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

Early childhood education may be the single most important part of a successful learner’s P-12 experience. Because of that, early learning is an essential focus for elementary school leaders.

Nationwide, more than one out of every three third-grade students is still unable to read at grade level. Later, students drop out of high school at roughly the same rates as those who were struggling to read in elementary school. These are important reminders to elementary (and middle) school principals about how early the patterns of future success or failure are formed in the students they work with every single day.

NAESP understands the significance of early childhood education and the need to support a seamless continuum of learning for children coming from high-quality early childhood learning settings to the early grades, or from “age three to grade three.” Building an aligned P-3 system is a national and state priority. Investment in early childhood education systems and practices are essential to ensure that all children have a chance to learn on equal footing— especially those from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds, who are at risk of ...

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

As the school year starts, I keep thinking about how teachers never really get a break. Despite the myth about “summers off,” I was with several thousand educators this July – not at the beach, but at TEACH, the AFT’s largest gathering of educators focused on their professional practice and growth. Teachers spent long days learning from fellow educators and other experts about concrete ways to improve teaching and learning. Many teachers told me how they were spending the rest of their summer: writing curriculum aligned to the new, challenging Common Core State Standards; taking classes, because teachers are lifelong learners; and working with students – in enrichment camps and programs to stem summer learning loss. So much for the dog days of summer.

And our conferees did much more. We also committed to reclaim the promise – the promise of public education. Not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as what public education can be to fulfill our collective obligation to help all children succeed.

Yet even amidst this dedication and inspiration there is a great frustration. The promise of a great public education for all children is under pressure not only from out-of-touch legislators, but from economic and societal factors outside school that ...

“A person has truly become a PTA member when his circle of concern stretches
beyond his own child to include all children.” – Unknown

By Stella Y. Edwards*, Chairman, National PTA Legislative Committee

October is upon us. At National PTA, that means it is the Month of the Urban Child. This month’s campaign gives emphases to our education advocacy work as it relates to reaching communities where they are: in urban areas. National PTA comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of family involvement in schools. While PTA members may be in agreement with the PTA mission overall, urban areas have a uniqueness that warrants a focus on the effectiveness of our education advocacy work in those areas.

The beauty of the urban area is that it is as diverse as its citizens. This diversity, a broad range of backgrounds, religious beliefs, education values, and ethnicities, are unique characteristics that breathe life into the fast-pace, energetic, and close living style of the city!

I’ve had the pleasure of organizing in urban, rural and suburban areas.  Regardless of the location in which the organizing work was conducted, the key aspect of my experience has been the importance of relationship building.  First, you must build a relationship, develop trust, and address the community’s issue (not yours). Then you can begin to take action. You must first show a community that you care about them, you respect them, you will not judge them, and you ...

The call to expand learning time to ensure that American students remain competitive with their international peers has become quite popular. While the rationale is perhaps a bit misguided (some evidence suggests that our students already experience as much instructional time as their peers, and other research confirms that teachers in the United States spend more time on instruction than teachers in other nations do), there are certainly reasons to focus on the issue, not least of which is the summer learning loss that disproportionately impacts our nation’s most disadvantaged youth.

But as those in the education community know, it is not necessarily the idea of extending learning time that is appealing – it is the idea of expanding learning opportunities. Partly in response to federal accountability measures, curriculum in many schools – particularly those serving predominantly disadvantaged students – has narrowed to focus on reading and math at the expense of the arts, physical education, civics and other subjects. In addition, the budget cuts of the Great Recession caused schools to further pull back in areas like art, sports and extracurricular activities – and, as a recent survey points out, the sequester has had an impact as well.

Yet in all these cuts, wealthier students are less likely to be impacted than their lower-income peers, in large part because their parents ensure they are exposed to enrichment opportunities either at school (perhaps paid for by fundraising efforts) or in ...

By William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director, Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)

We have a new addition to our family. Tom is our new son-in-law, and one of his quick observations of our family is that we have trouble making decisions. We cannot decide where to go for dinner or what time to meet. He is constantly asking, “Would someone just make a decision?”

Difficulty making decisions is not uncommon for families, but it can also be troublesome for businesses, schools, and organizations. While decisions about dinner plans are relatively trivial, decision-making for bigger concerns is complex and carries higher stakes.

Whether you are a classroom leader, building leader, school system leader or organizational leader, you have to make decisions on a daily basis that might affect hundreds or thousands of students. Today, districts need to make decisions about closing schools or consolidating, as in Evanston, Illinois.  Schools are considering community and business partnerships, as in Reading, Massachusetts. And there are always decisions to be made about students, as in ...

By Jim Dunn, APR, Past President of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)/Current Communication Consultant

The battle lines seem to be drawn concerning Common Core State Standards.

On one side are the likes of media personalities Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, billionaires Charles and David Koch, the Republican National Committee, the Tea Party, and a whole bevy of angry people who feel like their country has taken a very wrong turn.

On the other side of the debate, and solidly pro-Common Core, are seventy-plus percent of teachers nationwide, conservative political leaders such as former Republican Governor Jeb Bush, 45 state boards of education, the National Chamber of Commerce and a horde of bewildered education advocates who thought their country, at last, was going to improve K-12 education.

Boards of education, superintendents and school communications professionals now are caught squarely in the middle of an intense political/ideological battle that could derail years of thoughtful efforts to improve U.S. education. The grassroots consortium of professionals who led the development of Common Core standards – from superintendents to teachers to national education experts – believed they were on track to deliver a K-12 education model that would ensure every United States high school graduate is able to ...

By Jim Bender, Executive Director, NEA Health Information Network

I suspect that most of us have never heard the sound of a child with whooping cough. We may never have seen a child covered with chickenpox or swollen from the mumps. So we forget that every year children still contract these preventable diseases and get very sick, and some may die.

So far, 2013 has seen major outbreaks of measles in New York and North Carolina. There also have been major outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) in Texas, Oregon, Washington, and other states.

Educators and schools can play an important role in helping families get the immunizations they need. 

All members of the school community—educators, education support staff, administrators, and parents—can help to carry the message of immunization for students and adults.  Advocacy for Vaccines from NEA Health Information Network provides an overview of what you can do to help build support in your school.  ...

When you think of the PTA, you might picture parents getting together to put on a fall carnival or bake cookies for teacher appreciation week. And while the National PTA does encourage teacher appreciation (and has a great Pinterest board dedicated to the topic), the organization is about so much more.

The overall purpose of the PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. The national organization prides itself on being a powerful voice for children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education, working in cooperation with many national education, health, safety and child advocacy groups and federal agencies on behalf of every child.

Otha Thornton was installed as President of the National PTA in June 2013, making history as the first African-American male to lead the organization. He recently took the time to tell us about himself and his views on education, as well as how the PTA is gearing up to address the challenges facing public education.

Public School Insights (PSI): It’s been widely noted that you are the first African American male president in the National PTA’s history. What do you think is the significance of that?

Thornton: It demonstrates that PTA, as an Association, transcends race. The founders did not start PTA as a segregated Association, but due to our southern states and their laws earlier in our country’s history, the National Congress of Colored Parents was formed in 1911 by Selena Sloan Butler to address the needs of black children. The two Congresses combined in 1971 to form the National PTA with the shared mission that all children of all races need advocates to ...

There is precious little research demonstrating the value of school counselors on student achievement, with good reason – it is difficult to demonstrate the impact of counselors on standardized test scores, which have come to define achievement in recent years. But as a result, when it comes to making tough budget decisions, school counselors are not a priority. And that has real consequences for children. As Mindy Willard, an Arizona school counselor named the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) 2013 School Counselor of the Year, pointed out in a recent interview:

[T]he biggest challenge school counselors are faced with right now, on all levels, are our ratios. Currently, Arizona is 49th in the nation for counselor to student ratios with a ratio of 1 counselor to 861 students; ASCA recommends a ratio of 1:250! With numbers like this it is virtually impossible for school counselors to meet all of the personal/social, academic and career developmental needs of all the students on their caseloads.

But as we turn to new measures of school quality – such as the production of college and career ready students – there is new space for advocates to research and promote the benefits of school counselors. And an ongoing longitudinal study in ...

It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to acknowledge that humans are complex beings; how often does a friend, colleague or family member do something you perceive to be simply inexplicable? Given our diverse nature, it should come as no surprise that educating children is not an exact science; each one is unique. Ultimately, they are the result of their background, family and economic circumstances, and life experiences. A student’s potential and capacity for achievement rests with our country’s capacity to recognize and respond to these systemic challenges, perhaps even embrace them, to support the whole child. Consider the following statistics highlighting the challenges our country faces: ...

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