Just as it’s essential for school boards and superintendents to work well together on behalf of their schoolchildren, it’s equally important for NSBA and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) to partner successfully on behalf of public education.
That was the opening observation of NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel during an informal discussion with AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech at a Focus on Education session Saturday.
Both national organizations are committed to strengthening public education, which “is under attack right now in a lot of different ways,” Gentzel said. “The question is how do we defend against those attacks and promote quality education.”
One concern for both organizations is the accelerating erosion of local school control in the past decade, Domenech said. Although state policymakers can claim education is a state responsibility, federal officials can’t make the same argument when explaining their interference in local decision-making.
Yet, “we’ve seen just a growing involvement and intrusion” by federal officials who’ve used the promise of federal dollars to both encourage and coerce state and local officials to accept new federal initiatives, programs, and policies.
That’s one reason AASA gave its support to NSBA’s proposed legislation, the Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act, Domenech said. The bill is designed to curb the power of the U.S. Department of Education to impose unnecessary rules and regulations.
“When you folks came up with your bill, we thought it was great, and we were more than happy to sign up,” he added.
Both men expressed similar attitudes about charter schools and school choice. Although not opposed to these reform models, they agreed that more deliberation should be put into their use. There are times, Gentzel said, when other strategies would likely prove more successful.
For example, he said, the enthusiasm of some state and federal policymakers for charter schools seems unwarranted. “If charter schools are not outperforming public schools, then why the push to create more and more of them?”
Similar concerns also were raised during the discussion about other reform models, such as state takeovers, the firing of principals or turnaround efforts at so-called failing schools, and recent experiments in teacher evaluation systems.
One concern in the rush to use these strategies is that state and federal policymakers seem to ignore the powerful impact of poverty on the academic performance of school districts that are identified as low performing, Domenech said. The reality, at times, is that policymakers aren’t willing to put the money and resources into helping a struggling school or district to improve.
“We don’t have the moral courage or the political courage to do the right thing by these kids.”
There may be a way that NSBA and AASA can provide a better alternative, Gentzel suggested.
“Where there have been failing school systems that have managed to turn themselves around, one of the things we can work on together is to identify those places as models [we can study] and transfer their lessons to others. I think it’s an important message to send to state policymakers before they consider other ideas … let’s consider what works.”