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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bubbles and Numbers

Bubbles and Numbers

Warning: This is not a political statement.

Set aside your political philosophy for a moment and consider the following with an unbiased view and a chance to apply a different view to the arena of public school education. Regardless of your party affiliation, this message applies to any organization, particularly one that is heavily invested in working with people and for people, such as public schools.

Just as autopsies are conducted to determine how someone died and forensics seek answers to criminal or legal mysteries, audits reveal important trends about an organization. Most people think of finances when they think of audits but there are other types of audits that are equally revealing in producing data that can be converted into useful information. For instance, schools examine data to “listen” to what the numbers say about programs and practices – are we meeting the needs of each and every sub-group of the learner population – by race, gender, economic level, intellectual level,…?

The conclusion of the recent election cycle has provided both parties with fresh data that shows whether and to what degree they connected with the hopes and aspirations of those they sought to attract as supporters. Please temporarily discard ideology before reading any further. Again, this writing isn’t intended to be political or cast aspersions on any party, but merely designed to look at how a group can review data in an organizational audit of services and practices in an effort to develop strategies for improvement in the future.

Many Republican leaders at the national level have analyzed the disaggregated data from the election, much like we break down the data stream from tests to discrete parts that allow us to search for pivotal leverage points to (“look for a difference that makes a difference”) to improve the teaching and learning dynamic. The pundits and analysts have now painted a picture of a party that was “living in a bubble” based on the spectrum of various groups of people supporting their party. That is, it is believed by reflective Republicans that their platform did not mirror the changing fabric of society and thereby appealed to a narrower slice of the population than that of the Democrats. Bear with me. Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article by Michael D. Shear that was published on November 7th.

The demographic changes in the American electorate have come with striking speed and have left many Republicans, who have not won as many electoral votes as Mr. Obama did on Tuesday in 24 years, concerned about their future. The Republicans’ Southern strategy, of appealing mostly to white voters, appears to have run into a demographic wall.
“Before, we thought it was an important issue, improving demographically,” said Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union. “Now, we know it’s an essential issue. You have to ignore reality not to deal with this issue.”
The central problem for Republicans is that the Democrats’ biggest constituencies are growing. Asian-Americans, for example, made up 3 percent of the electorate, up from 2 percent in 2008, and went for Mr. Obama by about 47 percentage points. Republicans increasingly rely on older white voters. And contrary to much conventional wisdom, voters do not necessarily grow more conservative as they age; until the last decade, a majority of both younger and older voters both tended to go to the winner of the presidential election.
This year, Mr. Obama managed to win a second term despite winning only 39 percent of white voters and 44 percent of voters older than 65, according to exit polls not yet finalized conducted by Edison Research. White men made up only about one-quarter of Mr. Obama’s voters. In the House of Representatives next year, for the first time, white men will make up less than half of the Democratic caucus.
The Republican Party “needs messages and policies that appeal to a broader audience,” said Mark McKinnon, a former strategist for George W. Bush. “This election proved that trying to expand a shrinking base ain’t going to cut it. It’s time to put some compassion back in conservatism. The party needs more tolerance, more diversity and a deeper appreciation for the concerns of the middle class.”

The author goes on to add:

But the immediate question for Republicans, people in the party say, is how to improve their image with voters they are already losing in large numbers. “You don’t have to sell out on the issues and suddenly take on the Democratic position on taxes to win the black vote or the Latino vote or the women vote,” said Corey Stewart, a Republican who is chairman of the Board of County Supervisors in Prince William. “But you do have to modulate your tone.”
What does all of this mean for public schools? Let me be clear, I am not comparing public school education with the Republican Party. However, a case can be made that public schools are facing a similar challenge – successfully meeting changes in society and the marketplace of ideas by clearly defining our purpose and scope while expanding our ability to accommodate more followers.
The nature and direction of our society has changed drastically over the last few decades. Not only have the needs, interests, and backgrounds of children walking through public school doors changed, so has the market, and so has technology. Charter Schools are growing in number and increasing their reach. According to statistics from the U.S Department of Education, Home Schooling is actually the fastest growing source of alternatives to public school education. Add in private and parochial schools (and the potential for virtual, on-line schools) and one can readily see how competitive the educational market has become.

Are we, as public school advocates, prepared to objectively analyze the social/political/cultural/financial landscape and gain a realistic orientation? Can we redefine the central tenets of our purpose and clearly differentiate ourselves from the host of competitors that are continually encroaching on a market that was nearly monopolized by public schools two generations ago? Are we clinging to a past that has grown more distant each year? Are we denying the reality of our situation.
What do you think public school education will look like five years from now?

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