Saturday, April 30, 2011

We Need More "Leadership Out Loud" Now!

Two months ago, Governor Rick Snyder outlined a budget that literally guts K-12 public education in Michigan by raiding the School Aid Fund to benefit college and universities.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  While nearly $900 million will be taken from K-12 children and transferred to community colleges and higher education, the Governor and his minions in the state legislature are manning their wheelbarrows so they can take money out the backdoor and use it for general fund expenses.  Primarily cuts in business taxes.  This was Governor Snyder's intent long before we elected him to Michigan's highest office, but he used the smokescreen of wanting to improve education for our kids to disguise his real intent until he got to sit in the big chair. (Tell the Truth about Michigan's Budget)

This past week, he presented a 13-page tome on what he sees as needed actions for improving our public schools.  While most of his ideas deserve a fair hearing and could be beneficial to our kids in the long run, they might once again be considered nothing more than additional smoke screens as he continues his efforts to defund (and destroy?) public education.  You can write all the vision statements and strategic plans you want, but the proof is in the pudding and the very fact Governor Snyder is intentionally handicapping school districts and forcing Superintendents and Boards of Education to cut sorely needed (and successful) programs while laying off a vast number of outstanding young teachers, lays out his real agenda.

Mike Rice, Superintendent for Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Julie Mack, reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazettesummarized the frustration we're all feeling, especially in districts like mine where a high percentage of kids live in poverty or low-income households where little English is spoken and basic readiness for school is lacking:

Since August 2007, Rice has implemented one reform after another — preschool overhaul, full-day kindergarten, new writing and math curriculum for the elementary, changes in the secondary schedule to provide more time in core subjects, new interventions for struggling students, major expansion of the Advanced Placement program, weighted grades, summer-school expansion, and on and on.

There have been major changes at every level in KPS. And Rice, to his credit, has done it without new funding. The Kalamazoo Promise, after all, goes to college scholarships; the district doesn't get a penny. By necessity, Rice has become very, very good at squeezing the most out of what he's got
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And all these efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Tests scores are going up. There is a palpable sense of momentum in the district.

Enter Rick Snyder, lecturing Michigan educators on the need to improve outcomes among poor and minority youth, even as Snyder takes away schools' financial resources.

But the reality is that improving outcomes in a high-poverty district can be a Sisyphean challenge, and Rice needs every single resource that he has right now. Program and staffing cuts that are difficult in most districts — the elimination of counselors and social workers, an increase in class size —can be devastating in a high-poverty school, where students are depending on staff to provide the support structures they lack at home.

So I'm wondering where is the outrage?  Where are the rest of the 500-plus school superintendents? Why aren't every one of you online right now using blogging, social media, email and every technology advantage you can to stop the Governor and legislature from making this disastrous mistake? If social networking can fuel the long-overdue changes being made in oppressive regimes around the world, it can certainly drive the conversations necessary to force our elected officials to see their decisions in the real light of day.

We have to stand up to the incessant misinformation about public schools and funding coming out of Lansing and fueled by the likes of organizations such as the Mackinaw Center and their obvious desire to end public education. I'm challenging all of my fellow Michigan school administrators to put your students before self and energize your base in a public way, challenging Lansing's quest for defunding and ultimately crippling public education. Our message to Governor Snyder has to be loud and clear: We agree with your desire to improve college-and-career readiness for Michigan kids, but to get there, you have to STOP the raid on the School Aid Fund now and restore K-12 funding to at least it's 2010-11 levels.

Lead out loud!