Grading the #RedforEd Messages
by Paul Bentz | April 3, 2018
By: Paul Bentz
Education has consistently been the top issue facing the State of Arizona since 2014 and survey after survey shows that vast majorities of voters think schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid. Clearly, this issue is coming to a head across the country and here in Arizona. Education advocates have caught lightning in a bottle starting with the successful referral of the voucher expansion last year and continuing with the ongoing demonstrations at the Arizona State Capitol this year. They have proven success at reacting to the problems and mobilizing. The challenge now is transitioning from reacting to problems to leading the discussion on solutions.
As a product of public schools and with my children in public school now, I am a strong believer in public education and want it to succeed. Over the past few years, I have worked on a wide variety of education issues from Proposition 100 to a significant number of local school bonds and overrides. Along the way, I have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t. The school supporters that we have consulted with have come to realize that they have to work much harder to pass their issues and utilize more sophisticated messaging that focuses on leading instead of reacting.
As I am watching the parade of protestors and posters at the #RedforEd march, I am growing concerned that the lessons we have learned from the education campaigns are not translating to the latest demonstrations. I very much support their effort, but I am concerned that they are hurting – not helping – their chances with the very audiences they need to convince.
The reality is that November 2018 is a Gubernatorial Cycle with significantly lower turnout than a Presidential Election. We know who is definitely going to vote in this election – Republicans will continue to have a double-digit participation advantage and more than half of the electorate will be over the age of 50. The environment may lead some additional audiences to participate, but the fact of the matter is, when the President is not on the ballot, turnout will be much lower.
So, with that in mind, I thought I would take a minute to offer up some grades for some of the protest messages and share some thoughts:
Grade A: “Keep Arizona Businesses Here”
“Keep Arizona Businesses Here” is a powerful message that directly translates the importance of education for our long-term growth and economic success. If we think we have a chance to attract companies like Amazon or Apple, we must have strong schools. In our survey research, this is a universally supported message across all partisan and age groups. It is a homerun and should be repeated as often as possible.
Grade B: “Strong Schools Strong State”
While advocates typically want to talk about education in its pure academic form, there are other ways to change the discussion while still directly relating to education. Case in point, our quality of life as a community is directly related to our ability to educate our children. Public safety, property values, and crime can all be linked to education. “Strong Schools Strong State” speaks to that notion.
Grade C: “Students are our Future. Invest!”
So close. If this sign had said, “Students are our future workforce,” it would have received an A grade. In a lot of electoral environments, we have found that “Do it for the children” has finally run its course as a reason for supporting education. Ultimately, our future ability to attract jobs and economic opportunities depends on our ability to provide a trained workforce for companies to hire and our ability offer quality education to the employees of companies who choose to locate here. Voters strongly believe that we need more highly-skilled and trained workers and we need them now.
Grade D: “I don’t want to strike”
If the debate continues on the same path that it is on now, we will be stuck in the same spot with advocates demonizing elected officials and their high efficacy constituencies and our leaders continuing to lay the blame on the specter of bloated bureaucracies and faceless administrators who refuse to put money into the classroom. The only chance for success lies in the ability to change the conversation and find ways to appeal to a broader coalition of support. I can assure you, there are a lot of Republicans who care about education. The same can be said about seniors, conservatives, and many other subgroups. However, in my experience, they do not react well to threats. Public opinion is on your side, but that may change if an extended strike were to take place.
Grade F: “Better have my money”
I get that its an attempt at humor, but this is NOT helpful. I’m sure it received a lot of high fives at the rally, but everyone must realize they aren’t preaching to the choir. They must also appeal to elected officials and their high efficacy constituencies who have different priorities. In fact, it’s critically important to remember that more than 70% of the electorate do not even have children under 18 at home with them and nearly 40% of all likely voters will be over the age of 65. Using derogatory names does not help. The public is on your side and you are building momentum to make things happen. Don’t give people excuses (no matter how flimsy) to sit on the sidelines.
Randy, Iâ€™ve heard this rhetoric for years. Everyone has a list of what has to be done before theyâ€™ll pay teachers more. Funny thingâ€”lots of different lists. It allows folks to feel virtuous, while underpaying the people who educate the kids in our state. Weâ€™ve moved the bar so many times and in so many ways, Iâ€™m shocked anyone is willing to go into the profession. We can all cite examples of people who underperform in every profession. My recommendation is to weed out those who arenâ€™t performing, not hold everyone elseâ€™s pay hostage to others whose performance they canâ€™t control. FYI, Iâ€™m not an educator. Paul, nice analysis.
Claudia Walters - April 3, 2018
Hi Claudia, I wish I were feeling virtuous, but I am not. I would like our children to get the best education they can in our schools, but they are not. Paying teachers more will not solve the crisis, but it certainly is a starting point in a serious conversation about our education system.
Randy Pullen - April 3, 2018
Hi Paul, I agree with teachers need to be paid more. But before that happens, there need to be fundamental changes to the way our public schools operate. First, they have way too many administrators. Second, the tenure system needs to be replaced by a merit system. Teach more kids, and they have higher scores on exams, you get paid more. This is just getting started. Having taught school, there are some teachers who work 50 hours a week. I did, but that is because I also coached the baseball team and helped on the football team when they were traveling. There were some teachers who taught their 5 classes a day and went home working maybe 7 hours. The teacher's aid graded the homework and test papers.They were the ones who complained the most at lunchtime about the hours. If they had to show up once a month for a dance or a social event, they were annoyed.
Randy Pullen - April 3, 2018
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of childrenâ€™s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production I love our current education system. Just bringing you a step closer to Karl Marx. Woo Hoo! The fight is about indoctrination. Sheep to the slaughter.
Rusty Burton - April 20, 2018
Why the heck did I get an engineering degree and a masters when all I had to do was protest and receive a 20% pay hike? This is a political movement using children as collateral. Make a demand the republican governor can't possibly fulfill without raising taxes and losing his base. When he doesn't meet the full extent of the demand, teachers still get a generous pay hike, but democrats campaign as champions of the children, and republicans are fed up with tax hikes. In other words, a heads I win, tails I don't lose situation for democrats.
Will F - May 2, 2018
Mr. Bentz you make some valid points; nevertheless, I respectfully disagree with your argument regarding a possible walk-out. For years, I have campaigned and actively partaken in numerous political actions promoting issues pertaining to public education just to witness that we, the educators, are short-changed despite voters voting in our favor. It is time that as a collective body we draw a line and take a stand; otherwise, the lip service will continue and nothing will change. I am an AZ Resident since 20+ years and witness that the plight of the educator becomes increasingly more challenging (i.e. each year we have to do more with less). We should not have to fight so hard to earn a decent wage, to be respected as professionals, to receive support, to work in adequate working conditions, to receive necessary supplies etc. etc. etc.
Petra Schmid-Riggins - April 8, 2018
Your grading criteria is spot on in the political climate of Arizona. Business is king in this state and getting people to see that top quality schools not only keeps talent in our state, but also draws in top talent that helps keep our economy sound and growing is key. Finding the optimal level of revenue that will allow us to recruit and retain top quality educators in Arizona, is really the big question. Our current funding levels are not getting the job done based the stateâ€™s teacher shortage. What would it take to get to optimal level? Open minds and a willingness to find solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems is the best place to start. Getting us back to pre-ressession education spending levels seems reasonable to me as those levels where not seen as unreasonable or excessive in 2007 and 2008. The when and how are the difficult discussions and choices our leaders and us as citizens of this state need to make. I like the idea of our elected leaders crafting a reasonable method of raising the needed revenue to support 2008 sending levels and putting the idea before the citizens of Arizona in 2018 if possible. However, I think it will take more time to create an innovative solution (ballot initiative) that a majority of citizens would go for, so I think the year 2020 is the best hope.
Donavon Price - April 5, 2018
I agree with your points. We have to advocate that strong schools are a foundational cornerstone to a strong economy. I am a teacher, and I know that playing the "pay me more" card will NOT garner the support of the majority of the public. To those who say, "get a different job" they see us as playing victims who just want sympathy. We have to frame our message based on who it is trying to persuade. When i speak to community groups, I focus on education as an economic tool. We provide the workforce, we provide the schools for their management to educate their families, our students today, will be our workforce tomorrow. Those messages hit the corporations and businesses where it matters to them. Educators are passionate people, and that is a good thing. We do need to be intentional and specific about our public message. This fight is not about teacher pay. This fight is about funding public education and building a strong economy!
Susan Collins - April 5, 2018
Randy Pullen...where and what did you teach? First, in Arizona there is not a tenure system. Second, I just about choked on my coffee as I read that a TA graded papers. Where are these magical teacherâ€™s assistants? I teach first grade and donâ€™t coach and I can assure you that I work 50-60 hours of work a week. In the summer, I work about 20 hours a week in the summer prepping for the next year. Most teachers I know work just as hard and again there is not a TA that does our work for us. Are there bad teachers? Absolutely. But unless they do something illegal, they stay. Why you ask? There is no one to take their spot. When I began teaching, there were 12 applicants for every job. Now, there is one applicant and 12 jobs to be filled. Please provide examples of specific school districts and how they are top heavy. I do not believe my district is top heavy, and trust that each of them has an essential role to fill. Last, I love the message in this article. This movement is about so much more than increasing our pay. It is about our children and providing them with what they need. We need smaller class sizes, relevant instructional material, clean/safe spaces to learn, and the best teachers! In the last decade, since all the huge tax cuts have been given, what BIG businesses have moved here? No company would relocate to a state with a system as broken as ours!
T Hyde - April 5, 2018
As the husband of a teacher, I can tell you first hand that it is NOT a part time job.
Paul Bentz - April 4, 2018