Saving Our Schools?
Most of those who read the education blogosphere or follow the myriad of edu-tweeters know that this weekend is the “Save Our Schools” rally in Washington, DC. On Saturday, teachers, parents, and concerned citizens with gather on the Ellipse. They are encouraged to "arrive early to enjoy performances, art, and more!" and they are slated to hear from Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Jose Vilson, Deborah Meier, Monty Neill, and "other speakers, musicians, performance poets, and more." This collection "will encourage, educate, and support this movement."
For weeks now, we've seen the media savvy folks in the Save Our Schools clique use their blogs and Twitter feeds to promote the rally. Ravitch has been touting it since its inception. Teacher Ken has written about it on multiple blog platforms. And Nancy Flanagan has used her perch at Education Week to tout the event, its justification, and its potential significance.
This week, though, the topic seems to have headed in an interesting direction. Over at EdSector's Quick and the Ed blog, Forrest Hinton lends a critical eye to SOS' mission and how it seems to run contrary to public opinion and expectations for K-12 education in the United States, while Richard Lee Colvin takes on SOS' charter school accusations and Kris Amundson takes issue with the SOS' rhetoric on a supposed "war on teachers." Over at Eduwonk, Sara Mead finds issue with SOS' guiding principles and between-the-lines rhetoric. And over at TWIE, Alexander Russo has a broader roundup of the reform community's response to this weekend's music, performance art, and spoken word "national call to action."
As I've written about many times before, successful public engagement is about far more than simply "informing" people on an issue. Sharing information, as the slated speakers intend to do, is the easiest component of public engagement. The hard work is affecting outcomes. How do you move from informing at a rally to building measurable commitment to a specific solution? How do you mobilize around that specific solution? And ultimately, how do you successful change both thinking and action related to the issue?
To that end, rather than rehash the points and counterpoints that have been going back and forth, Eduflack simply has a few questions to ask:
* What is the expected turnout for the event? Noting the "RSVP" function, how many actual attendees will be considered a success? And how many physical bodies would be considered a failure?
* Will Save Our Schools disclose its funders?
* What are the tangible outcomes coming from the principles? Does equitable funding mean moving more dollars into failing schools, or can it mean a new formula where funding follows the student? Where do the dollars for all of the "full funding" come from? What specific "multiple and varied assessments" are "demanded?" What exactly do you propose for curriculum development (recognizing the bullets under the principle of curriculum seem to have little do do with actual curriculum development)?
* How does a weekend of speeches, music, and art "draw sustained attention to the critical issues?"
* And why are you following the kiss of death for many recent education movements, opening a "Save Our Schools" store?
I'm all for people have a good, fun time during these hot and humid summer days in our nation's capital. But if one is serious about school improvement (setting aside whether SOS' agenda can be considered "improvement"), you need to offer a little more than arts and crafts. Set an agenda. Publicly disclose intentions. Establish clear, measurable goals and report back on progress. Allow the same public you are appealing to now to hold you accountable a year from now. Without that, it is just another fun day in the sun, with chants of "go schools!" between games of ultimate frisbee. And that gets us no closer to improving student achievement and potential for success.