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The Public School Insights Blog

I’ve been reminded over the past weeks of the importance of language in arriving at agreement on what needs to happen for the public education experience to be successful for all our students, regardless of their background and socioeconomic condition. The use of language and its different translations/meaning for different citizen groups was brought home during recent debate over proposed changes in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education bill that is now before Congress. A few examples:

  • Accountability – From my standpoint, accountability just means assessing the progress of those who have some skin in the game and can influence the outcome of any endeavor. I actually prefer the word responsibility ...

By Lily Eskelsen García, President, National Education Association (NEA), and Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

This piece first appeared in the Washington Post. View the original here.

Public education for every child was an American idea, but it has always been a local and state responsibility. Even when Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 50 years ago, the intended federal role was limited but clear: ensuring equal opportunity.

The act provided federal resources for states to level the playing field between schools in wealthy and poor districts. However, its 2002 reauthorization, which became known as No Child Left Behind, took the law off track by mandating that all students hit arbitrary scores on standardized tests instead of ensuring equal opportunities.

No Child Left Behind has failed. Now we have a chance to fix the law by refocusing on the proper federal role: equal opportunity. To do that, we must change the way we think about accountability.

Under No Child Left Behind, accountability has hinged entirely on standardized test scores, a single number that has been used to determine whether students graduate or teachers keep their jobs. The problem is, a single test score is like a blinking "check engine" light on the dashboard. It can tell us something's wrong but not how to fix it ...

Deanna Martindale is a 2014 PDK Emerging Leader and principal at Hebron Elementary School in Ohio. She has spent nineteen years in education, teaching sixth grade, serving as a professional development coach, and helping plan one of the first K-12 STEM programs in her state.

She recently took some time to share her thoughts on STEM learning, engaging curriculum, preparing students for college-and-career, and connecting with parents, students and staff in support of student achievement.

Public School Insights (PSI): Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights with us here at Learning First Alliance. First, would you share some of your professional background with us?   

This is my 19th year in education and my fourth year as an elementary principal. I have taught sixth grade, all subjects, and served as an instructional coach, working on assessment design and inquiry based teaching.  I also spent time as a professional development coordinator with the Teaching and Learning Collaborative, working some with COSI Columbus to develop an Inquiry Learning for Schools summer program for teachers. I conducted professional development around the state to help roll out Ohio’s new science standards and best instructional practices, and I was a STEM coordinator for Reynoldsburg schools, where I worked with a design team of teachers and administrators to plan one of the first K-12 STEM programs in the state ...

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants

The problem with public education is that there isn’t enough tension. The other problem with public education is that there’s too much tension. And, perhaps the biggest problem is that both of these are correct, and we don’t distinguish between creative tension and destructive tension. 

Without distinguishing between the two, we cannot intentionally build structures and relationships that create the systems our students need: systems of shared leadership, strategic risk-taking and mutual responsibility. Systems of creative tension. Instead, we more commonly build top-down structures that generate destructive tension and bottom-up structures to avoid, relieve, or push back against them. ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

During a recent trip to the grocery store, the cashier told me that the city had instituted a five-cent charge for plastic bags. I immediately purchased three reusable bags to carry home my groceries and will always have those bags with me.

As I walked to the car, I thought about what had just happened. For years, I had watched while others brought their reusable grocery bags to the checkout lane. I thought it was a great idea, but I never took the step to change my habits. I knew why I should change my habits, but hadn't made the change -- it just wasn't important enough to me. And then, in the blink of an eye, I changed a behavior.  

It's not that I can't afford the five cents. It was the principle. But what was the principle? That I wouldn't pay for something that before had been free? That I heard the city's message about reducing waste? Or that I already knew it was the right thing and now had the motivation to change? ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, President and CEO, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

It’s an insidious message embedded in the American psyche: Those who can’t, teach. For years, report after report has banged the drum for raising admission standards into teacher preparation programs, citing international comparisons and championing cost-prohibitive recruitment policies.

In reality, the talent pool now entering teacher preparation programs is rich. Our programs are, in fact, attracting their share of high achievers—defined by any number of criteria.

One popular (if unreliable) measure of academic ability, SAT and ACT scores, has been trending upward among novice teachers in public schools. A recent study out of Stanford University finds that new teachers in 2008 had a wide range of SAT results, evenly spanning the bottom, middle, and top third of scores. This distribution reflects a change from scores reported in 1993 and 2000, when very few new teachers came from the top third. A similar study looked at new teachers in New York State and found a significant increase in teachers from the top third of SAT scores from 1999 to 2010.

Academic ability alone, of course, does not make anyone a good teacher, nor is it meaningfully reflected in SAT scores ...

Maryland PTA President Ray Leone shares his perspective on building parent understanding and support of the Common Core by engaging families and communities at the local level through public forums and open lines of communication.

Download as MP3

Following is an edited transcript:

LFA: Welcome to Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core, a podcast series from The Learning First Alliance.  Across the nation we've embraced the possibility of college and career-ready standards and their potential to transform teaching and learning.  In community after community we see the potential these standards offer to help all children gain the knowledge and skills they need for success in the global community. ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

I’ve always preferred having blinds or curtains covering the windows in my home — at least the windows that face the street or my neighbors. I don’t want just anybody peeking into my house.

But the windows of my home office are only partly covered, allowing light to stream in and brighten the room and to let me look out to watch cardinals perch in nearby trees.

And, because I live in a three-story house, I have a few windows up high that aren’t covered at all, which allows me to look out over the evergreens and maple trees without any worry about nosy neighbors peering into my private space.

I’m guessing that most folks are like me — picking and choosing the times and places where we value our privacy and the times and places where we’re willing to open up a little because of the benefit we’ll gain by being a little less protective ...

By Brian Lewis, CEO, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

When it comes to meeting the needs of students, educators have aspirational goals. They passionately maintain a positive vision for what each student can become. Educators and school leaders know one size does not fit all. As such, many of them have a number of different learning and teaching strategies to reach every child. The same cannot typically be said for the delivery of professional learning for educators.

As Congress takes steps to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (more recently referred to as No Child Left Behind), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is calling upon leaders to include the Enhancing Education Through Technology Act of 2015 (EETT15) in the final bill.

When it comes to professional learning for educators, the approach too often adheres to the “sage-on-the-stage” method. Educators are expected to sit through one-time workshops or lengthened faculty meetings for passive professional development ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA: The School Superintendents Association

Editor’s note: This post was compiled from a series written during Domenech’s participation in the 2015 Lifetouch Memory Mission in Constanza, Dominican Republic.

Building a School in the Mountains of the Dominican Republic

For several years, Lifetouch, one of AASA’s major corporate sponsors, has organized Memory Missions. These are opportunities for people to travel to areas in need of assistance in underdeveloped countries.

For four years, the Memory Mission has focused on helping the mountain community of Constanza build a school. AASA members and staff have participated in all of them. This year, I am joined by David Pennington, the president of AASA, and Noelle Ellerson, AASA’s associate executive director, policy and advocacy. We are laying down bricks to help finish the school. It is intense manual labor but the work is being done side by side with superintendents, principals, teachers and PTA members—all taking part in the Memory Mission.

The reward comes from seeing the joy in the eyes of the students and the gratefulness on the part of parents as they see the school being constructed for them. It is instant gratification for all. That’s something that educators don’t get much of these days ...

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