This is an interesting, thought provoking, and challenging time to be an educator. Consider that almost every time we have turned on the news the last few weeks, or listened to a commentary, someone has been talking about public schools. Generally, the discussion is critical of schools and teachers, and it certainly has not been supportive of school administrators. I applaud the conversation. As my grandmother would say, “It’s high time we take responsibility for…” ensuring that each child has access to the best education possible in this great country of ours.
What I worry about is that the high profile conversations seem to suggest a single answer to providing quality schools. It’s the “Waiting for Superman” thinking. We just need to do “X,” and all will be better. We know in our hearts and minds that there cannot be a quick fix, don’t we? But in a society where we have “on demand” everything, quick fixes can be seductive, so we should not be surprised at Hollywood’s suggestions on how to improve education.
My belief is that each grown-up has a responsibility to weigh in on the conversation about the type of schools we want for our children. And then, when all the talking is said and done, we each must be willing to do something to help all schools improve. You may have heard me say that we don’t have a crisis in public education today. Our crisis is that many adults fail to take responsibility for our children, and fail to make the education of children our number one priority. Unfortunately right now, we, all of us, deflect the responsibility to educate our children to someone else.
The very idea that we all must take responsibility for the education of our children is at the heart of the mission of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. We have committed to “Inspiring Excellence: Every Grown-up, Every Child, Every Day.” Each and every day, the grown-ups have to focus on improving what we do, so that our children have access to highly-effective teachers, leaders, and staff. We aren’t looking for a quick fix that someone else is responsible for doing. Rather, we are examining our practices, putting in place high expectations, and supporting the learning of each and every one of our kids.
When we speak about the improvements our schools need, and can in the same breath offer solutions that work, we will be making progress. All schools do need to improve, whether they are public, private, charter, suburban, and urban, if we are going to move from islands of excellence to a land of opportunity. We can all improve our work. And I believe one of the first steps is to clearly identify what we expect, and to put the resources behind those expectations.
The commentary of the day seems to suggest that teachers will work harder if the right incentives are in place. There are a couple of deeper issues implied in this line of thinking: that the reason our children are not more successful is because teachers are not working hard enough, and that teachers are not working hard enough because they lack the motivation. I need to tell you that nothing could be further from my experience here in KCK. Our teachers are working hard every day. It is our job as administrators to make sure they are working at the right things, and have the resources and support they need to be successful. In addition, teachers can’t be the only people working to educate our children. To improve education today, we need to have all adults, parents, businesses and the broader community fully engaged in supporting the education of our youth.
I also strongly believe that teachers and the teaching profession should be compensated at the level equal to our expectations. Time and time in my life I have learned that old adage, “you get what you pay for.” If we want quality education for all, we must be ready to pay for quality. But education is more than a score on a test. Higher pay is needed, absolutely. But pay alone won’t ensure each child is prepared for college and careers.
We, the “public” in public schools, need to figure out what we want from our schools, and for our children, and then roll up our sleeves and get to work. We will never get the schools we want, if we leave that work up to pundits, politicians, or documentary filmmakers. And we can forget “Waiting for Superman;” he’s not coming! The song that was sung during the Civil Rights Movement got it right: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” It’s up to us!