Pennsylvania PTA: Let’s Get Engaged! Convention Campaign

Engage

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.

Senate Education Committee Passes Every Child Achieves Act

Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously passed the Every Child Achieves Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB). This is another step toward reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB. National PTA is pleased to see movement on this important piece of legislation. Comprehensive reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB is National PTA’s top legislative priority this Congress.

Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised his colleagues and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) for their hard work and bipartisanship during the three day markup of the bill. The bill will now go to the floor of the U.S. Senate where all Senators will be able to debate and have the opportunity to amendment the bill. We are hearing that the bill could be brought to the floor in mid-May or June.

National PTA and Colorado PTA worked with Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) to introduce an amendment that would create a program to authorize Statewide Family Engagement Centers as a replacement to Parent Information and Resource Centers, which were eliminated in the bill. Senator Bennet offered his amendment but then withdrew it. This was done for strategic reasons, and the Senator plans to offer it again on the Senate floor. National PTA seeks to strengthen the family engagement provisions in the bill and will be asking PTA advocates to reach out to their Senators to ensure that the Every Child Achieves Act has specific improvements that prioritize capacity building for the implementation of systemic and sustainable family engagement practices that increase student achievement.

During the markup, several amendments passed that National PTA supported, including the elementary and secondary school counseling program; the Javits gifted and talented program; the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which would provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours; and an amendment that would provide resources to initiate, expand and improve physical education programs in schools. These amendments provide needed resources and supports to students and schools and are aligned with PTA’s 2015 Public Policy Agenda.

Another PTA-supported amendment that passed would enable states and school districts to conduct audits of their testing systems to reduce low-quality, misaligned and redundant tests.

National PTA is also pleased to see the passage of an education technology amendment that would foster innovative technology initiatives in classrooms and schools and provide professional development for educators as well as a grant program that would improve coordination, quality and access to early learning opportunities for children and families.

We are thankful that no public or private school portability or voucher amendments passed in Committee; however, both Senators Alexander and Scott (R-SC) vowed to introduce portability amendments on the Senate floor.

We will need PTA advocates to gear up for the action on the Senate floor to strengthen family engagement provisions and ensure that every child has the resources and support he/she needs to reach his/her full potential.

Stay tuned for more updates on the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB through the One Voice Blog and by following @NationalPTA on Twitter.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA. Follow her on Twitter at @balljacki.

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.