Parent Advocacy and Engagement: What are you willing to fight for?

In a time when there is a call for innovation in education, parents need to wonder: What if nothing systematically changes for my kids and their schools in time? Parents aren’t experts at school, but they can still advocate and engage on behalf of their kids. The “how to’s” of advocacy and engagement are fluid and often complex and dynamic; regardless every parent should step up and every educator should welcome it. Bring it on, our kids deserve for all of us to care.

In 2014 the Future Ready Schools initiative was launched throughout the United States. Since its launch over 3,200 superintendents have signed the Future Ready Pledge and over 17,500 individuals have used the interactive planning dashboard. Thirty states have created state level projects to support the advance of Future Ready Schools.

We have a bit of momentum.

Still, according to the latest reports only 10% of schools in every state are committed to student-centered learning.

According to Rogers, student-centered learning is an approach that empowers learners to choose not only what to study but also personally define the how and why of learning. While student-centered learning can take many forms, the focus is empowering (not allowing) students to figure out what questions they have, find personal value or meaning in what they are learning, and demonstrate their continuously developing mastery in personally relevant ways.

When students are immersed in environments that promote student centered learning they are engaged, inspired, and invested. Break that down into the research and it is near impossible to argue that student-centered learning is anything but a positive for our kids.

Rogers wrote that first definition of student-centered in 1983. It is 2019 and we are still struggling to get to a point where even a quarter of our schools have a commitment to student centered learning as the expected norm.

We’ve seen national reports (like A Nation At Risk) spur attention. We’ve seen national accountability programs (like No Child Left Behind) skyrocket. But still we do not see transformational change that equitably engages every child in student-centered learning.

  • Throughout the past thirty years we have seen teachers report that they have less choice in teaching techniques. Whatever teachers are being told doesn’t seem to move us towards more universal access to engaging, purposeful learning.
  • Throughout the past thirty years we have seen the 8% of households with personal computers surge to 89%. Yet, we still have 75% of 8th grade math students in the United States reporting that they never or hardly ever use digital tools to research math topics. Even worse, we have 55% of states suggesting their teacher training to use technology for learning is still happening only at a small extent or not at all. Apparently it doesn’t matter that nearly 90% of students have computers at home; they still aren’t being used for even the most basic research systematically throughout our K12 classrooms.
  • Throughout the past 30 years, we have increased our federal education dollars nearly 88%; today we spend 620 billion dollars on public education in the United States. Billions of dollars are being dumped into standardized testing, which is losing its place on the list of parent’s most important things.

So what good have national statements, policy. and expanding budgets done for advancing systematic supports in education that contribute to student centered learning? I would argue, not much.

So parents it’s time to do something bold. Something that will push grass roots voices forward into local if not national momentum. It’s pretty simple really — but it’s up to you.

Your most pressing job should be to advocate and engage in support of student-centered learning.

Advocate for your child’s future so that you can be visible, gain trust in your local systems of education, and be heard when the time comes. That means you pay attention at the polls; who is advancing student-centered learning in structured systematic ways that equitably provide opportunities to all of our kids (in the poorest and wealthiest of communities). That means you show up for school board meetings; do you know what is on the agenda for the people who control the local education budget? That means that you learn along with educators that it is okay to ask questions; you master the art of dialogue that respects the professional training of educators but allows you to (just like you would with your pediatrician) use your voice as the individual that knows your child best.

Engage in understanding your community beliefs about learning and own up to the fact that the way we treat our children in our community will be the way they nurture their own communities as adults. That means that you ask for supports for kids outside of formal school; our country spends less on supporting our children outside of public education, let our schools nurture with the assistance of community supports (we can’t hold teachers accountabile for lists of academic standards if they lose time with their students because the community isn’t meeting their needs outside of school hours). That means that you show up to learning events and parent education offerings; you physically acknowledge the importance of hearing voices, learning vocabulary of schooling, and show that you are eager to learn in order to better support your kiddos. That means that if you need help or have questions, you keep asking until someone answers; we won’t all agree and that’s okay, but parents in today’s communities have (more often than not) been exposed to the importance of data, and the process of project management and change… all of that means that a simple answer won’t work anymore (educators be ready and know your “collective stuff” deeply).

A ten year old today has little chance of seeing the change that we need in education come to life. That is both unacceptable and horrifying. We’ve tried the warnings, we’ve tried accountability, we’ve tried money… what we haven’t tried is a grass roots demand for student-centered learning. Parents it is your turn to advocate for you kids, your teachers, your schools, and your communities. Even the best schools need your voice in order to do more, be better, and become that breath of innovation that our nation is calling for in education. We can’t give our children the same education that we received, it’s unjust.

The only question is, are you willing to fight for it?