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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How can an "outsider" help improve public schools?

How can an "outsider" help improve public schools?

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I am frustrated with public schools. I want to help make a difference, but I feel unwelcome to assist. How can I help make a difference with education at its core? I feel like I am helping apply bandages when broken bones go unattended. As a "non-teacher", I feel like an unwelcome outsider who "doesn't know" and "should let experts do their job". I've tutored, been a guest speaker, built software tools, helped develop compacts, and assisted teachers in different capacities. (These were on my own initiative; the most I ever received going through official channels was an automated "thank you for signing up".) The core of public schools is going in the wrong direction. They are too focused on tests and curriculum rather than inspiring innovation. They blame the government for these burdens. They blame lack of resources. They blame lack of… It does not take the latest technology or the most expensive classrooms or highest paid teachers. It takes looking at the system differently. Focus on teaching the kids the skills to innovate and tap into their desire to learn; then they will learn the curriculum. There are approaches that have made a difference. Many do not require additional costs per se, but they do require shifts that bureaucracy is not likely to make (e.g. starting school days a little later, longer school days, exercise programs, concerted efforts by all the teachers). I can no longer afford to be patient on the sidelines. I witnessed many district initiatives go no where over the past decade. My daughter enters the education system in the next few years. How can I help make a difference with education at its core?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Good point, Hubert. I do plan to get involved in my PTA, but I want to help more schools - particularly schools without active parents (which is one of the problems). Also, while PTAs can do a lot, the issues with education are more at the core of education. I may be wrong, but I suspect PTA involvement at that level is not as welcome. I don't want to help the struggling education system as it is, I want to help it reinvent itself. There are great models of education out there. How do I help my district get there?

Hubert V. Yee's picture
Hubert V. Yee
social media and marketing manager of startup

Hi Dixby001,

A group of Youth and I surveyed students on the issue of bullying. The research helped to revise bullying policy in SF schools by the Board of Education. I think policy change and grassroots movement is key to education reform and adjustments.

Have you ever thought of running for public office? You can impact schools from that perspective.

dvanler's picture

As parent and teacher, I struggle with this one as well. I am only one teacher, for one grade, how to I get my small, poor school where it should be? I offer many resources to my child's teachers and it really is like pulling teeth. I try very hard to fill in the blanks at home. I introduce technology, culture, and challenge her to get to know her world. It may be that your teachers are struggling with all the demands and don't know how to get there. Improving my classroom and my children's education is so very important to me that I spend almost all my personal time on the task. In reality, some teachers just cannot do this.

I feel your question is the million dollar question. We know it needs to change, but how do we make this happen?

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

Wow, I can really feel the frustration in your writing. I remember that feeling 25 years ago when my children were infants. We finally decided that it was best to teach at home and so we never did find an answer to the million dollar question.

Perhaps it is because the million dollar question does not have an answer...instead it has myriad answers.

I'm beginning to think that this won't be one monolithic revolution encompassing a unified strategy toward a new normal. It seems to me that we are headed toward a situation where families have the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of educational options so they can find the right fit for themselves. In truth, this situation already exists through the total school market (public, private, homeschool), but is not universally accessible due to costs.

The situation is changing, and these options are becoming more accessible. Homeschooling is now supported by many school districts with advising, materials, and networking for social support. Public school Montessori programs are popping up in many states across the country. The charter school movement has provided a variety of new models, some of which are promising.

Perhaps you are not the only parent in your district who would like to see some changes made. Maybe the PTA has a working group about fundamental changes in policy (my experience was that they just wanted to raise funds). If not, you could start one. In the meantime, find out about programs in your area that are innovating. Look beyond the local PS classroom at some private schools or homeschool groups. In some states it is even possible for parents to start charter schools. This would be a very ambitious change, but it is supposed to be part of the charter school design.

Above all, don't give up! Choosing homeschooling is a way of showing alternative models that work. Private schools also showcase innovations that can be applied in public settings. If you can't get enough movement in your local public school to satisfy yourself that you child's education will be sound, then going elsewhere is probably your best choice. If you really feel strongly about the change, you can return to the fray after your child(ren)'s education is complete. But I don't think it does the system any good to have students stick around as their parents try to change something that is not showing signs of change.

We can't sacrfice our children's present to some possible future that has never been able to arrive in all the years of school reform we've had.

Mary Kate

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Thank you Cindy. I'm not completely surprised by the lack of response. Everyone agrees that things need to be done, but it is difficult to come up with exactly what those things are. It's even more difficult to come up with action items for people not already in the trenches.

I hope this forum becomes a way for developing these action items. Your link is a good addition for that vision.

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Hubert,

You are correct that it requires policy change AND (emphasis here) grassroots effort. Policy changes alone don't help. Being in political office on its own it not that helpful. The true successes I have heard about require change at all levels and ideally from the grassroots up. Its at the grassroots that they REALLY know what they can do to have success. How do with foster that while getting the buy-in and support from those making policy?

Could you outline some of the actions you took to make your change with bullying? Perhaps that can serve as a model.

[quote]Hi Dixby001,

A group of Youth and I surveyed students on the issue of bullying. The research helped to revise bullying policy in SF schools by the Board of Education. I think policy change and grassroots movement is key to education reform and adjustments.

Have you ever thought of running for public office? You can impact schools from that perspective.[/quote]

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Dvanler, I agree that teachers seem too overwhelmed to know what to request. They are too overwhelmed to even accept help. What can I do to relieve that pressure? What are two or three demands that, if relieved, could free up the most time for teachers? Then, they can focus on what they think is important. That may be where I need to focus. Thoughts?

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Mary Kate, thanks for the suggestions. Good point about the myriad answers. I'm not looking for the silver bullet of a "unified strategy", but focusing on one initiative that makes an impact and provides a path for other schools.

One of the problems is that many (most?) kids do not have the parental support they need. If we rely on a "situation where families have the opportunity to choose", I fear many kids will suffer. Certain charter schools are great, but the biggest disadvantage is they pull the most supportive parents out of the traditional public schools where they are needed most. The answer needs to be helping the traditional schools adapt to successful ideas implemented elsewhere.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

Charter school were supposed to serve as pilot programs to ferret out what works without the encumbrance of the usual regulatory structure. Programs that work are supposed to be replicated thereby spreading the wisdom gained by charters to other nearby schools. That doesn't really seem to be happening, and instead charters are viewed as adversaries.

BTW, I love your idea about direct action to support teachers. I do many jobs each day in my room which could be performed by others. I do cleaning, copying, prepping materials, tending animals, shopping, etc. If someone wanted to help with a few of the things on my list I would be thrilled.

Mary Kate

dvanler's picture

dbixby001, I know that many parents say they are willing to help, but how do I know they are serious and how do I fit it in with my day and curriculum? Well, if I had a persistent parent who continued to offer help, my first suggestion may be to volunteer within the classroom for a few days, or more, if you can. That would show me that the parent is serious about helping. It would also help them to see what my day looks like. If you strike the conversation of what is to come in the near future, then you may be able to assist them where you feel comfortable.

My daughter's current teacher is scared of technology. Don't get me wrong, he is a great teacher, but he is nearing retirement and he has not figured out how technology can to fit into his life. To assist with this, I offered to host a website for him. Instead of waiting for him to be comfortable with the idea, I did it and linked it to mine. I had my daughter show him what was on there. I keep this very simple, a couple multiplication game sites, a link to the reading series, a link to Spelling City (which he eventually gave me the words to), and some fun to add into it. I initially set it up to offer my daughter some homework by exploring for these sites, because the only homework the students had was what they hadn't finished in class. I targeted his weakest point and showed him what I could offer. If I explained it to him and would have waited for him to consent, I would still be waiting. I had my daughter show him. Her ease at using it forced him to realize that other students could benefit from this. He may not be comfortable with it yet, but the students are.

As for Mary Kate, I agree that there are many options open to us, but location has a lot to do with it. There is not a charter school within a hundred mile radius. As for homeschooling, I'm not sold on it yet. I chose to be a teacher and a teacher for everyone. I agree that there has to be a place for ALL students to have an education. I believe in the idea of public school. I am middle class, but many around here are in poverty. Public Education needs some updating, I agree, but I really don't think that closing their doors are the answer either. In many ways, as a teacher, my hands are tied, but as a person who loves learning, I find ways to sneak it in. I am always learning and growing and love the process of it but that's what I want all students to learn from me.

As a teacher, I see the parents that are strong supporters of their child's education and I see the one's whom I cannot get ahold of, yet blame me for their child's deficiencies. The children I spend the most time on each day are the one's who are starving for human contact. I don't agree with this as a whole, but I can definitely see why they are looking for any attention from me. Even our middle class minds have a hard time grasping what those children's lives are like. Are we seriously suppose to make their parents homeschool?

Sorry, I have rattled long enough. Seriously though, my heart breaks when I think of things my child is missing out on, but I feel it is a partnership between home and school that will provide her with the greatest gains. Am I wrong in this? I know this is where the original question started. What can we, as parents, do? But I can also ask, what can I, as a teacher, do? The answer -- as much as I can, where I can. I find a hole and I begin to fill it. We have to make a change and it, historically, has happened one step at a time, one person at a time, until the idea grows.

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