Whether you love the Common Core or hate it, don’t you think it would nice if someone took a step back and refocused on what public education is all about?
“Public education is the backbone, heart, wisdom and soul of a free and democratic society,” opens a new vision statement created by the New York State Council of School Superintendents. It’s called “Public Education Matters!” and I hope people will read it at www.nyscoss.org.
Bedford Superintendent Jere Hochman chaired a group of two dozen school chiefs who crafted the statement over two years. He told me that the goal was to write something that could help guide educators and policy-makers through not only today’s minefield — Common Core, testing, evaluations, state directives — but whatever comes down the road.
“We didn’t want to react to what’s going on today,” he said. “We wanted to rise above all that and get underneath it, too. Generally, we wanted this to be something that would stand the test of time.”
The document doesn’t propose major initiatives with acronyms or diagram a golden path to educational excellence. But it will make you think about what the goals should be when people try to do those things.
Its guiding principles are that students should: have access to high-quality, equitable public schools; be given inspired, challenging, project-based instruction; and learn to live as citizens who understand their connections to others and value democratic principles.
The statement envisions what schools should look like and what educational leadership should strive to be.
“What’s missing from the dialogue today is why we have public schools,” Hochman said. “Everyone is stuck on fixing things.”
Those fixes, of course, are the elephants in the classroom. The statement acknowledges that “Unprecedented levels of discord currently exist in New York State over the direction of education reform.” But the document avoids critiquing the Common Core standards or other “reforms.”
It states that the Board of Regents’ overall agenda has “strong support” among educators but proceeds, in several spots, to fault the state’s rushed implementation and quick fixes. The statement envisions a state Education Department that “engages public educators.”
Robert Lowry, deputy director of the Superintendents Council, told me that the statement does intend to send several messages, however gently.
“The controversies that have erupted could have been avoided if policy-makers had been more attentive to educators, superintendents in particular,” he said.
The statement’s measured tone will not satisfy everyone. I talk all the time to teachers, parents and many school officials who feel that the state’s detached leadership has failed them. I’m sure many of these folks would prefer to see the superintendents point out each failing.
Many who support the current reform movement often seem to think that other points of view are distractions from doing the real work to help kids. I wonder if some of these folks can squeeze any meaning from the statement.
No doubt, many lines will be interpreted differently by people with rival perspectives. Take this line: “All children deserve to engage their innate passion and curiosity through analytical thinking, innovation, imagination and teamwork with the goal of solving real world problems and fully developing their unique talents.”
I told Hochman that some people will say “That’s what the Common Core is trying to do” while others will say “That’s what the Common Core is preventing students from doing.”
He knew what I meant, but hoped readers would grasp the larger meaning.
“I hope to hand this to the governor and the Regents,” Hochman said, “and say ‘This is what we do and we can’t forget it. When you enact your laws and policies, please use this as a litmus test.’ ”