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Standards that Matter

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By Jim Dunn, APR, Past President of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)/Current Communication Consultant

The battle lines seem to be drawn concerning Common Core State Standards.

On one side are the likes of media personalities Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, billionaires Charles and David Koch, the Republican National Committee, the Tea Party, and a whole bevy of angry people who feel like their country has taken a very wrong turn.

On the other side of the debate, and solidly pro-Common Core, are seventy-plus percent of teachers nationwide, conservative political leaders such as former Republican Governor Jeb Bush, 45 state boards of education, the National Chamber of Commerce and a horde of bewildered education advocates who thought their country, at last, was going to improve K-12 education.

Boards of education, superintendents and school communications professionals now are caught squarely in the middle of an intense political/ideological battle that could derail years of thoughtful efforts to improve U.S. education. The grassroots consortium of professionals who led the development of Common Core standards – from superintendents to teachers to national education experts – believed they were on track to deliver a K-12 education model that would ensure every United States high school graduate is able to ...

When you think of the PTA, you might picture parents getting together to put on a fall carnival or bake cookies for teacher appreciation week. And while the National PTA does encourage teacher appreciation (and has a great Pinterest board dedicated to the topic), the organization is about so much more.

The overall purpose of the PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. The national organization prides itself on being a powerful voice for children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education, working in cooperation with many national education, health, safety and child advocacy groups and federal agencies on behalf of every child.

Otha Thornton was installed as President of the National PTA in June 2013, making history as the first African-American male to lead the organization. He recently took the time to tell us about himself and his views on education, as well as how the PTA is gearing up to address the challenges facing public education.

Public School Insights (PSI): It’s been widely noted that you are the first African American male president in the National PTA’s history. What do you think is the significance of that?

Thornton: It demonstrates that PTA, as an Association, transcends race. The founders did not start PTA as a segregated Association, but due to our southern states and their laws earlier in our country’s history, the National Congress of Colored Parents was formed in 1911 by Selena Sloan Butler to address the needs of black children. The two Congresses combined in 1971 to form the National PTA with the shared mission that all children of all races need advocates to ...

By Helen Soule, Executive Director, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Dana Elementary School is surrounded by apple orchards in the rural community of Hendersonville, North Carolina. Many of the families work in agriculture, and eighty percent of the students attending Dana qualify for free or reduced lunch.  “Having those demographics has never stopped us from wanting to have high expectations for our students,” says Principal Kelly Schofield. “And we really just have always felt…that if any students in the state can do it, then so can ours, and we can achieve.  Our goal has always been to find the framework, find the curriculum, find the instructional strategies that work for our population of students.”

For Schofield and her colleagues, the skills, content and teaching strategies outlined in the Framework for 21st Century Learning are essential to their shared success. “It’s the way we live in school everyday,” she says. “It is our culture; it’s how we talk, it’s how we act.” For students like Tom Walter, this framework translates into collaborative, project-based learning enhanced by technology—like a recent social studies class in which he built a documentary film project on immigration with a team of his fellow fifth graders. For teachers ...

By Chrystal Jones, Senior State Advocacy Strategist, National PTA

As the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation, National PTA speaks with a powerful voice on behalf of every child and provides the best tools for parents and communities to help their children become successful students. National PTA volunteers have adopted several position statements and resolutions, beginning in 1981, in support of voluntary, clearer, higher academic standards for all students. You can read our position statements on our website.

The National PTA has made a tremendous impact on education reform in the early stages of adopting and implementing the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) and is a strong partner in the CCSSI at the national level.  Recent examples of the impact at the national level include:

  • Inclusion in a National Governor’s Association Common Core State Standards Issue Brief.  Delaware PTA and Michigan PTA were interviewed about their work to advance the Standards and were highlighted as ...

I cannot begin to count the number of times I hear a statistic related to children and education that causes me to pause and ask additional questions about the context. A troubling number is often just an indicator of a larger problem, which serves as backdrop to help explain how we as a society arrived at this measurement. I recently attended three separate events that collectively reminded me, once again, that we can help all children realize their true potential through collaboration and teamwork across schools, districts and communities. By addressing root causes and individual student needs, we may see students take the lead in their learning, becoming the future leaders of tomorrow, today. ...

By Mel Riddile, Associate Director of High School Services at the National Association of Secondary Principals (NASSP)

Principal leadership matters--perhaps now more than ever before. As much as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are changing instructional practice in the classroom, we must acknowledge that student learning under CCSS requires a schoolwide transformation that transcends individual classrooms and requires the dedicated, continual attention of the principal. Consider how these five essential schoolwide conditions for CCSS will fundamentally shift the way principals go about leading schools.

1. A culture of college and career readiness. Culture reflects the mindsets and  expectations of everyone in the school and ultimately drives behavior. A CCSS culture reflects the universal expectation that all students will be prepared for life beyond high school, and it encourages students' capacity to imagine their long-term possibilities. In much the same way that a discipline policy becomes ineffective if only half the teachers enforce it, a culture of high expectations must pervade every meeting, every ...

I recently attended an event showcasing state initiatives that focus on the goal of ensuring all third grade students read on grade level – a lofty and perfectly reasonable goal.  The participants in the program included three governors as well as a panel of state superintendents of education.  One of the governors kept mentioning that in her state too much attention has been paid to the adults in the system to the detriment of the students.  Her belief in this root cause of the disappointing literacy rate of her state’s third grade students struck a cord and reminded me of another event hosted by Learning Forward and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) last month. That event, Advancing the Common Core: State Strategies for Transforming Professional Learning, showcased a set of resources to improve teacher practice developed under the leadership of Learning Forward with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sandler Foundation, and the MetLife Foundation. It included a panel of education leaders at the state and local level who have participated and contributed to the project.

One panel member, Cynthia Cash-Greene, superintendent of the Orangeburg (SC) Consolidated School District #3, was especially impressive, and her message resonated with me.  She said district leaders need to be bold and know what they stand for.  She has focused on ...

By Brian Lewis, CEO, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

More than three decades since the first computers began to appear in schools around the country, we still seem to be engaged in a national conversation about whether or not they belong there – whether the investments that our communities have made in education technology can be linked to improved student outcomes.

Our collective truth is that today’s students were born into a world where technology has been a part of their lives from the very begin­ning. As preschoolers, they pick up their parents’ smartphones and seem to intuitively know how to play a game. Ask a first-grader who is a baseball fan to find information on when his favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, will be playing next, and there is every possibility he will tell you to go to www.Cubs.com. Ask a high school freshman if there should be technology in schools and you will likely get that look that only a 15-year-old can give, telling you that you are “clueless.”

These same students are graduating into a world where they are competing for jobs on a global level – not only on a local, state, or national level. The days of the reading, writing, and arithmetic being alone at the core of schoolwork are far in the past. As the new Common Core State Standards recognize, students need to master the ...

The Learning First Alliance has sent an open letter to education stakeholders recommending a transition period in Common Core implementation. Fifteen of our member organizations joined together to suggest that for at least one year after the original deadline, the results from assessments of the Common Core State Standards be used only to guide instruction and attention to curriculum development, technology infrastructure, professional learning and other resources needed to ensure that schools have the supports needed to help all students achieve under the Common Core.

By removing high-stakes consequences from these assessments during the transition to them, educators will have adequate time to adjust their instruction, students can focus on learning, and parents and communities can focus on supporting children.

Download the letter, or read it below.

 

June 6, 2013

OPEN LETTER TO EDUCATION STAKEHOLDERS:

Fifteen members of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of national education organizations representing more than ten million parents, educators and policymakers, have agreed on the following statement:

The Learning First Alliance believes that the Common Core State Standards have the potential to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community.

To meet this potential, teachers, administrators, parents and communities are working together to align the standards with curriculum, instruction and assessment. Their work – which includes ...

Earlier this month the Learning First Alliance (LFA) hosted our annual Leadership Council meeting for LFA member organizations’ executive directors, senior staff, and elected leadership.  This year’s meeting brought 100 education leaders together under the theme Setting a Bold Agenda for Collaborative Leadership in Public Education, and working groups were charged with outlining the focus for the LFA coalition’s work in the coming months. With background information provided by Warren Simmons, executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University; Saul Rubinstein, Associate Professor, School of Management & Labor Relations at Rutgers University; and Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University and 2013 recipient of the LFA Education Visionary Award, attendees outlined two major action items for our collective efforts.

The first day’s small group discussions centered on developing a common vocabulary and message approach that emphasizes the success that public schools have achieved individually and collectively throughout our country’s history.  Attendees were reminded that critics of public schools, who call themselves “reformers”, have a simple, straightforward message about public education that ...

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