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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 ...

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

A new school year is about to start. For the past five years, school systems have suffered the worst economic decline since the Great Depression and, to add insult to injury, the effects of sequestration this year will add to the economic malaise.

Nevertheless, public education in America is the best that it has ever been. How can that be, you say? Media accounts abound as to how our schools are failing with privatization, vouchers, charter schools and choice offered as our only salvation. Not true.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of students attending schools considered “dropout factories” has declined by 41 percent since 2002. The number of dropout factories has declined by 29 percent since 2007. A total of 1.1 million fewer students are attending such schools. Today, the dropout rate, which has been declining steadily since 1972, is the lowest it has ever been. Conversely, high school completion rates have been trending up, and ...

By Joseph Bishop, Director of the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign and Executive Director of Opportunity Action

Last week, New York education officials released scores from the first Common Core-aligned standardized state tests. Student scores showed a dramatic drop in performance from previous years.  Statewide, just 31.1 percent of students tested proficient in English Language Arts, and 31 percent tested proficient in math.

We can’t be surprised by the results, as New York leaders and many state decision-makers across the country have failed to recognize that new standards alone won’t drive students to succeed. Standards must be matched with common core supports for students, parents, teachers and principals.  The challenge the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign is trying to address with organizations like the Alliance for Quality Education and A+New York is about more than closing the achievement gap on state tests. We’re working to rectify the ever-present opportunity gap that ...

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 ...

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 ...

By Jared Niemeyer

Jared is a Special Olympics Athlete and a member of the Project UNIFY National Youth Activation Committee, and for him, friendship is a blessing that he’ll never take for granted.

Friends are people who care about you, respect you, really listen to you, are thoughtful and do nice things because they want to see you smile, but most of all – you are important to them because you matter! I have some really great friends!

As a Special Olympic athlete I have a lot of friends with intellectual or developmental disabilities. We love doing things together; we care about what happens to each other, we encourage each other and look out for each other. We are friends and enjoy doing things together! Special Olympics has given us the opportunity to experience a lot that some of us would never have had the chance to do. We also play Unified Sports, so many of our teammates are also Unified partners and don’t have disabilities; we are friends and have a lot of fun working and playing together. ...

When I logged onto my Twitter account last Tuesday, an interesting string of comments/news scrolled across my screen.  As fate would have it, the National Education Association (NEA) annual meeting and the National Charter Schools Conference (NCSC) were both taking place, and their keynote speaker addresses filled my Twitter feed. 

The NEA speakers, former Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools (MCPS) district superintendent Jerry Weast and Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond offered perspectives on the roles teachers can and should play as successful practitioners in the classroom and beyond.  Dr. Weast profiled the MCPS Peer Assistance and Review Program (PAAR), designed in collaboration with the local unit of NEA and the district administration to institute a system of teacher evaluation led by teachers and predicated on ...

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 ...

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

Minority students have made significant gains over the past four decades in both math and reading, according to the 2012 long-term NAEP results. While most white students made significant gains as well, achievement gaps narrowed considerably since minority students made much larger gains than their white peers. However, large achievement gaps still remain.

Reading Results

9 Year Olds

  • U.S. 9 year old have made significant gains.
    • Since the first year of NAEP in 1971, student achievement in reading has increased significantly from 208 to 221 (13 points, or just over a year’s worth of
    ...

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

Across the nation, new state legislation is weaving together educator evaluation, student assessments, and continuous professional learning for educators. New evaluation systems for educators commonly define levels of effective performance, require preparation for those responsible for conducting the evaluations, and call for support systems for educators' continual professional growth and development. Too often these evaluation systems fail to include the essential policy components to support effective educator professional learning necessary for continuous growth, which reinforces an already deeply embedded practice of inequity in students' opportunity to learn.

Some educators are fortunate enough to work in school systems and states with sound professional learning policies that define effectiveness; hold school systems, third-party providers, and others accountable for effective professional learning practices; and make the necessary resources available for continuous learning. When other educators do not benefit from such policies, students' opportunities to ...

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