Today’s interviewee, Mike Falick, a lawyer, is a current member and past-president of the Spring Branch Independent School Board of Trustees in Texas. Falick, who grew up in this 32,000-student district in Houston, moved back when he had his own children (now in 9th and 6th grades) so they could go to the same schools he went to. Falick’s wife also grew up in the District. His blog was the 2008 weblog awards winner for best education blog.
Interview with Mike Falick
by Sara Bennett
“I drive my 6th grade son and his friends to and from Boy Scouts. One of his friends said, “Homework’s killing me. I’m working 3 hours a night. When are you going to get rid of it?”
–Mike Falick, School Board Member, Spring Branch, Texas
Why did you get involved in the School Board?
I wanted to have a meaningful impact on school policy. I had been on a number of parent committees over the years, and I had been president of the PTA council, but I knew the only way I’d have systemic impact was if I became a School Board member. I ran and lost in 2002 and ran again and won in 2004. I ran unopposed and was reelected in 2007. There are 7 people on the Board.
What kind of positions do you take?
I’m a school reformer, but I’m not a grenade thrower. I try to bring everyone
together. I have focused on homework reform and on making sure that we provide the best educational opportunities to all kids. Our school population is unique. We have kids from both the richest and poorest zip codes in the state. The district as a whole is heterogeneous, but the schools are pretty homogenous. We have serious economic segregation. Some schools can raise $150,000 at an auction and some can’t raise $500 at a book fair.
Making sure that all kids get what they need is a challenge. Our Board developed a 5-year goal–to be the premier college-focused district in the state. What it means is that we don’t just focus on the academics–in fact most schools do provide good academics–but we focus on the emotional and social development of our students as well.
What is your role in trying to change your District’s homework policy?
I know, not only from my personal experience with my own children, but also from talking to other kids and my friends, that we’re beating the love of learning out of our kids.
In the summer of 2007, I read The Case Against Homework and it really resonated with me. Shortly after that, I got the District to put together a homework task force to study the issue. No Board members are on the Task Force. It’s primarily made up of faculty and staff.
The Task Force read The Case Against Homework, The Homework Myth and The Battle Over Homework. They then recommended a policy to the Board that wasn’t acceptable to me. Less than a page long, it had very little definition and, in my opinion, was weak. As with all proposals, we had a first reading at one meeting and then, at a later meeting, a second reading where people can make amendments.
I proposed 27 amendments. I took many of my ideas from a Toronto, Canada, policy I’d received from you. Toronto is one of the first jurisdictions in North America to pass a substantive homework reform policy.
The Board flipped out at all my amendments, but I wasn’t going to give up. Another Board member suggested we reconstitute the Task Force to add parents and community members, which we did. That Task Force met this past fall.
No matter how I feel about the new proposed policy, this is my community and I have to work with it. You might not get everything you want, or even any of you want. You just have to do your best.
Do you have any advice for other people who might want to run for School Board?
It’s a big time commitment, so you have to really be willing to work hard. And, you can’t just focus on a single issue. But, if you keep in mind that you’re there to serve the kids, then you will always make the right decision.