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A week ago, U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, issued a Back to School message in his Department of Education blog, Homeroom, that made news because it announced that states will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation in their compliance efforts with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Certainly, this was a welcome announcement, and the Learning First Alliance (LFA) issued a statement later that same day in support of the Secretary’s announced flexibility.

However, the aspect of the announcement that was most heartening to me wasn’t the new flexibility offered, but the tone of the message and the respect communicated for the educators on the ground doing the work. Too often in the past, messages from the Department of Education have led with doom and gloom and the assertion that America’s K-12 public education system is “failing” and that the professionals working in the system are not among the academically skilled in the workforce and “come from the bottom third of their class”. This year’s Back to School blog was “a message of celebration and thanks” for the educators who have worked tirelessly over the past years with the results that America’s students have posted some unprecedented achievements ...

By Nora Carr, APR, President of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and Chief of Staff for Guilford County Schools (NC)

Like sports teams, school districts have seasons. If high school graduation represents our Super Bowl, then August is our pre-season, and the first day of school is our season opener. Make it count.

For public schools, this is an annual gift. Unlike other businesses, we get to hit the reset button once a year. Every new school year represents a fresh start. Kids are excited. Parents are even more excited. Retail businesses are primed with special sales. And the news media wants to shine a big spotlight on schools.

Take the PR Advantage to the Max

In terms of PR heaven, it doesn’t get any better than this. So, let’s take full advantage of the PR opportunities in front of us. Here’s how: ...

By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

This is the 46th year for the annual PDK/Gallup Poll, a survey that wants to know what the public thinks about their public schools. As usual, there is a lot to absorb from the responses to the questions, and the answers raise more questions that must be answered. Because the poll revisits questions asked in previous years, it is a window to changing opinions about public schools. This year’s poll suggests that Americans aren’t sure they like the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or even that the federal government should be involved in public schools. Everyone interested in improving public schools, and especially those who consider themselves “reformers”, should pay close attention to this poll – because public education is not something that is “done” to people. The people speaking are the people who own and pay for public schools and whose children are being educated in them. What they think and what they want matter.

Among the 33% of Americans who favor CCSS, they do so because these standards will help children learn what they need to know regardless of their zip code. Common Core was initiated as a way to bring consistently high standards to public schools across the country and to make sure that the quality of a student’s education does not depend on zip code or state ...

Today, in response to the U.S. Department of Education announcement that states may delay tying teacher evaluation to standardized assessments, the Learning First Alliance (LFA), a partnership of leading education organizations representing more than 10 million parents, educators and policymakers, released the following statement:

“The Learning First Alliance supports the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to allow states to delay tying teacher evaluation to standardized assessments aligned to new standards, including the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

LFA has long recognized the potential of the CCSS to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community; we have also long advocated for a transition period that respects the time that good implementation requires prior to attaching high-stakes decisions to aligned assessments. Today’s decision is a good step in the right direction. ...

Today, the first results of the 2014 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools were released.* The overall conclusion: Americans aren’t convinced that federal involvement will improve public education.

The report is called Try It Again, Uncle Sam, but some of the topline findings suggest that Get Out of the Way, Uncle Sam may better reflect the public’s views on the federal role in education – as the report notes, a majority of Americans do not support public education initiatives they believe were created or promoted by federal policymakers. Consider:

  • 56% of Americans say local school boards should have the greatest influence in deciding what is taught in the public schools
  • 60% of Americans who are aware of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) oppose having teachers in their community use them to guide what they teach
    ...

By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

There is something almost magical about the beginning of a new school year. It is always full of hope and new possibilities. When my children were in elementary school, the school posted class lists a few days before school started. The lists were on the front window of the school. My husband and I would excitedly shepherd our two sons to see who their teacher and classmates would be that year. It was an anticipated and exciting moment for our family, because so many of our hopes for our children resided in their education. Our excitement transferred to them, and they couldn’t wait for that moment each year.

It’s time again for school bells to ring and backpacks to be stuffed. Schools across America are opening their doors again this month. Teachers are gearing up ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-In-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

The older I get, the more I realize how much my early experiences have shaped and continue to shape my life.

How different would my life be if my dad had not decided to complete high school after military service in World War II? How different would my life have been if he had not gone on to college after that? If he had not pulled himself up into the middle class, where would I be today?

Those wonders were answered, at least in part, by a groundbreaking study done by Johns Hopkins University sociologist Karl Alexander. In his new book, The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood (Russell Sage Foundation, 2014), Alexander concludes that a child’s fate is largely determined by the family they’re born into.

“A family's resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children's life trajectories," he said in an interview published by the university.

In 1982, Alexander and colleagues Doris Entwisle and Linda Olson began tracking 790 Baltimore 1st graders and followed them until they turned 28 or 29 years old ...

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

Throughout the past year, AASA was deeply involved in the confluence of efforts related to the modernization of the E-Rate program. Created in 1996, the program is administered by the Federal Communications Commission and helps schools and libraries afford their teleconnectivity (Internet).

As the role of connectivity and technology within schools and classrooms changed over the last 18 years, it was time to update the E-Rate program, from one about simple connectivity to one that focuses on adequate connectivity, including broadband and WiFi.

Even before modernization efforts began in earnest a year ago, I was nominated to the Universal Services Administrative Company (which oversees administration of the E-Rate program, among others) to represent the voice of schools and libraries. While this position is apolitical and separate from AASA’s advocacy, it is an excellent vantage point for highlighting the functionality of E-Rate, from application and processing to awardees and distribution. ...

In April, the Learning First Alliance issued a statement urging states to take the proper time to implement the Common Core State Standards. Believing in the potential that the standards have to transform teaching and learning, we worry about rushing to make high-stakes decisions (such as student graduation, teacher evaluation and school performance designation) based on assessments of the standards before they have been fully and properly implemented. So we – in a call that has been echoed by others – urged a transition period during which such high-stakes are removed. And we are pleased to see that places like New York and Washington, DC, are heeding that call.

But when we get that time, how should we best use it to get CCSS implementation right and help students achieve these higher standards?

Last week, we hosted a Twitter Town Hall – hashtag #CCSStime – to start exploring that issue. We were overwhelmed with the participation – more than 600 Twitter users sent out nearly 2,000 tweets during the hour-long event. To quote Eduflack's coverage:

It was the beginning of a very important discussion, all of which can be found at #CCSStime. Why was it so important? Mainly because it was a productive talk on how to get it right, not on urban legends or dreaming ways to short circuit standards that are not going away.

See below for highlights from the conversation ...

By Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Learning Forward

National education reports often have difficulty getting attention, but that was not the case when the Gallup polling organization released State of America's Schools.  Rather than prescribing technocratic approaches for improving education, the report focused on the "human elements" that drive student achievement.

According to Gallup, the factors of engagement, relationships, collaboration, hope, and trust are essential for learning and high performance. This is true not only for students, but also for teachers.

In fact, the report's headline grabber was that nearly 70% of teachers "are not emotionally connected to their workplaces and are unlikely to devote much discretionary effort to their work."  Among reasons for teachers' lack of engagement, two stand out. In a Gallup survey of employees in 14 different occupational categories, K-12 teachers "were dead last ... in saying their 'supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.' " ...

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