This story also illustrates why it is also important to have a diverse employee group, including different generations. Our publics and target audiences today are more fragmented than ever before. One size doesn’t fit all and likely will fail as a communications strategy. We need a robust mix of personal, digital, and experiential communications, backed and supported by more limited printed documents.
The goal is to build relationships that benefit you and the organization, and to create communications and experiences that inform, engage, position, and—ultimately—foster behavioral change. The goal is not to create and distribute a lot of stuff, or win a bunch of communications awards, although we sometimes lose sight of that. Relationships will always matter most; but how we maintain and strengthen those relationships will vary greatly based on new technologies and communications preferences driven by age, ethnicity, race, gender, wealth, and other demographic factors.
5. Adapt. During 2011, the earth shifted for public schools, although I’m not sure most educators noticed. The 30-year movement to privatize and deregulate public schools finally reach the tipping point, with top leaders of both parties calling for more parental choice and charter schools.
Now, I must admit I struggle with charter schools, primarily because they drain resources from traditional public schools, don’t want to pay teachers well, and typically do not serve all students—particularly the homeless and those who receive services for English language learners and special education. Frankly, I never really thought we needed them, and I saw charters as a way to use public dollars to subsidize white and socioeconomic flight from needy public schools.
And yes, I write this while acknowledging there are some fine charter schools that are exceptions to this school of thought, just as there are some fine traditional public schools that are beating the odds and serving high-need children well. I would point out, however, that many of these fine traditional public schools are doing this without the high attrition rates and counseling-out processes that are well-documented in the research literature, particularly research literature that wasn’t funded by one side or the other of the charter school debate.
I also have not seen compelling research that points to increasing competition in schooling as improving performance. What I have seen is vast amounts of data and research that paint a dispiriting picture of a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots. Since we tried this once before in this country, with abysmal, immoral, and inhumane results, I think we can predict with a fair degree of certainty where this will lead, especially if good people do nothing.
Sadly, from my vantage point, we are where we are. Charter school caps have been lifted nationwide. This is no longer just an urban school challenge—charter schools are now competing with highly successful suburban schools for students, parents, and community support, at the same time that public school budgets have been pillaged and burned, almost to the ground.
And, like the utility companies before us, we are being held to a different set of standards, regulations, legal and ethical obligations. The playing field is not, and likely will not be, level for some time—if ever.
We have passed the tipping point, and now we must find a way to make sure the children we care so deeply about get the education they deserve—regardless of ability, socioeconomic status, immigration status, language barriers, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race, or other social constructs and systemic challenges that have created the achievement gap and continue to sort, sift, and categorize children as if they were widgets on an assembly line.