Why does TK-12 education in this country still look and feel the same as it did when I was a student in the 1970’s? Why have we not seen innovation as we have in so many other industries? Since entering and leading in public education more than two decades ago, I have deeply questioned the structure, funding, and delivery of public education and I believe for far too long, it has been failed by all of the adults in charge.
During the 21 years I have spent managing The Classical Academies, I have counted 16 superintendents that have come and gone through North County school districts. Add to that, the number of elected school board members from these districts that have also stepped up and then stepped away. How can there be innovation and meaningful change in an environment of rapidly changing leadership? We have not seen the fundamental changes in public education to streamline, reimagine, and rethink how we deliver on the promise to educate every student. Think about it. District offices up and down the state are employing thousands of people that have no direct connection to what is happening for students in the classroom. How does this structure allow for change and innovation?
Public education is underfunded in the amounts that are given per student and those needing special education services and support. School budgets are also being heavily burdened by the unfunded liabilities of the state retirement programs for teachers and classified team members. Add to that, rising salary and benefit costs, declining enrollment statewide, and the cost of living in the Golden State, you have a majority of public school districts in fiscal crisis year after year. Not only is more funding needed, but public education needs a complete makeover to ensure every dollar is directly impacting students. Just getting more funding is not the answer. If the structure is not fundamentally changed, the new dollars coming will not have the substantial positive impact needed.
We need adults at the local, regional, and state level to align around the fundamental principle, “What is best for students?” We have gone too long believing that change isn’t possible, it’s too hard, and a few cannot make a difference. We have to embrace the fact that there are forces working against that change, which is why we need more changemakers stepping forward to help. What has always been is not the answer for the betterment of public education. What is possible has to be the road we travel forward. We owe it to this next generation to stand on the shoulders of who led before us and say, “We saw the problem and chose to press in to innovate, change, and put the past behind us. Public education is the gateway to a better life. Let’s give more students the ability to learn at their own pace, in a school structure that embraces their differences, and is funded at a rate that truly values their potential as learners and scholars.
Our leadership at the Capitol in Sacramento has so much to learn about eliminating bureaucracy and the mandates that have a stronghold on public education. We need these people to also remember that more mandates, rules, and regulations do not translate into a student’s deeper thinking, higher test scores, or even better public schools. If anything, they limit potential, hinder learning, and stifle innovation. As we begin a new decade, may we see the real potential for public education, truly value its part in our society, and welcome new funding and opportunities as an outcome. Every student deserves a great education and that will not happen without our collective advocacy, tenacity, and commitment.
Cameron Curry is the Chief Executive Officer for The Classical Academies, an organization of award-winning, tuition-free, public charter schools serving 4600+ students in grades TK-12 in North San Diego County. Curry also serves on the board of the California Charter Schools Association and serves as commissioner for the California Department of Education Advisory Commission for Charter Schools (ACCS). For more information about The Classical Academies, visit www.classicalacademy.com