Author Archive

Melissa Mellor

Arts Instruction Remains Prevalent—For Some

A new nationwide survey on the state of arts education in U.S. public schools finds that arts offerings haven't declined as much as expected, but that students in high-poverty schools, particularly at the secondary level, do not receive the same rich exposure to arts opportunities as their wealthier peers.

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Melissa Mellor

Illinois Celebrates Whole Child Month!

Illinois lawmakers have officially recognized the value of a whole child approach to education that ensures each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. As a result of Illinois ASCD's persistent efforts, the state legislature passed whole child resolutions (HR 0781 and SR 0545) that designate March as Illinois Whole Child Month and call on parents, educators, and communities to work together to support the whole child. The House resolution also encourages every school in the state to celebrate Illinois Whole Child Month by adopting at least one of the five whole child tenets to promote and encourage throughout the month.

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Melissa Mellor

Should Schools Answer to Capitol Hill or to Local Parents?

Two clear themes emerged during the U.S. House of Representatives K–12 education subcommittee's recent hearing on improving the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act's failing accountability system:

  1. Federal policy must continue to require the disaggregation and transparent reporting of student performance data. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the hearing's panel of experts agreed this is one thing NCLB has done well.
  2. Parental involvement is crucial to improving student and school success. Less clear is how the federal government can best incentivize parent engagement and help parents hold local schools accountable for their performance.

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Melissa Mellor

Schools as Guardians of Democracy

Less than one-third of our nation's 8th graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Fewer than one in five high school students are able to explain how citizen participation benefits democracy. And nearly 100 million U.S. citizens who were eligible to vote didn't exercise that right during the 2008 presidential election.

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Melissa Mellor

History in High School Is Long-Forgotten

The 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) U.S. history results were released earlier this week.

The nation's 8th graders posted gains in U.S. history achievement compared with results from four years ago. Advances by black and Hispanic students, as well as by male students in the 8th grade, largely contributed to the increase. But at the 4th and 12th grade levels, there were no statistically significant changes in performance since 2001. Only 12 percent of 12th graders scored at proficient or advanced levels.

The general lack of advancement in U.S. students' history knowledge comes at a time when the Teaching American History (TAH) program—the largest single source of federal funding for history education—was cut by $73 million (or 61 percent) in the FY11 budget. Additionally, the Obama administration's FY12 budget request and ESEA blueprint propose to consolidate the grant programs supporting history, civics, and geography along with other important subjects into a single, competitive grant—the Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education program.

ASCD and more than three dozen partner organizations support the idea of a well-rounded education but are concerned that the administration's consolidation proposal would pit the various subjects against one another for resources and threaten schools' and districts' ability to provide their students with a comprehensive education.

The administration and Congress should retain a minimum level of resources for each of the subject areas based on their most recent individual funding levels. In addition, meaningful public reporting and accountability requirements regarding student achievement in each of these disciplines should be established—by and for schools, districts, and states—to promote a well-rounded education's importance. Until such resources and accountability are focused on subjects other than mathematics and English language arts, disappointing achievement scores in history could be a recurring trend.

Melissa Mellor

ASCD Responds to the House's First ESEA Bill

Late last week Rep. Hunter introduced the first in a series of House bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The bill eliminates 43 K–12 education programs in an effort to reduce federal education funding and address the problem of duplicative programs.

ASCD released an official statement about the bill, in which Director of Public Policy David Griffith expressed concern that the eliminated programs disproportionately affect a whole child approach to education.

"Eliminating programs that support physical education, arts education, school counselors, school leadership, and the Teaching American History program [among others] indicates that these important activities that promote healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged students are no longer a federal priority," Griffith said.

Ultimately, the bill saves $1.13 billion compared to FY10 education funding, but only $413 million compared to the final FY11 appropriation amounts.

Below is a full list of the 43 programs Rep. Hunter proposes to eliminate. Read the House bill summary, which includes justification for each program's elimination.

Programs Already Defunded in the FY11 Funding Bill

  • Even Start Family Literacy Program
  • Enhancing Education Through Technology (Ed-Tech) state grants
  • Striving Readers
  • National Writing Project
  • Smaller Learning Communities
  • Improving Literacy Through School Libraries
  • Improve Mental Health of Children, Mental Health Integration in Schools grants
  • Improve Mental Health of Children, Foundations for Learning
  • Close Up Fellowship Program
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Advanced Credentialing
  • Reading Is Fundamental
  • Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Whaling Partners
  • Women's Educational Equity
  • Parental Information and Resource Centers
  • Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program

Programs Consolidated or Eliminated in the President's FY12 Budget Request

  • School Leadership Program
  • Grants to Reduce Alcohol Abuse
  • Elementary and Secondary School Counseling
  • Teaching American History

Programs Not Recently Funded

  • Mentoring Program
  • Comprehensive School Reform
  • Ready to Teach Grant Program
  • Community Technology Centers
  • Bilingual and Emergency Immigrant Education Program
  • Star Schools
  • Early Reading First
  • Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities State Grants
  • Partnerships in Character Education
  • Early Childhood Educator Professional Development

Programs That Have Never Been Funded

  • Healthy, High-Performance Schools
  • Combating Domestic Violence
  • Improving Language Instruction Educational Programs
  • Teacher Mobility
  • Additional Assistance for LEAs Impacted by Federal Property Acquisition

Programs Deemed Duplicative or Inappropriate for the Federal Government

  • Native Hawaiian Education
  • Alaska Native Education Equity
  • Foreign Language Assistance Program
  • Carol M. White Physical Education Program
  • Arts in Education
  • High School Graduation Initiative
  • Special Education Teacher Training
  • Ready to Learn Television
  • Excellence in Economic Education


Melissa Mellor

White House Convenes Its First-Ever Conference on Bullying Prevention

Today, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed students, parents, and teachers to the White House for a conference on bullying prevention.

In a special Facebook video message about the conference, the president and first lady said bullying "affects every single young person in our country" and emphasized that putting a stop to bullying is a responsibility we all share. The president also stated that bullying can no longer be viewed as "an unavoidable part of growing up" because we now know how harmful it is and how pervasive it can be in today's increasingly digital world.

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Melissa Mellor

Excellence the Federal Way

It's easy to say we expect excellence, but it can be a lot tougher to put that expectation into practice.

Washington state's Federal Way Public Schools took on that challenge this school year by implementing its Academic Acceleration policy, through which the school district auto enrolls students in advanced academic classes instead of requiring them to proactively select them. Put simply, students must opt out, not opt in, to more rigorous courses. Thus, every student in grades 6–12 who passes the state test in a specific subject area is signed up for advanced placement, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge International, or honors classes in that subject. It's the district's effort to open up classes that have traditionally served only a handful of privileged students to all students, regardless of their economic background, gender, and race.

Assistant superintendent and former ASCD Emerging Leader Joshua Garcia describes the effort as an attempt to break institutional limitations on students and the ultimate form of parent engagement. Instead of the school determining whether a student can enroll in an advanced placement course, parents are empowered to make that choice along with their children.

It seems to be working. The number of students enrolled in advanced academic classes nearly doubled in the district this year, skyrocketing from 1,214 students to 2,078, more than half of whom are students of color. More than 65 percent of the district's juniors and seniors now take at least one advanced class, compared to last year's 38 percent.

Perhaps even more powerful than the numbers are the stories of the individual students benefiting from this policy. Teachers report that students who didn't consider themselves to be "college material" are rising to the challenge and experiencing academic successes that they didn't always believe was possible. That's not to say the shift has been easy. The district has had to grapple with the logistical challenges of serving greater numbers of students in advanced courses and is providing tutoring for kids who need the extra support.

Federal Way's work is garnering considerable attention in the state. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat compared the effort to the controversial Chinese Tiger Mom, albeit as a favorable example of demanding excellence. The Tacoma News Tribune describes it as a promising innovation that has the potential to help students obliterate "cramped ideas of their own potential" and prepare them for college. Meanwhile, Garcia highlighted the policy as part of his testimony at a work session of the state's House Education Committee.

It's important to note that the district's acceleration policy is part of its broader commitment to educating the whole child. Federal Way embraces arts and extracurricular activities as ways to produce graduates who score well academically and are also employable.

"I'm not suggesting core academics are not important," said superintendent Rob Neu. "We need to improve and we need to compete academically on the international level. What I am suggesting is that we need to broaden our focus of measurement and accountability of what American education ought to be."

Melissa Mellor

Congressman Vows to Address the Whole Child as He Fixes NCLB

We want to thank Representative Dale Kildee (D-MI), a senior member of the House Education Committee, for writing a powerful opinion piece this week about the necessity of educating the whole child. ASCD educators from Michigan recently met with Rep. Kildee's office during ASCD's legislative conference. They advocated for a whole child approach to education during their visit, and Rep. Kildee's opinion piece shows that he listened.

In his blog post, Rep. Kildee asserts that as he and his colleagues work to improve the No Child Left Behind Act, "we must go beyond simply addressing the academic needs of our students; we must focus on the development of the whole child."

He describes the need for a well-rounded curriculum, safe and secure learning environments, quality after-school programming, and opportunities that expose high school students to challenging and engaging coursework that prepares them for postsecondary success. In support of this last point, Kildee shares his plan to reintroduce the Fast Track to College Act, which helps establish early college high schools and other dual-enrollment programs that enable high school students to earn an associate’s degree or up to two years of college credit at no cost to their families.

We will keep you updated on the ongoing efforts of Rep. Kildee and his colleagues to recognize that every child counts. Moreover, we will hold him to his promise to ensure that our education system focuses on the whole child so that our next generation has the necessary skills to succeed in our increasingly globalized and competitive world.

Melissa Mellor

Summer Learning News Roundup

Across the country, temperatures are hitting the triple digits, but instead of spending lazy days at the pool, many kids are taking advantage of summer learning opportunities. A recent news roundup of articles and blog posts about summer learning reveals some trends: (1) summer learning programs can improve academic performance, especially for high-need kids, (2) many of these programs are threatened in our current economic climate, and (3) summer learning has moved away from our traditional vision of dreaded summer school.

Here's a sampling of the latest summer learning news:

  • Education Week's "Financial Woes Afflict Summer School" explains that while many school districts have had to scale back or eliminate summer learning programs because of budget shortfalls, other surviving programs have been transformed so that they're more engaging and fun for students.
  • "A New Vision: Students Actually Want to Attend Summer School," an editorial by Ron Fairchild, the chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association and a Whole Child Podcast guest, describes how summer learning that encourages learning and enrichment (not remediation) is a critical tool for helping low-income students gain academic ground.
  • Edutopia's "Alternatives to Teaching Summer School" provides suggestions for teachers who can't rely on a summer school paycheck and are looking for other ways to fill their summers.
  • A Toronto Sun article provides tips for parents on how they can keep their children actively learning during the summer months, without overcommitting them or completely eliminating time for relaxation and fun.

What types of summer learning opportunities does your school district or city offer? Have you witnessed summer learning cutbacks this year?

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