Collaboration. Not Competition. That’s What We Need For Public Schools.

“Collaborate” :intransitive verb. Noun form is “collaboration” – 1:to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor 

Simply put, collaboration as described in that first definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website is the best resource/tool that a school can have and that leaders can encourage.

What makes schools work best are the relationships between the people: administration, teachers, students, parents, and community. No set of standards, no checklist, no standardized test, and no evaluation criteria can ever really measure the importance of people using other people as their best resources to create a collaborative learning environment where students can achieve optimally.

In a “reform – minded” culture that promotes business models for education and screams for “competition” on an uneven playing field, the very entity that really gets eroded is the ability for professional educators to “work jointly with others or together.” Initiatives like merit pay, bonuses for test scores, removal of class size caps, and elimination of due-process rights creates a culture of insular competition.

Public education is not a partisan issue. The state constitution specifically ensures that each student is entitled to a quality public education. It is a public good and a public service. The key word there is “public” and not “private.”

The picture below from WRAL.com shows the meeting room of the State Board of Education.

SBOE

In rather ornate fashion the state constitution is quoted on the wall. It says, “THE PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO THE PRIVILEGE OF EDUCTION AND IT IS THE DUTY OF THE STATE TO GUARD AND MAINTAIN THAT RIGHT.”

The two people sitting right below that quote are Bill Cobey, Chairman of the Board, and Mark Johnson, the State Superintendent.

To say that those two are not collaborating is putting it mildly.

This Thursday, the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent will be back in court – facing each other in competition. Melissa Broughton’s report in NC Policy Watch this week highlights the inability for the very people who control schools to actually collaborate amongst themselves. From Broughton:

“The three-judge panel that ruled in favor of Johnson in a lawsuit over a transfer of power from the Board will hear a motion for a temporary stay pending the Board’s appeal. According to the motion, counsel for both parties spent six weeks trying to come to an agreement for a temporary stay but were unsuccessful” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/09/11/nc-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-return-court-later-week/#sthash.D186QZe3.dpbs).

That same piece also included a rather telling graphic.

PUBLIC-EDUCATION-300x251

It suggests that the stability of our state’s capacity to offer a quality free public education rests on the willingness of the “legs” to collaboratively work together. However, that is not happening. They are too much in competition.

Most people who follow education in North Carolina know that when Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, he was almost immediately granted excessive legislative powers to run the public schools by the NC General Assembly in a power grab. That is what precipitated the lawsuit that is still ongoing and the current “stay” of the latest court decision. What the NCGA granted Johnson was power that was not thought to be in the hands of a state superintendent when people elected Johnson.

Broughton further reports,

Without a temporary stay pending the Board’s appeal, the law in question that transfers power from the Board to Johnson will move the entire $10 billion public school system under the control of a single individual for the first time in North Carolina history, the motion states.

That transfer of power would change that three-legged dynamic in the graphic above seismically.

Two legs would grow and one would shrink. And the seat that represents our “quality free public education” would not be balanced. Whoever sits on it would fall over.

The checks and balances that help make sure that access to a quality free public education exists for all students relies on the checks and balances of the three entities that help shape educational matters. But rather than collaborate, there has been collusion and competition, especially from Johnson and the NCGA.

And our schools have suffered from it.

It seems that people like Berger, Moore, Barefoot, and other GOP stalwarts as well as Johnson could take a lesson from our teachers in public schools who see collaboration as the key to success in schools.

Of course there are other definitions of “collaboration.” The second one on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website states,

2:to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy 

Maybe that’s the collaboration that Johnson and the NCGA are thinking about.

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