Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Family Involvement

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In the Metro DC area, the Higher Achievement Program works to increase the educational opportunities for low-income middle school students who are eager for more rigor and support in their academic programming.  And it cannot keep up with demand, which says two things to me. First, the program is making a difference. And second, some children and parents in low-income areas are eager to engage with this type of learning opportunity.  In an era of budget cuts, public schools are being undermined in their mission to provide this opportunity to all children. This reality paints a troubling picture: a lack of resources holding back ambitious and dedicated young students who crave such support is quite simply, undermining our nation’s future one budget slash at a time. ...

What comes to mind when you think about the PTA - bake sales and school fairs? Local PTAs are often involved in such activities.

But did you know that the National PTA is also the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the country? Working in cooperation with many national education, health, safety and child advocacy groups and federal agencies, the group provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child.

Betsy Landers was installed as President of the National PTA in June 2011, and has served on both state and local PTAs as well. She recently took the time to tell us more about the group, its advocacy efforts and where she hopes to focus during her tenure as President.

Public School Insights: You served as both a local PTA president and as Tennessee PTA president before coming to the National PTA. How have your experiences on those levels impacted the role you see for the National PTA?

Landers: It has afforded me invaluable grassroots experience.  Having served at the various levels of our PTA governance structure (from the local unit level to the state level) has helped me to experience National PTA's impact at each of these levels. It has also given me valuable insight into the needs of our leadership and membership at those levels.  Our members at the grassroots level are the heartbeat of this association.  This is where the true impact of our work is done.

Public School Insights: How has the role of the PTA shifted during your involvement with the organization, at both the local and the federal level? What sorts of challenges are unique to the current context?

Landers: Our advocacy efforts, whether on Capitol Hill or at the local board of education level, remains the hallmark of our impact on behalf of ...

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Anne Foster. Anne is Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools, a national organization of community-based chapters that promotes and strengthens public schools by engaging, educating and mobilizing parents.

For parents of public school children in America, the conversation around public schools is critical. They have the shortest window of time to make sure their kids’ schools are good and that schools have the resources needed for a quality education. But the conversation about public schools today is either non-existent or extremely polarized.  It’s time to change the conversation and come together across political lines to find solutions.

Things used to be simpler.  Our public schools were central to our way of life.  They became our foundation, and every community was built around one.  We came to understand that a strong America meant good public schools for all of our children. Public education meant claiming the American dream.  Teachers garnered honor and respect, and ...

In 2001, The Learning First Alliance wrote a report titled “Every Child Learning: Safe and Supportive Schools – A Summary,” which advocated for systemic approaches to supporting positive behavior in our nation’s schools. The Alliance argued for school-wide approaches to improving school climate, safety and discipline: “In a safe and supportive learning community, civility, order, and decorum are the norms and antisocial behaviors such as bullying and taunting are clearly unacceptable.” Ten years later, schools across the nation continually contend with the harsh and terrifying realities of bullying and the sad reality is that we still have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring a safe and supportive environment for our nation’s children. Fortunately, recent attention to the issue suggests that we are all beginning to take important steps in the right direction.  ...

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (September 18, 2011), featured a cover story entitled “The Character Test”, suggesting that our kids’ success, and happiness, may depend less on perfect performance than on learning how to deal with failure.  The two schools profiled were Riverdale, one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools, and KIPP Infinity Middle School, a member of the KIPP network of public charter schools in New York City.  The common factor in each of these schools is a headmaster or charter school superintendent whose leadership is focused on providing an educational experience for the students he serves that encompasses more than academic rigor and achievement.  Their strategies are based on the work of Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose scholarly publication, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, documents 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras.  The importance of these strengths does not come from their relationship to any system of ethics or moral laws but from their practical benefit:  cultivating these strengths represent a reliable path to “the good life,” a life that is not just happy but also meaningful and fulfilling. ...

President Barak Obama’s State of the Union address has drawn a mixed response from players in the education community. I imagine all appreciate the president’s focus on education as an important issue, and approve of his connecting it to broader American self-interest with talk of jobs and competitiveness in worldwide markets. Likewise, few would disagree with Obama’s emphasis on long-term investment in education, parental involvement in children's learning, the shared responsibility of schools and their communities, recruiting more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers, and the need to overhaul No Child Left Behind. It’s also refreshing that he pointed out teachers are the most important school-based factor in a child’s success; he emphasized the greater importance of parents (and though research more specifically shows the influence of socio-economic status, these two categories are related). His talk of curbing the reach of the federal government was also encouraging to many, although his actual policy emphases related to Race to the Top and other competitive funding measures seem to counter this rhetoric.

Many are concerned with federal oversight of schools, as well as competitive allocation of funds. In a statement responding to the State of the Union Address, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten discussed the need to protect children from struggling segments of the population. Likewise, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel expressed his continued concern that “competitive grants such as ...

Editor's note: This interview comes from our archives. It was originally posted July 15, 2010.

Students can come to school with a lot of baggage. They may be feeling the stress of financial pressure at home. They may be dealing with a death or illness in their family. But as school counselor Barbara Micucci puts it, “Ultimately it does not matter the issues that kids bring to school. Schools are charged with educating the kids.”

This is where she and other counselors come in. We recently spoke with Micucci about the counseling profession—why it is important, how it has changed over the years and the challenges it faces. She also told us about her own work and some of the strategies that led her to be named the 2010 School Counselor of the Year by Naviance and the American School Counselor Association. Key to her success: visibility, and a desire to engage parents as partners in the educational process.

Micucci has been a counselor for over 20 years and is currently working at Caley Elementary School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. She was selected from a field of extraordinary school counselors across the country and plans to use her new role to call for strategies to ensure that every elementary school across the United States has a school counselor.

Why Have School Counselors?

Public School Insights: Let’s start with a very general question. Why is it important for schools to have counselors?

Micucci: It is so important for a number of reasons. I think kids today are under a lot more stress and family pressure than they have been in the past. There are many reasons. Families themselves are very stressed. A lot of it comes from economic conditions. And aside from that, when I think of my school—and I am in a middle-class school in a suburban district—there are a lot of families where parents are divorced. There are single parent families. There are parents who have adopted children. I have a couple families where there's terminal illness. More families are coming with limited English proficiency. There are families living with other families because of ...

Today’s guest post comes from the National PTA, a member of the Learning First Alliance. The largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation, PTA reminds our country of its obligations to children and provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child. It also provides tools for parents to help their children be successful students.

So often we hear complaints from parents and teachers that the other is not doing their job. It is hard for teachers to understand the strengths and challenges of parents, and parents often feel like outsiders in the school world.

Breaking down barriers, fostering positive communication between teachers and parents, and having engaged families will lead to better outcomes for students. Research shows that family engagement promotes student success. Students with engaged parents are more likely to earn higher grades and pass their classes, attend school regularly and have better social skills, and go on to postsecondary education. When families, teachers and schools find ways to work together, student achievement improves, teacher morale rises, communication increases, and family, school, and community connections multiply.

Parents want what is best for their children, and teachers do too. The more teachers and parents talk to each other, work with one another and remember that the child is the focus, the more successful that child will be. And we can all use some help on how to make that happen. Here are some tips that can help parents foster a positive relationship with their child's teacher.

  • Find time to share your experiences with school and how that has shaped your perception about parent teacher relationships. Talk about ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Matt Brown, who can typically be found blogging on education issues over at Relentless Pursuit of Acronyms.

When I pass along articles about education reform or discuss the challenges I faced when I taught with my friends, many of them throw their hands in the air and say “Matt, we can make all these policy changes until we’re blue in the face…it can’t help because parents just don’t care!” Some of my old coworkers expressed similar sentiments. I remain skeptical.

My old school held their first parent-teacher conferences of the year last October. I had just started teaching a few days before (school started in mid-August, but I wasn’t placed until late September), and I couldn’t wait to meet my students' parents and go over all the exciting things that were going to happen in Room 128 that year. I wore my best suit that day, much to the amusement of some of the staff (“Mr. Brown! You getting’ married after school today? You going to court?”), hoping that I could make a good impression.

People told me not to get my hopes up. Some said the meetings would be an exercise in futility. But I refused to be defeatist. When the time came, I sat in my classroom, smiling by my sign-in sheet and looking forward to discussing the year, our class goals and my students with their parents. Sadly, only ...

“Education reform is not just about school improvement. It’s also about informing and inspiring parents so that they can ‘come on the team’ with high expectations and high levels of support” – Bill Jackson, founder and head of Greatschools.org, as quoted yesterday on the Core Knowledge Blog.

Whether or not you personally agree, some policymakers are starting to. The obvious question they must then confront is: How do you inform and inspire parents?

Well, as Larry Ferlazzo wrote recently on a Washington Post blog, two school districts decided to pay them. Parents will get rewarded for attending school events, such as parent-teacher conferences.

There is no denying the evidence that students are more academically successful when there is a strong parent/school connection. But will paying parents actually engage them? According to Ferlazzo, the answer is no. He points to Dan Pink’s work, which has found financial incentives can motivate people to do mechanical tasks (show up for a meeting) but not stimulate more cognitively challenging tasks (speak regularly to children about their school day). And in addition, when ...

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