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The Public School Insights Blog

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the promising early results of California’s Quality Education Investment Act of 2006. QEIA established a grant program that will put nearly $3 billion over seven years into just under 500 low-performing schools serving nearly 500,000 students (low-performing defined as scoring in the bottom two deciles on state tests). It reaches a largely disadvantaged population - 84 percent of students at these schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, 79 percent are Hispanic and 41 percent are English learners.

Each QEIA school developed its own improvement plan focused on evidence-based reforms including reducing class sizes, hiring more school counselors and providing high-quality professional development and time for teacher collaboration. As state Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Tom Torlakson (who wrote the law) put it, “The Quality Education Investment Act puts the emphasis where it should be – on the classroom and on teaching.” And the California Teachers Association (CTA, an affiliate of the National Education Association) has been deeply involved in working with QEIA schools, helping design the program and offering training to school staff on both the law and implementing school change.

I must have burned the ears of the CTA. Yesterday they unveiled a new report on QEIA, conducted by Vital Research, LLC (and funded by the CTA), that compared QEIA schools to similar lower-performing schools. Findings ...

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Saluting Educator Voices

So many of us are concerned that education policy debates in Washington, DC, do not reflect the reality of public schools across the country. These debates often appear to be controlled by politicians and the media, not the educators who are intimately familiar with the challenges our children face.

But the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center and PDK International are working to change that through a project called Teachers Are the Center of Education, a series of reports highlighting the importance of teacher voices in student learning and education reform.

The most recent addition to this project is Teacher Voices: Critical Issues in Student Learning and School Reform, a partnership between the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education and PDK International. It has two parts: a podcast series and a webinar. The podcasts feature a practicing classroom teacher and a dean or faculty member from a school of education talking about one of five big issues identified by educators as important to today’s classrooms: family and community engagement; teacher mentoring; technology; data, testing and assessment; and diversity. Each conversation explores the impact of ...

Editor's note: This interview comes from our archives. It was originally posted July 15, 2010.

Students can come to school with a lot of baggage. They may be feeling the stress of financial pressure at home. They may be dealing with a death or illness in their family. But as school counselor Barbara Micucci puts it, “Ultimately it does not matter the issues that kids bring to school. Schools are charged with educating the kids.”

This is where she and other counselors come in. We recently spoke with Micucci about the counseling profession—why it is important, how it has changed over the years and the challenges it faces. She also told us about her own work and some of the strategies that led her to be named the 2010 School Counselor of the Year by Naviance and the American School Counselor Association. Key to her success: visibility, and a desire to engage parents as partners in the educational process.

Micucci has been a counselor for over 20 years and is currently working at Caley Elementary School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. She was selected from a field of extraordinary school counselors across the country and plans to use her new role to call for strategies to ensure that every elementary school across the United States has a school counselor.

Why Have School Counselors?

Public School Insights: Let’s start with a very general question. Why is it important for schools to have counselors?

Micucci: It is so important for a number of reasons. I think kids today are under a lot more stress and family pressure than they have been in the past. There are many reasons. Families themselves are very stressed. A lot of it comes from economic conditions. And aside from that, when I think of my school—and I am in a middle-class school in a suburban district—there are a lot of families where parents are divorced. There are single parent families. There are parents who have adopted children. I have a couple families where there's terminal illness. More families are coming with limited English proficiency. There are families living with other families because of ...

Yesterday I mentioned that one lesson I took from Monday’s Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform is that educators are concerned that neither our current educational system nor the reforms we tend to pursue address the fact that students are not identical. But as Ira Socol said, “kids are humans, not interchangeable parts of Eli Whitney’s or Henry Ford’s assembly lines.”

And we, as a system, do not do enough to recognize the individual strengths, weaknesses and interests of each student. Consider what Paula White said: “So many times we simply don’t allow students to show us their brilliance.”

The education reforms we tend to pursue perpetuate the notion that you can take one child—any child—and put him into a classroom with a strong curriculum and a teacher who has shown his students improve on standardized tests, and you will get success.

It is not that simple. A student needs to be engaged before she can truly learn. That engagement could take the form of an active interest in subject matter. It could take the form of a personal relationship with a teacher, and the knowledge that ...

I am sure that we all remember The New Teacher Project’s 2009 The Widget Effect and its claims “our school systems treat all teachers like interchangeable parts.” In many instances, that can be (or at least feel) true.

But reading through the fruits of yesterday’s Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform, I was struck by Michael Kaechele's somewhat similar perspective: “students are not widgets that can be taught by anyone using the same script.” And one of my takeaways from yesterday’s blogs was concern that the system and some of the reforms we pursue treat students as such. To transform the system, many educators seem to feel we have to get away from this mentality.

One example of the student-as-widget design of our current system: Age-based grade-levels. Ira Socol points out that age-based grades were not designed on any type of scientific basis, but to fill a need of ...

Last week Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a speech on the “new normal”—the challenging fiscal circumstances that public schools and districts will face over the next several years. He also called attention to concerns with the quality of our public education system. In other words, he asked us to do more with less.

Unfortunately, he is right. All of our schools don’t work for all of our students. And as high a priority as education is, state and local budgets (which provide the vast majority of funding for our public schools) are in a world of hurt. While education funding is desperately important, will it increase any time soon?

So yes, we have to do more with less. But how? According to Duncan, we have to do more of what works—and less of what doesn’t. He suggests we be smarter about how we use technology in learning. How we pay teachers. How we support our neediest schools. And how we reduce class sizes.

Duncan’s comments on class size reduction can be taken a couple of ways. He first points out that, “up through third grade, research shows a small class size of 13 to 17 students can boost achievement.” He then suggests, “in secondary schools, districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in ...

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On Monday, Add Your Voice

One theme of this blog over the past several months has been concern that the conversation on public education does not reflect that the reality of most public schools. It reflects the spin of mainstream and talk show media, political figures and business celebrities. Educator and parent voices are often left out of conversations on the state – and future – of our nation’s schools.

Others share this concern. That is why this coming Monday, November 22 has been declared a national Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform. It is a grassroots effort to bring together educators (including parents) to offer their ideas on how to improve America’s public schools.

On that day, give thanks for educational successes, share your ideas for real reform or describe an educational community that makes a difference for contemporary learners.

Other potential topics include:

  • Can we fire our way to success? Some educational reformers view the inability to easily fire teachers and principals as a substantial barrier to ...

A couple of myths have been floating around education “reform” circles recently:

1) Teachers unions are standing in the way of school improvement
2) Money doesn’t matter

Both of these myths are debunked by California’s QEIA – Quality Education Investment Act.

The Quality Education Investment Act of 2006 was strongly supported by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association (CTA, an affiliate of the National Education Association). The law establishes a grant program that will put nearly $3 billion over seven years into 496* lower performing schools. These schools initially ranked in the bottom two deciles of the state, according to API (Academic Performance Index, a California measure of school performance based on standardized test scores).

While allowing schools the flexibility to development their own individual improvement plans, QEIA directs money into evidence-based reforms, including class-size reductions, credentialed school counselors, high-quality professional development and ...

An article from November 6’s Indianapolis Business Journal recently caught my eye: It may be do or die for Indianapolis charter school. Bold title, but what shocked me was the second line, which began, “Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) College Preparatory School.”

This article was about a KIPP charter school that may not be reauthorized? But KIPP is the darling child of the education “reform” community, with a model that includes extended day and year coupled with extremely high expectations for students and staff. The Secretary of Education sings their praises, and they recently won an i3 grant from the Department of Education. What is going on here?

According to the article, this Indianapolis KIPP school has struggled. Now in its seventh year, the school is on its fifth leader. It has had considerable staff turnover (last year, 55%). It has had questionable financials, in one instance returning more than $8,000 in Title I funding that had been used improperly. There were ...

Yesterday over at Always Something, National School Public Relations Association Executive Director Rich Bagin offered some thoughts on how we can best promote public schools, taken from private schools’ marketing campaigns.

Chief among those thoughts: Promote individual schools. In public education, we typically promote school districts, not individual schools. But private schools – and though Rich does not mention them, I think charter schools as well – focus to great effect on what one individual school does for its students. And as Rich points out:

When real decisions are made, it comes to a school versus school and program versus program decision.

Given that we already know this, why does this PR strategy run so counter to what we in public education do? Do we want to avoid creating competition within the system, to avoid potentially concentrating families who lack the social capital to get into a better school in a struggling one? (Though isn’t that happening anyway, with charters, private schools and the ability of ...

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