What You Can Do

If you would like to make a difference in shaping the future of America’s public schools, here are some suggestions for what you can do:

Become aware of what is happening.

Share this information with people you know.

  • Lend America’s Schools at a Turning Point and “Rise Above the Mark” to someone you know.
  • Suggest to everyone on your email list that they obtain a copy of America’s Schools at a Turning Point and “Rise Above the Mark.”
  • Invite a few friends to your home to preview Rise Above the Mark and suggest they follow up by reading America’s Schools at a Turning Point.  Note below some tips on hosting a coffee discussion in your home.
  • Preview a few minutes of “Rise Above the Mark”with groups and organizations to which you belong and suggest they follow up by obtaining a copy of it and America’s Schools at a Turning Point.

Form a book study group.

  • Organize a book study group to read and discuss America’s Schools at a Turning Point. Discussion questions are included in the appendix to the book.
  • To kick off your book study, invite your study group to your home and preview the “Rise Above the Mark” documentary.
  • Following an initial book discussion among yourselves, invite your superintendent to meet with your group, and share specifically how the education reform movement is impacting you and your teachers, students and community.

Organize a book signing discussion.

  • Host a book signing discussion of America’s Schools at a Turning Point in your community.
  • Distribute copies of America’s Schools at a Turning Point to community leaders and other residents in advance of bringing me to your community to lead a book discussion.

Host a coffee discussion in your home.

Nothing is more fulfilling, therapeutic, democratic, and powerful than sitting in a friend’s living room with ten to fifteen other citizens from your community and discussing important issues and concerns.  Since most coffee discussions are held in someone’s home and the guests are the acquaintances of the host or hostess, the setting for the discussion is nearly always friendly, respectful, open, and inclusive.  Here are steps you can take to host a coffee discussion:

  • Schedule a date and time for your coffee discussion.  Usually, Monday through Thursday are the best days, and 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. is the best time of day.  Many people are at work during the day, and most want to keep their weekends open for rest, relaxation, and family events.
  • Once you have scheduled your coffee, create a guest list of fifteen to twenty people you know.  They can be friends, neighbors, relatives, or work associates.  And it doesn’t make any difference whether or not they are school supporters.  A diversity of views will enhance the authenticity of your coffee discussion.
  • The key to getting people to show up at your coffee is to personally call them and ask them to attend.  Once you have their personal commitment to show up, chances are very high that they will do it because, if they don’t, they know they’ll have to face you the next time they see you.  A word of advice:  Don’t bother passing out invitation flyers in your neighborhood because they will not generate much, if any, attendance at your coffee.
  • If I were going to invite people to attend my coffee discussion, this is what I would say:  “Is this a good time to talk with you? (If yes, continue.  If no, ask when would be a better time to talk.)  To put it bluntly, I need your help.  Diane and I are hosting a small group of friends in our home to talk about the future of our nation’s education system and I need for you to be there.  Our schools today are facing a number of critically important challenges and we, as American citizens, need to have a strong voice in what happens to them.  Can I count on you to join us?” (If yes, thank the person and provide the date, time, and street location.)  I would then follow up my call with a personal note thanking each person for their willingness to take time from their busy schedule to participate in what will be a very important discussion about the future of our country’s education system.
  • Here is an example of a coffee discussion agenda that you might be able to use:

Welcome and self-introductions (10 minutes)

Preview of the “Rise Above the Mark” documentary (60 minutes)

Sharing of everyone’s reaction to the documentary  (40 minutes)

Discussion of possible next steps (10 minutes)

Let your elected representatives know what you are doing.

In the United States, when all is said and done, having a voice in determining education policy matters ultimately means having the ear of our elected representatives. In today’s toxic political environment, some believe that only the loudest and most confrontational voices get heard. I disagree.

I believe that the American people are sick and tired of the political fighting, grandstanding, and gridlock.  I also believe that many, if not most, of our elected representatives feel the same way.  As a result, the timing is now right for everyone to sit down and have a reasoned and respectful conversation about the future of our education system and other serious challenges facing our country.

With this said, write a personal letter of introduction and send it to your state representative, state senator, governor, US representative, and two US senators.  Their names, addresses, and phone numbers are available online. In your letter, let them know that you are concerned about how some aspects of the education reform movement are impacting your schools and community and explain what you are doing (organizing a book study group, hosting a coffee discussion, etc.) to get involved in helping shape future education reforms.  While an e-mail is better than nothing, a handwritten letter will have the greatest impact.  Then, to add clarity to your voice and strengthen your influence, schedule personal meetings with them.

Once you establish a personal relationship with your elected officials and they perceive you to be knowledgeable, supportive, and reasonable, you have put yourself into a good position for them to listen to you.

Ask your superintendent to help keep you informed.

  • Ask your superintendent to include you on his or her e-mail list to update you on education policy initiatives that, if approved by the state or federal government, will impact you and your local schools.
  • Also, suggest to your superintendent that his or her teaching staff periodically host teacher panel discussions to update you and your community on what is happening in the classroom.
  • When education policy proposals are urgent, on a fast track, and need to be discussed quickly by the entire community, ask your superintendent and board of education to host a district-wide public meeting to talk about it.  Make sure that tabletop discussions are included in the format of the meeting so the meeting doesn’t become a question-and-answer session, and citizens are able to talk among themselves.

Have faith that your voice can and will make a difference.

Earlier in my career, I worked as a political consultant for candidates seeking state and federal office and as a government relations executive for a Fortune 500 corporation.  One of the most important things I learned from this experience is that our elected officials clearly understand they will not get elected or reelected if they fail to listen to their constituents.  As a result, it is in their best interest to accurately measure the pulse of public opinion of those they are elected to represent.

While it is true that our elected officials sometimes respond to the loud and influential voices of special interest groups when they make important policy decisions, it is not always the case.  In fact, more often than you might think, they seek the authentic voices of ordinary citizens which signal how the majority of their constituents really feel.

This is why your elected officials will listen to you, and it is why you need to have faith that your voice can and will make a difference.

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