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It is no secret that in many places the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are under attack. Yet despite what those of us paying attention to the debate at the national level hear, the fact is that there are a number of communities in which the Common Core is NOT controversial. In some of these places, that is because communications about the standards have been so direct and informative. But in other places, the controversy might be biding its time, waiting for a trigger – for example, the results of CCSS-aligned assessments that show a significant drop in proficiency rates – before it erupts.

Pre-Empting a Local Debate

At the national (and in some cases, state) level, one huge factor contributing to the current rhetoric around the Common Core is that, on the whole, advocates were often not prepared for the pushback that the standards received. As a result, they did not always respond quickly or appropriately to criticisms (or even general inquiries) about the CCSS, which created an empty space that opponents of the standards were able to fill with their voices – and occasionally, misinformation. So even if you are fortunate not to have experienced pushback yet in your community, you may still want to prepare for an upcoming debate. ...

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

The past few weeks have been graduation season at high schools across America. The Class of 2014 has been unleashed on the world!  

As a school board member in Texas for nine years, nothing compared to handing diplomas to our graduates. Their eyes were shining as they crossed that stage, and their bright eyes reflected the efforts of so many to get them to that point – schools, school boards, teachers, the community, parents, and the students themselves!

A few weeks ago, there was good news about graduation rates in America, using data from 2012. Graduation rates have reached 80%, representing a 10% increase from a decade ago. The new graduation rates are now at levels from 40 years ago. Graduation rates are difficult to track, because of things like transfer students, the number of years it takes to graduate, and the various ways data is collected.  In 2008, the federal government created a new calculation system which has helped schools report data the same way and gain more consistency.

 American public schools have seen progress, and there are good reasons for it. Schools have become more accountable for the numbers of students who graduate. They have worked one-on-one with students in danger of not graduating. Schools with the most challenges have been given additional support. And there has been more of an awareness of the need ...

By Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

On June 12, I had the honor of bringing the voice of families and child advocates to Capitol Hill and testifying before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry at a hearing titled, A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to Our Nation’s Health, Economy and National Security.

Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the nation’s child nutrition programs. The Act requires that schools make updates to serve healthier food to students during the school day, including in a la carte lines, vending machines and school stores. In exchange, Congress increased the reimbursement rate schools receive for each meal served. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry currently is considering the reauthorization of child nutrition programs, which is due in 2015.

Strengthening programs that promote healthy school environments and ensuring that all children have access to critical nutritious food options has been a longtime priority for National PTA. It is essential that improvements continue to be made as high quality national nutrition programs are critical to the future of our children ...

By Dr. Helen Janc Malone, Director of Institutional Advancement, Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL)

The Institute for Educational Leadership is a non-profit organization whose mission is to equip leaders to work together across boundaries to build effective systems that prepare children and youth for postsecondary education, careers, and citizenship. The work of IEL focuses on three pillars required for young people and their communities to succeed:

  1. Involving the broader community with public education to support the learning and development of young people.
  2. Building more effective pathways into the workforce for all young people and supporting the transition to adulthood.
  3. Preparing generations of leaders with the know-how to drive collaborative efforts at all levels.

The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Institute for Educational Leadership. Fifty years yields many lessons. IEL’s broad network of leaders—superintendents, principals, policy leaders, academics, public officials, private funders and community-based practitioners—shared what they have learned about effective leadership as a part of IEL’s 50th anniversary celebration. Ten powerful lessons emerged from our review of their advice. We are grateful for their contribution.

  1. Leaders are anchored in a commitment to equity and the pursuit of social justice. They mobilize partners and ...

By Jessica Medaille, Chief Membership Officer, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

There’s a lot of talk right now about leadership across many professions. As leaders in education, we have long recognized that to effect change, we must look to and listen to our colleagues as well as to voices from other professions and communities. That way we can hear points of view that may differ from ours, expand our thinking and view issues from a new angle.

As we approach the ISTE annual conference, we’re excited about the unique range of opportunities participants will have to hear about new strategies, build leadership skills and to learn what works. Stories of triumph and perseverance are what make the ISTE community, and our annual conference, a unique experience.

In reflecting on the leaders we’ve invited to speak at this year’s conference, I’m inspired by their collective work. Leaders like Ashley Judd, who during a recent TEDx talk carried a powerful message about empowerment, lending her voice to those whose voices are not heard and telling stories to inspire others in the hopes of changing policies. Or Dale Dougherty, founder of Make magazine, creator of Maker Fair and coiner of the phrase Web 2.0, who brings the do-it-yourselfer mindset to everyday technology, celebrating the right to tweak, hack and bend any technology to your own will ...

To mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, National School Boards Association Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel reflected on the impact of the decision and the challenges that public schools still face. The following commentary was originally published by the Huffington Post:

In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a timeless and transformative message: All students deserve a great public education; separate systems are not equal.

In marking the 60th anniversary of this landmark Supreme Court ruling, it is important to reflect upon the ongoing effect of Brown v. Board of Education on the work of America’s school boards and our nation’s public schools. Enshrining this decision as a historic relic does not serve the nine out of 10 school-age children who attend our nation’s public schools. To protect students’ rights, freedoms and ready access to a high-quality education, we must actively heed the central tenets of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is particularly concerned about the unintended consequences of privatization through vouchers, charter schools not governed by local school boards, and other means that research indicates are leading to the re-segregation of public schools, mainly in high-poverty urban areas ...

By Dr. C.J. Huff, Superintendent, Joplin (MO) Schools, and NSPRA Vice President at Large – Superintendents of Schools

Each day professional educators across our country walk into our schools with the noble purpose to educate and grow our next generation of leaders, employees, neighbors, and families. And with each passing day our noble purpose – the reason we do what we do – becomes muddled as we find ourselves fighting perceptions that don't really reflect reality. But as a school board member reminded me once, perception is reality. So the question that must be answered is, “How do we change perception?”

What’s Working...What’s Not?

As you read this article, from coast to coast, school districts will be pushing the send button on thousands of press releases. Spelling bee champions will be recognized, teachers of the year announced, scores from last night’s ballgame celebrated, a big decision by a school board shared, the kindergarten penny drive that raised funds to help the local humane society – the list goes on. We will permeate cyberspace with the good news of our schools. We will tweet, post, click send, like, repost, resend again with the hope that someone... anyone... will pick up on a story and that it will go viral in a good way. And we wait. Then wait some more. We tell great stories, but few are there to listen ...

By Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

“The Buck Stops Here,” an expression popularized by President Harry S. Truman, has often been applied to school leadership. It denotes the end of the line, the last decision, the final responsibility. For principals, who assume the dual roles of school manager and instructional leader, the responsibilities of school leadership never end; the “bucks” just keep coming.

With upwards of 40 different daily tasks to accomplish, today’s principals must be multifaceted, possessing a range of skills and competencies more complex than ever before.

When it comes to the factors that they directly influence, such as student safety, financial management, teacher working conditions, and high-quality instruction, for example, principals must rely on their “managerial” capabilities. This role also involves brokering various stakeholder interests and contending with unfunded state mandates, among other escalating education issues.

In this era of high-stakes accountability, the pressure has never been greater for principals to excel also as instructional leaders. Research shows the link between school leadership and student achievement continues to be underestimated, despite ...

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

Sometimes it seems like parents just can’t win. Now they’re being blamed for their children’s education failures because they help with homework! So suggests a new study by Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, as highlighted by The New York Times on April 12, 2014.

It is well-documented that research can be used to prove almost anything. That’s the feeling I had recently when the Robinson/Harris study on parent involvement was released. Research often exists at 30,000 feet and sometimes does not seem to connect with real people on the ground. While this study identifies ways that parent involvement possibly does and does not work, unfortunately the message and the headline are that parent involvement doesn’t count.

Having helped shepherd two children through the public school system, I can’t quite grasp the findings of this study that being involved in their schools, being involved in how they behaved, and making sure homework got done could all actually have hindered their education. And all that time, I thought I was being a good parent! ...

We know that effective communication is critical in public education, both for building support for public schools and for ensuring the successful implementation of education initiatives, such as the Common Core State Standards. But what does a good K-12 communication strategy look like?

Missouri’s Nixa Public Schools, a suburban K-12 system serving 6,000 students in 11 schools, provides one example. Communication has been a key aspect of the district’s strategic plan for well over a decade, and Nixa has developed a transparent, high-functioning communications program that is two-way in design. For this work, the district was named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership Through Communication Award, with Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith and Director of Communication Zac Rantz recognized for their exemplary leadership in the field. The district was commended for building a culture where there is a common language between internal and external stakeholders; creating an environment in which information can be shared in a variety of ways; providing the community the opportunity to offer input which is listened to and acted upon; and more.

In a recent e-mail interview, Rantz took the time to discuss the district’s program and give advice to those looking to strengthen their communications strategy.  

Public School Insights (PSI): What is the district’s general philosophy on communication?

Rantz: Inform early. Inform often. Inform through multiple channels.

PSI: What are the key components of your communication program?

Rantz: We structure our communication channels into two main sections: internal and external ...

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