7.04.2010

Education Tug of War

Okay, here's the deal. I try to be informed, enlighted, educated, and engaged in education. Here in Kentucky, as well as on a national level. To this end I recieve emails on a fairly regular basis from National PTA,the NEA, the Education Equality Project, America's Promise, Edutopia, the US Dept of Ed (mostly in connection to webinars), Sparkaction, Kentucky Youth Assoc. (KYA), and so forth. I follow links to websites, read relevant information, follow up on an action alert item (especially right now when it comes to reauthorization of the child nutrition act). I email my elected officials, the metro council, the school board, the comissioner of education, the governor, those that represent my district in Washington, and those that just represent Kentucky while in DC. And the one thing I have found lately? Little connection. Little connectivity. Little in the way of partnerships. Especially when it comes to educating our children. Take, for example, this turn of events as outlined in these recent news articles and blog posts:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/05/education/05teachers.html?src=mv

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/02/AR2010070202930.html

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2010/07/neas_delegates_vote_no_confide_2.html

I recently recieved an NEA email encouraging me to write to congress to thank them for passing the emergency jobs bill which saved teaching jobs, and furthermore informs me that "The Obey amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 4899) provides $10 billion to save education jobs and $5 billion to cover shortfalls in the Pell Grant program. Tell your representatives in Congress to vote YES on the Obey amendment and to vote on it NOW." In the same day I received an email from The Education Equality Project which stated that "The amendment proposed by Rep. Obey, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, would quite literally swipe hundreds of millions of dollars in already-promised funding. It would quash efforts in communities around the country that are working tirelessly to improve their schools and ensure that all students - regardless of skin color or zip code - are well prepared for life after high school. The last thing our country or our children need right now is to roll back hard-won progress in education reform." I have read articles stating that promised RTTT funds are now no longer available and that Sect. of Education Arne Duncan is disappointed and that President Obama will exercize veto powers on these bills.

CONFUSED? So am I. What's a parent to do? If I call and say yes to Obey, I am saying that I support my children's teachers. But no to Obey means that I don't? But wait, I want there to be education reform because the system is not working. So why is supporting education reform perceived as not supporting teachers? Why does it have to be either/or?

Crucial conversation time folks. Some of our teachers are not so great. We know this. We whisper this to one another in the car rider line, or in a flurry of emails or threads on local websites, where when we learn where are children are going to school, what teacher we should ask for and what teacher we should avoid. We point our to one another the strengths of a school...and the weaknesses, whether class size, lack of administrative support for a PTA, and yes, what teachers should not be there. But if we speak out loud, we are looked at in shock and disdain. How could we say or think such a thing? Truth: not everyone is going to be teacher of the year, or even in some circumstances a teacher of the day. It truly does take a special person. But for far too long, when one becomes a teacher, there is a wall that is built around them that parents and community members cannot tear down. And that wall surrounds our children who are in the classroom with that teacher. So we need to speak up. Because at the end of the school year we certainly speak to one another about how that was a wasted year and our child isn't ready for what lies ahead.

And some of the proposed reforms aren't so fantastic either. But do you know who is missing from all these conversations? You and me. The parents. Certainly the PTA does support our voice as we speak for our children. And if you do a google search you will no doubt find a plethura of associations and organizations that say that they are about parent engagement/involvement. But it seems that we are constantly arriving at the meeting too late or only invited to the meeting as an afterthought. I can't even get school board members to return my calls concerning volunteering at our District PTA Clothing Assistance Program, a program that serves every student (98,000) in this district, the students they were elected to represent. I can't get Metro Council to do the same. So what do you do when parents, the first link to children and supporting education, are left out of the conversation?

Reform isn't about sunshine and roses people! It is about making hard decisions and having tough conversations about what has succeeded and what has failed in education. Parents are part of the problem as well, and more often than not, we admit to our failures and reach out for a way to transform our thinking so we can be better parents. Why doesn't the same hold true for members in education?

So, when I read all the emails, the news articles, the blogs, the calls to action, I always take a deep breath and do my research. Will my efforts make a difference for not just my kids, but the kids in this community? Will these organizations make a difference? Will my support of these groups fulfill my purpose in the PTA? I support teachers, administrators, school staff when they are supporting our children. That should be their goal, to prepare our children, in partnership with me, for a life in the 21st century. And if that means it is time for a change, then it is time to "give of one's self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition...to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - this is to have succeeded" (Emerson).

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