The Public School Insights Blog
Last week, we caught up with Richard Norton Smith, former director of five presidential libraries, author of celebrated American biographies and a frequent commentator on the American Presidency.
Smith spoke with us about the state of civics and history education in the wake of an historic presidential election.
Like many, Smith hopes that record youth turnout in the recent election will herald a time of greater public engagement in our shared history and our common civic responsibilities. But he cautions us against complacency.
Even now, he reminds us, educators must compete with a popular culture that erodes our common heritage and consigns history to a cable channel. History risks becoming little more than a consumer choice on equal footing with Brittney Spears or Entertainment Tonight. Smith believes the education community can play a vital role in restoring history and civics as a “common language” that reveals unity amid the nation’s growing diversity.
He offers ample food for thought as we inaugurate a president whose election marks a critical chapter in the nation’s long struggle towards its founding ideals. Here’s hoping that the story of that struggle remains part of our children’s common inheritance.
Download our full, 16-minute interview here, or read the interview transcript below.
[Listen to about 6 minutes of interview highlights]
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: You've been the director of five presidential libraries and have presumably devoted a lot of thought to their educational mission. Do you think American students are getting enough civic and history education?
SMITH: Oh god... (Laughing).
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: That doesn't sound like yes.
SMITH: (laughing). No. They are not. And the moment I say that, I qualify it with an expression of sympathy for any teacher, at any level, who is competing with a mass culture that encourages historical and civic illiteracy, if indeed not ...
Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher reminds us today that school improvement does not necessarily require a death-match between high-profile "reformers" and the education "establishment."
Fisher tells the story of a once struggling elementary school that has dramatically raised the achievement of its overwhelmingly disadvantaged student body: "Broad Acres did this without Rhee's reform tactics: no young recruits from Teach for America, no cash for students who come to class, no linkage of teacher pay to test scores."
In other words, Broad Acres made great strides without any of the capital "R" reforms that dominate national discussion about education. Nor did they make their gains over the dead bodies of recalcitrant teachers, administrators or community members.
What did Broad Acres do? The school fostered on-going faculty collaboration, gave strugging students individual attention, offered engaging out-of-school enrichment activities, and supported students' physical and mental well-being.
This is not to argue that we should abandon important discussions about those capital "R" reforms, which focus mainly on incentives and ...
Sally Broughton's middle school students have had a greater impact on their rural community than do many people three or four times their age. The Montana Teacher of the Year has helped her language arts and social studies students successfully advocate for policies to improve life in their school and their neighborhoods. In the process, her students at the Monforton School have strengthened their grasp of history, civics, mathematics, research, writing, and public speaking.
Broughton's remarkable achievements have earned her the American Civic Education Award from The Alliance for Representative Democracy. She recently told Public School Insights about the indelible mark her students have left on Bozeman, Montana. They have much to show for their work: public restrooms downtown, a school-wide bicycle helmet policy, a community playground, and a sophisticated early warning system for local residents living near a vulnerable earthen dam. And the list goes on....
President-Elect Obama is urging Americans to devote themselves to civic and community service. Sally Broughton's students in Bozeman can show you how it's done.
Download our full, 16-minute interview here, or read a transcript of interview highlights.
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: I've heard quite a bit about these very, very fascinating projects that you've done and that have actually managed to change public policy in your community. Could you describe how you go about this, and how these projects support broader academic goals?
BROUGHTON: Absolutely. We do something called Project Citizen. During that time, the children find a problem that can be solved by public policy and they investigate it. ...
The upcoming presidential inauguration offers schools and students an apt occasion to reflect on citizenship, the presidency, the nation's past, and our collective future. Here's a sampling of current initiatives to promote this kind of reflection:
The Presidential Inauguration Committee is sponsoring an essay contest for Washington, DC school students. They're asking students to answer the following question: "how can I contribute to my neighborhood through community service?" The winners will get plum seats near the inauguration platform. The deadline for essay submissions is January 11th.
Another initiative is challenging Americans to write an inauguration address--or rather, the the essence of an address boiled down into six words. SMITH Magazine and the National Constitution Center have teamed up to sponsor this competition. They have even created a lesson plan teachers can use to ...
A new article in the January issue of School Administrator examines a concept conspicuously absent from many recent reform discussions: transparency. The article profiles four school districts whose "openness" and "ongoing communication with the public" helped them win critical bond and finance elections. All four received Gold Medallion awards from the National School Public Relations Association.
The school districts won public support by reaching out to their communities. They learned about the public's aspirations and concerns, and they gave the public a stronger voice in decision-making. They also became much more open about how they spent their money, dispelling common public concerns that public schools will squander any new dose of funds.
School districts that use this approach can point to more than just victories at the polls. They boast stronger, more sustained public engagement in their work, which can in turn fuel critical gains in ...
Public School Insights is off between the holidays. In the meantime, enjoy another interview from our archives.
[Originally published June 17, 2008]
Luajean Bryan is a star.
Just ask her principal at Walker Valley High School in Tennessee, the students who flock to her advanced math and science classes, or the people at USA Today who named her to their 2006 all-star teaching team.
Bryan recently spoke with us about the innovative teaching practices that have won her local admiration and national attention. Her emphasis on hands-on learning is exciting students and swelling enrollments in higher-level science and math classes. With support from the NEA Foundation, for example, she accompanies students into caves and on untethered hot-air balloon trips to help them learn first-hand about mathematic and scientific principles that govern the world around them.
Be sure to listen to our highlights from the interview (5 minutes):
Or, read our transcript:
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: You're credited with increasing enrollment in high-level math and science courses. I was wondering how you managed to do this.
BRYAN: I found that students were reluctant ...
Public School Insights is still on hiatus between the holidays. In the meantime, we're re-publishing some of the many interviews we conducted with visionary education leaders in 2008.
(Originally published April 22, 2008.)
In a few days, a new and expanded edition of Richard Louv’s best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, will hit bookstores around the country. Louv’s book has fueled an international movement to combat what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” children’s growing alienation from the natural world. (Louv’s term for the disorder is quickly catching on, turning up in major newspapers, on television, and even in a February cartoon by Bloom County creator Berke Breathed.) ...
Public School Insights is taking a bit of a hiatus between the holidays. In the meantime, we're re-publishing some of the dozens of interviews we've conducted with visionary education leaders.
(Originally published March 11, 2008.)
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Michael de Vito and Carmen Macchia of Port Chester Middle School, one of the many successful schools we feature on this site.
De Vito and Macchia told me the remarkable story of how they and their colleagues created:
- A safe and positive school climate;
- A richer, broader curriculum focused on literacy and aligned to state assessments;
- A commitment to literacy across the curriculum;
- Intensive collaboration among school staff; and
- Strong support for teachers' work.
A central piece of their strategy: a focus on reading across the curriculum. DeVito and Macchia describe how their school-wide focus literacy has actually enriched their curriculum, rather than narrowing it. ...
Some radical reform zealots have used America's standing in international comparisons of student achievement to justify all manner of miracle-cure education reform propositions. (Abolish school boards! Abolish school districts! Abolish school buildings!)
Cooler heads have looked beyond mere rankings to examine practices common to the most successful countries. Most recently, Achieve, the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers released a report on such practices.
As I read it, Benchmarking for Success offers some important (if implicit) lessons for reformers:
- Beware miracle cures that have little to do with what gets taught and how it gets taught;
- Seek coherence rather than erratic, disjointed interventions;
- Build public schools' capacity for success.
The report offers more specific recommendations for creating a world-class public education system. Here are a few highlights: ...
Like everyone else, Rick O'Sullivan thinks we're all in for a rough ride--perhaps even through 2010. The noted economist recently spoke with me about the causes and consequences of our current economic unpleasantness.
According to O'Sullivan, the causes of the downturn lie deeper than corporate greed, individual excess and widespread financial ignorance. The decline in the numbers of young people--who buy houses and plump the workforce--has stalled two of the nation's major economic engines: the housing and financial markets. And this decline will have a profound impact on the work and finances of public schools.
So what are the major "growth markets" for American schools? Lifelong learning, world languages and education about other countries, O'Sullivan argues.
Listen to about five minutes of highlights from this interview:
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- Actress/Mathematician Danica McKellar on girls and math
- Best Selling Author Kenneth C. Davis on engaging with history
- Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Danielson on providing health care at school
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
Excellence is the Standard
At Pierce County High School in rural southeast Georgia, the graduation rate has gone up 31% in seven years. Teachers describe their collaboration as the unifying factor that drives the school’s improvement. Learn more...
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