A coalition of civil rights organizations got together recently to blast the Federal administration on their education programs. They called for addressing the following topics in the upcoming renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA (previously known as No Child Left Behind or NCLB). Here are their topics:
- Equitable opportunities for all;
- Utilization of systematically proven and effective educational methods;
- Public and community engagement in education reforms;
- Safe and educationally sound learning environments;
- Diverse learning environments; and
- Comprehensive and substantive accountability systems to maintain equitable opportunities and high outcomes.
Good stuff and I can’t really quibble about the need for any of this, indeed, I am quite proud that I can point to specific things that Cheltenham does to provide for these goals. Certainly, they are part of our everyday thinking on how to continue making progress for our students.
Another recent article in Time on the loss of learning over summer vacation and another in Newsweek lamenting the loss of creativity in schools only start to get at some of the other challenges we face.
One thing I can offer that virtually everyone reading this note should be aware of is that parents are at the core of many of these challenges. Parents set the stage, establish the arc, build the foundation (pick your phrase) for much of what public schools will build on to educate children. Sadly, there are children who enter school who have never held a book, had one read to them, and that don’t know their letters, numbers, or even basic colors, by name. This happens in our own community, too. Don’t think it doesn’t.
I only need to point you to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers to show evidence that there is no reason that all healthy, fully functioning children cannot learn these things at an early age. Humans are simply not that different at birth and we cannot accept that they can be so different at age 5 or 6, except to recognize that something in their early environment causes them to be.
I am pleased also to know that others I know share a deep concern that what we have isn’t a “crisis in creativity” as Newsweek says or a “case against summer vacation” as in Time, and we certainly don’t have a “state of emergency in the delivery of education” as posited by the coalition. What we have, in large part, is a deep loss of basic parenting skill to establish an environment of learning, of support, of opportunity, and certainly a recognition that nothing, NOTHING, is as important as a good education. [Yes, I know I’m probably speaking to the choir here.]
Parents who cannot provide these supports are dooming their children to a life of unbelievably harsh circumstances lacking the skills to prosper in an ever more complicated world. Schools, in particular public schools, do their darnedest to bring these children back from, up from, out of these horrible beginnings and to overcome what is for many children a continuing daily nightmare of home life without basic supports.
Parents are a key input to the production engine of great students and a great society of learners, workers, and leaders. Although the readers of this probably don’t need reminding, I hope we all can support and provide opportunities for our children, support programs that provide for early education, involve ourselves in our schools and their programs, and support school boards in funding programs that, in fact, do provide for all of the six topics above, that work hard to minimize summer learning loss, that add creativity to our curriculum, and that yet still struggle to overcome so much that they cannot control, even before our students arrive at our front door.