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The Public School Insights Blog

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Melissa Whipple, a District Resource Teacher for the San Diego Unified School District. In her current role, she coaches school staff to help them understand the value of family and community engagement and how to leverage it to boost student performance. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor at USD, teaching a master’s course demystifying Family, School, and Community Partnerships.

I have been teaching in many capacities since 1975, and it seems to me that most educational leaders want to skip to immediate implementation of educational changes or reforms without first building relationships.

They seem to be in such a hurry to prove themselves as change agents or visionary leaders or reformers, they fail to understand that taking time to build consensus and positive relationships with others is just as important (if not more so) as the content of their proposed reforms. John Wooden once said, "It is what we learn after we know it all that matters." I couldn't agree more.

Unfortunately, many educational leaders tend to lead with their mouths (telling others what is going to be done and how) rather than leading with their ears (listening to other points of view and figuring out how best to work in ways that develop a sense of shared responsibility for student success) and proceeding accordingly. It seems the message is, "Just do what we say. Don't worry, we have done all the thinking for you and we have all of the answers. Remember, it is our way or the highway." This doesn't go over well.

In my district, we have had a revolving door of superintendents and their imported administrative teams (we have had four complete turnovers in the last 10 years) who seemed qualified and also personally charming, and yet they each failed to understand that ...

All of us can agree that the United States needs to carefully examine our efforts in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) with an eye towards improving rigor, expanding reach and ensuring that more of our students are both interested and proficient in these subjects.  Certainly, from an economic health and employment standpoint, we should all be concerned with raising the bar on STEM standards while nurturing the effectiveness of the professionals who teach these subjects.  However, agreeing on the “what” that needs to be done is always easier than agreement on the “how” to get the job done. ...

Today is Earth Day. Last year on Earth Day, Arne Duncan spoke about the important role of schools in the nation’s transition to a green economy, and in the State of the Union Address President Obama reiterated the integral link between schools and creating an economic climate that is both profitable and environmentally-conscious. By providing students with an understanding of earth processes and human impact, together with imparting critical thinking skills and math and science knowledge to students, public schools can contribute significantly to these goals.  

Earth Day provides an opportunity to teach about these important topics in a fun way. I have fond memories of Earth Day from elementary school. My school had a general environmental focus, and Earth Day was like Christmas. The whole school would take the entire day off to learn about the earth and sustainable living. Different classrooms and communal areas of the school were assigned to host workshops led by community members and ...

Remember Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to improve public schools in Newark? According to a recent article in USA Today, $99 million of it is still in the bank.  

The article offers some reasons why there have been problems getting school improvement efforts off the ground in Newark. For example, the city’s public schools have been without a superintendent since February.

But most of the article describes what seems to be a disconnect between those in charge of these efforts and those who must implement them – parents, students and teachers. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is charged with making changes and has raised $43 million in trying to match Zuckerberg’s funds, has been criticized for not revealing ...

Back in January, the College Board announced major upcoming revisions to AP courses and tests, and The New York Times currently features a couple of articles (here and here) in their education section about these plans.

In light of critiques of the federally-mandated overemphasis on standardized testing that narrowly targets rote memorization, the College Board’s decision to change AP courses to address these sorts of concerns from high school teachers, among others, is heartening. High school teachers have been involved in the actual planning of the revisions and in feedback polling on proposed changes (and vast majorities approve of the new emphases).

According to the College Board website, new curriculum is slated for the 2011-2012 school year in World History, German Language, and French Language; biology, Latin, and Spanish Literature will debut in 2012-2013; and U.S. History is projected for the 2013-2014 school year. Changes to the other courses will follow later. ...

Members of Generation Y made up nearly 1 out of every 5 classroom teachers in America in 2008 - a proportion that more than doubled since 2004.  As Baby Boomers retire, this proportion will only grow. And, contrary to popular concerns that Gen Yers will have multiple careers over their lifetime, surveys have shown that 56% of these teachers want to make it a lifelong career, while most of the rest want to stay in the education field.

Given their increasing importance in the education workforce, and in an era of uncertainty in education, with everything from class size to collective bargaining rights and teacher evaluation up for debate, it only makes sense we examine Gen Yers thoughts on the teaching profession. And in a recent report, that is just what the American Institutes of ...

Recently, NPR did a special series on violence among youth in Chicago. Schools and students all over the country—especially in urban areas—deal with the everyday-threat of violence. Clearly, this omnipresent factor can take a huge toll on public schools.

Mayor-elect of Rahm Emanuel says the violence in the city is unacceptable, and he has promised to hire a thousand new police officers as part of his crime policy. One article  quotes him stating, "My goal for the four years, and the measurement of my progress, will be whether that child can be thinking of their studies, and not their safety."

Already the city—relying on schools and police—is implementing intensive efforts to try to combat what some consider an epidemic of youth violence in Chicago—efforts that may provide good models for other cities and school districts facing these problems. ...

The debate over school vouchers is heating up once again, as are the accompanying arguments about the role of choice in our education system, and the academic, social and emotional impact of vouchers on the students they serve and the public schools they leave.

But something that I am not hearing a lot about is the cost of voucher programs. I find this surprising given the budget situation in many of the places exploring them.

Consider what is happening at the federal level. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to reinstate the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only program in the nation to use federal tax dollars to subsidize private school tuition. They also voted to increase the amount of federal dollars going to each student: In the past, the program offered vouchers of $7,500 per student per year, but this proposal ups that to $8,000 for elementary and middle school students and $12,000 for high school students. The anticipated cost to taxpayers: $300 million over five years, with $100 million going to the voucher program and the rest going to DC public and charter schools. The bill is now headed to ...

Note: In honor of April Fool’s Day, today’s post satirizes some ideas from prominent critics of public schools.

I would like to highlight some education visionaries whose ideas about public education are largely underappreciated. These three innovators aren’t afraid to tell it like it is, and to prescribe bold solutions to current problems in public schools.

Visionary 1: Rush Limbaugh

A comment Rush made when talking with an anti-public school caller is typical of his no nonsense position on public education: “There's no question our society is in the process of being dumbed down and has for many generations.  The hideous thing is that it's done purposely.” The caller responded, “Of course it is.  We know that.  It started way back in the early last century, and we know who did it. . . I was even part of the conspiracy myself as an educator and as a former staunch atheist, humanist and evolutionary biologist.  . . I know what's going on behind the scenes.”

Against this backdrop, let’s examine a second discussion that took place in the midst of the union wars in Wisconsin: “So we're asking ourselves, ‘Will the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt?’ and in America we're asking, ‘Will the Education Brotherhood take over Wisconsin?’  Check the news, folks, because they're sure trying. The Education Brotherhood, which ...

“Which language should I take – French or Spanish?” 

That simple question from a curious student inspired David J. Smith to write If the World Were a Village. Honored by organizations ranging from the International Reading Association to the Children’s Book Council and Smithsonian Magazine, the book aims to help children become better global citizens. By statistically shrinking the world’s 6.2 billion people into a village with a population of just 100, children are better able to grasp just how different life can be for those in other nations. In this global village, for example, 21 citizens would speak a Chinese dialect, while just nine would speak English.

If the World Were a Village is just one of Smith’s many efforts to teach geography and global awareness to the world’s children. For example, this former classroom teacher with over 25 years’ experience was honored by the U.S. Department of Education with an “A+ For Breaking The Mold” award back in the early 1990s for his highly successful curriculum Mapping The World By Heart.

In this interview, Smith talks about his newest book, This Child, Every Child, and the importance of geographic literacy in our rapidly flattening world.

Public School Insights: You recently released a new book, This Child, Every Child. Tell me about it.

Smith: This Child, Every Child grew out of hundreds of school visits I made after the publication of If The World Were A Village and If America Were A Village. Students frequently asked me about the other children in the world -- what did they have for breakfast, what were their schools and lives like, and I began ruminating this idea.  Then I read the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and it was so beautiful, and so right, and so clear, that I asked the director of Child Protection at the U.N. if I could use it as the backbone for a children's picture book, and she said "oh yes, we'd be delighted to have somebody do that.”  Before I submitted the manuscript to the publisher, I sent it to the U.N., and they were very happy with it, felt I was telling the story correctly and effectively, and they've written an endorsement for the cover.

The book uses a number of the articles from the convention as a structure for looking at -- and comparing -- the lives of children around the world, everything from games and ...

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