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Posts Tagged ‘National Issues Forums’

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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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.

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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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On October 7, Texas Forums hosted a forum, Coping with the Cost of Health Care using the National Issues Forums discussion guide in partnership with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Christian Life Commission, Texas Impact , and Texas Health Institute. Students in the Fielding Graduate University Certification in Dialogue, Deliberation and Community Engagement served as our moderators. As a result of our forum, we have been invited to work with the Critical Condition collaborative that is working to raise awareness of the growing health care crisis documented in Critical Condition by filmmaker Roger Weisberg.

KLRU will be hosting a panel presentation on November 17 from 7:30 – 9:00 that will kick off ongoing community conversations. Details below.

Monday, November 17, 2008

7:30-9 p.m. (doors open at 7)
KLRU-TV, corner of Guadalupe St. and Dean Keeton
(RSVP to rsvp@sdchf.org by Tuesday, November 11)

Texas has the highest rate of people without health insurance in the country. The Census Bureau shows that 1 in 4 Texans are uninsured, with 265,859 of those people living in Central Texas. Those numbers do not include Texans who are underinsured with inadequate coverage.

The issue is critical and urgent. Sixteen Central Texas organizations have joined forces in the collaboration Critical Condition: Central Texas to create and sustain a strategic planning and action-oriented community conversation on what health care we have, what health care we need, and what it will take to achieve it.

On Monday, November 17th, this conversation will begin with a 90-minute panel at KLRU studios. We invite you to be a member of the audience, which will be filled with key individuals from throughout the region who have a real stake in ensuring that our families, neighbors, and employees can get the health care they need. These key individuals include representatives from small and large businesses, government (including elected officials), education, health care providers, health care consumers, social services, insurance, and the faith community; all segments of the community with a stake in understanding the connection between access to health care and the overall health of the region in the broadest sense. Your presence is needed to enhance the dialogue and build a platform for sustainable solutions.

In the months after the forum, the conversation will continue on a larger scale, as we provide opportunities for additional public input through surveys, interviews, and discussion groups. We hope you remain engaged in the process, engage others in the areas where you are most connected, and bring others to the conversation as we press for viable answers. The issue is pressing and the questions complex, but Central Texas cannot wait for others to address this crisis. Please join us as we tackle this critical condition.

Your RSVP is required as there are only 300 seats available, and we intend to fill every one. Please send a response to rsvp@sdchf.org by Tuesday, November 11.

Critical Condition: Central Texas partner organizations are the American Cancer Society, Austin/Travis County Community Health Centers, Austin Travis County MHMR Center, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Integrated Care Collaboration, insure-a-kid, Lone Star Circle of Care, People’s Community Clinic, Seton Family of Hospitals, St. David’s Community Health Foundation, Texans Care for Children, and the Travis County Healthcare District and the University of Texas Medical Branch-Austin.

More information about the local collaboration and the PBS documentary “Critical Condition” can be found at www.klru.org/criticalcondition. Questions regarding this event may be directed to a collaboration member or to Kristy Ozmun of Kristy Ozmun Public Relations, kristy@ozmun.com or (512) 474-1501.

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Coping with Health Care

On October 7, Texas Forums will hold forums on Coping with the Cost of Health Care using the National Issues Forums discussion guide. The event will take place on the 10th floor of the LBJ Presidential Library, 2313 Red River St. Registration, refreshments, and resources will be available at 5:30 and the forum will take place from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

The LBJ Library is joining with all 12 Presidential Libraries of the National Archives and Records Administration to hold forums on health care and other topics between Labor Day and the November Election.

We are pleased to be joined by some outstanding local partners in this venture who will be on hand to provide information about the state of health care in the state of Texas. Our partners include: the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Christian Life Commission, Texas Impact , and Texas Health Institute. Students in the Fielding Graduate University Certification in Dialogue, Deliberation and Community Engagement will serve as our moderators.

“Hosting National Issues Forums at the Presidential Libraries is consistent with our emphasis on civic education,” Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, said.  “Presidential Libraries are public places and it is appropriate for citizens to engage in intense discussions of major public policy issues in the midst of a presidential campaign.  However, the goal should be hosting discussions which are balanced, civil in tone and fair-minded.”

“Participants in a forum,” NIFI Chairman William Winter, said, “deliberate with one another, eye-to-eye, face to-face, exploring options, weighing others’ views, considering the costs and consequences of public policy decisions.  In a democracy, citizens have a responsibility to make choices about how to solve problems and forums help enrich participants’ thinking on public issues.  By offering citizens a framework for deliberative forums, NIFI helps the public take an active role in acting on public issues.”

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We are only nine days away from the 100th celebration of the birthday of President Johnson next Wednesday, August 27. During this countdown, I have been monitoring the important events of his life as documented by the LBJ 100th Centennial Celebration. On this day in 1964, President Johnson signed the Hill-Burton Act which provided resources to build hospitals, mental health facilities, medical and dental schools and to support the education of future doctors, nurses and dentists.

As I read his comments at the signing, I am struck by how the same issues he tried to address in 1964 are still with us in 2008.

On this day in August 1964, President Johnson signed a bill extending the Hill-Burton Act.

The President said,

We have many new hospitals today in cities that are large and small. But many of our most important hospitals are too old. The hospitals which serve more than two-thirds of our population in nearly 200 metropolitan areas are obsolete, are out of date, are desperately in need of modernization. This legislation that I am signing today will help us get started on that long overdue job. …

The Hill-Burton hospital construction program has been extended another 5 years, but Congress has also provided assistance for constructing mental health facilities, mental retardation facilities, the medical and dental schools that we need.

And Congress has helped to meet our health manpower needs by a program to overcome our critical shortage of nurses, a program to train more graduate public health personnel, and by providing assistance to students attending medical and dental and nursing schools.

We are supporting, as no nation on earth has ever supported, the strength of our medical profession. We are supporting them with modern facilities, with more and better trained manpower, and productive research in more and more fields. I believe that we are pursuing a sensible and yet a most responsible course.

Texas Forums will host forums on The Cost of Health Care on October 7, 2008 at the LBJ Library Atrium on the 10th floor from 6:00 – 8:30. We will be using the National Issues Forums discussion guide, Coping with the Cost of Health Care: How Do We Pay for What We Need? From 6:00 – 6:30 our partners will be on hand with information about health care in Texas. So far, we are partnering with the following organizations and our list is growing:

Our colleagues at the University of Houston Downtown Center for Public Deliberation will be holding forums on this same issue on September 18, 2008 giving us a glimpse into how Texans in two different communities are thinking about the cost of health care and possible remedies that they would be willing to support. This will provide talking points that our partners can use to inform the Texas Legislature about the concerns of Texans who come together to deliberate this critical issue.

On the national front, dozens of Public Policy Institutes in the National Issues Forums network and all twelve Presidential Libraries will also be hosting forums on Coping with the Cost of Health Care. The results of these forums will be reported in a national report commissioned by the Kettering Foundation and prepared by Public Agenda.

If you would like more information about these upcoming forums or about partnering with us to encourage public forums on this critical issue, contact Taylor L. Willingham at taylor [at] austin-pacific. [dot] com or leave a comment here.

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On Sunday June 29, I will be traveling to Dayton, OH for a meeting with representatives of all 12 Presidential Libraries. We will be planning a series of National Issues Forums to take place in each of our libraries prior to the November election. Texas Forums will be hosting forums on Health Care at the LBJ Library on September 17 from 6-8 p.m.

Below is the press release for this upcoming meeting.

pres logo

nifi

From: Bob Daley, Diane Eisenberg, Mary Kring


Some 30 Representatives of the nation’s Presidential Libraries and the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) will gather in Dayton, Ohio, June 30-July 1 for a workshop designed to prepare for a series of forums in all 12 Presidential Libraries between Labor Day and Election Day this fall.

The workshop will introduce representatives of the Presidential Libraries to the philosophy of public deliberation and plans developed by the libraries’ representatives and NIF coordinators for the fall forums will be shared.

During the run-up to the presidential election, each of the Presidential Libraries will host a series of three forums with some Libraries hosting additional forums. Forums will be on a range of topics including health care, immigration, federal debt, education and energy.

All forums are free and open to the public.

“Hosting National Issues Forums at the Presidential Libraries is consistent with our emphasis on civic education,” Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, said. “Presidential Libraries are public places and it is appropriate for citizens to engage in discussions about major public policy issues in the midst of a presidential campaign.”

“Participants in a forum,” NIFI chairman William Winter, said, “deliberate with one another eye-to-eye, face-to-face, exploring options, weighing others’ views, considering the costs and consequences of public policy decisions. In a democracy, citizens have a responsibility to make choices about how to solve problems and forums help enrich participants’ thinking on public issues. By offering citizens a framework for deliberative forums, NIFI helps the public take an active role in acting on public issues.”

The Presidential Libraries of the National Archives are not libraries in the usual sense. They are archives and museums, bringing together in one place the documents and artifacts of a President and his administration and presenting them to the public for study and discussion without regard for political considerations or affiliations. Presidential Libraries and Museums, like their holdings, belong to the American people. They promote understanding of the presidency and the American experience, preserving and providing access to historical materials, support research, and create interactive programs and exhibits that educate and inspire.

NIFI is a 25-year-old nonpartisan, nationwide network of locally sponsored forums for the consideration of public policy issues. Forums are rooted in the simple notion that citizens need to come together to reason and talk -to deliberate about common problems.

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