School board members must speak up and speak out about the successes and challenges of their local public schools, panelists told 750 school board members at the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) first annual Advocacy Institute.
Competing interests — including those who want to privatize the system — are already defining the message and potentially putting school boards and public schools out of business, some media experts warned.
NSBA also announced its national campaign, which will promote public schools and help local school board members engage their constituents. The campaign includes a new website and national print and online advertisements featuring celebrities such as former NBA star and education advocate Earvin “Magic” Johnson, television personality Montel Williams, and Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy.
Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, noted that last year’s annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on public education reported an all-time high — 53 percent — of Americans surveyed graded their local public schools with an A or B. Nearly three quarters of public school parents would give the school their oldest child attends an A or a B. However, when asked about the nation’s public schools overall, only 18 percent gave public education an A or B.
And those results — support for local public schools, but skepticism of public education in general — were mirrored in several other poll questions, Busteed said. “There is a huge gap between the reality of the local level and nationally.”
Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, who writes The Answer Sheet blog, told school board members that they must do a better job working with local and national media. That means finding important stories about their community’s public schools and bringing them to journalists.
“When you don’t speak up, your critics define you, and that’s what’s happening,” she said. “I don’t hear much from you, either individually or as groups.”
Further, school board members should understand student performance data in order to rebut false claims about public education. “You have to play the data game and you have to do it better,” Strauss added.
In an earlier panel, NSBA invited school voucher advocates, including representatives from the CATO Institute and the American Federation for Children (AFC), organizations that have pushed for expanded school choice, to present their ideas and K-12 platforms. While the panel was designed to showcase oppositional ideas, the panelists and school board members found common ground with CATO’s dislike of federal regulations and AFC Executive Counsel Kevin P. Chavous’ remarks on the need for student achievement.