State and federal policies are jeopardizing the keys to our nation’s success: our ability to foster the ingenuity and innovative thinking among our young people. And school board members have to demand change.
That was the message of outgoing NSBA President Mary Broderick, who offered some final observations about her tenure — and thoughts on the future — at Sunday’s General Session.
During her travels as president, she said, she recalled watching a child struggle, with some delight, with a complicated puzzle — the kind of learning activity that brain research shows improves the problem-solving skills that children will need in a 21st century economy.
Yet state and federal policymakers appear, at times, oblivious to the importance of such activities — or to what educators know about learning, she said. Instead, they almost seem eager to promote an educational experience reliant on mind-numbing drill and practice.
So much attention has been focused on the problems of public education, Broderick added, that people forget that the nation’s education system is “one of the great success stories of the world.”
“We also work miracles every day,” she said. “And school boards play a crucial role in those successes. We know our communities, our challenges and hopes and inspirations …. Effective school boards know that decision-making has to be as close as possible to the child-teacher relationships, but state and federal policies are driving away many of our best and brightest.”
Instead of a focus on compliance and accountability, policymakers need to focus on a greater vision, she said. “Let’s unleash the great potential of our staffs, inspire them to do great things. While the feds think their role is to regulate … we have to find another way.”
To that end, Broderick said, she has written a letter to President Obama offering recommendations based on the advice of school board members she’s met over the past year.
She said she encouraged Obama to support a vision that inspires excellence in education, to choose better strategies to motivate educators, and to “cultivate a spirit of innovation and inspiration in preparing all in our schools to think through complex problems and solutions.”
“Schools will never become great through threats and intimidation,” she said. “Let’s make them safe places to take risks,” where teachers and students are empowered to try new ideas and risk failure.
She also encouraged the president to invest in teacher training and professional development and “to use our vast technical know-how to share ways to inspire teachers.” Federal policy also should move beyond simply monitoring performance and also “identify and support and share excellent proven ideas.”
And, to make the greatest progress in closing the achievement gap, children should have access to “rich early learning environments.”
Finally, Broderick said, she asked the president “to convene a national dialogue—not of politicians, but of the breadth of education thought—to reconsider our policy direction.”
“My challenge to the president, but also to the Congress, to NSBA, and to you, is to unite our voices,” she said. “Let’s demand policies that move us toward excellence and strengthen our humanity. Let’s get beyond what divides us and get around a vision that unites us.”
“As I complete my year with NSBA, I know the children of America are in good hands. Every minute that I’ve spent with you … has made that clear.”