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Here's a new lineup of new public school success stories recently published on Public School Insights:

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History Lessons

Schools across the country departed from their routines yesterday to observe the inauguration of President Obama. In newspaper articles describing schools' Inauguration Day activities, teachers and students alike observed--quite rightly--that they had a chance to be a part of history.

Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge Blog raised some important follow-up questions: Just how many students are actually familiar with the history whose culmination they witnessed? How many understood the historical references in President Obama's inauguration speech? Pondiscio writes:

If our children do not know the events and phrases to which Obama referred, they cannot fully appreciate the significance of this moment or even what this President is asking of them. How is it possible for them to be “the keepers of this legacy” — why should they value it and seek to keep it at all? — unless they understand the thing they are being asked to keep?

Without a doubt, the history of the nation's struggle towards equality might seem less exalted to students of color who still face daunting social and economic disadvantages. But ignorance of the nation's history and civic traditions will surely compound those disadvantages. If anything, the President's words should inspire educators, communities and policy makers to ...

As a Freedom Rider in 1961, Congressman John Lewis was brutally beaten by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama. In August 1963, he spoke alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. on the day Dr. King delivered his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech. On March 7, 1965--"Bloody Sunday"--Alabama state troopers' savage suppression of the peaceful march Lewis led across the Edmund Pettus Bridge helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Now, almost 45 years later, Congressman Lewis will witness the inauguration of Barack Obama just one day after the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

Congressman Lewis recently shared with us some reflections on the significance of this historic occasion.


[Listen to the full interview (4 min., 15 seconds)]


Interview Transcript
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Thank you so much for joining us, Representative Lewis.

REPRESENTATIVE LEWIS: I am delighted and pleased to be with you.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: We're fast approaching Martin Luther King Day, and one day later the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. What are the major lessons of these days for young people in our schools? ...

The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) is inviting schools to apply for membership in the Learning School Alliance, "a network of 100 model schools committed to professional development practices that promote student achievement. The educators from these 100 schools will support one another in applying the principles and standards of professional development grounded in NSDC’s definition of professional learning, its standards for staff development, and its principles for professional learning identified in The Learning Educator: A New Era for Professional Learning."

"Participants will learn together in their own schools, with other schools through webinars and facilitated conversations, and at convenings hosted by NSDC. They will share openly their goals, their progress--and over time--their results."

You can learn more about the Learning School Alliance here. ...

We have assembled a new--and growing--collection of resources to help educators and families take advantage of the historic presidential inauguration, which is only a week away.

These resources include:

  • General inauguration information
  • Ideas for Inauguration activities for schools and families
  • Our statement on public schools and democracy
  • Classroom resources
  • Inauguration lesson plans
  • Interviews with visionary leaders about the inauguration and civics education. ...

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 ...

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There Will Be Blood?

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 ...

Phillip Johnson's Glass HouseA 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 ...

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