Grief, Courage, Shame, Pride and Responsibility

GRIEF. My heart is heavy with GRIEF and anger over the all-too-common school shootings that cause families to experience unbearable loss and tear our communities apart. The recent shooting in our own PTSA school in Parkland, Fla. brought it close to home once again. Seventeen families lost their most precious loved ones on Valentine’s Day. As Florida PTA President Cindy Gerhardt wrote so well, “The heaviness of this horrific act has suffocated us with grief, sadness, hopelessness and hurt.”

COURAGE. We ask it of our children as they leave for school each day and participate in active shooter drills. We ask it of our educators who carry out these exercises and work to make schools as safe as they can. When they watch the news, they must wonder how many students and teachers would have died if it happened at their school. Yet they show up every day. And would stand heroically between a shooter and their students and would help and protect their peers.

SHAME. I am ashamed of all of us adults who have been unable to find solutions that will keep our children safe. I am ashamed that we can too easily turn off the news, retreat from the discord over solutions and absolve ourselves from action because no one solution solves every problem. I am ashamed that the complexity of the issue causes us to be frozen in place.

PRIDE. We feel it in the articulate voices of our high school, middle school and even elementary students who remind us of what we ask of them every day when they leave for school. They are taking action and pushing for solutions and change. This is another wave of reckoning.

RESPONSIBILITY. As parents, the burden is on us to find our own clear and urgent voice to add to the student voices we so value. We must speak up and work together to solve the school shootings and other violence in our communities to keep our children safe.

National PTA celebrates a long history of advocacy for the safety of our nation’s children and youth. National PTA believes school safety is a critical priority and that every attempt must be made to reduce violence, especially incidents involving the use of firearms. Parents, educators, community members, and policymakers must prioritize this issue to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

National PTA has advocated for the prevention of gun violence for more than 20 years, embracing more than a dozen policies that would make a difference. These include mandatory background checks, a federal ban on the sale and possession of military-assault weapons, federal investment to study the causes and effects of gun violence and prevention programming to create a culture of safety at our schools.

In light of the recent shootings, other solutions will need to be considered. No single solution will solve it all.

But let’s get started.

Back to COURAGE. When will Congress find courage to do anything, that will increase the chance that my child or your child, will come home alive from school?

Nathan Monell is the Executive Director of National PTA. 

What Do Successful Schools Look Like?

As a parent, I have a good idea of how my child’s school is working for her. I talk to her and her friends about what is going on there. I see the work that she is doing. I communicate with her teachers and other school staff.

But while I know that my daughter is at a school that’s good for her, it’s harder to figure out whether it’s a successful school overall. Is her school helping each of its students reach their fullest potential? What does such a school look like?

The Learning First Alliance, which includes organizations like National PTA and whose members collectively represent more than 10 million educators, parents and local policymakers, have pulled together to research and answer that question.

The result of that effort is “The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work,” an anthology that identifies six elements that are common to all successful schools. It also makes clear that there is no one model for a successful school—in each success story, educators, parents and local communities have developed programs specific to their goals and challenges, within their communities’ setting.

While all successful schools share the six elements, how they are implemented and integrated depends greatly on context. The elements are:

  • Focus on the Total Child: Successful schools support all students’ needs—inside and outside the classroom—to help them become effective, empowered learners. They design and carry out programs that offer all students a rich educational experience, supporting their academic and social/emotional learning and physical development.
  • Commitment to Equity and Access: Successful schools ensure all students have access to high-quality services and support systems, enabling them to set and reach high goals for learning. In them, equity does not mean equality; they recognize some students need additional resources to have the same opportunity for success as others. They also recognize diversity is a strength.
  • Family and Community Engagement: Successful schools effectively engage families and communities in support of students. In doing so, they identify barriers to such engagement and work to overcome them.
  • Distributed Leadership: Successful schools define leadership broadly. Leadership is distributed among principals, teachers, parents, community members and others in the building, and decision-making is a shared endeavor.
  • Strong, Supported Teaching Force and Staff: Successful schools are staffed with educators—including teachers, principals, school counselors, technology specialists and others—who are well-educated, well-prepared and well-supported. These educators meet high standards of practice, and they benefit from continuous learning opportunities.
  • Relationship-Oriented School Climate: Successful schools create a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility among staff and students and with families and communities. These schools are safe, welcoming and respectful to all.

These elements are all widely known. But two things make this collection of research unique. One is consensus. “The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work” does not reflect the expertise of one individual or one organization. It reflects the collective wisdom of all the various public-school interest groups—parents, teachers, administrators and more. Together, they agree these are the elements needed for a school to perform at a high level.

The second is the emphasis on interactions. A school with good teachers and poor leadership won’t be successful. Nor will a school with strong leadership and teachers that focuses solely on test scores. The interaction between all six of these elements is critical.

So how can parents and PTAs use this information? One idea is to use this research as a conversation starter. Bring parents, teachers, administrators and others in the school community together to honestly assess where you are in terms of each of these six elements. Identify your strengths and where additional support is needed. Then work together to make sure your school is meeting the needs of every child who attends.

The report and supporting materials are available at

Anne O’Brien is Deputy Director at the Learning First Alliance.   

4 Reasons to Attend the 2018 Legislative Conference

At our core, National PTA is an advocacy association working to improve the lives of children and families. Attending the National PTA Legislative Conference (LegCon) March 13-15 is a great way to enhance your advocacy skills to be more effective in your community. I have attended LegCon before, and each year I still find myself learning something new, or hearing a perspective I never would have encountered otherwise.

This year’s theme is “Get in the Game” to celebrate the Olympic spirit. We are excited to showcase how you can incorporate the spirit of sports, teamwork and sense of accomplishment into your advocacy work during this year’s conference.

LegCon will be bigger than ever this year! There are the top four reasons you should attend:

  1. Workshops that will help you influence education policy

At LegCon, participants will get a chance to learn from PTA leaders and experts who have used advocacy skills to improve public education in their communities, states and at the federal level. Participants will engage in interactive skills-building workshops to improve their own advocacy abilities and will go home with best practices to share within their PTA network.

  1. Discussions and networking to better understand how PTA advocates shape public policy

At last year’s LegCon, I was able to network with a lot of great PTA advocates from around the country from Alaska to Puerto Rico and even some from Europe who work with our military families. It was interesting to hear from them about their challenges in their communities and share ideas on how to improve our kids’ education. This year will be no different. I am excited to join other PTA members and learn how we can advocate more effectively in our school districts and states.

  1. Meetings on Capitol Hill with your Senators and Members of Congress

My favorite part of each LegCon is the opportunity to speak with federal policymakers about issues facing our schools and families during National PTA’s Capitol Hill Day. I was very excited to discuss these issues with members of Congress and their staff and to have them hear from us—America’s parents, teachers and community leaders—about ways to improve education. They want to hear directly from people like you who know their schools and communities best.

  1. Improved Capitol Hill Day Schedule

This year, Capitol Hill Day will be on Wednesday instead of Thursday. This new schedule will allow us to debrief and have follow-up workshops with each other on Thursday morning. The goal is for PTA advocates to walk away with even more skills and understanding on how to impact policies in their communities.

I can’t wait to “Get in the Game” and continue PTA’s legacy of advocating for every child to have the opportunity to reach their full potential. I hope you will join me and hundreds of other PTA advocates and me at this year’s LegCon.

Register here to attend the National PTA Legislative Conference.

Marques Ivey is the Vice President of Advocacy, Chair of the Legislation Committee, and member of the board of directors for the National PTA. He is married to Stacey, an educator for almost 19 years and together have three children.

Nominate a PTA or PTA Advocate Today for the 2018 Advocacy Awards!

Shirley Igo 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. In honor of her legacy, the National PTA Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Award is presented to an individual PTA member, who through their leadership and advocacy efforts, affected federal, state or local policy priorities within National PTA’s annual public policy agenda.

As the 2017 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Award winner, it was my honor to attend the 2017 National PTA Legislative Conference where I spent three days in our nation’s capital.

At the conference, I was able to hear from Washington, DC influencers and get face-to-face advocacy training from experts to make my voice heard more effectively back in my community. With other advocates of the New Jersey PTA, I also had the opportunity to speak with federal policymakers about issues facing our schools and families for National PTA’s Capitol Hill Day. I was very excited to discuss these issues with members of Congress and their staff and was honored to be a part of such an historic legacy of advocacy.

This past year as I have continued my advocacy efforts on behalf of PTA, I have met so many selfless individuals and PTA groups that set out each day to move PTA forward. They work on behalf of all our children and deserve to be acknowledged for their strong commitment to PTA.

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, nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA! Winners will be announced in January and will get the opportunity to receive their awards at the 2018 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC and have an incredible experience like I did.

As in previous years, advocates may self-nominate themselves in the youth and individual categories. Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year and are due by midnight on Dec. 18. For more information about the 2018 Advocacy Awards, visit

Apply today and join a legacy of PTA advocates who have changed the lives of millions of students and families.

Rose Acerra is the 2017 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Award winner and the president of New Jersey PTA.

Support Families and School Communities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are facing an unprecedented crisis. The islands were heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma, and before they had a chance to recover, Hurricane Maria hit and devastated any remaining structures and supports.

Families and school communities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands need our support now more than ever.

Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria were the strongest storms to hit the islands in decades—families remain without power and access to basic necessities and schools remain closed. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the families, educators, schools and communities affected, particularly all of our PTA families. We acknowledge the leadership of Puerto Rico PTA President Vivian Ruiz and Virgin Islands PTA President Richard Muhammad during this difficult time. We are deeply concerned for everyone impacted and encourage all of our members to rally together to assist families and help restore communities and learning environments as quickly as possible.

We urge everyone to donate to our association’s Disaster Relief Fund, which was established to respond to tragedies that grievously disrupt a school or education system. One hundred percent of donations to the fund will go directly to PTAs and schools in need and will help provide important supplies for students and teachers when schools reopen.

We also encourage our members to donate basic necessities and/or make a financial contribution to the American Red Cross, Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster or other similar organizations to help the children and families that need it most.

Please share this message with PTAs, members and families in your state to help spread the word about ways to support families and school communities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in their efforts to rebuild and recover. Please watch for more information on additional ways to support the recovery efforts.

The need to give has never been greater and our mission at PTA has become that much more important.

Jim Accomando is the president at National PTA. 

Tell Congress to #STOPCutsToClassrooms

Our public schools are at a crisis point. Federal funding for public education has remained at 2% of the federal budget for decades, despite the increase in public school enrollment and the rising cost of education resources and services. This disparity between funding and actual cost means that Congress has essentially made cuts to classroom budgets across the nation.

These overall classroom funding cuts couldn’t be coming at a worse time. Today’s classrooms are more in need of funding than ever—most public-school students are now from low-income families, yet federal spending for high-poverty schools has decreased by more than 8% in recent years. There are also more students with special needs in our nation’s schools than ever before, but funding to serve these students has also decreased.

Congress must agree on the federal budget by Oct. 1, 2017. With restrictions on how much the government can spend in fiscal year 2018, there is a strong possibility that funding for education will be cut.

Already this year, President Donald Trump proposed cutting $9.2 billion. More recently, the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a cut of $2.4 billion. Both proposed cuts would be extremely damaging to public schools that already struggle to give students the education they deserve.

All PTA members and education advocates must take a stand. Tell your friends and family to demand that Congress “STOP Cuts to Classrooms” and invest more than 2% in public education before the Oct. 1, 2017 deadline.

One way to spread the word is by doing the National PTA #STOPCutsToClassrooms social media challenge. It’s easy!

  1. First, sign the #STOPCutsToClassrooms petition
  2. Then, take a picture and/or videoof yourself holding the “I signed the petition to #STOPCutsToClassrooms” official sign and post the image on your social media platforms.
  3. Finally, tag up to three friends to encourage them to do the same.

For those who have already signed the petition and taken the challenge, please continue to participate in Funding Fridays every Friday until September 29. Also stay tuned for the release of a #STOPCutsToClassrooms letter to Congress in September.

For more information about the #STOPCutsToClassrooms campaign and to learn more about the state of federal funding for education programs, visit

Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

Are You Engaged?

As PTA members, you know that family engagement is an important part of your child’s successful development and academic outcomes.  You participate on school advisory committees, lead parent advocacy, work with teachers in their classrooms, read all about ESSA and other regulations related to children’s health and education, and inspire your community to support all children.  Family engagement is evolving from “involvement” in the sense of families receiving a one-way stream of information and sponsoring endless fundraisers at school.  Instead, it’s the opportunity to build relationships between two crucial components of a child’s life together–families and school personnel–to further support their successful education, well-being and development.

As a parent, you have plenty of options, depending on availability, interests, skills, and personal constraints, to be engaged.  Many of you are finding ways such as these to do become a part of your child’s school community.

  • Establishing positive relationships with school administrators and teachers.
  • Meeting with teachers about academic and social development goals for your child. If you aren’t exactly sure what to ask your child’s teacher, check the Department of Education’s Parent Checklist to get started.
  • Attending PTA or school meetings to find out about the issues in your school.  Ask questions if other’s aren’t bringing up the things that matter to your child’s success or your community.
  • Volunteering on a committee that focuses on an activity or issue important to you, whether it’s school transportation, safe places to play after-school, teacher diversity, bullying or academics.
  • Voicing your opinion to local and state Boards of Education and local, state, and national elected officials on things that matter to your family.
  • Keeping up with and providing input on your state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. Check your state’s education website to find out about your parent representative and the developing plans.

Being engaged in education doesn’t require endless free time or multiple degrees and in-depth knowledge about schools. You just need a concern for your child and a little bit of time to act on that concern.

We know you are engaged in your schools, supporting your community and the Department of Education wants to hear from you.  If you’ve been recognized for your involvement in education by your state, share your story.  What did you do to garner such recognition? What lessons have you learned through your involvement?  What tips do you have for other parents who want to be engaged in their schools?

The Department of Education’s Family Ambassador, Frances Frost, wants to feature you in an upcoming Family, School and Community Engagement Newsletter, distributed monthly by the Department.  Submit your story for consideration, in 400 words or less, with your contact information to, with the subject line “Parent Involvement for Newsletter.”

Frances Frost is the Family Ambassador at the U.S. Department of Education, serving as an advocate for family engagement in education and equitable opportunities for learning for all children. She brings the family voice to discussions at a national level and facilitates discussions between the Department, families and family engagement stakeholders.

ASK (Asking Saves Kids)

Across the country, children are anxiously waiting for the final bell of the school year to ring in summer break. During this time of year, my two kids were always full of energy and ready for the warm weather and hours spent outside with friends, neighbors and extended family. They’re older now, but in those first few days of playdates, picnics and barbecues there was one thing that was always on my mind: is there a gun where my children are playing?

More than 18,000 American children and teens are injured or killed by guns every year, making firearms the second leading cause of death for young people. These numbers are tragic and shocking, but they also shouldn’t be a surprise when an astonishing 1 in 3 homes with children have guns, many of which are left unlocked or loaded. This is why I ask—and encourage all other parents to do the same—this life-saving question of fellow parents, friends and relatives: “is there a gun in the home where my child plays?”

And this is why the Brady Campaign developed the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) campaign: to prevent as many unintentional youth firearm deaths as possible by spreading the message that guns in the home increase the risk of an accidental shooting or suicide. We know that the safest home for a child is one without a gun, but this isn’t an attack on the Second Amendment rights of Americans or gun owners. We simply believe that parents who choose to keep a gun in the home should take steps to reduce the risk of a tragedy by making sure it is properly locked and stored separately from live ammunition.

And teachers and fellow parents, and even doctors and childcare professionals, can all play an important role in spreading the word about this critical public health and child safety issue.

More than 80 percent of unintentional firearm deaths of children under 15 occur in a home. No child should become a statistic, so we should all bring this topic up every time we have the chance. From one parent to another, I know you may worry that this conversation could get uncomfortable. But I also know that awkward topics just come with the territory of having children, and that this one question can lead to a host of productive discussions that may save a kid’s life. In the same way that you make sure peanut butter sandwiches won’t be served at a party in your home or classroom if your child has a nut allergy, or when you inquire about rules at a sleepover, asking about guns should be a regular question.

We’ve put together some tools that make it easier to start these conversations, and share this message with your friends, family, communities, and networks. Download our ASK Toolkit, which is chock full of tips, resources, and statistics and has everything you need to get started as a leader on this issue in your community. Read the PTA letter that you can share with other parents to get them involved in this movement.

As parents and teachers, all we want is for our children to grow up into healthy, happy adults. I know I would do anything to make that dream a reality, and I’m sure you would, too. By neglecting the topic of guns, we ignore a critical opportunity to ensure our children have the chance to grow up into those adults that we want them to become.

Dan Gross is President of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Trump Budget: A Bad Deal for Kids

On May 24, 2017, President Donald Trump released his budget proposal for the federal government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 which included a proposed cut of $9.2 billion to the U.S. Department of Education from last year’s funding level. This proposed cut to education programs comes on the heels of Congress cutting funding for federal education programs in FY 2017.

The President’s budget would maintain the same level of funding from FY 2017 for Title I, which aids schools with high percentages of children from low-income families, special education grants through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs)—centers that provide information and services to families to help support students with disabilities. Additionally, the President’s budget does not include investments for family engagement in education through the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) program and eliminates more than 20 education programs including: educator professional development; after school programs; preschool grants and grants that aim to ensure students receive well-rounded educational opportunities, learn in healthy and safe school environments and have opportunities to use technology in the classroom.

On top of these cuts, the President’s budget includes a new $250 million grant program that would allow public dollars to be used for private and religious school tuition. National PTA has a long standing position opposing private school choice systems that would divert public school resources. National PTA is also concerned about a new grant program in Title I that would allocate $1 billion to “follow” a child to any public school which would significantly impact the distribution of funds across and within Title I districts and create division and separation within communities.

Federal funding for education programs has remained at 2% of the federal budget for decades, despite continuous growth in public school enrollment and the increased cost of education resources and services. The President’s budget would decrease the federal investment in education below 2%. Such devastating cuts to education at the federal level are combined with state and local cuts to education that further lessen the opportunities for every child to reach their full potential.

It is important to remember that the President’s budget proposal is exactly that, a proposal to Congress outlining the Trump Administration’s priorities. The funding power lies with Congress to decide what federal programs will be funded and at what levels each year. There is a need to invest more in education programs at the federal level. Federal funding for education at, or below, 2% of the federal budget is a cut to classrooms.

If you agree that 2% of federal funding for public education is not enough and future cuts to education would be catastrophic for the future of our children, Take Action today and tell your member of Congress to increase investments for public education so that every child’s potential becomes a reality.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @National PTA and sign up for the National PTA’s Takes Action Newsletter to participate in the advocacy campaign and receive the latest information on PTA’s advocacy efforts.

Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

The Power and Peril of Myth for Today’s College Students

Originally published on 

We are now entering what is perhaps my favorite time of the year: graduation season. As a veteran faculty member and administrator, I have fond memories of commencement ceremonies, seeing the joy and pride in the faces of graduates and their families and knowing many of the stories behind those smiles.

While graduation season is filled with inspiring stories of persistence, sacrifice, and accomplishment, it also gives rise to some lingering myths about our students and what it takes for them to get to graduation. These myths hurt students because they help preserve a status quo in which not enough of them succeed. We can and must bust these myths.

MYTH 1: College is not for everyone, and too many people are going to college. When many people hear the word “college,” they think only of four-year universities and rightly argue that not everyone needs a four-year degree.

But in today’s world, it is important to define college as a meaningful credential after high school – everything from short-term certificates in areas such as information technology to doctorates that can take up to a decade to complete. By that standard, we don’t have enough people going to college. Leading labor market projections show that our economy could face a shortfall of up to 11 million credentialed workers by 2025. And the data are clear that today’s labor market clearly favors those with post-high school education, with nearly all of the post-recession jobs going to those with more than a high school diploma. Additionally, it is becoming more difficult to earn a family-supporting wage with a high school diploma or less.

It is time to stop arguing over whether everyone needs college and instead focus on the kind of college that different people need. Otherwise we have no hope of reaching a national attainment goal of 60 percent of adults with a credential of value – or coming anywhere close to it.

MYTH 2: Students don’t make it through college because they are not college material. I’ve had the opportunity to observe and be part of conversations with policymakers and opinion leaders, and the discussion of why students drop out nearly always ends up in some version of the film Animal House…students weren’t motivated to study and/or partied too much. It’s a convenient and time-honored narrative.

Unfortunately, the facts indicate otherwise. Four in 10 of today’s college students are 25 or older, more than one-quarter of them have children, nearly two-thirds of them are working while enrolled, and one-third of them come from households earning $20,000 or less per year. These students are plenty motivated. But they are also juggling work, family, and studies with little margin for error, and are trying to navigate institutions that are not prepared to teach when they are ready to learn and not equipped to help them plot a course. And the story of students being able to work their way through college is heartwarming but hopelessly outdated.

Institutions like Sinclair Community College saw that, and began to develop tools that helped students understand and take ownership of their path to a degree, no matter where it started. And they got results. Students participating in their technology assisted advising program graduate at twice the rate of students who do not.

MYTH 3: Income might be a barrier to a college degree, but race isn’t. I wish more than anything that this statement was true. But it simply is not. Our colleges and universities have made great strides in expanding access in the last generation – the share of non-white students has doubled. At the same time, attainment gaps between white and black students and white and Hispanic students have stubbornly persisted and even worsened over the same period.

The good news is that an increasing number of institutions are taking action to close those gaps, and some, like Georgia State University, already have. And they will tell you that they didn’t get there through big pronouncements or massive infusions of funding (in fact, many did in situations of declining funding), but by doing the small things right, like helping students correct course registration mistakes that, left unchanged, would have eventually led to dropout.

Myths aren’t in and of themselves bad things – some of the richest stories of all time trace their roots back to ancient Greece and Rome. But when it comes to our students and what they can bring to our communities and our economy, mythology needs to give way to reality.

Dan Greenstein is the director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.