Advocating for Education as a Civil Right: A 3-Step Plan

by Colleen Maleski on March 23, 2016

No civil rights movement has ever been successfully enacted alone.

Movements have iconic leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr. Susan B. Anthony. Cesar Chavez. But behind those leaders are coalitions of other ardent advocates fighting fervently for the cause.

Image taken at The Center for Human and Civil Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.

Photograph taken at The Center for Human and Civil Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.

While Rosa Parks is a recognizable symbol for refusing to give up her seat, numerous other Montgomerians participated in a 381-day bus boycott to stand up for their right to sit down. And four less familiar reformers – Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith, and Claudette Colvin – were the plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle suit that ultimately resulted in the policy changes that desegregated Montgomery’s public transportation.[i]

Early College High Schools also have visionary leaders and champions, three of whom were recently recognized at the 2016 EDWorks Experience Conference, “Education is a Civil Right – Early College Delivering on the Promise.” However, individuals cannot lead the work on their own.

Advocating for Early College: Step-by-Step

Matt Williams, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for KnowledgeWorks, outlines three key steps in advocating for a cause. These three steps are presented in the context of Early College, but are broadly applicable to other issues.

Step 1: Build the case.

Arm yourself with facts. Know the research that supports Early College and how Early College links to other local, state, or national priorities.

Congratulations to Jordan S.R. Brown on receiving his white coat from Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Lorain County Early College put first-generation student Jordan Brown on track to earn his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Case Western Reserve University and then attend medical school at the Ohio University Heritage School of Osteopathic Medicine.

What research or case studies demonstrate that your approach works?

  • Look for external research studies that evaluate the impact of your specific approach (Early College High Schools).
    • For example, an American Institute for Research study states that Early College High Schools “mitigate the traditional educational attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students” and put students “on a different academic trajectory, earning college degrees at higher rates than comparison students.”[ii]
  • If research on your specific approach is not available, find studies that demonstrate that the components of Early College promote student success.
    • For example, studies show that rigorous course work in the 9th and 10th grades increase students’ likelihood of graduating high school and going to a four-year college.[iii]
  • Finally, balance external research with local examples of results.
    • Know statistics for the students you serve (e.g., 100% of Timken Early College High School students graduate on time, compared with 86% nationally).
    • Be prepared to tell stories of success that bring a policy to life (e.g., Lorain County Early College put first-generation student Jordan Brown on track to earn his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Case Western Reserve University and then attend medical school at the Ohio University Heritage School of Osteopathic Medicine.)

How does your work contribute to broader local, state, or national priorities?

Understand the relevance of your issue in today’s political environment.

Step 2: Define problems and solutions.

Know what you’re asking for. Examine the barriers that are prohibiting or obstructing your work (e.g., college eligibility requirements, a lack of autonomy, prohibitive funding structures or other barriers outlined in the Scaling Early College High Schools policy brief.)

For each of the identified problems, generate potential solutions.

  • Tackle one problem at a time.
  • Try to anticipate and mitigate possible challenges to enacting your ideal solution.
  • Know who has the authority to enact or power to influence the solution (e.g., the local school board, state or national legislators, the governor, state department of education, the business community, higher education administrators, parents, students, alumni, etc.)

Step 3: Develop an action plan.

Now, create and enact a course of action. Think about the “who, what, when, where, how and why.”

  • Who are the current allies and champions you can activate? Who are the key stakeholders you need to reach?
  • What do the key stakeholders currently know? What do they need to know? What do they need to do?
  • When can you engage them? When is a change likely to be made (e.g., during a legislative cycle, during budget planning)?
  • Where should you engage them (e.g., at the capitol, at the school)?
  • How should you engage them (e.g., an email, a one-on-one briefing, an op-ed, social media, an event)?
  • Why are you engaging them (e.g., to raise awareness, to build or deepen relationships, to ask for a specific policy change)?

You are an Advocate.

Join the movement. Lead the movement. Education is a civil right.

Photograph taken at The Center for Human and Civil Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.

Advocacy often conjures images of backroom deals between men in suits smoking cigars. Scrutiny over lobbying is heightened in this year’s election, with presidential hopefuls claiming they are “not for sale” or that “you can’t buy me.”

However, we all are advocates. We advocate for our favorite sports team, for the brands we love, for the music we like. We advocate for our friends, our loved ones, our children.

We can also advocate for our students. We can build a coalition to drive the change necessary to put students on a path to academic success – during and after high school.

Join the movement. Lead the movement. Education is a civil right.

[i] The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. (n.d.) Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955 – 1956). Stanford University. Retrieved from http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_montgomery_bus_boycott_1955_1956/index.html.

[ii] Berger, A., Turk-Bicakci, L., Garet, M., Knudson, J., & Hoshen, G. (2014). Early College, Continued Success: Early College High School Initiative Impact Study. American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from http://www.air.org/resource/early-college-continued-success-early-college-high-school-initiative-impact-study-2014.

[iii] Long, M.C., Conger, D. & Iatarola, P. (2012). Effects of High School Course-Taking on Secondary and Post-secondary Success. American Educational Research Journal, 49(2), 285-322.

Colleen Maleski About Colleen Maleski
Colleen Maleski is the Senior Manager of Continuous Improvement at StriveTogether, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks. Maleski builds the capacity of local leaders and practitioners to use data and continuous improvement tools and processes to improve cradle to career outcomes. She also supports the implementation of the Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund to expedite the progress of local partnerships.

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