First, I was a teacher, then a principal about the time No Child Left Behind came along. At my elementary school my staff and I had already been working on reforms for our school. We did a good job. Our reforms were designed for OUR kids and they paid off because they were the right reforms for OUR school. But then along came NCLB, and we were suddenly marching to a different drummer. We spent a lot of valuable time doing meaningless things. One of the most meaningless was this one: PROVE (TO US, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT) THAT WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS WORKING! All they had to do was look at our scores from previous years to see that our students had made great strides and were on grade level or above. But no. We had to enter ten years of their many versions of testing, testing testing — taking away from important instructional time in the classroom.
By the time I retired in December 2009, I felt like Alice in Wonderland wandering around in a maze. As more and more federal “reforms” were put into place the worse things became. So I started this website hoping it would connect me with other educators and parents across the nation — and that together, we could do something. This website was actually noticed by a group called Save Our Schools. They were planning a march in D.C. in 2011 and asked me to be on the board. Keeping up this website and working on the board kept me hopping. I was involved in everything and had the privilege of working with some wonderful knowledgeable educators and parents from across the nation, such as Anthony Cody, Ken Bernstein, Nancy Flanagan — and many others.
So we actually pulled the march off. Very unlike me to be in a march — but I was angry at what Congress had done to the profession I loved. It was estimated that 5,000 – 8,000 people showed up at the march. We were hoping for more — but it was a start. And we had reached through our website thousands more who supported us but could not make the trip.
Before I left for D.C., I had made appointments with my two Arizona Senators and my Congressman. Never did I think I would be by my lonesome in the Halls of Congress stating my cause! What an interesting experience.
Following scenario repeated 3 times in 3 different offices:
Me: Katherine Cox. I have an appointment.
Desk: Who do you represent?
Me: (not understanding) Who do I represent? Well, I represent me. I am a retired teacher and elementary and high school principal who wants Senator (or Congressman) So and So to know how damaging NCLB has been and to do something.
Desk: (suddenly very bored) Ohh. Wait and someone will be with you.
It took me awhile to understand. Although I had had real experience in the trenches and my advice was based on experience — rather than just being an opinion from someone who had not been an educator — it meant nothing to Washington unless I represented a lobbying group. I could have said I represent Save Our Schools, but I didn’t think of it. I was there to relate my own experience under NCLB.
During each of the 3 meetings I got to meet with the Big Guy’s educational advisor — two twenty-somethings and one thirty-something. Two of them were very bored. The thirty-something did take notes as I spoke. I asked them all if they had been teachers. No. I asked them all if they had been to Arizona. No. After going through a litany of the unintended consequences of NCLB, I was passionate: Congress has to do something. You have to get rid of No Child Left Behind, said me. At least two of the “advisors” said, ‘”No one in Congress likes NCLB but no one knows what to do about it.” The end.
After meeting with those “advisors” I felt hopeless. What could I do? Everyone involved with organizing the March was exhausted and after we went home,we all went on to other endeavors. I stopped writing my blog but watched aghast as President Obama came out with Blueprint for Reform and Race to the Top. Then Common Core came along, and I watched my third grade grandson in Phoenix struggle with Common Core math. He is now in 7th grade and knows very little math.
And now we have the next version of No Child Left Behind. It’s called ESSA — Every Child Succeeds Act. It’s better, more realistic, and there’s more local control. But I’m wary, very wary.
So I’m running for school board in Lake Havasu City, Arizona — a place with a gem of a school district — but not even all of the people in my town understand how good it really is. I want to change that. I want to rebuild confidence and trust in our local schools by explaining how schools work and how school finance works. I’m willing to talk to groups, write a column, answer questions, address rumors — do just about anything to, at least locally, restore the public’s confidence in our own local schools.(One of the sad consequences of all of this “reform” has been the demonizing of all public schools and public school teachers. Certainly many schools need major reform but many were, and still are, serving their students quite well.)
As a board member I will work hard to address and help change inadequate state funding of schools. Arizona is about 49th in per pupil funding. Unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. You’ll hear a lot more from me about this issue on this website, I promise.
And as a board member, I will keep an eye on ESSA and how it’s working in my school district. Whatever wastes time and money, whatever is meaningless — you can bet I will leave no stone unturned to get the legislature, the state board, the state superintendent to take notice and DO SOMETHING.
Whether or not I am elected to the school board, I will keep up this blog. I have already developed a map of Arizona counties that will go on the home page after the November election. Visitors to the site can click on their own county and leave feedback as to how things are going locally. I plan to connect with others like myself so that together we become a force (a lobby? I hate that word) that our state legislators pay attention to. Sadly, without the bucks to help pay for their campaigns, most legislators will pay little attention. But, there’s always the vote. It doth, doesn’t it, make a powerful difference?
So, Lake Havasu, I ask for your vote on November 8. I am a doer, I know what I’m talking about, and I am a change agent. I am accessible and am not only a good listener –but I WANT to hear your point of view. Together, you and I can make a difference!