Columbine High School. Sandy Hook Elementary. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The names are etched in our memories for reasons that no school wants to be remembered. Even as this post was being written, news broke of another school shooting in Santa Clarita, California. A new report by the US Secret Service has studied these and other school shootings, providing an unprecedented base of facts about school shootings and guidelines for preventing them.
The new report strengthens the conclusions of a 2002 Secret Service report—that there is no consistent “profile” of school shooters and that threat assessment and intervention are key to preventing shootings. The one consistent thread through all of the school shootings studied in the report is that every single shooter experienced extreme stress in their relationships with classmates within six months of their attack, and half had stressors in the two days before their attack.
Here are some key conclusions of the report:
- There is no profile of school shooters or the type of school where the shooting occurred.
- There are usually multiple motives for a shooting, the most common being grievances with classmates and school staff and issues with romantic partners.
- Most attackers used firearms, and those firearms were most often acquired in their own home.
- Nearly every attacker experienced negative home life factors (e.g., divorced or separated parents, drug use or criminal charges among family members, or domestic abuse). The report specifically notes that these are not predictors of school violence.
- Most attackers were victims of bullying, and that bullying was often observed by others.
- All attackers exhibited concerning behaviors, and most communicated their intent to attack. The report notes that in many cases, someone observed a threatening communication or behavior but did not act, either out of fear, not believing the attacker, misjudging the immediacy or location, or believing they had dissuaded the attacker.
What Parents and PTAs Can Do
The report notes that preventing school violence is the responsibility of everyone—federal, state, and local governments; school boards, administrators, and teachers; law enforcement; and families and the public. Here are some things that families and PTAs can do help prevent school violence.
- Host a PTA Connect for Respect program to help your school develop effective ways to prevent bullying and to create a positive school environment.
- If you have firearms in your home, ensure that they are kept secure in a manner so that your child cannot access them. This is also a critical factor in preventing youth suicides.
- Talk with your child about the importance of sharing their concerns with a teacher, parents, or school counselor about another student who may be experiencing difficulties or being bullied, who has shown an interest in violent topics, or who has mentioned suicide or violence.
The first few PTA meetings of the year always have a big turnout, with new families wanting to know what’s happening and returning families wanting to see what the PTA has planned for the year. But now that the first few months of school are behind you, chances are attendance at your PTA meetings has dropped off a bit from the start of the year. Here are eight ways to perk up your PTA meetings and attendance.
- Respect their time. With families having busy lives, it can be tough to get the family fed, run off to a PTA meeting, and be back in time to help with homework and tuck the kids in bed. Limiting your PTA meeting to an hour means that parents know when they’ll be back home.
- Send reminders and share information. Use MemberHub to send reminders of your PTA meetings and events. Be sure to use the files section to post your agenda, meeting minutes, and any relevant items that will be discussed at the meeting so people can come prepared. After the meeting, share what happened.
- Break the ice. One of the more common complaints about PTAs are that they are a clique or there is an in-group that runs everything. Start your meeting with an icebreaker (see these from Minnesota PTA) to help everyone get to know more about each other, use nametags, and have people answer a silly personal question (e.g., least favorite food or favorite holiday movie) when doing introductions. Consider creating a welcome packet for your new families.
- Include the kids. Parents show up when their child is performing. Consider working with teachers to have kids highlight something they are doing in class—performing a song, displaying art they’ve created, or math games they’re playing to learn concepts.
- Feed them. Getting the family fed and then getting to a PTA meeting can be a challenge. Make that challenge a little easier by providing dinner with your PTA meeting, something simple like pizza or a potluck dinner. Use some of that eating time to give people a chance to mingle and meet.
- Get rid of barriers. Consider switching from a head table with the officers to a circle or everyone around one “big table” by pushing several together. If a significant portion of your families speak a different language at home, consider bringing in an interpreter and translating your materials into that language.
- Reward them. Consider creating a loyalty program for your PTA meetings. Each time someone attends a meeting they get an entry for a drawing, either at that PTA meeting or after several PTA meetings. The rewards don’t have to be expensive. Things like four front row seats and a reserved parking space for a holiday concert, tickets for games at a school carnival, or a small gift card for coffee or school supplies can all work.
- Go live. Use Skype, Facebook Live, or some other platform to share your PTA meeting live for those unable to attend in person.
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released its annual school report card last week. There is one significant change to the report card this year as more of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) goes into effect: site-specific expenditure reporting. That means that the school report card now shows the federal and state/local funding for each school in your school district. Illinois PTA worked closely with ISBE and other stakeholders over the past 18 months to ensure that the data were presented in an as easy to understand format as possible. Here’s what you need to know.
- Site-specific expenditure reporting shows how your district is spending its money at each school on a per student basis. Prior to this data becoming available on the report card, only a district’s total spending per pupil was available. With this data, administrators, school boards, families, and community members can see how a school district is allocating their funds among their schools.
- Not all of a district’s spending is included. The per pupil amounts being reported are regular and ongoing PreK-12 education expenses and are broken down further between federal funding and state/local funding. The latter does include items like donations from PTAs or grants from a school foundation. Also included are each school’s share of central district expenses (e.g., staff at the administrative building). Among the items not included are spending for capital projects (e.g., building/renovating school buildings), debt service, fire prevention and safety spending, adult education services, and other spending not directly tied to educating students from age 3 to 12th grade.
- The data are presented in several different ways. The primary visual you will see on the school finances page (under the “District Environment” menu bar) of the report card is a bar chart with each school in the district represented by a vertical bar of per student spending ranked from lowest to highest. Below that bar chart is a data table with the information for each school in numerical form. Finally, a clickable link just above the bar chart will take you to a scatterplot where you can see per student expenditures graphed against several different variables such as the school’s summative designation, enrollment, English language learners, low-income students, or students with Individual education plans (IEPs).
- The data are a starting point for conversations. The fact that your child’s school is low or high in per pupil spending relative to the other schools in your district does not tell the entire story. Your district had the opportunity to add a narrative section to explain why the data look the way they do, so check to see if that information is included on the school report card page. Note that this being the first year with this data, many school districts may not have done this. Also consider what things could explain some of the differences, such as school population, high school vs. elementary school, a bilingual education program at a specific school, or a concentration of students from low-income families or with special needs. Also consider how students are performing (see the scatterplot chart with schools’ summative designations)—a school with low cost per student but high student achievement is a cause for celebrating their success, not complaining that the district isn’t spending enough there. ISBE has some information sheets that can help you dig into the data on site-based expenditure reporting (Overview and Exploring the Visualizations, which has some questions to consider as you explore the data). Use the data to have conversations at your PTA meetings or with your school’s principal or district’s superintendent and school board.
The new site-based expenditure reporting data has the potential to spark some powerful conversations in your school district about student success, equity, and overall school funding. PTA does its best work when we advocate for all children, and this year’s school report card provides your PTA with the opportunity to have deep, meaningful conversations with your school district that can have a more profound effect on your child’s education than almost any other activity your PTA could pursue.
There are a few other changes to the state report card:
- Test results for the elementary and middle school grades are now from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), and data from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment have been moved to the “Retired Tests” section.
- A growth measurement determined from the IAR has been added for elementary and middle schools. This data illustrates how students have improved year over year compared to their peers who had the same IAR score in math or English. It is a measure of how much students have improved, regardless of whether they are meeting the Illinois Learning Standard or not. You can find out more from this ISBE information sheet.
- New subgroups have been added:
- Students with disabilities
- Students categorized as Migrant
- Students from Military Families
- Students categorized as Youth in Care
- Students categorized as Homeless (High school graduation rate only)
- The “5 Essentials Survey” has been replaced with the “School Climate Survey” and displays information from the one of three ISBE-approved climate surveys the school has used.
- Data from the Illinois Science Assessment has been added for grades 5 and 8 and high school biology.
Three years ago, Advance Illinois released a report summarizing the current state of education in Illinois. That report, using data and maps to show just how widespread the challenges in funding, poverty, and achievement were across the state, was a crucial factor in the General Assembly passing the new Evidence-Based Funding model the following year. Advance Illinois has now released a follow-up report looking at how things have changed over the last two years.
Like the previous report, The State We’re In 2019 uses data from school districts and mapping to illustrate where Illinois schools are today. A few key points from the report are:
- Access to early childhood education for low-income students continues to be far short of what is needed
- Kindergarten readiness is now being measured, and the majority of students enter kindergarten are not fully prepared in all three developmental areas. While white students are generally better prepared than their peers from low-income households or families of color, less than one-third of white students across the state are fully prepared for kindergarten.
- Illinois student growth (improvement in proficiency) is among the leaders in the nation (sixth for math and eighth for reading between grades 3 and 8), but actual proficiency continues to lag the national average. Put another way, while Illinois is doing well at improving student performance, this growth is not fast enough nor far-reaching enough to overcome the early education deficits to prepare students for college and careers.
- Illinois ranks in the bottom 10 states for student access to school counselors. Access to counselors can be critical in preparing students for college and careers.
- More Illinois students are entering and completing college, but equity gaps persist.
- The Evidence-Based Funding model is working to direct more funding to those schools furthest from adequate funding, but the majority of districts are still well below 90% of adequacy.
You can download the report from Advance Illinois and check out the interactive maps to show how various measures have changed for each school district, including the ability to focus on a particular district’s performance.