With two-thirds of 8th graders nationwide perennially behind in math, it’s clear that for most kids, math class just isn’t working.
It’s time to give students the education they deserve – and empower teachers to serve each individual student’s academic needs.
This requires systemic changes, requiring parents, educators and communities to collectively find common ground. Otherwise, this next generation won’t be prepared for adult life. Below are some key leverage points to change the sytem:
Start by educating yourself. The key is to find the high-impact issue areas, then identify whether each one is handled at the state or local level, or both. Here are some widespread shortcomings to explore:
- Math curricula: This makes or breaks whether math makes sense to kids. Are the curricula selected at the school, local, county, or state level? The structure differs from state to state. For each level, who does the decision-making? What is the process for vetting the options to choose a strong one? See Talk to Your School for more support on exploring the curriculum.
- Standardized tests: This is parents’ big chance to know whether the school is serving their kids. Under federal law (ESSA), states must test students annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Which test does your state use? Are students’ results sent to parents quickly while still relevant, or do they take months? Are results posted broadly in a statewide report card? See Talk to Your Teacher for more support on assessments.
- Graduation requirements: Students need to graduate equipped for adult life. This is typically controlled by the state, and unfortunately many players are seeking to lower the math requirements for graduation. Graduation requirements are there to diagnose and support, not punish.
- Teacher preparation and eligibility: We need teachers who know math well enough to bring it to life. But again, some decision makers are working to eliminate teacher licensing standards. While we’re struggling to recruit teachers, we shouldn’t compromise on teacher quality. How do your state’s teacher licensing requirements compare to other states, particularly for elementary math?
We get it — you’re strapped for time! But it’s important to know how the decision-making process behind your child’s education works so that you can make sure they’re on the right track.
Attending just one school board meeting can be eye-opening. You’ll have a better idea of what discussions are on the table and what decisions are being made for the students by adults.
You’ll get a window into the process and how it involves and affects the community.
Get to know who serves on your school board by following local news sources or attending school board meetings. These are held town by town, so check your district website.
Don’t worry if attending a meeting sounds daunting. Here are some basics to boost your comfort level:
- Find out who’s on the board.
- Look up the date and agenda.
- Attend a meeting just to listen before you attend to advocate.
- Observe when they do public comment and for how many minutes.
And when you’re ready to speak up:
- Before the meeting, talk to other people and see if you have a base of support. Encourage them to attend with you.
- If you know anyone in the local press, reach out to them ahead of time and urge them to attend.
- Write out your own key talking points beforehand.
- Remember that you’re not alone. There are probably others who are just as passionate as you are.
Consider taking turns with other parents to ensure there’s a parent presence at these meetings. Also, due to the pandemic, many meetings now take place online — so you may even be able to listen in on meeting while you’re making dinner!
Elected state-level officials say that if they receive even five phone calls from constituents about a topic, that’s a deluge! Each citizen assumes some other person will call about the issues they care about, and this diffusion of responsibility often results in silence at the legislative office.
That is why you can have far more impact than you realize when you call your legislator. With quick searches online, you can:
- Find out which of your state legislators serve on the Education Committee in their house. One might even be your own representative. Check out your state legislature website.
- See what bills are under review by the education committees. Watch for bills, policies, or regulations that:
- Reduce transparency to the public, such as those cutting back or eliminating state assessments, or the math sections of those tests.
- Lower math standards both for students and teachers, such as graduation requirements for high schoolers and licensing requirements for newly minted teachers.
- Steer scarce public funds towards low-content programming or away from content-rich programming. School is about learning, and we all need to push to ensure it stays on mission.
- Find out how the legislators representing your district voted for recent education bills. If you see something you don’t like, call their office, or round up friends to send postcards or a petition. It takes very little to show that voters are paying attention.
- Call to request a meeting with your legislators to share any data you have that would inform their decision-making. Remember, elected officials work for you, and most are eager to meet with their constituents. Pull up your state report card, and you can also enlighten them to the PIAAC map showing adult numeracy.
Once you’ve become expert on the above, you might want to run for office yourself. Whether it’s for your school’s Board of Education or a higher state or federal office, you can have enormous impact by campaigning. We always run to win, but even if you don’t, just having that visibility gives you a podium to speak up for strong education practices to ensure we maintain a robust society.
If you want to dip your toe first to learn more, consider volunteering on the campaign of a favorite candidate. Campaigns have a very wide range of needs, and in helping to push out the message, you can become more informed and help your candidate do the same.