Elementary and Secondary Education Act-No Child Left Behind to Be Reauthorized

IMG_0150Last week, National PTA joined with nine other education organizations to urge the U.S. Senate to bring the bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act-No Child Left Behind (ESEA-NCLB) to the floor for debate. “We applaud the Senate HELP Committee for their great bipartisan progress, but Congress must put kids first and finish its work before the August recess by bringing the bill to the Senate floor.” said Frances Frost, president of Montgomery County Council PTA (MD) to members of the press.

Frances represented National PTA at the event with leadership from other national organizations, including the National Education Association (NEA), National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), The School Superintendents Association (AASA), National School Boards Association (NSBA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Comprehensive reauthorization of ESEA-NCLB is National PTA’s top education priority and National PTA believes that the U.S. Senate should put kids first before Congress takes its summer recess by voting on this important legislation. In response to the press conference, Senate leadership announced that the bill is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor starting July 7.

National PTA is advocating for the inclusion of stronger family engagement provisions in the Senate bill. In particular, National PTA urges Senators to approve two amendments to the bill that will enhance family engagement in states and local districts. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) will offer an amendment to support state and local capacity building through Statewide Family Engagement Centers. These centers will build local capacity to train, coordinate, and develop family and community relationships to support student achievement and family engagement. Senators Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) have a bipartisan amendment that will increase the investment in family engagement for qualifying local education agencies from 1 to 2 percent.

While National PTA seeks improvements to the bill, National PTA is pleased that no public or private school portability or voucher provisions were included. We are also pleased that bill requires states to establish challenging academic standards for all students and create statewide accountability systems to ensure all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers. Additionally, the bill allows for multiple measures of student achievement in state determined accountability systems.

We will need PTA advocates to prepare to encourage their Senators to strengthen family engagement provisions and ensure that every child receives the high-quality education he/she deserves. Stay tuned for more updates on the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB through the One Voice blog and by following @NationalPTA on Twitter.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator at National PTA.

Secretary Duncan Announces Parents’ Set of Rights at National PTA Convention

arneduncan2015At National PTA’s Convention on Friday, June 26, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a set of rights that outline what families should be able to expect for their children’s education. The rights identify three aspects of high-quality educational opportunities that every parent should be able to obtain for their child.

To help prepare every student for success in life, families have a right to:

  • Access high quality preschool
  • A safe, supportive, well-resourced school with challenging academic standards
  • Affordable, quality, post-secondary education or training opportunities

During his remarks, Duncan emphasized that the set of rights take place during three pivotal stages of a student’s life. In addition, they prepare them for success in college and careers as engaged, productive citizens.

National PTA agrees that all parents should have access to high quality early learning opportunities for their children. Research shows that providing effective, targeted support and interventions to children and parents beginning at birth leads to higher levels of long term education and career achievement. Additional studies also point to the enormous benefits of early childhood education such as Head Start. For example, a study found that Head Start participants are about 8.5 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school, 6 percentage points more likely to have attempted at least one year of college, less likely to be unemployed, no longer enrolled in school or in poor health (Deming, 126, 2009). Early childhood education is not just a priority for our children and families; but it is the right investment to make..

National PTA also supports having high standards that demand a lot from students but are also consistent, articulate, and developed collaboratively with educators, parents and students. Yet, parents are acutely aware that their children cannot achieve to their full potential if they do not feel safe and supported at school. Policymakers and schools can and should do more to prevent bullying and school violence and prioritize education funding to provide the necessary resources to support teachers, counselors, and other school and instructional support staff.

Every parent should have the opportunity to ensure their children have acquired the necessary 21st century skills through high standards, access to post-secondary education and/or career training. These skills are critical to ensuring a strong economy and a vibrant future. Today’s workplace requires employees to be able to think on their feet, make decisions and solve problems. As the demand for highly skilled workers continues to increase, it is imperative that America’s youth are prepared with critical thinking and reasoning skills necessary to engage in our complex work environments and compete in our global economy.

Parents are not only an integral part in their children’s lives at home but are crucial to their success in school. Collectively, parents have the power to transform educational opportunity in this country.

National PTA remains committed to working with Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education to ensure every child has access to high-quality educational opportunities throughout their life and the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

Join Secretary Duncan in a Twitter chat to continue the dialogue he started at National PTA’s Convention on family engagement in education on July 1 at 1:30 p.m., ET, using #PTChat.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator at National PTA.

Deming, D. (2009). Early Childhood Intervention and Life-Cycle Skill Development: Evidence from Head Start. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(3), 111-134.

ESEA Reauthorization Needs Stronger Family Engagement Provisions

Otha_Headshot_SMLast week, the education magazine Education Week published an article on the rise of family engagement as a priority for schools and districts across the country. The article spotlights states and districts in which family engagement initiatives are part of long-term, integrated and high-impact strategies to bolster student achievement. It is an important piece to help underscore the critical role family engagement and family-school partnerships play in children’s learning and growth. The article also is timely considering the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB) and National PTA’s work to include stronger family engagement provisions in the bill.

One of PTA’s founding principles is its dedication to advocating for and engaging parents in the education of their children. The association firmly believes that family engagement is at the core of student success and school improvement.

ESEA/NCLB has been up for reauthorization since 2007. National PTA has consistently advocated for bipartisan reauthorization of the law and the inclusion of robust family engagement provisions. Currently, the U.S. Senate has a bipartisan reauthorization bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), that is expected to be debated and voted on in the next few weeks. At this time, the bill does not include critical improvements that prioritize family engagement.

More than 40 years of research shows – no matter a family’s income or socioeconomic background – family engagement in education is essential for student success. Students whose families are involved attend school more regularly, earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs and have higher graduation rates.

Research also shows that family engagement is essential for school improvement as well as plays a key role in helping communities grow strong and thrive.

National PTA calls on the Senate to include provisions in the Every Child Achieves Act that would provide states and districts the capacity and necessary resources to support effective family engagement strategies in every school for every child and family.

As a parent and the leader of the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of family engagement on school improvement and students’ academic achievement. I also have witnessed the ability of engaged families and schools to come together and make true, meaningful improvement at the local level. It is essential that the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB provide for family engagement as it is proven to make a difference for children, schools and communities.

We will need PTA advocates to gear up for action on the Senate floor to strengthen family engagement provisions. Stay tuned for more updates on the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB through the One Voice Blog and by following @NationalPTA on Twitter.

Together, we can take action to help every child succeed academically and reach his or her full potential.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Wear Orange: First Annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day

National PTA staff members show their support for gun violence prevention by wearing orange apparel on June 2.

National PTA staff members show their support for gun violence prevention by wearing orange apparel on June 2.

Every student deserves to learn and grow in an environment that is safe. Sadly, the threat of violence for students – including gun violence – has grown across the country. To raise awareness of the issue and the importance of preventing and eliminating gun violence in schools and communities, June 2 marked the first annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. As part of the day, people nationwide were encouraged to “Wear Orange” in support of gun violence prevention.

National PTA is committed to eliminating violence in schools, communities and at home. It is a top priority of the association to bring together parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders and elected officials to make meaningful changes and find the most effective ways to ensure that all students have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn.

To help prevent gun-related incidents, National PTA advocates for:

  • Ensuring gun safety locks and other safety devices are implemented at home;
  • Establishing education programs for teachers, parents and other community members about violence prevention and gun safety;
  • Restricting internet gun sales, including items that enhance and modify firearms;
  • Providing alternative educational settings for youth who have brought a firearm to school, along with appropriate evaluation and counseling;
  • Enforcing state and federal age requirements for handgun purchases;
  • Raising the minimum age to 21 to be allowed to buy a handgun from non-licensed dealers; and
  • Preventing juveniles who commit violent crimes from buying guns as adults.

In addition to the association’s support of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, National PTA has joined other organizations in supporting the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Campaign. The campaign encourages families to be proactive and ask others if there is an unlocked gun in an area where their children play, which can help reduce the chances of gun-related accidents. Sunday, June 21 has been designated National ASK Day. National PTA urges families nationwide to join the association in spreading the ASK message on Facebook and Twitter.

National PTA also supports public policy solutions that prevent and address childhood exposure to violence and trauma. In the past year, National PTA contributed to the Safe, Healthy and Ready to Learn policy paper, led by Futures Without Violence, which outlined seven goals to help provide children an environment free of violence and trauma. The coalition examined research, consulted with experts across the country and convened a multi-disciplinary working group, of which National PTA participated, to develop a comprehensive set of seven recommendations designed to combat this silent epidemic.

The protection of students is of utmost importance. For ways PTAs can help prevent violence in schools and advocate for school safety click here.

Lindsay Kubatzky is a Government Affairs Coordinator for National PTA.

Student Data Privacy Legislation

shutterstock_163124264Many states have passed laws or introduced bills regarding this important issue for parents and kids.  Most of the laws and bills focus on third party vendor restrictions on using student data for commercial purposes, such as advertising to kids, selling data or creating non-education related profiles.  Typically, the burden of administering the privacy protections falls upon an education entity, such as a Department of Education or school district.  Challenges for education entities include limited resources or expertise for establishment of standards, administration and enforcement.

Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum submitted Senate Bill 187 and amendments modeled after a California law, which provides privacy protections for students, enforceable under Oregon’s unlawful business and trade practices laws.  The amendments place the compliance burden on “operators” of Internet websites, online services and/or online or mobile applications used for K-12 educational purposes.

Oregon PTA was one of the groups the Department of Justice reached out to regarding the proposal, and testified in support of the bill before the Senate Education Committee, and after the bill passed the Senate, the House Education Committee. Senate Bill 187A is scheduled for another hearing and possible work session on June 3.

Oregon PTA also participated as a member of a state level Student Data Privacy work group, and provided input regarding several bills sponsored by Rep. Lew Frederick.  We testified in support of the bills before the House Education Committee.

Learn more about Oregon’s bills on the Senate Bill 187A and House Committee on Education. You could also search your state legislature’s website to find legislative proposals related to student data privacy, or state and local educational entities’ website for opportunities to weigh in on this important issue.

Betty Reynolds, Ph.D. is the vice president for legislation at Oregon PTA.

Pennsylvania PTA: Let’s Get Engaged! Convention Campaign


Faced with the challenge of motivating more volunteers to take advantage of the wealth of advocacy resources from National PTA, the Pennsylvania PTA planned a “campaign caper” to launch at the April 2015 convention in Erie, PA. The campaign’s purpose was threefold:

  1. Encourage delegates to subscribe to the National PTA e-advocacy platform called “Engage”
  2. Motivate PTA members to have a greater voice in timely federal issues such as the Family Engagement Act and the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) Act
  3.  Create a fun, interactive model of engagement strategies that state delegates could replicate in their local units and councils

GetEngaged_PAring2Armed with data for schools in Pennsylvania, I presented a federal legislative update reminding delegates of the key federal programs and initiatives that were impacting schools, including examples of federal dollar allocations that directly supported student instruction in random districts. Projected on a large screen in the convention hall, delegates were taken step by step through the sign-up process on the PTA Takes Action Network.

As with any fun caper, props were unveiled such as those at the podium who teased and flashed large battery operated “diamond rings” as delegates were urged to become “engaged.” Deborah Dunstone, 2013-2015 state president, revealed a six-foot banner she had made at Staples, a NPTA member benefits provider. The banner featured a large illustration of a diamond engagement ring with the theme, “Let’s Get Engaged! Join the PTA Takes Action Network Today.” Could that have been music in the background that sounded like Beyonce singing, “Single Ladies”? If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it! Well, the PTA did like it and was further inspired by Charles Scott, National PTA board member from Tennessee, and Ethan Clark, manager of National PTA arts in education programs.

GetEngagedPA_ringInteracting with the convention body, Charles and Ethan distributed “faux” diamond engagement rings in small organdy drawstring bags to each delegate. In traditional style, Charles chose to propose on bended knee, while Ethan’s proposal style appeared to resemble a vendor throwing peanuts at a baseball game!   Priceless. The delegates “rocked” to Beyonce and then willingly made their formal commitment to the oath administered by Ms. Zelno to become partners with the PTA Takes Action Network and become more fully engaged in National PTA advocacy. Their resounding, “I will!” was followed up by the PA PTA Legislation and Advocacy Committee who were “gems” and staffed a table in the exhibit area, armed with laptops. Delegates who subscribed that weekend were given an additional promotional button from NPTA.

The engagement campaign was extremely timely for the pending reauthorization of ESEA which authorizes funding of school districts and educational programs in PA and will also be responsible for policies around school improvement—policies such as standards, assessment, and parent involvement where PTA members have been extremely vocal. “Let’s Get Engaged” was fun relief from the otherwise serious business of a convention body and was successful in drawing greater attention to the importance of advocacy at the federal level. While the diamonds were only a symbolic token, they represented the real need for PTA members to have a greater voice in policy for America’s children. The value of this exercise won’t be judged by cut, clarity, color or carat, but by whether the PTA provided resources to its members to become better advocates.

Sandy Zelno is the federal legislation chair at Pennsylvania PTA.

New Data Analysis Reveals Disparities Between State Tests and NAEP

Test TakingToday, Achieve, a national education advocacy nonprofit, released an analysis comparing proficiency rates in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math as reported by states to the same data measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Discrepancies were found between the percentage of students reported as proficient by states and the number of students who met national proficiency benchmarks.

NAEP defines proficiency as “solid academic performance” for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills approximate to the subject matter. Frequently, states’ testing and reporting processes yield different results than the data collected and reported by the NAEP, which is administered uniformly across the nation and assess what students know and can do in various subject areas. And NAEP results are generally not known by students and their families.

Georgia is among the states with the largest gaps between their reported 2013-14 state proficiency levels and their state’s 2013 NAEP proficiency levels.

As a resident, native Georgian and president of the National PTA, which represents more than 74 million children in the United States as well as American children abroad attending schools within the Department of Defense education system, it is of high importance to have an accurate assessment of how well our children are developing the skills they need to succeed. Accurate metrics provide much-needed information about how students are performing, help teachers guide instruction to better meet the needs of students as well as provide opportunities for early intervention when they fall behind.

In my role as president of National PTA, I have heard from families of students who have arrived on college campuses or in the workplace requiring remediation to get them up to speed, which can be costly. It is essential to ensure that all students adequately prepared to move onto more challenging material so that families do not end up paying for remedial courses.

As underscored by the analysis, the implementation of more rigorous standards and high quality tests that are consistent and comparable across states is critical to accurately assess student learning and ensure all students graduate with the skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce. It also is essential that families have honest information about how their students are progressing.

Many states are working hard to address the discrepancies found in the analysis by raising standards and expectations in math and English; employing new, higher quality tests that truly measure student competency and can be compared across school districts and states; and setting new levels of proficiency that are more demanding and aligned with what students need to know to be successful after high school.

Each state faces unique challenges in implementing new standards and assessments, but it is important not to back away from efforts to raise the bar for all children and ensure they are prepared with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed and reach their full potential.

For more information about the analysis and to view state specific data, visit http://www.honestygap.org.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

National PTA Applauds Bipartisan Legislation to Safeguard Children’s Data

Otha_Headshot_SMToday, Representatives Luke Messer (R-IN) and Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015 as a means to protect student data.

Technology is a powerful tool for teaching and learning, but at the same time, it is imperative that students’ academic and personal information is protected. It is a top priority of National PTA to safeguard children’s data and ensure that parents have appropriate notification and consent as to what and how data is collected and used.

National PTA is pleased to see this important topic being brought to the forefront and endorses the introduction of the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015. The association applauds Representatives Messer and Polis for their bipartisan leadership and commitment to safeguard student data and privacy.

We look forward to working with Congress and engaging with our members to ensure that privacy law is updated to reflect today’s technology-dependent world.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

High-Poverty Schools Receive Healthy Meals

shutterstock_245685964Students poised for academic success fuel their minds and bodies with nutritious meals every day—not just on test days. The Community Eligibility Provision, created by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and now available nationwide, enables high-poverty schools to offer all of their students a free and nutritious breakfast and lunch each school day. Now is the time to see if your school district could benefit from this remarkable opportunity in the 2015-2016 school year.

Thousands of schools—more than 14,000 in fact—and more than 6.5 million students are seeing the educational and health benefits of community eligibility. Offering free breakfast and lunch to the entire student body transforms the school culture, allowing students to enjoy school meals without feeling stigmatized. Schools that implement community eligibility see participation in both breakfast and lunch increase, which means that more children have the energy they need to learn throughout the day.

Community eligibility also benefits schools by reducing administrative burdens. School meal applications are not collected, which reduces administrative costs and frees up staff time. Additionally, increased meal participation allows schools to take advantage of economies of scale resulting in lower cost per meal. Offering meals free to all students also means that schools don’t have to try to collect unpaid fees or cover the cost of meals when families struggle to pay.

To take advantage of this incredible opportunity, keep these dates in mind:

  • Today: Start a conversation about whether or not community eligibility is the right choice for your school or school district. For more information on the provision, check out the Food Research and Action Center’s Community Eligibility Resource Find out which schools and districts in your state have implemented community eligibility or were eligible for the 2014-2015 school year using the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Community Eligibility Database. Use this model presentation to inform others.
  • May 1, 2015: Each state agency will publish a list of schools and school districts that qualify for community eligibility. Review the list to see which local schools qualify.
  • August 31, 2015: To implement the provision for school year 2015-2016, make sure your school district submits an application no later than August 31, 2015.

Mieka Sanderson is a Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at the Food Research and Action Center where her work primarily focuses on expanding the reach of the School Breakfast Program among low-income youth.

New Resource for Parents on Student Data Privacy

privacy-header-cropTechnology and the Internet have created countless new opportunities for learning. Students can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and can connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and modify instruction to meet the unique needs of every child.

With the advent of increasingly innovative ways to learn, National PTA believes that making learning via technology and the Internet safe for students should be a top priority. Toward the end of 2014, National PTA became involved in identifying best practices for safeguarding and managing student data and ensuring parents have appropriate notification and consent as to what and how children’s data is collected and used.

As part of its efforts, National PTA has collaborated with the Future of Privacy Forum and ConnectSafely to develop a free, digital guide to help parents understand the laws that protect student data as well as students’ and parents’ rights under the laws.

Among the information provided, the guide answers the following questions:

  • Who has access to personal information about my child?
  • What is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and when does it apply to information from students?
  • When do I have the choice to “opt-out” of my child’s information being shared?
  • How do I gain access, make corrections or request deletions to my child’s data?

Schools have always held a wide range of data about children and families. Name, address, names of parents or guardians, date of birth, grades, attendance, disciplinary records, eligibility for lunch programs, special needs and the like are all necessary for basic administration and instruction. Teachers and school officials use this information for lots of reasons, including to assess how well students at a school are progressing, how effective teachers are at teaching, and how well a school performs compared to other schools. State departments of education also collect and aggregate data to help guide policy decisions and plan budgets.

Guaranteeing the effective use of students’ information while keeping this information protected remains paramount.

To download the guide and learn more about privacy rights for students and parents, visit ferpasherpa.org.

Heidi May Wilson is the media relations manager at National PTA.