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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008
A Deal Faust Could Love

An op-ed piece in today's East Valley Trib reminds me of a question I used to ask people at social functions when I learn they work in public education. First though the article from the president of the Kyrene Elementary School District governing board:

I think everyone agrees with Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, and the research that shows that children benefit from a well-rounded education... Children also benefit from quality health care and early childhood programs, very small class sizes, reasonable pay for retention of and excellent staff development for teachers, and many other research-based programs....

Hold on wait for it.

.... Micromanagement of public education by the collective wisdom of state legislators has had decidedly mixed results, at best. They have given us the AIMS test, state standards, the school facilities board, the ELL debacle and some of the most miserly funding formulas in the nation, which they rarely completely, fully fund, even when we don’t have a budget deficit.

Now I'm a cynical old gent and to my miserly eyes, the above argument sounds like the classic buck-passing. It's not the school districts fault that your children aren't getting a great education, it's you the voters fault for sending those people to the state Legislature who on one hand micromanage us and on the other fail to give us the resources we need.

I've heard this argument since recess was still part of my school schedule. By now I tend to ignore the AIMS and standards aspect of the micromanagement argument and tend to think that "research-based" programs equals whatever the folks at the ASU College of Ed have cooked up, in other words a never-ending money pit. However I'm a reasonable man and I like to cut to the quick.

When I meet people who are in public education, I can always get them to dominate the discussion by asking them about "funding" and "micromanagement." However I then offer a deal, hypothetically of course, as an administrator of a school district that goes from kindergarten to the 12th grade:

1) Allow them to design a perfect classroom- resources, computers and software, class size, whatever is within reason

2) Allow them to design the perfect support system for lower class students in terms of health care, breakfast and lunch programs, after school tutoring, free trips to the circus... it's their wish list

3) Allow them to develop the perfect teacher support package in terms of total compensation, training, autonomy....

With the above 3 points, I eliminate their concerns regarding funding and micromanagement. Whatever it takes to get those issues off the board. In return they need to provide binding standards regarding the ability of a graduating high school senior to operate within our society. In other words I offer you x what are you prepared to offer me in terms of y. I'm flexible on when those standards will take effect, say when next year's incoming kindergarteners graduate from high school. That's 13 years to work the bugs out and I'm willing to wait and this after all hypothetical.

What do I mean by binding? Well first there are no slipping standards like with AIMS; no watering down the test scores after you find too many kids are failing, no more bonus points because the kids showed up for tutoring sessions.

It's also binding in a second dimension. I will offer you the administrator and all the teachers your fondest wishes in terms of autonomy and funding, 13 years to develop and run the perfect school system, your so called professional heaven on earth. If after all of that your school still cannot make the pre-agreed standards I will shut down the school fire all the teachers and administrators and none of you can work in public education ever again.

Sound drastic? Well sure but I met many people, in all sorts of professions, who talk a good game about how they could do this or that if only they had the freedom or the resources. What I'm doing here is setting up educators as entrepreneurs to pursue their vision and I'm not giving them 3 to 5 years to show some black on the bottom line but rather 13 years. I'll give them the rope they have been hollering for and let's see what they can do with it. If they cannot do it within 13 years then they need to find a new profession and we need to radically change what we're doing in public education.

How many people have taken me on my hypothetical offer? Not one. They hemmed, they hawed, or they acted like I was from Mars.

I was saddened by that, but not surprised.