Where Is the Focus?
Two superintendents recently asked me to disclose a list of donors to the Show-Me Institute, as well as the amount of their donations. This came after my request for their employment contracts with their respective school districts. I asked how their school districts paid them; they asked who paid for my research.
But there’s a crucial difference. Their districts pay them with taxpayer dollars. The Show-Me Institute pays me with private ones. The two situations just aren’t comparable.
Classifying superintendent compensation as part of public record isn’t arbitrary. Missouri citizens fund superintendents, and they have a right to know where their tax dollars are going.
When denying our request to waive research and copying fees, one superintendent wrote that this research wouldn’t serve the public good, but rather personal agendas.
While I understand asking about compensation can be a touchy subject, superintendents signed up for this. They made themselves public figures the moment they took a job with a public entity. But the knee-jerk protectionist tendency is still there. Even when superintendents comply with my requests and send their contracts, the information sometimes come with comments.
“I understand it is your intent to lobby against public schools with this information,” wrote one superintendent on a cover page sent with his contract. “What a shame, the focus continues to be on anything but the students.”
I am not writing this post because I feel the need to defend or justify my research. I would hardly be working for the education branch of an organization if my intent were to fight against public education. I am a product of public education, from elementary school clear through to the public university I attended. But I do want to address, again, the purpose of what Audrey and I are doing.
So, where is the focus? Well, I think it’s fair to say that the students don’t have a lot of say in what gets taught to them, what resources they’re provided with, or who makes the decisions about those things. It’s the adults, not the children, that should be the focus of research into the cost and efficacy of public education.
Neither Audrey nor I have an agenda. We’re not trying to uncover scandals or make superintendents look bad. We are simply researching how districts compensate superintendents.
In fact, it goes beyond compensation. We’re interested in how districts function, the strengths and weaknesses of large districts versus small, and a host of other topics that give superintendents as much room to shine as to look bad.
Yes, the research will be published. And, yes, there will probably be conclusions and recommendations made that are based that research. But they will stem from that research — from facts. We don’t yet know what we’ll find, so it’s ludicrous to claim we’re hoping to use it for specific advocacy purposes. Our interest is in finding out what there is to know. Plain and simple.
* I didn’t include the names of superintendents who have taken pot shots at the the Show-Me Institute, myself, or Audrey, because it would do more harm than good at this point.
If you have any questions about the research Audrey and I are conducting, or the about the responses we’ve received from superintendents, feel free to leave a comment below or email me.