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Rethinking the Merits of Inflating Self-Esteem

Instilling self-esteem is thought by many to ensure well-adjusted, respectful, motivated kids who are not only loving and lovable, but who accept criticism, exhibit self-control, and challenge themselves, too. Indeed, several websites are dedicated to its promotion, and May is actually Self-Esteem Month, Boost Your Self-Esteem Month, and/or National Teen Self-Esteem Month—take your pick.

Meanwhile, the stated purpose of The National Association for Self-Esteem is “to fully integrate self-esteem into the fabric of American society so that every individual, no matter what their age or background, experiences personal worth and happiness.”

And such efforts have been very successful, with countless, well-meaning parents and teachers joining in for kids’ sake.

As a result, competition is downplayed, praise is plentiful—deserved or not—and feeling good is the goal . . .

• Many schools have done away with honoring a valedictorian at graduation ceremonies—or they’ve named more than one.

• Intelligence is no longer the sole factor in determining giftedness. Indeed, according to Pennsylvania law, “A person with an IQ score lower than 130 may be admitted to gifted programs when other educational criteria in the profile of the person strongly indicate gifted ability.”

• Grading scales have taken a hit, too. Many schools now use a grading scale where 90 to 100 constitutes an A, and so on. Only a few call anything lower than a 64 an F; most stick with 59 for that.

• Red pens are out, replaced by pinks and violets, so as to be less disheartening.

• Homework has come under the gun, too, with parents complaining that too much homework is being assigned. As a result, teachers are told to cut back—even when it comes to our gifted students.

• To soften failure, some districts insist that teachers record nothing less than a grade of 50% on a student’s report card, regardless of his/her actual and lower percentage.

• Countless sports organizations now hand out trophies to every kid on the team, saying, “We believe everyone is a winner.”

• Cars nowadays sport “My child is an honor roll student at . . .” bumper stickers, spreading the praise near and far.

And where has this feel-good mentality gotten us?

Says Minneapolis author and pediatrician Dr. Ernest Swihart, “It’s had serious repercussions. These young adults who were raised in the 80’s, now in their 20’s and in the workplace—those who received praise, rewards, and prizes for everything they did without working very hard—often are very entitled and self-absorbed, and they don’t understand not being promoted, they don’t understand not even being hired, and they don’t understand not getting praised every day.”

Meanwhile . . .

1. According to a University of California, Irvine survey,  one-third of the students said they expected B’s just for attending lectures; 40% said they deserved a B just for completing the required reading.

Said a senior at the University of Maryland, “If you put all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point? If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

2. Regarding a recent Brookings Institution report, journalist Jay Matthews  wrote, “Countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy, and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that don’t promote all that self-regard.” According to that report, only 6% of surveyed Korean 8th graders feel confident in their math scores compared with 39% of our students—yet Korean students always outscore ours on international assessments.

Indeed, Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campell, authors of The Narcissism Epidemic, say, “We’ve built up the confidence of our kids, but in that process, we’ve created a generation of hot-house flowers puffed with a disproportionate sense of self-worth and without the resiliency skills they need when Mommy and Daddy can’t fix something.”

So now the question is, have you ever . . .

1. Complained that your child has too much homework?

2. Praised your child for the very slightest reason?

3. Made excuses for your child’s poor showing on a test or assignment?

4. Requested that your child retake a test to improve a grade?

5. Gone out of your way to make your child feel good about him/herself?

6. Typed a paper, done an assignment, or helped your child complete a project for a good grade?

7. Questioned a teacher for disciplining your child?

8. Refused to have your child to serve a detention?

9. Asked that a teacher offer extra credit and bonus points to bolster grades?

Nodding in the affirmative to even a few of these questions suggests that you may be contributing to the problem, despite your good intentions.

Explains award-winning author Melissa Fay Greene, “When we muffle our children in a haze of supportive words and blunt their experiences of consequences, we could be making it harder for them to deal with the real world . . . We must stand back and let each child enjoy—or suffer—the rich, complicated, ambiguous experiences of his or her own life.”

Instead, applaud effort and time on task, praise only genuine accomplishment, and help your child see obstacles as opportunities, failure as feedback. As one eighth grader put it: “You never fail until you stop trying.”

That, after all, is the heart of true self-esteem.


Carol Josel is a learning specialist who worked with middle school children and their parents at the Methacton School District in Pennsylvania for more than 25 years and now supervises student teachers at both Gwynedd Mercy College and Ursinus College. Along with the booklet, 149 Parenting School-Wise Tips: Intermediate Grades & Up, and numerous articles in such publications as The Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy and Teaching Pre-K-8, she has authored three successful learning guidebooks: Getting School-Wise: A Student Guidebook, Other-Wise and School-Wise: A Parent Guidebook, and ESL Activities for Every Month of the School Year. Carol also writes for; you can find her articles at For more information, go to or contact Carol at


Parent Talk Live: School Calendars and Student Achievement

Listen to Dr. Mike Robinson discussion about the validity of Year Round School Calendars and Traditional School Calendars and the impact if any on student achievement. School districts around the country have begun to re-examine the benefits and challenges of extending school days and the school year. In Washington DC, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and schools chancellor Kaya Henderson are considering expanding the school day and school year as an attempt to improve overall test scores and increase graduation rates.  Currently the school week for students attending the District of Columbia Public Schools consist of 30 hours, which according to Mayor Gray is simply no longer enough time.  

Many champions of the extended school day and year believe adding more time will increase the ability of American students to compete with their global peers.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a chief proponent of the longer school year, says American students have fallen behind the world academically. However, there are those who do not support an extended school day or school and suggest there is little to no evidence that support an improvement in academic performance. “Opponents of extended school point out that states such as Minnesota and Massachusetts steadily shine on standardized achievement tests while preserving their summer break with a post-Labor Day school start” (Julie Carr Smyth (2013).

Listen to  Dr. Mike Robinson on Parent Talk Live, home of important educational discussions germane to parents and their communities. His guest will be Tina Bruno, Program Director with the Coalition for a Traditional School Calendar.


Tina Bruno is the executive director of the national advocacy organization, The Coalition for a Traditional School Calendar.  Under her direction the cry of parents for a longer summer vacation has become a national issue and many states have enjoyed the passage of school start date legislation.  Tina has been guest on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and hundreds of daily and weekly newspapers. Tina works with thousands of parent volunteers from around the nation as she educates policymakers, members of the media and voters about the negative impact of non-traditional school calendars. Tina is a graduate of The University of Northern Iowa and currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her daughter.


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It’s All About the Child



Dr. Yolanda Abel

Children are one of our most precious gifts. As parents it is our responsibility to rear them well and prepare them to go out into the world and fulfill their destiny.  Kahlil Gibran said it well, “Your children are not children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not for you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” With this in mind, all parents should be mindful of how they treat one another and how the parental relationship impacts the child.

So often when we think or discuss parenting of Black children in general it seems as if the focus of the conversation often becomes the plight of the single mother and bemoaning the absence of fathers. While the Black community is varied in its composition, the issue of female headed households and noncustodial dads is a real one.


The percentage of children residing in a single parent household in the U.S. was 34% in 2009. In the state of Maryland it was 34% as well. However, when you disaggregate by race, there are 67% of Black children, in the U.S., residing in single family homes. In the state of Maryland 59% of Black children are living in a single family home (Kids Count, 2011).  National data informs us that almost 50% of Black children living in single family households reside with their mother, while less than 4% of Black children reside with their fathers. There are a variety of variables that impact who a child lives with and how the parents and other adults help to support the child’s overall development. 

This article is focusing on mothers and fathers who are no longer in a relationship with each other, but share a child. How do people continue to work together in the best interest of the child they created? How do you navigate blended families? How do you set aside personal disappointments and keep the child at the focus of the relationship? These may not be easy questions to answer based on our personal circumstances. However, our vision must be what is best for the child we created together. How can we put our son or daughter first and provide the best possible upbringing?

It is not easy and I am not suggesting otherwise, but it is something we have to do. It is important that we promote father involve with schools and in children’s school-based lives. Children are less likely to repeat a grade, be suspended, or expelled if their nonresident fathers are involved in schools. Children are also more likely to earn A’s, enjoy school, and participate in extracurricular activities,

Father involvement with schools can make a difference for the better (Nord, 1998).

How do we do that?  The mother’s relationship with the father influences his involvement with the child’s school based life. Fathers who are romantically involved with the mother of their child are more likely to be involved in their child’s school-based lives. So, what happens when parents are no longer together? The noncustodial fathers’ involvement in school-related activities is influenced by the child’s grade level, the household income, mother’s level of education, and the child support payment history (Nord, Brimhall, & West, 1997). In this instance, school-based involvement is defined as attending (a) a general school meeting, (b) attending a parent-teacher conference, (c) attending a school or class event, or (d) serving as a volunteer. So, if mom is the primary caregiver, how does dad find out about these events so he can attend, if possible?

Communication geared toward the child’s welfare needs to be a focus. Schools tend to communicate with the parent who registers the child for school and to send information to the contact address or phone number that is provided. So, if there are no legal reasons to prevent it, the contact information of the noncustodial parent should be provided as well. As the custodial parent we should also communicate ourselves with the noncustodial parent around issues that support the child we have together. Remember, children tend to have better outcomes when their noncustodial fathers are involved.

Be realistic as each of you works to support your child. While money is important in being able to provide for a child it is not everything.

A child needs parents who are physically present and active in his or her life. Encourage the noncustodial parent to attend school functions, spend quality time reading, go to community events, or any other activity that expands a child’s horizon’s and opportunities for learning.

Be together apart. Remember that each of you is responsible for the upbringing of a well adjusted and healthy child who feels capable and confident to step out into the world and give his or her best. Ideally, we need two loving parents for this to happen. Each parent contributes something unique to the child’s

life and developing perspective.

Be cautiously honest about what you say about the other parent and why the two of you are no longer

together. Remember that the child is a blend of both of you. It is hurtful to attack the other person or to tell a child that she or he is just like their “no good father”. Words have power. When talking with your friends and /or family members make sure the child cannot hear you and whatever your comments are, especially if you are angry at something the father did or did not do.

Be optimistic; parenting is one of the most challenging things a person can do. There are moments of doubt, confusion, worry, etc. throughout the parenting process whether we are single parents or cohabiting parents. By keeping our focus on the long-term goal of rearing a child who is well-adjusted and able to become a productive member of society we can make it through the hard times. How can we focus on the good as it relates to our child and his or her father? “What is the impact on

the child?” should always be the guiding question as we consider what to do or not to do.

Be consistent in your actions. Most children do well when there are consistent routines in their life. Mean what you say and say what you mean as you talk with your child and his or her father. If something happens and the routine needs to be changed, share that information with the child. Do not allow a child to wonder what she or he did wrong or why daddy doesn’t love me. Something seemingly inconsequential can have long-term negative consequences for a child.

Strive for accountability. Things do happen in life, but for the most part we need to commit to being involved in our child’s life and show up when we say we are and be on time and engage with our child. Reflect back on your own childhood, what are the fondest memories you have of your own father? If he was not a part of your life, how did that make you feel? How does it still make you feel? Did you promise yourself that you would always be there for your child? Are you keeping that promise?

Remember, it is all about the child. Fathers and mothers each have a critical role to play in the lives of their children. This is a reminder to do your part. We need to facilitate all fathers’ being a connected and integral part of their children’s lives.

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Education4and2Parents: A Podcast Center

The Value of Parental Engagement


Rusul Alrubail: The Importance of the Student Voice


Forest Of The Rain Productions interviewed Rusul Alrubail, Educator-in-Residence at Design Cofounders on the value of the student voice in creating high performing students, classrooms and schools.

What is Student Voice? 
Rusul: To me student voice is providing the space, culture and environment that supports and advocates for students’ thoughts, ideas, feelings, and opinion through different mediums. Student voice can be supported through many different platforms in the classroom and school to represent the students and give them autonomy and control over their own education.

What impact does creating a school culture that promotes Student Voice have on student achievement and engagement?
Rusul: Research often indicates that student achievement is directly linked to student engagement. This makes student engagement to be an essential conversation to have when it comes to student success in the classroom. Now the question that many teachers ask is how do we engage students in the classroom in order for them to succeed in learning?

Student voice holds the key for many of those questions. A classroom and a school that supports students and their autonomy and voice often also works to engage students in learning. When students feel they have some sort of control over choice, format, activities, discussions, deadlines and other elements in the classroom their engagement increases, thereby increasing student achievement. 

What are the benefits of a culture of Student Voice?
Rusul: There are countless benefits to supporting a culture of student voice. The first and foremost is that learning in the classroom shifts from teacher-centred learning to a student-centred one. Students will be able to work with the teacher to facilitate a learning environment that supports their individual learning needs. At the same time, a culture of student voice allows students to be in charge of their own learning, which in turn increases critical thinking, synthesizing, problem-solving, creativity, taking initiative and leadership.

Another great aspect of a culture of student voice is the meta-cognitive feedback that the teacher is able to receive on her own pedagogical strategies and teaching in the classroom. When students are able to take charge in facilitating and giving feedback on their own learning, the teacher is able to use that as feedback to tailor her teaching to meet their needs. Teaching will be a constant process of facilitation and collaboration to achieve learning goals.

Can the Student Voice culture co-exists in an educational landscape grounded heavily in state standardize testing?
Rusul: I always try to think from the individual mindset as opposed to collective, when it comes to things outside of my own control. In other words, what can I do on my end to support the students? Yes standardize testing is not ideal to support or even close to fostering a culture of student voice; however, there are things within the teacher’s immediate environment that she can control and as a result that fosters a culture that promotes student voice. For example: if students are working on a project-based learning unit, give students an opportunity to select their own topics. A teacher can also helps students by providing some guidelines to those who need it, but also supports the students if they would like to break out of those guidelines. 

What are ways schools can empower the Student Voice?
Rusul: Schools can empower student voice by supporting students when it comes to equity, diversity and culture matters. When students see that they are accepted in their own school, they will be more inclined to participate in their own learning. Fostering an inclusive culture for students can mean different things, from policy/procedure to events and school activities. Schools can learn more about their student body by reaching out to their community and the parents. This type of outreach usually helps with creating the first steps to a pathway of inclusivity that supports student voice. 

Is there a downside to expanding the Student Voice in areas such as curriculum design, developing classroom norms and other areas typically the domain of teachers and school administrators? 
Rusul: I don’t think there is a downside but there are definitely important elements to consider. When schools work to provide a platform for student voice, they need to facilitate the conversation so that student voice is representative of the diversity of students in that school. 

Schools also need to create a strategy whereby student voice conversations have a tangible outcome and are implemented appropriately and not dismissed. Many times there are student representatives on school guidelines/policy conversations; however, to take in their feedback and implement it requires an extra step, one that the school needs to support.

At the end of the day, we need to remember that at the heart of teaching and education is the student, and supporting their voice is the first step to improve education.

I am an Educator-in-Residence at Design Cofounders, where I help with the development and facilitation of Education pathways in Design & Entrepreneurship communities in Toronto. I also teach composition and literature. I am passionate about teaching & learning, student voice, professional development, writing and literature. I am currently working on The Writing Project, an essay writing platform for students, because I believe that writing gives students a voice. When students are empowered and inspired their voice translates into meaningful words that have the power to change the world.

Rigor, Relevance and Resilience By Dr. Avis Williams

The 3 Rs


What matters most in terms of student achievement and growth?  For several years now, the new 3 Rs: Rigor, Relevance and Relationships have been buzz words for fixing what ails our education system.  Undoubtedly, these factors contribute greatly to the success of educational programs.

Rigor implies that students are challenged with schoolwork and learning experiences that stretch their knowledge.  Rigorous instruction helps students understand concepts that are complex, ambiguous or contentious.  Additionally, through rigorous learning experiences, students acquire skills that can be applied in a variety of contexts, from educational to career and civic contexts ( 

Relevance is connecting learning to student interests, cultural experiences and real-world issues.  Personal and life relevance in the classroom are intended to motivate students and equip them with practical skills, knowledge and dispositions that can be applied throughout their lives.  In doing so, we are able to effectively educate the whole child and prepare him for successful citizenry.

While the importance of building positive student/teacher relationships in the classroom cannot be understated, I would argue that relationships should be developed while building resilience.  Resilience is usually defined as an ability to bounce back or recover from adversity (Ginsburg, 2006).  Due to societal, family and peer pressure, students today are often operating within a state of stress.  Whether in a state of poverty or affluence, our young people need to be taught how to be resilient in the face of adversity and stress.

The Need to Build Resilience

Stress in children and adults looks vastly different today than it did even ten years ago.  With the influence of social media, the pressure to fit in, to be accepted or even to be seen plays a crucial role in the lives of many of the young people in our classrooms.  Here’s a true story that emphasizes the need for students to be taught how to build resilience.

A sixth grade girl, who we will call Sadie, moved due to family financial problems.  Her mother had a live-in boyfriend who did not work.  Her mother was also an alcoholic who likely drank to cope with her own stress.  On several occasions, Sadie witnessed her mother being berated and shoved by the boyfriend.  Sadie did not appear to be happy or well-adjusted but, since she was new, she tried to fit in with other students in her diverse middle school.  In doing so, she would post outrageous statements on her Facebook page hoping to get their attention.  It worked.  She soon fell in with a group of girls who were older and who were sexually active. 

As the school year progressed, teachers noticed that Sadie was not focused on school.  While they were glad to see her interacting with other students, it was clear that she was not making positive choices.  What her teachers did not realize was that Sadie was using sex as an escape from the life.

When kids are stressed, their first impulse is to relieve the discomfort.  According to Ginsburg (2006), this is not done in a rational, well thought out fashion.  Instead, kids are impulsive and tend to follow pathways that are readily available to them.  In Sadie’s case, that meant unprotected sex with boy that she barely knew.  In the absence of resilience, negative strategies such as this are easy, quick fixes that do relieve stress, but also come with harmful consequences.  As educators, we can offer support for students like Sadie through our relationships but even more so by teaching students in ways that empower them to build their own resilience.

Competent Students are Resilient Students

Ginsburg’s work identifies “A Web of 7 Cs” that impact resilience.  The 7 Cs are competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control. While each of these will impact student outcomes, teachers can readily bolster and influence competence in the kids in their charge.  Competent students are resilient students.

What can teachers do to grow and develop competent students?  Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently (  Personalizing learning is a key component to building student competence.  Students attain competence through positive learning experiences where they find success.  Teachers can support and enhance this by ensuring that instruction is based on individual student needs.  By personalizing learning, teachers can create an atmosphere where students are naturally curious and are encouraged to take risks.

    Teachers build student competence through personalized learning by:

  • Knowing their students as learners.  As educators, we know the value of being data-driven.  Moving beyond student achievement data is vital as teachers work to get to know and understand their students.  Where are they from?  What motivates them? What are their fears? Teachers forge connections with students by first knowing who they are. Otherwise, learning cannot be personalized.  How would feeling connected change the experience of a student like Sadie?

  • Creating a safe learning environment.  As Maslow proposed in his hierarchy of human needs, basic wants/needs must be met before students can devote their attention to learning (Hoffman, 1999).  Classrooms should provide a sense of belonging.  Positive relationships are woven seamlessly into safe and supportive learning environments.  In many schools, there are students, like Sadie, who do not live in safe, healthy homes or communities.  The classroom should provide a safe haven for all students.  Students who feel safe can develop competence which will in turn strengthen their resilience.

  • Involving the students in the learning process.  Student engagement is a clear goal of an effective learning environment.  What this really means is that students are not just engaged but are involved, not only with the context of what is being taught but also in the learning process, understanding what they need to do to improve and taking responsibility for furthering their own progress.  Anchor charts, interactive notebooks, and problem-based learning are excellent constructs that allow students to shape what they learn.  Personalizing learning will help students increase academic growth because they will own their learning (Bray, 2013).  Perhaps when students are more involved in their learning throughout the school day, they will be less likely to engage in or explore dangerous and unsafe behaviors.  Empowering students in this way will lead to competent learners and to more resilient youth.



A well-rounded educational program should include Rigor, Relevance and Resilience.   Resilience is not a simple concept.  Building resilience in young people can be done by supporting them as they become competent learners.  Personalized learning is one avenue to this end.  As teachers work to truly know their students and provide a classroom environment where students feel safe, students will be empowered to contribute more to their own learning.  By doing so, students like Sadie will be given more opportunities to grow and to succeed.  


About the Author

Dr. Avis has served as an elementary, middle and high school principal giving her a wide-range of knowledge and practical experiences.  She currently serves as the Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction for Guilford County Schools, the third largest school district in North Carolina.  Dr. Avis has presented dozens of professional presentations and seminars at conferences and workshops throughout the U.S. 


Contact Dr. Avis:

Follow on Twitter @DrAvisW




Bray, Barbara. Rethinking Learning.; 2013.

Gingsburg, KR, Jablow, MM.  A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books; 2006

Glossary of Education Reform. Great Schools Partnerships; 2014

Hoffman, E. The right to be human: a biography of Abraham Maslow. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1999




Living Education eMagazine Discusses The Importance of Parental Engagement for Student Success

The Important Role Men Have In The Academic Success of Students Both In and Out of The Classroom.

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November 18, 2015 to November 19, 2015
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A Review of Sample Questions Released by PARCC: Implications for English Language Arts/Literacy

The upcoming PARCC assessment for ELA will continue to ask students to read passages, answer follow-up questions, and complete writing tasks. However, with this new generation of standardized tests, the format and complexity of those questions will…Continue

Tags: assessment, ELA, PARCC, students, parents

Started by Jessicapeckham Jul 15.

How Teachers and Parents Can Promote Active Reading

The Common Core Standards require that “by the end of the year, [the student will] read and comprehend literature [and informational text] with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range” (…Continue

Tags: reading

Started by Jessicapeckham Jul 15.

Bowie parents concerned county is “celling out” children’s health 1 Reply

Dear PGCPS Parents,The following article came out last week in The Gazette newspaper regarding the planned cellphone tower at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, MD. Benjamin Tasker Middle School is not the only school site planned to have a…Continue

Started by Nakia T. Ngwala. Last reply by Thea Aug 15, 2014.

Would You Hold Your Child Back In School To Give Them An Athletic Advantage 1 Reply

Network member Lisa Corum Wood: Listening to the Frank Ski show today and my eyebrows are raised: Question:Would You Hold Your Child Back In School To Give Them An Athletic Advantage? Parents Are Keeping There Kids Back So They Graduate At 19 &…Continue

Started by Michael A. Robinson. Last reply by Felicia Meadows Jul 24, 2014.

Fall Edition of Living Education eMagazine

Living Education Magazine Discusses Bullying


When Elected School Boards Disappear: By Dr. Francis X. Shen

On April 9, 2013, Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that gives the Prince George’s County Executive new education governance powers. Effective June 1, 2013, County Executive Rushern Baker will have the power to appoint the Prince George’s County School Board superintendent, three members of the school board, and the board chair and vice-chair.[1] In adopting this governance structure, Prince George’s County joins a growing number of large school systems that have moved from elected to executive-appointed school boards.[2] Prominent examples include Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, and New York City.

            What happens when an elected school board disappears? In a recent report published by the Center for American Progress, my co-author Kenneth Wong and I argued that mayoral governance in large urban school systems has, on average, generated academic improvement.[3] But we also pointed out that the improvement is not consistent over time, or across grade levels and subject matters. This report was the most recent in a decade-long research project on the effects of executive-appointed school boards.

            When an executive is given new powers in education governance, attention is often placed (and rightly so) on the nature of those powers. Conversation and headlines focus on who the executive will appoint as superintendent and board members. Something that often gets overlooked – and will be the focus of this short essay – is the extent to which the governance reform is permanent or contingent on performance and citizen approval.

Put another way, when an elected school board disappears, we should ask: will it ever re-emerge? The answer depends on how the state law is crafted. Below I review the range of options that states have employed, and situate the recent Maryland legislation within this framework.

States have four basic options for statutorily prescribing an “end game” to executive-appointed school boards. These options are:


  1. Adopt the reform indefinitely, until new legislation introduces a governance change (e.g. Chicago). At one extreme, legislatures can move permanently to mayoral control, as the Illinois legislature did in 1995 for Chicago. The benefit of this approach is that it provides consistency, allowing local officials to pursue an education reform agenda free from the state-level negotiations about governance they would otherwise be required to undertake. If the governance reform continues to produce positive results for a long time, this option would seem to be the wisest choice. But that may be a big “if”. If the reform ends up sputtering, or at least stops producing large gains (which might justify other deficiencies, such as less community participation in decision making), then the lack of an end-date looks less appealing.


  1. Adopt the reform indefinitely, but require an evaluation that could conclude that a further governance change is necessary (e.g. Washington, D.C.). A modified version of the first option, adopted in the District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007, is to keep mayoral control permanently, but also require a high-stakes accountability report – which could, if sufficiently negative, spur a change in the governance model. The primary question with such an approach is whether the report has any real teeth. If it does, then it could serve the purpose of prompting policy dialogue. If, however, the report fails to spur such conversation, it might serve only as window dressing for continuing the reform.


  1. Adopt the reform temporarily, allowing city voters to vote on its (permanent) adoption (e.g. Boston, Cleveland). A popular option, used in Boston, Cleveland, and Detroit, is to require a citywide referendum on the reform after a temporary trial run. The promise of such a strategy is that it allows for direct public engagement with the reform.[4] It appeals to our desire for democratic participation, while seemingly offering a substantive review of the mayor’s success (or lack thereof). On the surface, the referendum processes in Boston (approved), Cleveland (approved), and Detroit (rejected) suggest that this ideal is met. In Detroit, where performance under the mayor failed to meet expectations, voters voiced their displeasure. By contrast, stronger performances in Boston and Cleveland led voters to support the continuation of the reform. But beneath the surface, the evidence suggests that “rather than establish genuine democratic legitimacy, the referenda in fact mask strong class-based, and in Boston race-based opposition to the reform strategy.”[5] Thus, I have previously argued that “the passage of the referenda may thus ironically locks-out critical voices from much of the future policy debate.”[6]


  1. Include a sunset provision with an end-date for the reform (e.g. New York City). A fourth option legislatures can use is the inclusion of a sunset provision. The New York state legislature adopted this approach in 2002, as they wrote the law to sunset in 2009. By writing the law in this way, local and state authorities, citizens groups, and organized interests were all active during the 2009 re-authorization efforts.[7] The New York City case serves as a reminder that a sunset provision need not mean the end of mayoral control – what it does mean (at least in the period immediately before the sunset) is increased scrutiny, political bargaining, and policy reinvention.


Where does the new Maryland legislation fall on this spectrum? Let’s take a look at the actual language (which appears at the very end of the bill):


(b) On or before December 31, 2017, the County Executive, the Chief Executive Officer, and the Prince George's County Board of Education shall submit a final report on academic progress and improvement in the management of the Prince George's County public school system, and recommendations concerning the continuation, modification, or termination of the governance system established by this Act for the public school system, in accordance with § 2-1246 of the State Government Article, to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, the House Committee on Ways and Means, the Prince George's County Senators, and the Prince George's County Delegation.


(c) During the 2018 regular legislative session, the General Assembly shall deliberate and determine whether the provisions of this Act shall be terminated and of no further force and effect. If the General Assembly does not take any action to terminate this Act, the provisions of this Act shall continue to be in full force and effect.[8]


Read carefully, it seems that Maryland has adopted something in-between options #1 and #2: the governance reform will be permanent unless the 2017 report recommends otherwise and spurs the legislature to action. I have placed in boldface the final line of the bill, which should not be overlooked: unless the legislature acts, the default position is for the new governance structure to remain in place. Note too that there are not further stop-gaps, e.g. no requirement for a 10-year evaluation or county-wide referendum.

            In short, unless a citizen-led effort to produce a referendum is successful, it’s unlikely that – other than voting for (or against) their state legislators and their county executive – the citizens of Prince George’s County will have no direct voice on this governance reform.

            If I had been writing the legislation, I would have been supportive of creative governance innovation, but would have coupled it with two missing protections. First, I would have allowed for a county-wide referendum at five years, allowing citizens an effort to vote on retention of the reform. Not only does this provide a potential brake (if the vehicle of reform has veered off course), it also allows citizens to voice their support for the program (as they did in Boston and Cleveland). Such support can add to the executive’s political capital, and spur further innovations.

            In addition to the referendum, I would have also added a sunset provision for ten years out. A decade of data and experience allows educational professionals and legislative experts an opportunity to carefully assess the added-value of the governance model. At that point, the legislature can consider whether the reform should be made permanent. Sunset provisions can generate policy reexamination and reinvention – both of which may be needed if the reform path in Prince George’s County follows that in other executive-led districts. Whether the goal is to reignite the system with a renewed vision, or to replace it with an alternative governance structure, the sunset provision provides policymakers with an opportunity to build on previous progress.

            Maryland legislators did not choose to adopt either of these two provisions, so what is to be done? I recommend three things. First, legislators might revisit this bill in future legislative sessions and consider amending it to allow for more citizen input. Second, the governance team must strive to be as transparent as possible in explaining and executing its decisions. Third, students, parents, and citizens should be vigilant in making their voices heard and their perspectives considered.

            Already we see such grass-roots opposition emerging in Prince George’s County. In Maryland, the legislation was opposed by members of the current school board, and currently efforts are underway by a group called Citizens for an Elected Board to place a referendum on the ballot in 2014 to return to an elected school board.[9] This is similar to 2009 in New York when debate grew heavy over re-authorizing the law that gives the New York City mayoral school board appointive powers. In New York, while proponents of mayoral control touted improved student outcomes, groups such as the Grassroots Education Movement emphasized the need for transparency and citizen access.

            In response to such criticism, executives posit a model of executive accountability. Discussing the bill, County Executive Baker reflected that, “They're giving me the ability to say to voters that come June 1, I will be accountable for education … If it does not improve, you know exactly where to go.”[10] This is similar to the sentiment expressed over fifteen years ago by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino: “Mayor Daley and I share a very important philosophy. Neither one of us is willing to wash our hands of public education. We refuse to let our schools fall by the wayside and join the chorus of politicians saying the failure of the schools isn't their fault. No, Mayor Daley and I believe that when it comes to educating our kids, the buck stops in the mayor's office.[11]

            The logic of executive-appointed boards is, as these quotes suggest, that accountability in the education sector is tied to electoral consequences: if you don’t like the way the executive is running the schools, then vote her/him out of office to show your displeasure. This logic, of course, is subject to a variety of criticisms, including the point that executives need not necessarily improve school performance, but merely make it appear that the schools are improving.[12] Also, the mayor need only appease a majority of the electorate (which may be distinct from the citywide population because not all residents are registered and likely voters).[13]

We don’t know what will happen in Prince George’s County in terms of future academic achievement and fiscal management, but we do know from the details of the legislation that executive-appointed school governance is here to stay unless legislators act again. Whether, and how, this new state legislative action occurs will depend on district performance and on the level of civic involvement from students, parents, and citizens. Without a formal avenue for changing the governance reform built into the law, grass-roots channels will become all the more important for maintaining accountability over time.


Author bio: Dr. Francis X. Shen is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. Dr. Shen conducts empirical and legal research in education and crime, with a focus on the intersection of law and neuroscience. He received his B.A. from the University of Chicago, his J.D. from Harvard Law School, and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was a doctoral fellow in the Harvard University Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy, supported by the National Science Foundation. Dr. Shen has published a number of articles on education governance, and co-authored The Education Mayor (2007, Georgetown Univ. Press). Additional information on his research can be found online at:


[1] 2013 Maryland House Bill No. 1107, Maryland 433rd Session of the General Assembly, 2013

[2] Kenneth K. Wong, Francis X. Shen, Dorothea Anagnostopoulos, & Stacey Rutledge, The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools (Georgetown Univ. Press 2007).

[3] Kenneth K. Wong & Francis X. Shen, Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement (2013).

[4] Francis X. Shen, Community Support For Mayoral Control Of Urban School Districts: A Critical Reexamination, 44 Education and Urban Society 342 (2012).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Joseph P. Viteritti, When Mayors Take Charge: School Governance in the City (2009, Brookings Institution Press).

[8] Emphasis added.

[11] Quoted in: Mike Brown, Boston: Daley, Menino Say Mayors Key to Better Public Schools, Press Release, The United States Conference of Mayors (1996).

[12] Francis X. Shen, Community Support For Mayoral Control Of Urban School Districts: A Critical Reexamination, 44 Education and Urban Society 342 (2012).

[13] Id.

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Parent Tip: Annie Fox, M.Ed.

The difference between parenting young children and parenting tweens and teens, is The fact tat with older children we should "talk less and listen more." Your middle and high school-age daughters and sons have already heard pretty much everything you have to teach them. Hundreds and hundreds of times. By the time most kids reach preadolescence they start tuning out what their parents are saying. When we close our mouths and listen more to what our children are telling us, we have a golden opportunity to be re-introduced again and again, to the young adults our children are becoming.

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Parental engagement makes a significant difference to the educational outcomes of children and young people; parents have a key role in raising educational standards.  The more involved and engaged parents are in the education of their children the more likely their children are to…


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