Last week, nearly 70 students from four states visited the U.S. Department of Education, and inspired ED staff to improve the education system in America to work for all students. These students were anything but diffident, for they came prepared to ask questions, all curious to know what the federal government’s role is in education.
Each group of students shared the uniqueness of their programs and the challenges they face in their schools. These students exhibited determination, optimism, civic engagement and forward thinking. They let us know that their voices are the key to spark effective change.
The quality of education in Fort Bend County has long been a driving force to attract families to the area. Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) is Texas’ seventh largest with approximately 74,500 students and one of the most diverse in the nation.
FBISD currently has 78 campuses: 11 high schools, 14 middle schools, 50 elementary campuses and three unique secondary campuses to address the academic and vocational interests of students. These high school leaders met with ED staff to discuss the role of the Department in supporting states’ efforts to provide high-quality educational opportunities and gain an understanding of the role they, as students, play. After our session, the Fort Bend students recommended that the Department highlight more youth engagement events through our communications media.Maricopa Community Colleges
Maricopa, Arizona Community Colleges’ Student Public Policy Forum (SPFF) is an academic program that provides an overview of local, state and national public policy making, and citizen influence and involvement. It places a focus on experiential learning and leadership development through engagement in the public policy process.
Maricopa Community Colleges comprise one of the largest community college districts in the nation. Students met with ED staff to discuss higher education issues, CTE accessibility and education choice. This session provided an opportunity for staff to meet directly with students who are actively working to achieve their higher education goals while studying to become more informed and engaged citizens.March On: Montgomery to D.C.
March On: Montgomery to DC is an opportunity for students to travel from Montgomery, Alabama to Washington, D.C. to hear from leaders and professionals about how to achieve their college and career goals. The purpose of the trip is to expose the students to leaders, institutions and universities in D.C. and then empower the students to achieve their goals by building off of the advice they receive through access to internships and mentorship in Montgomery.
The students carried on the spirit of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery by fighting for equal opportunity in their own lives and in their communities. Students shared their personal stories with ED staff and expressed some of the challenges they face in their local schools. They encouraged staff to continue to spotlight innovative practices across the country to spark change.Caldwell Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council
The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, or MYAC, provides the youth of Caldwell, Idaho an opportunity to voice their opinions and share a role in the decision-making process. The council strives to empower youth in their community by getting them involved in community service. MYAC also offers students incredible learning experiences through local work and travel experiences.
The Council is comprised of student representatives from Caldwell High School, Canyon Springs High School, Ridgeview High School, Vallivue High School, Skyview High School and Thomas Jefferson Charter School. These student leaders presented their white paper on “The Decline of Education in America,” and presented solutions to fix the problems they saw occurring in their local schools.
Excerpt from the white paper:
As the Caldwell Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, we see every day, a lack of valuable education in our high schools. Many teachers are advised that graduating students is preferable to the school than having their students retain skills and knowledge, because if students fail the majority of their classes it will reflect poorly on the school. It has resulted in numerous cases of grade inflation, causing students who are on a C or lower average, to earn A’s on their class work. This allows students to have a higher GPA and appear more capable and more knowledgeable than they actually are. While this seems positive for the student, these destructive methods of education push students to continue into classes that they are incapable of thriving in. The vicious cycle of students not being capable and teachers passing them, leaves students incompetent in their academic abilities and not prepared for higher education. As students graduate and are admitted into college, 41% of our students in Idaho are required to take remedial college courses to fill the holes in their high school education.
The U.S. Department of Education is proud to host students all year round. For more information on arranging a visit with your youth group please contact Sam Ryan, Youth Engagement Coordinator, at Sam.Ryan@Ed.Gov.
Denisha Merriweather is a Confidential Assistant in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
Even a gazillion dollar industry like the National Football League can get be blind to accessibility needs, at times. Perhaps, even, color blind. If you have not seen it, be sure to look at this video of the game in which they had the two teams where special jerseys all of one color…
While we don’t have a gazillion dollar budget, WCET and the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) are partnering to help our members on addressing accessibility issues…and we need your help on what activities will best help you.We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
While we in the educational technology and distance education world can also fall short at times, it is not for a lack of trying. Our friends at the Instructional Technology Council (ITC) Network conduct an annual survey of their (mostly) community college membership. Below, I chart the results of one of their questions, which was featured in a recent article about the “confidence” in institutional accessibility compliance.
The “Completely” or “Mostly” compliant options were chosen by 73% of respondents in 2008. That number fell to only 33% in the most recent survey.
I’ve used this graphic in discussions and presentations over the last year and asked “why?” Are we getting worse at this? The answer is almost uniformly that we did not know all we needed to know back in 2008. And, even today, there is more to learn.OLC and WCET Partnering to Help Our Members
After a year of searching for an issue on which WCET and the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) could partner to help both memberships, accessibility was chosen. As stated by Kathleen Ives, OLC’s Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director:
“Advancements in technologies intending to make academic life easier present challenges for students who have disabilities. The need for more accessible services and devices proves to be an educational imperative so they can be used by all students of all abilities.”
Our partnership kicked-off this week with a joint webinar that explained some of the basic issues. You are encouraged to view the archive of it. Moving forward, watch for more webinars, papers, blogs, and conference sessions on these issues.
One of our first efforts was to create a survey that seeks to gain data on the following issues:
- What are attitudes of a variety of people on campuses surrounding accessibility?
- Are there structures in place on campus to support accessibility?
- How can we help?
We are hearing that there is still lots of confusion about what is required and what should be done regardless of requirements. Based on the survey responses, OLC and WCET will plan professional development offerings to help meet the needs that you identify.
The survey is focused on institutional based personnel. If you work at an institution, please take the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WJFWVY5
Watch for more information in the future.