Victory in Our Schools:  We CAN Give Our Children Excellent Public Education

by Maj. General Jon Stanford, U.S. Army, Retired

The cover of this book goes on to say, "Here is a proven plan of action to empower teachers, parents, businesses, and private citizens to revitalize American education."  That's stretching it a little, especially since some of the key aspects of this approach (open choice of schools, differential funding based on student needs) are either antithetical to the approach Nashville has taken (open choice) or not yet enacted (differential funding).  Interestingly, I was able to visit Seattle in March and spend a good bit of time with their Superintendent, Joseph Olchefske, and a long-time Board member, Don Nielsen.  I also got to visit with the head of their Alliance for Education, Robin Pasquarella.  There are other components of the Seattle system's effort we should consider emulating, including:

  • A regular system of surveying parents about their satisfaction with the system (and a goal for this year of 80% "definitely satisfied")
  • A coordinated system for public support through the alliance
  • Fundraising training for schools, with central coordination
  • A computerized complaint tracking system tied to a Customer Service Department charged with getting complaints quickly (maybe on the first phone call) to the party that can answer them.

Culture is critical in schools.  Here's Gen. Stanford's comment on the culture of the education system:

"The culture as a whole is averse to taking risks.  It's a culture of consensus, of reviewing every theory, idea, and bit of research before a decision is made and then deferring the decision until almost every stakeholder agrees.  It becomes all too easy to analyze the problems and the answers endlessly, rather than take a risk and act.  In the process, we shortchange our children.

 

Copyright 1998, 199, 2000, 2001  by David N. Shearon