Executive Perspective Page 47
A Mission of Advocacy
BY DANIEL A. DOMENECH
Several years ago, we decided to re-examine AASA’s mission statement. For years, our focus had been on the professional development of our members, and we have done that well. But as we sat down with our Executive Committee and asked ourselves the question why should AASA exist, it became apparent that professional development alone could not be the answer.
Back in the day, few organizations could deliver professional development the way AASA did. We had access to the members and access to the best speakers at the national level. Today that scenario has changed and is more competitive, with many of the professional organizations offering excellent workshops, seminars and conferences.
On the other hand, if we ask the question: “What can AASA do that nobody else can?” the answer clearly is advocacy on behalf of public education representing the nation’s superintendents and administrators. Consequently, our new mission statement reads: “The American Association of School Administrators advocates for the highest quality public education for all students, and develops and supports school system leaders.”
AASA has become synonymous with advocacy, and our team, headed up by Bruce Hunter with Noelle Ellerson and Sasha Pudelski, is well recognized and respected on Capitol Hill.
If there was ever a time when public education needed a strong voice in Washington, D.C., it is today. Federal intrusion into state and local education matters is at an all-time high. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act has yet to be reauthorized, and the education budget is subject to the ravages of the economic recession. We need to maintain dialogue with both political parties in both houses of Congress as well as with the Department of Education and the White House.
“AASA advocacy is only as effective as the voice of our members who push for what is best for our schools,” says Ellerson, assistant director for policy analysis and advocacy. “Our elected officials need to hear directly from the educators in the field.”
One critical component in our ability to influence the legislative process has been the surveys that Ellerson conducts on current issues. Staffers on the Hill reach out to us for the results of our latest survey, recognizing it as real-time data that may or may not support proposed legislation. The national survey on the number of positions that would be eliminated by school districts helped with the passage of the federal jobs bill.
With growing frequency, we are receiving requests for our members to testify before Congressional committees. Among them was Benny L. Gooden, AASA president-elect, who recently testified before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., on issues related to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. AASA member Bob Grimesey, superintendent in Orange County, Va., also has testified and held talks with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., about key education issues.
Recognizing the strength in numbers, we often collaborate with our colleagues at the National Education Association (current workplace of former AASA public policy staffer Mary Kusler), the American Federation of Teachers, the National School Boards Association and the national associations of elementary and secondary principals to advocate for legislative positions we can all support.
You may recall our push for regulatory relief that resulted in the administration’s waiver proposal. It was not necessarily what we wanted, but there was recognition that the No Child Left Behind regulations are flawed and that the secretary of education has the authority to suspend those regulations. Unfortunately, we were not asking for the suspension of one set of regulations in exchange for another.
The political climate here in Washington is as toxic as we have ever seen it. We see little chance of ESEA being reauthorized prior to the presidential elections. What happens afterward undoubtedly will be subject to the results of the election but, based on what we have seen from both parties, we can anticipate that adequate yearly progress as we know it will be replaced by state-devised accountability measures incorporating some form of continuous progress assessment with standards established by each state. The disaggregation of subgroup data will remain as per NCLB. The evaluation of teachers and principals based partially on student performance will also likely be a component of the new law.
One thing you can be sure of: The AASA advocacy team will be highly active, airing your issues and concerns at every step of the legislative process. The team’s work will succeed to the extent you lend your voice to its efforts.
Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org