Over the past three years, the E3 Alliance and Texas Forums have joined forces to engage communities across Central Texas in deliberating education issues and implementing changes that will align our educational system, close education gaps, enlist the talents and energy of the entire community, and provide our students with a foundation for ongoing educational and career success. This has been a remarkable endeavor involving thousands of parents, educators, business leaders, students, policy-makers, school administrators, university presidents, non-profit organizations and policy think tanks.
This effort has even been recognized by the Kettering Foundation research organization that explores what it takes to make democracy work as it should. Headed by Dr. David Mathews, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and author of several books about the public’s role in public education, the Kettering Foundation invited us to be part of their research project on how people in communities are talking about education. We prepared a report to the Kettering Foundation in December 2007 and continue to address questions jointly prepared by us and their research team. This post is a brief description of the project with links to some of the resources we created over the past three years.
In the fall of 2007, Texas Forums trained 120 moderators to work in six communities. To ensure that we had involvement from young people both as participants and as community engagement leaders, we worked with Austin Voices for Education and Youth to recruit and train students to serve as co-moderators. Over 600 people in six communities – Bastrop, Manor, San Marcos, Eanes, Austin and Round Rock – spent three evenings discussing how to close the education gaps within our school districts and across the region. All of the forums were organized by local community champions. At the end of the series of forums in each community, participants signed up to work on action items.
In November 2007, delegates from the community forums met at the LBJ Presidential Library atrium to refine their community action plans and combine their ideas into a regional map using a graphic template. Meanwhile community leaders met in the Brown Room of the LBJ Library to learn about the deliberative forum process these delegates had experienced. The two groups were then combined for a large group discussion that was graphically recorded.
Eleven regional goals emerged from this conversation:
- Children Enter Kindergarten School Ready
- Every 5th grader has mastered reading and math at or above grade level
- Central Texas schools foster a culture of learning through high expectations and strong leadership
- Central Texas closes Achievement Gaps for all students while improving overall performance
- English Language Learners reach their highest potential in education regardless of when they come to Central Texas
- Central Texas Students Set the Standard for Excellence in Math & Science
- Students graduate high school and are prepared to succeed in life
- 20,010 more high school graduates are prepared for and enroll in college by 2010
- Central Texas Higher Education Institutions increase regional success rate by 50% by 2015
- Central Texas is world-renowned in target fields, both in higher education and in industry
- Central Texas as a community works with regional educators to prepare all children to succeed in life
We prepared a handout (available here) describing each of these goals along with additional data about each goal and how it applies to Central Texas.
While all eleven of these goals will be needed for systemic and sustainable change in how we think about and approach education in Central Texas, we knew that it would be important to establish priorities and recruit volunteers to act on the most important goals. In January 2008, we convened a Summit of business leaders, community representatives, non-profits and policy-makers to deliberate and further refine these eleven goals. They prioritized the top four goals that became known as The Blueprint for Educational Change.
The top four goals are:
- All children enter kindergarten school ready.
- We eliminate achievement gaps while improving overall student performance.
- All students graduate college-and-career ready and prepared for a lifetime of learning.
- Central Texas as a community prepares children to succeed.
Participants at the 2008 Summit (cajoled by Senator Kirk Watson known for inspiring people to act!) signed up to be Blueprint Champions. There definitely was a sense at the Summit that real educational change was possible as it had never been before. The Blueprint Champions worked through 2008 to prove it!
In the fall of 2008, we continued engaging new communities in educational dialogues. At the request of three communities not included in the first year – Pflugerville, Hutto and Leander – we organized a second round of dialogues in the fall of 2008. Recognizing that The Blueprint for Educational Change is dynamic, ambitious and will evolve over time, we engaged members of these communities in a dialogue about what The Blueprint for Educational Change would look like in their community. They also spent an evening using the discussion guide “Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs” that we adapted from the National Issues Forums book. Each community developed action plans based on common themes that they heard in their deliberations.
Here are some ideas from the Hutto team working on the theme, “Make learning relevant to the real world.”
(For more action items from the Hutto community, see our YouTube stream on Education in Hutto)
Once again, delegates from the community dialogues (including a large representation of enthusiastic students) community leaders and The Blueprint Champions came to a Summit in February 2009. At the Summit, we updated and refined The Blueprint Action Plans, launched The Blueprint for Educational Change website, and the delegates met over lunch to work on their community action plans and to share their plans with each other. We are continuing to meet with the local community champions and superintendents as they work to implement their community action plans.
There was much to celebrate at the second Summit. The Blueprint for Educational action teams had scores of items that they could cross of their “to do list” even as we added more actions and volunteers to work on each of the four goals. Now it’s time to go back to work on the regional plan as we continue to support the community-driven plans. I’ll be meeting with the Hutto School Board on March 31st to help them set priorities for their community. We met with Leander last month and did the same. In addition, E3 is connecting teachers and superintendents to resources they are developing in partnership with UT.
The Blueprint for Educational change aims to address the needs across the entire educational continuum from kindergarten through post-secondary and on to career and lifelong success across Central Texas. The scope is ambitious, but achievable if we all roll up our sleeves and contribute our time and talents. To make a formal commitment, Join the Blueprint for Educational Change and download these ideas for ways you can support the four goals!
President Johnson was an educator long before he was President and some of his proudest accomplishments were programs like Head Start, a nation-wide effort to give pre-schoolers from poor families the nutritional and other attentions they need to begin first grade on a par with other children – an early effort to meet our own Blueprint Goal #1. So it is appropriate that the LBJ Library’s initiative, Texas Forums has been involved in the project with E3 Alliance. We are proud to be their featured partner and look forward to another year of collaborating to align regional education efforts and strengthen community involvement to meet the needs of our youth in Central Texas.