With all of the heated discussion over education reform, particularly here in Alabama, it’s easy to lose sight of what the ideal public school might look like.
Forget all of the parameters and rules and regulations that have been developed over the years. Forget all of the limitations that inherently come to mind when we think of the Alabama K-12 public school system. Forget all of the infighting over resources and how the money is distributed and spent. Forget all of that.
Dream of the perfect school. Your vision. Not someone else’s. Not the experts or the big personalities that dominant the education reform discussion. Your vision, your ideas.
Public schools were once owned by the community they served. The people of the community decided what their children needed to learn, what the school’s hours would be, who the teachers would be, and even taught some of the subjects themselves. Over time, the bureaucracy of the public school system was born to administer public education to our children. It was believed that establishing a system of schools, administered first at the state, then at the local level, would provide a more equitable and just way to make education available to all, regardless of color, ethnicity, or how much money you had. And, well, sometimes it has worked, but too often, that administration has fallen short due to many variable factors, some of which can be blamed on us, the school community.
We have turned over administration of our children’s education to the experts, the professionals, the ones whose salaries we pay with our tax dollars. The administration uses monies we send them in the form of property, income, and sales tax to pick out textbooks and instructional materials. And communities have no input. At all. Unless you are the “chosen one” to sit on a committee here or there. Even then, our voices are diluted by the experts and administrators who “know better”.
But what if we could scrap the current system and start over? What would it look like? What would your perfectly-crafted school look like? Stop here. Think about it, before you move on. Cause I’m gonna throw out some suggestions for you to consider, but I want you to craft somewhat of a framework first.
Now, a few questions:
- How old is your child when you begin formally sending her to school?
- What time would school begin?
- What would the building look like?
- What do the classrooms look like?
- What do the hallways look like?
- How far away would the building be from your home?
- Did you choose this school for your child?
- How would your child get to school?
- What would your child do upon entering the school building?
- Would any adult be there to greet your child?
- Could you walk into school with your child?
- Could you talk with any adults that have any interaction with your child first thing in the morning, in case you needed to let them know about some incident or concern that you have for your child?
- Would you know what your child would be doing in school that day?
- Would you know how the reason for the day’s activities?
- Would you know if your child was attending an assembly or a field trip or some other extra activity outside the classroom that day?
Let’s stop here. Back up. Before the school day even began. The morning’s activities. What would those look like?
- Did you wake your child up?
- Did you sit down to breakfast with your child?
- Did you talk about the upcoming day: yours and his?
- Do you know if your child is prepared for the work she will study and learn for the day?
- Is your child well-rested and ready to learn new things?
- Does your child get to choose what he wants to wear or does he wear a uniform?
- Does your child have any fears about the day ahead? And if so, were you able to deal with that?
OK. Back to school.
- Do you understand the subjects your child is learning, or at least why she is required to learn about those subjects?
- Do you have any choice about what subjects your child learns?
- What type of input did you have in choosing the subjects for your child?
- Do you know what your child wants to learn?
- Do you know what your child needs to learn?
- Do you know how your child learns best?
- How much technology is used in learning or other experiences in the school?
Now, on to the people that will teach and supervise your child while your child is at school.
- Do you have any input in hiring the teacher that will teach your child?
- Do you have any choice over which adult teaches your child a particular subject?
- Do you have confidence in the person that is teaching your child?
- Can you communicate with the person that is teaching your child through the method that works best for you?
- Do you communicate regularly with the teacher to keep up with the progress your child is making?
- Do you have an open line of communication with the teacher if problems arise during the school day?
- Do you have an open line of communication with the teacher so that teacher can reach out to you if your child is struggling in a particular learning area?
- Do you feel welcomed and embraced by the teachers that are teaching your child?
- Do you know each other on a first-name basis?
- Do you have the teacher’s contact information where you can reach them in a pinch if need be?
- Does your child have respect for his teachers?
- Do you have respect for your child’s teachers?
- Does your child’s teacher treat you with respect?
- Is your child challenged, in a way that is appropriate for him, in his classroom learning?
- Is your child interested in what she is learning?
- Is your child learning at his ability level?
- Is your child eager to learn more?
- Do you feel confident that if your child is having problems with other students for any reason that the adults at the school will take care of your child appropriately?
- Will your child be treated fairly if a discipline issue arises?
- What type of input were you allowed to give to create a discipline policy for your child’s school?
Back to your child, and her experiences in school.
- Do you have access to resources to help your child if he is struggling in school?
- Does your child’s school provide those resources?
- Do you feel confident that the subjects about which your child is learning will help your child be prepared to be a good citizen and earn a living good enough to take care of his family one day?
- Do you understand how one year’s learning connects to the next?
- Does that learning take place in a logical configuration?
- What types of tests are given to your child?
- What type of input were you given about which tests should be given to your child?
Now think about other stuff about the school.
- How much time does your child spend outdoors during the day?
- Do you know how much money your school has to spend on its offerings?
- How much input are you given about how your school’s money should be spent?
- Does your child have options to participate in extracurricular activities that enrich her life and help her form interests and hobbies?
- Does your child have a choice to participate in sports and other healthy activities that meet your expectations about living a healthy lifestyle?
- What does the food taste like in the cafeteria?
- Are healthy food choices offered that meet your child’s food preferences?
- What type of input were you allowed to give in choosing what types of food are offered at your child’s school?
- Is your child able to snack or drink water during class?
- Is your child ever hungry at school?
- Does your child have any free time at school during the school day, other than sitting in a cafeteria?
- Is your child free to contact you during the day if a problem should arise?
- Is the temperature in your child’s classroom controlled where your child is comfortable to learn?
- Is your child allowed to adjust her clothing choice to meet the change in seasons?
- Is your child allowed to adjust his clothing choice within the classroom (meaning remove layers if the classroom is hot, or add layers if the classroom is cold) to be comfortable?
- Is your child allowed to go to the restroom if the need arises during class?
- What do the restrooms look like?
- Do you have any safety concerns at all about your child’s school?
- Do you want your child to be taught morals and character education at school?
- How connected are you to other families in the school?
- How do you communicate with other families in the school?
- What kind of reputation does your child’s school have in your community?
As your child grows…………..
- What type of input do you have in choosing your child’s instructional path?
- What type of input does your child have in choosing her instructional path?
- What are the adults at the school doing to help your child choose an instructional path?
- Are you allowed to choose which adult teaches your child in the upper grades?
- Does your child have access to coursework that prepares him to go to the college of his choice?
- Does your child have access to coursework that prepares her to get a job in her chosen field immediately upon graduation?
- How connected are you to your child’s day-to-day learning?
- How connected are you to your child’s instructional path?
- How connected are you to the adults who teach your child?
- How connected are you to families of other children in the school as your child grows?
You see where I’m going with this? All of these areas…..ALL of them……ALL of the answers to the questions above are areas over which we parents and families should have some say and input. But we don’t, generally speaking, because those decisions are made by either the legislature or the administration, either at the local, state, or federal level. From what qualifications teachers must have, to what food is in the lunchroom, to how the day is structured, to which field trips your child attends, to how educators communicate with you…all of those are dictated by someone else if your child is in a public school.
Parents and families need to be engaged. All of the families I know want to be engaged. In the areas listed above. We want to have some influence over how our child is educated, about what our child is educated, who is educating them, and what our schools offer to our children. These are our community schools.
But we have very little input, if any, particularly in Alabama’s public schools.
We have turned over the education of our children to the professionals and the experts and the government agencies and the legislature.
Is that okay with you? If it isn’t okay, here’s one last question: what can you do about it?
Stay tuned. Let’s figure this out together. A hundred years have passed, letting other people dictate the educational futures of our children in Alabama. Claiming a legitimate seat at the table may be a long battle, but it is certainly one in which it is worth engaging.
[PSSST: Yes, I will turn these questions into a survey for parents and families….and therefore copyright these questions in this post. If you would like to collaborate and help get this survey into our schools, please contact me through e-mail or on the facebook page. Thanks!]
TO THOSE WORKING IN SCHOOLS: If you are interested in learning more about the school climate, parent and family involvement and engagement, and barriers to involvement in your school, check this out: a full survey created by the folks at the Harvard Family Research Project for use in schools. There are decades of research that have gone into this survey, and the results can provide useful information to encourage and embrace families to get engaged in their children’s education.