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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: ...

I recently attended a screening of a documentary titled Is School Enough? that’s scheduled to air on local PBS stations in early September.  The film profiled four project based learning activities that took students outside the classroom to identify real life challenges, propose solutions, and work together as a team under the guidance of their teacher to solve the problem and learn while doing.  (View a preview)

The projects were exciting and impressive, and the students involved were either economically disadvantaged or in an alternative education program.  In one program a group of students became “citizen scientists,” using their smart phones to photograph plants and trees in an area that was to house a couple of elephants who were retiring from a circus.  These students gathered data on the plants, shared the information with a scientist at Cornell University, and then convened with the scientist using Skype so he could answer their questions and provide suggestions for removing or replacing those plants that could prove toxic to ...

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

My daughter, Tori, attended two high schools. Like most of her friends, she was very active. She was in the National Honor Society, the Chinese Honor Society, the marching band, the orchestra, drama productions. She was the class secretary and took Advanced Placement and honors classes. Tori went to a school of engaged, enthusiastic and energetic students.

There is another school, however, existing under the same roof. In this school, students don’t participate in any extracurricular activities. They don’t take a rigorous course load. Students in this school have attendance and disciplinary problems. This is a school of unmotivated, unchallenged and disenfranchised students.

Many students in the second school come from low-income, ethnically and culturally diverse populations. They don’t see themselves in the same world, much less the same school, as their more involved counterparts. The different socioeconomic populations may be physically desegregated, but they were never integrated into one cohesive student body.

Unfortunately, many schools across the country experience this same “one-roof, two-schools” issue. Every school has students who are engaged and those who are apathetic. Often, student involvement and performance is based on ...

The economy may be slowly improving, but many families and children are still struggling to get by in communities across the country. Economic insecurity increases childhood stress and negatively affects a student's ability to focus and be present in the classroom. School counselors are on the front lines when it comes to supporting students through this and other challenges ranging from incidents of bullying, issues at home, academic struggles, and depression and anxiety, to name just a few.

Recently, Mindy Willard, the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA's) 2013 National Counselor of the Year, was kind enough to share her insights and experience with Public School Insights (PSI). She has created a counseling program at Sunset Ridge Elementary School that serves all its 650 students through a range of activities and interventions. She also provided specific goals, interventions and results from the program, highlighting how such efforts support student health and learning. And, as the National Counselor of the Year, she shared some of her thoughts on the challenges counselors face, important facts to highlight in advocacy efforts and what she's looking forward to doing this year in her national role. 

Public School Insights (PSI): First, congratulations on being named the 2013 ASCA School Counselor of the Year. And thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions about your work and the value of school counselors. Could you share with us what drew you to counseling?

Willard: I always knew I wanted to work with people, children in particular; it wasn’t until college when I discovered the idea of becoming a school counselor. I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and quickly realized there was not a whole lot I could do with that degree. I began exploring my options, spending summers working with children in juvenile detention facilities and group homes. I discovered I really wanted to ...

I cannot begin to count the number of times I hear a statistic related to children and education that causes me to pause and ask additional questions about the context. A troubling number is often just an indicator of a larger problem, which serves as backdrop to help explain how we as a society arrived at this measurement. I recently attended three separate events that collectively reminded me, once again, that we can help all children realize their true potential through collaboration and teamwork across schools, districts and communities. By addressing root causes and individual student needs, we may see students take the lead in their learning, becoming the future leaders of tomorrow, today. ...

We know a great deal about the high school dropout problem. From the research of Robert Balfanz and others, we know where dropouts are likely to come from – the majority attends a small subset of high schools where the graduation rate is 60% or lower. We know who is likely to drop out – the warning signs start as early as first grade, and by middle school they can be defined as the ABCs (attendance problems, behavior problems, and course failure). And we know that there are effective interventions that help retain likely dropouts.

Where we have struggled is in putting together what we know and addressing the issue at scale. But that might be changing. At a May briefing at the US Department of Education on the progress of three Investing in Innovation (i3) grantees, I learned of a promising effort to do so: Diplomas Now. The innovation? Arranging what we know are effective education improvement strategies into a coherent whole.

Based on Balfanz’s research (and he is the program founder), Diplomas Now brings together three national networks – Talent Development, City Year and Communities in Schools – to deliver a comprehensive secondary school turnaround model in high schools where relatively few students graduate.  

Utilizing the evidence-based approaches taken by each of the partner organizations, Diplomas Now targets interventions at multiple levels – school, classroom and students. The model: Organize teachers into ...

When District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) gets press coverage, it’s not always glowing news. In recent years, DCPS (a major urban city system with a recent history of controversial reforms) is often associated with topics such as their new teacher evaluation system (IMPACT), charters, or poverty and inequity. But just a few weeks ago, I learned about a truly amazing DCPS program at a Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P-21) event. I listened to two panels – one with embassy representatives and the other with DCPS teachers - talk about a life changing experience that could only happen in a system like DCPS: the Embassy Adoption Program (EAP). ...

By Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association (NEA)

For weeks now, teachers, parents and community leaders have been protesting Chicago Public Schools' plan to close 50 schools in what will be the largest single wave of school closures in U.S. history.

The media coverage has been dramatic, but what you see in the eyes of educators who are so adamantly opposed to this plan is the same thing you see in the eyes of educators all across this nation -- the innate instinct to protect the children we care about.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to shutter 50 (yes, 50) schools won't be good for Chicago's children, especially children of color. The New York Times reports that "in the 100 schools that have closed in Chicago since 2001, 88 percent of the students affected were black."

Not only is there evidence that all class sizes in the city will increase -- some by as much as 40 percent -- but recent studies have concluded that only a very small minority of students will be placed into substantially better school environments. And worse: children will have to leave their neighborhoods and ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators (AASA)

AASA has released a set of proposals intended to offer an alternative to the current, federally-mandated due process system by which parents and school personnel handle disputes about special education services.

The due process system as it exists today is expensive, unwieldy and inequitable. It was designed to provide access to education services for students with disabilities, but instead it causes deep divisions between schools and parents and often little else. Now we have the opportunity to begin a dialogue among all the people involved so that, as we approach the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), we can craft more effective options to use when parents and school administrators disagree.

Our report, Rethinking Special Education Due Process, recommends four dispute resolution processes, including a consultancy model similar to a voluntary dispute resolution system piloted in Massachusetts since 2009 called SpedEx. This model has shown promise in reducing the use of the due process hearing system. ...

By Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., General Counsel/Associate Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA)

The one common thread from the many perspectives on school bullying is that advocates on all sides care deeply about kids. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is determined to protect students' Constitutional rights and their rights to an education in a safe school environment. But those rights hold an inherent tension that at times collides.

So how can we find a middle ground?

We're encouraged by a set of guidelines that show ways public school students can safely share their views and engage in discussions about religious and political differences in environments that prohibit discrimination, bullying, and ...

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