Saturday, April 28, 2012

Comment rescue: how do we end Delaware's Education Civil War?

Coolspringer's comment deserves greater play (re:  The Delaware Education Civil War):

And do we stop sniping, get more people to move from following (passively and/or aggressively) to really thinking, and start seeing productive conversations that then lead to workable policies that function and get followed...? That's a lot of change.

But, I'm a pragmatic idealist...there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

If I had the answer to this one, I'd be one hell of a lot more influential than I am.

But I do have some ideas that might lead to a discussion of how to begin a process that might lead to the start of an initial dialogue about public education.

(Contest of the week:  count how many qualifiers I could fit into that last sentence.)

Here are three modest suggestions:

1.  Begin consciously winding down the politics of gotcha and self-aggrandizement.  The two loosely defined "sides" each has a primary besetting sin.  Ed reformers seem to want to be loved, revered, and deferred to.  They have a strange addiction to holding conferences as well-publicized by a friendly press as they are well-sanitized of opposing views.  They pat themselves on the back a lot.  They need some humility, some sense of "if we make the wrong decisions we're screwing up kids' lives for good."  On the other hand, their opponents need to stop with the constant hyperbolic criticism of everything just to gin up some attention.  There is this actual, bizarre blogging race to see who can break the first story with the most lurid headlines and the most extravagant claims, even if it means treating unsourced material as ironclad evidence, ignoring any stubborn facts that get in the way of a good story, or downright making things up.  These twin unlovely characteristics prevent us from ever having a dialogue, because one side sees everything as rosy, and the other side sees everything as going to hell.

2.  Start looking for a way to get the money out of school board races, and to get the voters in.  This year's "scandal" seems to revolve around Voices 4 Delaware and its free-spending, wide-swinging, unsolicited endorsements.  But for the past five years DSEA has poured over a million dollars into state campaigns from school boards to the General Assembly.  And you know what?  None of this money on either side has caused more voters to come out (and I doubt it is going to energize people this May 8, either).

[An aside:  you know what's been happening in Red Clay while everyone has been shouting about this flyer or those campaign checks?  Kenny Rivera and Joanne Johansen have both been wearing out shoe leather going door-to-door and standing in car-rider lines across the district.  Virtually everyone in the district who wants a chance to meet either or both of them will get it.  And to be honest, regardless of whose flyers or push cards or supporters are better, it's going to come down to boutique politics--how many voters can Kenny or Joanne each meet and convince, one on one.  Most people are going to lose the damn flyers with the old Acme ads.]

Here are two things I would do in order to get school board races back under control:

A.  Require districts conducting referenda to conduct them on the same day as the school board elections.  This would achieve two things.  First, the candidates would have to take a position on the referendum at hand, which would lead to some interesting politics.  But, second, it would dramatically increase voter turn-out.  Take Red Clay again as an example:  the recent referendum saw over 10,000 people turn out to vote; a really good school board election gets 25-28% of that.

B.  End "at-large" voting for school board members.  Now school board candidates must live in a certain nominating district to run, but everybody in the district gets to vote.  Why are people in Hockessin getting to vote on who will represent Red Clay residents in Wilmingtion, and vice versa?  If candidates only competed for votes in their own nominating districts, much different, more focused races would emerge, and the impact of both DSEA and Voices would be severely diminished.

3.  Have everybody on every side take responsibility for advocating for one child who is not his or her own, as a condition of participating in the debate.  I am quite serious.  There are not only children who need mentors, but children who need advocates for IEP meetings, and children who need tutors, and children who need a ride to get to that charter school.  If you take the responsibility to intervene for one child who is not your own, and to do so on a consistent basis for as long as that child is in the system, you will learn about public education, about teachers, about research, about humility, and about service in ways you never knew could possibly exist.  It would take about 3-5 hours a week, week in and week out.  If all the big mouths in the great Delaware Education Civil War would each start by saying, "No matter what happens, I will personally help make the system work for this one child," the war would be over in two months.

I don't think that one's going to happen, because to be honest there are more egos involved on both sides than people committed to service.  And besides, if a thousand people who have been arguing and fighting over education each took responsibility for one child, you know what?

The system would start working.

And you know what I usually hear when I bring this up with either "side"?



Coolspringer said...

I never got a chance to thank you for addressing my questions! I think they're all great ideas. Great, really difficult ideas. But no reason not to internalize them as something to shoot for! :)

Steven H. Newton said...

Here's my thing, and why I keep harping on the "help one child who's not your own" meme.

Social reformers of any stripe who never have time for the particular (the one child they could help while saving the rest of the world) always leave me cold when it comes to the general.

And, yes, by the way, this is one case where I can say with complete honesty that I have spent a lifetime practicing what I preach.

Pencadermom said...

Do you know if you can do this through schools or does it have to go through social services?

Steven H. Newton said...


The Parent Information Center is a great place to start.

They provide training and can help you get started if you are interested in becoming an Advocate.

Pencadermom said...

thank you. :)

Coolspringer said...

You're right, Steve, and PIC does do good work!