Parent Engagement: Exploring Key Roles in the K12 Ecosystem

From my experience, parents want their kids to have a great education, and most are willing to pitch in.

On a good day, it might mean helping them study for a killer algebra test. On a bad day, it’s a more thankless task: helping them reevaluate priorities, prying fingers from the high tech keypads, smartphones and controllers stashed under every pillow.

Education is a complex topic, which deserves and is getting much discussion. But as a parent, I think understanding our stake in the process is an increasingly critical conversation, one that doesn’t always get air time.

I’d like to frame the question like this:

With school districts grappling with troublesome finances and even more troublesome test scores, what roles can and should parents play in the education process?

K12 Education today functions like an ‘ecosystem’. Most of the many interdependent stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, administrators, legislators, policy makers, text book companies) work diligently, but not always in tandem. No one entity has full control of the process. Across the diverse stakeholder groups are multiple, often conflicting objectives. Each depends on the others in the food chain for the system to function, but there is little optimization taking place.

Across the education ecosystem, too often it’s become a challenge of survival.

You may have seen “Waiting for Superman” and learned that across the nation, drop out rates are accelerating. Or maybe you saw “Race to Nowhere” about the pressure schools and parents are together putting on children, and how we must reevaluate how to define success. A more extreme example is the “Parent Trigger” where states allow parent-led coalitions to takeover problem schools.

While education leaders have much to do in sorting this out, parents have an important voice. We often forget that kids acquire language, behavior, and foundational learning skills before they set foot in a public school. Approaches will vary, but parents have the first crack at making learning a priority, and must work ever harder to sustain that. Schools, in turn, must understand what the family is experiencing, to effectively participate in an open collaboration.

Let’s tee up a few discussion topics to help us get at the core challenges of Parent Engagement.

Q1. What is the ideal role of parents in the education process?

Q2. How could we, as parents, help in a meaningful way? Here are some starter ideas, to get you thinking (do these resonate?)

  1. quality time on foundational skills (especially pre-K)
  2. finding creative ways and times to teach (story, play)
  3. fostering respect for knowledge and learning
  4. focus on resilience
  5. focus on mastery (deep learning) over performance (test scores)
  6. focus on critical thinking
  7. making innovation in education a priority

Q3. Who helps parents navigate these challenges, and should schools play a role in supporting them?

Q4. Can parents and teachers find the quality time required?

Education is undergoing some much needed transformation. From multiple sources, we can see innovative schools working diligently on new approaches. But time is short. And that’s an issue on many levels.

I sense that kids today start kindergarten well behind the power curve, leaving parents with few choices and many frustrations, and often no sense of what they could be doing to help.

No silver bullets here. But that’s all the more reason for the conversation.

We’ll tee this up at our weekly #ECOSYS chat on WEDS 1/5 at 9pET. This opens our 2011 Education Topic Agenda, on our wiki, under “T1 Parent Engagement”.

As always, please share your thoughts as comments, I’d love to discuss your perspective.

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ECOSYS on Social Reform: the Road Ahead

As you’ll see in this thread, a group of self-organizing innovators has put quality thought on how public collaboration can help get at the core of complex social issues.

So far, we’ve been  focused on framing challenges in Public Education.

The hurdles are formidable, so we’re focusing on a few specific areas, to build awareness and momentum (note: in the chat format, we number discussion topics sequentially):

  • T1 Participation. We need diverse stakeholder input (teachers, parents, administrators, businesses, legislators, students, suppliers); all have a role in the future state; are they engaged? how can we engage them?
  • T2 Ecosystem Dynamics. We must understand how the current system works and where it breaks down, using the basics of systems thinking and mental models framed as operating paradigms;
  • T3 Priorities. We must factor in the national agenda with Race to the Top (competitive stimulus model) and how it effects state and local initiatives; what are the gaps that will remain? are the stakeholders aligned?
  • T4 Culture Change. We need to explore a critical but overlooked topic: does our culture place necessary emphasis on learning?

Clayton Christensen reminds us that the ‘factory model’ of public education is over 100 years old, making it deeply entrenched. Regarding the public, Tim O’Reilly uses the interesting metaphor of a vending machine, where taxpayers (especially, in the case of education, parents)  insert money and expect services to come out the other end.

Top CEO’s talk about 21st century workforce demands in an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal. Read this. It will help get you thinking on what we’re up against.

We have seen significant power in discussion among concerned stakeholders. Be a part of the solution. Join the LIVE conversation, Mondays at 9pET. To participate we recommend tweetchat (click here at the appointed hour).

The next meeting is Jan 4. We hope you can join us.

What’s Next at ECOSYS?

[Overview. Since August, the ECOSYS public collaboration team has been developing an approach to frame problems and solutions in social ecosystems like Education (#EDU) and Healthcare (#HCR). Prior posts in this thread introduced the ECOSYS framework describing the building blocks of our process model.]

On MON 11/2 we started framing our EDU Issues. Progress to date:

Areas we have touched on are in yellow. Most recent updates are in orange. Considerable work remains, but we’ve begun to attack the core challenge of rigorous framing.

On MON 11/16 we reviewed the ARRA Federal Stimulus model for Race to the Top to understand ECOSYS impacts. From our master list, we developed a cross reference showing problems that appear to have less RTTT priority:

  • P1 Learning Culture
  • P2 Incentives
  • P5 Workforce/Jobs
  • P6 IEP/Custom Curriculum

One line of thinking: we can add the most value by addressing these areas. To help further frame these issues and potential solutions, we think it’s critical to provide strong ecosystem definitions, so we’ll continue to maintain high priority for:

  • P7 EDU Ecosystem

What do you think? Do you have ideas on these topics, or our conclusions? We’d love to have you post them here as blog comments. You can also pose new ideas, questions and inputs on priorities to our #ECOSYS tweet stream. Just be sure to use the #ECOSYS hashtag, and we’ll see it.

We connect and engage via LIVE CHAT. This let’s us vet and brainstorm progress and develop solution language in real-time. You are more than welcome to join. Just bring your insights and an open mind. You can access the chat LIVE at the appointed time in a variety of ways, but we recommend TweetChat.

The next ECOSYS LIVE session will be MON 12/7. Time for future meetings is TBD, but meetings to date have been at 8pET. ECOSYS needs diverse stakeholder input, which means we are likely to need your engagement. Meet the team. As always, your ECOSYS contributions are appreciated.