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I was anxious to read the December/January issue of the Phi Delta Kappan because the cover promised a focus on how we can use technology to improve teaching and learning, a field I’ve been immersed in for some time. But once I delved into the issue, while the technology articles were interesting and represented a variety of viewpoints, I was really excited to see the article on the Kalamazoo Promise. Full disclosure here: my good friend and colleague, Jim Bosco, professor emeritus in the Education Department at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, had told me about this project several years ago as it was kicking off. The article details the progress of a project that promised a fully paid college education for any Kalamazoo public school student who graduated with an academic record strong enough to be selected for admission to a state-supported institution of higher education. Jim was excited about the project and his enthusiasm was infectious. Here was a community that focused first on the outcome they wanted….every student proceeding to post-secondary education….not how the school district was going to ensure students took advantage of the “carrot.” ...

Community support for schools is a crucial issue, especially in light of the current negativity toward public schools by the media, and severe funding limits on the national, state, and local level. It is timely then that during a recent meeting, members of the Learning First Alliance heard from Jamie Vollmer—head of Vollmer, Inc., a public education advocacy firm—who discussed ideas from his most recent book, Schools Cannot Do It Alone: Building Public Support for America’s Public Schools. He focused on the idea of local level community engagement for building school support.

Clearly educators face many challenges and have to work under numerous limitations (money, time, and demographic realities of schools, among others). But Vollmer argues there is a largely unexploited factor that can work to schools’ advantages: the malleability of local communities to accepting area educators as legitimate forces for good.

He asserts that by effectively targeting community members and informing them on how it is in their own self-interest to have good public schools, educators can gain the community support that is so vital to school issues.

To do so, Vollmer proposes that educators reach out using two tracks: a formal track that focuses on community groups, and an informal one that takes place through every day interactions. The formal track should take place “on the communities’ turf and ...

Yesterday over at Always Something, National School Public Relations Association Executive Director Rich Bagin offered some thoughts on how we can best promote public schools, taken from private schools’ marketing campaigns.

Chief among those thoughts: Promote individual schools. In public education, we typically promote school districts, not individual schools. But private schools – and though Rich does not mention them, I think charter schools as well – focus to great effect on what one individual school does for its students. And as Rich points out:

When real decisions are made, it comes to a school versus school and program versus program decision.

Given that we already know this, why does this PR strategy run so counter to what we in public education do? Do we want to avoid creating competition within the system, to avoid potentially concentrating families who lack the social capital to get into a better school in a struggling one? (Though isn’t that happening anyway, with charters, private schools and the ability 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 ...

It was recently announced that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is donating $100 million to help improve Newark’s long-troubled public schools. Those funds will be matched by donations raised by the city, which is also raising $50 million for another youth effort. In other words, Newark’s children will have a lot more money available to them over the next few years.

As part of this agreement, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will cede some control over Newark Public Schools (currently state-run) to Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Together, they will select a new superintendent, and Mayor Booker will have freedom to redesign the system (though the governor retains formal authority over it).

This partnership is great news in some respects--a Democrat and a Republican overcoming political conflicts, joining forces for the sake of the children. Hopefully it is the first of many such unions across the country.

But I do have some concerns with this set-up. First, we must question the wisdom of short-term infusions of private funds into public schools. While $100 million--or even $250 million--is a lot of money, it won't last forever. What happens when the money runs out?

And second, what is the role of philanthropy in school reform? Some argue, as NYC Chancellor Joel Klein puts it, that while private philanthropy will never be a large part of a system's budget, it is money that can be used for research and development and for ...

Have you checked out NBC’s Education Nation’s mission statement? A little birdie recently passed on some interesting information about it...

The statement claims “Sixty-eight percent of our eighth-graders can’t read at grade level.” But where did that number come from?

The source was not immediately apparent. But having some knowledge of education (and a helpful source), I assumed it came from NAEP--the National Assessment of Educational Progress. So I went to their website to check out the reading scores.

NAEP actually found that 32% of eighth graders performed at or above the proficient level in 2009, the most recent data available. That means, of course, that 68% of eighth graders did not. The problem? Scoring “proficient” on the reading NAEP has no relationship with whether or not a student can read at grade-level.

NAEP defines proficient as “representing solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of ...

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Teachers - Got Plans Sunday?

If not, consider joining a live chat for Education Nation’s Teacher Town Hall. It will be held Sunday, September 26, at 12pm Eastern/9am Pacific. And during this event, NBC’s Brian Williams will talk with teachers on-air and online about issues facing educators and education. Just remember--you must register to participate.

For those who do not know, NBC News’ Education Nation is a week-long event, starting Sunday, that will examine and redefine education in America. It “seeks to engage the public, through thoughtful dialogue, in pursuit of the shared goal of providing every American with an opportunity to pursue the best education in the world.” Believing that we have allowed our students to fall behind, that our workforce is largely unprepared for today’s marketplace and that we face stiff competition from abroad, NBC hopes to provide quality news and information to the public to help us decide: Is it time to reinvent American as an Education Nation?

This event will feature in-depth conversations about improving education in American, including the Teacher Town Hall (which, by the way, will be aired live on MSNBC, educationnation.com, scholastic.com and msnbc.com). For the entire week, “NBC Nightly News,” “Today,” “Meet the Press,” “Your Business,” MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, msnbc.com and ...

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Survey Says...

Each year the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools provides an in-depth look at how Americans perceive public schools. This year’s poll probed the public on a wide range of hot education issues. How hot? Think the federal role in public education, school and teacher quality, teacher salaries and evaluation, student learning and rewards and the importance of college.

The results, released to the public yesterday, provide food for thought for educators and policymakers on all sides (and in the middle) of the ideological debates often dominating the education media. It is well worth a read.

One overarching conclusion, drawn by a panelist at the release event: The American public is not necessarily having the same conversation as policymakers when it comes to education.

Highlights of what Americans think:

  • The state is responsible for education, not the federal government. It is responsible for funding schools, setting standards, deciding what should be taught and holding schools accountable.
  • Improving teacher quality should be the top national education priority. Not developing demanding education standards. Not creating better assessments for students. And not
  • ...

Welcome back to school!

While you educators are at various stages of the back-to-school process--you may have been getting to know students for weeks now, or met students yesterday, or be setting up your classroom or office--we know that many of you are preparing back-to-school presentations, columns, and other communications.  So we wanted to remind you that we have sample language available for use in back-to-school communications.  Feel free to steal our words. Take them all, or take only a few. Whatever your needs dictate.

This language outlines an emerging vision for 21st century public schools, a vision that is already taking shape in schools from coast to coast.  It reaffirms the ...

Could the LA Times' decision to publish teachers' value-added scores have a chilling effect on school research? That question came to me as I read about a case in Arizona. Arizona officials are seeking the names of teachers and schools that took part in a study of the state's policies on teaching English, even though those teachers and schools were promised that their names would remain confidential. Needless to say, many in the research community are none too pleased.

The UCLA study found that the state's ESL policies were doing more harm than good. The state isolates English language learners so they can study only English for several hours every day. UCLA researchers found that this practice does not narrow learning gaps but does raise the specter of segregation. State Chief Tom Horne argues that he cannot rebut those findings without full access to the data used in the survey.

His opponents counter that schools will never again open the doors to researchers if they feel their anonymity is at risk. Researchers (like many reporters, I might add) will often go to great ...

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