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

The story out of Uintah Elementary School in the Salt Lake City School District grabbed more than few hearts recently. Children going through the lunch line whose accounts were low had their lunches taken away.  Some thirty to forty students were impacted. They were given fruit and milk, and the confiscated lunches were thrown away. The district said it had started notifying parents about the accounts earlier in the week, but some parents said they had not been contacted.

It’s difficult and painful to see this happen in a public school in America. We believe, and most of the time we’re right, that public school teachers and officials who teach and care for our children every day are kind and that they use good judgment and common sense when they dispense that kindness. It’s hard to square that with what happened in Utah. The district has since apologized and corrected the problem. Surrounding districts were quick to point out how they deal with this issue – by working with parents individually and by giving parents the ability to pay on their mobile devices. Various stories and actions have followed this story. One was a heartwarming story of a man in Houston who ...

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

"Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities."

— President Lyndon Baines Johnson, State of the Union, Jan. 8, 1964

I was still in grade school when President Johnson launched his War on Poverty. In my home, Johnson was a hero, maybe because my parents had both grown up poor and never forgot what deprivation felt like. They saw Johnson as someone who understood what they understood about poverty: Nobody chooses to be poor.

The other hero in my house was my Dad, a larger-than-life figure who had scrabbled his way up to a good middle-class life. He had “developed his own capacities” in large part because he had access to the G.I. Bill, which inspired him to return to high school after dropping out and then go on to college and earn an engineering degree.

One of my favorite childhood memories was watching my dad ring the bell for Salvation Army at Christmas. Dad ran the largest construction company in the area, which meant that he knew most of the movers and shakers in ...

By Brian Lewis, CEO, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

It was nearly 20 years ago when E-Rate, the nation’s largest education technology program, was put into place.  At that time, a majority of schools (86 percent) were not connected. Mobile phone use was in its infancy and we all referred to the Internet as the information superhighway.

Fast forward to today. Nearly all schools (95 percent) have some level of connectivity. Half of our nation’s teenagers own a smartphone and three-quarters of all children have access to a mobile device.

Walk into a school today and see if you can spot a blackboard and chalk in use; it’s a rarity. In many schools, modern learning devices – screens, projectors and computing devices – that support digital learning have replaced the blackboard.  We are in the midst of the digital age.

All the technology that surrounds us and supports our students is only as good as the speed of the connectivity available. Without broadband speed, streaming video stalls, online simulations freeze and load times drag on into eternity. The impact on learning can be crippling. Students get annoyed, and teachers get ...

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

While it may not be evident from voting patterns, casting votes for local school board members may have greater impact on a community’s overall quality of life than any other vote cast. Quality public schools bring the things that ensure a high quality of life — strong economic climate, better jobs, civic engagement, more citizens voting and an emphasis on the arts. And quality public schools are tied directly to the performance and effectiveness of their school boards.

All of us should pay more attention to our school boards — to electing them, supporting them and monitoring them. While many people today believe that too much local control has been wrested from local school boards, their role remains critical to the success of the schools they govern.

Voters elect a school board to represent them in the oversight of their schools. That is our system of government, and it’s a good one. School boards then spend the public’s money on educating children, touching the future as no other entity does. School boards set the tone for school districts — for student achievement, continuous improvement and financial management.

Successful school boards are made up of individuals without personal agendas and with a desire that all children have the opportunities that come with great schools. They understand that they are a bridge between the community and its schools, with one foot in ...

In the past week I’ve attended two meetings devoted to the subject of protecting student privacy in a digital learning world. The question from one of the speakers that stayed with me after both meetings were adjourned is, “How much attention are school administrators paying to this issue?”   

Certainly, the education leaders who participated in both programs – Terry Grier, superintendent of the Houston ISD; Jeff Mao, Technology Director at the Maine State Department of Education; Rich Contartesi, Assistant Superintendent for Technology Services, Loudoun County Public Schools (VA); and Jim Siegl, Technology Architect for Fairfax County Public Schools (VA) – are paying plenty of attention to the issue and providing important leadership in their respective districts and state. However, the general message conveyed is that many, if not most, school leaders are both unaware of and uneducated about the issues that could balloon into a major setback for teaching and learning in a digital world if not carefully and appropriately ...

By Hank Rubin, Co-Founder, Institute for Collaborative Leadership*

Nearly every facet of education demands effective collaboration. 

If we adopt the time-tested definition that "A collaboration is a purposeful relationship in which all parties strategically choose to cooperate in order to achieve shared or overlapping objectives" (first published in Collaboration Skills for Educators and Nonprofit Leaders,1998), then everything from teaching and learning, curricular planning, building management, parental engagement, school-community/school-business partnerships, board leadership, policy development, and school reform rises and falls on the capacity of education professionals to build and manage successful collaborative relationships. 

One would expect that, as educators, we would understand collaboration deeply. But, as we look at the collaborations we need to lead schools, build curricula, strengthen instructional teams, engage parents and community, develop policy, transform failing schools, and build public support for successful schools, overwhelming evidence suggests: not so much!

You and I know people who are born with attributes that appear to make collaboration easy; like the teacher born with such a talent for empathy that students seem to connect with almost preternatural ease. But folks aren't born with the set of skills, the knowledge and strategic sensibilities, or the habits and intentional behaviors needed for ...

By Joshua McIntosh, for the National PTA

In a recent address to parent leaders, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on parents to take education more seriously and be active in partnering with schools as we seek to raise expectations for students. The week prior, the Department of Education released new guidelines around improving climate and discipline policies in schools showing how suspensions, arrests, and expulsions can lead to negative outcomes for students and contribute to the phenomenon known as the school- to–prison pipeline. Given this, the high prevalence of out-of-school suspensions in our schools -- even for non-violent behaviors – is a serious concern.

As a teacher leader in New York City, I believe school discipline policy is the perfect example of an issue that allows parents and teachers to work together and prompt systemic change that can improve our schools.

The federal guidance package presents a solid argument for a long-known fact in educational communities around the country: school discipline policies and practices are in drastic need of reform – particularly in the way we work with minority students and students who receive special education services, like the students at my school. The task of improving school discipline policies and ...

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

Whenever I visit a school, one question always guides me: Would I want my own child in this school? If it’s good enough for my children, then it’s a good school; if not, then it’s a bad school. Plain and simple.

I’ve always applied my test in equal measure whether the school is a traditional public school, a charter school, a parochial school, a private school, or even a home school. The standard should be the same, regardless of the structure of the school or who’s paying the bills.

And that’s part of why the charter debate is so difficult for me.

Every child should have high-quality teaching every hour of every day. Ensuring that every child has an excellent education is good for this country, which is why we should use public dollars to pay for education.

I truly do believe that thousands and thousands of children in the United States are getting a better education today because they are enrolled in charter schools. That should be enough to make me happy, right?

But it’s not.

In spite of the benefit to individual students, I still wonder whether charter schools are ultimately good for the country.

I especially worry that charter schools are another factor that’s destroying American neighborhoods, especially in ...

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 ...

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