Why Does Ed100 Exist?

by Jeff Camp | December 17, 2019 | 0 Comments
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How It Started

I started writing Ed100 over ten years ago, when I had young children, more hair and a big thought.

In every school community there are some people who are motivated to roll up their sleeves and make a difference, many of them as volunteers. Some serve in PTA organizations, or on the school site council, or the student council. Under the right conditions, they could be seriously helpful, if they knew what to do. Unfortunately, the education system is awfully complex.

I wondered: What would it take to help those motivated people get past all the noise, understand the system in a more sophisticated way, and develop their own informed convictions?

From Noise to Clarity

Obviously, I underestimated what I was getting myself into.

I decided to try. I like writing, so I just started in. Ed100's role would be to explain. In plain language, Ed100 would demystify the system and its challenges, breaking it down topic by topic and putting things in context. In areas of controversy, Ed100 would explain different points of view, hopefully in a fair way to help people discuss them usefully.

I knew I had a lot to learn. To help get it right, I looked for informal advisors from many perspectives, including administrators, union leaders, teachers, board members, philanthropists, researchers, student leaders and policymakers.

Obviously, I underestimated what I was getting myself into.

Everything Changed…

Parent leaders were given a vital new job without instructions

In retrospect, the timing was good. California's school system was grappling with several big changes at once, especially the idea of "local control."

For years, federal policy had been the central driver of change under the No Child Left Behind law, which was growing increasingly unpopular. California's laws had been prescriptive, too, narrowly dictating how school districts could use funds. During the administration of Governor Jerry Brown, the pendulum swung the other way. Both Washington and Sacramento loosened their grip. Under the new system, spending choices would be substantially made locally. School districts would essentially become accountable to their communities — effectively, to parents.

Parents were handed this weakly-defined oversight job without a reasonable way to learn how to do it. There was a critical need for plain-language explanations of California's education system and its challenges. That's where Ed100 fit in.

The last ten years have seen huge changes in California's public education system, including the local control funding system, the growing importance of charter schools, ongoing changes to special education, and a completely new accountability system.

… and it Keeps Changing

Although some of the earliest content of Ed100 remains, a massive amount has been chucked and re-written along the way. Updating and curating all of this is hard work. Carol and I collaborate constantly. We selectively revise the lessons and posts based on policy changes and research findings. We keep a close eye on reports from the Department of Education, EdSource, the State Board of Education, and many other sources. (Readers help, too — thank you!)

We make no claim that Ed100 is perfectly up-to-date, but we work at it.

Our lessons (in English and Spanish) are the core content of Ed100, but our blog has become an important way to add depth. For example, we augmented our lesson about measuring school success with a full series of posts to explain the mysteries of the California School Dashboard. Our post about the role of school site councils has filled an important void, as have our posts about what happens in a teacher strike, the role of school counselors, and how bonds fund school facilities.

In order to call attention to these important blog posts, we have begun highlighting them from within our lessons. For example, Lesson 2.3 summarizes many of the ways that health connects to learning. Look along the right edge of the lesson and you'll see visual links to the many related blog posts such as mental health, vaccinations, sleep and sex education.

If You Build It They Will Come. (...Right?)

In the internet era, when people want to know something, they Google it. Most of the visitors to Ed100 find us that way. They don't come in through the home page — they find Ed100 when searching for something specific that (in Google's judgment) we answer particularly well, like how teacher pensions work, or what motivates students.

We redesigned Ed100 two years ago to be very good at answering questions in the way that people tend to ask them. If you haven't used the "In this Lesson" sidebar in our lessons yet, give it a try. We've even started adding it to blog posts that we know will be important, like the role of students in school leadership and how school boards work.

Making Ed100 More Useful to Leaders

We're glad when people find and read a lesson or post, but we are even happier when they connect with each other and talk about it. Our higher goal, after all, is to help each and every school community improve the ways it supports children.

The Ed100 team is tiny. The only way we have an impact is by helping our readers make an impact. Over the years we have gradually added functionality and content to Ed100 to help support leaders. Check out our Ed100 Toolbox.

What's Ahead

We have been very inspired by how Burbank Unified and the First District PTA have made use of Ed100 in a way that brings school communities together. In 2020 we will unveil new tools to support PTAs, family engagement officers, county offices of education and community foundations in their important work to connect communities of learners across groups of schools. Stay tuned for that!

We have also been inspired by the way that student leaders are using Ed100 to build their knowledge and influence. The vision described by Michaela Weinstein in her post for Ed100 seems right: districts should have a plan for developing student leaders and engaging them in school leadership. We hope to support that in 2020, too.

If you are inspired by the work we do and want to get involved as a donor or volunteer, please let me know!

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