Colorado Education Advocates Unveil New Tactic

By Tim Hoover of the Denver Post….

Supporters of an initiative that would ask voters in November to raise taxes for education are using an online, grassroots strategy to gather signatures that could revolutionize the petition process.

“It is the first time that I have seen this kind of tactic,” said veteran ballot-issue consultant Rick Reiter. “I’m watching it closely because I could learn a lot.”

Great Education Colorado Action is the political arm of Great Education Colorado, a group that urges more spending on education, and it has sent e-mails to supporters and turned to social networking to jump-start a signature-gathering drive for Initiative 25.

That proposal would, for five years, raise state sales taxes from 2.9 percent to 3 percent and hike the state’s income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. If voters approved it, the proposal would generate an estimated $3 billion for K-12 and higher education.

Supporters say the tax hikes are needed to offset three years of deep cuts to education spending.

Critics say Coloradans are in no mood for a tax increase and the proposal would kill jobs during an economic recovery. Republicans have been the most vocal critics, but many Democrats have been silent on the proposal, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has repeatedly said Coloradans have “no appetite” for a tax increase.

The initiative filed by state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, doesn’t have the support so far of the state’s major business or education groups. That means the six-figure sums that are usually required to hire companies to conduct petition drives may not be forthcoming.

So supporters are trying a strategy that uses social network websites to ask people to sign the petitions. Supporters have set up a website that allows people to download petitions and then volunteer to gather signatures.

The kit includes instructions on how to gather 50 signatures to fill each petition and even how to properly staple the pages. It instructs volunteers to seek out a notary after gathering the signatures and then to return the signed petitions to supporters in Denver.

Every petition must bear an individual number, and the website where they can be downloaded assigns each one a unique number.

“The conventional wisdom is you need a lot of money to get something on the ballot,” said Lisa Weil, spokeswoman for Great Education Colorado. “Well, we don’t have that. What we’ve got is tens of thousands of education supporters who care about schools and affordable higher education.”

Instead of standing outside a supermarket, Weil said, volunteers can seek signatures on a more personal level. This closer-knit connection also will allow volunteers to better educate others about funding cuts for schools and colleges.

The hurdle to get an initiative on the ballot isn’t small. Supporters will have to gather the valid signatures of 86,105 registered Colorado voters, a benchmark that usually means circulators aim for as many as twice that number of signatures just to be safe.

“I think that the structure of what they’re doing has potential here,” said Reiter, the consultant, “but like all these things, when you need 11,000 people engaged in it, the management and the direct contact with those people will dictate whether this works or not.”

He added: “Hopefully 11,000 people have staplers. Because if you don’t staple it right, you’re done.”

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Sending the Wrong Message: Parents Protest Budget Cuts

A local grassroots collection of parents displayed concern over Florida legislature’s plan to cut education funding this morning with a march over the Granada Bridge in Ormond Beach.

A larger march is planned between 4 and 6 p.m. today, according to a report published in the Daytona Beach News Journal by staff writer Audrey Parente.

“The point is to let legislators know there is unhappiness at the local level with the idea of cutting educational funding,” said Julia Truilo of Ormond Beach.

The local mom was among a small group of bridge marchers this morning, but said the crowd after school is expected to be larger.

“It’s a parent-generated protest,” Truilo said. “My purpose is to let folks know education funding is important.

“There’s one rule when organizing a protest,” said Joe LaMountain of Sparklight Communications, “you’ve got to deliver a crowd.  If you don’t, you wind up looking weak to the politicians you’re trying to influence.”

The parents organized in a online blog at PreserveEducation.blogspot.com listing email contacts for key legislators and the Volusia County School Board. The blog site also includes suggested slogans forbridge-walkers to include on homemade signs.

“Parents are doing right by involved,” LaMountain continued.  “But a successful protest needs more than just a blog.  You need dozens of personal meetings, hundreds of phone calls and thousands of flyers for it to work.” Continue reading

I Have Issues with TIME’s “Top Ten List Of Things Kids Today Will Never Experience”

I am sorry, but I do not agree with TIME Magazine’s new list, “Top Ten Things Kids Today Will Never Experience.” Magazines have a real opportunity to create relationships with readers and

Phoebe reading a "real book" but using a cordless phone.

post content that will inform decisions. But when they post stuff like this, I think, “Really? This is what you thought your educated readers will find interesting?”

First of all, it scared me, which I do not appreciate it. Secondly, it’s a silly list, much of which I do not agree with that my kids will not experience.

And really, if your kids are NOT experiencing some of these things there’s a problem. Some, like “tan M&M’s” who cares? But “real books” ? That’s a problem.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s review: TIME Magazine’s new list, “Top Ten Things Kids Today Will Never Experience”

  • Camera Film – I actually think there is a very good chance that one of my kids will experience using film, by taking a class at some point (they still teach paper mache for goodness sakes!) or photography at college. But in reality digital is so much better that I am not sure I care.
  • Landline Phones – uh, we have one of these. So my kids experience this one every day. And it was REALLY handy when the electricity went out for several DAYS and I could not charge the cell.
  • Real Books – my kids read real books every day, so what is this about? Does everyone go out and buy their kid a “Kindle”? I don’t like the idea of kids having their eyes on a screen 24/7.  We actually have a “no screens” policy during the school week policy.
  • Being Lost – doesn’t anyone send their kid to the frozen food section for waffles? Or somewhere in Target for something? I do. And they get lost. And sometimes, they get upset. But I think this is coping skill they need now, not later when trying to manage the Manhattan subway.
  • Music Videos on MTV – Mein and Phoebe watch music videos on YouTube, which I “try” to monitor, as YouTube is a gateway to the unknown. But, what about “Hamster on a Piano” or even Hannah Montana’s new video? These are videos. (Not that I like this new Hannah video, but I get a chance to turn up my nose to it so the girls know I think it’s kind of smutty. They agreed and said they preferred her older videos. Class over.)
  • Walkmans – Walkman, IPhone shuffle…really what’s the difference? They both play music, one needed batteries, one needs to be charged, one skips, one doesn’t usually, but again, like the tan M&M’s, not a life changer.
  • The Glory Days of Nick at Nite – I love a good episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show as much as the next person, but we get these on Netflix or buy them. Phoebe has several seasons of Gilligan’s Island and loves them.
  • Tan M&Ms – who cares?
  • Czechoslovakia – well okay, yeah. But Joe is going to Prague soon which I think will engender interest in seeing this part of the world. Besides, I didn’t get to see the open “Indian Territory”  before it became Oklahoma and I am pretty sure I will turn out okay.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator – again, who cares? Why bring this up? It’s not like Tom Sawyer, or some other cultural icon that might affect their development of character if they miss this.
  • Read more: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,2011482,00.html#ixzz0xTiZWl32

    Again, TIME magazine had an opportunity to really comment on items that kids have lost: long summer days in the woods without your parents, coming home when it gets dark and not before, bike trips to other parts of town that you discovered on your own.

    Yes, childhood has become quite pasteurized and I think we as parents have to make an effort to replace some of those experiences so that our children develop coping skills that will later benefit them. Sometimes it might be something simple like going into the library by yourself and getting your own card. Or talking to the principal about something you think is important.

    But don’t give us some wacky list and include items that are trite.   We deserve a little more credit than that.

    Great Expectations for ACPS

    Alexandria parents have been complaining for years that the current course work is not stimulating, that there are too many worksheets and children are not being asked to think.

    And the reason is simple.

    For years now, ACPS has relied on the Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs) as its baseline, as well as textbook curricula, such as Everyday Math. And the reality is that parents were right; ACPS should not be using one standard or one curriculum. We should not use one curriculum to match many student needs, we should instead be using many different curricula to match many different students.

    Why? Because all students come to the table with different talents, needs and learning styles and we as policy makers and advocates need to be doing a better job of meeting those learners’ needs.

    ACPS is responding by writing a new, more flexible set of standards and curricula, one that will challenge all students to learn and to achieve.

    This became abundantly clear at a Maury Elementary School PTA meeting last month where, after her presentation,  parents asked the math coach, “Why should our children be ‘Algebra ready’ by eighth grade?”

    She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know, that’s what they tell us.”

    That is not a reason. This is never a reason. The reason we want students to be “algebra ready” is that we want to establish high expectations and high standards, not just for our high income learners or TAG identified, but for all our students.

    We as a community and as a school system need to have “great expectations” for our students and expect high standards.  Because this is how we stimulate learning, creativity and critical thinking in our students. Is this important? You bet it is.

    In Erika Miller’s presentation last week at Agenda Alexandria, this Stanford educated, T.C Williams graduate, and now executive at the nationally famous, Education Trust said:

    “What schools do matters! But, rather than organizing our educational system to narrow gaps, we organize it to exacerbate them. How? By giving students who arrive with less, less in school, too. We don’t have the same expectations of them,” she said.

    She went on to detail some aspects of high performing  schools, which included faith in the students’ ability to do well regardless of background, socioeconomic status or race.

    Quoting others in the field:  People have to understand that these students can be just as successful as anyone else. It begins with the belief system,”  said Richard Esparza, former principal, Granger High School (WA)

    Rob Krupicka, Alexandria City Councilman, advocates for the investment in early childhood education says, “when children are born, no matter what their background, they have equal capacities.  Differences start being apparent very early though as young children’s minds grow in response to the world around them.  This is one reason why early learning programs like home visiting and pre-K are so important to a child’s success in school.”

    And so as ACPS develops its own curriculum, and develops high standards for each and every student, I say, “Bravo!”   Let’s move forward.

    Mimi Testifies Before Virginia Education Committee

    Calling the lack of elementary school preparedness a threat to the state’s long-term economic health, Alexandria School Board member Mimi Carter testified before the Virginia House of Delegates Education Committee today in Richmond in support of HB 1111.

    Under current Virginia law, schools are prohibited from opening prior to Labor Day.  Exemptions may be granted for schools with weather-related issues or for those with innovative programs that require an earlier start date.

    If enacted, HB 1111 would also allow Title I elementary schools in Virginia, those with large numbers of economically disadvantaged children, to apply for such an exemption.

    “Research shows that economically disadvantaged children lose ground over the summer,” said Carter, who also serves as Executive Vice President of SparkLight Communications.  “One way to address this problem is by giving at-risk schools the option of opening earlier and providing more classroom time.  Unfortunately,” she said, “that’s not allowed under current Virginia law.”

    Introduced by Education Committee member Delegate Adam Ebbin, HB 1111 is opposed by the Virginia tourism industry and King’s Dominion.  A King’s Dominion spokesperson claims that allowing at-risk schools the option of opening early would harm tourism in the state and cause economic harm.

    But according to Carter, the economic consequences of not developing a vibrant workforce is a far greater risk to the state’s economic health than any threatened loss of tourism.  “Virginia’s demographics are changing.  If we really want to prepare our children, and build a 21st century, then we must take action.  HB 1111 won’t solve everything,” Carter said, “but it’s a modest start.”

    Please click here for a copy of Mimi’s written statement in support of HB 1111.

    Why Does King’s Dominon Decide Virginia’s Education Policy?

    You know, this is beginning to remind me of an ugly chapter in Virginia history.

    As you may know, Virginia was a little slow to get on board with civil rights.   In 1954, Prince Edward County CLOSED its schools rather than integrate them after Brown v. Board of Education .  Yes, closed.  A public school for both blacks and whites did not open in the county until 1964.

    Given this history, I shouldn’t be surprised by yesterday’s 5-4 vote against HB 1111, a bill that would improve educational outcomes for Virginia’s most-needy students.

    The bill, introduced by Delegate Adam Ebbin, was straightforward.  Allow any Title I elementary school in the state the option of opening its doors before Labor Day.  Title I schools are those with a high percentage of needy children and that typically have difficulty meeting the state’s educational achievement goals.

    Why open before Labor Day?  Research shows that many students without a rich summer experience lose ground on standardized tests over the summer. For example:

    • Two-thirds of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al, 2007).
    • Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).

    When this pattern continues throughout the elementary school years, lower income youth fall more than two and one-half years behind their more affluent peers by the end of fifth grade.  Allowing these schools to open earlier, before Labor Day, would begin to address this achievement gap and help Virginia’s most needy students get a better education.

    But the bill was killed in committee, largely because of the opposition of the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association and King’s Dominion.  So once again, schools will be closed in Virginia, just like they were so many years ago.

    Their reason for opposing the bill?  “This bill hinders tourism,” said King’s Dominon Marketing Manager John Pagel in an interview with the Alexandria Gazette.  “We support the traditional calendar, which is a revenue generator for the state.”

    Facebook = Media Coverage

    Looking for a way to generate media coverage about your cause, your candidate or your business?  Don’t overlook Facebook and other social media tools.

    In early December, Mimi visited China as part of a fact-finding delegation from the Alexandria City Public Schools.  During the trip, she regularly updated her Facebook page with photos and trip highlights.

    One result?  The Alexandria Gazette published a front-page story about the trip.  The article, by Micael Pope, included quotes from her Facebook status updates and photos she took with her iPhone and posted online.

    How are you using social media tools to generate awareness and media coverage?  Contact us today to learn how you can use Twitter,  Facebook and other tools to reach your audiences and build word-of-mouth buzz.

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