National debate on education priorities

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by Pam Costain, 6/30/08 • In early June, the New York Times did a story about two groups of education leaders who are trying to interject public education issues in the presidential debate, as well as into the wider debate in civil society. One group put out a statement under the rubric of “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education” that was signed by a number of leading intellectuals, practitioners and school superintendents. It argues that if we want to improve student success we must focus on improving schools, but we also have to address the effects of poverty on our children. They suggest investments in early childhood education, health care access and out-of-school time. Interestingly, these issues are some of the principal commitments of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board.

A second group is made up of education activists, big city mayors and superintendents. Calling themselves the Education Equity Project, they argue for greater attention to teacher contracts, parental involvement and school accountability. They suggest that every decision must be made with the focus on what is best for children.

David Brooks wrote an editorial last week suggesting that Barack Obama (and presumably the rest of us) must choose between these two perspectives on improving educational outcomes for our kids: one that is committed to reforming schools from the inside (contract issues, parental involvement, school accountability) or another that is committed to addressing school success by focusing on outside conditions (poverty, health care, equal opportunity). I personally consider this a false choice. I believe MPS is currently pursuing a path of reform that recognizes all sides of this debate.

Finally none of this will change, in my opinion, as long as we spend billions of dollars on a senseless war and continue not to invest in our children.

Pam Costain is a member of the Minneapolis School Board.