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A new report, Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence, suggests that government agencies and policy-makers, including the U.S. Department of Education, should rely more on research to guide their efforts in school reform and turnaround strategies.  The report, authored by Tina Trujillo at the University of California, Berkeley and Michelle Renee of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, asserts that research shows that the top-down, punitive reform efforts that are currently in vogue are ineffective and cause more harm than good in turning around troubled schools.

While the current administration’s efforts to improve troubled schools are well-meaning, the reform strategies mandated destabilize schools and exacerbate the problems troubled schools already exhibit of high staff turnover and frequent change in leadership.  The administration’s efforts to turn around 5,000 of the nation’s lowest performing schools through creation of the federal School Improvement Grant program (SIG) channeled increased federal dollars into states and struggling schools under the condition that a narrow choice of ...

With the recent release of the movie Won’t Back Down and the high-profile Chicago teacher union strike, it seems US public education is, once again, getting negative coverage in the mainstream media, with parents pitted against teachers or teachers pitted against administrators.  Committed education professionals, in their advocacy on behalf of our nation’s public schools, continually highlight the importance of collaboration among teachers, administrators, parents and community members when it comes to ensuring high-performing public schools. The belief is that we are all in this endeavor together and we each have an important role to play. One inspiring example of effective parent-teacher engagement can be found in the Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT) model. ...

Few would argue with the notion that public education in America needs to improve to ensure that our country remains prosperous in the coming years. And we should look wherever we can for ideas on how we can increase student achievement for each child in the nation.

One possible source for these ideas: charter schools. Last week, the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution released “Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools,” in which Roland Fryer discusses his efforts to learn what works in the world of charter schooling and implement it in traditional public schools.

By studying 35 charter schools of varying performance levels in New York City, Fryer and his colleagues identified five practices that are consistently found in higher-achieving schools and that together explain roughly half the difference in effectiveness between charter schools:

  • More human capital (how often schools give teachers feedback on their instructional practice)
  • Data-driven instruction (whether teachers alter instruction to
    ...

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. ...

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