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Posts Tagged ‘E3 Alliance’

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?

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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:

  1. Children Enter Kindergarten School Ready
  2. Every 5th grader has mastered reading and math at or above grade level
  3. Central Texas schools foster a culture of learning through high expectations and strong leadership
  4. Central Texas closes Achievement Gaps for all students while improving overall performance
  5. English Language Learners reach their highest potential in education regardless of when they come to Central Texas
  6. Central Texas Students Set the Standard for Excellence in Math & Science
  7. Students graduate high school and are prepared to succeed in life
  8. 20,010 more high school graduates are prepared for and enroll in college by 2010
  9. Central Texas Higher Education Institutions increase regional success rate by 50% by 2015
  10. Central Texas is world-renowned in target fields, both in higher education and in industry
  11. 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:

  1. All children enter kindergarten school ready.
  2. We eliminate achievement gaps while improving overall student performance.
  3. All students graduate college-and-career ready and prepared for a lifetime of learning.
  4. 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)

pflugerville-education-clappingOnce 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.

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The Vice-Chancellor’s Office for Public Engagement at the University of Illinois will be hosting a Public Engagement and Technology Symposium on March 9. Since I will be in Illinois for my on-campus session with students in my online Community Engagement class, I’ve signed up to present the Texas Forums collaboration with E3 Alliance.

Just in case any of you are planning to be in Urbana-Champaign on March 9, here’s what you can expect from this gathering:

Your participation will provide faculty, staff, student, and community partners the opportunity to share innovative ideas and approaches to engagement activities in and outside the classroom.

THEMES OF THE SYMPOSIUM

Through a free flowing, open forum atmosphere, poster/resource table sessions, participant idea exchanges, 20-minute presentations and 50-minute panel discussions, participants will be engaged in the following themes:

  • Strategies in public engagement; Carnegie Community Engagement Classification Overview
  • Sustainability: Economic, Social, and Environmental
  • Dialogs with Communities
  • Learning through the Ages
  • New Ways with Technology

That “Dialogs with Communities” bullet dot is Texas Forums! Below is the description of the session I will be leading:

Texas Forums is a network of individuals and organizations that use dialogue and deliberation to tackle difficult community problems like health care and education. E3 Alliance, a regional collaborative to increase economic outcomes by aligning education systems in Central Texas worked with Texas Forums to develop community-led action plans to close the education gaps and increase economic outcomes for individuals and the region. As a research partner with the Kettering Foundation, E3 and Texas Forums adapted the National Issues Forums deliberative framework and developed a process to move people through a structured dialogue about potential strategies for closing the education gaps.

It will be a jam-packed day with over 70 sessions to choose from. HMMMM, wonder if we could do the same thing in Texas and partner with universities in Central Texas?

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Well, this blog has languished while I wrapped up the “Too Many Children Left Behind” project – at least the first phase of it – and then the holidays were a much-needed distraction. But it’s time to get back on track. When you read the report on the achievement gap dialogues, I think you’ll understand why things have been quiet on this front. Here’s the summary with a link to the full report.

Too Many Children Left Behind Summary Report

In May-November of 2007, the E3 alliance, Texas Forums, and Austin Voices for Education and Youth held a series of deliberative dialogues on the impacts of education achievement gaps on communities throughout the Central Texas region.  Over 600 people participated in an ongoing series of dialogues to examine the issue and the objective data on the gaps we see, analyze potential approaches for improving gaps, and develop action plans to create a better future for our children and our economy.

These dialogues, branded Too Many Children Left Behind: Closing the Education Gaps in Central Texas, were created to provide a mechanism for community change, a platform of understanding across communities for regional solutions, and a set of grass roots input from parents, students, teachers, and community members into the strategic planning process for systemic education reform in the region.

By the numbers:
➢    6 communities
➢    ~120 moderators, each trained for 5 hours
➢    35 planning and organizing meetings
➢    Over 600 total participants
➢    17 dialogues sessions, ~3875 volunteer community participant hours

While there are many lessons learned, the overwhelming response from participants, moderators, leaders, and staff was that it was a huge success. We are confident that this process can and should be expanded to other communities in Central Texas as well as across the state and country.

Read the full report

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