We have seen this movie; we know how it ends

rearview mirrorLast night, the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 159. The issue of Education Savings Accounts, or vouchers, will now go to the house, and if passed, the governor will sign a bill opening the door to steady drastic change. The time is now to consider the future of education in Iowa, and this has caused me to return to one of my very favorite books. The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge, has been one of the most important books in both my personal and professional life.

I see the world around me through a filter of systems thinking rooted in Senge’s work, and what is happening in our state has put a spotlight in my mind on a particular Law of the Fifth Discipline.

Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space. Senge (1990) wrote, “Often we are puzzled by the causes of our problems; when we merely need to look to our own solutions to other problems in the past.” Iowa is not the first state to package “school choice” as the solution to our educational problems. This means Iowans have a chance to travel this path with their eyes wide open. We still have an opportunity to avoid a future where our children and grandchild are wondering, how did this happen.

The state of Arizona started the Education Savings Account journey in the late-1990s with about $1 million of taxpayer money.  Today about $300 million of taxpayer money makes its way to non-public education programs and ventures. Iowa politicians and lobbyists have learned the same school choice playbook used in Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, and other states from organizations like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity.  Let’s take a look at what we can expect in 25 years.

Arizona children sit in crumbling classrooms. Who is fixing them? This Arizona Republic article was published on February 3, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are wondering why their local school is crumbling around their children, they won’t immediately recognize the link between their current state, and January 28, 2021, but if the governor’s efforts prevail, the link will be there.

This company says it’s ‘not a school’ and has no teachers. But it gets millions meant for charter, private schools. This Arizona Republic article was published on September 18, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are wondering how taxpayer funds intended for educating children, are going toward stock dividends and CEO compensation, they will email and call their elected officials, but won’t automatically recall how Kim Reynolds, Brad Zaun, Amy Sinclair, and others invited profits before learning into our state.

With class sizes as high as 40 students, can Arizona schools keep kids healthy? This Arizona Republic article was published on May 18, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are angry with local school boards and superintendents because of staff reductions and overflowing class sizes, a different generation of educators will be facing the consequences of the choices we are making today.

“Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions” (Senge, 1990).  Unfortunately, humans don’t naturally and automatically recognize root cause, and doing so becomes harder and harder with the passage of time. In Decorah Schools, we have a mission of Learning – Thriving – Creating Our Legacy. We intentionally call out Creating Our Legacy to heighten our awareness that we are the leaders of the systems in which we live and work. Our future is in our control, and the choices we make today ripple into the future farther than we can perceive.

There is still time to change our narrative. The Iowa House will take up Education Savings Accounts in the days and weeks to come. It is critical we recognize that what is happening at our statehouse is not a fixed moment in time. We are creating a future that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.

25 years from now, I will be 73 years old. I will be retired and a different generation of superintendents will be meeting the challenges of the day. My hope today is that Iowans will take actions that allow those in the future to see us as ancestors who left a legacy rather than ghosts.

3 thoughts on “We have seen this movie; we know how it ends”

  1. Thank you so much for documenting this case study. I truly do not see the need for this bill–I think it will only make the educational landscape worse, and further highlight the various inequities that already exist in Iowa.

  2. I could not agree more with your apt analogies and examples.
    I too am of an age where I can now look back on many of my own choices and see how they have changed or altered my current reality.
    As a father to a college senior at a private college in Iowa, a 22 year resident of this state, and a child of rural Wisconsin parents with very Midwestern ideals, I think it is truly as simple as you have suggested. We will reap what we sow in this instance. The product, the results we will see in the future of Iowa education will be just as the results have been in other states attempting to privatize something that is not easily molded to the for-profit (private) world.
    Public education is one of the greatest achievements in the ongoing creation of this nation and state. It will wither and die if left to those who see it as a way to profit or a way to make gains in areas of special or religious areas while using the advantage of taxpayer dollars.
    I too hope we as a state and a people can see past the glitter of what is often sold as an opportunity to provide more choice and better education as what it really is: a way to privatize public education and do so with the help of tax dollars and the government. To turn education over to the same model as most of the prison/jail systems in the state and nation is a mistake.
    I hope we as Iowans can see past this and work to create a legacy and future we can truly be proud of and honored to be remembered for.
    Thank you for all you do for the Decorah School District and the community.

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