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By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

Whenever I visit a school, one question always guides me: Would I want my own child in this school? If it’s good enough for my children, then it’s a good school; if not, then it’s a bad school. Plain and simple.

I’ve always applied my test in equal measure whether the school is a traditional public school, a charter school, a parochial school, a private school, or even a home school. The standard should be the same, regardless of the structure of the school or who’s paying the bills.

And that’s part of why the charter debate is so difficult for me.

Every child should have high-quality teaching every hour of every day. Ensuring that every child has an excellent education is good for this country, which is why we should use public dollars to pay for education.

I truly do believe that thousands and thousands of children in the United States are getting a better education today because they are enrolled in charter schools. That should be enough to make me happy, right?

But it’s not.

In spite of the benefit to individual students, I still wonder whether charter schools are ultimately good for the country.

I especially worry that charter schools are another factor that’s destroying American neighborhoods, especially in ...

Patte Barth, Director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association, penned the following column for the Huffington Post.

House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was speaking recently at the release of the Brookings Institution’s latest report on Education Choice and Competition. Calling these policies “an education revolution,” the House leader baldly stated, “school choice is the surest way to break [the] vicious cycle of poverty.

Not “a solid education.” School choice.

The Brookings’ report ranks 100 large districts on their school choice policies. Their report came out in advance of last week’s National School Choice Week. Both share a goal to drum up more support for funneling tax dollars into educational options — whether they be charters, magnets, private, or virtual schools.  The rationale is that a free marketplace will force schools to innovate in order to compete for students. Popular schools will equate with “good schools” and unpopular ones will close. And thus, in Brookings words, we will raise “the quality of the product.”

Unfortunately, that’s one mighty big assumption.

Most choice advocates defend their position by pointing to successful charter schools in New York City and elsewhere. Others extol the promise of virtual learning. What they all provide, for the most part, is anecdote, ...

School discipline policies often promote a zero tolerance approach that disproportionately, and negatively, affects minority children. Pushing students out of the building for behavioral infractions is not the answer; instead, policies should prioritize programs and actions that create safe environments for students to learn and thrive. Zero tolerance is easy, but it is not a real solution because it actually funnels many students towards the cracks, letting them fall through with little ability to pull them back. Yet many schools lack comprehensive alternative courses of action. Schools and states need to revise their approach to school discipline if they truly wish to leave no child behind. ...

By Nora Carr, APR, President, National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and Chief of Staff, Guilford County Schools, Greensboro, NC*

With child poverty rising nationwide and public education under constant attack, working in school public relations can get discouraging. Then something comes along that reminds us why we do what we do. Sometimes it’s a photograph; sometimes it’s a story. It may be an event, film clip, quote, poem, or even a news segment.

In Joplin, MO, it’s a young boy experiencing his brand new school in what once was a storm ravaged community, exclaiming: “It feels like happiness.” And, it’s a visionary superintendent who kept pushing for a “bigger, better” Joplin when many felt a more modest standard would suffice. 

In Jamestown, NC, it’s a school hosting a parade and surprise party for a 97-year-old volunteer who found new purpose helping medically fragile children. And it’s every news outlet in town coming out to cheer everyone on, the look of pure joy radiating from every crevice on the volunteer’s face as he hugs one of his kids.

In Haughton, LA, it’s a teenager who wows the crowd as part of the team’s color guard, twirling flags with precision to the beat of music she can’t hear. And, it’s her determination to pursue a position on the flag team in college, and the public school that made her inclusive education possible.

In Sanger, CA, it’s a young girl who arrives from Mexico at age five not speaking any English and then graduates as her high school’s valedictorian, despite working nearly fulltime as ...

The latest release of international test results has once again stirred the controversy of whether or not American students can successfully compete academically in a global context. Before we condemn our educational system, however, we must first understand exactly what the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reveals about student performance and whether a fair comparison can be made between American 15-year-olds and those in other countries.

Between 2009 and 2013, the performance of American students on PISA did not change. Overall, U.S. teens were found to be very good at basic tasks, but they fell short when engaging in critical thinking and deeper learning. PISA also shows that even though the United States has slightly closed the achievement gap for poor or disadvantaged children, the U.S. gap is still much larger than in most top-performing countries. (These findings are consistent with previous results on state summative assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.) Further, the PISA analysis suggests that schools should focus more attention on developing students’ analytical skills in concert with state summative assessments. It also speaks to the need for more equitable distribution of ...

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

Like millions of immigrants, my parents came to America with the hope that their children would have better lives than they themselves had. The very foundation of the American Dream is the belief that people can be upwardly mobile despite their parents’ social and economic standing. Although many immigrant and low-income families struggle, those of us in the margins always believed we had the opportunity to join the middle class. Sadly, this is increasingly less true.

The United States continues to have the world’s largest gross domestic product (GDP) and more millionaires and billionaires than any other country. Unfortunately, the number of people living in poverty in the United States is also among the highest in world. The wealth gap has been steadily growing for more than a decade as the middle class continues to decline.

President Obama has called income inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” Although some conservative politicians contend there is no inequality, people on both sides of the political aisle agree on one factor crucial for improving Americans lives and mobility: education. ...

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

Next week (Jan. 27-31) is National School Choice Week, a campaign whose sponsors include proponents of vouchers, charters, magnets and other schools, though the real focus is on vouchers. When it comes to school choice and vouchers at AASA, we are deeply committed to supporting and strengthening the nation’s public schools, and have an absolute belief that public dollars are for public schools and equally strong opposition to vouchers.

We are very engaged in advocacy efforts to oppose federal education policy supporting vouchers. AASA is involved with the National Coalition for Public Education, a coalition of more than 50 education, civic, civil rights and religious organizations. NCPE brings these groups together in their common belief that maintaining strong public schools, which are open and nondiscriminatory in their acceptance of all students, is essential to preserving critical American values and ensuring our nation’s ...

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

The National Student Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker is an invaluable service that can help districts better prepare their students for college success.

The National Student Clearinghouse is a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 by the higher-education community to track students who received loans to help pay for college tuition. Graduate schools provide enrollment information, while the NSC verifies to lenders that students are taking the necessary course work.

Since expanding its services, the NSC currently holds records for more than 137 million students and 3,500 institutions of higher education, covering 98 percent of the current enrollment in both public and private colleges and universities. Today, the NSC continues to provide enrollment, diploma verification, and ...

By Jill Cook, Assistant Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

Robin Zorn believes school counselors can make a difference in students’ lives, and she goes out of her way to prove it.

It’s this belief that informs her work every day at Dr. M.H. Mason Jr. Elementary School in Duluth, GA, and her advocacy work at the district and state level. Her efforts were recognized last week when the American School Counselor Association named her the 2014 School Counselor of the Year.

Robin and the six previous winners of the award exemplify the work school counselors across the country do to increase academic achievement while promoting students’ personal/social development and career needs. Since she became a school counselor in 1999, the profession has undergone a transformation from being reactive to proactive and from ancillary to a critical cog in overall school improvement. 

This transformation is due largely to the ASCA National Model, which was published in 2003 and provides a framework for school counseling programs so they are comprehensive in scope, preventive in design and developmental in ...

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