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Blog Posts By obriena

Evidence clearly shows that family engagement in education promotes student success. And the vast majority of parents (and other family members and guardians) understands that fact and takes educational responsibilities very seriously. So when they are faced with reforms that require changes to their children’s school experiences, families rightly raise questions and concerns about how those reforms will impact the learning and life of students.

Recently, one education reform in particular has come under significant scrutiny from a number of different education stakeholders, including families: the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative. Parents have expressed concern about how the standards will impact student testing, classroom rigor, student privacy, what children will read and more. But even in the face of such concerns, one group that has never wavered in its support of the Common Core is the National PTA.

National PTA President Otha Thornton recently took the time to tell us why the organization continues to support the standards and what parents should know about them. He also dispelled some of the myths surrounding the Common Core and shared resources to help parents learn more and support successful implementation of the CCSS in their communities.

Public School Insights (PSI): Why does the National PTA support the Common Core?

Otha Thornton: Since 2009, National PTA has firmly supported the development and implementation of the Common Core State Standards, maintaining that every child deserves a high quality education that prepares him or her for success upon graduation from high school. National PTA is confident that the Common Core State Standards are an essential tool to ensure that America’s youth have the opportunity to reach their full potential and become productive members of ...

Earlier this month, we at the Learning First Alliance were pleased to welcome our newest member, Parents for Public Schools (PPS). As we work to advance public education nationwide, we recognize the important voice that this organization – and those it represents – brings to the school improvement conversation.

PPS has local chapters throughout the country that work to elevate the role of parents in public schools from passive consumers to active participants. The organization helps accomplish its mission through strategies and programs that educate, engage and mobilize parents. Through its ongoing work, PPS’ parents help raise standards, solve problems and advocate for their community.

Parents for Public Schools Executive Director Anne Foster recently took the time to tell us more about the organization.

Public School Insights (PSI): What is Parents for Public Schools?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools (PPS) is a national organization of community-based chapters working to strengthen public schools by engaging, educating and mobilizing parents.

PSI: Why was the organization formed?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools was started in 1989 in Jackson, Mississippi, by a group of parents. They were committed to supporting public schools and challenging the entire community to do so as well. They were convinced that parents could positively impact public schools, and one of their first acts was to help pass ...

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Top Posts of 2013

In 2013, we tackled a number of issues here at the Learning First Alliance. For example, in June, our members – representing over 10 million public education stakeholders – came together in calling for a transition period in Common Core implementation, removing high-stakes consequences from new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards temporarily to allow the time necessary to implement them with fidelity. In August, recognizing the importance of connecting all students to the digital age, they joined forces in urging an increase to the E-Rate funding cap.

And earlier this month, we issued a statement reminding parents, educators, policymakers and other education stakeholders that the results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (a test of reading literacy, mathematics and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in approximately seventy countries and economies worldwide) must be viewed in context – and that there is a great deal we can learn from ...

Earlier this week, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2012 Programme for International Assessment (PISA). As predicted, the results show little change in the performance of U.S. students since the assessment was last administered in 2009.

While much of the media coverage of the release focused on PISA’s ranking of education systems, with the U.S. remaining below many international peers in performance in mathematics, reading and science, the education community responded differently, focusing not on numerical results but on the lessons we can learn from OECD’s research on the policies and practices that high-performing nations use in successful efforts to improve student achievement – policies and practices that suggest a strategy for education reform that is much different than the one that we as a nation have been operating under for more than a decade.

As American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said in a statement, “none of the top-tier countries, nor any of those that have made great leaps in student performance, like Poland and Germany, has a fixation on testing ...

Advocates hope that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative will lead to deeper learning by students – that the standards will result in students learning not only academic content, but how to think critically, work collaboratively, communicate effectively and more. And they recognize that for this to happen, classroom instruction has to change.

Many assume that new assessments aligned to the Common Core will serve as a key lever in its implementation, driving changes in instructional practice. But is that a reasonable assumption? Do large-scale assessment systems influence instruction?

While common sense and popular opinion hold that yes, they do, the research base on the issue is surprisingly thin. But in summarizing the little there is, New Assessments, Better Instruction?, a RAND literature review commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation, confirms what we already knew – testing does indeed influence instructional practice, particularly when high-stakes are attached to it.

The review (which included available research on high-stakes testing and performance assessment in U.S. public education, assessment in international settings, formative assessment, military and ...

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are one of the most important education initiatives of our time. While historically each state had its own academic standards, which varied widely in quality, under the Common Core students in the 45 adopting states (plus the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity) will be held to the same internationally-benchmarked educational standards.

These standards were developed with input from educators and other experts in math and English/Language Arts, and educators continue to support them. A recent survey from the National Education Association showed more than 75% of their members (teachers, administrators, support staff and other education professionals) support the standards either wholeheartedly or with some reservations, tracking closely with results from an earlier American Federation of Teachers’ poll finding that 75% of teachers surveyed support the Common Core. Even more recently, a preview of the 2013 Primary Sources project highlighting 20,000 teachers’ thoughts on the Common Core shows that overall, 73% those who teach math, English language arts (ELA), science and/or social studies in Common Core states are enthusiastic about the implementation of the standards in their classrooms.

But the general public is another story. The 2013 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools found that prior to taking the poll, only 38% of respondents had heard of ...

One of the greatest challenges that the education community faces in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is ensuring that the education workforce is ready to help students succeed under these new, higher standards.

Facing this challenge requires providing the current workforce with high-quality professional learning opportunities, something we talk about a great deal at the national level. But it also requires preparing new educators to enter classrooms ready to teach under the CCSS, something we talk about very little. How are the higher-education institutions that train the vast majority of our nation’s teachers working to ensure the successful implementation of the Common Core?

To help answer this question, we contacted Linda McKee, Director of the Teacher Preparation and Certification Program at Tulane University. McKee is currently serving as the president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (an affiliate of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AACTE) and as the president of Louisiana Learning Forward. She collaborated with two of her colleagues at Tulane – Holly Bell, Coordinator for Assessment & Accreditation and an early childhood education faculty member, and James Kilbane, a professor for secondary education in math and science – in responding to several questions on how university-based teacher preparation programs in general, and Tulane in particular, are preparing educators to teach in the age of the Common Core.

Public School Insights (PSI): As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, you see firsthand the products of the nation’s high schools. Do you think that the Common Core will help ensure students are better prepared for college or career? Why or why not?

McKee, Bell, and Kilbane: The Common Core (CC) is more rigorous than we have previously seen in Louisiana, and if implemented correctly, the new standards could make a difference. We desperately need to make a difference in students’ learning to think. The difficulty with the CC lies in educators understanding the aims of the standards and being able to implement them with fidelity. The Common Core standards represent a dramatic change from the specialty area standards that most states had developed and were testing. The challenge is that those standards were not being met, so we question if the CC standards will be met any better without ...

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 ...

When you think of the PTA, you might picture parents getting together to put on a fall carnival or bake cookies for teacher appreciation week. And while the National PTA does encourage teacher appreciation (and has a great Pinterest board dedicated to the topic), the organization is about so much more.

The overall purpose of the PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. The national organization prides itself on being a powerful voice for children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education, working in cooperation with many national education, health, safety and child advocacy groups and federal agencies on behalf of every child.

Otha Thornton was installed as President of the National PTA in June 2013, making history as the first African-American male to lead the organization. He recently took the time to tell us about himself and his views on education, as well as how the PTA is gearing up to address the challenges facing public education.

Public School Insights (PSI): It’s been widely noted that you are the first African American male president in the National PTA’s history. What do you think is the significance of that?

Thornton: It demonstrates that PTA, as an Association, transcends race. The founders did not start PTA as a segregated Association, but due to our southern states and their laws earlier in our country’s history, the National Congress of Colored Parents was formed in 1911 by Selena Sloan Butler to address the needs of black children. The two Congresses combined in 1971 to form the National PTA with the shared mission that all children of all races need advocates to ...

There is precious little research demonstrating the value of school counselors on student achievement, with good reason – it is difficult to demonstrate the impact of counselors on standardized test scores, which have come to define achievement in recent years. But as a result, when it comes to making tough budget decisions, school counselors are not a priority. And that has real consequences for children. As Mindy Willard, an Arizona school counselor named the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) 2013 School Counselor of the Year, pointed out in a recent interview:

[T]he biggest challenge school counselors are faced with right now, on all levels, are our ratios. Currently, Arizona is 49th in the nation for counselor to student ratios with a ratio of 1 counselor to 861 students; ASCA recommends a ratio of 1:250! With numbers like this it is virtually impossible for school counselors to meet all of the personal/social, academic and career developmental needs of all the students on their caseloads.

But as we turn to new measures of school quality – such as the production of college and career ready students – there is new space for advocates to research and promote the benefits of school counselors. And an ongoing longitudinal study in ...