I need your help to make Cincinnati Public Schools better

Hello friends and family,
As you may or may not know, I am a candidate in this year’s race for the Cincinnati Public Schools’ Board of Education. It is an exciting time and I am looking forward to helping our schools be the best they can be. I have faith in our teachers, students and families, and recognize they need support from the board and from all of us.
While I am looking to run this campaign in the most frugal way possible, it is still expensive and a lot of work to run a political campaign. This is where I would love to count on your support.
Things that you can do to help:
* Financial – all donations are greatly appreciated
* Circulating petitions
* Telling your friends, family, co-workers about me and the campaign
* Sharing information on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc
* Moral support
* Letting me know about events at your school, I love meeting voters and discussing their concerns
There will be other volunteer opportunities in the future. Please check back at betterwithbrenner.com for more information. Remember you don’t need to live in the CPS district to help, you just can’t vote for me if you live out of district.
Thank you for reading this far and all of the support that I’ve gotten from you already. Please help me in making CPS the best it can be for ALL of our students in ALL of our schools.
Many thanks in advance for your consideration,
David L Brenner

All Students, All Schools

Every parent wants the best for their children. In Cincinnati Public Schools, we have numerous programs to facilitate different ways of learning.  The goal of these programs should be to give the best education to each child.  Unfortunately, choosing between these different methods of learning is often not the primary motivation for parents when choosing a school.

After speaking with many parents, I have found that they are frequently heavily influenced by the state report cards and perception of what are “good” and “bad” schools.  Frankly, when my wife and I were looking for the right school for our children, we fell into this same trap.  We looked at the options, looked at test scores, and made our choice based on what we thought was a “good” school. We didn’t know if our children would want to go to college, would do better in a non-traditional learning environment, or want to focus on a non-college-preparatory path. We made the choice based on our perception of a “good” school and one that would give us the most options later.

We’ve created a situation where “good” vs. “bad” is often the primary motivator, not where the school is or the program offered.  Some of the problems created by this include:

  • We have parents waiting out in the cold for days to get into a “good” school.
  • We have a lottery system, so there is a fair way for us to get students into the “good” school.
  • Children cannot attend a program they desire because others want a “good” school, not the program offered
  • We have children traveling long distances because their parents view the neighborhood school as “bad”
  • We reward “good” schools and let “bad” schools continue to flounder
  • We create a tiered system where the gap between students in “good” and “bad” schools grows
  • We don’t serve all of our students equitably

To exacerbate the problem, now we are creating elementary school options with a test to for admission in order to avoid the lottery.  This reinforces a divide that starts early in a student’s life and is perpetuated throughout their education.   There are other options to challenge advanced students without creating a special, separate school.  We are selecting for kids that are already doing well and taking critical resources away from those students that need more help through no fault or deficiency of the student. There are enrichment programs to challenge advanced students.  Something we love about the Montessori program is that older/stronger students are taught to help the others in their class to learn and progress.  This reinforces skills that are useful in all stages of life.  It is good for the all of the students involved, the student that is doing well and the student that require more help.

This is not an easy problem but there are solutions to serve all of our children.  What we cannot have is the status quo.  A quality education shouldn’t be a lottery.  It should be an opportunity available to everyone.  For our democracy and our economy to function, it is critical.  And vouchers aren’t the answer, as they only create new problems by taking funds away from the public schools in addition to actually hurting children.

As a parent, it is frustrating situation.  It feels like you fail your children if you don’t get them into the “good” school to begin with, and then they have fewer and lower quality options for the rest of their school years.  Is a lottery or camping out or a test the best way to ensure that our children are given the opportunity for a great education?  Why aren’t we making sure that all schools are great?  Why should a parent need to transport their child across the city to get to a “good” school?  Is sitting in a car or a bus for a significant portion of the day contributing to their education or is it taking time away from studying, exercise and rest?  We need to have an attitude that every school and every student counts, and we have to be willing to do the work that will make this a reality.

Why am I running for School Board?

I’ve never run for office before, nor am I an educator. So, why in the world would I run for Cincinnati School Board? I would bring to the Board a viewpoint I feel is currently underrepresented, effective problem solving. 

My career started in software development and information technology,  currently my professional role is in strategic planning and resource management. Over the years I’ve developed many valuable skills such as how to effectively listen to people, understand the issues they face and work with them to develop the best solutions possible using the available resources. Sometimes it’s building a new computer system. Sometimes it’s altering the way people do things to make them more successful. This the kind problem solving is relevant everywhere: home, work, and school. 

What I want to bring to Cincinnati Public Schools is the ability to solve problems effectively and efficiently.  Today we have so many ways to share information, to see what developments have proven successful in other districts and see how to apply them to our own schools. CPS will benefit from the lessons on reducing costs, innovative solutions and problem solving that I have acquired from my business and technology experience.  

We all realize that CPS needs to make the best use of limited resources to benefit our school system and the students they serve.  As we move forward public schools must find ways to do more with less and having someone on the school board who possesses the skills necessary to make that happen is more critical than ever. 

I believe that a school board should be made of people from a broad, diverse set of backgrounds because different perspectives and skill sets make for better solutions.  I am a candidate that can help take Cincinnati Public Schools to the next level for our children and our future.

I’m running for Cincinnati School Board!

For a long while Gina and I have been talking about how to become more active politically. This goes beyond just this past election.  One option that has come up repeatedly over the years is running for political office.  Well, we’ve decided that I am going to run for Cincinnati Public School Board.

Looking at it, this is one area where we can make a large difference.  We are both actively involved in our children’s school through the PTO, and have devoted a lot of time to supporting our school. She and I have both held officer positions and have found it to be rewarding way for us to give back to the school.   As we have built relationships with the teachers and administration it has become clear that running for the school board is another opportunity to help them with their mission of educating our children.

My wife and I are passionate about education and the need for making sure the next generations have a solid foundation in areas such as STEM and how to critically evaluate the world around them.  We are trying to teach our children that they can do anything they set their mind to and an education is critical to start that journey.

A few things that I am passionate about and will work as a school board member to encourage:

  • Make sure All students in all schools recieve the  attention they need
  • Provide Teachers with the current materials they need to support our children’s learning
  • Improve all of our schools and district report cards across the board
  • Provide more opportunity for technology in and out of the classroom
  • Facilitate hands on learning such as via maker spaces 
  • Assist PTOs in supplementing the needs of their communities, instead of having to replace lost funding from the district
  • Verify that the district is being good stewards of the taxpayers dollars

Right now I’m working on getting my petitions together to get on the ballot, trying to figure out my social media, fundraising, etc.

As we embark on this journey, I will need support from friends and family.  We do not have the financial resources to fund a campaign personally and will need the support of like minded voters. I want to run this campaign as inexpensively as possible, and with our experience raising funds for our school I know we can make that happen.  This also means that I will need volunteers that believe in the mission of ensuring we have the best public education system possible for all of our children. I’m excited to get to work!

Rational thought

Something that has become clear in recent years is that there is a distinct lack of rational thought and fact based, data driven discourse in our political system.  This has been true for a while but it has kicked up a notch.

The rise of “alternate facts” and denialism are troubling.  As many have said, you can disagree on opinions but lets all agree to the facts.  The question is how do you learn to figure out what is fact, what is a trusted source of information, how to evaluate evidence, etc.  In a world where literally anyone has the equivalent of a printing press its pretty hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Something that is critical to bring into our schools and reinforce it constantly and from an early age is how to think critically and evaluate whether what someone is telling you is true or false.  This applies to science, math, history, social studies, etc.  How do you validate something is accurate?  Is reading something on someone’s blog as trustworthy as reading in a peer reviewed journal?

Think about these claims that seem to be based on different “facts”:

  • do vaccines cause autism?
  • is the globe warming and is it caused by human activity?
  • is the crime rate going up or down? 
  • what is the efficacy of a drug or medical therapy?
  • what is the greatest driver of economic growth?
  • Is “x” a good investment?
  • Is organic food better for you or more environmentally sustainable?

Learning to weigh evidence based on the source is critical to understanding the world enough to form well informed opinions.  I care less about the opinions on an action to take than how you form those opinions and what they are based upon. We can debate merits of a given policy all day long but that really isn’t possible if we are starting from a different set of facts. Although this is only part of the equation when forming a policy position, we shouldn’t choose our facts based on the policy we want, we should let the facts inform the appropriate policy taking all factors into account. 

Back to education, I am a proponent of education methods that don’t rely exclusively on rote memorization of facts.  Aside from being more interesting for the student, it can teach the ability to think about the information and research answers. Getting multiple sources on a historical event from different perspectives gives a broader view of what is happening.  You also get to see the biases in the different sources.  Understanding that there are multiple view points is important in evaluating information.  

Having coordination between the material you are learning is also very helpful in order to see why what you are learning is important instead of appearing to be something you’ll never use.  When I was in my last couple of years in high school and a freshman in college this never became more obvious than taking calculus and physics at the same time; you learned differentiation and then learned the laws of motion.  You couldn’t do the physics without the math so it reinforced why it was important.

Without the skills to think critically it is too easy to be fooled into believing things that are demonstrably false.  If you get the wrong facts then you come up with ill-informed decisions. If you aren’t trained in how to evaluate evidence it is easy to get duped in every area of your life.  Lets make sure we are educating our children to think about the world.

STEM education

Science Technology Engineering and Math.  These areas of knowledge/competence are critical for students moving into the future.

Throughout the 20th century we valued these.  These skills drove the improvements in quality of life, productivity and achievement throughout the century.  Without these disciplines we wouldn’t have airplanes, fast cars, iPhones, computers, plentiful food, economic development, video games,  the list goes on and on.

The US lead the world and is still a leader but we are losing our edge.  Other countries are advancing faster than we are.  It is normal for the leader to lose ground as everyone else catches up, but we cannot lose the lead.

From an early age I was excited about technology, be it video games, the space program, computer programming, etc.  I spent a lot of time learning how a computer works and how to program.  Much of that was self taught because the classes just weren’t there. I was bored in the H.S. class I took because I was further ahead than the teacher was.  That wasn’t bad but it forced me to be resourceful.  I got lucky because my grandparents took an interest in making sure I had tools to learn.  Not every kid my age had that.  I had a crappy computer but at least I had one.

As I look at the amount of time kids are at school I am disheartened with the fact that we can’t find more time for the kids to be in the computer labs.  At our school the kids don’t get a lot of library time and only half of that is spent in our media lab.  There are after school programs to teach programming but those are optional and not all of the kids can participate.  We are creating haves and have nots from an early age when it comes to technology.

Learning how to program or get involved in technology has never been easier.  I think the problem is the excitement about what can be done.  Getting resources for teachers is not the limiting factor.  You can get a workable computer for $30 and hook it up to a keyboard and a TV.  We need to get kids excited about the possible or at least getting them to tools to figure out on their own what is possible.

When I started programming I didn’t know what wasn’t possible.  I copied programs out of magazines and wrote my own.  I learned how to manage memory and code all kinds of different things.  Most of them weren’t really useful but I was learning to not be afraid of the tech.

The other night some friends were over and all of the kids were sitting around the computer watching each other and helping write programs in Scratch.  It was really cool because they got excited about it.  We need more of that type of thing.

There are more resources available than when I went to school, but I would expect that with the rate of change in the world.  I think the problem is that it hasn’t kept pace.  We need to find more opportunities for ALL of the children, not just the ones that can meet after school.  Not just once or twice a month.  It needs to be prevalent in everything they do.

Sites like Codecademy, Scratch.mit.edu, etc and an inexpensive computer can provide kids with resources to learn a few things and have the skills to venture off on their own.  And the best part, aside from the computer its all free.

This is just one thing that can be done… more to come in future installments.

How to get legislation passed when you know it won’t fly

Its really disheartening when you see a problem and you don’t have a good way to fix it.  A key example is Governor Kasich’s plan for teacher certification (here

When you want to pass something without getting all of the scrutiny it deserves you bury it in a large piece of legislation that must get passed.  Here you have two things going for you: (1) people need to read 1000+ pages to find it and (2) a budget needs to be passed and if its delayed you have political ammunition.

If this was truly looking out for the best interests of our students it would be put up as separate legislation and debated to come up with a great solution to a potential problem.

Our teachers work incredibly hard every day to educate our children.  They work long hours for less pay than many other jobs.  They buy supplies for their classroom with their own money.  They mentor our children to do what is best for them.  Obviously there are a few “bad” teachers in every environment but that is true in every environment.

I’m really not sure what this legislation is even trying to fix.

Running for office?

Everyone in the world is commenting on the train wreck garbage fire that is the Trump administration.  I’m not going to bother because of the speed of change.

I am inspired to action because of the election.  Gina and I have been talking about what we can do to make sure things don’t go completely to hell.  I’ve been seriously considering running for office and we’ve narrowed it to a couple of potential offices.  We want to make sure that it will have the maximum effect without completely destroying our family.

The leading option is for our local school board.  We have both been very involved in things in the school our children attend and we definitely have strong opinions about the need for a good education for our and all other children.  Neither of us has a background in education but I think this is a benefit, not an issue.

What do you all think about this idea?  Everyone I’ve discussed it with is supportive.  I’m looking for why I shouldn’t do it.

Right now, we are looking into what we need to do to get on the ballot and how much money we need to raise to actually have a chance of winning.

If we do declare that I am running, we will need your help…

The problem with politics today

Maybe it has always been the case that we have a diverse set of opinions about how this country should be run.  It is not the case that politics has always been as polarized as it is.  Each party seems to be motivated by tearing down what the other party has accomplished instead of working together to come up with a better solution.

Let’s use the current healthcare debate as an example.  The Affordable Care Act was put in place during Obama’s first term and mostly because he had a supportive congress.  The legislation is not perfect.  No one will disagree with that.  There are definitely things that could be improved and are less than ideal.  But the legislation does make it so that millions of people can get insurance that couldn’t before.  This is a cost savings for everyone across the board.  Any study you look at will show that the ER is the most expensive option for health care and does not address preventative care; unfortunately this was the last resort for many people because they couldn’t get insurance.

Now, it seems like the GOP is wanting to get rid of it, without having a replacement ready, just because the other party put it in place.  There is going to be a systematic dismantling of many things just because it wasn’t their idea.

These political maneuvers impact people, real people.  The repealing of this legislation is going to result in many people being without insurance, harm the insurance companies and everyone covered by them, and for what?  Political clout?

You have people complaining that there shouldn’t be an individual mandate.  Ok, philosophically I understand this.  You shouldn’t be forced to buy something you don’t want.  The reality though is insurance companies cannot succeed if the only people that sign up for insurance are sick.  That’s precisely why they excluded people with pre-existing conditions.  If healthy people don’t pay into the system to reduce everyone’s risks then the only thing that gives is rates need to go up for all of the members.  This results in more people choosing to go without insurance and you see where this goes.

The only conclusion that I can draw is people in America have become more selfish than ever.  No one is interested in the greater good, but what is good for me now.  Trump’s entire campaign had this refrain going on.  We don’t want (non-white) immigrants coming here because they take jobs.  We don’t want Obama-care because I don’t want/need insurance.  We don’t want free trade because “they” are taking things away from us.

We have become a country where we don’t care about the well being of our fellow citizens and humans because we view they are taking something away from “us”.  The problem with this thinking is it further stratifies differences between groups and creates resentment and further unwillingness to help “the other”.  If someone helps you, you are more willing to help them or help someone else in need.  If someone ignores you when you need help, you are less likely to help someone else.  I’m not saying that you should help people because it benefits you, but because it benefits everyone.

The other conclusion that I draw from all of this is we are no longer looking at the long view, only what is right in front of us.  This is true with the health care debate, the vote for Trump, global conflict, economic policy and global warming.  If the impact isn’t visible right now, or its going to result in me having inconvenience now for benefit later (especially if the impact is seen a generation from now), we aren’t interested.  This is related to selfishness but it is more insidious because even if we are looking out for our interests, we are looking out for them now instead of the future.

We have too many problems that will require us all to work together to look out only for ourselves in the near term.  We need to focus on what is good for the species long term.  Our short sightedness is only going to impact our children, grandchildren, etc.  Who wants to explain that we fucked up the planet and our country because we were only worried about what was right in front of us?

Why its important to call your representative

Even if you don’t agree with your elected representatives, it is still important to let them know what you think.  Case in point…

On Monday January 2, 2017 the house GOP representatives got together in a private meeting to propose an amendment to HR 5 which outlined the rules for the coming Congress.  This amendment changed the rules for the ethics oversight group significantly.  It took away the independence of the group and put it under the control of the people it was to oversee.  It also notably took away the ability for anonymous tips.  There were a number of other changes, but these were the ones that bugged me the most.

News of this broke late Monday/early Tuesday.  I, along with a large portion of the electorate, called our representatives to express our disapproval of this move.  I asked everyone I know to call and express concern.  I was impressed with the number of people that were supportive and asked for more information or wanted to research it before calling.  Exactly the response that should be given.

Midday on Tuesday, after the switchboards were swamped with public outcry, public denouncements by politicians and a general sweeping disagreement the move was reversed.

It shows that CALLING your representative helps.  They pay much more attention to phone calls or in person visits than they do to letters or email.  Please become familiar with your representative, know how to contact them, and contact them whenever you have a strong feeling about an issue; positive or negative.

This was the first thing the new Congress did.  I think that this is telling and indicates to me that I personally will be speaking to my representative’s office a lot during the next 2 years.  It is important that we all watch what they are doing and let them know often that we are watching.

This is OUR Government to support what WE want.  Exercise your rights and your duty to keep our representatives in check.