance for it. But school boards don’t get such understanding.

So how do we get the public to understand what’s truly taking place in public schools?

Highlighting the thousands of student success stories is a start, but it’s not enough. The public must fully realize and appreciate the value of a public education.

Perhaps if more people realized all of the student successes, the bashing would end, the unfair and unrealistic reforms would stop, and the sheer volume of unproven education choices would disappear.

Most parents can’t tell you what score their child received on their last standardized test, the name of their school’s curriculum program, the pay scale of teachers or how boards determine policy. And most community members can’t tell you how schools are funded, structured or evaluated.

What they do care about is the teacher who inspires, how their concerns are addressed, what a school does for their neighborhood, the principal who knows every kid’s name, and the dream for kids to become successful and happy adults. But all of this is given short shrift by today’s education reform policies that center around high-stakes standardized tests.

Schoolcraft Community Schools, where I serve, is a small school serving a diverse student body of more than 1,100 students in Kalamazoo County.

My board constantly encourages citizens to visit our schools, attend events and experience what’s happening first-hand. We pay particular attention to highlighting our vision of a child, family and community centered public education. We annually conduct a board self-assessment to ensure that we are adhering to high standards, and we tell success stories at every opportunity.

The Schoolcraft Board led the district by providing our teachers the tools they need to help students achieve higher knowledge; by providing opportunities and choices for our students, which has increased student involvement and expectations; and, by interacting with our community to discover ways to engage them.

The education landscape is turning into a free-for-all for politicians, billionaires and movie producers who seem insistent on creating new, unproven systems of education choices and assessment.

The only way this will be reversed is if regular citizens stand up for public education and learn what they must know to participate and insist on policies that reflect community realities and the needs of all children. It is time for people to stop believing that standardized test scores mean much, or that media spin is accurate.

Please visit your local school, attend a board meeting, get to know the staff and ask questions. See what they offer, seek out the facts, talk to a student and form your own opinions.

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By  |  08:00 AM ET, 08/25/2011

 
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