By Patrick Brennan, Vice President of Government Relations, Learning Ally
Listen to his podcast episode on the topic here.
In the American education system, legislatures make the laws that govern education in their states. These policymakers shape the education landscape, especially through district funding. The actions taken by state legislatures and governors can significantly impact large school initiatives, such as improving infrastructure, curriculum, testing, teacher retention, early literacy, equity, and better screening for reading barriers like dyslexia. These are actions that would result in higher academic success for all students, especially those who are marginalized or have learning challenges. Many policymakers are receptive to hearing from educators about policy decisions and future policy considerations. They welcome input from educators and administrators who can add personal experiences and “on-the-ground” perspectives. By vocalizing priorities and advocating for students’ needs, legislators can amplify the voices of their constituency and utilize that information to strengthen and influence their state’s education system.
Education – A Bipartisan Issue
The bipartisan commitment to education is exemplified in the recent three COVID relief bills the federal government passed in 2020-2021 providing nearly $190 billion dollars in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to K-12. Education funding remained in every draft of the bills, regardless of political party affiliation. This legislative effort showed real commitment to teachers, administrators, literacy coaches, and staff who continued to operate during the unprecedented pandemic. Educators and legislators worked together to support student learning and ensure professional development is focused on critical needs, including literacy and understanding the science of reading. Additionally, these funds allow states to develop programs to provide more teaching support and technology resources, and many states have introduced policies aimed at increasing teacher salaries.
All Politics is Personal
Educators engaging in advocacy can promote the teaching profession and raise awareness of the critical role that educators play in society. Tip O’Neill, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives once said, “All politics is local,” and I suggest that “All politics is personal.” Educators have genuine stories to tell, especially those who have shared experiences around sensitive and pending issues with hot button topics. Through the establishment of a feedback loop, educators and policymakers can collaborate in an authentic and sincere manner. And note, conversations between people who think differently are much richer in accomplishing objectives.
By sharing experiences, policymakers and the public will have a better understanding of the challenges and rewards of the teaching profession. Here are three ways educators might advocate:
- Reach out to local and state representatives, Governor’s offices, or Superintendent/Commissioner of Education to share concerns and ideas.
- Participate in grassroots advocacy efforts, such as letter writing campaigns, phone calls, and social media, to bring attention to critical issues.
- Build relationships with policymakers and community leaders to ensure concerns are heard and addressed. These relationships can also help educators learn more about the specific goals of their legislators that they may not be aware of.
Build Strength in Numbers Though Partnerships
As the United States motto “E Pluribus Unum” reminds us, we are stronger when we come together. One way to build strength in numbers is to connect with other educators, partners, and advocacy groups who share similar goals. Legislators are more likely to take notice when they hear from many people about an issue rather than just one.
Issues to Advocate For
Prevention, Early Detection Screening, Whole Child LiteracyTM
By focusing on prevention we can drastically change the trajectory of so many children who slip through the cracks in our education system. Through engaging in preventative measures, “not only does the student benefit, but ALL of society benefits.”
As an example, our team at Learning Ally is working with the Florida Legislature and Florida State’s Center for Reading to scale a screening and early detection program that would be made available to all kindergarteners through third graders at no-cost. This cutting-edge literacy screener has been built by Reach Every Reader, a partnership between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and MIT. Given the importance of early detection, we want to replicate this process in other states so that more children can have affordable screening available to them. We are also piloting the Learning Ally/Reach Every Reader Screener program in South Carolina in partnership with the Legislature, University of South Carolina, and the South Carolina Department of Education.
Every educator wants to ensure that each child has what they need and is ready to learn when they sit down at their desk. This not only involves academic support but also includes cognitive, social, and emotional support. At Learning Ally, we refer to this comprehensive perspective as Whole Child Literacy™, which we incorporate into our work on behalf of educators and in advocating with the states. By adopting this approach, we can share our insights with states and legislators to help them understand what a child’s experience is like in school and their surrounding environments. This enables us to identify opportunities based on their priorities and ensure a complete commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is reflected.
Educators… Make Your Voices Heard
Advocacy for education is a powerful tool that can affect real change at the local, state, and national levels. While some may view advocacy as a daunting task, anyone can get involved and have an impact regardless of their position. You will achieve a greater sense of connection with your legislators and fortify your own mission to help all students succeed. Through advocacy, more legislators will have a clearer picture of your needs. In turn, students will enjoy a more equitable and successful education journey, and teachers will benefit from having a more prosperous and fulfilling teaching profession. Make your voices heard!
Patrick Brennan serves as the Vice President of Government Relations for Learning Ally, a national nonprofit working with U.S. schools to solve the literacy crisis. His mission is to meet with and work with U.S. state legislatures, departments of education, and governors to drive legislative initiatives meant to create student-focused solutions in support of struggling readers. Patrick uses his congressional experience to help organizations engage in the policy process to create conditions for students to succeed regardless of who they are, how they learn, or where they are from.
The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.