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The Commission on Equity and Excellence had a Congressional mandate to provide advice to Secretary Duncan on the disparities in meaningful educational opportunities and to recommend ways in which federal policies can address such disparities. They just released a report titled “For Each and Every Child,” after a two year work period. The distinguished members of the panel, with diverse professional backgrounds and different political ideologies, focused on the inequality in our nation’s public school system as the primary driver behind two achievement gaps, the internal domestic gap and the international gap. Their conclusions and recommendations won’t surprise education professionals, but the report serves as a well-timed call to action for the struggles facing African American students, particularly males, during Black History Month. The opportunity gap also exists for a significant number of Hispanic and Native American students. ...

There are few things as complicated as funding when it comes to our nation’s public schools. But a basic understanding on the part of policy-makers and voters can be a significant contributor to the vitality of public schools and our democratic society. This week, as much of mainstream media zeros in on the Presidential race and key competitive Congressional races, it’s worth remembering that on November 7th, governance will continue with policy decisions and consequences playing out on the local level, especially for education. As we continue our pre-election examination of school finance policies, we focus on the second half of the Center for American Progress (CAP) report, The Stealth Inequities of School Funding: How State and Local School Finance Systems Perpetuate Inequitable Student Spending. ...

Election Day is just around the corner, and as voters go to the polls to cast their ballots, in many states, they vote on more than just candidates. Most voters will have several ballot referendums to vote ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on, and the consequences of those decisions influence policy. Take as one example the recent vote on gay marriage in the state of North Carolina. It is no different with ballot referendums on public school funding. This fall, five states have some such type of ballot initiative, the largest number in two decades: Arizona, Missouri, South Dakota, Oregon and California. Whether extra revenue is approved or not will have a tremendous effect on each state’s public schools. In this respect, voter turnout and participation is crucial. ...

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. ...

Earlier this week the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) released its latest report, The Broadband Imperative: Recommendations to Address K-12 Education Infrastructure Needs, at an event featuring presentations by a panel that included two state leaders from Maine and West Virginia along with a district administrator from New Jersey.  Once again, we were reminded of the opportunities that are opened up for students and teachers (and those administrators that lead districts and schools) when robust connections and ubiquitous communications devices are available for teaching and learning.  However, having more years of experience than I like to admit in advocating for the appropriate use of technology to support personalized learning opportunities and teaching effectiveness, I was struck with the realization that this meeting and its recommendations, while important, were not new.   ...

Recently I was looking through old paper files in the Learning First Alliance (LFA) office and happened upon a successful grant application that LFA had received some years ago to gather, record, and disseminate the knowledge, skills, and approaches successful school districts use to ensure their students achieve to their highest abilities.  The project resulted in a publication called Beyond Islands of Excellence that, indeed did chronicle what goes into an effective public school system and profiled districts whose students had benefited from their wise, effective leadership.   I was struck by how much the scope of work described in the successful grant application articulated the concepts and big ideas that LFA organizations and their leaders still work diligently to implement today. ...

In 2001, The Learning First Alliance wrote a report titled “Every Child Learning: Safe and Supportive Schools – A Summary,” which advocated for systemic approaches to supporting positive behavior in our nation’s schools. The Alliance argued for school-wide approaches to improving school climate, safety and discipline: “In a safe and supportive learning community, civility, order, and decorum are the norms and antisocial behaviors such as bullying and taunting are clearly unacceptable.” Ten years later, schools across the nation continually contend with the harsh and terrifying realities of bullying and the sad reality is that we still have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring a safe and supportive environment for our nation’s children. Fortunately, recent attention to the issue suggests that we are all beginning to take important steps in the right direction.  ...

The American Prospect recently featured an article by Sharon Lerner that details an exemplary pioneering effort to combat racial segregation in schools in Omaha, Nebraska, called the Learning Community. It pools resources and allows student movement to help make schools more socioeconomically diverse. But while Lerner argues that this “radical experiment” could serve to be a national model, local resistance may be indicative of potential animosity to similar efforts in other places. If better racial integration in schools is a focus we want to make to improve public education (and I think it should be), this situation provides a prime example of why appropriate legislation, funding, and winning hearts and minds are all integral to success. ...

Louisiana’s Greenlawn Terrace Elementary is a small school achieving big things. It is one of the top-performing schools in its district, a feat made even more impressive given the high rate of poverty of its student population. In fact, the school was recently named a High-Performing High-Poverty School by the Louisiana Department of Education, one of a very few neighborhood schools in the greater New Orleans area to receive the honor.

We recently spoke with members of the Greenlawn community to learn how they do it. Two major themes emerged: their school environment, which is caring and safe for students, parents and staff, and their focus on data.

Principal Katherine “Kitty” Croft, special education teacher and department chair Marguerite Hymel and Title I extension teacher Amy Lang told us more.

Public School Insights: How would you describe Greenlawn Terrace Elementary?

Croft: At Greenlawn, everyone in the school, from the custodial staff to the principal, shares the same vision.

I have been at the school almost 25 years, and that stability, of course, adds to what goes on here. And we are a small neighborhood school, with about 370 students. But when I first came, this was a large school. We were almost 700 children. I took home the yearbook so I could memorize the teachers. But now we are a small, suburban school tucked in Kenner, Louisiana, behind a very busy street. I love it.

Our population…When I first came to the school it was about 66% white, 33% black. Today it is about 41% white, 33% black and 25% Hispanic. We have always been a Title I school, which means that we are always “at-risk.” We have right now about 85% free or reduced price lunch students.

I have always loved psychometry. I figured when I was in graduate school that there would always be ...

Back in 2005, Idaho’s Sacajawea Elementary School was struggling. The school had had four principals in four years, had never made Adequate Yearly Progress and lacked direction. But that changed with the arrival of Greg Alexander.

Now in his fourth full year as principal, Alexander presides over an award-winning school. After making AYP the last two years and seeing tremendous growth in its Limited English Proficient students' reading scores in particular, Sacajawea was named one of only three Distinguished Schools in Idaho for 2009. What are the keys to its success? A focus on recruiting and retaining excellent teachers, a consistent discipline strategy, a strong reading program and a host of other efforts designed to meet students’ individual needs. Principal Alexander recently told us more.

Public School Insights: How would you describe Sacajawea Elementary?

Alexander: Sacajawea Elementary is located in Caldwell, Idaho, a suburb of the capital city of Boise, just a good 20 minutes away. I actually live in Boise and commute to this community. We have a neat facility. We are up on a hill, overlooking what is called the Treasure Valley. There is a story about a young boy sitting on the edge of a cliff off beyond our school, looking over the valley as the wagon trains came through. The sagebrush was so high that you could only see their canopies. And we look up at the Cascade Mountains. It is just a really beautiful campus.

On this beautiful campus we serve 500 students from pre-K through fifth grade. We are 60% Hispanic and 23% ELL, or LEP [Limited English Proficient], students. We are about 36% Caucasian students, and then just a few percentage of a variety of other students. We have 7% that have special education needs, and we are 90% free and ...

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