“Public schools broke the link between accidents of birth and access to education that determined the social order for centuries. Public schools unleashed the creative intelligence of tens of millions of children, both privileged and disenfranchised. America is the first country on the planet to aggressively pursue publicly funded, equal educational opportunities for all, and the return on our investment has been glorious.” Jamie Vollmer, author and education advocate

If you were watching the Academy Awards this year, you may have missed it, but the director of the Best Motion Picture of the Year gave a big shout-out to public schools.

When Steve McQueen accepted the Oscar with the producers of “12 Years a Slave,” and reached up to give Brad Pitt a hug, clearly visible on his wrist was a red wristband like the one I have begun wearing. It’s from the National School Boards Association (NSBA), and it reads “StandUp4Public Schools.”

The wristband is part of an NSBA campaign that aims to raise awareness and support for public education. We want advocates who will tell the stories of how our schools and students are succeeding.

In recent years, public education has come under attack from well-funded and well-organized critics who are undermining public schools and working to eliminate school board governance as we know it.

It is a glib generalization to say our public schools are failing. Critics have repeated this message so many times, it’s become accepted wisdom. But it’s not true. New Jersey school board members know that most schools in the state serve their students well, and most students in the state are succeeding. In fact, in a national assessment of student achievement, the state’s eighth-grade students tied for first in the U.S. in reading and were second in math. Fourth-grade students were tied for second in reading and were fourth in the nation in math.

No one disputes that we must do better; we must close the achievement gap between children from more affluent families and those who live in poverty. To close this gap, NJSBA has created a task force that is researching the best ways to help these children and close the gap.

But it’s simply wrong to say that “public education” is failing.

The Stand Up for Public Schools effort seeks to remind people that public schools exist to serve all students equally and that neither our schools or our students should ever become a tool of any single group or individual.

We urge the New Jersey education community to join us in actively building an army of advocates to counter aggressive, well-funded attacks on public education and to build awareness of the achievements of our schools and our students. In this state, NJSBA has already received the cooperation of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey PTA, and the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials in the Stand Up for Public Schools campaign.

We urge you and your fellow board members to sign on to NSBA’s campaign at standup4publicschools.org. While you’re at the website, you can order a red wristband of your own. I hope to see these visible signs of support for New Jersey schools show up across the state.