It’s that time of year again. The time when the Superintendent of Schools presents his budget (here are his initial projections, and he will make his formal presentation on Tuesday, January 7th) and the public (that’s you) has a chance to weigh in and give them your ideas on budget priorities.
A few weeks ago, the Secretary of the Department of Education, Arne Duncan, slipped up and told everyone what he really believed: “…[These] white suburban moms are finally waking up and discovering that their kids are not as smart as they thought they were, and their schools are not as good as they thought they were.”
Though patently offensive, the statement held a little truth to it. While opinions on the children will differ a little from parent to parent and child to child, the realization that our schools are simply not as good as we thought they were is kicking in all over the country. And if all the accolades of LCPS are among a field of mediocre schools…how good are we, really?
What are we getting for our investment? Are our children being “prepared for college” or are they being educated? These are serious questions worth asking.
The administration is all over the news painting doom or gloom unless they get every dime they ask for:
So it’s a foregone conclusion that true to form of years past, hundreds of defenders of the status quo will show up at these hearings to defend the budget. The teachers, who we endeavor to empower and set free from bureaucratic and regulatory bondage are simply unable to stand up for what is right in the budget process. Given recent history…they’re not even able to give a student a D who deserves a D without getting threatened by an administrator, much less make waves in a $billion budget process. It is up to parents and taxpayers to do our part to make sure another side of the story is seen. A story where there is little transparency in the budget and little explanation of why, in the most affluent (and presumably innnovative) county in America, we are stuck with a school system which is unable to think outside of a late-19th Century mindset of treating schools like a factory, and teachers like factory workers.
Something has to change. This isn’t about chipping away at the edges, and trying to institute incremental little band-aid fixes until the economy “recovers.” The days of an irrational and circular mindset where the number of dollars invested per student is somehow a measure of success…are over. The days where we ignore the fact that the District of Columbia spends double what we do with worse results…are over. The days where we can pretend the status quo is good enough, that we not only CAN’T “do more with less,” but that we SHOULDN’T even if we could…are over.
Ironically, the real “doom and gloom” could be more accurately predicted, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing. A recent book by Glenn Harlan Reynolds called The New School does a good job of summarizing some of the above, along with an unassailable truth: the education bubble is going to burst (it’s already started in higher education), and there are two options before us: the public system drastically reforms itself, and begins to give more power to teachers and parents, and protect taxpayer resources more carefully, or we begin to opt out — family by family, Virginians will find a better way — and solve our educational problems outside the public system. And the more we do that, the less likely we’ll be to continue to subsidize an outdated, outmoded, and hopelessly bloated system.
Things are going to change. Education in Loudoun County is going to change. Either the LCSB wants to proactively take part in it, or simply react to the fallout…it is up to them.
Hands are tied by too many rules, too many requirements from RIchmond? Then the LCSB legislative agenda should reflect that. Too concerned about “teaching to the test?” Fight to opt out of SOL madness (and yes, that may mean losing Federal money, and all the strings attached. Bummer.) Wish that teachers could have more autonomy and more interaction with each other? Throw down the barriers which prevent it and the innovation which can result from it. Want more charter schools and opportunities to support private sector education? Make the process to approve charter schools more streamlined and support bills which allow home-schooled students to opt-in to public-school sports and extracurricular activities within their district for a fee.
Innovation requires loosening (and honestly bending and breaking) the “rules” of the current Industrial Age model of education. Making learning more “fun” and “interactive” will not solve that which ails us. Focusing on more rigor in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) will not save us unless it is accompanied by acknowledging and seeking to fix a severe falling behind in language, reading, the social sciences, philosophy, and the arts. Replacing the current model with an updated version of “preparing them for the work world” is simply an UPDATE, not an UPGRADE.
The Philosopher, Eric Hoffer, once said:
In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
The Information Age requires students who are LEARNERS. Giving them new avenues of obtaining information only works if they, and their instructors are given the freedom to develop a strong grammar, a didactic which reflects the views of their faith and conscience, and the ability to communicate those ideas with others, and develop new ideas. These are the skills which breed real success in the 21st Century. They are, of course, the skills which have bred real success in the latter third of the 20th Century…but we won’t let that stop us from making changes now…will we?
To do this, to accomplish what we need to accomplish, we don’t need new technology, and “best practices” of delivering information (new learning tools are already here, and every teacher and student with an internet connection can get to them). What we need are options. We need choices. We need…individuality.
We, the taxpayers of Loudoun County are here. We’re ready to engage. We’re ready for an open, free-ranging discussion on ways to increase competitiveness of our schools and our students. But we’re not willing to be bullied by talk of doomsday scenarios. We’re no longer willing to be told that we don’t care about teachers, simply because we want to give them more power over their careers and seek to reward them for their successes, instead of patting them on the head with “good benefits” for falling in line.
The game is over. It’s time to get serious. Starting right now.
So…are you coming?
LCPS School Board Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Email: email@example.com
There is also an online survey process and writing letters to the editor is always a good idea…but nothing beats showing up in person.