The Who, What, Where, and Why of Ed.

by Michael Froning, Executive Director, Birmingham Education

Foundation (Ed), EdBirmingham.org

General Powell recently visited Birmingham, and was proud to raise his hand in support of Birmingham City Schools. Photo by Jason Wallis

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Ed. I was born in 2009 in Birmingham. My parents are its citizens, especially the students, families and the adults of the Birmingham City Schools. My job is to help improve educational outcomes for the students and families of Birmingham by being a critical friend and ally of their schools.

That I had to be born is a story for the nation. Not to be blunt, but our nation’s urban schools are typically thought of as failing. It doesn’t need to be that way.  We know how to fix our schools. We have only lacked the will and resources to get it done. If our community is to thrive it must have all its brains working at full power. We can no longer tolerate that lack of will.

Two years ago the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham with a few good friends sponsored the Yes We Can! Birmingham community visioning effort. Thousands of ideas and opinions produced a Community Agreement (see it at EdBirmingham.org) leading to the formation of the Birmingham Education Foundation (Ed) and the development of its plan.

Yes, Ed has a plan! Ed’s strategy is to work on systemic change within a set of action strands that directly support increased learning with a goal of increasing the percent of students graduating college or career ready.

The first strand is parent/family involvement. Those raising children in Birmingham tell Ed over and over again that they want to be more involved in their children’s education. Involvement needs to be supported and organized, so Ed is helping develop the Birmingham Parent University, a new entity that will incorporate the current Family Involvement activities and build a partnership with the Birmingham PTAs and other community groups to offer families and caregivers support they want and need. The research is clear – children whose significant adults are involved in their education do better in every way.

The second strand supports college- and career-focused high schools. Ed supports Birmingham’s initiative to move its high schools into career-focused curriculum “academies.” Grouping students by career choice makes sense in that the academics can be tailored to student interests and current job opportunities. It allows for influence on workforce development strategies from the Birmingham Business Alliance Blueprint. The statistics are startling. Ninety percent of students in these kinds of themed academies graduate from high school (compared to fifty percent, the national average for urban high schools), and four out of five graduates go on to further education.

Understanding that quality leaders guide change, Ed’s third strand is the professional development of school leaders. Ed supports the new “professional learning communities” in every Birmingham school. This management strategy helps the principal lead teams of teachers in the use of data for daily direct instructional improvement for individual children and groups. Having immediate fixes for learning problems in a school is critical when academic improvement has to be made quickly. The PLC model is a great tool to do just that. Every Birmingham School will soon meet the Adequate Yearly Progress benchmark.

The fourth strand will increase the number of Birmingham students in the most advanced curricula. Advanced Placement (AP) courses are not the only way to achieve this, but they are a recognized, national marker for high schools across the country. Ed is working on a specific aspect of AP—training middle school teachers in rigorous curriculum models so that when students get to high school they won’t be intimidated by hard courses and more homework. Results are bearing fruit. Hundreds more city school students are taking AP exams each spring and Ed’s goal is to get the pass rate up to the national average in just a few years.

Ed’s friends and partners in this work are Dr. Craig Witherspoon, superintendent of the Birmingham City Schools, and the Birmingham Board of Education. Ed and school officials have mutually integrated strategies and plans, assuring that Ed’s plans get carried out.  And, Ed will have a report card, too, making sure that Ed’s plans get measured. Accountability has been lacking in urban education, but Ed will be transparent (and public) about what he is doing, as well as how he is doing.

Ed is always looking for new friends and supporters. Ed hopes everyone will raise a hand and help in every way possible. Birmingham’s kids and families deserve the best education possible.

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