This was written by David Johnson, president of the Georgia School Boards Association and vice chair of the Floyd County Schools in Rome, Ga.

By David Johnson

When I hear pundits – from both political parties these days – talk about improving education for children through choice, vouchers or whatever the sound bite of the day is, I wonder which children they are talking about. Out of 55.2 million K-12 students in America, 49.2 million of them are in our public schools. Only a small percentage of children go to private or parochial schools. So where’s the vision for our public schools? What are they looking at?

With numbers like that, we should be focusing the bulk of our time and energy to making education what we want it to be for the vast majority of our children. We need to have a more global vision for ensuring that our public schools are managed and equipped for students today and tomorrow. Instead of engaging in productive dialogue about public education, the discourse today is often destructive and filled with misinformation and inaccurate data.

To get out of the weeds and back onto productive ground, school board members, and school superintendents in Georgia have been working together for three years on a vision for public education. Instead of picking apart the system and deciding on where or on whom to lay blame, we now have a vision that looks at the entire system of public education in our state and how to move it forward. It’s proactive, productive, and positive.

Thousands of Georgians were involved in a variety of ways to develop our vision that includes a plan for:

* Early Learning and Childhood Education – We know that children need a level of readiness for school in order to be successful when they go to school. Many families have resources such as reading materials and time to spend with their youngsters; many do not. Young brains develop fast and furiously during this time and nurturing language development is especially critical.

* Teaching and Learning – The vast majority of teachers are highly professional and conscientious. Teaching is an art and not everyone has what it takes to be an effective and engaging instructor. We need to allow processes and time for meaningful instruction and assessment. We need the time and flexibility to examine our curriculum, update it and find new delivery methods. There is a special bond between a teacher and his or her students that needs support, not a cookie cutter approach they must follow such as inflexible curricula, standardized tests as the ultimate assessment and the burden of increased paperwork and duties not related to instruction.

* Human and Organizational Capital – Our public school districts are under numerous funded, partially funded and unfunded mandates where salary schedules, benefits, professional learning and more are concerned. Having effective instructional personnel is an investment. If the teaching profession isn’t respected and valued by local and state leaders, it isn’t going to be valued by others … including bright, young people considering what profession they want to join.

* Governance, Leadership and Accountability – To be accountable and transparent, all public entities need oversight and management. The local control governance model is critical to communities retaining the ultimate say over their public schools at the ballot box. We also need to work with state leadership to examine what is effective legislation and what is not. Discussion on and decisions about funding public education needs to move from political rhetoric to looking at the facts and deciding what level of public education we’re going to support.

* Funding and Resources – Personnel, technology, facilities, buses, paper, desks, bus fuel, electricity, insurance, security, professional development, planning, and more costs money, and when prices go up, public schools are affected just like everything else. School districts are often one of the largest employers in a county. That means high personnel costs, including the need for secretaries, assistant principals, managers, support personnel, human resources department, custodians, and more. Organizations that have the responsibilities and size of school districts cannot function without an infrastructure.

The Vision for Public Education plan in Georgia is systemic. It is positive, looks toward the future and it puts students’ needs at the center.

Non-productive, mean-spirited bashing of public schools makes me wonder what vision is being offered. It is impossible to move the awe-inspiring work of moving our public education system from good to great without collaboration and a true vision that considers all of the nuts and bolts.

Our nation is only as strong as our citizens are and I believe a person is only as strong as is his ability to learn, apply knowledge and have capacity to recognize that everyone has merit.