Change in public education continues to come at a fast and furious pace here in Alabama. From the new requirements for a high school diploma to Plan 2020 to the waiver from No Child Left Behind to the flexibility plans to the wave of technology many school districts are implementing, learning what is happening in your school and district can be challenging.
While you can find a lot of the state-level changes chronicled here on the Alabama School Connection, there are other ways to keep up with what’s happening in your school and district that will affect the direction of your child’s education and the educational opportunities for your child here in Alabama.
Keeping Up Is Important, But You Know That Already
Many of us learn on a “need to know” basis. That is, until we need to know it, we don’t want to learn about it. Or perhaps we don’t know that we need to learn about it.
Particularly for that first child you send into public school, parents and families are usually clueless. We go along with pretty much everything teachers and principals tell us, and question very little. By the time that second child enters school, you may have had a few experiences that nudge you to ask a few more questions. Sometimes it’s easy to get answers. Sometimes, not so much.
But You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Not knowing what you don’t know is where most of us are with respect to our child’s education. In this post from a couple of weeks ago, I encouraged you to find objective achievement data for your child’s school and district. Achievement data is only one piece in this large puzzle of public education.
There are many other areas of public education about which you need to learn, including:
- discipline policies,
- technology policies (particularly if your school district is one who is disbursing computer hardware for your child to take home),
- how your board of education is chosen (elected? appointed?),
- how schools and teachers request money from the district (from the taxpayer coffers), and
- how money is spent.
Then there is the even bigger, broader, 10,000-foot view in which we should take an interest, including:
- which tests are used to determine achievement,
- how are our schools determined to be successful (or not),
- how teachers are prepared for and ultimately evaluated within our classrooms,
- how taxpayer dollars are (or are not) equitably distributed,
- what laws are being considered that may have an impact in our local schools.
Certainly there are many more cogs in the public education wheel to keep it moving smoothly. But you get the picture.
If you want to be on the forefront of the discussion, even possibly have a seat at the table, take the time to stay informed.
Flexibility Waivers – The New Frontier
Little has been said about the Flexibility Waivers that were included with the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA). These waivers have the capacity to completely change public education as we know it, district by district, even school by school.
Basically the AAA allows any school district to request a waiver from statutory, budgetary, and/or programmatic requirements. Which means that any law or rule that has been made about public education is now flexible, if a district can make the case (which includes providing measures) for how education will improve in their district if flexibility is granted.
A big part of the Flexibility Waiver is a public hearing that must be held, allowing parents and families in the district to listen to the plan their district has for delivering education better to their community. Huntsville City Schools recently considered giving teachers the option to “flex out” of tenure in exchange for a $2,500 bonus and agreeing to work in a “failing” school. That option was scrapped prior to the public hearing on August 29. However, Huntsville is proposing a substantial change in the way state funding is used (per pupil as opposed to per teacher unit).
How many of the Huntsville City Schools’ public was in attendance at the public hearing? And if the public was in attendance, would they understand what was being discussed?
Calhoun County Schools had their Flexibility Waiver approved in the last few months. Very little has been said about it, nor is it available on the district web site as the law requires (sorry, but if a rule is a rule, it should be followed, don’t you think?).
As our school districts consider ways to improve public education in our communities, and seek Flexibility Waivers, we need to be at the table of those discussions.
And we must get informed enough to know what we’re hearing and how it affects our neighbors and community schools.
Staying Informed: Easier Said Than Done
If your local school and school district don’t share information with you regularly about these bigger types of issues, ask them to do so.
Administrators in our schools have professional organizations (whose dues are usually paid for with taxpayer funds) with paid folks to keep them informed. School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA), Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS), and the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) are just a few. Additionally, there is the A+ Education Foundation, which just began distributing a cool newsletter for ordinary folks like us!
Talk with your local Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) or Parent Teacher Association (PTA) about starting a newsletter or email distribution list and charging someone with the responsibility of sharing information about the bigger-picture issues.
Brown Bag Lunch Seminars (or Maybe Saturday Mornings?)
Even better, start a Brown Bag Lunch (or Dinner or Breakfast) series in your school and school district to help keep parents and families informed. Here’s a fabulous writeup of how Brown Bag Lunch sessions strengthen relationships within the Education Family.
Madison Council of PTA’s is hosting a Brown Bag Lunch on September 20 to share information about the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards.
Vestavia Hills High School’s Parent Awareness Committee has set a series of meetings for the 2013-2014 school year. At their September meeting, State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice spoke to the group about where education is headed in Alabama.
Having been a part of a middle school where Brown Bag seminars were held nearly every month during the school year, I can attest to the positive impact it had on parents and families that were able to and took the time to attend.
Yes, time is always a factor. And not every parent is able to take an hour at lunchtime.
If not lunchtime, consider holding meetings on Saturday mornings as the Birmingham Council of PTA’s does. Having attended many of their meetings, I can tell you that when 40 or 50 parents come out on a Saturday morning to discuss serious issues, there is powerful discussion and sharing of much-needed information. Not to mention a whole set of friends that care about the same issues, which is empowering in itself.
Staying Informed Is Worth It
Staying informed takes effort. If your district doesn’t have an organized way to get information to parents about the bigger-picture issues, consider stepping up. (Contact me. I’ll help.)
It’s tough to organize. Tough to find folks to attend. And it’s easy to get discouraged.
But when you keep a group of parents informed about the bigger-picture issues, when the REALLY BIG stuff makes headlines (like the Alabama Accountability Act or school choice or a cut in essential programs), you have a group of folks that have a basic knowledge ready to step to the table and, if need be, into the ring.
Parents and families must return to the table of decision-making. But we must get good information and have a solid knowledge base in order to be effective advocates for public education, our children, our neighbors’ children and our community schools.
As always, let’s discuss here or on the facebook page. And please take a moment to answer the question below.