New Civil Rights Data Collection Survey Highlights Need for Improvement

CDRCThe U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released the results of the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey. This report features information about how students are treated at school and highlights several key issues that affect a child’s ability to learn, such as chronic absenteeism, restraint and seclusion disciplinary actions and lack of access to college resources. These three topics are important when advocating to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education.

Here are some key findings from the CRDC survey report and what National PTA is currently doing to tackle these issues:

Chronic Absenteeism Plagues Our Children’s Academic Participation

The CRDC survey reports that 18% of students are chronically absent—missing at least 10% of school days in a school year—which is likely to hurt their academic success and social development. National PTA recognizes that millions of students are missing too many school days and so signed on to a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in support of their Every Student, Every Day initiative, which addresses this issue that is threatening our children’s learning opportunities. National PTA continues to work with communities across the country to make sure our children attend school regularly.

Disproportional Instances of Restraint and Seclusion 

Restraint and seclusion is a school discipline strategy involving the involuntary confinement or physical restraint of students. The 2013-2014 CRDC data shows that this disciplinary policy disproportionally impacts students with disabilities. Students with disabilities make up 12% of all public school students but account for 67% of students subjected to restraint or seclusion. The use of inappropriate restraint and seclusion methods by untrained school personnel has resulted in the assault, injury, trauma and in some cases death, of students.

At the 2015 National PTA Annual Convention & Expo, PTA members passed a resolution to limit restraint and seclusion policies in schools. In the resolution, the National PTA calls for restraint and seclusion to only be used as a last resort in emergency situations, ensuring the safety and protection of all children.

Minority Groups Are Offered Fewer College Preparation Programs

According to the CRDC report, African American and Latino students have less access to high-level math and science courses in their schools. In schools with high enrollment of African American and Latino children, only 33% offer Calculus, compared to 56% of high schools with mainly white student populations.

National PTA recognizes the importance of offering advanced courses at schools in preparation for college and the skilled labor force. Our association continues to advocate for increasing the federal investment in education to ensure a well-rounded education for all our nation’s children. National PTA launched its STEM education and family engagement initiative in fall 2015 in collaboration with founding and presenting sponsor Bayer USA Foundation with additional support from Mathnasium to magnify the importance that a well-rounded education has on our children’s educational opportunities and future success.

So, what can you do to address these issues as a PTA advocate? The first way you can help is to identify specific issues that your school faces. School data on these issues from previous years can be found at this webpage, with updated info from the current CRDC report available in August. Once identified, you and your PTA can work with the school administration to ensure all students are treated fairly and receive a high-quality education.

You can also make a difference if you:

  • Ask your school’s principal if they have a school counselor and work with him or her to ensure all students have access to counseling. Chronic absenteeism can be addressed by giving students access to a school counselor or a mentor to confide in to get to the root of the issue. Lack of access is a serious issue—over 1.6 million students attend a school where a sworn law enforcement officer is present but not a school counselor. On top of this, about 21% of schools nationwide don’t have access to any school counselors.
  • Work with the local school board to create policies and programs that emphasize the use of positive or non-aversive student behavior interventions, thereby limiting the use of restraint and seclusion on students. In addition, you can advocate for your school district to provide adequate training for all teachers, principals and school personnel on preventative interventions and alternatives to exclusionary discipline.
  •  Get involved with the local or state PTA and help districts and states draft their new education plans. College and career preparation is a focus for the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Learn more about the law and how to get involved at PTA.org/ESSA.

Blake Altman is the government affairs intern at National PTA.

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4 Ways to Get Involved in Your Children’s Education

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This blog was originally posted on TODAY Parenting Team.

Every parent wants the best for their child and wants to be engaged in their education to support their learning and achievement.

The challenge for many parents, however, is figuring out what they can do and knowing the most effective ways to get involved.

As the president of National PTA, I have spoken to many parents who have asked, “How can I be involved in my child’s school and learning when I work a full-time job and keep a busy schedule to support my family?” As a working parent, I had the same question and concern when my children entered school.

After first getting involved, I quickly realized the importance to help my children—and all children—succeed and reach their full potential—no matter the level of involvement.

It is important to remember that involvement is different for every family and is not limited to attending meetings or participating at school.

Here are some ways to get involved:

Join PTA
Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Even if you are an on-the-go mom or dad, you will find support from other parents in PTA who have the same questions, concerns, hopes and dreams for their children. You will also be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who are working to ensure all children receive a high-quality education. That means, even if you aren’t able to be at every meeting, you know there is a group of parents who are invested in the success of every child at your school — including yours.

Talk about school matters at home
Be interested and listen to your child. Encourage your child to talk about his/her day and express concerns. Learn about your child’sstrengths and weaknesses and what activities he/she likes and doesn’t like. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship and an open, ongoing dialogue is critical. Then if any issues come up at school, your child will feel more comfortable talking to you about it.

Be a partner in your child’s learning
Education is individual for each child and remains a shared responsibility. It is important to work with your child’s teacher to best support him or her. It is also essential to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher and keep in touch with him/her often. Find out the best way to contact your child’s teacher and ask for times when it would be convenient for him or her to talk. It is also important to provide teachers with the best way to contact you. Consistent communication (via email, phone, etc.) will help build relationships.

Advocate for your child
You are your child’s best advocate. It is important to be a voice for your own and every child to ensure they are treated fairly and have access to opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential. It is also critical to advocate with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure your child’s school has the resources to provide a world class education to every student. When possible, attend school board meetings. Send e-mails and letters and make phone calls to advocate with elected officials.

The most significant type of engagement is what families do at home. Parents can monitor and support their child with his/her schoolwork and let his/her teacher or school know if there are any problems. The work families do at home that’s connected to what kids are doing in school has the biggest academic impact.

By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their child has every opportunity for success.

Parent-Teacher Partnership Results in Trip to the White House

STEm-NSF“There are so many great teachers out there that need to be recognized,” says former local Virginia PTA president Christie Olsen. A few years ago, Christie took her own advice and nominated her twin daughters’ teacher, Stephanie Chlebus, for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Stephanie went on to become the 2012 PAEMST awardee for mathematics in Virginia, for which she received a certificate signed by the President, a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a trip for two to Washington, D.C., where she met President Obama.

“Stephanie is unique as a teacher, in that she makes every single one of her students feel like they are just as good as the next student in mathematics,” explains Christie, who was able to see this first hand with her daughters. “She’s always willing to provide more challenges for students that are excelling, while using her talents to find innovative ways to teach the kids that might not be getting it.”

Building Partnerships and Keeping Communication Open

As we all know, the relationship between parent and teacher is an important one. Christie nominated her daughters’ teacher, Stephanie, for the PAEMST award because she had built a partnership with her. To do this, according to Christie, there must be trust between all parties that everyone (parent, teacher, administrator, etc.) is acting in the best interest of the child. Once that is established, open communication is the best way to build the parent-teacher partnership. “One party can’t shut out the other. It just won’t work,” Christie advises.

On the other end, as the teacher, Stephanie has instituted several initiatives to foster collaboration between herself and the parents of her students. She emails parents every week to give them an idea of the objectives and content that will be taught in the upcoming days. This enables parents to have deeper conversations with their children about what’s going on in the classroom and what they’re learning each day. She also engages parents and families with several events, such as family math game night and parent Academy night.

What’s Stephanie’s advice for parents who are thinking about getting more involved in the PTA or volunteering in their child’s classroom? “Do it!” She stresses, though, to remember that every teacher is different. While some teachers may be dying for volunteers, other teachers may not be comfortable (or are not allowed) to have parent volunteers in the classroom. She suggests you offer your help and give the teacher the opportunity to tell you what they need. Like Christie, she stresses the importance of open communication.

Stephanie also points out that without the support of the PTA at her school, she wouldn’t have been able to put on the events that families love. “A strong PTA that supports its teachers, results in teachers who can run more initiatives to help its students,” she adds.

Recognizing Teachers for Outstanding Work

The importance of being nominated for PAEMST by a parent was not lost on Stephanie. “I know my colleagues see me working day in and day out to make learning relevant to students, but to have that come across to a parent through her children’s love and desire for math meant the world to me,” she shares. “Having a parent nominate me for PAEMST was the biggest compliment I can receive as a teacher.”

Both Stephanie and Christie note that parents can be involved in recognizing great teachers. Stephanie says that several parents pulled together student quotes for her PAEMST application, which helped give her application a personal touch. Christie suggests nominating the exceptional teachers in your school for awards like PAEMST.

“Any way you can recognize a great teacher for being great, or motivate them to keep doing a great job, is essential. It’s a great loss when outstanding teachers get disillusioned and leave the profession. Even if they don’t apply, and it’s just a nomination, you are still recognizing that they are going above and beyond for their students.”

Learn more about PAEMST and how to nominate a great teacher in your child’s life by April 1.


 

Dr. Nafeesa Owens is the program lead to the Presidential Awards for Excellence for Mathematics and Science Teaching program at the National Science Foundation. Most importantly, she is the mother of twin boys who are in kindergarten and is a local PTA member.

Increasing Family Engagement: Change Starts with Us

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

Just when I was beginning to doubt and wonder if I could really make a difference, I saw a quote on my Facebook feed, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” – John F. Kennedy

We all need these little reminders from time to time. In a world where negative news inundates our lives—with failing schools and struggling kids flashing across the screen—we need to remind ourselves that we can still make a difference. This means we must believe in our children’s success by making every child’s potential a reality.

In Lexington, Ky. we have created a culture that believes all students can learn. We partner with parents, schools and community organizations and businesses to provide engagement training to increase advocacy to support our entire student population.

Research has consistently shown that students with engaged families perform better academically and socially.

Our family engagement team uses the Lexington’s Urban Family Engagement Network (UFEN) program, which was originally established by the National PTA in 2009. The goal of the program is to reach and engage traditionally underrepresented families and provide resources they can use to support their children’s education.

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In addition to gaining knowledge, some cohorts went on to complete projects, as seen below, that they then presented at our District-wide PTA Leadership training. This group presented on learning styles to a large group of interested attendees.

In 2013, the National PTA expanded the program to six additional urban cities and issued a grant to the 16th District PTA in Lexington. Over the past three years, we modified the program to meet the needs of our community.

Lexington’s UFEN program has graduated about 100 participants who have gone on to empower more families through their roles in their schools, advocacy project development and membership on School-Based Decision Making Councils. Recently, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, Department of Social Services, provided the 16th District PTA with essential funding to continue the UFEN training curriculum for the 2016 calendar year through an Opportunities Grant Initiative.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

In our community, the Urban Network Family Engagement team provides training and services to all families and members in the Lexington community—representing 40,896 students—and works to educate parents on:

  • Their rights and responsibilities to be engaged with their child’s learning and well-being
  • How to navigate the educational system and advocate for their children
  • How to effectively partner with the school and/or community
  • Strategies for effective leadership

We provide services to help with the normal barriers to attending these engagement trainings, including free childcare, meals and transportation when needed.

Our team also plans to offer regular sessions on key topics such as:

  • Advocacy and training opportunities for non-English speakers
  • Exceptional child advocates
  • Gifted and talented students
  • Male engagement initiatives
  • Effective/inclusive leadership strategies

We believe our training efforts will result in a measurable increase in family engagement. It truly does take all kinds of partners and social levels to meet the needs of our students—not one organization will succeed on their own. We are excited to be part of the grassroots efforts working directly with individual parents and community partners.

Our team is committed being a part of the change and creating a culture that believes that all children can learn. We must help all children reach their full potential by helping to alleviate barriers to family engagement as a key piece of student success.


 

Kristin Heck Sajadi is the Urban Family Engagement Network team lead and community outreach chair at the 16th District PTA in Lexington, Ky.

Maryland PTA Helps Parents Interpret Results of New PARCC Assessments

parccThis past spring, millions of students across the country took the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments in English language arts/literacy and mathematics for the first time. Parents are now receiving their children’s scores from the tests.

Since these are new tests and assess skills like critical-thinking and problem-solving, the score reports may look different from reports provided to families from previous tests. As part of its ongoing commitment to help families navigate the changes taking place in classrooms, Maryland PTA collaborated with the Maryland State Department of Education to conduct webinars and in-person programs for parents across the state to answer their questions on the new assessments, help them interpret their children’s scores on the tests and empower them with tools and resources to support their children’s success. The information sessions also were designed to help parents work together with their children’s teachers and administrators to fill gaps in learning as determined from the PARCC results to ensure children graduate prepared for college and careers.

The PARCC tests measure the extent to which students are learning the knowledge and skills they need to progress in their K-12 education and beyond. The new score reports are designed to be actionable and be tools for parents to understand where their child is doing well and where there may be a need for additional support. This information, along with grades, teacher feedback and scores on other tests, will help give parents a more complete picture of how well their child is performing academically.

As part of the information sessions, Maryland PTA utilized BeALearningHero.org and Understandthescore.org. BeALearningHero.org features a search engine where parents can find tools and resources—in English and Spanish—specific to their child’s needs­. UnderstandTheScore.org includes a Score Report Guide to help parents identify the key factors that determine their child’s performance on the PARCC test, as well as his/her academic gaps and strengths in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Once parents pinpoint their child’s strengths or needs, they can connect to resources, tools and activities that support their child’s achievement.

We know every parent wants the best for their children and wants to support their learning in the most effective ways. Maryland PTA will continue to deliver regularly-updated, timely information to help parents feel confident and informed.

Parents can visit www.MDpta.org to learn more about the PARCC results and to receive regular updates with tools, tips and resources.


Elizabeth Ysla Leight is the president at Maryland PTA.

Our Children Magazine is Now Live!

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I’m excited to announce that National PTA’s Our Children Magazine is now online and mobile-friendly at PTAOurChildren.org!

Our Children and has been a household publication and primary resource (in various names) for families and PTA leaders for over 50 years and we put a fresh spin on our content.

The website is for on-the-go parents who are always looking for the best info and tips to support their child’s academic success and well-being.

PTA state leaders can share this new resource with parents throughout the school year. Read engaging and relevant stories like:

Read more at PTAOurChildren.org today and encourage your PTA leaders to help spread the word about our great news!

Check out the Our Children Magazine promotional toolkit for sample graphics and messaging.

Thinking About College: What Matters?

Many high school seniors and their parents are heavily into the college application season. Colleges are being considered, ranked and evaluated on multiple parameters. How well regarded is the school? Who teaches most of the courses? How nice are the residence halls and lab facilities? How competitive is the school? How much financial aid is available?

All of these concerns are important. Nevertheless, it is very likely that many important concerns will not be investigated or even considered by students or parents. The JED Foundation, Jordan Porco Foundation and Partnership for Drug Free Kids recently did an online survey with Harris Poll of over 1,500 first year college students to find out about their experience transitioning into college. What we found out is worth considering.

More than 60% of students told us that they wish they had gotten more emotional preparation for college. Students who felt emotionally under-prepared for college tended to perform slightly worse academically and to report their overall experience in college as terrible or poor. Nearly 40% of these first year students reported feeling anxious most or all of the time and 1 in 5 felt depressed much or all of the time. One in 5 also reported turning to alcohol or drugs when stressed.

What does this have to do with college choice?

It seems that beyond questions of quality and facilities, students and families need to consider the emotional and psycho-social elements of college choice.

  • How far away from home will be a comfortable distance for your child?
  • How large or small a school will work?
  • How cohesive, friendly and supportive is the campus community?
  • Is there a thorough orientation program to help students get adjusted?
  • Is there solid resident assistant (RA) training in residential schools that helps RA’s be ready to identify and support a student who might be struggling with adjustment?
  • How responsive are the counseling center, disabilities office, health services, student services and academic advising to students and families?
  • Does the college value health and wellness?

You can get a sense of this by exploring the college’s website and seeing how hard (or easy) it is to find information about health, counseling and health education services. Considering some of the items above may help to diminish or alleviate some of the transition challenges that emerged in our survey. If your child is currently receiving care for a significant/serious medical or mental health problem, it is important to discuss college choices with their treating clinician. Make sure the schools you are considering (either with their own services, with community based services and/or working in concert with your child’s home-based clinicians) can provide the clinical services to keep your child healthy and safe.

What else can parents do?

If your child is in 12th grade, start working with them to support the development of independence and self-regulation. It will be really helpful to have them take more of a role in managing their time, sleep, nutrition and academic work. Try to use this year to help them learn the basic skills they need to live away from home; how do they manage money or doing laundry? Are they able to cook a few basic things? You can discuss how it will feel to live away from home, meet people from other backgrounds and cultures and manage their own personal and academic choices.

College is a great and exciting time and meeting and overcoming challenges is part of growing up. We do what we can to make sure our kids are ready to face and handle these challenges. Being aware of and addressing these issues ahead of time as much as is reasonable is a great way to facilitate this process. You can even make a lot of these activities fun.

The JED Foundation will soon be releasing an online resource center to help young people and their families in this transition process. The website will be ready in early 2016 and will have a wealth of information on college choice and how to get prepared for and manage this exciting time.


Mary Pat King is the director of programs and partnerships at National PTA.

 

Resources for Spanish-Speaking Families to Support Student Success

We recently celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), an important time to recognize the contributions made and significant presence of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States.

National PTA also used the month to raise awareness of the unique challenges Hispanic and Latino children and families face and elevate support for them in schools and communities.

Twenty-five percent of students today are Hispanic, and Hispanic children and youth are the fastest-growing population in America—the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the Hispanic school-age population will increase by 166% by 2050. Hispanic and Latino students are an important part of our nation’s future, and it is essential to support their learning and development and ensure they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

A key component to helping Hispanic and Latino children succeed is families who are engaged in their child’s education and armed with tools and resources to support them at home.

We know Hispanic and Latino parents want the best for their children and want to be engaged, but there are cultural and language barriers that make it challenging.

To bridge the gap, National PTA and organizations with which our association collaborates offer a variety of Spanish-language resources to empower Hispanic and Latino parents to support their children’s success.

  • Parents’ Guides to Student Success, which feature key items children should be learning in English language arts and math in each grade, activities that parents can do at home to support their child’s learning, and methods parents can use to build stronger relationships with their child’s teacher.
  • Clave al Éxito, a mobile tool that includes videos and tools for parents to engage in their child’s education and better communicate with their child’s teachers on their academic progress.
  • BeALearningHero.org, a website through which parents can find tips, fast facts, videos, guides and other resources specific to their children’s needs.
  • Fuel Up to Play 60 en Español, which includes information, resources and activities for parents to help their children lead more active and healthier lives.
  • The Smart Talk, a digital tool that helps families have conversations about online behavior and set ground rules together for technology use. As more and more kids get devices and go online, it is important that parents talk to their children about how to live safely in the digital world.

National PTA also has collaborated with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and Univision on a webinar series to educate PTA, school and community leaders on ways to empower Hispanic and Latino families to engage in student learning. As part of the series, we will host a webinar on why Hispanic families should get involved to support the children they love on Nov. 17 (in English) and Nov. 18 (in Spanish).

To register for the webinar or to view other webinars in the series, and for more resources to help Hispanic and Latino families support their children’s success, visit PTA.org/HispanicChild.


Laura Bay is president of National PTA.

Keeping Families Together

This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post. Read the original post here.

shutterstock_140108563One of National PTA’s founding principles is to advocate for children and families who are most vulnerable. In the heated debate about immigration, we raise our voice for the estimated 4 million K-12 students in the United States who have at least one parent with the potential of being deported. (Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends)

If these parents and family members are suddenly uprooted from their children’s lives and deported, it will have a significant negative impact on their children’s education and opportunities. Their children will face not only the emotional loss of their primary support, but also the benefits of having families engaged in their education and other aspects of their lives, which result in a greater likelihood of graduating from high school, attending college and being employed.

It is not hard to put ourselves into the shoes of these families and to imagine the horrors that are being talked about so cavalierly. I know if I were to be snatched away by authorities, the trajectory of my 10 and 12 year-old would be forever changed. And if they lived under that threat every day, the emotional stress would adversely impact every aspect of their lives, including their potential for academic success. Yet, this is a reality for millions of children every day.

The threat to families is not just in the evolving rhetoric. In 2013, the federal government deported more than 72,000 mothers and fathers of children who are U.S. citizens, resulting in thousands of shattered families.

Actress Diane Guerrero of “Orange Is the New Black” was one such child and she wrote about how that deportation impacted her life. At 14, she came home from school to find that both of her parents had been deported. With few options, she was fortunate enough to be taken in by friends. However, her parents missed many of her academic and personal accomplishments during her childhood and were not there to provide valuable support. While Guerrero has succeeded despite this distressing experience, many children are less fortunate.

Deportation of parents can lead to greater expense as some children may need to enter the under-resourced foster care system. The trauma may cause some children to understandably lash out with negative behavior in school or possibly end up in the juvenile justice system without the support of their parents. These types of cruel deportations led one New Mexico judge to state, “For 10 years now, I’ve been presiding over a process that destroys families every day and several times each day.”

If students are more likely to do better in school and life when they have involved families, and the documented benefits of our nation’s immigrants far exceed the costs of their presence and participation, then policymakers should provide solutions that benefit our nation’s diverse and talented youth and their families, not harm them.

At National PTA, our motto is “Every Child, One Voice.” When you know our families as I do, you know that many of their children are on their way to be doctors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs and other valued members of our society. We raise our voice for the children of immigrants–let’s give them the best opportunity to succeed by keeping their families together and providing them with the best education possible. Their future and our nation’s future depend on it.


 

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students.

We at National PTA believe that all children residing in the United States, regardless of their citizenship status, have the right of access to a quality public education, adequate food and shelter and basic health care services. Our association strongly considers that a critical part of a quality public education is to provide the same opportunities to all families to be involved in their child’s education, despite their differences.

Special Video Message from President Bay: Thank You PTA Advocates!

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment that strengthens family engagement provisions in the Every Child Achieves Act, a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. The passage of the amendment is a testament to the power of our collective voice to make a difference for all students and schools.

I want to take a few moments to thank you for your advocacy efforts because this could not have happened without you being a voice and your hard work and dedication to the mission of PTA.

Thank you again to all of our members and advocates and keep up your tremendous advocacy on behalf of our nation’s children and families!