Winning the Race?

It was considered a Christmas miracle...Kentucky finally is granted some Race to the Top (Rttt) funds after three serious attempts (well, four actually if you count the Early Childhood Education initiative that was applied for but not received).

According to a recent article in Louisville's Courier Journal, Kentucky to get $17 million in federal aid for education reform, the goal of this grant is to increase professional development opportunities for teachers and to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in our schools. In fact, Jefferson County Public Schools is to potentially receive $1.4 million. As we all recall (and as Kentucky likes to remind everyone) Kentucky was the first to adopt the Common Core State Standards in 2009 (known as Senate Bill 1 and tied to the first round of Rttt which Kentucky failed to obtain. Thus SB1 which passed was enacted without funding, thus making it difficult to implement some of the key provisions in SB1...starting to sound a bit "Catch-22" here) and will be the first to assess those standards this Spring. Even though Kentucky is part of both Smarter Balance and PAARC, Kentucky isn't waiting for their assessments (because they are still being crafted and won't be available until 2014/15) and has created it's own (which my children and others will be taking in May 2012). 

It is important for parents to be a part of the discussion concerning the implementation of these grants, as our children and their teachers will be directly impacted by what was promised in the application for the grant funding. Here in Jefferson County, our new superintendent believes in being honest and transparent (hence the recent audit just done) and providing better communication to and collaboration opportunities with community members (including parents/families). If you haven't heard of Advance Kentucky now is a great time to educate yourself as this is a key component of the Rttt grant.  What JCPS will do with the money is still undisclosed, but I'm sure an announcement will be made in the new year as to what our district will do with this windfall. 

As I mentioned in the opening, Kentucky also applied for (but was denied) a piece of the $500 million Rttt Early Childhood Education grant but the programs outlined in the grant application will perhaps still be implemented...even without the funding. Kentucky likes to do that. Because we want to be seen as on the cutting edge of education reform, we continue to move forward with "unbridled" enthusiasm in education initiatives. According to Terry Tolan (Office for Early Childhood Education) in a recent WFPL article about the loss of the grant opportunity, "The council will continue to develop its plan based on higher quality care, family engagement and data, she said." I certainly like that part about family engagement, but I have yet to see a plan come out of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) on what that plan looks like. In fact, the KDE has great plans about family engagement, all discussed in their publication The Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle (2009). I encourage all parents to read this document and ask crucial questions in their learning communities...are these actions being implemented? And if so, by whom and how effective have they been? If they aren't being implemented, why not? We know that positive parent/family engagement opportunities only strengthen educational endeavors in our communities. We certainly don't need additional studies to tell us how critical these partnerships are and how at home support is essential in creating a positive school experience. But far too often parents are dismissed, a puzzle piece that goes missing (so to speak), and what do we do when we have a puzzle that is missing a piece? We box it up, set it on a shelf where it gathers dust. 

So as Kentucky (and other states) move forward with funding educational initiatives (or moving forward with unfunded educational initiatives) it is essential that we as community members, as stakeholders, as customers (and if you haven't read the recent Ed Week k-12 talent manager blog about "Customers vs Stakeholders in Education" you really should) become educated about what our state (and sometimes district) leadership is committing to do. Whether it is a waiver request from No Child Left Behind (Kentucky has requested a waiver and there is much criticism of the application, you can read more key analysis of the waivers at the Quick & the Ed,  and in these two Ed Week & Ed Week articles) or grant applications, often times parents are mentioned as being a part of the process, the plan, so to speak. So instead of just being talked about and learning after the fact what parents are going to be expected to do, engage in the beginning as an equal partner in the process. Certainly Kentucky is full steam ahead with STEM, etc, so we parents are relying on those other parents who currently sit on committees to be representing our best interests, but in other states those committees may not even have been created yet. Important to contact your state department of education to find out how you can participate (or who has been asked to participate) and provide key insights into how the programs that are created are actually received, by students and families. 

As I like to say, I am a partner in my child's education. My job is to take care of at home education-by supporting what is occurring in the classroom and provide additional educational opportunities to my children (if I am able) so that my children are well prepared to be in school and learning. In addition, as an educational partner, if we have honest conversations about education, filled with respect and transparency, we will have a greater chance at success in our educational community. If our school district or community doesn't have a plan of action, let's seek resources to create that plan together. For instance, we can connect with the Harvard Family Research Project or the NEA's Priority Schools Campaign. We can create healthy, successful communities of learning, which take Rttt funds or other initiatives and make them work.  But we cannot do the work isolated and disconnected from one another. And while it is certainly easier to just let an appointed or elected leader make and enact the plans, the problem is that by giving up ownership in the process you give up a chance to be part of the plan, and far too often end up complaining about the failures of the plan rather than being able to share in the success. 

So, 2012 is on the horizon. While we are all on a hiatus from education (well, some of us are on a vacation) it might be time to get educated. What has your state committed to do in their NCLB waiver application? What did your state say parents were part of in that application process is important to know as well. You can go to the US Department of Education website to read more about the process as well as read your state's application. I suggest pulling up the pdf then enter a keyword search for "parents" see how many times it appears and in what context. You may find you've been obliged to do something by someone that you don't actually agree with or support, or not. Furthermore, for some states, 2012 will be the year they start the Common Core State Standards process...or continue to stall the process. Either way, parents need to know what their new curriculum is proposed to look like and how teachers are being professionally developed in order to teach the new curriculum. Guess what? Your state might just have that plan in place already. Might be worth a look. 

After all an equal partnership in education means having equal access to knowledge and information, right?

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