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Engage the great schools debate

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Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 12:09 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

This week, we celebrate American Education Week, which presents all of us with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate public education and honor individuals who are making a difference in ensuring that every child receives a quality education. This week, we recognize veterans, parents, education support professionals, teachers and substitute


The overarching theme is “Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility.” This year, the theme seems quite fitting. After a divisive election season and fractured public discourse around public schools, it is important for us to focus on the historic purpose for public education.

Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of public education in a democratic society. For the public to participate in their democracy, it was important that they be educated. While it took many years, today all children have a right to a public education. Sadly though, all children still do not receive an equal education.

Instead of focusing on how to ensure every child receives a quality public education, the debate in the past 10 years has been around a whole host of issues that have done little to improve public education. Whether it is vouchers, eliminating educators’ rights to collectively bargain, imposing merit pay systems, evaluating teachers on test scores, none of these ideas have resulted in providing equity in public education.

Today there are students who attend underfunded schools, where the arts and physical education are no longer provided. They learn in school buildings where the roofs leak, the bathrooms are dysfunctional and playground equipment is nonexistent.

Our students do have a basic right to a quality public education, and as Americans and Alaskans, we have a responsibility to ensure they get one. Teachers and education support professionals make a difference in the lives of students. As president of NEA-Alaska, I am extremely proud of the innovation, compassion and dedication educators exhibit each and every day.

However, it takes all of us — educators, parents, community members, business leaders and politicians — to ensure students receive the quality education they deserve. It is not only in the students’ best interests that this occurs, but to the interest of our democracy.

We need to work together to improve and reform our public education system to meet the changing learning styles of our students, so they can meet the challenges of our changing world.

Ron Fuhrer, of Anchorage, is president of the National Education Association-Alaska. He is an economics and math teacher at McLaughlin School. He began his Alaska career in 1980 and taught social studies at Clark Middle School for 26 years, where he was also department chairman and wrestling coach.

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