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2016-2017: Education Advocacy Priorities in Texas

Last week we took a look at the education-related issues that the Texas legislature is likely to touch upon in the upcoming session, and noted that the vast majority of legislation eventually passed in session has been discussed and/ or debated in the interim. That makes advocacy extremely important, both in bringing issues to light and shaping the discussion around the issues at hand. Recently in Texas, local nonprofits have begun to partner together to advocate more effectively. Some of the major players in the DFW area are the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, which provides funding to numerous organizations across the city, Early Matters Dallas, a coalition focused on early childhood education that partners with its sister organization in Houston, the Dallas Regional Chamber, which represents local businesses in advocating for, in particular, talent attraction, and many other local nonprofits which have their own advocacy priorities. All nonprofits and education-focused organizations can benefit, or suffer, from legislation passed by the state, and many either advocate individually or partner with other organizations in order to share their opinions with legislators. Notable advocacy priorities for the upcoming legislative session in Texas include: *Pre-k funding and quality      Early Matters Dallas and Early Matters Houston partner together to advocate in Austin; together, they represent 1/4 of the students in Texas. Maintaining the current level of pre-K funding, and ideally increasing it, is a huge priority for many education advocates across the state. In the last session, pre-K funding was a one-time fund, rather than built into the budget, so advocates expect to have to fight to maintain that level of funding this session. Quality of pre-K is also a priority-- 80 percent of eligible four year olds attend pre-K, but only 55 percent are kindergarten ready. *Increasing college readiness      College readiness is often measured by the ACT/ SAT scores needed to get into college. Education advocates are concerned that too many students are getting to college without the skills they need to be successful in their classes and eventually graduate. Increasing college readiness (by improving high school education, providing SAT prep and wraparound services at the college level) is a huge topic of discussion at the moment. *Child health and wellness      Increasing funding for children’s and family services is another area that advocates are focused on. The Texas Home Visiting Program, for example, provides important coaching services to families in their own homes, and could expand to serve more families with increased funding. By joining together, many of these organizations are able to make their voices heard by those who have the power to influence these important issues, often through the state budget approval process. In the next legislative session, each organization will be watching to see how their efforts to improve education in Texas will be impacted. The biggest issue on the table is pre-K, but many other issues beyond those mentioned here will impact local nonprofits— and more importantly, local students....

It’s free childcare. So why aren’t more children in pre-K?

Pre-K enrollment is one of the hot button issues in education today. An early start can make a huge difference in educational achievement for children, whether that is reading at home with parents or organized education through Head Start or public pre-K programs. And best of all, early education programs are often free. So why aren’t more children enrolled in them? There are a variety of issues that may explain low pre-K enrollment in Dallas. The first issue is knowledge— many parents are unaware that public pre-K programs exist, and that they are free. The second issue is buy-in. Many parents simply don’t understand what the value of pre-K is, and why they should make it a priority for their child. This is especially prevalent in Texas, where even kindergarten isn’t required; first grade is the first required grade in the state. This leaves many parents confused as to the advantages of a pre-K education. Studies have shown clear differences between students who went through pre-K and students who did not, and students who had pre-K had a distinct academic advantage as they continued on in school. Valuable as these studies may be, they typically are utilized by the professional education world, rather than by parents. Finally, access can also be an issue— spots for eligible pre-K students aren’t necessarily available in the exact area or school where they are needed. There typically are not as many pre-K spots offered at a school as there are kindergarten and first-grade spots, and some schools have more pre-K spaces than others. This can be challenging for parents who already have children enrolled in other grades- since pre-K does not include busing, the parent would have to drive to two different schools, sometimes in entirely different neighborhoods. If a parent does not understand the value of pre-K this can seem too challenging, and even parents who may be planning for pre-K might not have the resources to manage two separate drop-offs. So how can we, as non-parents and perhaps even non-community members, impact pre-K enrollment? Education, education, education. Parental education is key in terms of informing parents that pre-K is an option, that it is free, and that it is valuable. This spring and summer a dedicated group of people in the South Oak Cliff community went door-to-door, knocking and distributing fliers and answering questions about pre-K. At the back to school fairs in the fall, which tend to focus on older students, pre-K fliers will be distributed. Community nonprofits and businesses have posted pre-K fliers, and pre-K enrollment in South Oak Cliff is increasing. Parental education will remain key for years into the future. It’s a sustaining loop- parents tell other parents about programs they find valuable, so getting in the door now and knocking on as many as possible is worth the time and effort. Longer term, matching spots to students will be important. Whether that means busing pre-K students to different schools until a spot opens up where their siblings attend or hiring more teachers,...

Girl making robot

Innovation is happening…without media focus

One of our readers directed us to this organization called Uncharted Play, which was started by Harvard graduates in 2012 and has garnered international attention for all the right reasons. The two women in charge wanted to relate their experiences with helping the developing world in a practical manner, and after attending an engineering class, they created the Soccket, a soccer ball that provides off-the-grid energy after playing with it! You can read more about the process and their backstory on their website unchartedplay.com (and I highly recommend you do). The site also has a new-ish product, the Pulse, which is a jump rope that also provides energy (that can charge your cell phone) after using! The site claims that “With every purchase, Uncharted Play give one child access to our energy-generating play products and our Think Out of Bounds curriculum,” which is their own educational resource that bolsters creative thinking in children outside of the classroom. This kind of organization is exactly what the Franklin Foundation (and I personally) supports and strives to see more of: American innovation, women in science, helping solve problems in the community, philanthropy, providing practical education experience and positivity for children, and being overall awesome! (And no, they aren’t paying me to say this!) I was overjoyed to be referred to this website, and did a little digging online to see what kind of attention they got with their revolutionary product. Like I said, they do have some international attention (especially since one of the founders herself is Nigerian), and they have received some impressive press here in the US, but it seems as though something like this should have more than a few thousand Facebook likes and twitter followers. It’s a pretty simple concept – a ball you can kick around that provides renewable energy for people with little to no access to a safe energy resource. I’m sure the mechanics of how it actually works is much more complicated, but that’s outside my field of understanding for now. But the idea of solving a major problem with a simple solution is what really got my attention. Think about it, a child plays soccer for a while during the day, and has a personal reading light to do homework with at night. Or get a 15 minute cardio workout with a jump rope, charge your cell phone with it once you’re done. It’s the kind of inventions we all think about as kids, but rarely seem to exist or come into fruition as adults; at least, not often enough. And the ones that do exist don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. We should be seeing celebrity endorsements of these kinds of products instead of hearing about who is the new face for whatever clothing or makeup line. Actually, why not both at the same time? “Jennifer Lawrence gets her Dior-wearing body in shape with her renewable-energy jump rope!” Money, I’m sure, is the main reason that smaller, non-profit organizations don’t get as much attention, but it’s also...

#FeedbackFriday – How would YOU re-write NCLB?

To the dismay of many, Congress is currently re-writing No Child Left Behind, also known as NCLB. This is the federal law that governs Title 1 programs amongst other areas of federal education funding. So on this #FeedbackFriday we're asking, if you were a member of congress, how would you re-write NCLB? What would you include or remove? Would you start over from scratch or just tweak the parts of the law you feel are not working. I'm particularly interested in comments from educators, who have been at odds with this law since the day President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2001. In case you want to learn more about NCLB and it's provisions, click here. So tell me - if empowered to do so, how would you re-write NCLB? And don't worry about lengthy answers, this topic deserves serious conversation....

Changing Education Paradigms

This was just something I felt it was necessary for us to share - a great short lecture by Dr. Professor Ken Robinson, Ph.D. about changing education paradigms. The speech was illustrated beautifully by RSAnimate. Lots of good messages here. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U[/embed] Any thoughts on Dr. Robinson's speech? I personally agreed with the majority of what he had to say - we believe, as an organization, that education reform starts at the grassroots level, with people focusing on innovative ways to fix issues with our national education infrastructure without clinging to the old ways of "how we've always done it". The hard part is getting policy makers on board with new and innovative models that will change the landscape of education in the long run. What do you think? Let us know....

#FeedbackFriday – To suspend or not suspend…

This week we're asking readers to tell us what they think about suspension practices in our public schools. There are all kinds of methods to consider, in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, detention, weekend study, etc. I wonder if there's a better way. A couple of organizations out there are taking this issue head-on, including stopsuspensions.org, a non-profit organization that seeks to create a dialogue around the practice of suspensions and offers constructive suggestions to eradicate the practice without affecting classroom quality. There's even a growing segment of the country that feels suspensions are racially-biased, with studies and reports highlighting the issue in convincing detail. But the idea of eradicating suspensions altogether is not without its detractors - most feel that suspensions are necessary to keep control of the classroom and ensure children who behave can learn without disruption. Is suspending a child more disruptive to their education than disciplining the child appropriately? Are we teaching our children, through the practice of suspension, that bad behavior and failing to follow the rules gets you freedom from a place you don't want to be in the first place (which is a totally different issue altogether). To suspend or not to suspend...

#FeedbackFriday – Do we need more student activists?

Today we ask the question - do we need more student activists? In case you haven't heard, a group of students called the Newark Students Union, are actively staging a peaceful protest at the offices of Cami Anderson (Newark's Superintendent of Schools). According to the group's Facebook page, the students are protesting the policies of the school district and are simply looking for a seat at the table with regards to their own educations. [caption id="attachment_313" align="alignleft" width="300"] Newark Student Union[/caption] "We the students of the NPS, in order to establish and protect or rights, form student unity, voice our concerns and grievances, promote active participation in the policy making process, and to secure the integrity of our education for ourselves and for future students do establish the Newark Students Union." - Newark Students Union's Mission Statement What interests us at edu|FOCUS is the sheer determination and perseverance of this small but very vocal group. Reminiscent of student groups from the 60's they represent a struggle for everything that is wrong with our education system as a whole; all reasons why The Franklin Foundation for Innovation was started in the first place. But these are students, not parents, fighting for their own futures and the right to receive an excellent education devoid of standardized testing pressures and declines in the availability of key arts, sports, and extra curricular activities. In an age where millions are spent on testing, and very little on things that engage students and keep them interested in school, their protest is both timely and relevant. Visibly missing from the protest have been parents - who are seemingly taking a back seat in the struggle. A large number of teachers, however, are supporting the movement providing moral and logistical support to the students. As of this writing, the school district's superintendent, Cami Anderson, has yet to even address the protesters which is not odd when you take into account the fact that students do not vote. So the question for #FeedbackFriday is this - do we need more student activists if we expect to truly reform education? Do our children, who's futures hang in the balance with every new law past and every new test developed, have to take the reigns themselves or should parents step up and take the lead through every channel available? Do you agree with the movement or not? By the way - visit the group's Facebook Page or follow them on Twitter @NewarkStudents for more information. Please share with the community and let's have a healthy debate about student activism....

Texas Protest against Testing

The real costs of standardized testing

If you do a little digging, you'll find yourself shocked by the real costs of standardized testing. According to a study by Brown Center on Education Policy, a sufficient education isn't the only thing that standardized tests are costing students, school districts, and tax payers. The study finds that 44 states spend upwards of a collective $1.7 billion on standardized testing each year of grades K through 12. The state of Pennsylvania alone spent over $58M on standardized testing, roughly $33 per student (assuming all students are tested every year). [caption id="attachment_282" align="alignleft" width="300"] Teachers in Philadelphia protest state spending on standardized testing. 2014 - CBS Philadelphia[/caption] The study, released in 2012, had been the center of much controversy according to Huffington Post and WGAL 8. Some insist on the need for standardized testing, citing its efficiency in a growing population, while others contend that this form of testing does not benefit students. Veteran teacher Dan Hornberger sat down for an interview with WGAL 8. Hornberger is the creator of the documentary Standardized Lies, which brings to light the financial undertones of the testing industry and how past governmental policies have essentially refinanced and reorganized the educational system for profit. “Tax payers, I think, truly don’t know that the money they pay goes into paying for these companies to design and administer these tests, which really don’t do anything,” - Hornberger said, according to WGAL 8. In President Obama’s first term, his education policy, which was led by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, still relied heavily on the principles set out by the administration’s predecessors: Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind. The program came with a price tag of approximately $4.35 Billion, while funding for the No Child Left Behind program increased from $42.2 to $55.7 Million since 2001. In addition, Congress funded Goals 2000 (a relatively unknown education program) with $105 Million in 1994. So, one question is: where did all this money go? According to many experts and teachers, like Hornberger, the bulk of the funding goes to standardized testing. As Hornberger noted, there are four main test-making companies that emerged during the start of the education reform movement: Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, Riverside Publishing, and NCS Pearson. Shockingly, Harcourt Educational owns about 40% of the testing market, CTB McGraw-Hill owns another 40% of the testing market, and Riverside owns 20%. Additionally, all companies’ profits had increased 3,000% to $700 million since 1955, adjusted to current dollars. Although, this particular statistic was published less than a decade ago, a majority of experts believe that number to be substantially larger in the current market, according to PBS. The most recent standardized test to be released in Pennsylvania was the Keystone test, which was developed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education. The state began administering the test in 2012. Law maker Mike Tobash said in an interview with news educator reporter Ann Shannon, “It was our belief that we needed to slow down.” Tobash is a representative from the Schuylkill and Berks county and wants to stop Keystone testing,...

#FeedbackFriday – Is cursive writing dead?

Our friends over at NJEA.org ran a poll to see if people thought children should be taught how to write in cursive in schools. Their question made us wonder, is cursive writing dead? In the age where everything is typed, is penmanship still a necessary art for us to teach in schools or an old practice that we can afford to do away with? It's #FeedbackFriday folks! So tell us what you think, tweet to @FranklinFDN with the hashtag or comment here on our blog or on Facebook. We'd love to hear what you think!...

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