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

Rumor has it the Obama presidential campaign was so well wired that in Alexandria, VA, where AASA is headquartered, calls were made to turn out the vote, not to the residents of Alexandria themselves, but to their parents and other influential friends and relatives who then called the Alexandria natives urging them to get out and vote.

Further, it is said the campaign knew if a certain percentage of the Alexandria vote went to Obama, it would be a predictor for winning the state of Virginia. The predictive data gleaned from the social media networking were nurtured by the Obama campaign’s tech team.

Whether truth or folklore, the stories point to significant changes wrought upon political campaigns by technology in general and social media in particular. ...

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

With child poverty rising nationwide and public education under constant attack, working in school public relations can get discouraging. Then something comes along that reminds us why we do what we do. Sometimes it’s a photograph; sometimes it’s a story. It may be an event, film clip, quote, poem, or even a news segment.

In Joplin, MO, it’s a young boy experiencing his brand new school in what once was a storm ravaged community, exclaiming: “It feels like happiness.” And, it’s a visionary superintendent who kept pushing for a “bigger, better” Joplin when many felt a more modest standard would suffice. 

In Jamestown, NC, it’s a school hosting a parade and surprise party for a 97-year-old volunteer who found new purpose helping medically fragile children. And it’s every news outlet in town coming out to cheer everyone on, the look of pure joy radiating from every crevice on the volunteer’s face as he hugs one of his kids.

In Haughton, LA, it’s a teenager who wows the crowd as part of the team’s color guard, twirling flags with precision to the beat of music she can’t hear. And, it’s her determination to pursue a position on the flag team in college, and the public school that made her inclusive education possible.

In Sanger, CA, it’s a young girl who arrives from Mexico at age five not speaking any English and then graduates as her high school’s valedictorian, despite working nearly fulltime as ...

Earlier this month, we at the Learning First Alliance were pleased to welcome our newest member, Parents for Public Schools (PPS). As we work to advance public education nationwide, we recognize the important voice that this organization – and those it represents – brings to the school improvement conversation.

PPS has local chapters throughout the country that work to elevate the role of parents in public schools from passive consumers to active participants. The organization helps accomplish its mission through strategies and programs that educate, engage and mobilize parents. Through its ongoing work, PPS’ parents help raise standards, solve problems and advocate for their community.

Parents for Public Schools Executive Director Anne Foster recently took the time to tell us more about the organization.

Public School Insights (PSI): What is Parents for Public Schools?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools (PPS) is a national organization of community-based chapters working to strengthen public schools by engaging, educating and mobilizing parents.

PSI: Why was the organization formed?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools was started in 1989 in Jackson, Mississippi, by a group of parents. They were committed to supporting public schools and challenging the entire community to do so as well. They were convinced that parents could positively impact public schools, and one of their first acts was to help pass ...

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

States and districts are deep into the implementation of their educator evaluation systems. The backbone of these programs includes competent, skillful evaluators; high and explicit performance standards; constructive feedback; and individually focused professional learning aligned to individual areas for improvement. Individually focused professional learning holds both potential promises and pitfalls.

Among the promises is the opportunity to personalize learning to address the unique needs of each educator. Well-designed and developed systems provide access to a suite of differentiated professional learning opportunities and support to change practice. The ability to meet this promise depends on a rich educator development system that uses educator, student, and system data to establish individual improvement goals. This system must also identify and make available learning opportunities aligned with all performance standards and indicators, appropriate to all grade levels, disciplines, roles, and school and district contexts within which educators work. Such a system holds the individual educator responsible for his or her own growth, development, and results.

Individually focused professional learning, while addressing individual learning needs, has potential pitfalls. First, it may contribute to less collaboration and greater fragmentation among educators within a school community as ...

National PTA's Every Child in Focus is a campaign to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and reporting the disparities within diverse populations, and sharing resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child. January is the Month of the Suburban Child. Guest blogging for National PTA is Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. Her work primarily focuses on urban and suburban poverty, metropolitan demographics, and tax policies that support low-income workers and communities. To learn more, visit PTA.org/EveryChild

Mapleton Public Schools—a suburban district just north of Denver, Colorado—serves more than 7,600 students from Pre-K through grade 12 in its 15 schools. Though its enrollment numbers have remained steady in recent years, this district has been grappling with significant changes. In the span of a decade, the number of Mapleton students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch doubled. By the 2010-11 school year, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the student body was eligible for subsidized meals. As the number of low-income students has climbed, so too has the need for extra assistance that will help kids be ready to learn—from clothing and food to additional academic support.

Mapleton Public Schools isn’t alone. Suburban districts across the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have become home to growing low-income populations in recent years. In the last half of the 2000s, the number of suburban students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches grew by 22 percent, compared to an increase of just 8 percent in city districts during that time. At the same time, many school districts are also seeing more students experiencing homelessness.

These trends reflect larger shifts in the geography of poverty within the nation’s largest metro areas. Between 2000 and 2012, the population living below the federal poverty line in the suburbs (roughly $23,500 for a family of four in 2012) grew by 65 percent—more than twice the pace of growth in large cities and faster than the increases registered in smaller metro areas and ...

By Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association (NSBA)

One year later, the nation continues to memorialize the 26 adults and children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, support their survivors, grieve, and move forward. For school board members, the urgency of making schools around the country safer and more responsive to future threats is an ongoing imperative and legacy of the Newtown shootings.

As part of their duties, school boards must ensure that school buildings keep children and school personnel safe without becoming fortresses. In cases of natural disasters and man-made situations, school buildings – equipped with high-occupancy gymnasiums and cafeterias – are often the first shelter, serving as community safe havens and command posts. School boards recognize that even the best emergency preparedness policy is perishable, and they are monitoring and improving their districts’ policies on a routine basis.

School districts can ensure that parents and the community have a clear and actionable understanding of emergency response plans. One example is ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

A Different Spin on Failure

Dr. Maria Ferguson recently addressed the topic of failure in a column written for the December issue of the Kappan, a PDK publication. In it, she pointed out that many education leaders and policy makers are unwilling to accept that some amount of failure is predictable and that there are lessons to be learned from failure. It reminded me of the saying, if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again. We set lofty goals in education; Dr. Ferguson highlights the goal of 90% graduation rate under the Clinton administration, with the target date of the year 2000. There was also the objective set out under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), 100% proficiency by 2013-2014.

Our graduation rate is increasing, but we’re well past 2000. NCLB failed to produce the results we desired. Did we really believe our education system was prepared to accomplish those ends within the timeframe we prescribed? If we set ourselves up for failure, it is no wonder that we find ourselves falling short. But then, what do we learn from these repeated failures? ...

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

I remember it like it was yesterday. Three girls driving home from a night of studying at the library. A shortcut down a hill behind the hospital. Probably laughing, definitely driving too fast. A train stalled at the crossing at the foot of the hill. And a crash.

Before I got to school the next morning, I already knew what had happened. We didn’t need social media; we had telephones and friends, and the news spread quickly.

Quiet filled the school hallways that day. The boys who had been dating those three girls and other boys who knew them well wore dark sunglasses all day; the girls just cried openly and often. Everybody seemed nicer that day. Some teachers still tried to teach, but most of the teachers and coaches let us interrupt their plans for the day so we could talk about our shock, our grief, our fear. They consoled us, and they let us see their own feelings of loss. Mostly from that day, I remember feeling how much those teachers loved each of us.

The high school closed on the day of the funerals. The churches and the families cooperated so all three funerals occurred on the same day, one right after the other, and we trudged from church to church to church, a long parade of grief. Exhausting but cathartic.

I’ve come to believe that there’s no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to tragedy in a school community or the grief that follows, whether it is the massive horrifying murders in places like Newtown or the much more common losses that schools experience almost every year. Everyone gets swept up in it because ...

My Learning First Alliance (LFA) colleagues and I have been giving quite a bit of attention to the impending release of the latest results from the Organisaton for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests literacy, math, and science in 15 year-olds every three years. The United States has been humbled by past results that place us somewhere past number 20 in rankings of proficiency. We’re expecting that this year’s results will not show improvement and, as national leadership groups, have been strategizing how to respond on behalf of the educators and stakeholders we represent. 

I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps there are lessons to be learned from international comparisons that we’re missing.  A few random thoughts follow:

  • In the past we, as Americans, were quite convinced that we were superior to others around the globe.  Now we know we’re not.
  • Because we, as a country, have been blessed with abundant natural resources, two friendly neighboring countries, and the security of the protective boundary of two large oceans, we’ve believed that
    ...

By Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement, National PTA

This week, one of our state PTA leaders contacted the National PTA office to ask for a simple definition of family engagement. This reminded me of one of the biggest challenges in this field: the lack of a common definition. Many people I worked with in the past defined family engagement as how many parents attended school events or volunteered in the school building. This type of “head count parent involvement” used to be the norm. Fortunately, a large body of research has opened our eyes!

We now know that the things families do at home with their children have the biggest impact on how well children do in school. It’s great if families can come to school and participate, and I hope that all of them do, but they can still be engaged even ...

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