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It’s Time to Stop Talking!

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It’s Time to Stop Talking!

Three years ago a few colleagues and I held a few workshops for four classes of 6th grade students about a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) school coming to their neighborhood. Part of the workshop was to give them an opportunity to draw a diagram depicting what their career aspirations were and how college plays a role.

As I walked around the classroom reading the students’ work, I became more and more upset.  The first girl wanted to work in a nail salon the second wanted to be a singer.  One boy wanted to be a rapper, another wanted to be a mechanic and of course there were a fair amount aspiring to be professional athletes.  Out of the 90 students we worked with that day only 20 aspired toward professions that would actually be attainable and of those 20 only 4 were related to STEM.

There was one ray of hope when one girl who wanted to do makeup for living, revealed her favorite subject was science.  I was able to take her in the direction of being a chemist and maybe developing her own environmentally safe makeup line.

It was clear to me that they were just reflecting the types of jobs and careers they see in their community and through the media.

But I still find myself asking how, in this day and time of instant information and never ending education reform, how is it that these students know so little about the world around them?  Are these children proof that the family you were born into and the neighborhood you are raised in dictates the type of education you get?

Can any of us look at these children and tell them they don’t have the brainpower to become research scientists that discover cures for some of the world’s most complicated diseases?  Don’t these students have the right to an education that will help them grow up to be engineers that design environmentally friendly manufacturing equipment or easy to operate prosthetics?  Shouldn’t we live in anticipation of one day be marveling at the amazing artistry of these children as we peruse a book on architectural wonders?  Won’t one of these children grow up to lead their community to prosperity?

The way we answer those questions will inform our actions going forward and will determine our future as a nation.  That’s right our future.  We’re not going to disappear from the face of the earth when these children come of age.  On the contrary, we will ALL have to deal with outcomes of the quality of education we provide our students.

The poet James Baldwin said it best:

For these are all our children
We will all profit by, or pay for,
Whatever they become.

How do we profit instead of pay?

First of all, we need to stop talking, and stop recycling the same research and data, reiterating what we already know, stop convening committees that end up doing nothing but producing one more plan that is never implemented and stop waiting for the next miracle state policy to make it to the legislature only to be watered down to benefit adults.

Secondly, we need not be afraid to get our hands dirty.  We know what to do—put best practices and innovative ideas to work in classrooms—and there’s no better time than now.

There is no doubt that the challenge of creating disruptive change within education will be  massive, but if everyone took it upon themselves to make education a priority, and be responsible in being an advocate for reform, we would effectively change the entire trajectory of public education.

After 15 years of providing STEM education opportunities to students of color (three of those years co-managing a public school with a public school district) and raising my four children who attend public schools, I have come to the conclusion that the only thing that will make public education in Washington State work for kids of color and low income students is strategic partnerships between nonprofits (funded by philanthropy) and school districts.  Within this partnership system education reform efforts actually have a chance to succeed.

Notice I didn’t just say philanthropy is the answer.  Just giving money to chronically failing school districts, schools and classrooms assumes the system that continues to fail our children will somehow right itself with in infusion of cash.

Please understand that I agree the public education could use more money and we need to stop the funding cuts, but what we really need is for the system to be completely overhauled.   A first step in that direction is to form strategic partnerships. I think this strategic partnership model will:

  • Increase the amount of philanthropic dollars coming to public schools and ensure they stretch further and are applied to an overall academic improvement strategy
  • Increase the level of accountability for not only student academic outcomes, but other relevant measures that support student success in the 21st century
  • Institute a common practice of bringing much needed innovation, best practices and resources that support timely implementation
  • Create networks of teachers that will catalyze continued professional growth and overall improvement of the teaching and learning environment
  • Increase authentic learning by facilitating corporate involvement in public education by bringing their real world experiences to the classroom

In this series of articles I will explore the concept of strategic partnerships and the various ways they can work to support the brave superintendents, principals, teachers and other educators who are trying to make the public education system work for all children.  I will also share the work of TAF in implementing innovative education models, what works, what doesn’t and things that still need to be tried. Finally, I will cover TAFs intent to share what we know with districts across the state and build a statewide network of STEM education advocates in order to expedite academic improvement and opportunities for students of color.

Most importantly every step of the way I will identify how YOU can increase your capacity, join in this work and make an immediate impact.

Together, we will find ways “Ignite the Potential” in every child and change our futures in the process.



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