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Yesterday I wrote about Mark Schneider’s belief that to significantly raise student achievement in this nation, we need to “shock” the system. Today, I learned about a partnership aiming to do just that in a rural West Virginia district.

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, State Board of Education Vice President Gayle Manchin and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have announced Reconnecting McDowell, a public-private partnership with more than 40 partners aimed at enhancing educational opportunity for children in McDowell County, a district that has ranked lowest in the state in academic performance for most of the past decade. 

As a community, McDowell County faces a number of challenges in addition to a low-performing educational system. According to the Washington Post, while historically the area has produced the most coal in the state, with the collapse of the coal and steel industries in the 1960s, the unemployment rate has risen dramatically. Nearly 80% of children in the school district live in poverty; 72% live in a household without gainful employment. The area has a high incarceration rate. It also has a large number of residents struggling with addition, and it leads the nation in ...

As part of American Education Week, today is Parents Day, spotlighting the importance of parental involvement in education. Schools across the country invite parents into the classroom to experience firsthand what a day is like for their child.

Of course, schools shouldn’t wait until Parents Day to engage families in their child’s education. Research has shown that family engagement in, or support of, learning leads to better grades, more positive attitudes towards school, better attendance, higher graduation rates and greater likelihood of enrolling in postsecondary education.

A new report from the National Education Association's Priority Schools Campaign reviews this research and profiles 16 family and community engagement initiatives from across the country that have shown success in engaging families and/or community organizations in improving student outcomes. From these programs, it ...

I may be able to afford my connection costs, but staying plugged-in is not cheap; a comparison of Comcast and Verizon shows prices between $69.99 and $100.00 a month, before taxes, for varying internet and cable packages.  For low-income families, prioritizing access comes after purchasing food, making loan payments, buying clothes and filling up the car with gas. Yet in the digital age, it’s becoming evident that children without basic technological skills will be at a disadvantage in the workforce and society. ...

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 ...

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development. She directs RAMP (the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program), a high tech career-focused mentoring program for youth with disabilities involved with or at-risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. Today she reflects on the program, its outcomes, and what has been learned over its first few years.*

As the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) enters its third year, community partnerships have emerged as an important component to making the program work in all communities.  With support from the Institute for Educational Leadership, the 12 RAMP sites around the country provide career-focused mentoring for youth with disabilities who are at-risk of or currently involved in the juvenile justice system. Unfortunately, as youth with disabilities are highly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, all youth with disabilities – especially those with learning disabilities or mental health needs – are at-risk of becoming involved in the system. The RAMP programs place special emphasis on engaging youth with disabilities with a history of high truancy rates, low grades, or school discipline incidents.

Through a mix of education, employer, and community partnerships, RAMP sites have succeeded in providing career-focused mentoring to these youth with outstanding results! In the first year, 95% of the youth enrolled in the program engaged in ...

You might assume that people with children would be more informed on education issues than those without. But a recent survey on school communication by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) suggests otherwise.

More non-parents (65%) than parents (47%) feel very well informed or pretty well informed about the issues impacting education in their local district. 59% of non-parents feel that way about state education issues, compared to just 39% of parents.

While at first glance that seems a bit counterintuitive, survey authors offer several possible reasons for these findings. Perhaps parents are mainly focused on classroom and school-level issues. Maybe they have busier lives, juggling careers with children, and have less time to spend informing themselves. Or perhaps non-parents are simply more concerned with big-picture issues, such as the tax burden and impact of district performance on their property values.

Regardless of who knows more and why, none of those numbers bode particularly well for public education at a time when budgets are strained at both the state and local levels. If citizens are not informed about education issues, they cannot be advocates for ...

Last week WAMU ran a segment on charter school closings in Washington, DC, that bothered me. Not because poorly performing (in terms of academics or finances) charter schools were closed (I firmly believe that low-performing charter schools should close), and not only because of the process by which the schools were closed (too late in the year for students to get into either the DCPS lottery for out of neighborhood schools or the lotteries of many other charters, and with little communication with the families of students attending the schools), but because of some of the language used to talk about the situation, specifically the word “placement.”

As the result of three charter schools closing and two eliminating their high school programs, nearly 750 students needed to find new schools. Several have had a great deal of difficulty in doing so. According to reporter Kavitha Cardoza, about 50% of students were without “placements” just ten days before the start of the school year. 64 of the 128 students impacted by the ...

If you haven’t read the New York Times recent A Failing School? Not to These Students, you really should. It discusses some issues around public schooling that have been, in my opinion, neglected in mainstream media debates over education.

The article begins by pointing out that “[e]veryone knows Jamaica High is a bad school,” receiving D’s on its report card from the city and being labeled persistently dangerous by the state. It is scheduled to close in three years, when the last of its current students graduate.

But the article goes on to celebrate the accomplishments of students at the school, including valedictorian Afsan Quayyum, who has been accepted into an engineering program that will allow him to earn two degrees in the next five years; salutatorian Doreen Mohammed, who has a full scholarship to ...

The headline reads: Despite successes, charter school takeovers draw protests. The first two story highlights, taken directly from (where the story was posted):

  • Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus has seen big rise in students' test scores
  • Some students, parents don't want their schools taken over by charter school operators

Neither is false. But are they related? No.

Mastery’s success – which is undeniable – has no predictive value on whether other charter school operators will have similar success. In fact, as we know from the often-cited CREDO study, the vast majority of charter schools perform no better than their neighborhood schools – and 37% perform worse. Yet in this article (as in countless others), while the author may acknowledge briefly, deep in the article, that not every charter school is successful, she certainly does not draw attention to that fact – or any specifics on charter school movement as a whole.

Instead, under the aforementioned headline and after showcasing the success of Mastery, this article tells the story of Audenried High School in South Philadelphia, which has been identified to be turned into a charter operated by Universal Companies (i.e., not Mastery).

According to the article, Audenried just reopened in 2008 after closing in 2005 because of its failing status, with students taking state standardized tests for the first time since ...

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