One of the first things I learned as a farm boy is that you do not plant your crop until you have the ground prepared.  In those days this meant plowing and disking and getting a soil test to tell us what kind, and how much, fertilizer to use.

In my opinion, this is the step that was totally ignored in the current intervention effort in Montgomery public schools by the state superintendent of education.

There is a reason we call them “public” schools.  Because that is who they belong to.  And until the public is ready to be involved in changes, all the money spent on consultants and “turnaround school” specialists is seed been strewn on unprepared ground.

Mike Sentance needs to read David Mathews book, Is There A Public For Public Schools?  In fact, every member of the Montgomery County school board, the state school board and anyone interested in education needs to read this little 82-page book written in 1996.  For those who may not know, David is the longtime head of the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, OH.  A native of Grove Hill, AL, he was president of the University of Alabama before President Gerald Ford called him to Washington to head the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of David, one of the most down-to-earth thinkers I’ve ever known.

My copy of this book is pockmarked with highlighted passages.  The overarching message is that while schools were once an integral part of a community or a neighborhood, this connection has largely been severed, partly by the community and partly by education bureaucracy.

Some passages:

“Unhappily, many Americans no longer believe the public schools are their public schools.  On the contrary, all kinds of school reorganization go on with little regard for the effect on the relationship between the public and its schools.  However reasonable in their own right, market-based reforms, court decrees, increased financial control by state governments, and professionally set standards may be putting citizens at an even greater distance from the public schools.

Erosion of our commitment to a system of public schools should be taken very seriously.

There may be so few people supportive of the idea of public schools–so small a community for these inherently community institutions–that school reform may need to be recast as community building.  In other words, certain things may have to happen in our communities before we can see the improvements we want in our schools.

Fundamental change has to start with the public and within the community if it is to be effective against the structural impediments in school systems that tend to block that change.  It is also unlikely that schools will change unless communities change, unless citizens increase their capacity to band together and act together.

If the relationship between citizens and what are supposedly their schools is weak, fragile, and in disrepair, the first thing we need to do is not weaken it further.

If the schools are losing the public, as the research suggests, or if “public” schools mean little more today than schools paid for by taxes and controlled by boards of citizens, then no plan for reform or reorganization should be attempted without looking at its impact on what appears to be a very fragile relationship linking the public and the school.”

And it is only when those who do understand step up and call forth their fellow citizens to join them will we see real progress.  Every thing else will just be smoke and mirrors and wasted time and money.