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Joi Ruth Orr Headshot

Education Reform and the Paralysis of Analysis

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Many a person and many a poor policy has allowed for and caused our schools to suffer and fail. Yet, it must be noted: School failure does not happen overnight. Forty schools in Philadelphia aren't rendered failing and uninhabitable overnight -- as far as I know, they weren't struck by a catastrophic natural disaster yesterday. Drop-out factories do not spring up like crab grass; instead they're shaped by years of neglect and poor management (among many other mitigating factors). This story isn't unique to Philadelphia, or your city for that matter; it's far too common the story of schools and neighborhoods all over the United States.

But I'm not going to point fingers at just one administrator or teacher, one institution, one student, or one parent, one school district, or one corporate interest group or another. While it's true that we have created a culture in which public, equitable, and well-funded education is not a priority, we have also and most unfortunately live in a nation full of potential advocates and influencers who suffer from a "paralysis of analysis".

If this is you -- a teacher, administrator, union member, a faith based leader, or concerned citizen, etc. completely overwhelmed and paralyzed by the large task of education reform -- I'm here to say with open arms, "I get it."

Public education in America is overwhelming. The legislation is dense and arduous. The consequences of under-funded/staffed and socio-economically segregated schools are dire, the blame game is complicated, the involved parties and agendas are numerous. It's a lot to chew, let alone digest -- I get it.

I also understand that you care and that you sincerely want the best for our children, but you don't know how you should be involved. I get that you want to help but that you're frightened you may choose the wrong solution and perhaps ostracize some and offend others. (I don't particularly sympathize with the latter point, but I get it). I know that you're sometimes distracted by issues that don't particularly matter regarding the educational crisis happening in our communities. Or perhaps, and most likely, you're simply just overwhelmed and stuck - you freeze in place every time you read about the dropout rate or see a devastating infographic.

So here's my advice. Start local, and start simple.

Walk into your neighborhood school and introduce yourself. Shake the principle's hand and give her, or him a warm hug -- whatever works best for you. Actually, allow me to walk you through the very beginning of the steps: Google the school's number, pick up the phone, dial the number, ask to speak with the principle, tell him or her that you want your organization, group, congregation to be of help, schedule a mutually beneficial time to meet, show up during said appointment, introduce yourself, and ask what you can do to help.

Look, I'm not patronizing you. I'm trying to help by showing you exactly how easy it can be to get involved. Don't worry about being able to recite each factoid or statistic off the top of your head. Don't worry about which policy you will endorse right now. In fact, it doesn't make sense to do either if you're not intimately involved with a school.

At some point you'll be able to better navigate the multitude of education reform information, and you'll be able to decipher the problem and in turn figure out a solution. Depending on the issue, you'll find that the immediate solution is buying children a few winter coats, other times a long term solution like petitioning the school board may be needed.

But right now, don't panic [arm's still outstretched], we'll figure it out. Just get to your community school, soon. #BabyStepsForTheBabies