Last week I
put out a call to all the members of our growing
network of bloggers and friends to share their hopes for 2016 and a story of success from the past year.
A dominant theme in their responses was the need for, well, a “better conversation,” with more listening to each other and more common cause around the urgent need to improve our public schools. Needless to say, this resonated with us here at Education Post.
Patrick Riccards, aka Eduflack, makes this point:
For 2016, I hope that we can identify more areas where educators and activists, parents and policymakers, can come together to truly improve public education. Those who really are committed to improving education agree on far more than we disagree. Our actions need to reflect that.
John Gomperts, who leads America’s Promise Alliance, a coalition committed to increasing high-school graduation rates, encourages us to set our sights even higher:
Let’s not only hope that high school graduation rates continue to rise, but that all of us—young people, parents, community members, educators and policymakers—come together to create the conditions under which every young person in America has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.
In 2016, I hope education does not continue to be a battle over ideology and defending the status quo at all costs—and becomes a productive and collaborative dialog based on facts, results and what is best for ALL kids.
And in the interest of furthering the “better conversation,” I want to also share teacher Dan McConnell’s wish for more sensible standardized testing. While we have been vocal proponents of annual testing and meaningful accountability, we also acknowledge the need for many districts to move towards fewer, better tests. Dan shares:
I hope the focus for student achievement will steer away from the impersonal and generic standardized testing obsession, and turn instead towards a more holistic preparation of citizens. Empowering/enriching education will no longer be limited to those making rules for other people's children.
Charter and Choice
Many inspiring stories from 2015 came from the great work that many charter schools are doing around the country.
Nina Rees shared the story of Issac Jackson, who
credits the educators at Richard Wright Public Charter School in D.C. for helping him “become more confident and more assertive—I’ve become a role model to my peers.”
Amanda Vega drew our attention to Ridge and Valley Charter School in Blairstown, New Jersey:
With a focus on what they call Earth literacy, students are engaged in learning about the world around them through project-based learning. Students from K-8 are immersed in sustainability, global thinking, and experiential learning in the truest sense, without being buzzwords.
Eric Lerum shared his hope that “the legislature and governor find a way to allow public charter schools to continue operating in Washington state.” He points to the promise of schools such as Summit Olympia Public Charter High School in Tacoma:
Led by a veteran Seattle public school teacher, Summit Olympia joins a handful of other promising charter schools working to serve Washington families in need of better options in the face of hostile opposition. Over 100 ninth-graders chose to attend Summit Olympia in its first year, and we have every reason to believe interest and demand will continue to grow.
Perhaps the most important theme in these responses was optimism for the future of public education.
Rachel Magee, a school psychologist in Monroe, Louisiana, offers this:
I am hopeful for all that is to come in 2016 for education and ensuring all kids have every opportunity possible to achieve. The greater and bigger the dream or more expansive the vision, the longer and more people it will take. Celebrating and appreciating the progress and gains is essential.
I am most thankful for this gift that my students teach me daily: People are worth more than things. Being an educator is an endeavor where I try to positively change others, but often find that I am the one who is most changed.
Conor Williams finds inspiration in the David Douglas School District in Portland, Oregon.
It's a remarkable place: Seventy-plus languages in a district with just one high school and high percentages of English-language learners, immigrant students and low-income kids. Teachers there talk about challenges, but they mostly talk about opportunities. They're excited about the new rigor of the Common Core State Standards and emotional about their kids’ potential. The educators there are such stars.
Maureen Kelleher has hopes that districts in her state will secure the resources needed to provide great public schools.
My hope for 2016 is that Illinois leaders and citizens will realize a long-held dream: creating a fair and equitable school funding formula that gives every child in the state access to schools with the resources to support excellent education.
Dedication to Children
Finally, I want to close with a personal story that Dan, a teacher, shared that encapsulates the dedication and compassion of our finest educators:
A colleague recently suffered a series of tragedies, starting with the loss of a son who was grown—but still a young man. Despite this, she kept her composure, her warmth, and her professionalism in front of the children she teaches. One girl, in particular, had come down with a rather serious condition resulting from a strep infection that had not been effectively treated. The student, formerly bright, capable, active, and always well-behaved, had disappeared and been replaced by a withdrawn, nervous, malnourished ghost…but was slowly coming back. This colleague found ways to be there for her class and involve and encourage this young girl on the heels of and in the middle of the series of her own personal tragedies (that would have had other teachers taking as many days/weeks off as their contract would allow). I watched and listened as she prepared to send kids off for the holiday break with a few small gifts and the advice to hug, love and thank their parents because their parents love them very much. How she didn't lose it—I don't know. But I do know that her whole class, especially that little girl who is sitting three feet away from me right now and doing well, is blessed by the presence of this teacher in her school.
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with