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The purple shaded area in a Venn diagram of two overlapping circles – one blue and one red – is the sometimes uneasy but always necessary connection between traditional public schools and the business community. The extent to which healthy public-private partnerships develop depends entirely on how those partnerships are ultimately managed by those at the local level.

It’s not surprising that public schools and businesses may have an inherent distrust of each other. After all, their missions are very different; public schools exist to provide every child a quality education and businesses exist to make a profit. But the economic recession is forcing schools to do more with less, which is in turn pushing more districts to look at ways to finance their operations, including by forming partnerships with businesses and other community stakeholders that may not have existed in the past. ...

The Democratic National Convention is currently taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Republican National Convention just wrapped in Tampa last week.  It’s a presidential election year and the majority of dialogue, consequently, revolves around the national political scene – from the implications of veep picks and endorsements to super PAC contributions and the influence of political ads. Certainly, inside the Beltway, organizations and entities are caught up in a fierce dialogue around  two competing visions for the country. Local contests, school board elections for instance, are just one casualty of the national hype, yet they are crucial to the vitality of our democracy.

We know that only a very small percent of registered voters typically participate in local school board elections.  Lack of information is a significant explanatory factor for low voter participation in school board elections. First, what do school boards do? Who can be elected? And when are elections? (You might not be able to vote for your school board at the same time as you vote for President.) It’s not unusual, according to ...

Change is hard – something that those in the education community may know better than most. Whether it is changing a school culture, a child’s life prospects, policymakers’ thoughts on accountability, or voters’ minds on a bond referendum, educators are constantly on the lookout for evidence that they are succeeding as change agents. Sometimes that evidence seems scarce, particularly at a national level, as policymakers push education in ways we don’t always like and rhetoric indicates that we are to blame for a great number of society’s problems.

So as I read through the results of the 44th annual Phi Delta Kappa (PDK)/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, I was on the lookout for evidence that we are succeeding in changing the conversation around public schools in this nation. And I was pleased to see that (while not always in the direction I personally would advocate) American’s views on public education are evolving.

The Biggest Problem Facing Schools

The first question asked on the poll each year is an open-ended one: What do you think are the biggest problems that the public schools of your community must ...

Public systems are inherently complex because they involve multiple levels of government and numerous actors. Such systems, funded with taxpayer dollars, engage the concept of public good. Collective dollars contribute to a framework from which the broader citizenry benefits. The U.S public education system exemplifies complexity, from diverse funding streams to policy-making at the federal, state and local levels to the daily functioning of schools and classroom teaching. As such, public education is often at the heart of a greater debate over the role of government and the concept of public good. ...

In the current fiscal climate, all government entities – schools most certainly included – are being asked to justify their costs. But given that they are typically measured by standardized test scores, graduation rates and other academic measures, how can schools show their cost-effectiveness?

Economist Michael Walden has provided one example, conducting a study on the impact of the Virginia Beach City Public School System on the metropolitan Virginia Beach economy. And he recently shared the experience in School Administrator (a publication of the American Association of School Administrators, AASA).

One thing I appreciated: The opening acknowledgement that while there is much rhetoric about bringing business principles to government, government is fundamentally different than business. As Walden points out, “a strong argument can be made that government exists to perform those functions that private companies can’t do and make a profit.” ...

As with many developments in public education, when you hear about a “public private partnership”, you would do well to ask a few follow-up questions. For example, you might wonder about the true business interests – given that many entities are profit-driven. If the company has a foundation arm providing grants, what are their metrics pushing for schools or districts to demonstrate? To what extent does the business respect education experts and maintain a respectful distance from policy decisions?  Are these programs operating in traditional public schools and are they successfully expanding? Do these programs support equity? In an era where tax dollars are scarce and public schools are struggling under the challenges of tightening budgets, it is tempting to cite examples of cross community collaboration as a possible solution to school funding issues. However, not all partnerships are the same when you compare quality, mission or implementation, and continued questioning is essential. ...

Chronic absenteeism is often thought of as a middle and high school issue. As children become responsible for getting themselves to school, those who are disengaged stop showing up.

But did you know that nationally, one in ten kindergarten and first grade students miss the equivalent of a month of school each year? In some districts, it is more than one in four. Why don’t we talk more about these shocking statistics?

Perhaps because we don’t know them. I had no idea that chronic absenteeism (when a child misses 10% or more of the school year) in the early grades was so common until a session last week at the Coalition for Community Schools’ 2012 National Forum, when Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, and representatives from school districts across the nation helped illuminate the scope of the problem.

I doubt I am alone in my ignorance on this issue. When data in Multnomah County (Oregon) showed that 20% of K-3 students are chronically absent – 28% of kindergarteners – stakeholders in both the schools and the community were shocked. ...

A new study out of Kansas is adding to the pile of evidence that early childhood education not only has academic benefits for children (particularly disadvantaged youth), but economic benefits for society.

America’s Edge, a national nonprofit organization of business leaders whose members “work to strengthen businesses and the economy through proven investments in children,” has released a new report finding that in the short-term, for every $1 invested in early-learning programs in the state, a total of $1.68 is generated in spending. Early childhood education outperforms retail trade ($1.65), transportation ($1.63), construction ($1.59), wholesale trade ($1.51), and manufacturing ($1.46).

And remember, these are short-term benefits. Many other studies have documented the longer-term economic benefits of investing in early learning. Consider:

  • An evaluation of Chicago Public Schools' federally funded Child Parent Centers (CPCs) finding that for every dollar invested in the preschool program, nearly $11 is projected to return to society over participants' lifetimes—the equivalent of an 18 percent annual return.
  • A study showing that Georgia’s lottery-funded pre-kindergarten program was estimated to save the state $212.9 million over
  • ...

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Everyday Heroes

Recently we have been hearing - from some politicians, the media and certain “ed reformers” - that teachers are one of the problems facing education today. While the importance of good teachers is often acknowledged, (sometimes unintentionally and sometimes intentionally) the current education workforce is portrayed as lazy, entitled, indifferent and the guardian of the status quo.

This rhetoric corresponds to the lowest teacher job satisfaction in decades, as evidenced by the MetLife Foundation’s recent Survey of the American Teacher. Last summer, I wrote about the mood at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) annual conference. I titled the post, America’s Premiere Teachers: Demoralized, Infantilized, and Fearful?

Teachers certainly have a right to be demoralized, given not only the rhetoric surrounding them but the conditions in which they are working, which are acknowledged to be stressful and which may further deteriorate, as the effects of the economic recession continue to work their way through our education funding systems.

So it’s more important than ever that we celebrate teachers. One way in which you can help: Vote for an AFT Everyday Hero. The American Federation of Teachers has sifted through hundreds of ...

Recently, I’ve been reminded of the wealth of publicly supported educational resources outside the classroom that offer rich learning opportunities for students of all ages.  I’ve also mulled over how formal public schooling can take advantage of some of the resources and experiences to which I’ve been exposed.  Certainly, I’ve been involved for many years in advocating for the appropriate and effective use of new and emerging technologies to meet our teaching and learning needs in the public classroom.  But I’m reminded that nothing can change the ‘being there’ and there are ways that the technology can help us ‘be there’ as learners and also explore primary sources in ways not possible before.

My first reminder of the riches available to all of us was in January when the Learning First Alliance Board of Directors met at the Library of Congress in the elegant Jefferson Room.  In addition to hearing from the Librarian of Congress, we also learned from the Library’s education staff about the extensive work that’s been done providing access to the digitized version of primary sources and the educational enhancements that have been applied to these sources…i.e. you can now see the original version of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote along with the edits, identified by their author, and see which edits appeared in the final version and ...

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