The start of a new year brings us a new page, a clean slate, and an opportunity for growth and redemption. For whatever reason, we seen the beginning of a new calendar year as the one day in 365 to focus on improvement and ways we can better ourselves and the communities around us. With such an outlook comes resolutions. And while Eduflack likes to see himself going against the grain more often than not, that doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in setting some goals and publicly declaring some resolutions for 2009.
First, our collective resolutions. Looking across the education improvement community, I hope we can all resolve to:
* Be more proactive in our communication. For too many organizations (U.S. Department of Education included), communication consists mostly of one-way discussion (media releases) and reactive activities in response to someone else’s one-way discussion. We need to be proactive. We need to build dialogues and discussions. We need to set the debate and establish the vocabulary, and not have it dictated to us by a select few.
* Engage in innovative communication. If 2008 taught us anything, it is that there are multiple channels and endless ways to engage on key issues. Media releases and outreach to daily newspaper reporters are just the tip of the iceberg. We need to better engage the online community, including websites and the blogsphere. We need to add pictures to our words, using great technologies like Flip video cameras to provide real multimedia discussions. And we need to use social media outlets to continue to build, cultivate, and expand the discussion. That’s one of the reasons I started Educommunicators (www.educommunicators.com), and it is what I hope the community will evolve into in 2009.
* Better understand our audiences and know who can trigger real change. Discussions of education improvement should not be limited to policymakers, particularly just to those at the federal level. Discussions need to focus on a range of stakeholders — teachers, school administrators, school boards, CBOs, the business community, state officials (from the governor to the chief state school officer to the legislature), Congress, the new Administration, and the membership and trade groups that represent all of the above. We need a large table, and many seats at it, if we are to bring about real change and real improvement.
* Better use of the data. Unfortunately, research was used in 2008 primarily to punish rather than to inform and improve. We use the WWC to spotlight those programs we believe don’t make the cut. We use AYP scores to punish schools. We use state tests to highlight the laggards and point out what our students aren’t doing or don’t know. Research and data points should be our path forward. They should chart the course, showing us our priorities and helping us measure our progress. Data should be both diagnostic and inspirational.
* Prioritize our policy asks. We start the new year with an open book full of asks and wishes. And we do so in an economic environment that discourages anything new and anything with a real price tag. We cannot do everything, at least not now. This year is about better using our existing resources and making sure our top needs are being met. That means more effectively using existing Title II dollars to strengthen our teachers. It means better using Head Start and other federal programs to improve early childhood education. And it means using past Reading First and other Title I dollars to ensure that our school districts have the instructional materials and technology necessary to continue forward progress, even in a year of severe budget cuts.
* Recognize that the federal government cannot solve all. We cannot forget that the feds are responsible for less than 8 cents of every dollar spent on public K-12 education in the United States. ED has the bully pulpit to provide us leadership and vision, and needs to put it to better use each and every day. But the real forum for improvement and work is at the state level. As we look to 2009, we need to look at ways to better engage state governments, better help them navigate their budget crises, and build a better public education system to meet their community and economic needs, both now and in the future.
* Place outcomes over process. Education improvement is not about specific programs or laws. It is about outcomes, and it is about results. It is about student achievement and forward progress. Too often, we lose sight of that. We worry about how we are getting there, instead of focusing on the end destination. NCLB was the perfect case in point. In previous years, we were so hung up on the law itself that we lost sight of the equity and achievement it intended to bring. It is all about the results. We can’t forget that.
As for Eduflack, I have a few personal resolutions for this blog as well:
* I resolve to spotlight the success stories and the tales of positivity and progress. It is easy to dwell on what is going wrong and lament the problems in public education. We all need to do a better job talking up what has promise, and sharing best and promising practices so they can be modeled by others.
* I resolve to offer a broader national view of education improvement efforts. Too often, my attention is seized by what is happening in the DC or the NYC media. I need to do a better job focusing on what is happening across the United States, not just in my own back yard. The real work, the meaningful work, is happening out there on Main Street USA.
* I resolve to step up my advocacy for issues I believe to be important to education improvement. Successful communications is about advocating for change and helping stakeholders take the steps necessary to implement that change. Eduflack should be one of the levers in such improvement efforts. I’ve never been one to be afraid to speak my mind, question the status quo, and generally agitate the system. This blog will continue to do just that. But it will do it smartly and with purpose. Eduflack will continue to push for STEM education, research-based reading, early childhood education, teacher training and PD, and national standards. That’s just who I am.
* I resolve to amplify the voice of the virtually voiceless. This blog is a megaphone for successful communication of education improvement efforts. That means spotlighting issues not in the spotlight, highlighting organizations that may not be highlighted by others, and focusing on good actions, not just those who are responsible for them.
* I resolve to distinguish between reforms and improvement, with an emphasis on the latter. In 2009, our top priority should be closing the achievement gap — the gap between Black and white, between Hispanic and white, and between rich and poor. Our investments and actions should all point toward how we bring achievement and equity of learning to all students.
I also recognize my limitations. Eduflack is essentially a one-man band, meaning the personal and professional can often get in the way of good blogging. I have my priorities. Family comes first, and my wife and two perfect toddlers will always come before a blog post. I have my business, which allows me to pursue my passions of putting the critiques on this blog of how to effectively communicate and engage to work for organizations and issues that mean it most. I usually look to avoid blogging about my clients and am always diligent about disclosing my relationships when I do focus on the good work of the good organizations I partner with. That will continue.
I know that my blog postings are too long, often defeating the purpose of the medium. That’s just me. I’m trying to fully embrace Twitter in 2009 to streamline some of my thinking (you can find me as Eduflack), but my 2009 postings will cont
inue to read more like essays than quick dump-and-runs. Again, that’s just me. To quote the great sailor-philosopher, I am what I am.
Here’s to a productive, meaningful 2009. A year when EdSec in-waiting Arne Duncan and company seize the full power of the ED bully pulpit. A year where more people realize the intersection between school improvement and economic empowerment. A year when data is better collected, better understood, and better used. A year when public education truly improves, and not merely changes for change sake. Here’s to a year of possibility and true public engagement on important education issues. Here’s to 2009.