Equity in Education: Children Who Are Overlooked for Gifted & Talented Education

As part of our ongoing exploration of equity in education, we are joined by M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Gifted and talented children are found in all demographic groups. However, many qualified children—those who live in poverty, have some disabilities, are from racial and ethnic minority groups, or are learning English—are overlooked for gifted programming.

Fortunately, our nation's educators—teachers and principals—recognize that we must fight for equity in education. The Scholastic Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education shows that 97 percent of teachers and principals agree that equity in education should be a national priority.

A summary report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) published in 2016 shows that there is unequal access to gifted programming for Black and Latino students. The report shows that “Black and Latino students represent 42 percent of student enrollment in schools offering gifted and talented education (GATE) programs, yet only 28 percent of the students enrolled in GATE programs.”

Further, the report offers the following findings:

  • While 11 percent of students are English learners in schools offering GATE programs, fewer than 3 percent of GATE students nationwide are English learners.

  • Similarly, students with disabilities served by IDEA are 12 percent of all students in schools offering GATE programs but represent fewer than 3 percent of GATE students nationwide.

What is challenging for our nation is that many are misinformed about the reasons for this disproportionality. Some may think that the reason children living in poverty, from racial and ethnic minority groups, or English learners are absent from gifted programming is that they are not qualified. This is absolutely not the case.

According to federally-funded research from the National Center for Research on Gifted Education, children who are living in poverty, are from racial and ethnic minority groups, and are English learners are 2.5 times less likely to be identified for gifted programs, despite achieving at the same exact levels as their peers in gifted programs. This statistic is unacceptable, and we must all work together to eliminate this barrier to access to services needed by these children. Our nation can and must do better!

It is clear that educators are staunch supporters of equity and advocates for children from diverse backgrounds. They are committed to finding ways to remove barriers that exist outside of school and work for solutions within the school's walls. Like great leaders, they start by calling for support to improve their practice. The Teacher & Principal School Report shows that teachers (97%) and principals (100%) agree that they want ‘effective, ongoing, relevant professional development’ to help them improve their ability to address the needs of diverse learners. 

All of us should rally around teachers’ call for support as they work to improve equity in excellence for our nation’s diverse students with gifts and talents. Let’s respond with effective professional development that addresses gifted identification and learning needs.

Without adequate professional development, too many children with amazing potential are being left behind. The Gifted Knows No Boundaries campaign shines a light on the unique needs of gifted and talented children, and highlights the importance of investing in training for our nation’s teachers so that these children have access to the services and support they deserve and need to thrive.


Beyond the Newsletter: Effective Family-School Communication

Effective family-school partnerships begin with strong relationships. When families trust the school, they are more likely to support their child’s learning both at home and at school. The first step is welcoming families as partners. If welcoming families starts schools on the pathway to effective family-school partnerships, what is the next step? Before your school examines what information you share, you should first think about how you communicate with families.

“What is the best method for someone to contact you so that you will likely respond?” I always ask this question when I travel around the country talking about family engagement. The answer is always the same—no single method works for everyone. Some people prefer an email or a text, others say a phone call or a tweet, while others say that an in-person conversation works best for them. I have never, however, heard anyone say a 6-page newsletter is the most effective method.

As you consider how your school communicates with families, start by identifying the methods you currently employ. Do you primarily use a single type of communication—newsletter, email, robo call—or do you ask families what works best for them and then use their preferred method? You will be most successful if you employ multiple methods of communication to reach all of your families. Make sure you keep in mind that you will likely need to adjust your communication methods to accommodate the changing needs of families. Don’t get stuck in a communications rut!

As you expand the number of ways you communicate with families, keep in mind your methods of communication must be “two way.” Two-way communication is more than your school sharing information with families; it involves feedback from the families back to you.

I recently visited a school where I asked the front office staff if their school had a suggestion box. My intention was to understand if families had the opportunity to share their ideas safely. The secretary told me there was no suggestion box but there was a complaint form families could complete if they had something to say. In another recent training, a family resource coordinator told the group his school had to remove their suggestion box because families made unreasonable requests. To have a true partnership with families, educators must help families believe their opinions and ideas are valued. Some effective strategies for engaging families in two-way communication include a suggestion box (real and virtual), teacher/family journals, and all types of social media. If families don’t believe they can freely and safely share their thoughts, they won’t ever feel truly welcomed as partners in learning.

After considering the use of multiple methods to foster two-way communication, you must ensure you reach every family. The more methods of communication you employ, the more likely you will connect with all families. It’s not enough to send information out without ever checking to see if your information is received and understood. Throughout the year, periodically contact a random sample of families to see if your message was successfully received and understood by everyone. Don’t just ask families who show up to events at your school, make sure you reach out to families you don’t see or hear from. Make sure to check to see if your message reaches and makes sense to everyone. If you discover families who haven’t received or understood the information or, if you find that families don’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas with you, ask them how you can improve. One strategy successful strategy I recently saw in a middle school is to have families review and provide feedback on communication materials before the school sent them out to all stakeholders. 

A deep knowledge of the communities represented in your school or district will be at the heart of an effective communication strategy. This knowledge will inform the methods of communication, how you spread your message, and even the types of information you provide or ask for from families. Of course, acquiring this deep knowledge may require a bit of flexibility, agility, and even on-the-ground research as you discover how your families are most comfortable interacting with their children's school. 

Partnerships can be made or broken through communication—create strong partnerships by using multiple methods that are two-way and reach every family in your school.

Four Fruitful Strategies to Teach Evidence-Based Writing

One of the best ways to help students attain proficiency with evidence-based reading assignments is to develop young writers who flourish when asked to compose evidence-based writing. In no uncertain terms, one hand (reading) washes the other (writing), and vice versa. As the research shows, “high-quality writing instruction can improve students' reading comprehension, reading fluency, and word-solving skills.” (Graham & Hebert, 2011)

Yet, how do we provide “high-quality writing instruction?” This is our grand challenge. We have academic objectives that demand rigorous, thoughtful compositions, and we also have students who sometimes believe meaningful expression is best conveyed through the selection of a good emoji. 

As the author of 20 books—most recently Mastering Short-Response Writing: Claim It! Cite It! Cement It!—as a California Teacher of the Year award winner, and as the father of two young student writers, it is my mission to help. Here are four fruitful strategies I’ve gleaned from working on the front lines with developing student writers.

Forget the Shoulds

Of course, this is tremendously challenging, but we must first forget the “shoulds.” They should know how to capitalize a proper noun or They should know how to use an apostrophe or They should know how to develop a richly expressed narrative that demonstrates an ability to structure event sequences in a logical and cohesive order. These beliefs about what ought to be are hampering our goals. 

As much as we may have certain notions about what our students should be able to do, the best way to improve performance is that we, as teachers, meet them where they are and build their abilities upwards from there. There is no should; there is only what is. (Pretty zen, huh?) The sooner the "should" sentiment is kicked to the curb, the sooner we will be able to set to the task of building competent, confident, capable writers.

Stop Over-Assigning

No one asks a neophyte automobile driver to race laps around the Indy 500 track in a Formula One when they don’t have the skills to drive a Honda safely through a parking lot. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to ask neophyte writers to pen multi-paragraph, nuanced, and complex essays before they can compose a sure-footed paragraph. It short-circuits our primary goal—to improve our students’ writing skills. 

The good news is that a solution exists: slow it down! Put quite simply, multi-paragraph essays are composed one paragraph at a time. Paragraphs are composed one sentence at a time. A student who struggles to compose single sentences is not prepared to craft long, extended essays.

You may want to jump ahead. You may feel compelled to zoom to lengthier writing assignments, but before a student masters extended response they must first master short response.

Go One-Smart-Step at a Time

Right now, we very often assign one long writing task that asks students to demonstrate mastery over eight different standards-based skills at the same time, as opposed to assigning eight different writing assignments that ask students to demonstrate mastery over one unique standards-based skill one step at a time. 

For a neophyte writer with developing skills, it’s hard to absorb commentary when there is even one “issue” with your work. But where there are eight issues, it’s almost impossible to absorb any feedback whatsoever. Be focused about your teaching objective and work to build confidence in developing young writers by building skills one-smart-step-at-a-time.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Avoid clichés like the plague. However you want to frame it, making this shift allows writing teachers to work smarter, not harder, and better sets the stage for driving measurable growth once kids have the tools to put it all together. 

Provide Consistent, Deliberate Practice  

Great writing performance is a by-product of great writing practice. And not just practice, mind you, but deliberate practice. What’s the difference?

Practice is grabbing a basketball and shooting jump-shots for 45 minutes. Deliberate practice is shooting a five-foot bank shot off the glass 50 times in a row, with a coach making adjustments along the way.

Practice is nebulous; deliberate practice is precise. More significantly, deliberate practice spread out across a consistent schedule reaps big gains.

It’s important to be aware that teachers who achieve exceptional success in writing instruction recognize the importance of frequent and sustained writing (Graham & Perin, 2007). In other words, it's preferable to hold five short writing blocks per week rather than two long writing blocks per week.

Have your students write every day and seek small gains. Incremental growth is sustainable growth.

In a nutshell, if you take a measured approach, manage your expectations, and provide conscientious, methodical instruction—all while remaining faithful to the process—you will soon see your social-media-loving students evolve into competent, academic writers who can make a claim, cite textual evidence to support their assertions, and then cement their reasoning by logically tying their proofs to their contentions.

Remember, neither Rome, nor Instagram, was built in a day.


Graham, S. & Hebert, M. (2010). “Writing to read: A meta-analysis of the impact of writing and writing instruction on reading.” Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 81. No. 4 Winter.

Riveting Read-Alouds (How and Why to Read Aloud with Older Students)

I had a rich reading life as a child, due in large part to those around me who read to me constantly. When my mother was looking for someone to take care of me while she worked, she said the only thing she was looking for was someone who would read to me as that was the only time I wasn’t getting into trouble. Fortunately, she found that in Helen Taylor. Helen abandoned housework, cooking and all other responsibilities so that she could read to me.

When I started teaching, I was not prepared for students who refused to read, write, or take part in anything academic. I struggled to find anything that would capture my students’ attention. Then I remembered my mother’s goal: to find someone who would read to me. It was in those early days of teaching that I learned the significance of reading aloud to my students. 

Today, there is good news about reading aloud. The Kids & Family Reading Report reveals that at home, reading aloud is happening earlier and more often: in 2016, 62% of parents with kids ages 3–5 read aloud to their children 5–7 days a week, up from 55% in 2014. But we also know that the frequency with which parents read aloud drops after age 5, and again after age 8. The decrease is even more noteworthy when children become adolescents.  Yet reading aloud can make a significant impact on the literacy achievement of all children, even those who are already independent readers. 

Read Aloud: Prime Time Instruction

I use the phrase “Read Aloud: Prime Time Instruction” because reading aloud can set the stage for instruction. A text that is read for engagement can be reread to help students focus on content details, writer’s craft, or strategies for comprehension.

Television shows vie for the best time slots during prime time; reading aloud is prime time in the classroom because you have used the time to get students engaged. While many factors influence whether teachers choose to read aloud with adolescents, the benefits of establishing reading aloud as an important part of your literacy instruction are well-known. Let’s talk about just a few of the benefits my students and I discovered as we make a case for reading aloud.

  • Enjoyment: When reading a well-chosen text as a read aloud, you provide readers with a risk-free opportunity to experience the "charm, magic, impact and appeal" (Mooney, 1988) of language and story. It helps them see that text has meaning, especially because their comprehension can often be greater during read-aloud time than when they try to decode text on their own. This results in students being motivated to read more. 

  • Community: Reading a shared text binds the students together and serves as a “touchstone” (Calkins) for other texts or discussions.

  • Increased Vocabulary: Research has documented that students typically have a listening vocabulary that is 1-3 years greater than their reading vocabulary. Incorporating reading aloud as part of your class routines exposes student to words they might not otherwise encounter.

  • Expand Students’ Worlds: Once students have had the pleasure of hearing the read-aloud, there is a great opportunity to use that reading again to invite students to think, connect deeply to texts, respond appropriately, and establish their places in a global community.

  • Cross-Disciplinary: Choosing texts for reading aloud can serve as a way to make transitions or scaffold the study occurring in other classrooms.

  • Generative: An excerpt from a book you read aloud can easily have several students clamoring to read everything in that book and everything else that author has written.

  • Instruction: A text can be read aloud for enjoyment one day and then revisited on another day as a common base for strategy instruction.

Getting Started

Being prepared for reading aloud is as critical as the preparation you would do for any other teaching times of your day. However comfortable we may (or may not) be with reading aloud, we all need to practice the reading prior to reading aloud to the class. If you don’t usually read aloud to your students, you may be wondering how to get started. Many might think, “How hard can this be?” However, reading aloud isn’t always easy and it certainly does not come naturally for some who have not used read-alouds with older students.

During professional learning I do with teachers, coaches and administrators, I almost always have one or more people tell me they are intimidated by the thought of reading aloud to adolescents. In response, I always share with them that it is a rare teacher who hasn’t had one (or several) read-aloud stories where nothing seemed to work. I then share the five teacher moves that were important in my classroom: 

  1. Choose readings that match the needs and interests of your students. If the text is very complex and students don’t have a copy, many students will lose focus. At the beginning of the year, weight read-aloud choices with engaging texts.

  2. Choose from a wide variety of literature and informational texts. I prefer shorter texts for a daily read-aloud that starts class. If I read aloud a longer text, such as a novel or literary nonfiction, I always provide students with a copy. Remember, you don’t have to read the entire text you choose. Reading a few paragraphs from Speak (Anderson) can serve as a jumping-off point for writing and a few paragraphs from The Sixth Grade Nickname Game (Korman) can do the same in anticipation of standardized testing.

  3. Establish your expectations for the read aloud. For example, can students draw while you are reading? If it is a shared reading, do you want them following along in the text? Are they allowed to interrupt for information or clarification, or do you want to read all of the text and then talk about it?

  4. Practice reading so when reading aloud you will be familiar with the text and can offer a fluent reading. I’m always a bit amazed when teachers tell me they were reading a novel and they were shocked that there was profanity or something offensive in the book. Even with pre-reading, I have still been shocked with the content—not because I hadn’t read it, but because I didn’t notice it! Previewing the text and practicing by reading aloud help you plan for an effective reading experience. 

  5. Have fun! While reading aloud has many valuable instructional purposes, the most enduring lesson you are teaching your students is that reading is enjoyable and it can change our lives. If you are reading The Lottery Rose (Hunt), you will probably cry. Trust me—your students will remember the impact of the text on you long after they have forgotten some of our well-crafted lessons.

Riveting Read-Alouds for Middle School

In our new book Riveting Read-Alouds for Middle School, Patrick Daley and I compiled 35 engaging read-aloud selections for older students: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, humor writing and more. Some of these selections will be more accessible than others, and some will be more engaging than others. We hoped that all of the selections could help students access more complicated concepts or vocabulary than they might have encountered before. A summary, background knowledge, and reading tip is provided for you as you plan for your read aloud.

Each of the 35 selections could be read simply for information and enjoyment, but we also added a teaching page for each text. Should you want to expand the read-aloud instructionally, we offered some ideas for each selection: language and vocabulary and thinking, talking and writing about text. A well-chosen text offers valuable instructional opportunities. When extending the read-aloud, you can deepen comprehension by providing background knowledge; asking students to think about and discuss the texts; providing students with further reading on related topics; and, demonstrating how they might use the shared text as a mentor text for their writing.

Choosing What Matters

In this brief look at reading aloud, I have offered many positive reasons for taking 5–10 minutes to read something significant to your students. There is ample research demonstrating the importance of reading aloud to your students. Even as an adult, many of us live for the moments when a workshop presenter reads something that makes us laugh—or, makes us cry. So, you already know how important it is.

One of my students said, “I read all these books and then the words just come out of my mouth. I don’t even know where they come from.”

One of the many touching moments in my teaching career happened on the last day of the school year. I was reading aloud The War on Villa Street (Mazer) and misjudged how long it would take. The bell rang to signal summer break, and we still had two more chapters to read. We just sat there for a moment, and then one of the guys said, “You stay right there.” They all left and ran across the street to the small store. Soon they were all back with their lunches. They settled in and one of the boys said, “You have to finish the book before we will leave.”

You will know when your reading aloud is making an impact. Enjoy the experience. Kids are resilient and forgiving. They want you to succeed. After all, almost everyone loves a great read-aloud.

Putting Out the Welcome Mat for Family-School Partnerships

There is a strong connection between welcoming families to school and engaging families in an effective partnership. When families feel welcome, they are more likely to participate in school activities, support learning at home, share their thoughts and ideas, and advocate on behalf of their child, school, and community.

What does it look like when we welcome families to the school?

Help families know where to go

A welcoming school is one where there is visible signage to a parking area that has adequate visitor/family parking spaces. Families will feel more comfortable if there is ample and clearly marked parking that visitors can find easily. Designating parking for visitors in the same way that it is designated for school leadership and staff sends the message that families and visitors are honored and welcomed to the campus as important members of the school community. 

To orient families within the school, install signs that clearly mark the way to the front office. While the entrance to the office may seem obvious, it may not be apparent to a new family coming to your school for the first time. Another positive way to convey a welcoming atmosphere is to display a prominent sign welcoming families and visitors to the school community. Also consider whether the welcoming message or the security message is more powerful upon entering the building (the balance should skew toward welcoming!). 

Think in terms of customer service

An integral component of creating a climate that welcomes all families and visitors is customer service, including telephone and email, particularly from office staff. Frontline staff should have the opportunity to participate in yearly professional training to develop and enhance these skills. School leadership has the responsibility to communicate “customer service expectations” and ensure staff has the knowledge and resources to provide quality service at all times.

Define what family engagement means in your school or district

Another way to create a welcoming school culture is to define family engagement, so there is a consistent understanding among all staff—from educators to security and maintenance—of what it means to be “engaged.” Administration, staff and parents should work together to develop a school-wide definition of family engagement. Once developed, share and promote the definition of family engagement to staff and families at every opportunity much like a mission statement, (i.e., school-to-home communications, newsletters, staff meetings, website, etc.) 

Build trust

Building trust is essential to establishing strong teacher-family partnerships and creating a welcoming and inviting culture. Here are five simple tips for cultivating a trusting relationship with families:

  • Try to meet families before the school year begins. Make a phone call, send a note or email or conduct a relationship-building home visit 

  • Establish an open-door visitor policy. Let families know you welcome visits to classrooms and the school

  • Find opportunities to share positive news with families

  • Treat families as individuals. Remember, there is not a one-size fit all strategy to engage families.

  • Meet families where they are and honor them for their contributions (big or small!)

Creating a welcoming school culture is the foundation for building a strong home-school partnership. The time you take to make your school welcoming and inviting will pay dividends in the form of positive relationships with families. How you put out the welcome mat to a family school partnership makes all the difference.

The Media: Separating Fact from Fiction

An informed citizenry is vital to democracy. Yet the challenge of wading through information—and misinformation—has never been greater. How can educators help young people make sense of the news they get from an ever-evolving media landscape? 

I talked to Jim Warren, chief media writer for poynter.org and national political correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, to get a veteran journalist’s perspective. He notes that the critical-thinking skills kids develop in school can help them become thoughtful, curious, and media-literate individuals.

Warren says that the first step for students is to verify things they hear or read. One of journalism’s most popular maxims, Warren adds, still holds up: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” 

Warren advises students “to look for evidence when someone makes a claim, especially in a social media age.” Even his own young children, he reports, are coming home with inaccurate information about current events that they get from their friends. 

“The reason we have journalism,” Warren says, “is because it’s very difficult many times, and always has been, to figure out: What are rumors? What are facts? What are deceptions? And what are things that are just plain mistakes?”

"Fake News"

The 2016 presidential campaign popularized a term that has been relevant for as long as people have told stories: “fake news.” 

In 2016, sites in search of clicks and advertising revenue, as well as individuals seeking to sway political views, published articles with such claims as: “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS,” and “Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Wanna Leave America.”

A study released in January by NYU economics professor Hunt Allcott and Stanford economics professor Matthew Gentzkow found that such stories did not influence the outcome of the election. Nonetheless, one legacy of “fake news” is that honest mistakes are now sometimes branded as intentionally inaccurate, which can be confusing, especially for younger students.

Here are tips to help foster media literacy:

1. Talk about current events

Ask students which stories they have read or heard about, then have them verify the information with at least two reputable sources. This Junior Scholastic article about spotting fake news encourages students to examine the sources used in articles to determine potential biases.  

2. Think critically

“Retain a sense of skepticism, not cynicism,” Warren says. “Even if a story is in The New York Times or The Washington Post, or on the CBS Evening News or any news outlet that you respect, don’t necessarily accept what you read and what you hear as gospel.”

3. Define your terms

Keep in mind that “the media” is a broad term that encompasses hundreds of different news sources with an array of viewpoints. 

4. Consider the source

Don’t use Wikipedia as “the final neutral judge on different subject areas,” Warren advises. “As great a source of information as it can be, it’s a big mistake for kids to go to Wikipedia and think that everything on a particular topic—whether it’s immigration or Franklin Roosevelt—is the sum and substance of your research."

Some blogs offer compelling insights and often are accessible to young people. Warren cites Monkey Cage, which was started by a political scientist and is now hosted by The Washington Post, as a go-to source. 

5. Fact check 

PolitiFact.com and Factcheck.org are great for verifying claims made by politicians.

6. Use primary sources

Read official documents, letters, and transcripts, when available. Warren says that universities, libraries, and research institutes are great places for students to track down primary sources.

Encourage students to read the Constitution. The National Archives offers comprehensive lesson plans that will help them better understand the document.



Top 5 Tips for Hosting Read Alouds on World Read Aloud Day

Pam Allyn, Executive Director of LitWorld, joins edu@scholastic to talk about World Read Aloud Day, a day that rallies individuals and organizations to call attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories with children of all ages—even those who can read on their own.

Read aloud time can be a highlight of any child’s day. Let’s make sure all children benefit from the joy of the read aloud by bringing it into our classrooms as much as possible. The latest Kids & Family Reading Report shows that reading aloud at home is on the rise; the frequency of reading aloud to young children 5–7 days a week has increased since 2014 among parents with kids ages 3–5 (55% to 62%) yet there are still significant drops in frequency after ages 5 and 8. And so it is still just as important that our classrooms remain havens for positive literacy experiences.

Join us as we celebrate the power of reading aloud on World Read Aloud Day this February 16, 2017. Follow these five tips to make the most of your read aloud at school! 

Start with the setting

Having a designated space for your read aloud makes it that much more special for your students. Create a fun, colorful and comfortable area, and don’t forget to make sure the book is visible to the entire group.

Be your silliest self

The joy of the read aloud multiplies with every funny facial expression and voice the reader makes. Get your students smiling in seconds with a great book and your own spin on each character!

Rock your reading routine

Making sure the read aloud is a regular activity—whether that is daily, twice a week or weekly—gives kids the perfect amount of structure to thrive as readers. Consistent attention to the read aloud gives kids something extra fun to look forward to (see the tip above!).

Host a virtual read aloud

Guest readers are a great way to mix up read aloud time, but it can be difficult to schedule in-person visits to your classroom. The virtual read aloud is the perfect way to take advantage of digital media and have your students experience new reading styles.

Let kids choose

Both at home and at school, choice has proven to be beneficial to kids’ reading lives. In fact, we know from the Kids & Family Reading Report that 89% of kids ages 6–17 agree that their favorite books are the ones they've picked out themselves. With your students, don’t be afraid to read and re-read classroom favorites!

As educators, we can reflect the diverse and beautiful lives and spirits of the kids in our classrooms through the shared community and shared experience of reading together. Use these tips this World Read Aloud Day and beyond to make the read aloud a key part of your students’ lives. More tips and resources are available at litworld.org/wrad



Good Intentions without Intentionality

Dr. Houston Barber is Superintendent of Frankfort Independent Schools in Frankfort, Kentucky. This is the first in a series of posts from Dr. Barber on how Frankfort is working to provide every student the resources and support they need to succeed in school.

Frankfort is nestled in between the two largest cities of Lexington and Louisville, but still hails as the capital city of Kentucky. It’s one of the smallest capital cities in the United States and yet demonstrates an impeccable hospitality for anyone who decides to make it home or even pass through the southern charm of a city. I grew up in in the heart of South Frankfort, where the capitol building resides.

A district without a plan

I was fortunate to attend Frankfort High School, a school with a rich tradition and focus on the individual child.  When I graduated from Frankfort High School, I had no intention of returning back except for the occasional visit with family and friends. After watching from the sidelines and working in turnaround schools throughout my career, I noticed the growing challenges that continued to impact Frankfort, and, in particular, the city schools.

For one, the city population growth has been stymied for over 30 years.  Second, most employees in state government no longer live in Frankfort. Seventy-five percent of the property in Frankfort is tax exempt, which creates a fiscal disadvantage for students in Frankfort Independent Schools. There is also a 70% free and reduced-price lunch population in the city schools. Finally, there are large learning deficits in reading, math, and writing, which perpetuate a learning gap among our diverse populations. 

It was based on the aforementioned challenges that my family and I chose to come to Frankfort in August 2015 and impact the community and change the overall growth and development in terms of the economy and educational opportunities.  

Upon arrival, I noticed that there were passionate teachers, community members, parents, and stakeholders. However, most of their passions focused on good intentions without focused intentionality. In other words, there was no strategic plan with a specific approach, deployment plan, review of data and trends, learning, and integrated supports.  

A new approach

In order to develop the FIS strategic plan, we held community forums, conducted audits (cultural, academic, fiscal, etc.), and polled local and state officials about our progress. We used this data to determine our next steps and identify our focus areas. We came to a strong conclusion that our school system needed to take on a 3:1 approach for each and every child. A 3:1 approach is focused on social/emotional supports, academic behavioral supports, and access to opportunities (with mentoring) supports.  

Within a year, we established a partnership with the Kentucky Counseling Center in order to provide counseling sessions for all of our students, families, and staff at any time. We launched Student Response Teams at Second Street School—based on the work of our fearless principal, Dr. Dewey Hensley—to provide immediate and individualized support for students.

Through our work with Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), we implemented the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), Math Design Collaborative (MDC), and a hyper-focus on literacy supports for our students from Pre-K through 3rd grade. It was through collaboration with Michael Haggen and Scholastic that we have partnered to create immediate supports in our classrooms and outside in the community for all of our children. This work continues to grow and will be a factor in our progress as a school district.

Strong partnerships

In terms of mentoring, we partnered with the Kenan Charitable Trust to develop a partnership with Kentucky State University in Frankfort focused on 6th–12th grade African-American males with an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). This has been extraordinarily fruitful in that we have created STEM+ labs for our students and provided 3:1 supports from all angles. 

In an effort to connect to Kentucky State University, we created a dual position known as the Chief Innovation Officer with KSU and hired one of the great design thinkers in the US, Dr. Ron Chi. He has connected the Frankfort Independent Schools with KSU and created Early College opportunities, a pipeline for teacher educators, cultural responsive pedagogy supports, and established one of the first alternative schools on a college campus in the country.   

Through our mentoring opportunities, we have partnered with our local pastors, community businesses, Daniel Puder (My Life My Power), and Mario Urrutia (Super Student Athletes) to provide students with exposure and experiences unlike they have seen before. 

Through the innovation of Mr. John Lyons, Frankfort High School is one of the first public schools in the country to have a full implementation of Summit Public School approach for personalized learning. In just one year, Mr. Lyons moved FHS from one of the bottom schools in the state of KY in terms of performance to top 50. We value each and every child and focus on personalized learning with mentoring supports at FHS.  

A sense of urgency

In the end, without a sense of urgency to support our students in literacy, we will fail. It is with focused strategic plans (intentionality) rather than good intentions that will move our school district to a model for all. There is a call to action to our community and surrounding communities to provide access to books and resources so that the gap will no longer divide our schools and create despair in our efforts to develop productive citizens. It’s time to join our strategic efforts!  

Kids & Family Reading Report: The Latest Research

It has been 10 years since we first released the Kids & Family Reading Report, Scholastic’s biannual study of children’s and parents’ attitudes and behaviors around reading. In the decade since, much has changed in the research on reading aloud starting at birth, discussions around access to books and diversity in children’s books, and efforts to promote summer reading. Yet despite knowing that all families want their children to succeed, not all realize that books and reading both improve children’s academic skills and critical thinking abilities, as well as help children develop empathy and compassion.

To continue to drive conversations about kids’ reading and the power of books, we are pleased to share with you the findings from the Kids & Family Reading Report: 6th Edition. This research provides both reasons to celebrate as well as a strong motivation to continue working to ensure that all children are able to read the books they love every day.

Among the most positive findings we see the impact of the recent movement to encourage families to begin reading aloud to their children at birth and to keep going as their children get older. Previously, we found 30% of parents with children ages 0–5 reported reading to their child before three months old. Today, 40% of parents do. The percentage of families reading aloud to young children 5–7 days a week has also increased among families with kids ages 3–5 (55% to 62%), yet we still find many parents read less often to children older than 5, with another steep drop-off occurring at age 8.

While starting to read aloud early matters, we know that having books at home also makes a difference in kids’ reading lives. The report verifies that the homes of frequent readers have far more children’s books than the homes of infrequent readers, and a similar disparity exists in low-income homes and the homes of African-American and Hispanic families. This is a strong call to action to ensure we are all working hard to get books into the hands of every child.

We also wanted to better understand what diversity in children’s books means to parents, as well as what types of characters kids and parents look for in kids’ books. Parents shared with us that when they consider the meaning of diversity in books for children and teens, they believe these books include “people and experiences different than those of my child” (73%), “various cultures, customs or religions” (68%), “differently-abled people” (51%), “people of color” (47%), and “LGBTQ people” (21%). We also found about one in 10 kids look for characters who are differently-abled (13%), are culturally or ethnically diverse (11%), and who break stereotypes (11%). Hispanic and African-American families express more interest in diverse books than non-Hispanic and non-African-American families.

Many of us working in schools and education are aware of the academic skills lost over the summer when children are out of school, but in this edition of the Kids & Family Reading Report we found that only 48% of parents have heard of the summer slide, a percentage that decreases to 38% among lower-income families. Even as kids tell us that, contrary to popular belief, they enjoy summer reading and believe it is important, they need more support and access to books. On average, one in five 12–17 year-olds and one in five kids in lower-income families do not read any books at all over the summer.

While the report reveals that many kids continue to have trouble finding books they like, parents underestimate this challenge. Only 29% of parents agree “my child has trouble finding books he/she likes,” whereas 41% of kids agree—57% among infrequent readers vs. 26% of frequent readers. Fortunately, the data in the report can offer guidance on where kids and families get great ideas about books to read for fun.

Literacy empowers children to explore, communicate, debate and think critically. The ability to read widely with curiosity and joy prepares children to become adults who are fully engaged with their world. The Kids & Family Reading Report helps us understand how we as adults can support children as they first learn to read, and then love to read. We hope you will find this information valuable. We invite you to join us in our mission to “Open a World of Possible” for every child by sharing the data widely. Let us all be advocates for ensuring that children everywhere have access to the quality books that build a lifetime love of reading and learning.

Richard Robinson

CEO, Scholastic Inc.

To read and download the complete report, including infographics, please visit scholastic.com/readingreport.


Three Reasons School Librarians Should Use Twitter

Todd Burleson of Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka, IL, was named School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year in August 2016. Be sure to also check out blog posts from Finalists Anita Cellucci and Laura Gardner.

As a veteran teacher librarian, I consider myself tech savvy.  And yet it might surprise you to know that I only recently started using Twitter.  I'd like to share with you three reasons why I think all librarians should start using Twitter.

If you are completely new to Twitter, I would recommend going to Twitter’s “getting started” page to check out some terrific videos and tutorials to help. (If you already have a Twitter account, keep reading.)

Expand your professional network

At first, I wasn't sure how Twitter could help me. It seemed like one more thing to distract me from my work, and I don't need many more of those. Besides, what in the world could anyone communicate in 140 characters or less?

I started out by following several librarians whom I admired. I “lurked.” (Lurking, or reading others’ content without posting your own, is perfectly acceptable on Twitter!) I read hundreds of posts both from users I followed and those they followed. My world was already expanding.

That is, in fact, the first reason to use Twitter. You may never meet many of those you follow due to geographic distance, but that does not stop you from learning, sharing and growing alongside them.

Being a librarian can be lonely sometimes. We are often the typically the only librarian in our buildings. However, with Twitter, we are no longer limited to the colleagues in our building, district, state or country. The world is full of people who are working to be the best librarians they can be.

Here are just a few accounts that I would highly recommend librarians follow: @gravescolleen, @DianaLRendina @lieberrian, @plemmonsa, @LibrarianMsG, and @anitacellucci. Follow these folks and you are sure to be exposed to many new thoughts and ideas. Plus, by following them, you have the added benefit of their networks. Go ahead: read and learn.

Take charge of your own professional development

There never seems to be enough time to keep up with the trends in school libraries. Twitter allows users to easily "tag" their tweets, which helps others search for specific topics.

Before I was on Twitter, I laughed at this terrific skit about hashtags from Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. I really had no idea how hashtags worked. Now, if I am interested in learning about a specific topic, I just search for the hashtag. For example, if I'm curious about how teachers are using green screens, I type in #greenscreen in the search box. This will pull up dozens of tweets that will me get started in learning about a topic. I can find hundreds of articles, videos, links and more. I could easily fill an afternoon of professional development research and exploration of these resources. Be careful, it is very easy to fall into a "rabbit hole" and lose hours of time.

Twitter chats

What is a Twitter chat? It's essentially a gathering of like-minded individuals chatting online about given topics (this video helps explain). All you really need in order to participate is the hashtag for the chat. Search that hashtag on Twitter and you will see all the tweets on that given topic. Twitter chats are run by a moderator who asks questions and guides the conversation. The wonderful part about Twitter chats is that you don't have to be there in real time. If you want to read all the tweets from a chat that has already happened, just search the hashtag. Here is a list of some of the best Twitter chats and when they happen.

When you first begin, you may feel overwhelmed. There are too many hashtags and Twitter chats to follow. Organizing it all can be daunting. Apart from practice, a useful aid for organizing all this new information is Tweetdeck. This video can help you learn how to manage your Twitter feed.

Twitter has encouraged, inspired and enlightened me. I hope that you will find it to be equally rewarding.

Follow Todd on Twitter @todd_burleson


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