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By Betty Edwards, Chair of the Special Olympics Project UNIFY® National Education Leaders Network

The film “Cipher in the Snow,” a true story written in 1964 by teacher/guidance counselor Jean Mizer, tells the story of an ostracized teenager, Cliff, who has no friends and becomes a withdrawn "cipher" or nonentity. (Cipher is the mathematical notation for zero—something without weight, importance, or value.)

One day, Cliff asks to get off the school bus, collapses, and dies in the snow beside the road. Cliff’s math teacher is asked to write the obituary but realizes that hardly anyone recalls the student. When he tries to get a small group together to attend Cliff’s funeral, he can’t find 10 people who knew the student well enough to feel comfortable going. He vows to never let another student in his class feel unimportant and be unknown.

We wish we could say that this story could not be written today, but that’s not true. Many students in our schools feel insignificant, disengaged, and ...

New technologies are dramatically changing how people learn. Unfortunately, many schools are moving far too slowly to adopt them, with classrooms today organized in much the same way they were in the 1950s. We in public education must do a better job incorporating new technologies into teaching and learning to prepare students for success in the changing world that awaits them.

But what does it look like when schools step into the digital age? And what can school leaders do to ensure students are learning in new ways?

We recently had the opportunity to hear about these issues from an expert, Ryan Imbriale, Principal of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Baltimore, one of NASSP’s 2013 Digital Principals and a PDK 2013 Emerging Leader. In an e-mail interview, he shared his thoughts on how school leaders can promote digital learning and the challenges they face in doing so, as well as specific examples of what it looks like in his building.

Public School Insights (PSI): Before we discuss your school in particular, I want to ask a couple overarching questions. You were recently named one of NASSP’s 2013 Digital Principals. What exactly is a “digital principal”?

Imbriale: Well, a digital principal is actually real – it’s not some sort of virtual person.  That’s been the running joke at my school since my staff found out I won the award.  The award is designed to recognize principals who exhibit bold, creative leadership with new technologies.

PSI: In general, what is the role of a school leader in digital learning?

Imbriale: The school leader must be willing to fostering an environment of innovation, exploration, experimentation, and trial and error.  When a school’s culture is student-centered and driven by a collaborative spirit it’s really amazing what can be accomplished.  But I will also say that the leader must also be a user.  It’s impossible to get buy-in if you are not modeling effective use.  I try hard to continually model my own personal and professional use of technology, whether it’s social media or flipping professional development.

PSI: Now tell me about your school. What is your vision for it?

Imbriale: My vision for Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts is to provide students with quality comprehensive educational experiences that enable them to develop the productive habits of life-long learners.  Our students will be able to think critically and creatively, learn independently and in collaboration with others, value ethical behavior, and develop skills needed to function in a technologically changing and ...

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

In July, the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) held its first national conference in nearly a decade to remind educators and community leaders of the dire circumstances faced by some of our nation's students. The conference challenged all leaders to “pursue justice for children with urgency and persistence.”

Although the challenges public education faces -- fiscally, economically, politically, and socially -- are complex, there are discrete solutions that we can leverage right now to transform learning.

  • Too many of our children are uninsured and, thus, lack access to healthcare.
  • Too many of our children lack access to nutritious foods.
  • Too many of our children are not college-ready.

Research has demonstrated clearly that health and learning are linked (see Charles Basch’s Healthier Students are Better Learners for incredible detail on the subject). Furthermore, we know that these issues are more acute in our most vulnerable populations: students living in low-income, urban, rural, or ...

By Annelise Cohon and Lisa Sharma Creighton, NEA Health Information Network

"Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day," that’s the March National Nutrition Month 2013 theme. In celebration of the observance we’d like to share three ways you can work to promote good nutrition at your school by increasing access to school breakfast, ensuring all food sold in school is healthy, and encouraging nutrition education and physical activity at school.

(1) Increase access to school breakfast. Research confirms that eating breakfast at school helps children learn. When students are hungry, they struggle academically and are at risk for long-term health issues. In the U.S., 1 in 5 children struggle with hunger according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Below are important resources for teachers, principals and administrators, and parents to increase access to school breakfast and positively impact hunger.

The Commission on Equity and Excellence had a Congressional mandate to provide advice to Secretary Duncan on the disparities in meaningful educational opportunities and to recommend ways in which federal policies can address such disparities. They just released a report titled “For Each and Every Child,” after a two year work period. The distinguished members of the panel, with diverse professional backgrounds and different political ideologies, focused on the inequality in our nation’s public school system as the primary driver behind two achievement gaps, the internal domestic gap and the international gap. Their conclusions and recommendations won’t surprise education professionals, but the report serves as a well-timed call to action for the struggles facing African American students, particularly males, during Black History Month. The opportunity gap also exists for a significant number of Hispanic and Native American students. ...

This was written in collaboration with many Project UNIFY staff members.

 Editor’s Note: This post is from our partners at the Special Olympics Project UNIFY. Each week in January, we will feature a new article on a topic related to the social inclusion of youth with intellectual disabilities. Through this effort, we hope to inform the public of the importance of such inclusion as well as offer educators and parents resources to implement it.

On Friday, January 25, 2013, the United States Department of Education (DOE) released new guidance to schools and school systems throughout the nation that receive federal aid about the requirements of providing quality sports opportunities for students with disabilities.  While the guidance does not make new law, it does identify the responsibilities that schools and school systems have under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The key messages in the new guidance could be summarized as the following: ...

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Top Posts of 2012

As we look ahead to what we hope to accomplish in education in 2013, it behooves us to also reflect on 2012. We reelected a president whose administration is committed to the issue (but whose policies we do not always agree with) and has granted many states waivers to key aspects of the nation’s top education law, No Child Left Behind. We moved closer to a vision in which students in Mississippi learn to the same high standards as those in Montana and Massachusetts as we worked to implement the Common Core. States and districts across the nation navigated new terrain in teacher evaluation and tenure. Educators continued exploring how to best take advantage of new learning technologies – flipping classrooms, starting one-to-one iPad initiatives, preparing for a shift to online assessments and more.  

With all that happened in 2012, what garnered the most attention from you, our readers? Here are our top five posts of 2012 (as indicated by our trusty Google Analytics tracking system). Enjoy!

5. Rethinking Principal Evaluation. Principals are second only to teachers among the in-school influences on student success. Yet we don’t hear much about how to measure their performance – and the little research that exists on the issue suggests that current evaluation systems are far from adequate.

4. Can Arts Education Help Close the Achievement Gap? Research suggests that arts education can help narrow the achievement gap that exists between low-income students and their more advantaged peers. But ...

We’ve all heard about the fiscal cliff that the nation will go over in January unless Congress takes action. Included in that cliff: Sequestration, 8.2% budget cuts to all federal discretionary spending programs – including education programs like Title I (which targets money to low-income students), IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which sends money to special education students), Title II (which provides money to improve teacher quality) and the Rural Education Achievement Program (which helps small, rural school districts).

According to a July survey by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), school administrators are planning for these budget cuts in a variety of ways. If the cuts come through, they will be reducing professional development, increasing class size, reducing academic programs (enrichment, after-school, interventions and so on), deferring technology purchases, laying off staff (both non-instructional and instructional), cutting bus transportation and more.

These cuts would be devastating to schools and students. But they would not be shared equally: New data from AASA shows that sequestration would disproportionately impact disadvantaged youth. ...

We’ve all heard about summer learning loss. Students lose between one and two months' worth of academic knowledge each summer. Low-income students are particularly sensitive to this phenomenon – some research suggests that more than half of the achievement gap seen in reading between these students and their wealthier peers can be attributed to summer loss.

So across the nation, schools, districts and states are trying to address the issue. One seemingly obvious solution: A move to year-round schooling. Given that the most popular school calendar in the nation is a relic from our agrarian days, when children were needed in the fields at specific times during the year, it certainly makes sense to revisit it. And many schools and communities have adopted a year-round calendar, replacing a long summer break with shorter breaks throughout the year.

But I was interested to read an article out of Grand Rapids, MI, that indicated a possible move in the opposite direction. Because of chronic absences at some district elementary schools that run on a year-round calendar (at one school, 41% of ...

A new report, Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence, suggests that government agencies and policy-makers, including the U.S. Department of Education, should rely more on research to guide their efforts in school reform and turnaround strategies.  The report, authored by Tina Trujillo at the University of California, Berkeley and Michelle Renee of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, asserts that research shows that the top-down, punitive reform efforts that are currently in vogue are ineffective and cause more harm than good in turning around troubled schools.

While the current administration’s efforts to improve troubled schools are well-meaning, the reform strategies mandated destabilize schools and exacerbate the problems troubled schools already exhibit of high staff turnover and frequent change in leadership.  The administration’s efforts to turn around 5,000 of the nation’s lowest performing schools through creation of the federal School Improvement Grant program (SIG) channeled increased federal dollars into states and struggling schools under the condition that a narrow choice of ...

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