The Last Word December 2013

 

Earlier this fall, NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel and I were chosen to represent our organization at NBC’s fourth annual Education Nation Summit in New York City. This high-profile event, which brings together a dynamic group of about 300 influential people with interests in education, is produced by NBC in coordination with corporate partners, including ExxonMobil, Pearson, University of Phoenix, and The Robin Hood Foundation.

The event serves as a rare opportunity to bring together a wide range of interests to converse about important topics in education. However, NSBA has been concerned that past Education Nation events have promoted charter schools and privatization and downplayed the positive things happening in public schools. This year's summit, which was themed “What It Takes” and examined student achievement, was a bit more provocative and nuanced in the messaging.

Perhaps the single strongest message from the event was the presentation by Rex Tillerson, the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world's largest companies. Tillerson has led the effort to promote and implement the Common Core State Standards. He declared that he would encourage ExxonMobil to adopt a policy whereby they would only recruit new employees from states that had embraced and implemented Common Core. He stated that he could not trust any state's educational output that did not embrace the higher standards of Common Core.

While NSBA’s Delegate Assembly has not yet adopted a “pro” or “con” position on the substance of the Common Core, we can certainly position ourselves as a strong player in the debate by ensuring this incredibly misunderstood and over-politicized issue is given the greatest clarity for debate.

I took advantage of the event to approach Tillerson with an offer to partner with NSBA to help advocate for the facts about the Common Core. We have since begun conversations about a potential partnership.

The proposed position of Tillerson and ExxonMobil represents yet another sea change in the debate over public education. We now have a major employer -- more than 79,000 global employees -- stating that the perceived or actual quality of public education will be a major determinant in the states from which it chooses to recruit or hire.

This is yet another clarion call for NSBA to play a significant role in advocating for equity and excellence in public education and school board governance.

And it wasn’t always easy to find Education Nation allies for school boards -- former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush even denounced America's 13,000 public school boards as “political monopolies.” But NSBA’s message came through during a lively debate over governance with a panel of governors from Indiana, Kentucky, and Massachusetts. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence noted that, “Education should be governed by those closest to those being educated.” In the question-and-answer session, I seized the opportunity to thank Pence for his public affirmation for local governance and asked the governors to discuss school board governance and leadership. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear extolled the virtues of school board leadership and talked of the outstanding partnership they had established in the Bluegrass State. (He was obviously well educated by NSBA’s Immediate Past President C. Ed Massey.)

School boards matter in student achievement. It is also a ratification of our knowledge and belief that public education is a vital national security interest that will determine our future success or failure in this increasingly competitive global market. The challenge for all members of our public education Army of Advocates is to make our message relevant and our voices resonant.

As we all engage in the implementation of our advocacy plan, please remember why this work is vital. Our world has changed and will continue to evolve. NSBA, under the leadership of Thomas J. Gentzel and Marie S. Bilik, has embraced the challenge to transform our internal operations. Now we must all embrace the challenge to transform our external advocacy. Public education will determine the future success of America. Our efforts today and over the next several months and years will determine the direction of that future.

David Pickler (dpickler@nsba.org) is the 2013-14 president of NSBA and a member of Tennessee’s Shelby County School Board.