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By Kelli Windsor, Communications Manager for State Programs, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign

As kids head back to school, educators are focused on how to best ensure students succeed in the classroom and in life. New findings from a national survey released by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign show that breakfast is key to academic success and that rethinking how we serve school breakfast is crucial to enhancing the educational experience for all. 

Hunger In Our Schools: Teachers’ Report 2013 surveyed more than 1,200 K-8 teachers and principals nationwide. It finds that three out of four K-8 public school teachers and principals see kids who regularly come to school hungry because they aren’t getting enough to eat at home. Extensive academic research shows that hungry students can’t learn, which is why the school breakfast program is so important.  However, of the more than 21 million low-income kids in the U.S. who rely on a free or reduced-price school lunch, only half – about 11 million – currently get a school breakfast even though they qualify.

We can close this gap by creatively rethinking school breakfast. Traditionally schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before class begins. We’ve learned that moving breakfast ‘after the bell’ can make it easier for ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

At the beginning of her teaching career, my daughter shared with me that she would never want to be a "staff developer." She told me how people were not happy with the staff development required by the school system. They wanted time to work in their schools and with their colleagues to study their curriculum, plan their lessons, and problem solve around situations facing their school and their students.

What she was expressing was precisely the definition of effective professional learning. That was five years ago and she was in her second week of her first year of teaching. Today, her job is, indeed, staff developer. She serves as a master teacher in a Title 1 elementary school. While the challenges are different and often require additional resources, what her colleagues want for their students is no different than what other educators around the world desire. ...

By Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association, and Billy Shore, Founder and CEO, Share Our Strength

Hunger can be found in every corner of the country, affecting one in five children, and this problem often plays out in the classroom. Hungry children struggle to concentrate in class, visit the school nurse with daily headaches and stomach aches, and may act out because they are hungry.

In fact, problems are so severe that a new study shows that teachers spent $37 a month buying food for hungry students, up from $26 a month in 2012.

Share Our Strength’s annual nationwide poll of K-8 public school staff finds that three out of four teachers and principals reported students regularly coming to school hungry. Half of teachers surveyed say hungry children in their classroom is a serious issue, the highest level measured in the four years of conducting this research. ...

The call to expand learning time to ensure that American students remain competitive with their international peers has become quite popular. While the rationale is perhaps a bit misguided (some evidence suggests that our students already experience as much instructional time as their peers, and other research confirms that teachers in the United States spend more time on instruction than teachers in other nations do), there are certainly reasons to focus on the issue, not least of which is the summer learning loss that disproportionately impacts our nation’s most disadvantaged youth.

But as those in the education community know, it is not necessarily the idea of extending learning time that is appealing – it is the idea of expanding learning opportunities. Partly in response to federal accountability measures, curriculum in many schools – particularly those serving predominantly disadvantaged students – has narrowed to focus on reading and math at the expense of the arts, physical education, civics and other subjects. In addition, the budget cuts of the Great Recession caused schools to further pull back in areas like art, sports and extracurricular activities – and, as a recent survey points out, the sequester has had an impact as well.

Yet in all these cuts, wealthier students are less likely to be impacted than their lower-income peers, in large part because their parents ensure they are exposed to enrichment opportunities either at school (perhaps paid for by fundraising efforts) or in ...

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 ...

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