Getting Schooled

With so much happening today in regards to education, it is often difficult to find your footing. As a self described "edu-geek" I spend my mornings reading books about education reform, news articles about education reform, blogs about education reform...I try to attend events either in real time or via a live stream (like I did recently for Education Nation to hear fellow Mom Congress alumni Brenda Martin (KY 2011) who appeared on a panel about parent engagement) or even a twitter town hall as often as possible. So with so much information streaming in at any given time it is often important to sit back and process what you have heard and learned in order to keep pressing onward.

Louisville was the host this week for the Showcase for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (college & career fair) and I was able to attend a lunch meeting where Pedro Noguera was presenting "Re-Imagining Schools: Placing Teaching and Learning at the Center of Reform." Just the title alone is daunting! Noguera didn't hesitate once in this most crucial conversation, his opening statement set the tone: we must "create schools that serve ALL our children well" because sadly, failure has become all too common a theme in education today. Right now in education we are all too busy finger pointing. Instead of taking responsibility and ownership about education, everyone wants to blame someone else for what ails us in education today. Noguera goes on to point out that currently we have so much "reform" but in actuality we have so little "change." Furthermore, most of what happens in regard to reform is top down-and teacher buy in and support is often lacking. Teachers, parents, students, leadership all have a part/role to play in reform and thus need to be included in the dialogue of change, not just the plan that is created out of the dialogue (my thoughts from his statement). We are all aware that children's basic needs are not being addressed, that "hungry kids don't do well" and that we are failing to support our teachers and children because academic deficits are actually unmet social needs manifesting themselves.

Whew! And that was in the first 15 minutes of his presentation! Okay, continuing on (and I was taking notes as fast as he was speaking!) in highly successful schools (whether public, charter, private) there are high expectations for everyone and real evidence of mastery. For example, at the School of the Future, NY, there is a shared responsibility and vision which creates trust between parents and teacher leaders. That there is "mutual accountability" and that without shared responsibility you will have failure. Ritual, norms, practices, reinforce core values and build community, which in turn gets kids to care about learning.

Care about learning. Even if you have children who are successful students, are they attending a school where their classmates, their classmate's families, their teachers, their community cares about learning? Noguera points out that "children who think they are going somewhere act differently than those that don't" and that they have goals about college and career.

It just so happens that my week was also filled with reading several books about education as well: Peg Tyre's The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve and Dr. Steve Perry's Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve. Are you seeing a theme here? I'm also currently reading Bill Ellis's A History of Education in Kentucky (after all you have to know where you have been in order to know where you are going). And what is the big news in the headlines? Senator Harkins just introduced his ESEA reauthorizing proposal and you can't go anywhere in education news without seeing a blog, a twitter comment, a pro-Harkins, an anti-Harkins...well anything this last week. Makes your head spin because there is a lot of noise out there in ed reform land demanding your attention and allegiance, and asking you to pick a side.

A side? Really? Educating children should not be about sides. It should not be about if you are for or against Secretary Duncan, Diane Ravitch (whose book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education I also just finished reading), Michelle Rhee, etc. etc. Education is about "creating schools that serve ALL children well." As both Tyre and Perry say (in somewhat different ways) is that PARENTS need to step up and step into the arena. That we can't just let the court of public opinion (or a blog, or even a facebook post) decide what is best for our children and our community. And when I say our children, I don't just mean mine, but their classmates, and the other children in the school district. Because one child that gets left behind is one child too many.

Sure, Tyre has a gentle approach to how parents should better engage in education, chapters that end with a few key highlights like "Free play is crucial. A good preschool weaves plenty of it into the school day" (55) or "In general, a highly effective teacher is probably better for your child than is a small class" (85). Not to say that what she has to say doesn't empower a parent, but I think a key point needs to be made: how many parents are actually reading books about how to be empowered parents? Steve Perry's book is a bit more to the point: that while "the issues surrounding America's need to offer quality education are easiest to see in urban communities...All America's children are being offered an un-American education" (13). Ruh-roh. However, from I observe despite the failing scores, the cheating scandals, the awareness that we are going to have to really transform an entire culture of education, far too many families are accepting of the status quo and are not out there "pushing" or "shoving" at anyone or anything. Time and time again when I talk with other parents about education and parent engagement (or lack there of) I can tell that the person I am speaking with has tuned me out. Eyes have glazed over. I'll get a "I'm so glad YOU are championing this cause." And I know...there will be no getting any child the education they "deserve" because far too many of us are complacent and accepting that the education our children are getting is the best that we have to offer.

Let's be honest for a moment. We must do better. We must be educated about education so when we read any blog, book, newspaper article, facebook post, or watch a report, we know what is being discussed. I'm not a numbers person, but I need to be able to understand a budget and why someone feels it is acceptable to cut funding to a program and why someone else thinks that funding needs to not only stay in place, but be increased. I don't need experts to tell me how crucial the first five years are in a child's educational development because I've just spent the last five years watching my daughter soak up every experience like a sponge and when I pick her up from school she says with great enthusiasm "my brain hurts from all the knowledge I received today!" I need to be aware that what happens in DC will impact my State which will impact the decisions my school board representative makes about education in my community. I need to care about my children's classmates because they are a community of learners and I need my daughter to be in a supportive and nurturing environment where kids CARE about education. And why do kids care about education? Because their parents care. And why do parents care? Because our society says they need to care.

It's about partnerships-trust-accountability. If we are going to grow we have to stop passing out blame. It's time to say "enough" it stops here, it stops with me, and it's time to look at what we can do to make education vital and alive again in our culture, in our community, and inspire not just the next generation of learners, but the generation of learners we are currently educating. It's time to get schooled.

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