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By Amber Jimenez, American Federation of Teachers member and ELL teacher in Colville, WA

I like to take the first few weeks of summer vacation to do some serious reflection. I think about the school year and my successes and failures. This helps determine which books I read and classes I attend to help me prepare for the next school year. For the last few years, though, I have also thought seriously about teaching as a profession, how we as teachers are perceived, and how decisions and trends policy makers make affect my teaching practice.

Accountability seems to be the big buzz word these days. Starting with NCLB when I was a new teacher, districts began to take a closer look at student subgroups and became accountable for their success. As an ELL teacher I was happy to see a greater focus on my students’ progress. Yet NCLB’s focus on punishment in the end hurt my students. Because they needed more support, my elementary students lost access to the arts and even core subjects of science and social studies in the push towards reading and math. My high school students also lost out on elective opportunities because they needed to take resource and support classes to improve their test scores. My students were not well rounded and for many of them, the “fun part” of school was lost. Race to the Top wasn’t much better. States are relying on waivers from NCLB to retain funding. My new home state even recently lost its waiver. Our accountability system is up in the air. ...

By Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst, National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education (CPE)

Last month’s Vergara decision, where a California judge ruled the state’s teacher tenure law was unconstitutional, sent shock waves across the education world. Debates simmered over what the decision would mean for teacher tenure in other states. The big question being asked: Is this the beginning of the end of tenure for teacher’s nationwide?

Time will only tell but it is unlikely teacher tenure will be going away on a mass scale anytime soon. That’s because California has long had some of the most lenient tenure requirements in the country. It was this low bar for obtaining tenure that the judge cited in his decision, which found the state’s teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the state constitution and violated their civil rights. Even so, this low bar for tenure may still have passed constitutional mustard if they weren’t so closely tied to key personnel decisions such as determining which teachers could be laid off and the ability to dismiss ineffective teachers, which the plaintiffs’ claimed disproportionately impacted disadvantaged students.

If this decision had happened five years ago I would have predicted a larger ripple effect. However, as our Trends in Teacher Evaluations report found, a number of states have already made the changes to their laws ...

By Casey Carlson, American Federation of Teachers member and resource specialist at Soquel High School in Santa Cruz City Schools (CA)

Editor's note: This month, a judge in California handed down a ruling that pits teachers against their students, claiming that due process rights for teachers – often called tenure – negatively affect disadvantaged students. The American Federation of Teachers asked educators to offer their perspectives on what due process rights mean to them and how those rights impact their work in the classroom. The following post is one teacher’s response.

What Due Process Means to Me

As a special educator, I have often had to disagree with, or act in opposition to, directions of my administrators in order to stand up for the rights of students with disabilities.

When I was a young teacher in Oakland, I was part of a program that moved students with more severe disabilities from a segregated campus to a junior high school. At first, we were not included in school activities like assemblies, and my students were not integrated in PE or music. I had to stand up for their right to be included ...

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

The past few weeks have been graduation season at high schools across America. The Class of 2014 has been unleashed on the world!  

As a school board member in Texas for nine years, nothing compared to handing diplomas to our graduates. Their eyes were shining as they crossed that stage, and their bright eyes reflected the efforts of so many to get them to that point – schools, school boards, teachers, the community, parents, and the students themselves!

A few weeks ago, there was good news about graduation rates in America, using data from 2012. Graduation rates have reached 80%, representing a 10% increase from a decade ago. The new graduation rates are now at levels from 40 years ago. Graduation rates are difficult to track, because of things like transfer students, the number of years it takes to graduate, and the various ways data is collected.  In 2008, the federal government created a new calculation system which has helped schools report data the same way and gain more consistency.

 American public schools have seen progress, and there are good reasons for it. Schools have become more accountable for the numbers of students who graduate. They have worked one-on-one with students in danger of not graduating. Schools with the most challenges have been given additional support. And there has been more of an awareness of the need ...

By Terry Pickeral, Project UNIFY Senior Consultant

Through my work with Special Olympics Project UNIFY, I recently had the privilege of visiting elementary, middle and high schools throughout the nation. I was able to see how they integrate social inclusion and the impact they make on all students. The corresponding Social Inclusion Lessons From the Field report can be found by clicking here.

One of the unique characteristics of Special Olympics Project UNIFY is a focus on creating socially inclusive schools by ensuring all students are encouraged and supported to be “agents of change” where all students are capable of being leaders. All students deserve the opportunity to experience an engaging school and community environment that recognizes their gifts and shares them with others. ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

AASA supports charter schools when they are operated by the local school board and managed by the local superintendent. Under certain circumstances, a district-operated charter school could offer students the quality education they perhaps are not receiving under existing conditions.

In 1995, I was the district superintendent for the Western Suffolk Supervisory district on Long Island, NY, a role quite different from that of the local superintendent. The district superintendent reports directly to the state commissioner of education and, in essence, is the commissioner’s regional representative. When the district superintendent for the adjoining Nassau County retired, I was asked by then-New York State Commissioner Thomas Sobol to assume the role of acting district superintendent for Nassau County as well. It was while serving in that capacity that the commissioner directed me to inspect the Roosevelt Union Free School District. ...

To mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, National School Boards Association Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel reflected on the impact of the decision and the challenges that public schools still face. The following commentary was originally published by the Huffington Post:

In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a timeless and transformative message: All students deserve a great public education; separate systems are not equal.

In marking the 60th anniversary of this landmark Supreme Court ruling, it is important to reflect upon the ongoing effect of Brown v. Board of Education on the work of America’s school boards and our nation’s public schools. Enshrining this decision as a historic relic does not serve the nine out of 10 school-age children who attend our nation’s public schools. To protect students’ rights, freedoms and ready access to a high-quality education, we must actively heed the central tenets of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is particularly concerned about the unintended consequences of privatization through vouchers, charter schools not governed by local school boards, and other means that research indicates are leading to the re-segregation of public schools, mainly in high-poverty urban areas ...

By Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

It started as a whisper. But the injustice taking place in 1954 to African-American school children in Topeka, KS, didn’t stay quiet for long. It took Oliver L. Brown, a welder for the Santa Fe Railroad, to stand up and call out an education system that wasn’t integrated and wasn’t fair. His request was simple: He wanted his 7-year-old daughter Linda to attend a nearby school designated as white-only instead of being bused across town to an all-black Monroe Elementary School. He instead created a movement that reverberated all the way to the Supreme Court and culminated with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared “separate but equal” education unconstitutional.

PTA was there, immediately taking a stand supporting school integration, a move that cost the association some three-million members. Unfazed, these courageous mothers put pressure on all states to integrate. They called it unification. They were ridiculed for their position, but knew that history would be on their side. A few years later, PTA merged with the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers Association (who had also taken a lead role in supporting Brown and others fighting across the country for school equality) to ...

By Lisa Abel-Palmieri, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Blogger

Girls want to change the world.

Eighty-eight percent say they want to make a difference with their lives, and 90 percent express a desire to help people, according to the Girl Scouts’ “Generation STEM” research. Girls have traditionally achieved this goal through people-oriented careers rather than through applying technology and scientific expertise to change the way things are done.

However, if more girls learn that STEM careers open up new avenues to help and serve, more girls will choose STEM.

Maker education allows girls to experience in a fun, tangible way how they can apply STEM skills to solve real problems — all while developing dexterity, learning about ideation and practicing teamwork. By giving girls the opportunity to make and tinker, we also help them develop their creative confidence so they persevere in pursuing STEM majors and careers. The “Generation STEM” report found that 92 percent of girls who engage with STEM subjects believe that they are smart enough to ...

By Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst, National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education (CPE)

With 80 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school, the Class of 2012 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate in U.S. history according to the 2014 Building a Grad Nation report. After graduation rates languished in the low 70s for nearly four decades, rates have accelerated dramatically since 2006, improving by eight percentage points in just six years. According to the report, if this rate of improvement continues the national graduation rate will reach 90 percent by 2020, a goal of the authors of Grad Nation.

While attainment gaps remain, the gap is narrowing between traditionally disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. This is particularly true for the fastest growing group of students in our nation’s schools, Hispanics, whose graduation rate jumped from 61 percent to 76 percent between 2006 and ...

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