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On Monday, Add Your Voice

One theme of this blog over the past several months has been concern that the conversation on public education does not reflect that the reality of most public schools. It reflects the spin of mainstream and talk show media, political figures and business celebrities. Educator and parent voices are often left out of conversations on the state – and future – of our nation’s schools.

Others share this concern. That is why this coming Monday, November 22 has been declared a national Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform. It is a grassroots effort to bring together educators (including parents) to offer their ideas on how to improve America’s public schools.

On that day, give thanks for educational successes, share your ideas for real reform or describe an educational community that makes a difference for contemporary learners.

Other potential topics include:

  • Can we fire our way to success? Some educational reformers view the inability to easily fire teachers and principals as a substantial barrier to ...

Yesterday over at Always Something, National School Public Relations Association Executive Director Rich Bagin offered some thoughts on how we can best promote public schools, taken from private schools’ marketing campaigns.

Chief among those thoughts: Promote individual schools. In public education, we typically promote school districts, not individual schools. But private schools – and though Rich does not mention them, I think charter schools as well – focus to great effect on what one individual school does for its students. And as Rich points out:

When real decisions are made, it comes to a school versus school and program versus program decision.

Given that we already know this, why does this PR strategy run so counter to what we in public education do? Do we want to avoid creating competition within the system, to avoid potentially concentrating families who lack the social capital to get into a better school in a struggling one? (Though isn’t that happening anyway, with charters, private schools and the ability of ...

obriena's picture

Can't We All Work Together?

Since the midterm elections last Tuesday, we have being hearing a lot about the importance of collaboration, compromise and mutual respect as we move forward in setting policy in all fields.

But I wonder if education officials in New Jersey got the memo. Last week, the state’s acting education commissioner refused an invitation to attend the New Jersey Education Association’s annual convention, claiming the union is “interested in protecting the status quo that continues to fail students” and is not cooperating with the governor’s office on school reforms.

Personally, I am not sure how this stance will help the acting commissioner (who represents New Jersey Governor Christie's administration) help children. The opportunity to present her platform to 40,000 teachers seems like a way to give her ideas a wider audience and allow her to dispel some of the myths about some of them.

And regardless of the administration’s stance on the NJEA, it would be nice if instead of only focusing on the refusal of the commissioner to attend the NJEA meeting, the media would highlight ways in which NJEA proves the commissioner’s statement wrong--the efforts of the union to improve schools.

For example, NJEA founded the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, a non-profit governed by an independent board made up of leaders in education, business and philanthropy. The Center works to empower teachers to be leaders in the transformation of ...

obriena's picture

Reminder: Vote Tomorrow!

Why? Well, it’s your civic duty. But if that isn’t enough, the fact that you read this blog indicates you are interested in public education. And this election could have big consequences for education. Races for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will influence education policy at the federal level, with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act expected in the coming months. And there are real ideological debates in some of those races, with some candidates calling for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education while others advocate for a greater federal role, and everything in between.

But elections at the state level will also have great impacts on public education. Consider the importance of voting for each of the following roles:

Governors: There are 38 gubernatorial races this year. Particularly given the fiscal crisis in many states, these races could have enormous consequences for public education. Governors wield great influence over state budgets--and funding is scarce. Cuts must ...

Editor's note: This interview was originally posted October 13, 2009, by former LFA Executive Director Claus von Zastrow. Given the recent light shed on the pressures of gay teenagers, it seems fitting to repost it now as a resource that schools and districts can use to help protect all of their students.

For another resource, referenced in the interview, see Public Schools and Sexual Orientation: A First Amendment framework for finding common ground.

Charles Haynes is one of the nation's leading experts on religious liberty in the public schools. He has worked with groups from across the political spectrum to help schools create ground rules for respectful dialogue on hot-button social issues. 

Haynes recently spoke with us about one of the fiercest battles in the culture wars: the battle over sexual orientation and public schools. This battle has grown all the fiercer since Education Department official Kevin Jennings started drawing fire for his past work at GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.

Schools need to create a safe environment for civil dialogue, Haynes told us. They need to protect the rights of everyone, from conservative Christians to gay rights advocates. They cannot guarantee that everyone will agree, but they can promote trust and respect.

Haynes gives Jennings a full-throated endorsement for supporting these essential principles.

Public School Insights: What do you think is happening when people discuss sexual orientation in public schools?

Haynes: I think in many places people are speaking—or should I say shouting?—past one another about this issue.

Schools, as usual, are caught in the crossfire of the larger culture wars in the United States. We have administrators, teachers and school board members struggling to figure out how to handle this very difficult issue at a time when the larger culture is not handling it well.

Public School Insights: Is it possible for teachers, administrators and other school stakeholders to create common ground on issues of sexual orientation?

Haynes: Yes. I think it’s not only possible, I think it’s imperative that we try harder.

Unfortunately, in many school districts people put their heads in the sand and hope this issue will just disappear and that they won’t have a fight. But then they are unprepared when something emerges, and ...

Today’s guest post comes from the National PTA, a member of the Learning First Alliance. The largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation, PTA reminds our country of its obligations to children and provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child. It also provides tools for parents to help their children be successful students.

So often we hear complaints from parents and teachers that the other is not doing their job. It is hard for teachers to understand the strengths and challenges of parents, and parents often feel like outsiders in the school world.

Breaking down barriers, fostering positive communication between teachers and parents, and having engaged families will lead to better outcomes for students. Research shows that family engagement promotes student success. Students with engaged parents are more likely to earn higher grades and pass their classes, attend school regularly and have better social skills, and go on to postsecondary education. When families, teachers and schools find ways to work together, student achievement improves, teacher morale rises, communication increases, and family, school, and community connections multiply.

Parents want what is best for their children, and teachers do too. The more teachers and parents talk to each other, work with one another and remember that the child is the focus, the more successful that child will be. And we can all use some help on how to make that happen. Here are some tips that can help parents foster a positive relationship with their child's teacher.

  • Find time to share your experiences with school and how that has shaped your perception about parent teacher relationships. Talk about ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Matt Brown, who can typically be found blogging on education issues over at Relentless Pursuit of Acronyms.

When I pass along articles about education reform or discuss the challenges I faced when I taught with my friends, many of them throw their hands in the air and say “Matt, we can make all these policy changes until we’re blue in the face…it can’t help because parents just don’t care!” Some of my old coworkers expressed similar sentiments. I remain skeptical.

My old school held their first parent-teacher conferences of the year last October. I had just started teaching a few days before (school started in mid-August, but I wasn’t placed until late September), and I couldn’t wait to meet my students' parents and go over all the exciting things that were going to happen in Room 128 that year. I wore my best suit that day, much to the amusement of some of the staff (“Mr. Brown! You getting’ married after school today? You going to court?”), hoping that I could make a good impression.

People told me not to get my hopes up. Some said the meetings would be an exercise in futility. But I refused to be defeatist. When the time came, I sat in my classroom, smiling by my sign-in sheet and looking forward to discussing the year, our class goals and my students with their parents. Sadly, only ...

It was recently announced that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is donating $100 million to help improve Newark’s long-troubled public schools. Those funds will be matched by donations raised by the city, which is also raising $50 million for another youth effort. In other words, Newark’s children will have a lot more money available to them over the next few years.

As part of this agreement, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will cede some control over Newark Public Schools (currently state-run) to Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Together, they will select a new superintendent, and Mayor Booker will have freedom to redesign the system (though the governor retains formal authority over it).

This partnership is great news in some respects--a Democrat and a Republican overcoming political conflicts, joining forces for the sake of the children. Hopefully it is the first of many such unions across the country.

But I do have some concerns with this set-up. First, we must question the wisdom of short-term infusions of private funds into public schools. While $100 million--or even $250 million--is a lot of money, it won't last forever. What happens when the money runs out?

And second, what is the role of philanthropy in school reform? Some argue, as NYC Chancellor Joel Klein puts it, that while private philanthropy will never be a large part of a system's budget, it is money that can be used for research and development and for ...

obriena's picture

Teachers - Got Plans Sunday?

If not, consider joining a live chat for Education Nation’s Teacher Town Hall. It will be held Sunday, September 26, at 12pm Eastern/9am Pacific. And during this event, NBC’s Brian Williams will talk with teachers on-air and online about issues facing educators and education. Just remember--you must register to participate.

For those who do not know, NBC News’ Education Nation is a week-long event, starting Sunday, that will examine and redefine education in America. It “seeks to engage the public, through thoughtful dialogue, in pursuit of the shared goal of providing every American with an opportunity to pursue the best education in the world.” Believing that we have allowed our students to fall behind, that our workforce is largely unprepared for today’s marketplace and that we face stiff competition from abroad, NBC hopes to provide quality news and information to the public to help us decide: Is it time to reinvent American as an Education Nation?

This event will feature in-depth conversations about improving education in American, including the Teacher Town Hall (which, by the way, will be aired live on MSNBC, educationnation.com, scholastic.com and msnbc.com). For the entire week, “NBC Nightly News,” “Today,” “Meet the Press,” “Your Business,” MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, msnbc.com and ...

obriena's picture

Reading is Fundamental

Yesterday’s release of a major report on teacher pay dwarfed much else in the education news. I may write on that soon, if I feel I have anything to add to the conversation. But today I wanted to talk about my favorite book, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

It has been my favorite book since the 5th grade. I haven’t read it in years, in part because I am afraid of what would happen if I read it again and thought, “Well, it’s okay.” But up through college I read it multiple times each year. I read it so many times that the cover of my first copy fell off when I was in high school, and my parents bought me a replacement copy.

I’m not exactly sure why this book touched me so. Likely because I got the book as a very young adolescent, about to go through many of the things that Francie went through in the book. She was relatable.

This isn’t the only book to have touched me over the years. But it was the first. And it helped cement the love of reading, and of books themselves (I'm not sure I'll ever get a Kindle), that I have today.

I thought of this book after seeing Sarah D. Sparks’ EdWeek blog yesterday. She posted about a meta-analysis of book-distribution programs. The study, commissioned by the book distribution group Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), found that students from low-income homes who had access to print materials through book ownership or lending programs like theirs had improved reading performance. Such programs were correlated with children better knowing the ...

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