“State” the Case

Across the nation, governors and chief state school officers are now delivering their annual addresses and preparing their annual budgets.  But what role will education (and education reform) play in these rhetorical events?  Shrinking real estate tax rolls, worries of a recession, and demands of other social programs have many thinking that 2008 will not be the year of education.

Fortunately, we are starting to see that educational improvement is not necessarily sitting on the sidelines this year.  Governors and state supes are talking about early childhood education and STEM.  They are talking about real improvements, not merely attacking NCLB or the state status quo.  And they are demonstrating that education is one of the strongest ways to strengthen the schools, the economy, and the future of the state.

How do they do it?  Let’s go west, young men and women, and take a look at how California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken control of the bully pulpit and talked education.

In his state of the state, Schwarzenegger announced:

* California will be the first state to use its NCLB powers to turn challenged districts around, allocating a higher percentage of NCLB funds to the districts that need them most
* Establish a differentiated assistance model to get funds and support to underachieving schools.
* Provide greater flexibility to high-performing schools
* Improve the quality and access of information available to parents, educators, and policymakers on California’s teacher shortages

We’ll wait until later this week to see how the good governor is going to fund all of this, but what are the rhetorical benefits of such a platform?

* Schwarzenegger recognizes that reform requires a broad group of partners and stakeholders.  He made clear that success requires the involvement of parents, educators, the business community, the legislature, and the public at large.
* He is focused on results.  How do we get more resources to those states that need to improve their results?  How do we reward those schools and students that are already doing well?
* He is focused on improvement, not tearing down and building new.  He’s using the NCLB powers available to him (and unused by others).  He’s taking control of state purse strings.  He’s acting, not reacting.

Schwarzenegger is not the only governor talking the talk and walking the walk.  We’re seeing similar talk in statehouses across the nation.  But for those who say we can’t talk about these issues now, or such issues are too wonky, take a closer look.  The California Guv has integrated education into his broader message, and demonstrated an understanding for the key issues and a focus on the future.  And it may just work …

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