Extend TARP to Education

November 26, 2008

The government has allocated $700 billion to shore up the economy, and most of those dollars are destined for the financial service companies that created the problem.  There is no doubt in my mind that education funding will suffer over the next couple years.

  • “With California’s budget now facing an $11-billion shortfall, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed billions of dollars in spending cuts, most of them aimed at the state’s already beleaguered schools, colleges and universities.”  Source
  • “… Shortfalls in state budgets coupled with pessimistic predictions about local revenues are forcing them to look for ways to trim next year’s budgets, which they are working on now.  About half of the states are facing projected budget shortfalls, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group.”  Source
  • “Budget woes continued to affect education funding around the nation, as states struggled to ward off major shortfalls under a teetering economy.”  Source

Public education is funded with tax receipts, and as municipal budgets fall – the obvious result of lower property values and sales tax receipts – parents are likely to step in and bridge the gaps.  There is no doubt that parents will be asked to fund gaps with user fees and additional fundraising.  Beyond that, the volunteers who already give over 36 million hours per day on volunteer-related activities will be asked to do more.

We created SchoolPulse to help those volunteers – room parents, scout leaders, and club advisors – manage their daily communications with parents more efficiently.  Volunteer burnout is a well-known phenomenon and we want to do everything we can to keep current volunteers in the game and bring new volunteers to the table.  But who has the time to increase their involvement in an economy like this?

I have been trying to figure out how we can support the nation’s schools through this crisis.  Wouldn’t it be nice if some of the $700 billion in TARP funds were earmarked for education?  Today, our legislators are listening most closely to the financial  service companies that created the problem, and those companies are successfully capturing the bulk of the dollars.  Going forward, I would like to see parents have louder voice.

With that in mind, I thought of an idea that may or may not work (I’ve never been a political activist).  I created the Protect Spending on American Education petition that I hope you will sign.  Is it a long shot?  Sure, but if we can get enough support behind the idea of directing even a small portion of the TARP funds toward education, we just might be able to make it a reality.  Please click here to review the petition and signal your support.

Please spread the word by telling others about the petition.  The easiest way is to copy/paste the address of this web page into an email and forward it to other concerned parents.

How Cool is Spelling?

November 24, 2008

img_0094Doug Atchison introduced the spelling bee to pop culture when he released Akeelah and the Bee in 2006, a heart warming film about a girl from a predominantly black middle school in Los Angeles who defies the odds to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee (which I watch every year).  If you’ve never seen the movie, reserve a night to rent it with your kids.  You’ll be surprised at the drama that can be built around something as old school as the spelling bee.

img_0103Our town had its annual bee this Saturday.  Kids in grades 2-5 were invited to participate in teams of four, and a couple hundred signed up.  I was impressed by the enthusiasm on stage.  Most of the kids wore home made t-shirts and costumes, and they all came up with team names — Beeware, Killer Bees, Gentlemen Bees, Dictionary Divas, Lu-beez…  The most audacious name in the 4th grade competition was The Team Who Will Win.  And guess what – they won!

What impressed me even more was the the diversity of kids who participated.  One might assume that the field was limited to spelling savants who don’t get out much, but not at all!  There were spellers of every stripe at the bee.  Who knew spelling was so cool?

As the bee progressed and the words got more and more difficult, there was a buzz in the audience of, “How do they know these?” and “I’ve never even heard of that word.”  Perhaps the parents have grown dependent on spell check!  I know this one has.

Here’s a short clip to give you a flavor.  The word is ligature.

Dads Rising

November 14, 2008

support-group-1We made a little history last night with the inaugural meeting of the Alcott Dads PTG Support Group.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in the history of America that men have assembled with the explicit intention of being more active in their school’s parent-teacher organization!

In September, I posted about my observation that fathers, by definition, don’t get involved in parent groups.  [Disclaimer:  I generally don’t stereotype, but when it comes to parent groups the gender differences are so pronounced that it can’t be avoided.  Okay, back to the post.]  This is a real shame since 1) we know our wives would appreciate some help, and 2) there is an emerging body of evidence that active participation by fathers is good for kids (and boys in particular).  Check out expert John Badalament who shared his research in our town last week.

My theory is that most dads would like to be more active in their kids’ schools, but they’re not sure where to start.  That’s why I am promoting our Support Group.  People inevitably chuckle when they hear about it, and that’s okay.  We are putting a fun, social wrapper around a serious purpose.  Here’s what we’re doing:

This idea was conceived in August while having dinner with our PTG co-president (a mom, needless to say), and she has been supportive since day one.

I floated the idea at soccer fields, birthday parties and social events with all the Alcott dads I know. Without exception, every dad was enthusiastic about participating.

I invited all those dads to come to a local bar for our “inaugural meeting” and the PTG publicized it, too.  Last night 14 people showed up and had a great time together.beer-hammer
We spent about 20 minutes doing some formal business:  Approving a mission statement, a group symbol (the beer hammer – gotta make it fun, right?), and appointing a committee to carry out our first assignment from the PTG (construction of new sandwich boards).

I created a group on SchoolPulse to provide a hub for our activities.

    All in all, people had a good time and we’re going to meet every month on the first Thursday night.  I’m guessing we’ll have 20+ at our next meeting and some world class sandwich boards to show off!

    Interested in getting a support group going in your school?  I’m happy to help however I can.

    The American Dream is Back!

    November 5, 2008

    img_00082The networks just declared Barack Obama as winner of the presidential election.  This is a watershed moment for America, with power shifting from the previous generation to the next generation.  The most encouraging aspect for me is the turnout of young voters, including all the elementary, middle, and high school students who were involved in mock debates and elections.

    All three of my elementary-aged kids had the chance to vote for president yesterday.  The result in our school was directionally accurate – 376 votes for Obama vs. 89 votes for McCain – and reflects the enthusiasm our kids feel for this dynamic new president.  Whether you supported McCain or Obama, you can’t understate the impact this election will have on our kids and their perception of what this country stands for.

    img_915240% of the “millennial generation” – kids born between 1977 and 1995 – are minorities.  For years we have heard about a growing wealth gap, low performing inner city schools, and a variety of glass ceilings that have stubbornly refused to be broken.  This election will restore the idea of the American Dream.

    This morning I brought my two older kids to our polling place to give them the chance to participate in the making of history.  They couldn’t vote, but they had the chance to see our democracy in action.  I hope it is a day they will remember for the rest of their lives.

    Daring Dads to Get Involved

    September 16, 2008

    The PTA is the domain of the mothers.  Based on my own experience and observations, fathers have a much easier time getting involved with their kids’ extracurricular activites — coaching is the most common, and other activities like scouting coming in a distant second.  This summer, I did some informal research, asking our friends how they get involved.  Nearly all — at least 90% — of the moms I asked (most of whom do not work full time outside the home) are active members of their schools’ PTAs or volunteer regularly in the classroom as room parents, event organizers, and field trip chaperones.  I could not find a single dad who claimed membership in his local PTA.

    Last week, I gave a presentation on SchoolPulse to an auditorium full of room parents.  Of the 50 parents present, only 1 was male.  I know the fathers care about their kids just as much as the mothers, and I know the fathers care deeply about the schools their kids attends, and yet they aren’t involved in school-based activities.  Why not?

    • Perception.  There is a broad perception that moms and PTAs go together.  Can you name a single PTA where fathers make up more than 5% of the active parents?  I’d like to hear about it.
    • Company.  The dads like to be involved in activities with other dads.  I think that’s one reason that coaching is such an easy choice for dads.  Even in girls sports, dads are heavily represented as coaches.
    • Time.  I think that a lot of PTA-related work happens during the work day, giving a lot of us dads an easy out.  “We have to earn a buck — how can we possibly get involved?”

    I’d like to find a way to get more dads involved.  Can you imagine how cool it would be if more of us played a part in our local PTAs?  I think the moms would welcome the help, both because it would relieve some of the burden (we know that recruiting volunteers is always a challenge) and it would create more opportunities to do things together, as a couple and as families  I also think the kids would welcome it, and it would provide a good opportunity to show our children that dads can be involved, too.

    Let’s break down the barriers that inhibit the involvement of dads.  It’s going to take a few daring dads in each school community to get the ball rolling — some real trailblazers — and I really think it can be done.  Here are a few ideas to help you get the ball rolling; ideas that I am going to pursue in my kids’ elementary school.

    • Recruit 3-5 other dads who would like to be involved but don’t know where to start.  I’m going to call mine a “support group” that will meet monthly, providing dads the chance to get to know other dads over a few beers.  We might even play poker or go to baseball games together.  Women have book groups — why shouldn’t men have support groups?
    • Schedule a kickoff meeting at a local watering hole.  Make it social, invite a bunch of fathers, and spend a few minutes (and only a few minutes!) at the beginning explaining the concept without being too heavy handed about it.
    • Work with the PTA moms to find ways to put this new “support group” to work.  I hope the dads will respond to the opportunity to provide the “man”ual labor before and after PTA-sponsored social events, carnivals, science nights, and holiday celebrations

    My hope is that by offering an opportunity to socialize with other dads under the banner of providing a resource for their kids, other dads like me will respond.  Who knows… we may be able to start a revolution!

    PTA to the Vice Presidency

    August 31, 2008

    Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, you certainly heard about John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.  Can you guess which part of this self- proclaimed hockey mom’s resume caught my eye?  Her PTA connection, of course!  The LA Times headline proclaimed, “Palin has risen quickly from PTA to VP pick,” while Maureen Dowd satirized today in a NY Times op-ed piece that “The P.T.A. is great preparation for dealing with the K.G.B.”

    Whether you like her as a candidate or not, it’s pretty cool that her background as a PTA leader is geting so much press.  This is going to be a great conversation starter in PTA back to school planning meetings everywhere!  I can her it now:  “Did you take the PTA president job as a stepping stone to political greatness?”  “Do you plan to finish your term?”  “What’s your position on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?”

    Have fun with it – and give your PTA president the respect she deserves.  You never know… she may ride that wave to the White House!

    PTG as Minivan

    August 24, 2008

    I got into a conversation last night with my wife and some friends about the image of the PTG (the name of the parent teacher organization in our school).   It struck me that the image of the PTG has a lot of similarities with the image of the minivan.  How so?  Let’s start with the minivan.

    The minivan is perhaps the best designed vehicle ever (for its particular market — young families).  These families need a car that’s big enough to hold a bunch of kid gear (stroller, diaper bag, tricycles…), accommodate multiple car seats, safe and easy boarding (sliding doors are easier on the fingers than hinged doors), and provide easy access to the kids from the front seat.  The center aisle suits magnificently.

    Have you ever owned a minivan?  If so, I am willing to bet that you felt slightly embarrassed to tell your friends when you first got it.  You felt like you were compromising.  Almost like you were selling out (“Oh God, I’ve entered the minivan phase”).  You simply couldn’t say no without appearing shallow and frivolous.  You’re much too practical to let fashion drive such an important purchase decision, but the usefulness overwhelmed your sense of cool.  That feeling is the impact of marketing gone bad.  Who aspires to be a “soccer mom?”  To be a “me too” suburban mother?  The car makers have a great product but have missed the mark in their marketing.

    It’s the same situation with the PTG.  The PTG is core to our school community, planning, running, and paying for all sorts of great events and activities.  It coordinates the room parent program which does a lot of great stuff in the classrooms throughout the year.  An elementary school without a PTG would be a hollow place indeed.  So why is it so hard to get volunteers?  I’ve never noticed a surplus of candidates for any PTG office.  PTG leaders start the successor search immediately after assuming office — reflecting just how long that process takes.  And fathers… why are so few involved?  We had a guy serve as PTG Treasurer a few years ago and it was not at all uncommon to hear other parents snickering.  “What’s wrong with him?”  What competent man would volunteer to get involved in the PTG?  Totally uncalled for.

    Have I made it clear why I think the PTG is like a minivan?  I am not quite ready to buy a minivan, but it is probably time that I got formally involved with my PTG.  How?  The first step (agreed with the other dad at dinner last night) is to pull together a pool of dads to help out with PTG events.  We want to give it a catchy name, something unexpected like “PTG Dads.”  Think others will respond to the call?  Stay tuned for updates.