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“A person has truly become a PTA member when his circle of concern stretches
beyond his own child to include all children.” – Unknown

By Stella Y. Edwards*, Chairman, National PTA Legislative Committee

October is upon us. At National PTA, that means it is the Month of the Urban Child. This month’s campaign gives emphases to our education advocacy work as it relates to reaching communities where they are: in urban areas. National PTA comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of family involvement in schools. While PTA members may be in agreement with the PTA mission overall, urban areas have a uniqueness that warrants a focus on the effectiveness of our education advocacy work in those areas.

The beauty of the urban area is that it is as diverse as its citizens. This diversity, a broad range of backgrounds, religious beliefs, education values, and ethnicities, are unique characteristics that breathe life into the fast-pace, energetic, and close living style of the city!

I’ve had the pleasure of organizing in urban, rural and suburban areas.  Regardless of the location in which the organizing work was conducted, the key aspect of my experience has been the importance of relationship building.  First, you must build a relationship, develop trust, and address the community’s issue (not yours). Then you can begin to take action. You must first show a community that you care about them, you respect them, you will not judge them, and you ...

By Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association (NEA)

For weeks now, teachers, parents and community leaders have been protesting Chicago Public Schools' plan to close 50 schools in what will be the largest single wave of school closures in U.S. history.

The media coverage has been dramatic, but what you see in the eyes of educators who are so adamantly opposed to this plan is the same thing you see in the eyes of educators all across this nation -- the innate instinct to protect the children we care about.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to shutter 50 (yes, 50) schools won't be good for Chicago's children, especially children of color. The New York Times reports that "in the 100 schools that have closed in Chicago since 2001, 88 percent of the students affected were black."

Not only is there evidence that all class sizes in the city will increase -- some by as much as 40 percent -- but recent studies have concluded that only a very small minority of students will be placed into substantially better school environments. And worse: children will have to leave their neighborhoods and ...

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. ...

The power of collaboration seems, at times, to be the best kept secret in education reform. Despite district variance, efforts to increase student achievement levels often see higher levels of success when all stakeholders work together. Studyville School District (the name has been changed to preserve anonymity) is just one such example. It is a story of collaboration and compromise in which stakeholders came together to design and implement a more effective teacher evaluation system. We live in an era where evaluation and accountability dominate the national education conversation and where student outcomes are being tied to merit pay and teacher performance. It is imperative, given the high-stakes nature of evaluation, that such systems are put in place with fidelity and the buy-in of all actors. ...

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.   ...

On a webinar yesterday hosted by the National Education Association’s (NEA) Priority Schools Campaign, Anne Henderson* offered a hopeful vision for the future of family and community engagement in public education. She predicted that the time is coming where schools really understand that engaging families and communities is a core strategy for school improvement. It will no longer be considered an extra, something to address after we’ve taken care of academic issues. In other words, it will be an integral piece of the puzzle.

Research from the past thirty years certainly supports this vision. And so do countless individual stories. On that same webinar, representatives from Oklahoma’s Putnam City West High School shared how family and community engagement lead to academic gains at their school.

Putnam City West serves a rapidly changing student population. In 2004, 10% of the student body was Hispanic. This year, 25% is. Thirteen percent of students are ...

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. ...

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