A few weeks ago, the nonprofit and nonpartisan Community Forums Network put on an education forum at Eastmont Junior High as part of an outreach campaign to ascertain where the strongest consensus is in this state for ways to improve education.
CFN is doing these forums across the state and encouraging people to fill out their electronic survey. The preliminary findings are in and, although the number of respondents to the survey isn't significant the results seem thoughtful and credible.
Nearly 90 percent said school districts should bring vocation track back to high school, 82 percent said the state should focus dollars on early childhood learning programs, 81.5 percent said student achievement should be broadened beyond testing, and 66 percent agreed with a Gates Foundation idea to evaluate teachers based on test scores, observations and student surveys.
The three top priorities for improving student achievement, according to the survey, included expanding early childhood learning, reduce class size across all grades and put a high priority on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) approaches.
It's hard to argue with these priorities. It is a proven fact that investing in early childhood learning is absolutely the best investment that can be made in terms of improving schools. It's heartening to see people backing away from test scores as the be all and end all of education evaluation. What this survey suggests to me is that people are smart and if you engage them effectively, they'll show that they understand the issues.
What I like about the Community Forums Network approach is focusing on where people agree rather than disagree as a more productive starting point and also their efforts to creatively the public in dialogue. We've seen a decline in participation in public life and heated rhetoric often replaces thoughtful discussion.
If we can start rebuilding some of those connections in working out issues, we'll build a stronger, more resilient community. Let's hope these results pushes the Legislature forward in terms of setting priorities.