I want to tell a story to kick off my final post. At the time I was applying for the School Reform Blogging Fellowship, the teachers at my high school were busy advocating for a new contract. As a result, students had less access to morning and after-school instruction. Concurrently, I volunteered to mentor a second grader, who couldn’t read and needed all the help he could get. One day, I came back from a morning of patiently sounding out letters with him, only to see the teachers at my high school waiting together in the parking lot, not beginning their day of teaching until the exact moment when their contract required them to. That was my “aha moment,” and the reason I became involved in education reform.
Is the culture of public education today interfering with student learning?
Now, at the conclusion of my year-long fellowship, struggling Minnesota students still need reform as much as ever. In this final post, I want to emphasize what I’ve learned during my time at MinnCAN:
1. Education begins at home.
Not all education reform is based on policy. The most important changes have always–and will always–begin in the home, so we need to broaden what “education” means to us. Schools, districts and teachers are all crucial, but they’re only as strong as the parents, families, homes and communities upon which they’re built. Minnesotans are hard-working people who want their children to be successful. As I shared before, better communicating those values (i.e., expectations) will help Minnesota schools thrive.
2. Tradition is never worth more than student learning.
The dynamics of education are changing. Remember this: by 2018, as our state shifts to an increasingly knowledge-based workforce, 70 percent of all Minnesota jobs will require post-secondary education. This, coupled with the fact that the average U.S. student loses one year of education from kindergarten to high school graduation from summer slide, suggests that we should rethink summer break, as well as the length of school days. Breaking tradition by pioneering more time in school (from pre-K on), longer school days and longer school years might just benefit Minnesota.
3. We are all accountable.
To improve education in the North Star State, we all need to ask what we can do for Minnesota students. Focusing on education at home and moving beyond outdated traditions in schools is a great start. But our students deserve more. We should vote for commonsense legislation at the local, state and federal levels that aligns teacher tenure with effective teaching and helps students advance across the entire continuum. We should highlight success in our state’s best public schools, learn why those schools thrive, and spread that message near and far (e.g., MinnCAN’s Top 10 Schools). We should talk more with our neighbors and friends about the value of education, even if we may not agree (though I bet we do on wanting the best teachers in our schools and fulfilling Minnesota’s future economic needs). A vibrant discourse in our state will lead to a flourishing educational culture. In the end, when education wins, we all win.
Now I ask you to think about your “aha moment.” Then do something about it. But no matter what we pursue in education, we must remember the final goal: not just student learning, but a better state and a better world. We all contribute to a child’s education, and we need all hands on deck.
Ben Davis is a School Reform Blogging Fellow. This is his final post.