Business Leaders and Reformers In A Silo

Education reform organizations across Colorado (and around the country) are primarily run by business members and wealthy philanthropists. While they all want to say that schools are failing children, very few of these business members and philanthropists have actually spent time in a classroom working with children. Very often, they donate but never come into contact with students in their learning environment and all too often, these organizations don’t actually include educators on their boards as they decide what we need in order to “fix our schools.”

Without firsthand knowledge and without witnessing what goes on in a classroom on a daily basis, we get reforms that sound good but actually serve no one. We also get new laws and unfunded mandates, adding to the work that must be done at schools but very often it is work that doesn’t change the outcome for our students.

In viewing one such Colorado reform organization, more than half of the business members who support this group actually opposed Amendment 73. Knowing how pathetic funding is in Colorado, they still opposed funding education. They have no teachers who have worked in classroom at all on their staff and their staff backgrounds include marketing, administration, and politics.

Many call themselves nonpartisan but they have worked for only Republican legislators and campaigns and frequently promote those platforms in their work.

On their website, one touts “Eliminate silos, share everything. We believe that innovation is most likely to occur in an environment that encourages transparent sharing of information. Employers and educators should resist operating within silos to maximize the opportunity to learn from one another, avoid duplication, create greater alignment, and expedite the scaling of promising practices.”

Sounds good, right? If your business partner list doesn’t include one of our 178 school districts, zero of your board members are educators or personnel currently engaged in schools, and your members don’t volunteer regularly within schools and actually work with children, how do these reformers see themselves as anything but a giant silo unto themselves?

Another quote from their website – “Business leaders are uniquely qualified to share a new perspective. We are the radical middle, true problem solvers.”

What do they imagine educators are doing in classrooms? Our educators ARE the problem solvers working directly with children.

The reformers are talking about education, sharing misinformation often, jumping up and down about accountability and STEM, and calling themselves problem solvers while dangling prize money at schools – $137,000 in one year! And because schools are so desperate for funding, staff from 178 districts are willing to do cartwheels to get a few thousand dollars by filling out forms and submitting paperwork showing that they’re doing innovative work in classrooms. Schools and educators aren’t coming up with something new at the suggestion of these reform organizations, they’re simply submitting the evidence that they’re already doing this work that the reformers seem to believe is their new idea…

To put that $137,000 in perspective, PTAs with engaged parents bring in profits on average of $15,000 for a cookie dough fundraiser. Now multiply the PTA power of $15,000 times the number of 178 school districts or even the 155 schools just in Jeffco and see how engaged parents are more effective than the fundraising reform organizations. Not that cookie dough is the answer to education funding, because it’s not and that’s why engaged parents MUST be advocates as well!

Teachers and parents who are in classrooms every day are those who can tell you what our schools need to serve students. Principals and superintendents who have to make terrible decisions about what to fund and what not to fund can tell you what our schools need to serve students. PTA leaders who are organizing dinner nights, cookie dough fundraisers, selling magazines, organizing fun runs, and silent auctions to raise money can tell you what our schools need to serve students.

It’s called cash.

  • When you’re more than $2800 below the national average in per pupil funding (about $4000 below in Jeffco), it’s a funding issue.
  • When your teachers are paying for school supplies and food for students out of their own pockets while living in Government subsidized house and working multiple jobs, it’s a funding issue.
  • When your staff organizes walkouts and protests at the Capitol and along Wadsworth, it’s a funding issue.
  • When buildings are falling apart around children, it’s a funding issue.
  • When there are persistent achievement gaps and even growing gaps but a budget for interventionists doesn’t exist, it’s a funding issue.
  • When schools are funded at a rate less than they were in the 1980’s, it’s a funding issue.
  • When parents are walking neighborhoods selling cookie dough, magazines, and everything else under the sun for basic necessities such as desks, carpet, paras, and textbooks, it’s a funding issue.
  • When 95% of the superintendents and school boards in the state can agree on a new school finance bill and a constitutional amendment, it’s a funding issue.
  • When educators are out knocking on doors before every election, it’s a funding issue.

Who are the experts that we can turn to so we better serve our students? Who are the experts who know what our children in classrooms need? Who are the experts who deal with trauma in education? Who are the experts who deal with school violence, mental health, and safety issues?

The experts are our education staff that work in our schools day in and day out. The experts are the parent volunteers who are consistently donating their time to work with children.

They can tell you the stories and provide all the evidence you need or want. They’ve been telling us funding is an issue for years and they’ve been asking for resources for years.

When will the reformers listen to them? When will legislators listen to them? When will the community listen to them?

All of the business ideas in the world will never “fix” our schools or provide equity in education if they never bother to listen to the experts.

Imagine watching a group of people who work in a bank attempting to build a skyscraper with no equipment, no materials, and no construction workers. Sure, they’ve seen skyscrapers, and they may have been in a skyscraper before but they’re not experts on construction, engineering, or architecture and they don’t have the education or background to build one.

Why not ask the experts and let them do their jobs? Why not give the experts the tools they ask for to do their jobs? 

Businesses and reformers need to start valuing the experts.

Who are the experts in education?

Educators, teachers, classified staff, principals, superintendents, students, and engaged parents.

Reformers, you’re great at hosting fancy galas and organizing meetings to talk about education. You’re below average on fundraising, parents do a better job.

The only people in a silo are the businesses and reformers attaching themselves to rhetoric.

Wouldn’t your resources be better spent by donating directly to schools, informing your members about education funding issues, the suicide rate of our children, the school violence and safety issues our children and staff face daily, and joining real education advocates like Great Education Colorado, Colorado Fiscal Institute, or Colorado School Finance Project?

Joining ANY of the engaged organizations below who are and have been discussing education funding would be a nice start.

Business leaders and reformers, you must get out of YOUR silos and join the conversation!

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  • 120+ school districts and/or BOCES — Nearly 90% of Colorado students (790,000+ students) are in school districts that have stated how Amendment 73 resources would have been allocated
  • AFL-CIO (The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations)
  • AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees)
  • AFT (American Federation of Teachers)
  • Aspen Skiing Company
  • The Bell Policy Center
  • Community Foundation Boulder County
  • Business and Professional Women of Colorado
  • CAGT (Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented)
  • CAL (Colorado Association of Libraries)
  • CASL (Colorado Association of School Libraries)
  • CASB (Colorado Association of School Boards)
  • CASE (Colorado Association of School Executives)
  • CEA (Colorado Education Association)
  • Central Committee of the Colorado Democratic Party
  • Colorado Action for Healthy Kids
  • Colorado Children’s Campaign
  • Colorado AAUW
  • Colorado Council of Churches
  • Colorado Fiscal Institute (CFI)
  • Colorado Latino Forum
  • Colorado Nonprofit Association
  • Colorado School Finance Project
  • COSALC (Colorado State Association of Letter Carriers)
  • Colorado Working Families Party
  • Communications Workers of America (CWA)
  • The Foundation for District 11
  • Denver Education Compact
  • Denver Democrats Central Committee
  • DFER (Democrats for Education Reform)
  • DSST Public Schools
  • Early Childhood Council of Larimer County
  • Early Childhood Summit
  • Efec (Education Foundation of Eagle County)
  • El Paso Council PTA
  • Emerge Approach
  • Grassroots St. Vrain
  • Great Education Colorado
  • Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance
  • Greeley Chamber of Commerce
  • Greeley School District Foundation
  • Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)
  • Interfaith Alliance of Colorado
  • Jefferson Academy Charter School
  • League of Women Voters
  • Littleton Public Schools Foundation
  • ENUF Metro Denver
  • March for Science Denver
  • NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
  • NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado
  • National Council of Jewish Women, Colorado Section
  • Northeast BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services)
  • Padres & Jóvenes Unidos
  • Pro Ag Solutions
  • Pro15
  • ProgressNow Colorado
  • Project VOYCE
  • Poudre School District Foundation
  • Colorado PTA (Parent-Teacher Association)
  • Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
  • Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center
  • Colorado Rural Schools Alliance
  • Save the Children Action Network
  • Scholars Unlimited
  • SEIU (Service Employees International Union)
  • SMART (Sheetmetal, Air, Rail, and Transportation)
  • Stand for Children
  • Support Jeffco Kids
  • Teach Plus
  • The Arc of Colorado
  • The Arc of Colorado – Adams
  • The Arc of Colorado – Larimer
  • The Arc of Colorado – Mesa
  • The Arc of Colorado – Jefferson, Gilpin, Clear Creek
  • The Arc of Colorado – Weld
  • The Arc of Colorado – Southwest Colorado
  • The Arc of Colorado – Pikes Peak
  • The Arc of Colorado – Arapahoe & Douglas
  • Together Colorado
  • Understood-NCLD
  • YWCA Boulder County
  • Centennial BOCES
  • Uncompahgre BOCES
  • Town of Crested Butte
  • Town of Mt. Crested Butte
  • City of Golden (Golden City Council)
  • Grand Junction Sentinel
  • Craig Press
  • Aurora Sentinel
  • The Coloradoan