National PTA Advocates on Capitol Hill for Family Engagement and Reauthorization of the ESEA

National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses the association’s recommendations for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses the association’s recommendations for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

National PTA’s 2015 Legislative Conference brought together PTA leaders and advocates from across the country March 10-12 to discuss PTA’s public policy priorities and actively advocate for the education, health and welfare of every child. As part of the conference, National PTA President Otha Thornton brought the voice of millions of parents, teachers, students and families to Capitol Hill, meeting with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), two key Congressional leaders.

Senator Alexander is Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and is working to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB), a key legislative priority of National PTA, with Senator Murray, Ranking Member of the Senate HELP Committee. During the meetings, President Thornton discussed National PTA’s recommendations for reauthorization of the law, specifically, improvements that prioritize family engagement and address the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children.

More than 200 state and local PTA volunteers also met with their Congressional leaders to discuss key issues impacting our nation’s children, including the importance of family engagement in education and comprehensive reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB.

In addition to meeting with Congressional leaders, participants in this year’s Legislative Conference heard from Roberto J. Rodríguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, and John King, Senior Advisor Delegated Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education. Attendees also participated in interactive workshops and skill-building trainings on a variety of topics, including ESEA/NCLB reauthorization, family engagement, student data privacy, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, early childhood education, school safety and school nutrition.

The Legislative Conference and meetings on Capitol Hill were an important opportunity to speak up and advocate for the children National PTA serves. They demonstrated the essential role PTA and families play in supporting schools and student success as well as the association’s commitment to work at every level to improve education for all students and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.


Heidi May Wilson is media relations manager for National PTA.

Advocate on Behalf of Family Engagement

CapitolThis week over 200 state and local PTA volunteers came to Washington, DC to advocate on behalf of family engagement and ask their members of Congress to cosponsor the Family Engagement in Education Act (H.R. 1194/S. 622), National PTA’s key legislative priority.  The bipartisan bill was reintroduced on March 2, 2015 by Representatives Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Chris Coons (D-DE).  PTA encourages you to take action as well to ensure your member of Congress is a cosponsor.

More than 40 years of research confirms that when parents and families are engaged in their child’s education, they are more likely to attend school regularly, have increased levels of achievement and more likely to graduate on time. Additionally, family engagement also improves behavioral and social and emotional outcomes for students and supports a positive school culture and climate among parents, teachers and school leadership. In fact, studies show that engaging families is also cost effective; schools would have to spend more than $1,000 dollars per pupil to get the same results.

The Family Engagement in Education Act provides resources for schools and districts on best practices in engaging parents to raise student achievement, supports teachers and principals by providing professional development for educators on how to partner with parents to close the achievement gap, and builds statewide and local capacity to engage parents.

Importantly, the bill puts forth a framework for systemic, integrated, and sustainable family engagement at all levels, while allowing the flexibility and resources for local innovation and strategic partnerships, without authorizing any new spending.

National PTA government affairs staff will continue to work with advocates and policymakers to ensure that provisions of the Family Engagement in Education Act will be a part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Jacki Ball is the Director of Government Affairs at National PTA. Contact Jacki at jball@pta.org.

March 10-12 marks the 215 National PTA Legislative Conference, which gives participants the chance to have in-depth discussions about PTA’s public policy priorities through interactive workshops, keynote speakers, advocacy trainings and more. During the conference, PTA advocates from across the country will have the opportunity to amplify their voices at the federal level by advocating on behalf of PTA and influencing lawmakers. Learn more about National PTA’s Legislative Conference and take action now to urge Congress to cosponsor the bipartisan Family Engagement in Education Act of 2015.

How to Engage All Families

Last year a National Center for Education Statistics report projected public schools in the United States would become majority-minority. This is a significant statistic for an association whose overall purpose is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.

As the former outreach director for Washington State PTA, I was a member of a board that received the Jan Harp Domene Diversity and Inclusion Award. Now, as the Founder and CEO of Diverse Community Connectors, LLC, I teach organizations how to engage diverse communities. An essential component of this work is introducing Washington State’s passionate diversity engagement leaders and sharing their inspiring work.

Students_MajorityMinority

HOW THIS BENEFITS YOU

The purpose of this blog is to encourage you to celebrate diversity by:

  • Introducing you to engagement leaders and their work
  • Acquainting you with a useful 7-step process
  • Inspiring you to apply for the JHD Diversity and Inclusion Award

Why? I believe you will significantly increase your chances of accomplishing your PTA’s ultimate mission.

MODELS OF HOW

Simply click on the links below and you will be motivated as you read about:

AN ENGAGEMENT PROCESS

If you are facing a situation in which you need to engage diverse families, this 7-Step process can help.

  1. Assess the situation using data
  2. Determine who you’d like to engage
  3. Partner with all like-minded stakeholders
  4. Create a plan of engagement with stakeholders
  5. Engage – follow your plan
  6. Evaluate your results
  7. Improve and repeat

MY CHARGE TO YOU

Remember, there is no magic bullet for engaging all families. It takes dedication and time. It is so worth it! Apply for the Jan Harp Domene Diversity and Inclusion Award and feel free to contact me. I’d love to celebrate and share your how-to model. Cheers!

JMarieJMarie is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, former school district administrator, social entrepreneur, and PTA mom. Her passion is to teach organizations to engage diverse communities so they both experience success.

Advocate for Our Children at 2015 LegCon

sedwardsIt’s that time of year again!  This March 10-12, 2015  is National PTA’s Legislative Conference in Washington DC!

For more than two decades, I’ve looked forward to this meeting with excitement and great anticipation as we work to carry  out  the advocacy work of our association.  Advocacy is who we are and what we do as PTA.  I strongly believe that we must always keep this mission in focus: we are a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for the education and well-being of every child.  Having volunteered as a legislative chairperson at the local unit, council, district, state and national levels, I have seen first hand how much we can get done when we come together and leverage our human resources. The National PTA Legislative Conference is our premier opportunity  to advocate with one loud voice at the federal level.

The National PTA Legislative Conference brings together hundreds of PTA advocacy-minded members from all  states, territories and Department of Defense PTA units together in our nation’s capital and in the Halls of Congress to advocate on behalf of all children and youth.  I am grateful for the professional training we receive at the conference, and the comradery that is reinvigorated and solidified among our members. It is inspiring to see our advocacy awardees receive some well-deserved recognition for the work they have do on behalf of every child.  I always look forward to hearing from congressional leaders and federal department leaders who recognize the importance of PTA’s work. I am encouraged by the visible impact we make when meeting with our Senators and Representatives in Congress.

This year promises to be particularly exciting.  With a newly elected Congress, we have the opportunity to tell our stories,  to advocate on behalf our 2015 National PTA Public Policy Agenda, and to take part in the democratic process. I voted and helped to elect my Congressional leaders. During their campaigns, they assured me of their interest in the issues that I think are important.  Our members of Congress work for us, the constituents, and I look forward to ensuring that they know what I (and PTA) need from them!

I encourage you to make yourself be heard and attend this year’s Legislative Conference. Register early and encourage others to join you. I hope to see you this March!

Stella Edwards is a member of the National PTA Legislative Committee.

The 2015 National PTA Legislative Conference will take place March 10-12, 2015 in Arlington, VA at the Crystal Gateway Marriott. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from informed policy speakers, participate in advocacy workshops, and advocate on behalf of PTA on Capitol Hill. For more information, visit PTA.org/legcon.

Smart Snacks on Wacky Wednesdays

WackyWednesdayHealthy eating is our main focus for Garcia Elementary School’s students and this year we have seen tremendous success with the PTA’s Wacky Wednesday sales to raise funds for the school. Previously, our students have purchased unhealthy snacks such as nachos and soda during our Wacky Wednesday sales. However, this year’s sales include only healthy items that meet the new USDA Smart Snacks guidelines which went into effect on July 1, 2014. The new guidelines set limits on fat, sugar, sodium, and calories to ensure that all foods sold in school to students are healthy. Our school is dedicated to adhering to these new guidelines and is actively working to implement them at all of our PTA events in which foods are sold to the students.

From the planning to the implementation of the Smart Snacks guidelines in our sales, we wanted to make sure we were making the right choices for the children while they are in school. As parent leaders in the school, we knew that we had to make the decision to go healthy with our Wacky Wednesday sales to set an example for other school events. We have been averaging about $113 per week with our sales but it is not just the financial aspect of the sales that have been a success. The students are excited about the new healthier options that we are selling and that is an important part of our success with this transition.  Although the transition to healthier foods was met with some opposition and uncertainty, we have made the children’s health our priority through selling healthier foods and beverages and you cannot put a price on that.

 

Brenda Crawley is the PTA President at Dr. JA Garcia Elementary School in Corpus Christi, TX.

 

Empowering Families to Support Student Success

SanJose_2We know that when families, schools and communities work together as partners, student achievement is boosted and children are better prepared to lead happy and productive lives. That’s why California State PTA partnered with National PTA and Univision (the nation’s leading media company serving our Spanish-speaking parents) to offer two “Academias para Padres” (Parent Academies); free Spanish-language parent engagement workshops in San Jose (6th District PTA) and Van Nuys (31st District PTA).

The events empowered Hispanic parents to help their children achieve their educational and career goals. Workshop topics included:

  • College and Career Readiness
  • Understanding the New Common Core State Standards
  • Speaking Up for Your Child

Weekday morning co-hosts Omar and Argelia from Univision’s acclaimed “El Show de Omar y Argelia” (The Omar and Argelia Show) and Kira Vilanova, co-host of Univision 14’s morning show “Al Despertar,” attended in San Jose and shared messages and testimonials on the impact education has had in their lives. In Van Nuys, attendees were greeted by Univision 34 KMEX-TV news anchors Gabriela Teissier and Antonio Valverde, who spoke to the audience about taking an active and engaged role in their children’s education.

As an added bonus, Omar and Argelia encouraged parents to join their local PTA – and even recorded a quick video to share!

PTA state and district leaders were the driving force behind these two successful events. We developed the program and workshop content, and provided or identified speakers and workshop presenters. PTA volunteers also worked with local school districts to secure event facilities, coordinated childcare and encouraged local businesses to provide raffle prizes. PTA leaders reached out to local schools to encourage attendance and participation in the events. Onsite, local PTA leaders welcomed participants at event registration and served as ushers and guides for each workshop. We also reached out to other state and local partners and sponsors, such as The Education Trust-West, Art in Action and Panda Express.

Fischerblog2Following the events, we compiled survey data to evaluate and assess the program. We also added contact information to our email system to ensure continued engagement and outreach. In total, we served more than 400 Spanish-speaking parents through the events. California State PTA was thrilled to partner with National PTA and Univision to boost family engagement in schools to support student success, and we look forward to our continued collaboration.

Take a look at the excitement from San Jose and Van Nuys on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CaliforniaPTA.

California State PTA is also pleased to provide samples of Spanish-language workshop materials and handouts:

FISCHERJustine Fischer is the California State PTA President-Elect. Special thanks to National PTA, Univision, The Education Trust-West, 6th District PTA, 31st District PTA, Washington Elementary School PTA, Birmingham Community Charter High School PTA, Washington United Youth Center, Panda Express, Art in Action, JFK University, the Santa Clara County Office of Education and the Los Angeles Unified School District Education Service Center North for helping to make these great events happen!

2014 Midterm Election: What It Means for PTA & Education

Co-authored by Jessica Seitz

MidTermElectionsWith the 2014 Midterm Elections now behind us, the impact of the results and how they will affect PTA-related policy issues must be examined. With most of the election results now in (some still pending), Republicans will now control both Houses of Congress.

By adding up to 40 new Members to the House of Representatives (gaining at least 13), Republicans will have at least 246 seats, its largest majority sense World War II. In the Senate, Republicans added 10 new members (picking up 7) and will take over the majority with at least 52 members. With new leadership set to take over in January, changes are on the horizon. Specifically, in the Senate, many Republicans who served as Committee ranking members are poised to become Chairs of their respective committees. In the House, while Republicans have retained leadership, key committee assignments are likely to change. New members will arrive in Washington next week for their orientation and leadership elections for both the House and the Senate, including chairmanships.

Other key results from Tuesday night impacting the national political landscape include:

Education funding

Several ballot initiatives were on the ballots across the country with mixed results. While New York and Illinois approved increased education spending, Nevada voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have imposed a 2% margin tax on businesses with more than $1 million in revenue to raise money for public schools.  Washington State narrowly passed a measure that would raise spending to cut down class sizes and hire staff but in Colorado, an amendment that would have used gambling to generate funding for schools lost by a large margin. Early education continues to be on the rise across the country, as voters approved measures in Denver and Seattle to raise taxes to expand access to high-quality preschool.

Teacher Tenure

The most controversial measure on the ballot this year was in Missouri. On Tuesday voters resoundingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have required districts to use student test scores as a key factor in teacher hiring, compensation, advancement, and layoffs. It would also have limited teacher contracts to three years and prohibit teachers from using the collective bargaining process to make changes to the design and implementation of the evaluation system.

House and Senate Leadership and Committee Outlook for 114th Congress

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will lead the 114th Congress. From a PTA advocacy perspective, two Committees stand out: The Education and Workforce Committee in the House of Representatives and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee in the Senate. These committees deal exclusively with many K-12 issues PTA advocates for, including Family Engagement.

In the House, the Committee on Education and Workforce lost two Republicans and five Democrats, to either election or retirement. Among the most central figures not returning to the Committee is Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA). Current Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) is expected to maintain his position with Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) slated to become the committee’s Ranking Member.

In the Senate, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions loses two Democrats, Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Kay Hagan (D-NC). With leadership in the Senate changing hands, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will become the next Chairman of the HELP Committee and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), currently the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, is expected to become the Ranking Member. In a statement shortly after the election, Sen. Alexander stated:

“Yesterday Americans elected a new Senate majority determined to fix our broken system and move our country in a new direction…. Republicans in the Senate are ready to hit the ground running with proposals to….return control over our public schools to communities and classroom teachers…”

With control of both Chambers and strong statements like these, all indications point to important changes (or attempts to change) in 2015 in the area of education policy.


Matthew L. Evans is the Advocacy Coordinator at National PTA.
Jessica Seitz is the Policy Analyst at National PTA.

Common Core not the “Horror” you keep hearing about!

Common_Core_ImageAnyone that has a Facebook page has seen the various “Common Core Math” horror stories that try to make us believe that parents with highly technical degrees cannot do this “new math” that is being taught to our students. We turn on the television and hear some outrageous claim that “Common Core” is forcing kids to do too much. We see  stories that state how this “new fuzzy math” should be abandoned and that we should just get back to the basics; how the math we were taught twenty or thirty years ago worked..  The reality is Common Core is getting us “back to the basics” by laying out high expectations for students in order for them to have a solid, deep understanding of the skills needed for math and English language arts. Common Core expects that students actually know how and why math works instead of just memorizing facts.

As the new standards are taking hold and our students are being tested using the new standards, we have to understand the difference between the standards and the curriculum.  First, let’s just get it out of the way: there is no such thing as “Common Core Math” or “old” and “new” math. The Common Core State Standards are just that, standards.  They set the overall goals to ensure that our students are learning the skills needed for the careers of today and tomorrow. Beginning in Kindergarten each grade level builds upon the next so our kids will have a strong foundation in math and English language arts. The goal is to ensure that all kids finish high school truly prepared for the next step in their life whether that is college, technical school, military service or any other career choice. The standards set the foundation. The curriculum is how teachers choose to teach in his or her classroom.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and misleading information about the Common Core State Standards. This initiative has been led by states, with coordination from the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Teachers were involved in the process of developing the standards. The federal government has not been involved in initiating or developing the standards.  Additionally, states are not required by the federal government to adopt these standards.  In order to receive grant funding or waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act’s failed goals, states were required to adopt college and career-ready standards, of which the Common Core State Standards were only one possibility.

As parents, if you do not understand how your child is being taught, do not rush to social media, but instead, pick up the phone, send an email, or go visit your child’s teacher and classroom. The only way that we can become informed is having meaningful partnerships between the home and the school. I have met hundreds of teachers and administrators throughout West Virginia and I have never met one that does not want to share their techniques and goals with parents. Simply, when there are meaningful partnerships between the home and school, our students and schools do better!

It is important to stress that the curriculum decisions are decided at the local level; decisions about what textbooks to use, which classroom lessons are appropriate and what teaching techniques work best are decided by our teachers, principals and school administrators, and ideally parents The Common Core standards set the goals that we need to meet. But more importantly, the curriculum is how the goals will be met. These two terms, standards and curriculum, are very different and are not interchangeable. Our teachers and local school boards are deciding how to teach our children fractions, what textbooks to use, and how to meet the needs of our children. In math, Teachers are presenting various strategies to students on how to solve problems and they are letting students discover there is not just one way to get to the correct answer and that is acceptable. Our teachers are using various strategies so that the student can choose the way they best understand, which is personalized for them. We do not want our students to just memorize math facts. We do want them to understand how and why math works so they are able to transfer those skills to real world situations like giving change without the aid of a cash register or how to decide which algorithm works best for a technical situation at work.

Your State Department of Education, National PTA and your state PTA provide great resources to educate parents on the new standards that are now implemented. It is up to you as a parent to take a few moments to research what the goals of the standards are and to see how they are being implemented in your child’s classroom. Visit our websites and ensure that you are receiving the most up-to-date and correct information.

The bottom line is that parents and families are the best advocates for their children.  Opening the dialogue between parents and the school is vital to ensure that our children are learning and that their needs are being met.  We cannot believe everything that is posted and shared on the Internet, but we can be confident that our children are being taught by individuals  who have dedicated their lives to our children. At the end of the day, the power is in our hands.


Justin Raber serves as the president of West Virginia PTA. 

About West Virginia PTA

West Virginia PTA comprises thousands of members, including families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of parent involvement in schools.  West Virginia PTA is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit association that prides itself on being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. Membership in PTA is open to anyone who wants to be involved and make a difference for the education, health, and welfare of children and youth.

 

Now Accepting 2015 Advocacy Awards Nominations

advocacyawardsNominations for the 2015 Advocacy Awards are now being accepted! If you know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or know of a local unit or state level PTA that has done great advocacy work, please nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA. Winners will be announced in January, and will receive their awards at the 2015 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Like in previous years, advocates may apply themselves in the youth and individual categories, and the winners in these categories will get the opportunity to act as advocacy ambassadors for PTA.

Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year and are due by 12 a.m. EDT on Dec. 19. Please visit the following links below to view and fill out nomination forms. You can also find these forms and more information about the 2015 Advocacy Awards at PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards.

Categories:

Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Ambassador Award
The 2015 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Ambassador Award will be presented to an individual PTA member, who through their leadership and advocacy efforts, affected federal policy priorities within PTA’s annual Public Policy Agenda. Shirley was a model of public service and volunteerism throughout her life. She was an impassioned and compassionate leader, dedicated to moving PTA forward and committed to ensuring that others would follow.

Outstanding Youth Advocacy Ambassador Award
The 2015 Outstanding Youth Advocacy Ambassador Award will be presented to a young person—who—through his or her creativity, leadership, and dedication, has positively affected policy or change in his or her school or community in a way that aligns with PTA’s mission and goals.

Local/District/Regional PTA Outstanding Advocacy Award
The 2015 Local Outstanding Advocacy Award will be presented to a local, district, council or regional PTA that, through their dedication, leadership and efforts positively affected legislative and/or regulatory policy compatible with PTA’s mission and goals. These efforts must include an education/learning component for PTA members and the community-at-large. Working with multiple organizations or coalitions through grassroots collaboration is preferred.

State PTA Outstanding Advocacy Award
The 2015 State Outstanding Advocacy Award will be presented to a state PTA that, through their dedication, leadership and efforts positively affected legislative and/or regulatory policy compatible with PTA’s mission and goals. These efforts must be based on a statewide issue, involve working with multiple organizations or coalitions through grassroots collaboration, and contain a public awareness/advocacy training component for PTA members and the community at large.


Matthew L. Evans is an advocacy coordinator for National PTA.

Increased Access to Healthy Foods for SNAP Participants Through New USDA Funding

shutterstock_220126873On Sept. 29 in Richmond, Va., the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $31.5 million will be available to assist those who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to easily access and afford fruits and vegetables. The funding will come from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, which was established in the 2014 Farm Bill. SNAP recipients encounter many barriers when accessing healthy foods, such as finding fresh fruits and vegetables. However, this program will involve stakeholders to work together to improve healthy eating among SNAP participants and remove the barriers that they face.

Grant recipients will work closely with others at the community level to initiate pilot projects as well as large-scale and multi-year projects. These pilot projects will work closely with the SNAP agency within the specific state and may include incentives for SNAP participants by working with SNAP retailers, improving marketing for healthier food options and supporting for local and regional agricultural producers. In addition, these incentives will make their products more accessible to SNAP participants, which specifically targets underserved communities.

A goal of SNAP is to replicate the successful initiatives that this funding supports. This may be technological advances of the benefit system or the increase in purchases of local and regional agricultural products by SNAP participants. Ultimately, the outcome for the projects that receive the funding will be an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP participants that is sustained well beyond after the project has ended.

Learn more about the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program and read the press release announcing the funding.


Stephanie Simms is the School Nutrition Policy Fellow for the National PTA.