Melanie Olmstead

Connecting the Classroom to the Capitol

Educators throughout the United States convened in Washington, D.C., last week to attend ASCD's legislative conference. Attendees gathered to tell their elected officials that it is time to shift from a narrow reliance on high-stakes testing in determining student and educator proficiency to a broader, more meaningful vision of success that supports each student from early childhood through graduation.

During a luncheon speech, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged attendees to "seize the day" and provided examples of individual educators and transformational organizations like ASCD who are leading the way in support of "the higher-order skills and habits of mind that students need to succeed—not just in school, but in life." Duncan also commended ASCD and its members for "walking the walk when it comes to professional development," which helps classroom teachers and schools leaders commit to a "rich, well-rounded, rigorous education."

Other highlights from ASCD's Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA) included the following:

  • A keynote address by the provocative Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. Hess spoke about the importance of advocacy and said that "everybody has the right to weigh in." He also acknowledged that it's difficult to reimagine and rethink education systems and offered attendees advice to improve the outcome of their advocacy meetings with policymakers—from beginning meetings with a positive attitude and presuming the reasonableness of elected leaders to offering workable solutions instead of only raising issues.
  • A bipartisan panel of congressional staffers that agreed that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act needs reauthorization. And although they also agreed on the benefits of early childhood education, they differed on the extent to which new preschool programs should be funded before analyzing the success of existing programs. Staffers stated that hearings will continue in both the House and Senate on aspects of the Higher Education Act reauthorization, with the hope of producing and possibly moving legislation later this year.
  • Interactive skill-building sessions where attendees received tips and guidance for expanding their influence and walked through the steps to developing a personalized advocacy message using their own examples and data.
  • A day on Capitol Hill where attendees met with their federal lawmakers and shared recommendations from ASCD's 2014 Legislative Agenda (PDF) and examples from their schools and districts for improving education.

LILA encourages educators to share their stories with their lawmakers, but the conference itself has a story of its own. See LILA's storify—which brings together your colleagues' pictures, tweets, and reflections—and access follow-up resources from the conference, including an overview of the legislative agenda (PDF).

Become an advocate for education! Join Educator Advocates to get informed about the education policy and politics that affect your day-to-day work; get involved by joining with colleagues to help lawmakers make the best education decisions; and make a difference for our schools and our students.

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