ESEA Reauthorization Needs Stronger Family Engagement Provisions

Otha_Headshot_SMLast week, the education magazine Education Week published an article on the rise of family engagement as a priority for schools and districts across the country. The article spotlights states and districts in which family engagement initiatives are part of long-term, integrated and high-impact strategies to bolster student achievement. It is an important piece to help underscore the critical role family engagement and family-school partnerships play in children’s learning and growth. The article also is timely considering the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB) and National PTA’s work to include stronger family engagement provisions in the bill.

One of PTA’s founding principles is its dedication to advocating for and engaging parents in the education of their children. The association firmly believes that family engagement is at the core of student success and school improvement.

ESEA/NCLB has been up for reauthorization since 2007. National PTA has consistently advocated for bipartisan reauthorization of the law and the inclusion of robust family engagement provisions. Currently, the U.S. Senate has a bipartisan reauthorization bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), that is expected to be debated and voted on in the next few weeks. At this time, the bill does not include critical improvements that prioritize family engagement.

More than 40 years of research shows – no matter a family’s income or socioeconomic background – family engagement in education is essential for student success. Students whose families are involved attend school more regularly, earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs and have higher graduation rates.

Research also shows that family engagement is essential for school improvement as well as plays a key role in helping communities grow strong and thrive.

National PTA calls on the Senate to include provisions in the Every Child Achieves Act that would provide states and districts the capacity and necessary resources to support effective family engagement strategies in every school for every child and family.

As a parent and the leader of the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of family engagement on school improvement and students’ academic achievement. I also have witnessed the ability of engaged families and schools to come together and make true, meaningful improvement at the local level. It is essential that the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB provide for family engagement as it is proven to make a difference for children, schools and communities.

We will need PTA advocates to gear up for action on the Senate floor to strengthen family engagement provisions. Stay tuned for more updates on the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB through the One Voice Blog and by following @NationalPTA on Twitter.

Together, we can take action to help every child succeed academically and reach his or her full potential.

Otha Thornton is president of National 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

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

NFL, USA Football, GENYOUth and Fuel Up to Play 60 Announce Continued Commitment to Supporting Youth Health & Wellness

National PTA is proud to support the GENYOUth Foundation and its flagship program, Fuel Up to Play 60, the largest health and wellness program in schools across the country.

Today, GENYOUth, Fuel Up to Play 60, the NFL and USA Football announced an expansion of their commitment to youth health and wellness by giving NFL FLAG Essentials Kits to one million students across 2,500 schools nationwide, including 10 focus cities: Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Jacksonville, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The expansion of the program will help boost physical education in schools and inspire more kids to be active.

More information on this exciting announcement is included below.bag

NFL, USA Football, GENYOUth and Fuel Up to Play 60 Announce Continued Commitment to Supporting Youth Health & Wellness Through NFL FLAG

One Million New Students Will Get Active Through NFL FLAG Essentials Kits to Boost Activity and Encourage Kids to ‘Play 60’ Nationwide

CHICAGO, Ill. (April 29, 2015) – NFL, USA Football, GENYOUth and Fuel Up to Play 60 today announced the expansion of their commitment to youth health and wellness by giving NFL FLAG Essentials Kits to one million students across 2,500 schools nationwide, including 10 focus cities: Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Jacksonville, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.  The expansion is made possible by a $1 million commitment from NFL Foundation.

The announcement was made by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CEO of GENYOUth Alexis Glick and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the 2015 NFL Draft Youth Football Clinic in Chicago’s Grant Park.

During 2014 Kickoff, NFL, USA Football, GENYOUth and Fuel Up to Play 60 announced a commitment to providing children in elementary schools and after-school programs nationwide with NFL FLAG Essentials Kits enabling kids and communities to “Play 60.”  The kits which include footballs, flag belts, posters and a PE curriculum designed for elementary and middle school students, garnered enthusiasm, reaching 1,800 schools nationwide, resulting in 500,000 kids getting more active, and the demand for NFL FLAG powered by USA Football to be played before, during and after school.

The goal of the partnership between the NFL and Fuel Up to Play 60 is to give children more opportunities to be physically active and to “Play 60” by offering PE teachers and school administrators the equipment, curriculum, training and recognition they need to uplift and support physical education.  This extension of the program provides a million more students across the country with the tools to play NFL FLAG, which combines the strategy of football with the lessons of teamwork, resiliency and respect.

“We want all kids to have the chance to get active and flag football is a fun way to play 60 and learn the fundamentals of football,” said Commissioner Goodell. “We know many children are physically inactive and the critical need in schools and communities for equipment and ways to increase participation in physical education. We want to make this a positive experience by offering NFL FLAG Kits to inspire kids to play football and be active today and in years to come.”

Results from the program’s first year include:

  • 98% of teachers reporting using the Kits in PE class for more than one semester
  • 47% using Kits after school
  • 28% using Kits during recess
  • 21% using Kits weekend activity and/or sporting activities
  • 12% using Kits before school, leading to an increased number of physically activity kids

NFL FLAG provides children of all ages with the opportunity to be active and learn the basics of football in a fun environment. With the tremendous reach of Fuel Up to Play 60, the nation’s largest in-school nutrition and physical activity program, an additional 1,000,000 children in more than 2,500 schools will be able to participate in the coming 2015-16 school year via the new Kits.  The program will culminate with the NFL FLAG National Championships at Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco.

“GENYOUth is proud to support this partnership by bringing this fresh and exciting sport to schools nationwide through our flagship program, Fuel Up to Play 60,” said Alexis Glick, CEO of GENYOUth. “Flag football is a fun, fast-paced, skills-based and strategy-driven game that inspires more kids to get active. It allows physical education teachers and communities to introduce a new curriculum that has already inspired more physical activity among both boys and girls during and outside of the school day.”

Schools can apply for the Kits starting in early May via the Fuel Up to Play 60 website: and will be provided at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year while supplies last.  Additionally, in-person FLAG trainings using the curriculum developed by USA Football and SHAPE America will be held in the 10 NFL markets this fall.

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.

National PTA Board Member Honored With Model of Excellence Award for Impact on African-American Students

National PTA board member Dr. Calvin Mackie (left) accepts the Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award from the College Board during the 2015 A Dream Deferred conference.

National PTA board member Dr. Calvin Mackie (left) accepts the Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award from the College Board during the 2015 A Dream Deferred conference.

National PTA board member and STEM Task Force chairman Dr. Calvin Mackie has been honored by the College Board with the 2015 Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award for his efforts in encouraging African-American students to strive for academic success. Dr. Mackie was presented with the award during the 2015 A Dream Deferred™ conference, which brought together educators and leaders from across the country to discuss solutions to improve educational opportunities for African-American students.

Dr. Mackie is an award-winning mentor, inventor, author and entrepreneur; an internationally-renowned speaker; and a former engineering professor. He has become an inspirational figure in education for African-Americans and a powerful voice for STEM.

Dr. Mackie founded STEM NOLA, a non-profit association dedicated to engaging, inspiring and exposing underserved communities to STEM. Since December 2013, STEM NOLA has engaged more than 2,400 K-12 students from more than 200 schools throughout New Orleans in hands-on, project-based activities.

Over the past decade, Dr. Mackie has spoken locally and nationally at K-12 schools, colleges and universities. He has inspired countless students to pursue STEM and succeed in education.

The College Board’s Model of Excellence Award honors the legacy of Dr. Asa G. Hilliard, who exemplified commitment to African-American education through his work as a teacher, psychologist, historian and education consultant.

Being honored with the Model of Excellence Award underscores the difference Dr. Mackie is making in the lives of African-American students by helping them overcome adversity and become successful men and women. National PTA commends Dr. Mackie for his efforts, leadership and the well-deserved recognition.

Working Together to Help Address Child Hunger


Reposted from the Dairy Good blog

Research shows a positive link between good health, learning and academic performance. However, 16 million kids in America don’t get the food they need, which means their hunger becomes a barrier to learning. That’s right: hunger is a huge educational issue, which I consider a big issue for National PTA and the larger child health and education communities.

Schools are often best positioned to serve as the community’s center for meeting the needs of the whole child, even though the well-being of children is primarily the responsibility of the parents. According to Share Our Strength, while breakfast and lunch are available to kids in need at a free or reduced price, there is a larger than acceptable percentage of kids who are not eating these meals and are therefore still at school hungry.

In three years, I would like to see schools and communities address the issue of child hunger by:

  • Making breakfast universally available for all kids, so it can be eaten by all kids
  • Offering breakfast in every classroom
  • Making summer meal programs available in every community, so it can be enjoyed by every kid in need without stigma

We at National PTA know families are key players in addressing the childhood hunger epidemic. Families want to keep their kids safe from harm and want them to succeed. That said, there are real and valid barriers to doing so – either it’s lack of education and understanding about the resources that are available, it can be a parent’s bad experience with the education system, or it can be an issue of pride or fear of stigmatization.

PTAs, families and schools can partner to tear down these barriers. Together they can:

  • Engage families in the school community and provide better, targeted education about school breakfast, school lunch and summer meal programs available, and the connection between hunger and learning
  • Develop partnerships with food, farm-to-school and hunger organizations to help connect families with these needed local resources
  • Encourage and mobilize our community and local level PTAs to provide necessary provisions for families in the school community who are in need

We’re not alone in this effort. Fuel Up to Play 60, a school-based program created by America’s dairy farmers and the NFL with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is working to increase school breakfast awareness and participation to make sure all kids start their day with the necessary fuel to help them succeed through its campaign, Fuel Greatness.

With so many systems in place, children don’t need to be hungry. Through education families can better understand the resources available to them – which can start to make a difference in our schools and communities. Education, real, tireless education, and partnerships across the community are an important first step.

Otha Thornton is President of National Parent Teacher Association.

Special Video Message from President Thornton: A Look Ahead at 2015

As the new year kicks into full gear, I want to highlight some exciting initiatives to come in 2015. Please take a minute to watch this video message for some important updates.

Thank you to each and every one of you for your hard work and steadfast efforts to take action for children and families across the country and your commitment to PTA. 2015 is going to be a great and exciting year for the association, and I look forward to continuing our work together.

#GivingTuesday: Help Make Every Child’s Dream a Reality

Giving Tuesday Web Ad 4The holiday season is a time of hustle and bustle – bargain hunting, shopping for the perfect gifts and spending hours cooking, decorating and preparing for guests. The season also is a time of thanksgiving and for giving back. We’re all familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard of #GivingTuesday? December 2, the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has been designated #GivingTuesday – a day set aside to remind us of the spirit of the season and encourage us to give back to the organizations in our communities working to make a difference and effect positive change.

All children deserve a high-quality education and access to services that will enable them to reach their full potential. But across the country, schools and communities are facing challenges and budget shortfalls, and as a result, important lessons and opportunities are being left out.

Nationwide, PTAs are working hard to fill in the gaps. From supplementing classroom lessons with activities that make learning fun and making sure all children have access to the arts, to teaching kids how to make healthy and safe decisions every day – PTAs are helping schools improve; communities grow and prosper; and making a difference for the education, health and welfare of all children.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I’m asking for your support of PTAs across the country and the important work they are doing by donating this #GivingTuesday to National PTA. National PTA develops programs and resources that PTAs rely on to effect change and fill in the gaps in their schools and communities. The association also empowers parents to speak up and advocate for their and all children – before their school boards, local and state government, and in Washington DC.

National PTA is the conscience of the country for children issues. Through advocacy and family and community education, National PTA has established programs and called for legislation in areas including:

  • Early childhood education
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Family engagement
  • School safety
  • Juvenile justice
  • Arts in education

And because of the work of National PTA, our nation has child labor laws to protect against unsafe working practices and conditions, kindergarten is a part of our public school system, hot lunches are served every day to millions of children in schools, and a separate juvenile justice system exists so that children are not tried and incarcerated as adults.

As the leader of National PTA, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of PTAs across the country on families, schools and communities. With your support, National PTA and PTAs nationwide will continue and build upon programs and efforts that are improving the lives and futures of our nation’s children.

The overall purpose of PTA is to make every child’s dream a reality. Together, we can make this happen.

Thank you for your support of PTA on #GivingTuesday and all year round.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

NEA and National PTA Encourage Nation to Celebrate American Education Week

With co-author Lily Eskelsen GarciaOtha_Headshot_SM

American Education Week (AEW) is celebrated each year during the last full week before Thanksgiving. This year, AEW will be celebrated November 14-20. Founded by the National Education Association (NEA) and The American Legion in 1921, with the U.S. Department of Education joining in 1922, AEW was created in response to 25 percent of World War I draftees being illiterate and nine percent deemed physically unfit to serve their country.

In its resolution, NEA called for “an educational week… observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs.”

Today, American Education Week is co-sponsored by National PTA and 11 other national education organizations. The theme for this year’s celebration is Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility, a renewed call to all citizens—parents, teachers, education support professionals, elected officials, community leaders, and yes, students—to make our schools great for all Americans.

As part of the weeklong celebration, Tuesday, Nov. 18 has been designated “Parents Day” to encourage parents to visit their child’s school and spotlight the importance of family engagement in education.

While the nation and our public education system have changed a lot since 1921, one factor—family engagement—remains critical to student achievement. Ongoing research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents’ confidence in their children’s education. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior.

Becoming active in a school’s parent group is an important way to increase involvement. Involvement also encompasses:

  • Setting goals with children and fostering achievement of those goals;
  • Accessing and using children’s academic scores to ensure they’re on track;
  • Frequently viewing the parent portal (or whichever tool their school uses);
  • Developing a relationship with children’s teachers and keeping in touch with them often; and
  • Advocating for improvements in the school building and with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide a world class education to every student.

The most significant type of involvement is what parents do at home. By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their children have every opportunity for success.

As the leaders of the nation’s largest education and child advocacy associations, we have seen firsthand the positive impact of family engagement on student success and school improvement. We encourage all parents to take an active role in their children’s education on “Parents Day” and all year round.

Great schools are a basic right and our shared responsibility. To all parents and families, “thank you” for being part of the education team. Find out more on how parents and families can contribute to student success by visiting: and

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA. Lily Eskelsen Garcia is president of the National Education Association.

#ShareAwesome Rallies Families around Digital Citizenship

Otha_Headshot_SMTechnology 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. Technology is essential for the development of 21st century skills that will help students thrive in their chosen careers.

Technology is everywhere. We text, tweet, shop, learn, play games, plan family vacations, and even worship online. Some of us even use technology to track our 10,000 steps each day, like I did during this past summer’s convention.

Personally, I love technology. I use it extensively at my job. And on my many travels for National PTA, I often use my phone to arrange for transportation, confirm speaking engagements and to stay in touch with our state and local units.

But with new gadgets, social media platforms and apps coming out every day, I, like most families, don’t have the time or tech savvy to stay on top of the latest fad.

That’s where good decision-making skills that apply to any digital environment are helpful.ShareAwesome Clever Gram

When I think about the vast online world, I look at it through the same lens that I look at everyday life. The ways you should act, protect yourself and treat others online are not so different from what you should do offline. We all strive to be good citizens in the real world. In the virtual world, we should all strive to practice good digital citizenship.

It starts with treating others as you want to be treated. Be kind. Look out for others.  It should be a place to share what we learn and love, stay in touch with friends and family, and a great platform to support our favorite causes.

National PTA has teamed up with LifeLock to bridge the conversation gap about digital safety, promote digital citizenship and share the awesome ways families and friends can inspire each other to use technology in positive ways to help others.  Helping our children maximize smarter, safer, more rewarding decisions online will go far in reducing everyone’s stress levels when it comes to the use of technology.

Here are five ways we can start:

  1. Share your thoughts but don’t share personal info (i.e., address, phone number).
  2. Follow the rules of the site or app and check privacy settings often.
  3. A virtual friend is still a stranger. Never make plans to meet up offline.
  4. Block, delete or hide people who bring you down. Tell a trusted adult if you feel in danger.
  5. Unplug or power down when walking or driving.

National PTA has built a central online hub of expert information about digital safety, as well as activation tools for students, parents, PTAs and schools to participate in a campaign that we call #ShareAwesome. was built in collaboration with expert advisors from and Common Sense Media. Our hope is that you will use these tools to create a sustained, multi-faceted conversation between parents and students that, hopefully, will allow students to participate in, and steer, the conversation by creating content themselves.

Through the power of digital media—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Bloggers, e-newsletters—we hope this information will reach every home in America. To generate #ShareAwesome enthusiasts, we have launched a scholarship contest that invites social media users to share a smart and safe decision, uplifting accomplishment, or positive action for the good of others using hashtag #ShareAwesome.

Technology is good, and it’s here to stay. It resonates with children, tweens and teens. It should also resonate with adults in a way that is positive and promotes a happy, healthy lifestyle.  When it comes to the digital world, it’s time for all of us to shift the dialogue from scary and preachy to celebratory, fun, and a part of everyday life.

LifeLock is a financial sponsor of National PTA.National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.