As we continue to talk about the importance of postsecondary education and the United States’ goal of (again) having the highest percentage of college graduates in the world, it becomes important to focus specifically on first-generation college students. After all, the only way to truly expand the pool is to bring in those who previously haven’t been able to enjoy the swim.
Today is a very special day in the Eduflack household. This morning, the edu-son started kindergarten. As we walked up North Oak Street toward his elementary school, he was getting a little apprehensive. For weeks, we had been excited about going to the “hippo school” (the school’s mascot is a purple hippo). We did a week of “kindergarten orientation” and went last week to meet his new teachers. But as we walked up the steep hill, I could tell the previous excitement was giving way to some fear about the new.
What is my vision for my children? Let me nail Eduflack’s 10 tenets to the electronic wall:* I want every kid, particularly mine, reading proficient before the start of the fourth grade. Without reading proficiency, it is near impossible to keep up in the other academic subjects. And to get there, we need high-quality, academically focused early childhood education offerings for all.* I want proven-effective instruction, the sort of math, reading, and science teaching that has worked in schools like those in my neighborhood with kids just like mine.* I want teachers who understand research and know how to use it. And I want teachers to be empowered to use that research to provide the specific interventions a specific student may need.* I want clear and easily accessible state, district, school, and student data. I want to know how my kids stack up by comparison.* I want relevant education, providing clear building blocks for future success. That means strong math and technology classes. It means courses that provide the soft skills needed to succeed in both college and career through interesting instruction. And it means art and music right alongside math and reading.* I want national standards, so if my family relocates (as mine did many times when I was a child), I am guaranteed the same high-quality education regardless of the state’s capitol.* I want educational options, be they charter schools or magnet schools, after-school or summer enrichment programs. And these options should be available for all kids, not just those struggling to keep up.* I want schools that encourage bilingual education, without stigmatizing those students for whom English is a second language. Our nation is changing, and our approach to English instruction must change too.* I want a high-quality, effective teacher in every classroom. Teaching is really, really hard. Not everyone is cut out for it. We need the best educators in the classroom, and we need to properly reward them for their performance.* I want access to postsecondary education for all. If a student graduates from high school and meets national performance standards, they should gain access to an institution of higher education. And if they can’t afford it, we have a collective obligation to provide the aid, grants, and work study to ensure that no student is denied college because of finances.
No deep policy discussion today, folks. But I do need to share an interesting (or disturbing, depending on your perspective) story that I heard earlier this week.
Another year about to go down in the history books. Are we any closer to truly improving our public schools? For every likely step forward we may have taken in 2010, it seems to be met with a similar step back. For every rhetorical push ahead, we had a very real headwind blocking progress.
For months now, Eduflack has been asked the same question from a growing group of education policy observers and a great many of those who are looking to get out of the stands and into the game. The question focuses on why a number of groups have been relatively silent on issues like the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Race to the Top, and other new funding streams coming out of the U.S. Department of Education.
We all recognize that state departments of education are hurting. Even once they receive a significant financial booster shot from the federal stimulus to help pay for core instructional needs, states are still looking for places to trim, cut, or generally push back on. Usually, we think that such cuts should first be directed at those areas considered expendable, the sort of luxuries our schools want, but just can’t afford during these belt-tightening times.
“We must do more with the talent we have,” said NSDC Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh. “Nothing is more important than teacher quality,” EdSec Arne Duncan said. “We must close the yawning achieving gap in this country,” said Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond. With the statements of all three, we were off to the races on the issue of teacher quality and professional development this morning.