VEA - On the 'Agenda'

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Virginia Journal of Education

On the 'Agenda'

Numberous groups, inlcuding the NEA, come together to creat a framework for strengthening our schools and communities.

About a year ago, the Coalition for Community Schools convened a gathering of education groups with the intention of developing a framework for helping our public schools and communities benefit by each strengthening the other. The result is “The Community Agenda for America’s Public Schools,” which is supported by numerous education, community engagement, health, government, youth and policy groups, including the NEA. Here are some key parts of the “Agenda”:

Our nation faces alarming challenges in the task of educating all of our young people. In seeking solutions, we often find ourselves divided. Public schools are fundamental to our democratic values and must not be isolated from their communities. This disconnect does not serve our children well. When addressing public education, we must act collectively.

Schools now enroll the most diverse group of young people in our history. Their progress depends on the environment in which they live and learn. Too many districts report stagnant high school graduation rates and unacceptably low performance in math and science. Too many students are disengaged from learning. Too many young people are seen as problems rather than as individuals with assets, hopes and dreams. As citizens, we are less involved with our schools and in our democracy. We must recognize that community issues—poverty, violence, family stability and substance abuse—are school issues.

These issues are realities—not excuses. Without question, our schools need qualified teachers and strong principals. Like all public institutions, schools must be accountable for performance. But, just as surely, our young people and their families need more connections, more support, more opportunities, and more learning time to be successful. We can and we must do both. We must create effective schools that have robust relationships with families and other community institutions.

When we are willing to work together, we can improve education. The education reform and accountability debate, however, is missing a key ingredient. To achieve our common goals, we must engage in serious dialogue about how to harness the shared capacity of our schools and communities.

The Community Agenda
“The Community Agenda” is built on four core beliefs:

*    Communities and schools are fundamentally and positively interconnected. Engaged communities build strong schools; effective schools are essential to strong communities.

*    Schools can make a difference in the lives of all children. The quality of schools matters. High academic standards, rigorous curricula, high-quality teachers, effective school leadership, aligned tests, accountability, and strong professional development are important factors for student success.

*   Children do better when their families do better. We recognize this inextricable connection and actively support the strengthening and empowering of families.

*   The development of the whole child is a critical factor for student success. Children grow into successful adulthood through high-quality instructional opportunities in and out of school; by exploring their talents and interests through experiences that stretch their aspirations; and by receiving the social, emotional and physical support they need to succeed.

At the heart of “The Community Agenda” is a commitment to work together to create strong and purposeful partnerships for change and results.

This idea—fully embraced—would make all Americans responsible and accountable for excellent schools and the positive development of all our young people. Every institution that influences positive outcomes for children and youth must be part of the agenda—schools, families, government, youth development organizations, health, mental health and family support agencies, higher education and faith-based institutions, community organizing and community development groups, unions and business. Each brings assets and expertise; each must change how it does its work; and all must work together to close the opportunity gap.

The Results We Seek
We know that results matter. Experience and research tell us that when schools and community partners collaborate and align their resources toward common results, young people succeed. We seek these results for all students:

*   Children enter school healthy and ready to learn.
*   Students are engaged, motivated to learn, and involved in their communities.
*   Students learn in positive, safe, and respectful environments before, during and after school.
*   Children and young adolescents are healthy—physically, socially and emotionally.
*   Families are actively involved in the education of their children and are committed to post-secondary opportunities for them.
*   Children and youth live in self-sufficient and supportive families and communities.
*   Young people succeed academically and graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education, careers, and success as family and community members.

 When we achieve these results, young people will have the knowledge and sophisticated skills they need to contribute to the economy and the confidence, competencies and commitment to family and community necessary to sustain a just and effective democracy.

Strategies That Work
Schools and their community partners must work together to support the core teaching, learning and developmental purposes of education and to strengthen families and the community. They rely on multiple, inter-related strategies:

*   High expectations focused on high achievement encourage students to move forward. Every adult in the community acts on the belief that all students can learn, succeed and contribute to society.

*   A focus on real-world learning engages students. Students apply their learning through service learning, civic and environmental education, and see the relevance of their coursework in their lives. Moreover, youth and the school itself help to solve problems in their own community.

*   Bridging school and community resources helps students broaden their skills and aspirations. School and community resources are integrated to provide academic support, enrichment opportunities, mentoring relationships with caring adults, internship and job training opportunities, conflict resolution training and more.

*   Integrated student services improve students’ chances for achievement. Through a single point of contact in the school, community-based integrated services, which are responsive to individual needs, become available to those students requiring multiple, coordinated supports.

*   Building social and emotional competencies nurtures life skills. Schools promote children’s social and emotional learning to equip them with the personal and interpersonal skills they need.

*   Addressing barriers to learning supports student success. Schools address physical and mental health issues affecting individual students and their families before major problems emerge.

*   Welcoming and engaging schools facilitate school-community-family relationships. Schools are open to students, families, and community members—spanning the generations—for learning and recreation, before and after traditional school hours, into the evenings, on weekends, and during the summers.

Effective implementation of these strategies requires local capacity to build and bring together community leadership, manage school and community resources, and engage everyone in the work of improving the lives of young Americans.

Policy Recommendations
Results-Focused Partnerships
. Through results-focused partnerships, the resources of all government and community institutions can be aligned and applied in a more coordinated and effective fashion. We propose that federal, state and local government leaders provide concrete incentives to improve the coordination of existing funding streams and to support broad-based, local coalitions that can develop and sustain partnerships between schools, families and communities.

Youth, Parent, School, and Community Involvement. The people and places affected by public policy must have a voice in its implementation. We propose development of policies that enable partnerships between youth, parents and community leaders as well as school leaders, including principals and teachers, in the planning and oversight of school-reform and community initiatives.

Community–School Coordination. Research shows that students can and will achieve when resources for addressing academic and other needs are tailored, coordinated and accessible. We recommend policies that provide for staff in every school who will coordinate results-focused partnerships, integrate school and community resources based on individual student needs, and engage parents as well as other community members.

A Broad-Based Accountability Framework. A single, standardized test should not be the only basis for judging schools or students. We recommend an accountability model that includes multiple measures of academic achievement as well as measures of engagement; attendance; social, emotional, and ethical competencies; physical well-being; and family and community involvement. Furthermore, government and community leaders must be accountable for creating conditions that enable young people and their families to thrive.

Public Access to Data. Data collection must go beyond test scores if schools, families and communities are to identify challenges and work together. All public agencies concerned with children, youth, and families should make data available on an array of indicators related to student learning and development as well as key family and community factors.

Professional Development and Capacity Building. Policymakers must ensure that highly qualified persons are employed as teachers, principals and other school personnel as well as those hired for positions in social work, youth development, health and mental health, and community development. They also must have the training and ability to work more effectively with families, communities and each other.

Increased Investments. Ensuring that disadvantaged students in under-resourced communities have access to an excellent and equitable education calls for adequate—and additional—funding for essential services and opportunities in the following areas: early care and education, out-of-school-time enrichment, mentoring, preventive health, mental health, family services, family and community engagement, service learning, civic learning, and environmental learning.



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