Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Equity

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By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

As the school year starts, I keep thinking about how teachers never really get a break. Despite the myth about “summers off,” I was with several thousand educators this July – not at the beach, but at TEACH, the AFT’s largest gathering of educators focused on their professional practice and growth. Teachers spent long days learning from fellow educators and other experts about concrete ways to improve teaching and learning. Many teachers told me how they were spending the rest of their summer: writing curriculum aligned to the new, challenging Common Core State Standards; taking classes, because teachers are lifelong learners; and working with students – in enrichment camps and programs to stem summer learning loss. So much for the dog days of summer.

And our conferees did much more. We also committed to reclaim the promise – the promise of public education. Not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as what public education can be to fulfill our collective obligation to help all children succeed.

Yet even amidst this dedication and inspiration there is a great frustration. The promise of a great public education for all children is under pressure not only from out-of-touch legislators, but from economic and societal factors outside school that ...

“A person has truly become a PTA member when his circle of concern stretches
beyond his own child to include all children.” – Unknown

By Stella Y. Edwards*, Chairman, National PTA Legislative Committee

October is upon us. At National PTA, that means it is the Month of the Urban Child. This month’s campaign gives emphases to our education advocacy work as it relates to reaching communities where they are: in urban areas. National PTA comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of family involvement in schools. While PTA members may be in agreement with the PTA mission overall, urban areas have a uniqueness that warrants a focus on the effectiveness of our education advocacy work in those areas.

The beauty of the urban area is that it is as diverse as its citizens. This diversity, a broad range of backgrounds, religious beliefs, education values, and ethnicities, are unique characteristics that breathe life into the fast-pace, energetic, and close living style of the city!

I’ve had the pleasure of organizing in urban, rural and suburban areas.  Regardless of the location in which the organizing work was conducted, the key aspect of my experience has been the importance of relationship building.  First, you must build a relationship, develop trust, and address the community’s issue (not yours). Then you can begin to take action. You must first show a community that you care about them, you respect them, you will not judge them, and you ...

The call to expand learning time to ensure that American students remain competitive with their international peers has become quite popular. While the rationale is perhaps a bit misguided (some evidence suggests that our students already experience as much instructional time as their peers, and other research confirms that teachers in the United States spend more time on instruction than teachers in other nations do), there are certainly reasons to focus on the issue, not least of which is the summer learning loss that disproportionately impacts our nation’s most disadvantaged youth.

But as those in the education community know, it is not necessarily the idea of extending learning time that is appealing – it is the idea of expanding learning opportunities. Partly in response to federal accountability measures, curriculum in many schools – particularly those serving predominantly disadvantaged students – has narrowed to focus on reading and math at the expense of the arts, physical education, civics and other subjects. In addition, the budget cuts of the Great Recession caused schools to further pull back in areas like art, sports and extracurricular activities – and, as a recent survey points out, the sequester has had an impact as well.

Yet in all these cuts, wealthier students are less likely to be impacted than their lower-income peers, in large part because their parents ensure they are exposed to enrichment opportunities either at school (perhaps paid for by fundraising efforts) or in ...

By Haylie Bernacki, Specialist of Unified Sports School and College Growth, Special Olympics North America Project UNIFY 

For years, a main initiative within Special Olympics Project UNIFY schools and State Programs has been the expansion of Unified Sports, which combines individuals with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. Project UNIFY State Program staff are expanding relationships with state interscholastic associations to increase the credibility, reach, and depth of Unified Sports throughout school districts across the country. The hope is that every child will be able to play on a school sports team, regardless of their ability level. ...

By Elaine Weiss, National Coordinator, Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, and Noelle Ellerson, Associate Executive Director, Policy & Advocacy, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Since the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk, policymakers have asserted that US students are falling behind their international peers, with dire consequences if we do not improve. The result has been three decades of increasingly high-stakes "standards-and-accountability" reforms, which rely on rigorous academic standards and test-based evaluation systems to hold schools and teachers accountable for student progress. As a comprehensive 2011 National Academy of Sciences report found, there is no evidence that this strategy has produced any meaningful improvement. Moreover, a series of recent reports suggests that we have been misinterpreting A Nation at Risk. Our education system is not so much falling behind as it is pulling apart, and the past decade of heightened accountability measures has likely further widened the gaps.

The Equity and Excellence Commission's February report, For Each and Every Child, points to poverty and inequities as core hurdles to U.S. educational improvement. It focuses on the long-neglected issues of school funding equity and state school finance systems, and its core recommendations include more equitable school finance, access to preschool, and comprehensive student supports. Soon after that report's publication, the Council on Foreign Relations released the newest report in its Renewing America Scorecard series. Its findings echo those of the Equity and Excellence Commission: "The real scourge of the U.S. education system -- and its greatest competitive weakness -- is the deep and growing achievement gap between socioeconomic groups that ...

By Cheryl S. Williams, Executive Director, Learning First Alliance, and Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

When leaders of the nation's largest education membership associations gathered recently for the annual meeting of the Learning First Alliance, one of the most interesting speakers challenged the group to come together on messages that resonate with the public and are actionable across policy and decision-making groups. Representing more than 10 million educators, policymakers, and parents, Learning First Alliance has a responsibility to advocate and advance policies and practices that improve learning for both educators and their students. While we may on occasion debate at the "how" level, we stand together on the why and the what.

We offer these recommendations for the start of a great 2013-14 school year. They provide guidance to policy makers and decision makers across the country. They engender the support of education practitioners at all levels. They underlie our precepts as a moral and democratic society.

1. Invest in early childhood education. We have a responsibility to take care of the children. We are among the wealthiest nations in the world and yet we have among the highest percentage of children living in poverty. Education is the single most powerful pathway into ...

Education doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but sometimes the most obvious connections are easy to miss – even those that are right in front of us. In an era of high-stakes testing, more rigorous standards and decreasing budgets, some stakeholders and policymakers may wonder why schools should invest time and money on students’ health.  But health care, education and poverty are inextricably linked, and an innate understanding of how these policy spheres intersect locally is almost always required to ensure that each child has an equal opportunity to learn.

Physical Health ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, Ed.D., President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Last month, President Barack Obama visited colleges in New York and Pennsylvania to discuss a plan to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all Americans. Soaring costs threaten accessibility; lack of accessibility threatens the economic growth of the country. Therefore, attention to this matter is absolutely required.

Throughout the country, an increasing number of students must rely on loans to pay for postsecondary schooling and are burdened with debt after graduation. According to the College Board (2012), among students earning bachelor’s degrees in 2010-11 from either public or private nonprofit, 4-year colleges, 60% of students took out student loans and graduated with an average debt of $25,300. This educational debt is especially taxing for graduates who choose to enter lower paying public service careers, such as the teaching profession.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2012), as of 2009, more than 47% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in education will accumulate an average of $21,400 in student debt. In fields such as education, where salaries are notoriously low, mitigating debt through grant programs is essential to recruiting and retaining the most talented men and women in the field.

Since 2008, a little-known grant program has made college accessible and affordable for talented students interested in teaching. The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program, authorized in ...

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 ...

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