Posted by: ACFE Inc | November 7, 2011

Have a Say: School Board Election Day

In August, I took some time to stress the importance of doing our part to make a difference.  All school districts are having their 2011 School Board Elections tomorrow.  As you know, ACFE has had the opportunity to work across a number of states and attend many different school board meetings. From what we have gleaned from these experiences, we cannot stress enough the importance of participating in your district’s meetings.  Election Day (tomorrow, 11/8/11) is an important opportunity for you to exercise your right to vote and have a voice in how the schools in your township and district are run.

According to, the function of a school board is to “establish a vision for the community’s schools that reflects a consensus of the board, community, and district staff.”  Folded into this responsibility are layers and layers of decision making that ultimately results in what your school prioritizes, how it functions, and what it stands for.  School boards are responsible for setting the standards and expectations for the schools in your district; they provide general supervision, including the rules and regulations that are enforced across the district; they evaluate current school regulations and operations to find strong and weak areas as a basis for future decisions; and they are the ones who set the policies that the district’s administrators are expected to enforce and carry out.  Last but never least, school boards are also responsible for the district budget; for approving an annual educational plan and budget, in short: how your tax dollars are spent.

Your school board should be made up of ambassadors of the community who you trust to serve as a reliable link between the community and the school system.  They are the ones who will be the voice of the community to the school administration and in turn represent the school to the public.  The fact that education is a deeply political issue cannot be ignored and a member of the school board should be actively aware of the movement in government on the topic of education. also provides a concise but informative resource for understanding the role of the school board as questions to ask yourself as you evaluate your own school board and vote.  As a part of Radnor Township, ACFE is proud to support the Democratic choices in this school board election.  To learn more about these choices, you can visit their website: .  In a letter to the public, these candidates write “This is an election about qualifications and effective leadership.  This elections is critical because it is our schools that have the most to lose, not a party or an individual” and I could not agree more.

So, I encourage you to find out more about your school district and school board meetings.  Whether you are happy or displeased with the way your school is functioning, you have a voice that should be heard and the school board should listen.


Posted by: ACFE Inc | November 3, 2011

Academy in Manayunk: AIM for the Stars!

Academy in Manayunk, “Where the journey becomes a destination!”

Being an advocate, one of my jobs is to be familiar with schools, both public and private, in the area and as a result, I have seen many different programs. The Academy in Manayunk is an outstanding example of one that I have visited recently.   AIM is a school for students with learning disabilities that is known for its competitive academics as well as the incorporation of visual and performing arts into the curriculum to meet the needs of their students.  The school is based on an academic program created by Sally Smith of the Lab School of Washington®, which is hailed as a pioneer of innovative and successful programs for educating students with learning disabilities and ADHD.

The Academy in Manayunk also provides professional development for educators in the Delaware Valley.  Currently, AIM is offering training and certification for the Wilson Reading System, LETRS – Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling training, Early Literacy Teacher Training, and the RAVE-O Program (Retrieval, Automaticity, Vocabulary, Elaboration Orthography: a Comprehensive, Fluency-Based Reading Intervention Program) by Stephanie Gottwald, a research coordinator at the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University.

The Rave-O workshops are scheduled for 2012 and will take place in the new Academy in Manayunk location in Conshohocken.  Students of Academy in Manayunk will be attending school in their new building on January 3, 2012.

The 4th Annual AIM for the Stars Gala Fundraiser will be taking place tonight, and I am very excited to be able to attend this education-star studded event.  Dr. Jill Biden, second lady of the United States will be speaking at the event.  Tonight’s events will be raising funds for AIM to help promote literacy, as well as honoring Tracy Johnson, Pulitzer Prize winning poet as well as author of My Dyslexia and Tracy Johnson.

If you are not able to attend the event tonight but wish to donate to the fundraiser and help support Academy in Manayunk, they make it possible with the 2011: Fund the Dream Wish List.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | October 20, 2011

Gene Barretta at Children’s Book World Monday!

One of the things I think every parent or educator knows is that in order to get your children excited about reading, you should start with books they want to read. One of our favorite authors at ACFE, Gene Barretta, provides us with plenty of books that fit this bill: not only are the illustrations lovely and engaging, but he manages to provide vocabulary instruction or history lessons in an approachable manner without losing any of the fun that makes a book one that a kid would actually want to read. Gene is an award-winning author and illustrator; his illustrations and animation have appeared on Sesame Street and Between the Lions, and he has also designed characters for The Jim Henson Company! In fact, you may have already encountered Dear Deer: A Book of Homophones, which was included on the 2007 Mom-Tested Books of the Year in Parenting Magazine and named Top 20 Books of 2010 by, among other awards. Or maybe your son or daughter brought home Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, which won the 2007 Carolyn W. Field Award for “Best Book by a PA Author/Illustrator” and was featured on Martha Stewart’s Sirius radio program, or Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci, featured on the 2010 Teacher’s Choice Booklist by the International Reader’s Association.

Gene’s latest book returns to the lines of Dear Deer. Zoola Palooza: A Book of Homographs was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for June, and now you have a chance to not only buy the book but get it autographed too. Gene will be appearing at Children’s Book World in Haverford on Monday, October 24, at 6:30pm for their Picture Book Night. He will sharing about some of his school visits as well as talking about his books, including Zoola Palooza. It should be a fun night so get your kids to do their homework early and come out to say hello!

Monday, October 24th at 6:30 pm
The Children’s Book World
17 Haverford Station Road, Haverford PA 19041
610 642 6274

Posted by: ACFE Inc | October 14, 2011

Celebrating the Center for the Advancement of Girls

The Agnes Irwin School is taking a leadership role in developing girls’education. This is not something that simply affects our local schooling, but the hope is that AIS will become a global leader in developing girls’ education based on in-depth research into the challenges that girls face most often and their specific developmental needs. As the official launch of the Center for the Advancement of Girls, AIS will host An Evening with Tina Brown happening tonight at 6 pm at the National Constitution Center.


Ms. Brown is an Oxford-educated renowned editor. She has worked with Vanity Fair, served as the editor of The New Yorker, and founded Talk magazine. After hosting a series of specials for CNBC, Ms. Brown wrote a biography of Princess Diana, The Diana Chronicles, published on the anniversary of the Princess’s death in June 2007. As a highly successful woman focused on the accomplishments of other great women she will present on her professional success and encouraging the leadership qualities and success of girls.


The AIS campaign is interesting in light of the current push toward single-sex education in public schools and the debate that is happening around the issue. Dr. Leonard Sax, the founder and executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, is the foremost expert on and proponent of same-sex schooling. Of his recent book, Girls on the Edge, Florence Hilliard, Director of the Gender Studies Project at the University of Wisconsin at Madison says, “”Dr. Sax once again combines years of experience with compelling research and common sense to intelligently challenge the status quo of what it means to raise a healthy daughter. Girls on the Edge offers skills parents can incorporate to feel more competent with our girls and young women.”


Recently, however, Dr. Diane F. Hapern, a past president of the American Psychological Association, has challenged the idea of same sex schooling. In an article published in Science she argues that the evidence in favor of same sex schooling is inconclusive and that the environment that children are placed in will effect their behavior as much or more than their biological sex does.


Clearly, the science behind these practices is not settled, but I believe that choices about schooling are the most important choices we make as parents. Individual children flourish in settings best tailored to their needs and I believe that same-sex schooling can provide such a setting, depending on your child. Locally, we enjoy the benefit of many choices of schools that will meet nearly any need a child has. I believe with this kind of choice available it is the responsibility of parents to make well-informed schooling decisions with all of the options in mind.


Posted by: ACFE Inc | October 11, 2011

Space Shuttle: Your Name Here

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math for the uninitiated) is one area of education that everyone is talking about. The National Association for Gifted Children has some resources you can turn to if you are looking for math and science links. There’s also the STEM Ed Coalition, whose mission is to support STEM programs across the country. In the past few days I have come across a few great sources to fuel your kids’ STEM interests–or maybe get them interested in the first place.


First Class of Female Astronauts - GPN-2004-00025

Image via Wikipedia

First and best, many children are fascinated by space–the idea of flying through the stars, being an astronaut, studying solar systems, galaxies, the universe. No, NASA isn’t recruiting elementary schoolers to its space program, but they are holding a contest that may give your child the next best thing to being in space themselves. NASA is renaming two robotic spacecraft that are heading into orbit around the moon, and they want K-12th graders to suggest names for them. NASA’s solar-powered laboratory vessels lifted off last month and will orbit the moon for three and a half months, creating a gravity map of the moon, and scientists are hoping to use this voyage not only to better understand the moon’s origins but to get children excited about science and technology. Submissions can be sent by teachers online by November 11, so get thinking! Then, the final round of judging to pick the names will be chaired by former astronaut Sally Ride and Maria Zuber, a researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. More information is here.


Next, Stanford University is expanding their computer science courses online–not just by a few students, but for any student who wants to take them. A few weeks ago, three online computer science courses were listed, one of which was an introduction to artificial intelligence. Since then over 100,000 students have enrolled in these courses. Students only need to know one programming language to complete the assignments, and can expect 5 hours of lectures a week with a few hours of homework on top of that. These classes are taking full advantage of the technology available to them: student questions will be posted online and professors will answer those with the top ratings. A warning: students that complete the course receive a “statement of achievement” but no grades or credit, although they do receive feedback on their work. If you want to enroll, you have to act fast: class started yesterday and runs until Dec 16. If you don’t want to commit the time, Stanford also has free lectures available on their Engineering Everywhere site. Additionally, a series of 10-minute lectures on machine learning by Professor Andrew Ng have been available on YouTube for over three years. (Thanks Geek System for the info!)

And finally, the latest article on my favorite school: the Davidson Academy in Reno, Nevada. I have talked about this school before here, and I look forward to the day when every state has its own Davidson Academy to foster STEM students!

Posted by: ACFE Inc | October 10, 2011

Interviewing the Secretary of Education

One of the highlights of Education Nation for me was having the opportunity to sit down with a close supporter of Mom Congress, who also happens to be the Secretary of Education. On Day 2 of Education Nation, I had the opportunity to sit down with Arne Duncan, which was an honor and a privilege. Leading up to Education Nation, I have been thinking about the recent release in Education Next of the comparison of PISA scores with state-by-state rankings. I even wrote about it here, saying how excited I was to discuss this issue further at Education Nation. So when I had the chance to ask Secretary Duncan a question, I knew it wanted to be about those rankings. I asked, in the wake of PISA demonstrating how poorly we are doing compared to other first-world countries, what can we learn from states like Massachusetts, who, when the states are broken down and put into the PISA rankings, have surpassed the rest of us education-wise? What are they doing right that other states can do, too?

(excuse the wobble and background noise; we were on top of a skating rink after all!)

I appreciated his recognition of Mom Congress, not just as a side note but as part of his response. Advocacy and particularly parent advocacy is a huge part of how we will be able to achieve educational reform in this country. In order to effect change, we as parents need to understand and take advantage of the power of our own voices. We also need to come together and, through our experiences and collective knowledge, we must figure out what it is our schools need in order to give our children the education they deserve. This is why I love Mom Congress and groups like the National Association for Gifted Children; these organizations make advocacy possible for busy parents. They help us keep track of issues in education and what’s being done about those issues. Mom Congress is not just a gathering of parents but specifically of intelligent, proactive women who are  passionate about educational reform and dedicated to better understanding the problems that are getting in the way of the United States ranking #1 in the PISA report.

Thank you, Secretary Duncan, for making time in your schedule to meet with us and for providing me with encouragement and food for thought.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | October 7, 2011

National Bullying Prevention Month and The Bully Project

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. As an advocate for exceptional students I know the ways that exceptional children are often singled out by others. I frequently work with families who are coping with unfair circumstances in schools, including social struggles with peers and bullying. Bullying behavior is not the consequence of a child’s difference from others or even simply the bad behavior of a bully. The epidemic of bullying that America is experiencing is something that each of us can address and seek to stem. Our children are coping with a harsher educational environment as time goes on, but one that each parent, teacher, school administrator, or staff person can help to eradicate with their actions.

One effort at bringing attention to the damage bullies can cause is The Bully Project, a character-driven documentary following 5 kids and families over the course of a school year to explore the various aspects of the bullying crisis in our country. Two of the families lost children to suicide; one features a mother waiting to learn the outcome of her 14-year-old daughter who brought a gun onto her school bus. It is billed as “an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices…offer[ing] insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children. As teachers, administrators, kids and parents struggle to find answers, The Bully Project examines the dire consequences of bullying through the testimony of strong and courageous youth. Through the power of their stories, the film aims to be a catalyst for change in the way we deal with bullying as parents, teachers, children and society as a whole.” This is not just a film but a call to action: to speak out and speak up when you see bullying occuring or suspect someone is being bullied.

“There is a small but growing amount of research literature on bullying among children with disabilities and special needs. This research indicates that these children may be at particular risk of being bullied by their peers.   Of course children with disabilities may in fact be engaged in bullying another, however, research tells us that more often, children with disabilities or medical needs are victims of bullying.” Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.


As parents, it is important that we remain informed about our children’s day-to-day experiences at school. If we are not aware of what is happening, we cannot hope to support the children suffering under these conditions. Need to know what to look for? Here is a helpful definition of bullying from COPAA:

Five Characteristics of Bullying (Marini, Fairbairn & Zuber,2001):

1. Power differential – Bullies demonstrate greater physical strength, higher cognitive abilities, or knowledge of particular psychological vulnerabilities.

2. Repeated – Acts of bullying are rarely isolated. Repetition distinguishes bullying and has a devastating impact. The anticipation and expectation of future abuse inflicts great harm on victims.

3. Intent to harm – Bullies act purposefully, seeking to injure their peers physically and/or psychologically.

4. Creation of anxiety, intimidation and fear – Bullying victims live with constant fear and a feeling of powerlessness.

5. Secretiveness – Bullies go to considerable lengths to keep their acts hidden from parents and teachers.

It is important that anyone who notices this kind of behavior reports it to teachers and school administrators immediately. Much of the problem with bullying is that victims feel unable to stand up for themselves and also afraid to report the treatment they are enduring. An immediate report to a teacher or principal can prevent further bullying.

Bullying can be as complicated as the individual children involved in the situation. Below I have included some resources that may be useful to parents facing this situation or wanting to learn more about the kinds of issues facing school-aged children. It is my hope that with education of this kind available and the efforts of concerned parents and school staff, bullying can be decreased and even removed from our children’s educational experience.



National Bullying Prevention Month:


The Bully Project


Do Something

Cyber Bullying:

11 Facts About Bullying:

How to Strengthen Your School’s Bullying Policy:


National PTA

National PTA Bullying site:

Prevent Your Child From Becoming a Bully:

What You Can Do:


Stop Bullying

Community Based Prevention:

Best Practices:



Rosalind Wiseman

School Bullying: What You Haven’t Heard:

Why You Shouldn’t “Just Walk Away”:

My Kid Would Never Bully:

My Daughter is Already a Follower:

New Friends v. Old Friends:

Bad Words:

Empowering Bystanders:

Posted by: ACFE Inc | September 26, 2011

Education Nation, Day Two

I am amazed and overwhelmed by all of the experiences that Education Nation has thrown at me, so I am just going to try to sum up a few thoughts in the whirlwind of a long day:

First of all, can I start off every day interviewing someone as nice as Dennis van Roekel at 7 am? The NEA President shared his thoughts about how to rebuild trust in the wake of the standardized testing cheating scandals that are currently sweeping the country, as well as his experiences being the parent of a gifted, perfectionist son. Jenny was recording the interview so you can share the experience with me, and I think you too will agree he is a genuinely nice guy.

Video to come!

The day hadn’t even begun yet. Education Nation began bright and early at 7:45 am, which was appropriate since we were discussing early learning! We jumped right into a mini-science lesson about why, physically, it’s so important to develop babies’ brains, and what research tells us about how to do that best. We also heard from organizations dedicated to early development, like Head Start and Save the Children (represented by the lovely Jennifer Garner).

At this point I could tell you about the three totally different technological innovations that some incredibly bright pairs of young people came up with and presented…or the teachers that we in the audience got to observe and speak to in their classrooms, in the midst of their lessons (I wish I had gone on an archaelogical dig in seventh grade social studies!)…or the great panel I watched on parent advocacy…or the early panel with Warren and Suzie Buffett and Melinda Gates, discussing philanthropy and education, or the several other presentations I am not even touching on. But there is just too much to say so I have to hit the highlights: Arne and my fellow Mom Congresswomen.

Education Nation in many ways was the height of education-nerdom in the best possible way, and to culminate that with meeting Secretary Duncan made it unbeatable. I had the opportunity to sit with a small group of people in the blogger’s lounge and not only listen to him answer other great questions, but to ask one of my own: In the wake of PISA demonstrating how poorly we are doing compared to other first-world countries, what can we learn from states like Massachusetts, who, when the states are broken down and put into the PISA rankings, have surpassed the rest of us education-wise? What are they doing right that we can do, too?

Don’t worry, I recorded his answer too, but haven’t uploaded it yet—you’ll just have to stay tuned!

And what a way to end the day than wine and VERY local honey at Morell with my fellow representatives from Mom Congress? I am so pleased that although Mom Congress is only once a year, we have found ways to connect more than just annually. We talked about everything from testing and how our own state public school systems work, to funding schools, to social media and what is the best way to find the right banner ad sponsorship for your website? We have already started brainstorming ways to come together again, not just regionally but with other representatives from across the country as well, and I am excited to see what we continue to accomplish together.

Still one more day to go! I’m going to have to go back and make sure I eventually cover all the amazing sessions I attended, but for now I have to be content with thanking everyone who participated—as a mom and a participant, I really appreciate the conversation.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | September 25, 2011

Education Nation Summit, Day One: Teachers

Day One of the 2011 Education Nation Summit is done, and although it’s early I’m hoping to get to bed soon. Today was exciting but exhausting! And tomorrow will be even longer–and I can’t wait.

We left Philadelphia bright and early and after a few wrong turns made it to the hotel room hours before check-in, unfortunately. We ran over to get our press passes at Rockefeller Center (I brought my staff photographer/advocate with me), and got to see the tent with our own eyes. No more classic skating rink! Just a giant media building that is too well-put-together to be called a “tent” in my book.

Listening to Gwen’s question relaying to Jenna Bush for the American Teacher panelists.

I am so excited to be a part of this conversation. Just as today unfolded there have been a lot of great issues raised, not just about education policy and development but about teacher compensation, technology in the classrooms, and even the nature of Education Nation itself.

While I understand some of the criticisms, one thing I really appreciate about Ed Nation is the opening for this conversation to take place. I feel like they have really made an effort to embrace social media such as Twitter, Foursquare, and blogging, and the result I think has been the creation of a forum for those who are critical as well as those who are doubtful or questioning. These often thoughtful critiques are not

happening in corners with a select few but out in the open–and often in 140 characters or less. I appreciate the fostering of honest dialogue.

My tweet shows up at the front of the stage.

The Teacher Town Hall was a great way to kick off the entire event, and this continued into the evening with the American Teacher premiere.

You should see this film. If you want just straight facts, you can start here. But if you want a glimpse into how hard, and heart-breaking, it can truly be to be a teacher, you should see this documentary. And then you should hug a teacher. And advocate for them to be paid more.

The four teachers at the center of American Teacher, along with Jonathan Alter, Al Roker, and Philadelphia and Parents United‘s Helen Gym.


Tomorrow I’m excited about the panel on putting accountability to the test. But I am most excited about getting the opportunity to interview Dennis van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.

Last but NEVER least, some Mom Congress love!  Goodnight!

I was looking at an overview of several of the panels at the 2011 Education Nation Summit this year. (Although this is an invite-only event, both days of sessions will be streamed live and I will be keeping you updated via Twitter!) Although I am excited about all of them, one that I am really looking forward to is “What’s in a Zip Code? A Look At Inequality Across Our Public Schools.” Whenever I speak at events or do presentations for groups like the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education or at Mom Congress‘s annual conference, this is something that always comes up. And the unfortunate thing is, zip code does matter. The way that our current educational system works, one child might have an individualized, appropriate educational placement from day one, that is thorough, measurable, and takes all their needs into account; their friend across the street (and across district lines) on the other hand might have to fight for their services every step of the way, and perhaps even has to go to due process to try to get the services they need. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools and districts that make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provide one way to try to assess how your district is doing; however, even this measure is variable. If you were to consider a mile radius from around a district meeting AYP, you would find students and schools placed in the same demographic, similarly situated, and yet some of these adjacent district would be making AYP and others would not be. What makes this consideration even more sobering is the fact that AYP is a bare bones minimum for schools to achieve.

Do you know which districts are making AYP? For PA, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has a helpful color coded map to show you; your state likely does too. For a more national and even global perspective, EducationNext‘s Fall 2011 issue has a feature entitled, “Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?,” which combines global Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test results in math and reading with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) proficiency standard, which is separated by state and generally considered “the nation’s report card.” These combined scores allow for individual states to be ranked alongside the other countries participating in PISA; this means that instead of a general idea of where the US falls in comparison with other countries, we can focus in on what specific states are doing well–and which aren’t. Unfortunately, this underscores the importance of the panel at Education Nation: zip code matters. Students in Massachusetts rank 5th in reading performance; students in DC, just 400 miles away, are ranked at 95th in reading–behind all 50 states and 45 other countries. I think that the key for using these rankings successfully is to have panels like the one at Education Nation, where we can come together and consider the more successful states on these rankings. What external factors have played into their success? What best practices can be carried over to other districts?

After reading the article in EducationNext, I’m very excited that Education Nation will be addressing this area and look forward to discussing how to make our educational system more equitable!

Here’s the description of the panel from Education Nation’s website:

What’s In A ZIP Code? A Look At Inequality Across Our Public Schools – President Obama has said that education is the civil rights issue of our time. Schools face unprecedented pressure to increase achievement for the most disadvantaged students, but is it possible to fix education without first fixing poverty? A national movement has coalesced around the idea that effective teaching trumps all, while many prominent educators say that even the best schools can’t overcome basic issues like poor health and poverty, pointing to stark inequities in the system. NBC News’ Brian Williams will moderate this discussion on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

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