Sunday, March 09, 2008

Changing the face of education

After reading the How many billionaires does it take to fix a school system, I began thinking...

If someone gave me $2 billion to fix the schools, how would I suggest it be used?

First of all, $2 billion is peanuts compared to what it would take to reform our school system...but I think the decision to invest in the education system and change it to become more effective can happen as a result of people making decisions to invest their money. ...but I think they need to do it differently than has been done in the past.

To use $2 billion for new "programs" is not productive and will not change the system long term. If we're talking "programs," I would love to see more efforts put into college and post-secondary preparation, financial literacy, more openings for preschool, and ensuring children (even the most "problem" children) get the help they need so that they can learn to reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic before they get so far behind that they can't catch up.

But I have a different idea.

Hire parents to be "think tanks" and implementers.

Pay a core group of parents to be in the schools. Hire them to be community organizers. Talk to them. Seek understanding of the realities of their community...their kids' lives...their access to resources. Work *with* them to come up with solutions. Create job descriptions, train them and expect of them just as you would other staff members.

We hear the research all the time. Parents are vital to the success of their children. I've even read research that says when parents...even of other children within the school...are involved, performance of all children increases.

Our world has changed over the last 30 years. There are more single parents...more parents who have to work longer hours...more parents who have a hard time taking off during the day to have a parent-teacher conference, deliver items to the school, or show up at PTA meetings.

Parents are perfect connectors to the community. They know the kids. They know the parents. They know the realities of what is feasible and what isn't. They know the excuses, but they also know what isn't an excuse and what is real. They have expections. They know what they (and others) want for their children.

Parents are valuable. We need them. And many of them are working in jobs that don't allow them to be involved. Other parents aren't involved because of their own fears or intimidation of the school system due to them having the same type of experiences their kids are having.

Our schools cannot be left up to the millionaires and billionaires to decide what's best. No matter how much "experience" they have with running successful businesses or investing their money. The realities of our low-income, low-performing schools face are much different than the realities of billionaires.

The answers...and the capacity...lie in the communities where the public schools exist and from the people whose children attend there.
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