Parent Involvement Being Taken to a New Level

In stark contrast to the conventional parent involvement strategies utilized in most school districts, local school officials in New York City are being encouraged to go door to door and engage school parents where they live in meaningful conversations about their children’s education.  “Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said.  “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.”  There is evidence showing that unlike what is taking place in New York City most types of parent involvement have at best a minimal impact on a child’s education.  Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a professor at Duke, analyzed surveys of American families in conjunction with children’s academic records.  They found that most types of parental involvement, like fund-raising or sitting on the parent teacher association, had little or no effect on children’s academic performance.  Dr. Robinson said it was emotionally appealing to think that parents going to school events or helping with homework would lead to better academic results, but his research did… Continue reading


In my blog on September 6, I mentioned that the meeting between school, township and city officials in the Vandalia-Butler City School District occurred on September 30.  The actual date was August 30.

Challenging the Myths about Our Public Schools

In 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools:  The Real Crisis in Education, the authors challenge many of the assumptions about the quality of our educational system being espoused by the leaders our nation’s education reform movement:  “We cannot count the number of even our close acquaintances who recite warped opinions about our nation’s public schools … Many citizens’ conception of K–12 public education in the United States is more myth than reality.  It is essential that the truth replace the fiction (Berliner and Glass 2014, 3).”  One of these myths is that international test scores show that the United States has a second-rate education system.  The facts are that international test scores are poor indicators to use in ranking the quality of national education systems and are even worse in predicting future national prosperity. Historically, the United States has never fared well on international test comparisons of student achievement in math or science.  In 1964, we took eleventh place among twelve countries participating in the first major international study of student achievement in math.  One of the major reasons why we rank so low on international test scores is… Continue reading

An Update on the New Jersey Story

In Chapter 12 of America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future, I chronicled the story of why a good-faith attempt by New Jersey’s most popular and powerful political leaders to impose an education reform initiative upon Newark’s underperforming public schools ultimately failed.  The lesson to be learned from what occurred there is a lesson that I’ve learned over and over again throughout my career.  And it is that the voice of the American people needs to be included when making major decisions that impact our public schools and the communities they serve.  This weekend, an update on the New Jersey story appeared in the book review section of the New York Times.  It is worth reading.  

The Stage Is Set

Four major societal trends have set the stage for the American people to get involved in helping shape the future of our public schools.  These trends include the loss of confidence in our political leaders, growing concern about the growth of government, latent opposition to the education reform agenda and our innate need to make a difference.  I believe that the synergy being created by these trends is moving our nation toward a tipping point in which our citizens will say enough is enough.  We want our schools back.  All that remains is for them to become aware of the extent to which our children are being over-tested, our teachers are physically exhausted and emotionally demoralized and our tax dollars are being diverted by our elected representatives to replace our public schools with a privately managed, free-market system of education.

Awakening the Silent Majority

In working with schools and communities throughout much of my career, I have been blessed to have observed thousands of caring and concerned citizens, many of whom had been sitting on the sidelines unaware of what was happening, successfully tackling serious challenges facing their schools.  What has impressed me the most about them is their positive approach in meeting these challenges.  In most instances, they have taken the high road in discussing what often have been divisive topics, such as school tax issues. Instead of ignoring or demeaning the opinions of others who may have disagreed with them, they have been honest, forthright, and respectful.  This is in stark contrast to the loud, confrontational, and what-is-in-it-for-me voice which dominates much of our political discourse today.  Over the past twenty-five years, I have observed dozens of conversations in which citizens with differing opinions were actually listening to one another and valuing one another’s feelings and point of view.  What’s more, many of the people who participated in those conversations had never done anything like this before.  They were friends, neighbors, work associates, and relatives who had been asked to attend a coffee discussion or community… Continue reading

The Cost of Education Reform

In addition to over-testing our children, overwhelming our teachers, undermining support for our schools and dividing our communities, the time, energy and money being spent trying to comply with the demands of the education reform movement are significantly increasing our nation’s financial burden.  In February of 2012, the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform released an eye-opening national report revealing that implementing the Common Core Standards will generate at least $15.8 billion of new costs for states and local communities over the next seven years.  This increase in costs includes $1.2 billion for high-stakes testing, $5.3 billion for professional development, $2.5 billion for textbooks and instructional material and $6.9 billion for technology and infrastructure support.

Bertha Gilkey

Examples of how the American spirit is alive and well are not limited to the public schools and the communities they serve.  Kettering Foundation President David Mathews includes in his book, Politics for People (Mathews 1999, 138–39) a story about one person named Bertha Gilkey who embodies this spirit.

Bertha Gilkey is the leader of a tenants’ project in St. Louis and lives in Cochran Gardens, a public housing project which today is noted for flower-lined paths, clean buildings, play equipment, and social cohesion.  She lived in this very same housing project when it was filled with drugs, crime, prostitution, garbage and urine in the halls, broken windows, and graffiti.  While the Gardens may not still be perfect, the changes she helped make were dramatic and profound. Improvements began with a simple but powerful first step.

At the outset, one of the major problems in the project was vandalism of the laundry room.  When the machines were destroyed, the tenants demanded that the project’s management install new ones.  Even when pressured by rent strikes, the management was increasingly resistant to throw good money after bad.  Then one day, the tenants added a new tactic… Continue reading

Undermining Support for Our Schools

As a result of being told by education reformers that our nation’s education system is failing us, it is becoming increasingly difficult to generate state and local support for our public schools.  For example, from 2008 to 2013, state funding for our public schools was reduced in thirty-seven states.  Because of these reductions in state funding, school officials in most states are having to turn to their local communities for financial support.  In forty-one of our fifty states, this support for our schools is contingent upon the passage of local school tax initiatives.  While the rules for local school tax initiatives vary from state to state, all of these initiatives have one thing in common.  When they involve an increase in taxes, they are difficult to pass.  In Ohio, for example, the passage rate is only about 40 percent for school issues proposing an increase in taxes.



Why Superintendents Are Our Best Hope

One of the most serious problems facing our country today is that the vast majority of Americans no longer trust most of our major institutions.  Fortunately, however, the American people still have faith in their local public schools.  In the “45th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” citizens reported that they are highly satisfied with their local schools.  More than 70 percent have trust and confidence in their teachers and 53 percent gave their schools an A or B, the highest rating ever recorded in the poll.  Having worked with hundreds of superintendents throughout my career, the public’s faith in their local schools is nearly always justified because most superintendents are honest, dependable and caring individuals who can see the big picture.  As a result, they are ideally positioned to help lead a frank and open national grassroots conversation about the future of public education.  Superintendents are truly our best hope for insuring that our public schools survive the attacks coming  from the leaders of our nation’s education reform movement.

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