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By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

Sometimes it seems like parents just can’t win. Now they’re being blamed for their children’s education failures because they help with homework! So suggests a new study by Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, as highlighted by The New York Times on April 12, 2014.

It is well-documented that research can be used to prove almost anything. That’s the feeling I had recently when the Robinson/Harris study on parent involvement was released. Research often exists at 30,000 feet and sometimes does not seem to connect with real people on the ground. While this study identifies ways that parent involvement possibly does and does not work, unfortunately the message and the headline are that parent involvement doesn’t count.

Having helped shepherd two children through the public school system, I can’t quite grasp the findings of this study that being involved in their schools, being involved in how they behaved, and making sure homework got done could all actually have hindered their education. And all that time, I thought I was being a good parent! ...

By Robin Sheffield, National Board Certified Teacher with 20 years experience in education, including service on the Board of Directors for the Toledo Federation of Teachers

One of the many hats I wear as a Peer Literacy Coach is to provide Professional Development to my building and to other building staff within the district.  With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), my department has added several Professional Development (PD) offerings to reflect the major shifts of the CCSS.  One of the major shifts is the focus on informational text: building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts. In response to this shift, we now have a four-hour (delivered in two parts) PD, which helps teachers understand the reasons why expository text is difficult for students to comprehend.  Additionally, teachers are taught how to select strategies that will support student understanding of the different structures of expository text.

Last month I was asked to provide this four-hour module to a neighboring building with a K-8 staff. Part I of the PD focuses on why expository text is so difficult for students to understand.  When teachers are asked this question, the most common response is that the text(s) contain unfamiliar, difficult vocabulary for students.  While this is true, there are other factors that come into play.  In addition to unfamiliar vocabulary, the content itself may contain unfamiliar concepts which present problems for comprehension. In addition, different content areas have specialized and/or technical words.  There are also varied text structures, most of ...

Earlier this month, the Learning First Alliance participated in a day-long tour of three traditional public schools in the District of Columbia (DCPS), our nation’s capital and “home town.” The tour was hosted by DCPS and sponsored by Discovery Education, and it included stops at three campuses where teachers are using digital resources to meet the individual needs of the students in their classrooms. The day was worthwhile, instructional and (most importantly) uplifting as we observed excellence in teaching and learning in traditional urban public schools.

Those of us who have worked in public education for years know that there is much good work happening in public schools; however, most of that work doesn’t get attention, and the prevailing messages that “public education is failing” or “public education is not good enough” are, in addition to being inaccurate, also dispiriting. ...

By Jenn Kauffman, NEA Health Information Network

"She's blue!"

I was three-years-old, and my mother had minutes before given me a walnut to snack on as I rode in the backseat during a family road trip. I was suddenly quiet - unusually so for a talkative toddler - and when she turned around, she realized I had stopped breathing.

I was experiencing anaphylaxis - a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. My reaction had been triggered by a tree nut food allergy - one of the 8 most common food allergy triggers in the U.S.

Food allergies can be a scary event not only for the estimated 15 million Americans like me who have a food allergy, but also for family, educators, co-workers and friends who witness an allergic reaction. Awareness, education and prevention can literally save a life.  The National Education Association Health Information Network produced "The Food Allergy Book" in English and in Spanish to help school staff and families be prepared in the case of ...

We know that effective communication is critical in public education, both for building support for public schools and for ensuring the successful implementation of education initiatives, such as the Common Core State Standards. But what does a good K-12 communication strategy look like?

Missouri’s Nixa Public Schools, a suburban K-12 system serving 6,000 students in 11 schools, provides one example. Communication has been a key aspect of the district’s strategic plan for well over a decade, and Nixa has developed a transparent, high-functioning communications program that is two-way in design. For this work, the district was named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership Through Communication Award, with Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith and Director of Communication Zac Rantz recognized for their exemplary leadership in the field. The district was commended for building a culture where there is a common language between internal and external stakeholders; creating an environment in which information can be shared in a variety of ways; providing the community the opportunity to offer input which is listened to and acted upon; and more.

In a recent e-mail interview, Rantz took the time to discuss the district’s program and give advice to those looking to strengthen their communications strategy.  

Public School Insights (PSI): What is the district’s general philosophy on communication?

Rantz: Inform early. Inform often. Inform through multiple channels.

PSI: What are the key components of your communication program?

Rantz: We structure our communication channels into two main sections: internal and external ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

We know quite a bit about the strategies that help educators improve and develop expertise over time. Over the long term, we have gathered evidence from research and the field about professional learning that led to changed practices for teachers and better results for students.

For example, numerous researchers have established the value of learning communities, and each week we hear about more districts creating time for learning communities to meet during the work day. We know from more than a decade of research sponsored by The Wallace Foundation and others that principals who act as instructional leaders (with all that entails) have a greater impact on advancing students and teachers. Both research and the field emphasize repeatedly the importance of collaboration and the value of peer learning. And while the research isn't clear on the impact of coaching, examples in the field lead us to believe in its usefulness. ...

By Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

It started as a whisper. But the injustice taking place in 1954 to African-American school children in Topeka, KS, didn’t stay quiet for long. It took Oliver L. Brown, a welder for the Santa Fe Railroad, to stand up and call out an education system that wasn’t integrated and wasn’t fair. His request was simple: He wanted his 7-year-old daughter Linda to attend a nearby school designated as white-only instead of being bused across town to an all-black Monroe Elementary School. He instead created a movement that reverberated all the way to the Supreme Court and culminated with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared “separate but equal” education unconstitutional.

PTA was there, immediately taking a stand supporting school integration, a move that cost the association some three-million members. Unfazed, these courageous mothers put pressure on all states to integrate. They called it unification. They were ridiculed for their position, but knew that history would be on their side. A few years later, PTA merged with the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers Association (who had also taken a lead role in supporting Brown and others fighting across the country for school equality) to ...

For his decades of work towards, and advocacy for, the advancement of public education in North Carolina and across the nation, the Learning First Alliance honors Governor James B. Hunt with its 2014 Education Visionary Award.

Considered by many to be the nation’s first “education governor,” Hunt served an historic four terms as governor of North Carolina, from 1977-1985 and 1993-2001. Under his leadership, North Carolina public schools improved test scores more than any other state in the 1990s, according to the Rand Corporation.  

Hunt has also been at the forefront of national education reform, particularly in the areas of early childhood development and the improvement of the quality of teaching. Among his many successes in education, his Smart Start program received the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award from ...

Governor James B. Hunt Named 2014 LFA Education Visionary

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For his commitment to improving education in North Carolina - where he became known as the nation's first "education governor" - and across the nation, the Learning First Alliance honors Gov. James B. Hunt as our 2014 Education Visionary.

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

I’m sitting here trying to convince myself to go to class. Class begins in two hours, and I am not ready. I have not studied. I have not finished the homework. Actually, I’m not even certain what homework I was supposed to do. I’m worried that the teacher will call on me and that I won’t be ready. I don’t want to be embarrassed. Again.

Maybe I’ll just skip class. Maybe I’ll drop the course.

Not being the best student in class is new territory for me. I have always excelled in class, and I expected to excel in this one as well. How wrong I was!

When I decided to go to Haiti this winter (see my article on p. 76 of the May 2014 Kappan) and learned I would lead a PDK trip to Amsterdam and Paris next fall, the time seemed right to brush up on my French. With ...

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