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Family Involvement

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Evidence clearly shows that family engagement in education promotes student success. And the vast majority of parents (and other family members and guardians) understands that fact and takes educational responsibilities very seriously. So when they are faced with reforms that require changes to their children’s school experiences, families rightly raise questions and concerns about how those reforms will impact the learning and life of students.

Recently, one education reform in particular has come under significant scrutiny from a number of different education stakeholders, including families: the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative. Parents have expressed concern about how the standards will impact student testing, classroom rigor, student privacy, what children will read and more. But even in the face of such concerns, one group that has never wavered in its support of the Common Core is the National PTA.

National PTA President Otha Thornton recently took the time to tell us why the organization continues to support the standards and what parents should know about them. He also dispelled some of the myths surrounding the Common Core and shared resources to help parents learn more and support successful implementation of the CCSS in their communities.

Public School Insights (PSI): Why does the National PTA support the Common Core?

Otha Thornton: Since 2009, National PTA has firmly supported the development and implementation of the Common Core State Standards, maintaining that every child deserves a high quality education that prepares him or her for success upon graduation from high school. National PTA is confident that the Common Core State Standards are an essential tool to ensure that America’s youth have the opportunity to reach their full potential and become productive members of ...

Earlier this month, we at the Learning First Alliance were pleased to welcome our newest member, Parents for Public Schools (PPS). As we work to advance public education nationwide, we recognize the important voice that this organization – and those it represents – brings to the school improvement conversation.

PPS has local chapters throughout the country that work to elevate the role of parents in public schools from passive consumers to active participants. The organization helps accomplish its mission through strategies and programs that educate, engage and mobilize parents. Through its ongoing work, PPS’ parents help raise standards, solve problems and advocate for their community.

Parents for Public Schools Executive Director Anne Foster recently took the time to tell us more about the organization.

Public School Insights (PSI): What is Parents for Public Schools?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools (PPS) is a national organization of community-based chapters working to strengthen public schools by engaging, educating and mobilizing parents.

PSI: Why was the organization formed?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools was started in 1989 in Jackson, Mississippi, by a group of parents. They were committed to supporting public schools and challenging the entire community to do so as well. They were convinced that parents could positively impact public schools, and one of their first acts was to help pass ...

The National PTA Reflections Program was founded in 1969 by Colorado PTA President Mary Lou Anderson with a simple objective: to encourage students to explore their talents in the arts and deepen their self-expression through those experiences. Eleven years ago, the US Department of Education started a Student Art Exhibit Program, and each year they recognize many of the student Reflection winners as part of the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the art exhibit at the Department headquarters in Washington, DC. This year, the PTA Reflections theme was “Magic in a Moment,” and millions of students from across the United States created works of art in a variety of mediums, including film, music, literature, and photography. These works of art are exquisitely crafted and reflective of the artists’ stage in life and the experiences that inspired their creation. The student voice and perspective speaks to the world through the vibrant range of expression; it’s truly a celebration of the human experience. ...

By Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement, National PTA

This week, one of our state PTA leaders contacted the National PTA office to ask for a simple definition of family engagement. This reminded me of one of the biggest challenges in this field: the lack of a common definition. Many people I worked with in the past defined family engagement as how many parents attended school events or volunteered in the school building. This type of “head count parent involvement” used to be the norm. Fortunately, a large body of research has opened our eyes!

We now know that the things families do at home with their children have the biggest impact on how well children do in school. It’s great if families can come to school and participate, and I hope that all of them do, but they can still be engaged even ...

By Erica Lue, Advocacy Coordinator, National PTA

Since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, many schools have struggled to find ways to meet the act's rigorous assessment standards. One avenue schools have been taking to find time for more academics is to cut out physical education classes and recess. Another approach has been to withhold time allotted for physical activity as a punishment for poor classroom behavior, or for extra tutoring time for struggling students. While estimates on cutbacks to school recess differ while accommodating a more vigorous academic curriculum, what is certain is that the trend is on the rise. With the troubling statistics regarding childhood obesity, health experts, educators, and parents are expressing concern that cutting recess will further contribute to weight and health problems without actually improving academic performance. ...

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 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 ...

The economy may be slowly improving, but many families and children are still struggling to get by in communities across the country. Economic insecurity increases childhood stress and negatively affects a student's ability to focus and be present in the classroom. School counselors are on the front lines when it comes to supporting students through this and other challenges ranging from incidents of bullying, issues at home, academic struggles, and depression and anxiety, to name just a few.

Recently, Mindy Willard, the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA's) 2013 National Counselor of the Year, was kind enough to share her insights and experience with Public School Insights (PSI). She has created a counseling program at Sunset Ridge Elementary School that serves all its 650 students through a range of activities and interventions. She also provided specific goals, interventions and results from the program, highlighting how such efforts support student health and learning. And, as the National Counselor of the Year, she shared some of her thoughts on the challenges counselors face, important facts to highlight in advocacy efforts and what she's looking forward to doing this year in her national role. 

Public School Insights (PSI): First, congratulations on being named the 2013 ASCA School Counselor of the Year. And thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions about your work and the value of school counselors. Could you share with us what drew you to counseling?

Willard: I always knew I wanted to work with people, children in particular; it wasn’t until college when I discovered the idea of becoming a school counselor. I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and quickly realized there was not a whole lot I could do with that degree. I began exploring my options, spending summers working with children in juvenile detention facilities and group homes. I discovered I really wanted to ...

By Chrystal Jones, Senior State Advocacy Strategist, National PTA

As the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation, National PTA speaks with a powerful voice on behalf of every child and provides the best tools for parents and communities to help their children become successful students. National PTA volunteers have adopted several position statements and resolutions, beginning in 1981, in support of voluntary, clearer, higher academic standards for all students. You can read our position statements on our website.

The National PTA has made a tremendous impact on education reform in the early stages of adopting and implementing the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) and is a strong partner in the CCSSI at the national level.  Recent examples of the impact at the national level include:

  • Inclusion in a National Governor’s Association Common Core State Standards Issue Brief.  Delaware PTA and Michigan PTA were interviewed about their work to advance the Standards and were highlighted as ...

By Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager, Family and Community Engagement, National PTA

It's impossible to overestimate the role that parents can play in their children's education. In addition to being their children's first teachers, parents are also their children's teachers year after year. While a student moves from classroom to classroom, parents and families stay the same. In fact, nobody else knows my children and the struggles they face from year to year better than I do.

That consistency is one reason why parents are so vital to their children's education. More importantly, it's the reason parents must work to maintain a learning environment at home over the summer and during extended breaks. Research proves that the home-school partnership plays a critical role in student academic achievement. As Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp noted in "A New Wave of Evidence," when families are involved in their children's learning, children earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs, have higher graduation rates and ...

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