Who’s Doing a Great Job Sharing Information with the Public? The Alabama State Department of Education
Did the headline catch you off-guard? I thought it might. Well, it’s true. I’ve been around these parts my whole life, and I have never seen a public education entity, state or local, more willing to share meaningful information with the public than the folks currently at the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE).
What other public education entity broadcasts its board work sessions and board meetings live online? And archives those videos for later viewing? (In case you missed it, this morning’s board meeting is online now.) And even lets others create highlights within the video?
The ALSDE broadcasts press conferences and workshops as well.
Sure, the Good News stories are shared, but they also share more meaningful and useful information through their web site.
While most would admit that the ALSDE’s web site is, well, sometimes difficult to navigate (I use the search box on a regular basis), features have been added over the past year to allow easier access to available reports and other useful information. Granted, this is state-level information, but if you’re into education policy discussions and want to get a grasp of the bigger picture issues in public education in Alabama, you can find much of that information on the ALSDE’s web site. Remember: You have to know how things are currently done, and what changes they are considering if you want to get in on the discussion before decisions are made.
The Reports link takes you to this list of reports.
This link takes you to all memorandums that are sent to all city and county superintendents, which are the notices of big changes or requirements for local school districts.
A link to all Proposed Administrative Code changes is available (under the Special Links tab). A link to all Press Releases is available (in the Communications section).
A publication to put on your reading list is Alabama Education News, published on a regular basis by the Communications section. If you want to keep up with current education news around the state, check out the “Daily News” link on the home page of their web site. Yes, it’s updated daily.
In addition to the information available on the ALSDE web site, Communications personnel keep Facebook and Twitter accounts up to date with information. There’s a YouTube channel and a Pinterest account as well.
Yes, you have to proactively seek this stuff out, but it is there if you want to find it.
There is promise of a new blog and interfacing capability that will allow real dialogue between the public and the ALSDE. On page 36 of the ESEA waiver (page 42 from within the PDF): “The ALSDE is implementing an interactive blog accessible on the main ALSDE Web site that will be available to the public. Entries on this blog will get personal responses from an ALSDE official.” This blog is currently under development, with no firm timeline on an official launch.
Having spent the first decade of my advocacy efforts in a school district that wasn’t thrilled with the idea of sharing information, witnessing this transition to an ever-increasing transparent environment is refreshing. Even encouraging.
Communications personnel at the ALSDE affirm there has been a concerted effort to improve communications and increase transparency at the state level. And it shows.
In addition to being responsive to questions and requests, they do not shy away from my occasional challenges to the way they do things. This is a far cry from the response I had grown used to receiving from local district officials.
No, not all requests for information are fulfilled. Guess there are some things still considered off-limits to the public.
In this 24/7/365 information-sharing climate, though, the ALSDE has stepped up to the plate to not only provide traditional public relations stories but also the guts of the information upon which policy decisions are made.
You gotta give props where props are due. Props to the ALSDE’s Communications folks for enhancing their mission to provide information not only to districts and educators, but also to the public at large.
Having said that, making the information available and giving the public enough time to have meaningful input are certainly two different intentions. This post is about the former, not the latter. The information comes first, then the public engagement.
There is still much work to be done to effectively engage the public in policy-based, action-oriented discussions and ultimately in the decisions that are made. (C’mon, you knew there had to be a catch, right?)
Local school districts should embrace the model for communication that the ALSDE has created by regularly sharing relevant and meaningful information with their larger school communities. In turn, our school communities need to pay attention to the ALSDE’s and local district efforts and step up to engage in these discussions so we can take our turn offering meaningful input into the final decisions that are made that impact our public schools.