Education news has been breaking at such a fast and furious pace that I’m calling your attention to a few important stories you may have missed.
New Organization to Engage Families in Education
First, I’m delighted that my good friend Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Ky., has been named regional director for the central states in the newly formed National Family Engagement Alliance (NFEA). The organization was unveiled this week as part of Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress Conference in Washington, DC. Gwen Samuel of Meriden, Conn., was appointed as regional director for the eastern and southeast regions and has been an advocate for disenfranchised families.
The organization will provide resources, education and support to engage families, individuals and organizations in schools for the benefit of children. Both women have been recognized for their advocacy and training of parents and education professionals in effective family engagement in education.
While Myrdin was in Washington this week, she was honored as a White House Champion of Change and met with President Barack Obama. He characterized her as “awesome,” which is exactly what she is. Myrdin and I are both part of the blogging team at ParentNet Unplugged, a great group of people dedicated to parent engagement in education.
A few months ago, I featured Myrdin in two consecutive Your Education Doctor blogs because one just wasn’t enough. I called her a Parent Advocate Par Excellence, and I’m thrilled that she will be bringing her experience and expertise to our shared passion of parent engagement in education! To read more about Myrdin, here are my blogs:
A Letter to the President from School Boards Leader
Standardized tests have recently been on the minds of both parents and children. Last week, Mary Broderick, president of the National School Boards Association, wrote to President Obama urging him to begin a national dialogue on education — not among politicians but educators. She asked him to wear his “parent hat” to the endeavor of finding a new direction for public education.
Your daughters, she wrote, “like all of our children and all of our teachers, don’t need more tests designed to identify weaknesses. They need excited, motivated, passionate teachers who feel challenged, supported, and encouraged to try new approaches, who share with their students a learning environment that is limitless. …”
She also decried the focus on standardized testing, saying: “Strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. … Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.” Here is the full text of her remarks.
Resolution to Reduce Standardized Testing
Finally, the National Education Association (NEA) has thrown its support behind a resolution calling on federal and state policymakers to reduce standardized test mandates, and to base school accountability on multiple forms of evaluation that will support students and improve schools.
Other supporters include: Parents Across America, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The resolution’s signers have joined with public education advocates Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier to call upon state officials to “reexamine school accountability,” and to develop an evaluation system that reflects the “broad range” of how students learn rather than mandating extensive standardized testing. Click here for the full text of the resolution.
The following is a continuation of a profile of Myrdin Thompson – in her own words — a parent advocate/consultant for Family Engagement in Education. A delegate to Mom Congress, Myrdin lives in Louisville, Kentucky, but she is a role model for parents everywhere. She is an avid tweeter (@MyrdinJT), and writes a blog about parent engagement and education issues, http://www.rootsandwingslibrary.com/.
What have you learned from your involvement and what is the most important lesson you would like to share with other parents?
So much! But yet I feel that there is so much more to learn! By reading your blog, by participating in a webinar or conference call, by reading a book or article, I sometimes do feel overwhelmed and think, how do I communicate what I know with others so that they can better engage in some way with education in their community? I’ve learned that there are no “un-engaged” parents but “under-engaged” parents. That even if we don’t have the same experiences in education (my children have all had amazing teachers and opportunities, but that isn’t true for friends of mine in the same school) if we acknowledge those experiences as valuable (even if it was negative) then we can work together so that the best is celebrated and the worst is eliminated.
I hope I have learned to be a more active listener. Sometimes when you are passionate about an issue or cause you often fail to “hear” someone else’s message. I also have learned to be more proactive than reactive to issues/concerns. Sometimes you can’t help but react (like when Congress decides pizza sauce is a vegetable) but other times you can be proactive: create a workshop to help other parents, write a blog, participate in a book drive. We can all do something — it doesn’t have to be the same something — but it has to be something.
One of my favorite quotes is by Herman Melville: “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” I want my children to one day say, “My mom gave her best to a cause, and as an effect we (including their classmates and other students in their school community) were better prepared for college and career, to be more connected with our world, respectful and caring for one another, and always advocating for the very best educational opportunities for everyone.”
Describe your recent visit to Washington, D.C.
Because Mom Congress meets once a year (in May/April), many of us stay connected virtually via twitter or Facebook. Some of us thought that we needed a “mid-term” session to reconnect with one another as well as support all the various projects and causes we are all engaged with. I had contacted with Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s office because I knew that he was going to be in Louisville, KY, presenting a keynote at a Middle Schools conference. Although my request to meet with the secretary was denied (not enough time in his understandably busy schedule) it did facilitate a connection with other Department of Education staff.
Those discussions led to a meeting in Washington, D.C., for any Mom Congress delegates who were able to attend. At the same time the ESEA [Early Assessment and Support Alliance] markup hearings were taking place. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) had stalled the proceedings and asked for another hearing, a hearing which would have parents testify. It was coincidental that the meeting with the DOE was on a Monday and that the next day the hearing was to take place. Although parents didn’t testify at the hearing, several Mom Congress delegates (as well as other parents and students) were in attendance. While I didn’t get a chance to meet with Sen. Paul, I have been able to start a conversation with one of his staffers and hope to meet with him again in January (when we have tentatively scheduled a follow-up meeting with the Department of Education).
What advice would you give parents who are sitting on the fence?
I understand that sometimes we just feel overwhelmed and inundated with information. We get notes and emails from our children’s schools about picture day, fall festival, and field trips. We try to help with homework, even when we don’t understand eighth grade math ourselves. We watch the news, read a blog, attend a meeting or workshop. We hear that school lunches are going to change but we don’t know what that really means. And sometimes we just feel frozen — that there is just TOO MUCH going on to make a difference in any of it, not just on behalf of our own child or children, but for their classmates, their schools, the community. I know. I feel that way too at times. But I have learned the power of five. Five minutes to respond to an action alert or make a phone call. Fifty minutes to read books with or even in front of your kids. Five hours (and not all in a row!) to start and complete a project. And if you get five friends to spend those five minutes, then that has five times the impact as the one call you made.
It isn’t about the big splash in what you do, it’s just about doing something — we all can contribute and every contribution counts. I also know that while sitting on the fence change is happening. It might not be dramatic, it might not show up this year or even the next, but change in education is taking place. So instead of reacting to that change, be a proactive part of the change. Five minutes. That’s about as long as it takes to login to Facebook and post a photo or send a “tweet.” But those five minutes might just change the next five years for your child. Don’t let someone else decide those next five years for you.
Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the future of education?
I am incredibly optimistic. I may not like the direction in which some of the discussion concerning education on a national level goes sometimes, but I am glad that a discussion is taking place and that I can be a part of it. There is an electricity that hasn’t been felt before.
Parents are waking from a long slumber and noticing that while they were sleeping the landscape changed. It may not always be easy, and there are days when I feel like going back to bed and pulling the covers over my head, but then my daughter dances and sings her way into my room, and I know that I am doing this for her. That by challenging the status quo I make it possible for her to perhaps not have to when she is a parent. But if she does, I know what advice I would give her: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”(John Dewey) and that every child deserves the very best education and the very best life.
So we can either be adversaries or allies in this process of change, but we must be something because change is here, it is happening, and we can’t go back to bed.
What would you like to see fixed in public schools?
Years of research, data, articles and books have led us to this conclusion: parents actively involved in education make a difference. And that activity doesn’t always have to take place in the school. It is about trusting and respecting that parents are the experts when it comes to raising their children. In addition, it is clear that despite all the wealth of information that is easily accessible by school leadership, it isn’t being used in a productive way. A school community needs to ask all participants (students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, community members), “What are we trying to accomplish?” If it is to create a college and career-ready student, then we need to address the inadequacies that currently exist without parceling out blame, address the strengths or assets that currently exist, and move forward together with a shared vision. We need also to acknowledge that parents are an untapped resource and should be used for more than raising funds. Clear, continuous communication is also key. But that communication must be honest and forthright. We are a community of learners, where with mutual support we can achieve goals together which benefit not just the students but all of us.
Education is not just a K-12 or pre-K-college commitment, it is a lifetime endeavor. If we share that belief with one another, creating learning connections and partnerships, we will be able to transform education, one school at a time.
Hope this helps! And by the way, when I speak of parents, I mean family members, legal guardians or other adults acting in a parental role.
For more information from Dr. Meryl Ain, please visit:
Myrdin Thompson (part 1)
Both educators and parents espouse parent involvement in their children’s schools. Research indicates the more parent involvement, the better the school and the more successful the student. But parents nowadays are so stretched in so many directions that being actively involved is easier said than done. What can we learn from parent role models? Periodically this blog will feature parents who are exemplars of parent advocacy and engagement.
My first profile is of Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Kentucky, an extraordinary role model whose everyday life revolves around her commitment to education and schools.
Believe it or not, I met her through twitter (@MyrdinJT)! A delegate to Mom Congress, she is an avid tweeter, who is immersed in education policy, programs, and news. She also attends meetings, participates in teleconferences, and confers regularly with parents, teachers, education officials, and politicians. Her blog, Roots and Wings, www.rootsandwingslibrary.com, discusses her views on parent engagement and education issues.
Married for 19 years and the mother of three (Seth, 13, Jonah,10 and Finn, 6), Myrdin received her BA in English Literature from the University of Arizona and her MA in Renaissance Drama from California State University, Fullerton. She’s worked as a Marketing Director/Volunteer Coordinator at the non-profit Visual Arts Association, as well as an adjunct faculty member teaching English literature at a local community college. For the past nine years she has been a full-time volunteer in the public schools.
How and why did you originally become involved in your child’s school?
Seth started a half-day pre-school program when he was four. I must admit I was reluctant to send him off into the world, so I offered to be a room parent. I didn’t stay every day that he was there, but when I wasn’t helping in the classroom I was volunteering with the PTA. I was fortunate to be able to be a partner in not just his educational experience, but to really help the teachers and work with his classmates.
Within the last nine years I’ve held every position on a PTA board except treasurer! I just never thought I wasn’t supposed to be involved. While I don’t have a degree in education, I have always had a connection with teaching and learning. It just made sense to me to offer my assistance. And thankfully through the years, all my children’s teachers as well as the schools they’ve attended have been very supportive of parent engagement/involvement.
What inspired you to become so active and vocal?
Well, when you are born Woodstock weekend and your parents are both artists, it seems to have been in the DNA! I don’t think there has been a time in my life when I haven’t been active and vocal about something that I passionately believe in. I believe in our public schools. I believe in our teachers, principals, support staff, administrators, school board members. I believe that we all want what is best for the children in our communities, but at times we don’t know how to connect with one another in order to make that happen. I believe that one person can make a change, but that several of us working together on the same goal can make a movement.
How did you get involved on a state/national level?
When I was elected to be the 15th District PTA President, I was responsible for reporting to the Kentucky PTA on activities and initiatives happening in our community. Because our school district is so large (155 schools with a student population of 100,534) our PTA feels it is important to be engaged at not just the local level (by attending the bi-monthly school board meetings and participating in-district and community initiatives), but also to attend education sub-committee meetings at the State Capitol and National PTA Legislative conferences (where we also have the opportunity to visit with our elected officials) as well as National PTA conventions. By attending all of these meetings, events, and workshops, I was able to gain knowledge and a greater insight on how the legislative process works, about how to be a stronger advocate, and how to take the information I had and effectively share it with not just our local school PTA/PTSA leaders, but to all our families and community members.
During my time as the District President (2009-2011) I was named the Parenting Magazine Mom Congress delegate for Kentucky and was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change.
These roles have also connected me with other parents from across the nation who are working in their own communities on various initiatives (whether it is the Books Make it Better campaign, advocating for stronger school communities, or healthier school meals). By using my social media sites I have been able to keep my fellow delegates and friends connected with issues such as the recent ESEA hearings in Washington, D.C., how the Common Core State Standards are being (or not being in some instances) implemented, or how Congress recently decided that pizza sauce is a vegetable (I call that one “Tomatogate 2011”).
I also try to connect the people that I know with other groups or organizations that are doing similar work so that everyone can share best practices. I recently stepped down from my leadership roles in PTA (but still am a PTA member at both my children’s schools and at the district and state levels) in order to be more engaged in advocacy with Mom Congress as well as to continue the work I have been doing here in Louisville on behalf of KaBOOM! All the work I do is as a volunteer.
At the end of the day if a parent decides he or she doesn’t want to act on information I’ve provided, I’m okay with that. But I never want someone to say that had they known they would have done something. So I provide the knowledge, the action is up to them.
Describe Mom Congress.
Mom Congress — a parenting initiative with Georgetown University — is here to help you make the changes you want in your local schools and for kids nationwide. Each and everyday I am awestruck by the passion and commitment of an incredible group of women who represent each of the 50 states — and the District of Columbia! Parenting Magazine hosts a “contest” every January, where a mom is encouraged to nominate herself to be a part of this movement. I was selected to be in the inaugural class in 2010 and then invited back in 2011 as the arts advocate (both of my parents, my brother, and all three of my children are artists).
The “action plan for change” that the 2010 class created was featured in both the fall issue of Parenting Magazine as well as in the companion book to the documentary Waiting for Superman. Mom Congress meets at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and affords the moms selected the opportunity to not only connect with one another, but to connect with groups such as Reach Out and Read, Reading is Fundamental, Save our Children, PTA, the Gates Foundation, Kindercare, and Jamie Oliver of Food Revolution (to name a few, it’s quite a long list!). We also have had the opportunity to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his department staff to better understand the role of the DOE in our nation and to support parent engagement initiatives. For more information, your readers can go to http://www.parenting.com/mom-congress-member-resource-center.
How many hours a week do you spend on research and advocacy and why do you do it?
I just had a conversation with a friend about this! On average it’s a 40-hour work week. Once I drop my children off at school I return home to my “office” and start researching, reading, blogging, tweeting, posting on Facebook, answering emails, making phone calls, attending a conference call, participating in a webinar, attending a community meeting. When I’m not at home (or out and about) doing all that, I try to volunteer at my children’s schools, either by attending a field trip as a chaperone, or by serving on a committee, if needed. I try to keep current with all that is happening, either locally in education, or on a state and federal level (because that does impact our local decision making process) not just for my community, but for my friends who live in other locations as well.
I believe that by connecting parents with the resources and information that is out there, it better enables them in their decision-making processes about education. At times it may not seem that something happening in Connecticut will have a resonance here in Louisville, but often I find that a discussion taking place about what makes a highly qualified teacher (for example) in another state will have some impact on a discussion in my state. As these debates play out on the national level, we must also be aware that there is going to be local impact. I believe that a parent educated about education issues/concerns is better able to make an educated decision. It doesn’t have to be the same decision I make, and we can respectively agree to disagree, but at least he or she has the information needed to make that decision. And, yes, it’s all voluntary!
End of Part 1
Next time: Part 2 – Lessons for Parents and the Future of Public Schools