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By Haylie Bernacki, Specialist of Unified Sports School and College Growth, Special Olympics North America Project UNIFY 

For years, a main initiative within Special Olympics Project UNIFY schools and State Programs has been the expansion of Unified Sports, which combines individuals with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. Project UNIFY State Program staff are expanding relationships with state interscholastic associations to increase the credibility, reach, and depth of Unified Sports throughout school districts across the country. The hope is that every child will be able to play on a school sports team, regardless of their ability level. ...

By William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director, Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)

We have a new addition to our family. Tom is our new son-in-law, and one of his quick observations of our family is that we have trouble making decisions. We cannot decide where to go for dinner or what time to meet. He is constantly asking, “Would someone just make a decision?”

Difficulty making decisions is not uncommon for families, but it can also be troublesome for businesses, schools, and organizations. While decisions about dinner plans are relatively trivial, decision-making for bigger concerns is complex and carries higher stakes.

Whether you are a classroom leader, building leader, school system leader or organizational leader, you have to make decisions on a daily basis that might affect hundreds or thousands of students. Today, districts need to make decisions about closing schools or consolidating, as in Evanston, Illinois.  Schools are considering community and business partnerships, as in Reading, Massachusetts. And there are always decisions to be made about students, as in ...

By Elaine Weiss, National Coordinator, Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, and Noelle Ellerson, Associate Executive Director, Policy & Advocacy, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Since the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk, policymakers have asserted that US students are falling behind their international peers, with dire consequences if we do not improve. The result has been three decades of increasingly high-stakes "standards-and-accountability" reforms, which rely on rigorous academic standards and test-based evaluation systems to hold schools and teachers accountable for student progress. As a comprehensive 2011 National Academy of Sciences report found, there is no evidence that this strategy has produced any meaningful improvement. Moreover, a series of recent reports suggests that we have been misinterpreting A Nation at Risk. Our education system is not so much falling behind as it is pulling apart, and the past decade of heightened accountability measures has likely further widened the gaps.

The Equity and Excellence Commission's February report, For Each and Every Child, points to poverty and inequities as core hurdles to U.S. educational improvement. It focuses on the long-neglected issues of school funding equity and state school finance systems, and its core recommendations include more equitable school finance, access to preschool, and comprehensive student supports. Soon after that report's publication, the Council on Foreign Relations released the newest report in its Renewing America Scorecard series. Its findings echo those of the Equity and Excellence Commission: "The real scourge of the U.S. education system -- and its greatest competitive weakness -- is the deep and growing achievement gap between socioeconomic groups that ...

By Cheryl S. Williams, Executive Director, Learning First Alliance, and Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

When leaders of the nation's largest education membership associations gathered recently for the annual meeting of the Learning First Alliance, one of the most interesting speakers challenged the group to come together on messages that resonate with the public and are actionable across policy and decision-making groups. Representing more than 10 million educators, policymakers, and parents, Learning First Alliance has a responsibility to advocate and advance policies and practices that improve learning for both educators and their students. While we may on occasion debate at the "how" level, we stand together on the why and the what.

We offer these recommendations for the start of a great 2013-14 school year. They provide guidance to policy makers and decision makers across the country. They engender the support of education practitioners at all levels. They underlie our precepts as a moral and democratic society.

1. Invest in early childhood education. We have a responsibility to take care of the children. We are among the wealthiest nations in the world and yet we have among the highest percentage of children living in poverty. Education is the single most powerful pathway into ...

By Allison Gulamhussein, doctoral student at George Washington University, former high school English teacher and spring 2013 policy intern for the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education (CPE)

Recently, students in New York City took their first round of exams aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Their experience was far from painless. Many reported that the tests elicited a bevy of worrisome responses: Some children said they had nightmares about bubbling in answers, and others broke down in tears at the end of exams. Such responses stand as a stark reminder that the Common Core standards do not simply ask for more of the same, but instead insist on drastic changes in what students are learning.

The major instructional change demanded in the Common Core is a switch from rote memorization to a focus on critical thinking. Many argue that this change is for the best, but regardless of its merit, a focus on critical thought is a radical shift in instruction.

For more than a century, studies have shown American schools are fact-focused. Research consistently shows that teachers predominately ask students fact-recall questions, and studies analyzing classroom instruction have found that 85 percent of instruction is lecture, recitation, or ...

Education doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but sometimes the most obvious connections are easy to miss – even those that are right in front of us. In an era of high-stakes testing, more rigorous standards and decreasing budgets, some stakeholders and policymakers may wonder why schools should invest time and money on students’ health.  But health care, education and poverty are inextricably linked, and an innate understanding of how these policy spheres intersect locally is almost always required to ensure that each child has an equal opportunity to learn.

Physical Health ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, Ed.D., President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Last month, President Barack Obama visited colleges in New York and Pennsylvania to discuss a plan to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all Americans. Soaring costs threaten accessibility; lack of accessibility threatens the economic growth of the country. Therefore, attention to this matter is absolutely required.

Throughout the country, an increasing number of students must rely on loans to pay for postsecondary schooling and are burdened with debt after graduation. According to the College Board (2012), among students earning bachelor’s degrees in 2010-11 from either public or private nonprofit, 4-year colleges, 60% of students took out student loans and graduated with an average debt of $25,300. This educational debt is especially taxing for graduates who choose to enter lower paying public service careers, such as the teaching profession.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2012), as of 2009, more than 47% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in education will accumulate an average of $21,400 in student debt. In fields such as education, where salaries are notoriously low, mitigating debt through grant programs is essential to recruiting and retaining the most talented men and women in the field.

Since 2008, a little-known grant program has made college accessible and affordable for talented students interested in teaching. The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program, authorized in ...

Those of us who have spent our professional lives working in public education have come to expect that articles written about schools that contain advice for both parents and the educators who work with students will focus on pointing out what’s wrong with schools and those who work in them and generally be negative in tone and wrong with the advice.  So, it was a pleasant surprise to read an article in the August 11, 2013, Parade, the magazine distributed across the country as an insert in Sunday newspapers, entitled “Building a Better School Day.”  Since schools across the country started this week (joining the many that kicked off classes in August), I thought it a good time to reiterate the seven great ideas the article proposed:

  • Begin the day with breakfast—We don’t usually think that schools should be responsible for feeding students more than one meal a day (lunch); however, studies have shown that an increasing number of kids arrive at school without having had breakfast, for a variety of reasons – some young children from poor homes can’t afford it, and some older students sleep in and just skip the meal.  Research has shown that “breakfast consumption may improve cognitive function and school attendance,” and breakfast in the classroom provides an opportunity to ...

By Erica Lue, Advocacy Coordinator, National PTA

Since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, many schools have struggled to find ways to meet the act's rigorous assessment standards. One avenue schools have been taking to find time for more academics is to cut out physical education classes and recess. Another approach has been to withhold time allotted for physical activity as a punishment for poor classroom behavior, or for extra tutoring time for struggling students. While estimates on cutbacks to school recess differ while accommodating a more vigorous academic curriculum, what is certain is that the trend is on the rise. With the troubling statistics regarding childhood obesity, health experts, educators, and parents are expressing concern that cutting recess will further contribute to weight and health problems without actually improving academic performance. ...

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 ...

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