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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mill Levy for Greeley's District 6 Schools--Jane's Thoughts

Greeley isn't a third world country. However I have been encountering a common troubling mindset, buried beneath the surface, that education is the sole responsibility of the individual family rather than the community. In my view a metaphor for this notion is Grandma ma's money getting stuffed under the mattress while the big-bad-wolf of inflation eats it away. The bed stuffing is in lieu of investing it into something that helps to grow the original amount like a savings account.

Education has always been my passionate topic. Children are simply the most obvious beneficiaries. But adults also need continual education to survive in a rapidly changing environment of technology and economic complexity. There is simply more competition out there for every job.

In economics one of the better class arguments I've seen is over third world child labor laws. There are still countries which do not educate all the children (only the ones that can afford schooling) and some that educate few. The children who are sent to school are family investments into the future. The children who stay at home work and contribute to the current needs of the family. The bottom line is that as per capita income rises the adults in the family are able to invest their children through education. This is in lieu of consuming the child (metaphorically) as an asset in the present by sending them out to a garbage pile to produce additional wealth to keep the family alive in the here and now and/or keeping them at home to help with household chores.

America invested early in mandating all children attend school. A brilliant move that has paid off handsomely in America's rise to global power. It would be prudent to continue to build on that sage investment.

Generally I will blanket support for any reasonable increase to educational resources. But after doing some background reading on the district 6 teacher negotiations and seeing some of the statistical performance figures from NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) I am wary about jumping into endorsing the mill levy tax. It doesn't mean I won't.

The early press relations coming out doesn't give enough information and the arguments are overly generalized. We've all heard them before. What I am having trouble envisioning is how these areas targeted for funding will improve the quality of education for students and the community rather than simply be used to acquire additional assets to management and maintain. That may be fine but I doubt it will get the community support it needs to pass. There is only a short hop until voting time and a cohesive well thought out approach to passing this tax doesn't seem to be on the horizon.

Of course I could be wrong. If anyone has additional insights please lend me your thoughts and I will post them here on the blog. In the meantime let me give an example of the rabbit holes this debate over taxing for education can go down. I'll take on one of the implied targets of funding--technology.

Just adding technology to the classroom is not the entire answer. It is simply the tools to arrive at an effective solution. Existing teachers have to be trained to use these tools. New teachers coming in with high level skills must be hired. From a management perspective this means increased training for teachers present and potentially more time away from the classroom. It also means a thorough reexamination of the rubric Human Resources is using currently to screen effective teachers and bring them forward to hiring committees. Plus there are technician requirements to upgrade and maintain the technology.

To take it one step further the adults in the home of these students also need to have a decent understanding of how these tools apply and how necessary these tools are to their child's future. A good community education system should be like an Octopus--threaded throughout the community with access available to everyone. Certainly the adults in the community, themselves, could utilize training and access to the same type of resources. Many grandparents are in charge of raising the next generations--they also can benefit from continued education. Being competitive in the future world is crucial to bringing real sustaining jobs and systems to our community, to our state, and to our nation. Education is a case where in order to benefit your own family the investment has to also benefit the entire community your family lives, plays, and works within.

Being realistic about the global economy our children and grandchildren will have to compete in may be the most important issue facing our community today. Yet it is one that is consistently thought of as an individual problem rather than a community wide problem. It is often ideological in nature. I like to think of it as the case where it doesn't do my own child a lot of good to rise to the top if his/her advisers and neighbors are stuck down at the bottom of the barrel on education. Good, effective, education rises above ideology and gives to its students a comprehensive global viewpoint so that they can draw upon the knowledge in any given situation and support whatever ideology they may choose to adopt.

For a community to dig in and root itself into the ideal that public education should be limited to "just the basics" is to ensure, in my view, that the endeared nearly universal idea of social equality will never be obtained. As the public fights to keep from funding the education of those who need it the most--those that have the resources send their kids and grandchildren to a private, and elitist, education system. It is not in any individual citizen's interest to have the bulk of its society undereducated. The competitive advantage in the workforce will not be productive in the long run because quality employees will become scarce goods and political unrest in the economic lower classes will continue to grow.

Other countries around the world have been targeting education to raise their citizen's quality of life and increase their national presence globally and enrich their economies. Some are very focused and quite progressive in their viewpoints--reaching not only into the next few years, but the next decade, and even into the next century. The American education model has been a model system. While that is an acknowledgement of American innovation and performance at the same time it is a weakness.

The weakness stems from the fact that other countries have looked at the model not only for its performance delivery but to see the flaws in the system so they will not be repeated. Hence new models of education with industrialized and high technology economies behind them have the potential to out perform America in the future.

Now, personally, I am not big on making national security arguments. But could there be any more important strategic support mechanism for our future national security than progressive up to date education for every child in America. Not just some. Not just the high performers or the children who look and act the most like "us". Everyone.

It is in our interest to see the community children well educated at any cost. It is in our interest to see the entire community integrate its resources to effectively help train and educate every willing person in Greeley. That is a prudent investment made for every generation to follow. However, before embarking on this investment, we need to ensure ourselves as investors that the managers in charge are doing their jobs as well as being capable of doing the future job required. It would be foolish to just pour money into the system without calling first for a clarity, and a strategic accountability plan, from this current administration. Additionally that plan should not just focus on teachers and equipment. It should focus primarily on the administration itself and their management of the resources.

Personally I don't buy into the tacit notion that per-pupil funding is the solution to a broken educational system. It may well be a part of the solution--but it isn't the entire enchilada.

Considering past performance statistics and oversight actions taken within district 6--I believe the administrators need to fully re-establish their credibility with the public before asking hard pressed citizens to step up. Will these teachers gain more training and how will you control those training costs both in and outside the classroom? Will the technology be used to telecommute training--covering more teachers for fewer dollars? Will new teachers be hired with the skill sets needed to take Greeley citizens into the future economy? Will the school improve on networking with existing educational and training resources? What are the specific, MEASURABLE, advances in the quality of education that the public will be able to check if this levy passes? And how soon can the public expect to see results?

Greeley's District 6 Negotiations: Just a Slice Out of the Middle

Greeley District 6 Performance Check
Parity and Greeley District 6 Negotiations

That is just the beginning list of questions I'd like to see answered and broadcast to the public households District 6 is anticipating to vote for this increase. The Mill Levy case needs to be brought to the door of every citizen in Greeley rather than bandied about in the exclusive and unfortunately insular hallways of the administrators. The majority of the public does not attend school board meetings. Bring it home where education begins.

Research Point
Assessment and Outcomes, 2008, New Mandates Technologies & Opportunities
http://www.researchchannel.org/prog/displayevent.aspx?rID=25194&fID=568

Building the Team: Faculty, Staff, and Students
http://www.researchchannel.org/prog/displayevent.aspx?rID=24499&fID=568

Democracy, Diversity and Social Justice: Education in a Global Age
http://www.researchchannel.org/prog/displayevent.aspx?rID=2668&fID=568

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