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The Public School Insights Blog

By David Pickler, President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and Member of the Shelby County School Board (TN)

How can school boards become more effective?

Through our work at NSBA and the state associations, we’ve seen many good examples of school boards that function well and show results through student achievement. We’ve learned through NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) that school boards in districts with high student achievement are different than school boards in low-achieving districts.

So this would seem to be a fairly straightforward matter of identifying what makes school boards work effectively. But teasing out the tangible areas where school boards can make a difference is still an emerging area of research, and the question is more complex than it initially appears.

I recently spoke at a media event in Seattle, hosted by the Alliance for Education. This nonprofit group is working with the Seattle school board to improve academic achievement and guide student success in the district—and to sustain those actions over time. We talked about CPE’s recent report, “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards,” as well as other research by ...

Advocates hope that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative will lead to deeper learning by students – that the standards will result in students learning not only academic content, but how to think critically, work collaboratively, communicate effectively and more. And they recognize that for this to happen, classroom instruction has to change.

Many assume that new assessments aligned to the Common Core will serve as a key lever in its implementation, driving changes in instructional practice. But is that a reasonable assumption? Do large-scale assessment systems influence instruction?

While common sense and popular opinion hold that yes, they do, the research base on the issue is surprisingly thin. But in summarizing the little there is, New Assessments, Better Instruction?, a RAND literature review commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation, confirms what we already knew – testing does indeed influence instructional practice, particularly when high-stakes are attached to it.

The review (which included available research on high-stakes testing and performance assessment in U.S. public education, assessment in international settings, formative assessment, military and ...

By Kristen Amundson, Executive Director, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)

I had no idea my first slide was going to turn out to be a laugh line.

Let me explain: When you give a lot of speeches, you pretty much know when people are going to laugh. So as I prepared my presentation to board members attending NASBE’s New State Board Member Institute, I built in a couple of places where I expected at least a smile from the audience.

But Slide #1 was not on my list. It read: “So they told you this job would take one day a month.”

And it evoked more than just a chuckle. They laughed. Out loud.

You see, although these 35 new state board of education members had been on the job for less than a year, all of them realized their responsibilities take much more than the one day a month typically scheduled for a meeting. They have to ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

Recently a reporter asked me how teachers are supposed to be able to distinguish among all the professional development opportunities that claim to be aligned with the Common Core standards. While I could refer the reporter to many resources on what constitutes effective professional learning as well as how to evaluate opportunities, this isn't what she was asking. Here's how I responded and what I would tell the many educators who are trying to answer this for themselves. 

While I hope that very few teachers are trying to make these decisions in isolation from supervisors and colleagues, I also understand not everyone works in ideal circumstances. Therefore, I offer the guiding questions below to assist teachers in making the best decisions possible. First, here are three prerequisites to consider before you go ...

And Why Aren’t We More Ashamed?

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) recently released a report entitled A New Majority:  Low Income Students in the South and the Nation that reveals low income children are a majority of students in 17 states, primarily in the South and West. Across the nation low income students are a near majority at 48 percent. A separate report Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card analyses the education funding systems in these states and reveals that serious funding inequities continue to exist years after court cases across the nation have required states to reform their funding systems to alleviate such discrepancies.

Among the findings uncovered in the two reports include the following: ...

After spending a day at Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) in Vermont, I’m considering how my career path could overlap with living in this district. It isn’t likely, but my point is that I want my future hypothetical children to go to exactly this kind of school – and as a resident, I would want my local tax dollars to support this type of institution and all the amazing professionals that educate and care for the students in it.

BAMS is a public school serving 276 7th and 8th grade students, 46% on free and reduced lunch.  A long-time family friend is a science teacher at BAMS, and we’ve had some great conversations about education during my time working with the Learning First Alliance (LFA).  I was eager to visit his school, so he helped me connect with Principal Ingrid Christo. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed into the school and encouraged to sit in on meetings and classes and talk to people.  The entire day – full from start to finish – exemplified the best qualities that we should all look for in our neighborhood school.

What is it about BAMS that makes it feel so special? It starts with an overarching philosophy which results in a combination of exemplar outcomes: there is a building-wide commitment to ...

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

Many Americans believe public schools are failing our students. Public officials, the media, and investors seeking to cash in on the billions of dollars supporting education by privatizing schools often reinforce this opinion. This opinion is wrong.

Substantial evidence illustrates public schools are doing better than ever. The dropout rate is at an all-time low. Conversely, the high school graduation rate is the highest it’s been in decades.

Unfortunately, we have dysfunctional schools where students’ needs are going unmet. These schools are capturing the public eye, causing observers to ask, “How could they exist in the richest and most powerful country in the world?” The predominant populations attending these schools are children of poverty, and in most cases, ethnic minorities. This isn’t an educational problem. It’s a problem within our society.

Driven by the economy, the achievement gap casts its ugly shadow long before students ever come to school. Compared to all industrialized nations, we live in a society with the highest percentage of children in poverty. Our society refuses to acknowledge that poverty is, by far, the single-biggest factor in determining student achievement. We operate in a society that funds its educational system in the most inequitable way, allowing wealth—or lack of it—to determine ...

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are one of the most important education initiatives of our time. While historically each state had its own academic standards, which varied widely in quality, under the Common Core students in the 45 adopting states (plus the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity) will be held to the same internationally-benchmarked educational standards.

These standards were developed with input from educators and other experts in math and English/Language Arts, and educators continue to support them. A recent survey from the National Education Association showed more than 75% of their members (teachers, administrators, support staff and other education professionals) support the standards either wholeheartedly or with some reservations, tracking closely with results from an earlier American Federation of Teachers’ poll finding that 75% of teachers surveyed support the Common Core. Even more recently, a preview of the 2013 Primary Sources project highlighting 20,000 teachers’ thoughts on the Common Core shows that overall, 73% those who teach math, English language arts (ELA), science and/or social studies in Common Core states are enthusiastic about the implementation of the standards in their classrooms.

But the general public is another story. The 2013 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools found that prior to taking the poll, only 38% of respondents had heard of ...

By Rich Bagin, APR, Executive Director, National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)

Thanks to a tip by NSPRA President Nora Carr, APR, we are sharing just a glimpse of a study completed about North Carolina’s registered voters. The study was intended to help leaders get a better grasp of effective marketing messages about public education in North Carolina. My bet is that these findings will also ring true for many other regions of our country as well.

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation commissioned the study, and Neimand Collaborative’s Artemis Strategy Group conducted it in February 2013. 

Most of us in education use the “greater good” pitch to prove the social value of public education in our communities. Educators normally agree that the societal outcome of public education is the key card to play when we talk about the value of public education. And, for that matter, it is most likely why many of us decided to become educators. Sure, helping students achieve daily and charting their growth has always been the prime reason for becoming an educator. But a close second was the realization that our collective work strengthened our communities and that our country’s future could be built by all of ...

By Liesel Kuhr, Business and Finance Manager, NEA Health Information Network

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally defined what it means for food to be labeled “gluten free”.  This new rule is great news for people with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Under the new rules, which will become fully effective in a year, consumers can trust that packaged foods sold in the U.S. and labeled “gluten free” meet the safety standards enforced by FDA.  For more information on celiac disease, the new rules, and FDA labeling, visit FDA.gov. ...

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