Interview with Peter Spadafore, the Assistant Director of Government Relations for The Michigan Association of School Boards.
1 What is your educational background?
Graduated from James Madison in 2007 specializing in educational policy
2 How did you make it to be the Assistant Director of Government relations?
I started out interning with the Michigan association of School Administrators, which is the superintendants group in college as part of required field experience, while maintaining contact with them I got involved with elementary schools and got a job with them, and continued my relationship with them over to the school boards.
I monitor state and federal legislation and then reporting back to the some 4,000 elected school board members in the state of Michigan, on that legislation. It's also my role to provide feedback to legislators and the governor also to the department of education on school board members decisions. When a bill comes up I take a look at it and run it through committees, get a position from them on it and report back to legislators on how we feel about this legislation and how to make it better, how to kill it, or how to make sure it passes. My goal is to preserve the state of Michigan's school board autonomy while at the same time promoting quality education for every child in the public education system.
4 Are you looking to influence state public policy, and if so how do you go about it?
Right now I'm involved mainly in the Race to the Top grant. Our legislature is rushing through some legislation, trying to become competitive. There is a piece for flexibility on local districts in the classroom. We are brought up against union contracts which prohibit that flexibility, namely senior teachers get to pick and choose where they want to go in the districts. Also work rules on how long a school day can be and how many days students have to be in school for is predetermined by a contract. Were working to get more flexibility in those local school boards; For instance in certain buildings change the school hours or number of school days, and have teachers sign up for that job instead of using the seniority system. Right now because of tenure laws and contract laws we can't do that, and if we get an exemption we can be more competitive in Race to the Top to improve the lowest performing school buildings.
5 What is hard or challenging about changing education policy?
The hard part is that everything is political, people are worried about the next election and how it's going to look to the voters, or powerful interests such as the teachers union and their large PAC, so they have a lot of influence over legislators and my association. The history isn't there either, because there is a term limit at the legislature a lot of these people are unaware of education policy, so this is their first go around. We continually have to bring them up to speed with past practices, what has worked, what has not worked, why we do what we do. Like I said everything is political, and politics gets in the way of good policy. People are trying to please too many interests and what we get is a watered down piece of legislation that doesn't do anything except look like reform. We are trying to push the politics aside and find something that actually works.
6 How do you view the current education system as it is right now?
I think were in trouble with terms of funding we can't continue to offer quality programming if we don't make an investment to education. We are seeing cuts every year, this year we are taking a 3% cut, taking a bigger cut in January. There is no chance in rebuilding the state if we don't invest in education first. I think we have a pretty good system for those that work well for some, but we have to reform how we fund schools, ultimately finding something that works state wide instead of just in certain districts.
(the 3% cut was not Federally matched)
7 What do you see being cut in the future?
A lot of districts are getting rid of extracurricular activates, pay to play sports, high school activities, that sort of thing. We are going to see larger class sizes in the core classes. Fewer AP offerings at schools will follow, and basically it's going to start to effect more than just the extracurricular activities at schools.
8 Has your opinion on state policy changed as you became more involved in government?
Yeah I used to think it was more idealistic, now I'm just cynical about it.
9 In your experience, with the School Boards have you had to deal with enforcing No Child Left Behind?
We constantly deal with No Child Left Behind, we have a federal office the national score association deals with our federal issues. There are issues that are unique to Michigan, we have wanted to see student growth evaluation, so if a student shows improvement it gives credit to the school. Now we just show grade level improvement where we test third graders after third graders. Where it would be nice to see how that third grader does in say the fourth grade.
10 Is that the one major flaw with No Child Left Behind?
There are several flaws but there are also some good things using data the way we use it now has shown a light on the areas we have neglected in the past which is helpful. The reauthorization is going to be important. No Child Left Behind is going to be even more tied up with Race to the Top after this next year. It is clear which direction the President and Secretary Duncan want to go with education. They are using Race to the Top to get states more intertwined trying to get states on board for No Child Left Behind. I think this is politically smart but it also gives us a preview of what is to come.