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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 ...

By David Pickler, President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and Member of the Shelby County School Board (TN)

How can school boards become more effective?

Through our work at NSBA and the state associations, we’ve seen many good examples of school boards that function well and show results through student achievement. We’ve learned through NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) that school boards in districts with high student achievement are different than school boards in low-achieving districts.

So this would seem to be a fairly straightforward matter of identifying what makes school boards work effectively. But teasing out the tangible areas where school boards can make a difference is still an emerging area of research, and the question is more complex than it initially appears.

I recently spoke at a media event in Seattle, hosted by the Alliance for Education. This nonprofit group is working with the Seattle school board to improve academic achievement and guide student success in the district—and to sustain those actions over time. We talked about CPE’s recent report, “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards,” as well as other research by ...

By Kristen Amundson, Executive Director, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)

I had no idea my first slide was going to turn out to be a laugh line.

Let me explain: When you give a lot of speeches, you pretty much know when people are going to laugh. So as I prepared my presentation to board members attending NASBE’s New State Board Member Institute, I built in a couple of places where I expected at least a smile from the audience.

But Slide #1 was not on my list. It read: “So they told you this job would take one day a month.”

And it evoked more than just a chuckle. They laughed. Out loud.

You see, although these 35 new state board of education members had been on the job for less than a year, all of them realized their responsibilities take much more than the one day a month typically scheduled for a meeting. They have to ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

Recently a reporter asked me how teachers are supposed to be able to distinguish among all the professional development opportunities that claim to be aligned with the Common Core standards. While I could refer the reporter to many resources on what constitutes effective professional learning as well as how to evaluate opportunities, this isn't what she was asking. Here's how I responded and what I would tell the many educators who are trying to answer this for themselves. 

While I hope that very few teachers are trying to make these decisions in isolation from supervisors and colleagues, I also understand not everyone works in ideal circumstances. Therefore, I offer the guiding questions below to assist teachers in making the best decisions possible. First, here are three prerequisites to consider before you go ...

And Why Aren’t We More Ashamed?

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) recently released a report entitled A New Majority:  Low Income Students in the South and the Nation that reveals low income children are a majority of students in 17 states, primarily in the South and West. Across the nation low income students are a near majority at 48 percent. A separate report Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card analyses the education funding systems in these states and reveals that serious funding inequities continue to exist years after court cases across the nation have required states to reform their funding systems to alleviate such discrepancies.

Among the findings uncovered in the two reports include the following: ...

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