National PTA Joins 11 Other Child Welfare Groups Calling Out State Bills Attacking Trans Youth

This week, the National PTA joined 11 other child welfare organizations to call out state bills that would discriminate against transgender children.

“We, as organizations committed to serving the best interests of all youth, are deeply alarmed at the flurry of bills introduced in state legislatures around the country this year that would directly harm transgender people, and particularly transgender students,” the letter states. “These appalling proposals would compromise the safety and wellbeing of the young people we all have the duty and obligation to support and protect.”

HRC is currently tracking more than 130 anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals in 30 states. For more information on state legislation, visit http://hrc.im/2017legislature.

Transgender young people face significant discrimination and bullying. Last year, North Carolina adopted the infamous HB2, legislation that required discrimination against transgender people, including in public schools. Seventy-five percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in school, and, tragically, more than 50 percent of transgender youth report attempting suicide at least once in their lifetime.

The American Academy of Pediatrics; the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; the American Counseling Association; the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO; the American School Counselor Association; the Association of Title IX Administrators; the Child Welfare League of America; the National Association of School Psychologists; the National Association of Secondary School Principals; the National Association of Social Workers; and the National Education Association have all signed the letter.

Read the full letter here.

Hayley Miller is the senior digital media manager for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization.

Federal Funding for Education Programs At Risk in Fiscal Year 2018

Education advocates work hard to increase funding for federal education programs to ensure all children receive a quality education. During tough political climates and hard economic times, these education advocates have always been able to at least maintain the current level of funding for education programs at 2% of the federal budget.

However, much of our progress to increase investments in education—or at a minimum maintain current levels of funding for education—have been put at-risk due to the release of President Trump’s “skinny budget” or “blueprint” for funding priorities in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. President Trump’s proposal would cut funding for public education programs by $9.2 billion.

From the information that is available in the skinny budget, National PTA has concerns about the following proposals:

  • An overall $9.2 billion cut to program under the U.S. Department of Education (13% cut)
  • New $250 million investment to expand private school choice options
  • Eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers—also known as afterschool programs
  • Eliminate Title II state grants to support effective instruction for teachers, principals and other school leaders
  • Eliminate or reduce over 20 programs at the U.S. Department of Education (the full list of programs is not available)

National PTA hopes President Trump’s full budget request (to be released in May) will propose funding for Statewide Family Engagement Centers, Title I, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act state grants, Parent Training and Information Centers and Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants.

It’s important to note that the President’s budget request is simply that—a “request” outlining the President’s funding priorities. It is Congress that determines how much funding each federal agency and program will receive each year.

Members of Congress take the President’s budget request into consideration when they are making funding decisions, but constituent requests for certain programs to receive funding almost always take precedent in appropriations bills.

Here are two steps for PTA advocates to take to ensure that Congress adequately invests in public education programs:

  1. Take Action and send a letter to your members of Congress requesting for them to invest in public education and Statewide Family Engagement Centers.
  1. Sign up for National PTA’s Takes Action Newsletter and get the latest information on PTA’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and ways you can get involved.

While National PTA is disappointed that the budget proposal cuts vital funding for public education overall, the association is pleased to see the president maintain funding of $13 billion for special education grants through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

President Trump’s blue print proposes to designate an additional $1 billion for Title I—which aids schools with high percentages of children from low-income families. However, it is still unclear as to how the proposed increase in Title I funding would be used as the skinny budget mentions that the increase in Title I funding would be used to encourage Title I portability, which National PTA would not support.

As PTA advocates, we encourage you and all parents and families to call, meet and email your member of Congress and request them to support robust investments in public education and Statewide Family Engagement Centers and oppose funding for any private school choice or voucher system that would divert funding from public schools.

Joshua Westfall is the Government Affairs Manager at National PTA.

Stakeholder Engagement: Early Challenges and Promising Practices

This post was originally published on the blog for the Learning First Alliance.

With the transition to a new presidential administration, change abounds in the federal education policy world. As we await action from a new Secretary of Education, we’ve also seen President Trump issue an executive order pausing the accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), followed by a move by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to overturn them. Those rules, finalized last November by the Obama administration, were intended to guide states in submitting their accountability plans to the federal government.

Despite the uncertainty that states are facing, work on these plans continues. And a key part of that work comes in the form of stakeholder engagement.

The stakeholder consultative process outlined in ESSA (and unimpacted by the president’s executive order) presents an important opportunity to fundamentally change how education policy is made. If implemented as intended, it will ensure that the expertise of the parents, educators and other leaders working with, and on behalf of, students every day informs the development of state and local policies and practices. In support of this process, we at the Learning First Alliance issued guiding principles to help states and districts as they began this important work.

But it is not easy. This level of stakeholder engagement is an entirely new way of doing business for most policymakers, particularly at the state level. And expecting all states and districts to get it right immediately is unrealistic. As with all new programs and policies, there will be a learning curve. What’s critical is that we—the collective “we,” including those in the education community that this process engages, the state and local policymakers charged with implementing it and the federal policymakers who legislated it—work through the challenges that come along. To avoid going back to business as usual, we need to commit to continuously improving in this endeavor.

The National Association of State Boards of Education recently released a policy update to help in these efforts. Drawn from reviews of 51 state education agency (SEA) websites and in-depth interviews with representatives from 15 SEAs, ESSA Stakeholder Engagement: Early Challenges and Promising Practices identifies five common challenges that states are facing in this work:

  • Identifying diverse stakeholders and casting a wider net
  • Overcoming time and resource constraints
  • Communicating effectively with stakeholders
  • Maximizing meetings’ impact
  • Organizing and incorporating feedback into a state plan

One especially interesting finding: Parents are cited as a particularly difficult group to engage. Noting that SEAs have much more experience reaching out to teachers and administrators, the authors acknowledge that parent and family engagement is new to many state officials.

So how should SEAs and local education agencies (LEAs, which are typically school districts), when they begin this work, address this concern? The brief offers a few promising practices related to the overall challenge of identifying diverse stakeholders and casting a wider net, including utilizing existing networks to expand the pool and allowing for a dynamic process so new stakeholders can be engaged even after the process as begun.

Speaking specifically regarding parents, Laura Bay, president of National PTA, notes that there are multiple aspects of conducting effective parental stakeholder engagement—such as transparency, inclusion, information sharing and multiple opportunities for input—and achieving perfection in all areas is challenging for any one state.

To help overcome it, Bay encourages SEAs and LEAs to partner with their state and local PTAs.

“PTAs want to be a part of the solution. PTAs are a trusted messenger and a valuable resource to be able to reach all families, encourage families to get involved and provide input and ensure all parent voices are heard,” Bay said.

National PTA has identified the following best practices for engaging parents in ESSA:

  • Ensure there is at least one dedicated parent representative on any ESSA state- or local-level committee
  • Partner with PTA to:
    • Disseminate information on ESSA and any meetings, forums or webinars
    • Co-host ESSA-related forums
    • Leverage parent and community leaders to gather input from other parents and families in the community
  • Show how parent input has been considered and/or incorporated in state plans and policies
  • Ask for specific input and feedback on topics and in parent-friendly language
  • Build in structures and opportunities for ongoing engagement and feedback

The association has also created a wide variety of resources accessible at PTA.org/ESSA to support states, districts and schools in engaging families in ESSA.

Recap: Senate Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for Next Secretary of Education

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, an education advocate and philanthropist to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education. Members from both sides of the aisle had the opportunity to ask Ms. DeVos questions about her positions and plans for the Department of Education (the Department) should she be nominated.

In a statement regarding the announcement of the confirmation hearing, Laura Bay, President of National PTA stated that “we respect the confirmation process and pending her confirmation, we stand ready to work with Ms. DeVos to ensure that the priorities of National PTA are included in the new administration’s education agenda.”

National PTA also joined with other leading organizations to express concerns regarding several previous education positions of Ms. DeVos in letters to the committee on Jan. 9 and 13, 2017.

During the hearing, many Democrats expressed concern about Ms. DeVos’ previous advocacy efforts on behalf of private school vouchers in addition to her lack of formal experience in the public education sector. Republicans, on the other hand, largely praised Ms. DeVos’ work and were encouraged by the potential opportunity of having a representative outside of the traditional public education sphere to bring different ideas to the Department.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the HELP Committee is expected to call for a vote on Ms. DeVos’ nomination on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The vote will likely fall along party lines with all Democrats voting against Ms. DeVos’ confirmation and all Republican Senators voting in favor. The vote will ironically coincide a week after National School Choice Week, which now in its seventh year of advocating for education options. National PTA has a longstanding history of opposing any private school choice system—vouchers, tax credits or deductions—that would divert public school resources.

In addition to the diversion of public resources to private schools, National PTA will continue to oppose private school choice systems because many of these programs do not have the same civil rights, protections and services for all students — particularly those with special needs. Furthermore, recent studies confirm that school vouchers do not help students achieve better in school, and in fact, they can lead to lower academic achievement.

Learn more about private school vouchers and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for federal education updates and advocacy efforts.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the Government Affairs Coordinator for National PTA.

The Value of a PTA Volunteer

This blog was originally posted on The Voice of NYS PTA.

I recently attended the Fall Luncheon in the Westchester-East Putnam Region and had the good fortune to hear the keynote speech delivered by Alisa Kesten, Executive Director of Volunteer New York. The mission of the organization is to inspire, mobilize and equip individuals and groups to take positive action to address pressing challenges, support nonprofits and strengthen the quality of life in the community.

Alisa specifically wanted to impress upon those present, the value of serving as a volunteer in the PTA. I would like to share an excerpt of her remarks:

I conducted a very unscientific Facebook poll hoping to illustrate the personal and professional growth each of you can and should expect as a direct result of your volunteer service for your PTA.

I asked my Facebook friends to give a one word answer to this question: Did you ever belong to a PTA? Then I sat back to see who said yes, because I know my friends. I know how active they are at work and in the community. I know their skills, and I suspected that there would be a strong correlation between those who are or had been deeply involved in PTA and their subsequent achievement. I wanted to illustrate how every friend who answered YES had developed a variety of skills – project management, communications, advocacy, financial management, event planning, negotiating, fundraising and more – all honed as PTA volunteers which so many of us have used those skills for positive achievement.

A few of the responses included the following:

  • Some were always attorneys but now have a different specialty as a result of their involvement in schools.
  • Some had been elected to PTA leadership positions. Now many have been elected to school boards, county legislatures, and I know that Congresswoman Nita Lowey always references her PTA roots in giving her the foundation to run for Congress.
  • Many gained confidence in speaking out at public budget hearings or in leading meetings. Now they are at the forefront of issues they care about, with well-practiced communications skills.
  • There was a group who had left the workforce to raise children. But they always volunteered for PTA. Now they are restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and small business owners whose clients or vendors may have first learned of their talent and character by serving side by side on a PTA committee.
  • So many are now Executive Directors of nonprofits, like me, or program directors or finance directors at nonprofits and foundations. We’ve taken so many hands-on experiences of leadership from PTA along with us every step of the way.
  • PTA members – former and current – are in large corporations and very comfortable in navigating deadlines, personalities, budgets and more because we navigated deadlines, personalities, budgets and more through PTA.
  • And a ton of us continue to volunteer and give back to nonprofits whose missions matter to us and the community.

So thank you for the time you give, the meetings you run, the funds you raise, the events you plan, the letters you write, the e-newsletters you create, the actions you take – but know that you are building a toolbox of experiences that you WILL take with you. Those experiences can help open doors, climb ladders, and be successful in whatever way you choose to define success.

Alisa’s comments are timely as there has been quite a bit of chatter with regard to a recent Facebook post by Lean In. Their post declared that by listing as a credential “member of PTA” on one’s resume, a woman was 79% less likely to be hired. This shocking statement should surely compel us to immediately amend our resumes and make the appropriate changes on our LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter sites.

Wait! Not so fast! The Lean In post was based on an article written in 2007 based on questionable research from 2001. If in fact someone with an agenda commissioned a survey 15 years ago to accomplish some unknown purpose, it probably wasn’t accurate then and certainly isn’t relevant today.

In fact, the actual opinions of the real people follow Lean In’s bold statement. Scroll down and the truth is embedded in the comments. The life experiences reflected by the comment section paint a different picture! PTA provides the opportunity to hone and widen the scope of one’s skills by working alongside men and women from all walks of life representing nearly every profession. The transferable skills an individual develops as a PTA member working for child advocacy are enumerated and extolled within the vast majority of comments made on Lean In’s Facebook post.

Take heart! PTA is well worth your time. Be proud! Hiring managers can use people that have strong skills and won’t be put off because you care about your family. Employers that would turn away a qualified candidate because they also possess strong family values are not the norm.

Remember not to let the words of uninformed individuals with an unknown agenda minimize in any way the great work and experience gained by being a member of PTA – your efforts ensure a better future for our greatest resource – OUR CHILDREN. Because of the hard work and advocacy efforts of PTA volunteers and members, there are seat belts on school buses, kindergarten in public schools, a federal school lunch program, strengthened child labor laws, and a ban on corporal punishment. These are just a few of the many accomplishments.

Gracemarie Rozea is the president of New York State PTA. 

Do You Know of a Great PTA Advocate?

As we approach National PTA’s 120 year anniversary, it is important to stop and celebrate some of our members’ accomplishments. PTA has been a leader in working to improve the lives of all children—advocating for everything from hot school lunches to universal kindergarten.

As the Vice President of Advocacy for National PTA, I have the pleasure of traveling across the country and hearing from PTA members about their advocacy efforts, challenges and successes. At National PTA’s 2017 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, we want to honor the incredible accomplishments of PTAs and their members.

The Dec.18 deadline is fast approaching for nominations for the 2017 Advocacy Awards, so 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.

As in previous years, advocates may also nominate themselves in the youth and individual categories. Local and state category-winning PTAs will receive a monetary award. Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year.

The 2016 advocacy award winners were some of the most impressive advocates I’ve seen in my years as a PTA member. Massachusetts PTA, the state PTA winner, advocated on behalf of LGBTQ youth. Their efforts led to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously passing a measure to update the school system’s policies related to LGBTQ youth, which hadn’t been updated since 1992.

The local PTA award winner, Rochester Community PTA Council, worked to educate all PTA members and families communitywide on the specifics of a $185 million bond issue to make much-needed renovations and upgrades to school facilities, technology and infrastructure. The improvements would ensure students in Rochester are provided a high-quality education and have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn. With the efforts and contributions of Rochester Community PTA Council, the bond issue passed with 73% support.

The individual award winners were equally impressive. The Youth Advocate of the Year, Brian Rodriguez, worked to promote civic engagement and increase community involvement among youth of all ages in the Miami area. Joy Grayson, the 2016 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year, led South Carolina PTA to adopt an annual legislative platform; organized and moderated an annual state legislative conference; and revamped the state membership unit to become a state advocacy unit, which engaged community members in PTA who had no affiliation with a local unit.

These two individual advocates and two state PTAs are just some of many examples of the incredible work that PTA members and PTAs are doing across the country.

That’s why we’re excited to hear about other standout PTA advocates and celebrate their efforts to improve the lives of all children with a 2017 Advocacy Award. For more info on how to nominate a person, PTA or yourself, visit PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards or contact Lindsay Kubatzky. Deadline for submission is Dec. 18!


Shannon Sevier is the vice president of advocacy for National PTA.

All PTA Members Have an Obligation to Vote in Elections

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“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it.” –Congressman John Lewis

Every day, throughout this nation and overseas, PTA members are hard at work, striving to better the lives of all children. Collectively, our non-partisan voices have made a positive impact nationwide.

Just as we speak up for children through our advocacy work, we also need to exercise the privilege given to every U.S. citizen—the right to vote. Not only should we vote, we need to motivate the people in our schools and communities to vote.

As child advocates, we need to engage, inform and educate our membership on the issues facing our children and education on the ballot today. We need to provide them with the tools they need to vote intelligently at the ballot box.

Elections can have consequences to our mission and we need to make sure our elected officials will work to serve our children well.

So, how can PTA members get involved in non-partisan civic activities? There are a several ways for PTAs to engage their membership as Election Day approaches.

View the list of civic engagement activities your PTA can do as a nonprofit, non-partisan organization below and check out our Election Guide for more options.

  • Organize voter registration drives (check state and local laws)
  • Host candidate forums
  • Work with other organizations like the League of Women Voters to distribute information on state and local issues that may be on the ballot
  • Hold or participate in a Mock Student/Parent Election on Nov. 3
  • Encourage 18-year-old students to vote and help them register, and plan a trip to the polls together
  • Ask your membership to familiarize themselves with the candidates and issues
  • Help members identify the location of their polling place and its hours of operation
  • Inform parents and families of the proper identification and additional information they need to bring with them to the polls in order to vote in your state
  • Provide information to your school community about alternative ways to vote in your state (absentee, early voting, vote-by-mail)

Voter turnout in the United States has steadily declined. A Pew Research Center study shows that in 2012 the U.S. trailed most developed countries in voter turnout, coming in at number 27 with a 53.6% voter turnout. Often people do not vote because of time constraints, lack of information about the process or because they think that their vote will not matter.

Have your PTA members mentioned that they feel their vote does not make a difference? Remind them that elections have been won by just one vote—and in the not-too-distant past, 537 votes made the difference in a presidential election.

If we as PTA members do not speak up for all children, who will? Make a difference in the lives of children. VOTE on Nov. 8 and encourage all child advocates to cast their ballots.

 As you head to the polls, remember these wise words from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


 

Latha Krishnaiyer is the past president of Florida PTA and a current National PTA bylaws and policy committee member.

National PTA Supports Passage of Bipartisan Juvenile Justice Legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives

As parents, we know sometimes our children may not make the best decisions, which is why second chances are important to give to children as they learn and grow into adulthood. However, for far too many youth, one mistake may drastically change their futures.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that police make over 600,000 juvenile arrests each year and juvenile courts handle roughly 1.2 million cases resulting in 55,000 children placed in secure confinement for non-violent offenses, such as breaking curfew.

In addition, a recent report—2016 Citizen-Readiness Index—further analyzes the state of our nation’s youth. The report finds that a large portion of our youth are unprepared to positively contribute to our nation and that a quarter of young adults in America have an arrest record that impacts their education, postsecondary and career opportunities.

Parents and community leaders have been advocating for improvements to juvenile justice laws nationwide for decades, yet we still need more opportunities for our most vulnerable youth.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives took a step forward to improving our juvenile justice system by passing the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (H.R. 5963), a bill that would reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

National PTA and 40 state and national organizations signed on to the Act 4 Juvenile Justice Coalition letter in support of H.R. 5963. The bill would improve federal laws to prevent children from entering the juvenile justice system, protect youth currently in the system and provide greater opportunities for at-risk youth leaving the system so that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Specifically, the bill would improve the current law to:

  • Incorporate more family and community-based services and alternatives to incarceration
  • Keep detained youth separate from adults while they are awaiting trial
  • Phase out exemptions that allow youth detainment for minor offenses
  • Ensure the continuity of children’s education while detained and a smooth transition back into the classroom
  • Encourage states to use data and implement strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among youth in the juvenile justice system

National PTA supported a similar JJDPA reauthorization bill (S. 1169) that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2015. The association is encouraged by the bipartisanship of both chambers to introduce a JJDPA reauthorization bill this Congress. National PTA urges the Senate and House to work together to ensure a JJDPA reauthorization bill is signed into law before the end of the year.

View National PTA’s press release applauding the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (H.R. 5963) and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates and information on the reauthorization of JJDPA.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

Family Engagement is Critical to Education

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This blog post was originally published on Medium.

As an educator and parent, I’m always excited by the back-to-school season. I love meeting new families and helping students grow and develop as they learn new skills.

The start of this school year is even more exciting than usual because it’s the beginning of a new era for our nation’s classrooms. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the new federal law governing K-12 education — goes into effect this year.

While many teachers, students and parents won’t see immediate change in their schools and classrooms, states are actively working to create new education plans to implement ESSA that we hope will soon make high-quality, well-rounded education a reality for every child.

For the first time, ESSA acknowledges the critical role parents and other stakeholders play in student success and school improvement efforts by requiring that they be involved in the development of new education plans and implementation of the law.

Parents and their children are the consumers of our nation’s public education system, and parents have always been essential partners in education. However, they haven’t always been included at the decision-making table. This has caused confusion, mistrust and backlash when new initiatives — whether at the federal, state or local level — have been considered and implemented. ESSA now provides a unique opportunity for parents and families to give their input and to hold states and districts accountable for their children’s educational experience.

So how should states, districts and schools engage families in implementing ESSA? I have four suggestions.

First, invite families to participate. It seems basic, but many families do not feel welcome or know that the law requires that states and districts involve them in developing new education plans. Education leaders should use a variety of communications channels to reach out to parents and share ways they can get involved. Educators can also rely on a trusted messenger — such as PTAs — to communicate better with families.

Second, make messages to parents easy to digest. Most parents do not come to the table with expertise in education policy, but they are experts on their children. It is important that educational jargon is explained in simple terms — how does this affect my child and what can I do? Families must also be provided greater context about current policy and programs to understand ESSA’s impact on existing practices and future policies.

Next, translate materials to reach all families. It is essential that ESSA-related materials be translated into at least one of a community’s most popular languages other than English. Although it takes time and resources, this demonstrates a commitment to making sure all parents and families have the information they need to support their child’s learning and development.

Finally, demonstrate why family participation matters. If families are included in all stages of ESSA implementation, they will understand the ways it relates not just to their children but to every child in the community, the state and across the country. Mechanisms should be provided to allow parents to give regular feedback, and education decision-makers must listen when they do. When all voices are heard and valued, everyone’s engagement rises and consensus is easier to achieve.

ESSA provides an important opportunity for every part of every community to unite in designing the best education system possible for our nation’s children. But for education to be truly successful, family engagement must go beyond ESSA. Forty years of research proves that family engagement makes a real difference, so states and districts must prioritize it. Systematic and sustained efforts to integrate families into the fabric of our schools is key to our nation’s future.


Laura Bay is president of National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA), a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement. This essay is part of a series on parent engagement produced by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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Does Your Child’s Education Honor Their Uniqueness?

Teacher helping kids with computers in elementary school

Jade and Alex do not check the traditional educational boxes. They are bright, young women with many gifts, yet each comes to the classroom with a disability that impedes core learning—for Jade, one that affects her ability to read, and for Alex, her challenge manifests in math.

Unfortunately, these two—and many like them—are in a one-sized-fits-all education system that is neither suited to meeting their particular needs, nor suited to validate and affirm their unique gifts and interests.

As a result, Jade and Alex have suffered tragic experiences that are all too common for students with disabilities: They began to see themselves only through the lens of their disability, internalized the judgement placed on them and experienced feelings of being demoralized.

The silver lining for students like Jade and Alex is that through personalized learning, we are more empowered than ever before to transform this one-size-fits-all system.

At the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), our personalized learning project has traditionally focused on students with disabilities, but we see common themes for every group of students whose experience in learning is unique from that of their peers:

  • Students must be understood for both their needs and strengths.
  • High educational standards must remain a constant, but the means to achieve those standards (i.e., where, when and how that learning happens) should be seen more flexibly.
  • Schools must ensure that students are attaining key skills and dispositions, like critical thinking and self-advocacy, that are necessary for their success in college, careers and civic life.

Personalized learning then is not an end in itself, but a means to achieving these goals. Like any other initiative, its success begins with informed, engaged and empowered parents. To ensure this success, we recommend four steps for every parent:

  1. Develop an awareness of your child’s needs and experiences. Your child is unique, research on children’s needs is constantly evolving, and let’s be honest, as a parent, you’re juggling a few other things besides your child’s school work. If your child has learning and attention issues, a great resource is Understood.org. Developed through a collaboration of 15 non-profits, it offers daily access to experts, in-depth information, expert strategies, and an active community of parents. It also offers tools to help with your journey, including a simulation of what your child experiences. In addition to Understood, at NCLD we have a number of resources on personalized learning and addressing the needs of students with disabilities, including a two-page resource for parents.
  2. Find out what your child’s school is doing around personalized learning. Once you understand your child’s needs, the question becomes what’s happening around personalized learning in their school and how does it impact your child? How are personalized learning plans integrated with your child’s IEP? This can be trickier than it sounds, as personalized learning can come under a number of labels: student-centered learning, blended learning, deeper learning or competency-based learning, just to name a few.
  3. Understand how your school will meet diverse needs in personalized learning efforts. It seems strange to say that approaches around personalized learning can be ill-suited for many students, but unfortunately that’s too often the case. Technology may not be accessible for students with disabilities, or educators may not trained to reflect on their underlying biases in interacting with these students or aren’t trained in engaging learning approaches that accommodate these students’ needs. One key step you can take is to ensure that your school’s implementation of personalized learning strategies aligns with principles of universal design for learning, which ensures accessibility for all students.
  4. Maximize the benefits of personalized learning. One of the real benefits of personalized learning is that it provides educators much more valuable information on your child’s needs and strengths. That information isn’t just valuable for the teacher—it’s valuable for you! Be an advocate. Ensure that the school has systems in place and the educators have the tools that are necessary to empower you to be a partner in supporting your child’s success.

Personalized learning, with its focus on embracing the needs and strengths of each individual child, can be much more humanizing and accommodating to the many unique features our children bring to the classroom.

This potential can only become real when individual parents are prepared to be strong advocates for some of the key benefits of this system and it takes each of us asking the hard questions and taking the difficult steps to achieve it.


Ace Parsi is the personalized learning partnership manager at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).

 

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