If you’re in the DC area or interested in relocating, this would be a very cool job!

Director of Online Engagement and Participation, AmericaSpeaks

The Director of Online Engagement and Participation will lead AmericaSpeaks’ initiatives to design, facilitate and organize online participatory processes that provide citizens and stakeholders with a greater voice in governance processes. The Director will be responsible for generating new projects through which AmericaSpeaks may engage the public online, representing AmericaSpeaks in discussions with federal agencies about how to use online methods to create a more open government, managing a group of online associates and partners to deliver online engagement programs, and forming and nurturing partnerships with other online innovators. The Director will also oversee the organization’s online and social media presence.

AmericaSpeaks seeks a candidate with deep experience in the field of online engagement and participation. Candidates should have a proven track record of leading online participatory processes.

AmericaSpeaks is a world leader in the field of citizen engagement and public deliberation. For more than fifteen years, AmericaSpeaks has helped citizens influence many of the most pressing issues facing the public, including the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site after 9/11, the creation of regional plans for the greater Chicago and Cleveland regions, and the development of a recovery plan for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. AmericaSpeaks’ mission is to reinvigorate democracy; we are doing this by developing innovative tools and a rich infrastructure for engaging citizens in our nation’s policy making process. For more information about AmericaSpeaks, visit http://www.facebook.com/l/25ce2;www.americaspeaks.org.

The Director will report to the Vice President of Citizen Engagement. Salary will be commensurate with experience.

Duties and Responsibilities

* Lead AmericaSpeaks’ initiatives to engage citizens and stakeholders in online participatory processes
* Work with other AmericaSpeaks’ staff to attract and develop new projects to engage citizens and stakeholders online, especially with federal agencies
* Form and nurture partnerships with other leaders in the field of online engagement to deliver projects and develop new innovations
* Form and manage a group of consultants who can assist AmericaSpeaks in delivering online engagement projects and online aspects of other engagement projects
* Oversee the content of the AmericaSpeaks website and social media presence, and work with AmericaSpeaks’ communications associate and interns to ensure that content remains dynamic and fresh
* Develop and manage an online innovations agenda for AmericaSpeaks to ensure that the organization remains a leader in the field
* Develop programmatic and budget protocols for the delivery of online deliberations and engagement processes to support business development and the delivery of programs by associates and other partners
* Work with the organization’s communications cluster on the marketing and branding of the organization

Knowledge and Skills Preferred for the Position

* Demonstrated track record of organizing, designing and facilitating online efforts to engage people in crowdsourcing, dialogue or other related online activities
* Familiarity with online current online platforms for engaging the public, like IdeaScale, User Voice, etc. and social media tools
* Familiarity with online organizing practices, including social network and blogger outreach
* Entrepreneurial skills and the ability to develop new business
* Strong preference for candidates who live in or are willing to move to the Washington, DC area
* A commitment and passion for increasing the voice of citizens in policy making and realizing AmericaSpeaks vision
* Excellent oral and written communication skills
* Strong interpersonal and communication skills
* Experience with directing large, complex campaigns or initiatives
* Strong management skills
* Willingness to adjust hours according to the demands of the job and travel
* Proven ability to meet multiple deadlines and balance numerous projects while maintaining a perspective on long-term goals
* Strategic thinking
* Basic web skills such as basic HTML, CSS and image manipulation preferred
* Familiarity with Salsa is preferred
* Familiarity with the field of deliberative democracy is preferred

To Apply
Resumes with a cover letter should be submitted to Joe Goldman at jgoldman [at] americaspeaks [dot] org with “Director of Online Engagement” in the subject line. All attachments should be in PDF or Microsoft Word format and titled as follows “Lastname_Firstname_

For more information about AmericaSpeaks, visit: http://www.facebook.com/l/25ce2;www.americaspeaks.org.

AmericaSpeaks is an equal opportunity employer. We encourage and value a diverse work force, and we seek diversity among applicants for this position.

In an earlier post, I proposed that the upcoming AmericaSpeaks Town Meeting on the federal debt in Dallas on June 26 was a chance to facilitate a part of history. I can now report that it will be even easier to participate than I earlier reported. Some of you have expressed an interest, but the mandatory on-site training in Dallas on Friday afternoon before our big Saturday event was almost a deal breaker.

Well, good news!

We have the good fortune of living in just the right time zone which means that Dallas facilitators can get their dose of on-site training on June 26, the day of the event at 8:30 a.m.! Of course, that makes for a very early wake-up call for the Austinites who volunteer, but if you leave comments here looking for shared ride opportunities, you can alternate driving and sleeping on the way.

Here is a complete list of the training times. There are three sessions and each session has a couple of options to make it easy on your schedule. All session are conducted via telephone and all times below are in CENTRAL.

Session 1: Telephone (Choose ONE of the following)

  • Sun, June 13, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. OR
  • Mon, June 14, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. OR
  • Tue, June 15, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. OR

Session 2: Telephone (Choose ONE of the following)

  • Sun, June 20,  5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. OR
  • Mon, June 21, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. OR
  • Tue, June 22, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. OR

Session 3 Conducted on-site at the Dallas Convention Center (Choose ONE of the following)

  • Fri, June 25, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. OR
  • Sat, June 26, 8:30 a.m.

I’m still working on securing host housing in Dallas if you’re interested in coming in on Friday. It will make for a much more relaxing experience, but I wanted you to know that there are options for the early birds.

If you want to be a facilitator, you must apply here.

Participants can register here.

BTW, check out the Facebook event page for more info and tidbits related to the Dallas experience (again, you can register on the Facebook page, but this is NOT the same as registering for the event! To make life even more confusing, we have a Dallas newsletter. Sign up for our Dallas Newsletter updates.

OK, I know I’m prone to hyperbole, but when thousands of people connected by satellite and webcast join simultaneously across a country as large as the US to deliberate our economic future, being one of a select group of facilitators making it happen sounds like a pretty memorable opportunity.

You have that opportunity on June 26.

I am the site manager for the Dallas gathering of the AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy so naturally I’m strongly encouraging the Texas Forums network to participate, but many of you are outside of Texas and can also help the good citizens in your own community make some tough choices about how to reduce the federal debt.

We are currently recruiting table facilitators for the following Town Meeting locations:

Albuquerque, NM
Augusta, ME
Casper, WY
Chicago, IL
Columbia, SC
Dallas, TX
Des Moines, IA
Detroit, MI
Grand Forks, ND
Jackson, MS
Louisville, KY
Missoula, MT
Overland Park, KS
Philadelphia, PA
Portland, OR
Portsmouth, NH
Redlands, CA
Richmond, VA
San Jose, CA

AmericaSpeaks will provide a 90 minute training on the content – I’m assuming none of us are experts on the federal debt – and you will need to be on-site on June 25 for a few hours to become familiar with the venue and participate in the facilitator training. If you are bilingual, (Spanish, in particular in Dallas) your skills are definitely in need.

A National Advisory Committee is providing guidance to the project and a National Content Team is making sure that the materials are accurate, fair, balanced and easy-to-understand. The materials are still in development, but the day will involve presentations streamed to multiple site, interspersed with facilitated dialogue about policy options to reduce the nation’s debt, culminating in participant-determined priorities using hand held keypads.

At the end of the day, every participant will walk out of the Town Hall Meeting with a brief report on the day and the decisions that they made.

But the reporting doesn’t stop there. (And here’s where it really gets historic.)

The results will also be shared with the President’s Bipartisan Fiscal Commission (Texas’ 5th District Congressional Representative Jeb Hensarling serves on this commission) and with other members of Congress (I’ve also been coordinating with Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson’s staff) and Organizations and Government offices that focus on the budget.

I know that many of you live in Austin, but this would be such a wonderful experience that it would be worth the trip, particularly if you’ve got friends in Dallas willing to put you up. Or, you might double up and share accommodations with other Austinites. I’ve been staying in Dallas about once a week and have found reasonable hotels.

AmericaSpeaks will provide a $100 stipend, thanks to the generosity of the project funders. It isn’t much, but since so many of you do this work as your passion, it’s nice to be able to offset the costs.

Plus, look at how much you’ll learn and what a treat it will be to say you had a hand in this unprecedented National Town Meeting about an issue that will determine so much of this country’s future.

For more information and to apply, click here!

How many of us really spend a significant amount of our time thinking about the federal budget, in particular the escalating federal debt? It’s certainly been in the news lately. And I don’t think I’m just taking notice because of my new assignment working on this issue.

I’m noticing. I’m getting worried. I’m getting involved. And you can too.

Here’s why you should:

Unless we do something about it, America will be facing a fiscal train wreck over the next decade. Driven by rising health care costs, an aging population, and a habit of spending more than we have, our national debt is projected to reach unprecedented levels in the coming years that cannot be sustained.

If nothing is done:

  • uncontrolled deficit spending could lead to inflation, a collapsing dollar and even more debt,
  • rising interest rates could make it harder for young people to get student loans or for families to get a mortgage for a new home,
  • large and small companies might find it more difficult to hire workers without access to new investments,
  • other national priorities will go unfunded as we pay back the interest we owe.

So what can we do?

On June 26th, thousands of Americans who represent every walk of life will sit together at tables in communities across the country simultaneously talking about the values and priorities important to us as Americans.

AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy will be a national discussion to find common ground on tough choices about our federal budget. Americans from across the country will come together to weigh-in on strategies to ensure a sustainable fiscal future and a strong economic recovery.

This non-partisan discussion about our federal budget will lead to solutions developed by thousands of people that will be shared with leaders in Washington.

If that’s not cool enough…(and this is for my Texas Friends)…

Texas (Dallas to be specific) is one of six sites hosting the largest of the forums, each of which will be linked together by satellite and the Internet for a truly national conversation!

I have been hired as the Site Manager for this event which means that I am working with a team (Public Relations, Event Logistics, Outreach, Facilitator Recruiters, Production Managers, and a Local Engagement Team) to assemble 500 people who are demographically representative of the Dallas region for a five hour discussion on June 26 at the Dallas Convention Center. Whew!

But when I’m not feeling overwhelmed by this daunting task, I am invigorated by the scope, breadth and potential impact.

This will be an unprecedented national town meeting in which every geographic region will be represented in the conversation at the same time. Not only that, but we will be recruiting a diverse group of participants that reflect the demographic make-up of their communities so each site will be a microcosm of the community and collectively we will reflect the tremendously rich diversity of our nation.

During the day, participants will deliberate this issue, set priorities with hand-held keypads, and make recommendations that will go to the President and Congress. Participants will look at the tough realities and propose solutions to the President’s Commission on Financial and Fiscal Responsibility. (If you are so inclined, check out the three hour video of their first meeting held on April 27.)

We are in conversation with members of Congress. I’ve had the good fortune to work with the staff of Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Jeb Hensarling who also serves as one of 18 member of the President’s bi-partisan commission.

And the Washington staff of AmericaSpeaks are also working with the Obama administration.

This is an amazing opportunity for the public to make a clear statement about the values that should drive tough fiscal decisions.

So how can you get involved?

I’d love to hear what you decide to do. Keep me posted!

NOTE: For more information about this project, check out the following:

Earlier this week I participated in a Kettering symposium at the National Press Club to discuss the findings of their recent report, Helping Students Succeed: Communities Confront the Achievement Gap. A prestigious panel with students, a parent, school administrators and teachers, researchers and a mayor were on hand to share their response to this report that documented what happened in ten communities around the country when people came together to deliberate what they could do to help close the Achievement Gaps. Our own Dr. Patty Shafer, San Marcos School Superintendent was on hand to talk about the impact that the community dialogues have had on how people in her community now work together to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

Over the years I have written in this blog about this project in Central Texas and Texas Forums’ fruitful partnership with E3 Alliance and the many school districts and community members that have pledged time, energy and resources to work together on education with an eye toward regional solutions. My next step in this venture will be to work with the Blueprint Team for Goal 4: Central Texas as a community prepares children to succeed. Stay tuned for more postings about community engagement and evaluating progress toward this hard to measure goal.

But back to the DC symposium…

I was proud to represent Central Texas at this symposium and even more proud that our work is prominently featured in a forthcoming documentary about this project. We had a chance to preview the trailer for this documentary at a working luncheon following the symposium.

During the working luncheon following the symposium, I was charged to lead a discussion about the Achievement Gaps and to take notes for the Kettering Foundation. Below are snippets from our conversation.

What in your judgment is the most significant finding from the study? Did anything surprise you?

Several of the participants were surprised that so few people were familiar with the achievement gap issue. One participant wondered what this meant for the way the issue was named and framed. In other words, perhaps the public has a different perspective on what is really at issue when it comes to disparities in educational accomplishment. The project researcher noted that, based on his experience, those within the system hesitate to raise the issue of achievement gaps even to the extent of presenting data about the gaps in unfriendly, inaccessible formats so that the School Board would not readily detect the seriousness of the issue. Our superintendent countered that her annual performance review is heavily dependent upon being able to demonstrate strides toward closing the gaps. While many districts may be less than transparent about the data and may be reluctant to confront the issue, the ability to hide the seriousness of the issue may vary according to state reporting requirements. However, it is still clear that there is a huge disparity in the student achievement across the country as well as disparity in how much we know. One participant asked, “who is looking at this closest?”

One lunch guest commended the forum participants for their insight and willingness to confront the complexity of the issue and not grab at easy fixes. Instead, the forum participants rejected these easy fixes and moved beyond their pet cause or, as one participant described it, they gave up being “one trick pony advocates” and opened up to a range of possible actions. We briefly discussed how this shift occurred and concurred that the structure helps people bypass their firm notions about what should be done and makes it comfortable for them to entertain other options. The structure also creates the space for parents who have never been asked to realize “we can be part of the solution.” One participant cautioned that we must be diligent about the language that we use and aware of how language can keep people out of seeing themselves as part of the solution.

Since one of our participants had traveled to several sites to interview forums participants in depth for a documentary she is producing, we asked her to compare how different communities were defining he cause of the achievement gaps. In Central Texas, the primary driver (San Marcos community in particular) was the changing demographic and rapid growth of the ELL population.

She reported that poverty was also an issue in San Marcos, but not in the same widespread way it was expressed in Helena where poverty seems to be fueling a sense of hopelessness. The hopelessness is exacerbated by the concern that an improvement in the school and in the outcomes for children would lead to youth flight and the demise of the community. And yet, the community seems stymied from making the kind of improvements (renovating old buildings, attracting new business) that would be necessary to attract employers that could provide stimulating economic opportunities for new graduates. As one Helena participant noted in the documentary trailing, “the running joke is, ‘the last person out of Helena, turn out the light.’”

The gaps in Bridgeport are caused not just by poverty, but by the allocation of resources. While many in the community are poor, participants identified the disparity in resources between schools as an important consideration. Students feel safe while at school, but they don’t have the same level of security in their communities.

Because we were fortunate to have three young scholars in our group, I asked them how these conversations about the achievement gaps relate to their recent (more so than the rest of us at the table) high school experiences.

Astonishingly, one young woman raised in New Mexico responded, “It would have been great if someone had cared about this at my school.” She then relayed a story about being bused to a school south of town where there was a “mish-mash” of kids, what could have been a rewarding multi-cultural learning experience, but was really a holding place for kids who were given no direction, incentives, or experiences. It was the opposite of what Dr. Edmund Gordon (a panelist at the National Press Club) described as a community dedicated to education that included a school. Instead, the picture she painted was of a walled-in school in the middle of rich cultural opportunities that the students never experienced. [Ed. Note: Dr. Gordon is a brilliant thinker with remarkably diverse and deep scholarship and I felt blessed to be in attendance for his comments. Check out his biography and this brief video tribute from EdLab – Teachers College, Columbia University to him for more information.] Of her school of approximately 400 students, only100 students graduated (admittedly some moved away, and a meager 5 ventured out of state to pursue higher education opportunities. Other participants noted that even in the shadow of our nation’s capitol, there are entire school districts whose students have never visited the Smithsonian.

The experience of a young woman who went to high school in Denver was equally as dismal. She described multiple gaps – the number who did or did not complete high school, those who held high grade marks vs. those who did not, and those who pursued academic studies. She remembers having these conversations as she speculated on what it meant and why it occurred that she was only one out of two Black students in the Advanced Placement track at her high school, but she doesn’t remember that any of these conversations were intended to uncover the reason nor did they result in any changes.

A third young scholar did not remember any conversations about this topic in her school and was impressed to learn that students in the forum wanted adults to have high expectations of them. She reflected on how the naming of the problem indicates who will be involved in “fixing” the problem. The issues of education and youth seem so personal and so local that there is a danger of losing this when the issue becomes national or global.

Returning to the earlier challenges in Helena one participant summarized the tension facing communities, particularly the rural and declining communities: How do you preserve a local way of life while exposing kids to the world beyond? Some piece of the solution may be found in examining communities like York PA which has become a multi-ethnic community where kids grow up and go to college, but after they graduate, marry and start a family, many of them return to York because it offers a way of life that they want to give to their children.

Ultimately, our table agreed that education must be more broadly defined as an ongoing activity that occurs in lots of places, not just in school and that the over-riding question we must seek to answer is:

How can we make sure that
every student has every opportunity to succeed that they need?

Date: November 14
Time: 9:00 – noon
Place: LBJ Presidential Library (meet in the lobby)
Topic: What is the 21st Century Mission for Our Public Schools?

The nation has long prided itself on a public school system that successfully educates its children to be productive citizens of a flourishing democracy. And, by many measures, that continues to be the case. But there is increasing evidence that U.S. schools have failed to keep pace in a rapidly changing world.

Public education for all children is a foundation stone of this nation’s success. But changing times bring changing challenges. We can agree that children should learn basic skills, but what else do they need? What central purpose do we want our schools to serve today?

In our forum on November 14 at the LBJ library from 9-noon, we will explore three different perspectives on the mission of public schools.

Approach one:  Prepare Students to be Successful in the Workplace

There are alarming signs that the United States is losing its competitive edge in a burgeoning global economy.  If we are to continue to prosper as a nation, the guiding purpose of our public schools must be to prepare students for an increasingly complex workplace.


Approach two: Prepare Students to be Active and Responsible Citizens

Public schools were founded to foster the skills and behaviors citizens need to govern themselves and contribute to the public good.  A 40-year decline in civic education has taken its toll on the citizen participation our democracy depends on.  Instilling civic values is the most important contribution public schools make to society.


Approach three: Help Students Discover and Develop their Talents

A one-size-fits-all model does not serve our children or our society.  The mission of public schools should be to help each child make the most of his or her abilities and inclinations.  Schools must be able to respond to the variety of ways children learn.

At the core are these three questions:

  • Should schools focus on preparing students to be successful in the workplace?
  • Is the purpose of public schools to prepare students to be active and responsible citizens?
  • Should we invest more of our energy in helping each student make the most of his or her abilities?

Together we will consider the advantages of each approach as well as any costs or consequences. The results of our forum will be reported to the Kettering Foundation, a public policy research organization that reports on the public forums conducted by organizations like Texas Forums.


This forum, a project of the LBJ Presidential Library was one of dozens of forums being held by all twelve presidential libraries across the country, and made possible with funding from the National Archives and Records Administration and the National Issues Forums.

On November 4, twenty-five students, faculty, and administrators at St. Edward’s University (SEU) participated in a deliberative forum on Democracy’s Challenge: Reclaiming the Public’s Role. Organized by the SEU New College, the university’s program for working adults, the goal of the forum was to explore different ways that students can learn and practice their roles as citizens.

During the two and a half hour forum, participants explored the role of higher education in helping students to recognize their own unique contribution to our democracy and discussed ways to inspire them to become engaged citizens. Using a discussion guide prepared by the National Issues Forums Institute, participants considered three perspectives of what it would take to reclaim the public’s role in democracy.

Even though participants agreed the the university needs to provide students with opportunities for citizen engagement, the group recognized various barriers within educational institutions and within society that can prevent people from participating fully.

The lack of trust in government, the disconnect people feel with the process, the inability to talk about tough issues without polarizing around the differences, the loss of our public spaces used for public deliberation – all of these items were explored with a spirit of curiosity and respect. One of the most compelling ideas to come out of the discussion was an awareness that civic engagement in the future might look very different than what it has looked like in the past.

While it wasn’t immediately clear how dialogue and deliberation could be used more fully on campus, there seemed to be agreement that the skills would be important for SEU graduates, and that students could use these skills out in the community as they talk about issues that matter to them. New College is also considering whether or not to use this process in their required mission courses that every student takes upon entering New College. The university has already scheduled a follow up to the forum, which will be a two day Moderator Training on Jan. 8-9 on the St. Edward’s campus.

Following the event, Vicki Totten, who helped organize the event for New College faculty and students, said

I am excited about the potential of using dialogue and deliberation to help students talk about difficult issues in the classroom.

She added that deliberation might be an important foundation for any student, since in order to work on difficult issues, it is important to be able to know how to move a discussion from a debate toward true dialogue.

Another important aspect of the deliberative model is that it emphasizes the need to understand the important role that values play in forming our perspectives, an important hallmark of a St. Edward’s education.

This forum, a project of the LBJ Presidential Library was one of dozens of forums being held by all twelve presidential libraries across the country, and made possible with funding from the National Archives and Records Administration and the National Issues Forums.

I don’t normally write such long blog posts, but I got carried away as I was preparing some background notes for the upcoming Texas Forums community conversation on “What is the 21st Century Mission for Our Public Schools?” at the LBJ Library on November 14 from 9:00 – noon. When you are organizing a program on education on behalf of the institution that bears the name and houses the records of the “Education President”, it is easy to get sucked in! You may not have time to read all of this, but please, before you move on, consider joining me for the upcoming forum!

Date: November 14
Time: 9:00 – noon
Topic: What is the 21st Century Mission for Our Public Schools?
Where: Meet in the lobby of the LBJ Presidential Library 2313 Red River St. Austin. We will tour the special exhibit, School House to White House about the varied education experiences of the last twelve Presidents
Register here so we’ll have enough food and materials!

During our forum, we will consider three overarching questions related to the purpose of public schools:

  1. Should schools focus on preparing students to be successful in the workplace?
  2. Is the purpose of public schools to prepare students to be active and responsible citizens?
  3. Should we invest more of our energy in helping each student make the most of his or her abilities?

In the meantime, here’s a little light reading about the Education President, President Johnson.

The Education President’s Example

During his presidency, President Johnson backed more than 60 bills and programs to benefit education These bills were designed to ensure that children entered school ready to learn, that they had a variety of learning opportunities, that there was a continuum of learning from pre-school through higher education, and that all children regardless of race would have equal access to educational opportunities.

Milestone legislation and programs include:

  • Head Start
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act,
  • the Higher Education Act,
  • Vocational Education Act,
  • the Library Services Act, and
  • the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

His passion for education should not come as a surprise. After all, much of his early thinking about public policy and the role of teachers and government came from his experiences in the classroom. After receiving his degree from After his second year at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, President Johnson dropped out of school for a year to serve as principal and teach fifth, sixth, and seventh grades at Welhausen School, a Mexican-American school in Cotulla, TX a small farming and ranching community half way between San Antonio and Laredo. This Texas town, where most of his students were Hispanic and poor, left an indelible imprint on the young teacher who, in signing subsequent bills as Mr. President would often refer to “the faces of the boys and the girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School.”

This experience made education a particularly personal issue, and long before he wielded the power of the presidency, he used his personal resources to improve the lives of the children he taught. In October 1928, he wrote to his mother requesting 200 packages of toothpaste for his students. You can see and download the letter from the “early years” section of the Presidential Timeline at www.presidentialtimeline.org.

In November 1966, President Johnson returned to the Welhausen Elementary School in Cotulla where he shared his early memories of the multiple duties he performed as their teacher and principal – coach of the boys’ basketball team, debate coach, song leader, playground supervisor, and even assistant janitor. When the school could not afford playground equipment, President Johnson used his first month’s salary to invest in “those things for (as he affectionately called them) my children“. Even in his early days, President Johnson was the example of how passionate and creative individuals in a village can roll up their sleeves and help raise a child. Read his complete remarks to the students of Cotulla, TX here.

In addition to the deep concern and abiding fondness he expressed for “his” children, he also believed that they could succeed, given the right opportunities. In their description of his early life experiences, the LBJ Museum of San Marcos reports that “he brought strict discipline into his classroom and organizing his young students to participate in debate, declamation, spelling bees, and physical education — opportunities they had never had before.” Their narrative of Lyndon Johnson, the teacher continues, “He had enormous energy, a great capacity for work, the initiative to create projects for his students, and the ability to persuade others to assist with those projects.”

In short, there are signs that the infamous “Johnson Treatment” was born from his experience in a remote, under-served, impoverished Mexican-American community for the benefit of its children.

The timeline of his contribution to education during his presidency is breathtaking and that part of his legacy remains, but is often overlooked and never fully appreciated.

Despite the number of public schools named for President Johnson, it wasn’t until 2007 that a federal building was legally named for him. While a long wait, it was a fitting tribute. The Education Building in Washington, D.C. now bears his name under a law signed on March 21 by President George W. Bush. Thankfully, Mrs. Johnson was alive to savor the day even though she was unable to attend the ceremony. In her gracious, public statement, Mrs. Johnson noted,

This will be a fitting tribute to Lyndon who worked so hard to make life better for so many, and – were he alive – I can think of nothing that would please him more! Lyndon wanted so much for the children of our country to have a healthy and rewarding life, and he believed that education was the key to fulfilling that hope. His life was about education, and I believe that he would have wished to be remembered as the “Education President.”

This sentiment was echoed by daughter Luci Baines Johnson who was present at the signing:

Education was at the heart of my father’s career in public service. He felt that it was mankind’s passport out of poverty and our greatest hope for tomorrow.

But the work is unfinished. According to the research conducted by E3 Alliance here in Central Texas, the gaps that President Johnson witnessed at Cotulla still exist and are pervasive in our own community. Consider these sobering facts:

  • Economically disadvantaged students are consistently at the low end of achievement gaps. In eight Central Texas districts, over 60% of the student population is economically disadvantaged.
  • Texas has the fastest growing child population in the nation, a trend that is projected to continue.
  • The greatest increase in children is among the Hispanic population which will grow from about 26% to 35% of the Central Texas population over the next few years. A rapidly growing proportion of future students will be economically disadvantaged and Limited English Proficient.

And President Johnson had it right when he equated education with the path out of poverty. Just consider the economic impact of a substandard education on individuals as well as on the regional economy. If you think your spiraling 401K, IRA or SEP Retirement account sucked your breath away, consider this:

  • Students who do not complete high school earn significantly less per year than students who complete college – $28,500 versus almost $70,000. In other words, over an average lifetime, the high school graduate will earn over $1 million more than a student who drops out. Throw in a college degree and the wage-earner has another $2 million to show for themselves.
  • We could lose 85,000 jobs in Central Texas and face declining expenditures of over $40 billion. That’s with a “B” for billion and that calculation was made before the current economic crisis.

But there is good news. As we have witnessed through the recent years of forums on education conducted by Texas Forums, E3 Alliance and Austin Voices for Education and Youth, there are individuals and organizations in the Central Texas region who may not agree with all of President Johnson’s policies, but they share his lifelong concern for the education of all children and they are willing to roll up their sleeves to do something about it.

The history of Texas Forums’ work on education with outstanding partners is rich and has been productive resulting in community-wide action plans for nine school districts and a regional blueprint for change with four priorities that are embodied in the unfinished legacy of President Johnson. Below are the four goals of the Blueprint for Educational Change in Central Texas adopted on January 23, 2008 along with some examples of President Johnson’s earlier contributions to these goals. The historians among you can freely add to this list using this link as a starting point!

Goal 1: All Children Enter Kindergarten School Ready
Operation Head Start announced May 18, 1965


Goal 2: Central Texas Eliminates Achievement Gaps while Improving Overall Student Performance

President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Amendments (PL 89-750) on November 3, 1966 which included:

  • a provision that schools could use the national average “per student
    expenditures” if the national average was higher, a benefit to poorer
  • a new program to aid in the education of handicapped children.
  • the transfer of adult education activities from the Office of Economic Opportunity to the Office of Education in Health, Education and Welfare.
  • the first appropriation of funds for the National Teacher Corps.

On January 2, 1968, The Elementary and Secondary Education Act Amendments of 1967 (PL
90-247) established bilingual education programs for non-English speaking children and provided more funds for special education for handicapped children.

Goal 3: Students Graduate College-and Career Ready and Prepared for a Lifetime of Learning

In addition to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provisions designed to prepare students for college, President Johnson signed a number of bills to support higher education, most notably The Higher Education Act (PL 89-329) which he signed at his alma mater, Southwest Texas State College in San Marcos, Texas (now Texas State University at San Marcos. It was the first U.S. Congressional approval for scholarships to undergraduate students. Again, his experience at Cotulla was a guiding factor as President Johnson sought to ensure that college would not be closed to anyone just because they were poor. The Act
  • included insurance on student loans that had been proposed by President Johnson while he was a Congressman
  • transferred the work-study program to the Office of Higher Education
  • created the National Teacher Corps which was designed to improve elementary and secondary education in needy urban and rural areas.  Teams consisting of an experienced teacher and several young college graduates were sent in to strengthen local school programs.
Goal 4: Central Texas as a Community Prepares Children to Succeed
At this point, I could cite, the Veterans in Public Service (VIPS) program inclusion in the Teacher Corps that was inaugurated by President Johnson in a White House ceremony on July 30, 1968. His signing of the Education Professions Development Act (PL 90-35) which extended the Teacher Corps is another example of how President Johnson sought to include the entire community in the education of our nation’s children. Programs to support the arts and humanities, volunteerism, experimental education programs like Upward Bound, White House Conference on Education, and quotes from numerous speeches are more than adequate to illustrate President Johnson’s deep commitment to the community and the nation’s responsibility to its children.
But no legislation speaks louder to his personal commitment to education than his own examples. His personal encounters, his touching memories of his childhood classroom which he cited in his speeches, and his frequent visits to schools inspired a nation to care about the education of our youth.

It was personal triumph and tribute, not just a photo op, when he was joined by his first teacher, Mrs. Kathryn Deadrich Loney as he signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in Stonewall, TX. (One can argue that Mrs. Loney was his second teacher as his own mother Rebekah taught him to read by the age of four.)



But perhaps the greatest example that President Johnson never left his “teacher roots” behind and never forgot that we all share the responsibility for educating our youth was in his frequent visits to the schoolchildren in Stonewall, TX. At his 100th birthday celebration on August 27, 2008 and at conferences since then, the notecard included in the small bag of jellybeans says it all:


“Stonewall children called him “Mr. Jellybean” because that’s what he brought on his visits. They didn’t know he was the President and “Head Start” was one of the proudest creations of his presidency. Head Start has four decades of human success stories behind it and flourishes as one of the most enduring monuments of the LBJ years.”
We don’t all get to start national programs that endure for decades. We might not take it upon ourselves to distribute candy to children who (by early accounts in his letter to his mother) do not have ready access to dental care. We might not be called to the classroom.  But if we each believed, as President Johnson did, that even the poorest children in a small town like Cotulla are “my  children” we would surely find a million little opportunities every day to make a difference.


President Johnson gave us the earliest blueprint for educational change, and the communities in Central Texas that have held forums on closing the education gaps and preparing today’s youth for tomorrow’s jobs are continuing that legacy. History really does have something to teach us about ourselves, our potential and our future, and sometimes our present helps us see our past with greater clarity and appreciation.

This is an update to my post By the Numbers on April 19, 2009. I will say, just as I said then,

I know that numbers alone do not always measure impact and in this case none of the numbers really mean a hill of beans. (I am really put off by those twitterers who engage in contests to see who can get more people to follow them, for example.) Still, it’s fun to look at the numbers every so often.

So here’s an update:

442 – number of people following LBJnow twitter (at 479 followers, RonaldReagan40 has surpassed LBJnow. Follow lbjnow, follow lbjnow, please! I lied when I said I didn’t care! Of course it’s up to me to write more interesting tweets.)
339 – number of posts to the Texas Forums Blog since October 2006
1,451 – largest number of views of TF blog in one month
1.266 – number of Texas Forums photos online at Flickr
62 – number of videos uploaded to our site at youtube
749 – number of people on our newsletter list
6 – years of Texas Forums