Power ⁠t⁠o publ⁠i⁠c-school pr⁠i⁠nc⁠i⁠pals, no⁠t⁠ Be⁠t⁠sy DeVos’ pro⁠t⁠es⁠t⁠ers

By: The James Madison Institute / 2017



Extended plane trips can confer a unique opportunity in the human experience: completely candid discussions with a neighbor/passenger. Knowing the visit is finite might help seatmates comfortably spill otherwise vulnerable thoughts the pursuit of the grandest phenomenon in life, the truth. Recently I enjoyed just that – a refreshingly open discussion with a trial attorney – on board a 747.

As the flight bore on, in our amicable and forthright dialogue, he made an outright confession: Not many trial attorneys are friendly to our president, and this fellow was no exception. But in a moment of rhetorical disarmament, he acknowledged that Donald Trump uttered a profundity at his recent State of the Union address:

“Education reform is the civil-rights issue of this generation.”

Not allowing a disadvantaged mother the choice of sending her child to the school where she best sees fit is morally reprehensible.

Then he said it. He actually implicated the teachers unions for their chokehold on Democrats, not permitting their captors the liberty to vote their conscience.

I nearly fell into the aisle.

I then collected myself and did my part with a vulnerable deposit to the dialogue: Free markets, when legal boundaries are well marked and enforced, have done more to elevate humanity than any government initiative. Walmart has done more for the poor than any other entity. Trump's early inclinations to be a protectionist rankle libertarians. Said differently, protectionist policies raise costs. Moreover, Trump passed over free-market gurus for top spots in the administration, favoring Wall Street ilk instead. “Disappointing,” I offered to the curious attorney.

Back to education.

Over the last eight years, the federal government has poured hundreds of billions into public schools. And yet our public school students are not learning more.

Enter Betsy DeVos, change agent on behalf of the children, for school choice. Her recent Central Florida appearances at St. Andrew Catholic School in Pine Hills with Trump, and at Valencia College, were the sounding bell for education transformation.

One of the things she ought to do is more fully engage and empower principals of public schools. Ever notice how athletic coaches in sports and CEOs in business get so much attention? It's because the effectiveness of any organization can appropriately be rolled up to the one individual in charge. He/she sets the culture, which sets results. Bill Belichek for the dynastic New England Patriots; Steve Jobs for iconic Apple; Oprah for Harpo Inc. Yet in recent memory, principals have been given short shrift within our national dialogue about childhood learning. They matter.

Principals need more power. In last year's Teacher's Plus poll, nearly 75 percent of public school principals in California admitted to having to fire a young teacher, who was more qualified, rather than a senior teacher. Do you hear that nonsense? It's called Last One In, First One Out, and it must stop, in the name of common sense. LIFO is a swamp gadget, designed by teachers' unions, to keep backwater in place, undrained. The attorney sipped his club soda, nodding in agreement.

Bob McClure, president of Florida's free-market think tank, theJamesMadisonInstitute, puts it this way: “Hire great principals, pay them well, give them the tools to do their jobs and then get out of their way. Americans will be positively amazed at how quickly students start learning more.”

Consider asking your local public school principal this question: “If you could wave a reasonable magic wand, what would you ask for, to enable your students to learn more?” If you receive a response that is less than inspiring and august, like I did, then something's wrong – the consequences of which we'll continue to endure.

Also consider watching the movie, “Lean on Me.” Morgan Freeman's performance is powerful as a struggling public school principal; the message is illustrative of the important theme our secretary of education should expound upon.

Finally, I studied the face of a recent protester, standing in front of DeVos' vehicle, prohibiting her entry to hold office Day 1 and make change. It appeared the individual enjoyed being the victim of the situation, as handcuffs were appropriately affixed.

I asked my temporary companion, who also vividly remembered the incident, Was that protester really for the children?

Wryly, he smiled back.

We then said goodbye.

John L. Evans Jr. heads professional development for a global investment firm. He lives in Winter Springs.