PTA’s Advocacy Efforts Ramp Up After 2016 LegCon

LegCon Around Conference Photos by Lifetouch-103-L

More than 200 PTA members nationwide attended National PTA’s 2016 Legislative Conference (LegCon) to hone their advocacy skills and learn new ways to strengthen their PTA voice. During workshops and panel discussions, PTA leaders heard from experts about best practices to expand their grassroots network of PTA advocates, build relationships with policymakers and how to amplify their message through social media.

On the last day of LegCon, PTA advocates met with their elected officials on Capitol Hill to discuss key issues affecting children and families, including obtaining funding for Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). PTA members’ dedicated advocacy efforts and collective voice resulted in 38 Representatives and 22 Senators signing on to a Dear Colleague letter in support of funding SFECs.

The bipartisan, bicameral support for the Dear Colleague letter is a great example of the power of our PTA advocacy efforts. That success is just the beginning of what the PTA can achieve when our 4 million members advocate for “Every Child with One Voice.”

To push back against the expected budget cuts to federal education programs, it is imperative for PTA members to continue to be engaged with Congress in 2016. The LegCon workshops and trainings have been uploaded to the LegCon website and can be utilized year-round to expand PTA members’ advocacy efforts at all levels of government.

The key to effective advocacy is building relationships with your Members of Congress and their office staff. Below are a few relationship building strategies that you can do throughout the year to develop a rapport with your Congressional offices:

  • Send letters to your member of Congress through National PTA’s Takes Action Center
  • Call your member of Congress’ office to discuss issues affecting children and families in your district and state
  • Meet with your member of Congress and their staff in the district office
  • Invite your member of Congress to visit your school and/or attend a PTA meeting
  • Engage with your member of Congress on social media

By developing a strong line of communication with your members of Congress and their staff, our association will be able to meet our policy goals that will help to improve the lives of children and families across the country.

Sign-up to receive our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates on National PTA legislative priorities.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

 

 

Sign the Testing Bill of Rights!

TestBetter-Promo1National PTA is pleased to join forces with the Center for American Progress (CAP), America Achieves and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), among others in support of the Testing Bill of Rights to ensure assessments are fair, reliable, relevant and aligned to high-quality standards.

The Testing Bill of Rights outlines the need to accurately measure student learning in a way that is useful for parents and teachers and less burdensome for students. As states continue to transition to higher standards and a new generation of high-quality tests come to fruition, more needs to be done at state and local levels to address over testing and provide greater transparency about the purpose and benefits of each test. No parent wants their child reduced to a test score, and assessment results should be used to inform instruction, provide parents and communities with information about whether students are working at grade level or are struggling, and allow teachers to diagnose and help their students. The launch of the Testing Bill of Rights is part of a campaign led by CAP to educate school leaders, students, teachers, and parents about the need for better, fairer and fewer tests.

National PTA understands the frustration that parents, students and educators have expressed regarding over testing. However, instead of walking away from assessments themselves, National PTA seeks to empower and engage parents in the important conversations around the amount and types of tests students take as well as advocate for parents to be at the table as these discussions occur at state and local levels. Parents are an important part of the solution to improve assessments, and we can’t walk away from this responsibility.

The association believes that in order to provide the most accurate information to parents, educators, schools, districts and states all students must participate in required state assessments. The information gathered from assessments helps to make sure all students and schools are receiving the necessary resources and supports in order to reach their full potential. Additionally, if we do not have full data sets, we won’t know if the assessments actually do what they are designed or purported to do.

National PTA has always believed that educational improvements and increased well-being for our nation’s children comes from engaged and empowered parents and families. The parent voice is critical in the discussion around educational equity. Parents must be part of the solution for fairer, better and fewer tests.

National PTA urges you to sign the Testing Bill of Rights to ensure students are taking high-quality and aligned assessments, parents have accurate information on their child’s progress and achievement and teachers have a tool that helps improve instruction.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

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.

I’m Opting Out of Opt-Out

This blog post was originally published on the Huffington Post.

With the arrival of spring comes assessment season for students, families and educators across the country. When my girls were in grade school, I remember dedicating time to helping them be confident and ready to take state tests. I also remember some feelings of anxiety before the tests, but at the same time, the importance of the assessments in helping my children’s teachers and school better support their success through data-driven planning and decision-making.

During testing season last year, reports emerged that a large number of students were opted out of state assessments. While polls have indicated a majority of parents do not support the concept of opt-out, the movement has vocal supporters and it is expected that even more attention will be paid to student participation in assessments.

Understandably, many parents and educators have concerns about the over emphasis on testing and the impact it is having on teaching and learning. Speaking up and taking action is a critical step to improve the overall education system and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach his/her full potential. However, National PTA does not believe that full scale assessment opt-out is an effective strategy to address the frustration over testing or that opting-out helps to improve a given assessment instrument. Mass opt-out comes at a real cost to the goals of educational equity and individual student achievement while leaving the question of assessment quality unanswered.

The consequences of non-participation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. Non-participation can result in a loss of funding, diminished resources and decreased interventions for students. Such ramifications would impact minorities and students with special needs disparately, thereby widening the achievement gap.

For example, states like New York that did not meet the participation requirement last school year received a letter stating that funding–including for English language learners, students with disabilities and other students in need–could be at risk if they have less than 95% participation on exams this spring. Opting out also stalls innovation by inhibiting effective monitoring and improvement of programs, exams and instructional strategies, and could thwart transparency by providing incomplete data for states, districts and schools.

Recognizing the concerns parents and educators have about testing, and the importance of improving assessment systems, National PTA’s Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment. The statement acknowledges the importance of eliminating unnecessary and low-quality assessments while protecting the vital role that good assessments play in measuring student progress so parents and educators have the best information to support teaching and learning, improve outcomes and ensure equity for all children.

While some will solely focus on the statement’s opposition to opt-out policies, when read in its entirety, the statement provides a holistic approach to improving assessment systems. National PTA advocates for improved assessment systems by recommending that states and districts: (1) ensure appropriate development; (2) guarantee reliability and implementation of high quality assessments; (3) clearly articulate to parents the assessment and accountability system in place at their child’s school and (4) bring schools and families together to use the data to support student growth and learning.

National PTA strongly advocates for and continues to support increased inclusion of the parent voice in educational decision making at all levels. Parents and families must be at the table when policymakers are considering policies that affect students. National PTA believes in the power of parents making their voices heard and being a part of the solution through engagement. As vice president of advocacy for the association, I have witnessed the ability of families and schools to come together and make true, meaningful improvement through robust dialogue, deliberate investment and thoughtful consensus.

Now is the time for all of us to work together to ensure assessments are executed properly and provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of students as they are intended to do. We must be effective stewards of education for our nation’s children by improving assessment systems, not opting children out of the system that should be for their benefit.


 

Shannon Sevier is vice president of advocacy for National PTA, the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association dedicated to ensuring all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Sevier is a proud mother of two high school students and a college student.

Senate Agriculture Committee Moves Forward on Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act

Last month, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unanimously passed bipartisan legislation—Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016—to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act/Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act for five years.

The bipartisan reauthorization in the Senate comes after years of debate on how to move forward with school nutrition standards—even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in October that 97% of schools were successfully meeting updated nutrition standards.

As part of the bipartisan compromise, the bill would keep the current fruits and vegetables requirement intact—that all students must have at least a half cup of fruits and vegetables with every federally funded school meal. However, grain and sodium requirements are expected to change through USDA’s rulemaking process (instead of the legislative process) before the next school year.

The new regulations for rulemaking would consist of delaying target 2 sodium restrictions in schools from school year (SY) 2017-2018 to 2019-2020 and lowering whole grain-rich requirements from 100% of grains served in schools to 80%. Although National PTA is not in favor of these changes, our association is still in support of the overall bill.

The bipartisan compromise preserves the progress made on school nutrition standards as well as school breakfast and lunch programs while keeping the child nutrition reauthorization process moving forward.

The bill also contains many key elements of the School Food Modernizations Act (S. 540)—that National PTA supported. The reauthorization bill would establish loan assistance and grant programs to help school districts upgrade their food service facilities and assist with staff training opportunities.

The Senate child nutrition reauthorization bill would also require studies on the effects of serving children healthy and nutritious meals at school, which include research and reviews of:

  • Nutrition education best practices
  • State training and technical assistance for schools to serve healthy school meals
  • Effects of selling varieties of milk on milk consumption at school
  • Target sodium requirements for schools and the effect on childrens’ health and school nutrition programs

The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act is expected to move to the Senate floor for consideration in the coming months. The House Education and the Workforce Committee has not released their reauthorization of the child nutrition act yet and the possibility of the House taking up the Senate bill is still unclear.

Sign-up to receive our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates on the bill and information on other National PTA legislative priorities.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

Department of Education Provides Guidance to Help Reduce and Improve Testing

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance to help states and districts improve the quality of assessments and eliminate redundant and misaligned tests. Of significance to PTA, the guidance encourages Title I schools to conduct assessment literacy nights to increase understanding and communication between families and schools about the use of assessments and how to use test results to support learning at home. Acting U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr., also released this video explaining more about the guidance.

National PTA acknowledges the important role that high-quality assessments play in promoting equity and improving the outcomes of all of our nation’s children. Assessments provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. At the same time, National PTA recognizes the concerns many parents and educators have about the over-emphasis on testing and impact it has on student learning opportunities in the classroom. We applaud the Department’s guidance to help address the current challenges and provide actionable opportunities for states and districts to carry out the work of improving assessments.

The letter to Chief State School Officers by the Department of Education follows President Obama’s Testing Action Plan that was released in October 2015 and identifies key principles for good assessments. While the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages movement away from high stakes testing, the Department’s new document provides immediate opportunities for states and districts to take advantage of current federal resources to reduce testing and support more effective assessment systems since the new law will not take full effect until the 2017–2018 school year.

National PTA recognizes that many states are still working to implement high quality assessment systems that seek to provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. The National PTA Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment that outlines several recommendations that were highlighted in the Department’s guidance such as auditing of assessment systems to reduce unnecessary tests, ensuring appropriate development, reliability and implementation of high quality assessments, clear and multiple means of communication and engagement with families on assessment, improving the timeliness and comprehension of assessment results, and providing adequate professional development to educators on assessment.

As stated in the PTA Board of Directors adopted position statement, National PTA believes a sound and comprehensive assessment system should include multiple measures of student growth and achievement that reflect the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire, as well as their capacity to perform critical competencies. The association has long held that neither one test, nor a single data point should ever be the sole determinant of a student’s academic or work future. High-quality assessments play a vital role in providing valuable information to parents, students and teachers on student progress.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

National School Choice Week: Truth about School Vouchers

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National School Choice Week is celebrated Jan. 24-30. We would like to present facts about school vouchers that are often misrepresented.

National PTA has a long-standing position against school vouchers and is an active member in the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), which advocates for support of public education and against any attempts to divert federal funding to private schools.

While the term “school choice” encompasses many types of choice—including public charter and magnet schools—voucher proponents use this week as an opportunity to push for private school vouchers across the nation. But unlike public choice options, private school vouchers don’t offer meaningful choices to students or parents.

These voucher programs:

  • Take taxpayer dollars away from public schools
  • Fund private schools that are either too expensive for students to afford that lack resources and fewer opportunities than in public schools

Voucher programs funnel taxpayer money toward schools that are not obligated to follow the same standards as public schools. The D.C. voucher program, which some members of Congress are trying to reauthorize now, is a good example of this.

Since its adoption in 2004, the program has received almost $200 million for students to use to attend private schools. Yet, these private schools are not subject to the same standards of accountability, nondiscrimination or civil rights requirements that public schools must meet, including those in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For all of those federal dollars spent, the D.C. voucher program does not produce a good return on investment. Studies of the D.C. voucher program conducted by the U.S. Department of Education have shown that vouchers do not improve educational achievement or opportunities for students in the program.

In fact, the department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in reading or math, and that students in the program were significantly less likely to attend a school with an ESL program, learning support and special needs program, tutors, counselors, cafeteria, or nurse’s office.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a bill to reauthorize the D.C. voucher program, which will expire this year. While the Senate did not act on the bill in 2015, we expect to see supporters of the program continue to push for its reauthorization.

Congress may move to reauthorize the program in 2016 despite continuing opposition from the individuals who represent D.C., including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and a majority of the D.C. City Council.

Looking ahead, we will continue to see vouchers pushed not just in Congress, but in the states. Last year, seven states passed voucher bills that either created or expanded existing programs.

School Choice Week is a great opportunity to draw attention to the reasons why private school vouchers are not in the best interest of students and families. Take the time to let your legislators know that you do not support private school vouchers and that they should oppose any attempt to create or expand private school voucher programs.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

Finally Leaving NCLB behind?

Congress2We haven’t seen a comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the primary federal education law—this close to being signed into law since 2002.

Last week, Members of Congress in the House and Senate made a bipartisan agreement on a framework to reauthorize ESEA. The framework will be used to draft a final bill that will then be considered by all members of the House and Senate.

The expected final bill—now called The Every Student Succeeds Act—will be available to the public on Mon., Nov. 30. The House could vote on the final bill as early as Dec. 2, with the Senate to take it up the week of Dec. 7.

Hundreds of PTA members have advocated to include Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) in the reauthorization and we are pleased to announce that these centers are included in this reauthorization framework.

The SFECs will provide targeted capacity-building and technical assistance for effective family engagement strategies where it’s needed the most. The proposed reauthorization also includes improvements to Title I, Section 1118, which requires school districts to establish family engagement plans and conduct family engagement activities.

If the final bill passes in Congress and is signed into law by President Obama, the new version of ESEA will include programs like preschool development grants and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children in high-poverty and low-performing schools.

The reauthorization would also require:

  • States test students in grades 3-8 and once in high school in reading and math
  • Districts and states report assessment data by student subgroups to identify and help close achievement gaps
  • No public or private school portability (No Title I funds will be able to follow the child to the school of their choice) or voucher programs
  • Districts and states provide access to well-rounded educational opportunities for all students by increasing access to STEM education, the arts, and ensuring safe and healthy school environments

National PTA is pleased to see the reauthorization process continue to move forward after years of stagnation. We hope bipartisanship and progress will remain during the final stages of the legislative process. Children, families, teachers and school administrators are depending on congress to reauthorize the outdated No Child Left Behind law.

Follow National PTA on Twitter for the latest news on ESEA reauthorization.


Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator at National PTA.

Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

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This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech on the need to invest in education instead of prisons to ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. National PTA has a long history of advocating for policies to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. If we provide the right investment and resources for our nation’s children, their families and schools—rather than jails—we will see better outcomes for our communities, society and the nation’s economy overall. We must stem this tide of the school-to-prison pipeline by making sure adults and schools are using disciplinary policies and practices that keep students in schools and out of the justice system. We must promote programs that encourage the use of evidence-based disciplinary practices, such as positive behavioral interventions, over zero-tolerance policies and out-of-school suspension practices. Further, we must promote effective family-focused, community-based solutions for our most troubled youth. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes plain economic sense. Let’s make a promise to trade the unsound prison investment for better schools and better communities for our children.

Take our teachers, for example. As research shows, access to high-quality teachers and educational opportunities leads to greater lifetime earnings and better health outcomes. According to the Department of Education, states and localities spend a total of $72 billion annually on correctional facilities while only $27 billion on teachers that work in high-poverty schools. Imagine the impact if we chose a different path and instead invested in a child’s future by ensuring they had a high-quality teacher.

Since 2010, cuts to education funding have approached an embarrassing and shameful $4 billion. There appears to be a severe misalignment of funding priorities when K-12 enrollment at public schools increases annually, but federal discretionary funding for education programs continues to decrease. Earlier this week was the close of fiscal year 2015 and the federal government barely beat the deadline to fund the government for 2016. Unfortunately, we find that the current congressional debate is not on how much we should invest in education, but how much to cut education.

We urgently call on our policy leaders to strategically invest to break the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure that each and every child reaches their potential. Secretary Duncan’s call for a shift in funding from prisons to our children’s education is exactly the realignment that our education system needs to provide students with the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA

Getting it Right

shutterstock_11033293All states have renewed their efforts to give every child a quality education by evaluating, and in many cases, overhauling their state education standards. Many states have adopted College and Career Readiness Standards, some have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), some have opted for a hybrid of the CCSS and others have created their own entirely. Whichever standards your state uses, the goal is the same: to ensure that every child graduates high school ready for college or career. National PTA has resources for all states to help parents learn more about the standards.

New standards cannot stand alone. Each state must implement a robust action plan to ensure that the standards can be successful. National PTA, in partnership with the Learning First Alliance, has outlined five key areas where states—in partnership with schools, teachers and parents—should focus efforts in order to make their new standards successful.

  • Alignment of standards, curriculum and assessments—Once states and local communities institute standards that establish the knowledge and skills they believe students must learn, they must put in place curriculum and instructional programs that provide students with opportunities to learn the agreed-upon knowledge and skills.
  • Adequate professional development for teachers and principals—Teachers, principals and schools must have adequate time to understand and implement the standards. Teachers must have access to high-quality training and resources that enable them to successfully develop plans to teach the standards and adequate time with their peers to collaborate, brainstorm and learn best practices.
  • Sufficient resources and support for each child to meet high standards—When done right, standards set the goals and proper assessments (formative and summative) identify gaps in achievement. During the transition to College and Career Ready Standards, assessments play a vital role in helping schools and parents pay particular attention so students do not fall behind. States should plan to provide supports to assist teachers and students, especially those who struggle more to close the gap.
  • Ongoing communication about the importance of standards and accountability—This is the best area for PTA to lead in your state. PTA can facilitate communication between state leaders, district leaders, school personnel, teachers and parents. National PTA has created a wealth of resources to help parents understand the new standards and assessments. The Learning First Alliance has launched a new program that highlights best practices across the country that any leader can use. Utilize allies in your state including education coalitions and groups, the business community, teachers unions, etc. to provide a strong message of support for higher standards and the commitment needed to effectively implement, assess and hold students and teachers accountable for achievement.
  • Balanced and comprehensive accountability systems—New standards require new tests, and new tests require time to adjust accountability. States should encourage state leaders to delay high stakes accountability measures for students, teachers, districts and schools until implementation is successful and the new tests have been evaluated.

PTAs are encouraged to review the 5 Pillars of Successful Implementation and work with education partners at the district, region and state to Get it Right!


Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA.