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Remember Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to improve public schools in Newark? According to a recent article in USA Today, $99 million of it is still in the bank.  

The article offers some reasons why there have been problems getting school improvement efforts off the ground in Newark. For example, the city’s public schools have been without a superintendent since February.

But most of the article describes what seems to be a disconnect between those in charge of these efforts and those who must implement them – parents, students and teachers. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is charged with making changes and has raised $43 million in trying to match Zuckerberg’s funds, has been criticized for not revealing ...

Clearly both teachers and public education get a bad rap among many in America. And while defenders often point to unfavorable media coverage and blame by politicians, movie and TV show depictions of education are less frequently cited even though these domains can be hugely influential in forming public opinion. (Documentary films about education are especially trendy right now.)

Apparently Hollywood is irresistibly attracted to the same ideas as Michelle Rhee and many conservative pundits: that education in America can be saved by superhero teachers. In researching movie and TV depictions for this post, I came across many that focus on the messianic teacher who allows his or her students to overcome poverty, lack of parental involvement, disenfranchisement, peer pressure, lack of attention or recognition from other adults, cultural myopia, and a host of other deeply systemic issues. A partial list includes:

  • To Sir with Love,
  • Dangerous Minds
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus
  • The Corn is Green
  • The Miracle Worker
  • A Child is Waiting
  • Fame
  • Dead Poet’s Society
  • Music of the Heart ...
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School Boards Circa 2010

Last week, the results of a comprehensive national survey of school boards - the first in nearly a decade - were released. They painted a picture of both the demographics of those serving on school boards and the structure of those boards. Among the findings: nearly three-fourths of school board members have a bachelor’s degree and 94.5% of them were elected to their posts.

But it is what we learned about the beliefs of school board members that has gotten the most attention – and with good reason. Over the past ten years, those beliefs seem to have shifted quite a bit.

Back in 2002 (the last time a similar study was conducted), school board members were consumed with what has been dubbed the “killer B’s” – buses, buildings, books, budgets, bonds and such. Today, they are more concerned with student achievement, evidenced in part by the fact they are more likely to cite that achievement as a key consideration in evaluating their superintendent.

Two other trends in board member beliefs that ...

President Obama has set the goal that the United States will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. To help Americans understand how our country is progressing towards that goal, and to provide an accessible and transparent view of the nation’s education system as a whole, the U.S. Department of Education has launched a new resource: The United States Education Dashboard (

The Dashboard features 16 key indicators of the state of American education. Taken together, they are intended to provide a complete picture, from cradle (3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool) to career (students completing a bachelor’s degree within 6 years from their initial institution), of education in this country. It includes information on performance, equity, teachers and leaders and more.

The Dashboard also offers a state-level look at education, providing information on these indicators for ...

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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