Last week in Austin, Texas, I attended a high-powered meeting, the inaugural Forum on Productivity in Public Education. There, a panel of nationally recognized education experts discussed and debated what could and should be done to ease the budget woes for school districts across the country via “educational productivity." Much of the talk centered on teachers –the largest percentage of any education budget – and the high probability that teaching positions would need to be cut, among other things, to balance budgets. They presented charts showing increases in education spending over the years compared to enrollments, talked about using data to identify cost reductions and reducing budgets for professional development. Although the room was filled with brilliant people who presented thought-provoking data and ideas to help create more productive education systems, no silver bullets were revealed. All agreed that further high-level thought and discussion were needed in order to find solutions to improve education productivity. Afterward, panelists and attendees chatted easily, and then departed to their respective homes. I went to Odessa, Texas.
The education community in the sister cities of Odessa and Midland is in the midst of developing one of the most progressive college readiness systems in the country, and, in my opinion, is getting to the real heart of the productivity issue. While others are spending time and resources talking about what should be done to improve teacher productivity, the folks in West Texas are doing it. They are already deeply entrenched in doing the sweaty work.
I was there to observe a professional development event facilitated by an outstanding AVID presenter and trainer, Jim Donahue. What made this training unique was the participation of both college professors from the local university and secondary faculty from the school districts in Odessa and Midland. Imagine that. Here, in relatively quiet West Texas were folks from two very different worlds – secondary and postsecondary – coming together to learn how to help students be successful in school, how to ensure that college freshman complete their college education, and how to work collaboratively across systems to make it happen. It was all about the kids and what changes and/or adjustments needed to be made by the adults. Another amazing feat.
The educators who attended were being trained to think differently about how they deliver education and what was needed to help students learn. In my mind, that’s what educational productivity is all about – graduating educated students who are prepared to enter the workforce, ready to contribute to the success of our democratic society. It’s hard work, really hard, sweaty work, and it's going to take this kind of quality training as well as solid research and data to truly impact and sustain productivity.
To say I was impressed by the innovation and progress I saw in Odessa last week is an understatement. Community leadership, combined with these educators' relentless determination to make the right changes for student success, set a powerful example for educators across the country, and it gives me great hope for our future.
I plan to continue participating in the discussions about educational productivity, pushing for actions that will make a difference. In the meantime, AVID folks, both at AVID Center and our AVID teachers and administrators across the country, will continue doing to the “sweaty work,” and as one of my dear friends likes to say, “the blocking and tackling” we’ve done for more than 30 years now . . . making a difference for students and achieving real educational productivity.