Colorado is one of the most educated states in the nation, ranking high in the percentage of adults who attended college and hold bachelor's degrees. But state funding for higher education isn't what it used to be -- according to the American Council on Education, state support shrank nearly 70 percent between 1980 and 2011. The same study says funding could dry up completely by 2019; so perhaps it's no coincidence that the revenue public colleges and universities here get from tuition has increased every year since 2007.
“With [ESSA], we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal—that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.” — President Barack Obama
On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), our national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. In developing plans and implementing ESSA, stakeholder engagement – including parents – plays a crucial role in improving student outcomes in our schools.
Family engagement is crucial at the national, state and, particularly, local level where you can make a difference in your child’s school and classroom.
“Engagement” is about more than families’ one-way receiving of information and sponsoring fundraisers at school. It’s the opportunity for families to be active and integral participants in their children’s education. As examples, school districts have established parent councils to advise the Superintendent, offered workshops on navigating the school system, and implemented Academic Parent Teacher Teams to encourage greater conversation between teachers and parents on learning expectations and strategies to improve achievement.
Re-think family engagement, not to add burden to already-busy parents or work to teachers’ increasingly packed school day, but instead to build relationships between two crucial components of a child’s life together –families and school personnel –to further support their successful education, well-being and development.
As a parent you have plenty of options, depending on availability, interests, skills, and personal constraints, to be engaged. Look for opportunities that work for your family.
- Establish positive relationships with school administrators and teachers. If you haven’t met your child’s teachers yet, request a short meeting or send a quick email to introduce yourself and let them know you are there to support your child.
- Meet with teachers about academic and social development goals for your child. Ask what your children should be able to do at his/her grade level. Ask what you can do to support learning at home. Share ideas of how the teacher can better support your child in class. If your child needs special education services – ask for a thorough explanation of options and services available. Check the Parent Checklist to get started.
- Attend PTA or parent organization meetings and find out about the issues in your school. Ask questions if others aren’t bringing up the things that matter to your child’s success or your community.
- Volunteer on a committee that focuses on an activity or issue important to you, whether it is school transportation, safe places to play after-school, teacher diversity, bullying or academics.
- Voice your opinion to local and state Boards of Education and local, state, and national elected officials on things that matter to your family. Write letters, make phone calls, or attend public meetings. Check local jurisdiction or state government websites for contact information and meeting schedules.
- Each state, by law, should have parents engaged in the process of developing and implementing ESSA for the 2017-18 school year. Check your state’s education website to find out about your parent representative and the developing plans.
Being engaged in education doesn’t require endless free time or multiple degrees and in-depth knowledge about schools. You just need a concern for your child and a little bit of time to act on that concern. You’re ready! #GetEngaged!
Frances Frost serves as the Family Ambassador, U.S. Department of Education. Find her on Twitter @FamiliesatED.
Even though we are halfway through the school year, the start of 2017 is the perfect opportunity for a fresh perspective on my classroom. Just like I did with my home over break, I plan to reorganize my room and purge any resources that I no longer need. If I haven’t used it yet at this point in the year, chances are I don’t actually need it and it should go. Of course, I don’t want to throw out anything that could be useful to someone else, so I will give them away to a teacher, tutor, or student that will put them to good use. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A freshly cleaned classroom is a terrific landscape for exciting new projects.
By January, the routines and activities that we have in place can become dull and redundant to students, so this is a prime time to shake things up and try something different. I have always been interested in the idea of passion projects, and while I worry that third graders might be too young for it, I also remind myself to never underestimate the power of my students. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way I envision, I’ll never know what can be improved if I don’t try it, and there will be many lessons for all of us to learn as we go through the initiatory process. I will start by helping the kids identify problems they are affected by and brainstorming ways to solve them. No limits either, because I want them to aim high and see where it takes us. I plan to integrate technology, encourage kids to blog about their challenges and successes, and incorporate other pieces of our curriculum to model a project-based learning environment, which has been a goal of mine for a long time.
Setting new goals is another traditional part of the New Year, and that shouldn’t be limited to our personal lives, so I have been thinking about professional goals that I would like to reach in 2017. Since teacher leadership is a personal passion of mine, my list of things to do includes submitting applications for the plethora of opportunities that now exist. Most run on a calendar year so the deadlines are usually sometime in January. And, I’m excited to see what I can accomplish with summer professional development opportunities, too! I would be remiss if I didn’t plug the U.S. Department of Education’s School Ambassador Fellowship which is now open for applications until January 23rd. This Fellowship has stretched my thinking and taught me so much about policy and the importance of teacher voice, so I encourage you all to apply for a life changing experience!
While some may humbug New Year resolutions, I believe that it is always a good idea to reflect and improve, especially when it comes to how we engage with our students. I encourage you to take a few minutes and set some small goals for your classroom, too! Happy New Year!