Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Public School Insights Blog

The Learning First Alliance is joining with EdReports.org and educators at the state and local level for a behind-the-scenes discussion about the importance of aligning instructional materials to college- and career-ready standards. As part of a webinar on Sept. 22, EdReports.org will show how its educator-led reviews are supporting teachers, districts, and states nationwide through its free reviews of instructional materials to support local adoptions and decision-making.

To date, Edreports.org has published over 150 evidence-rich reviews for K-12 math and English/language arts materials in grades 3-8. 

EdReports.org’s executive director Eric Hirsch will be joined by LFA Executive Director Richard M. Long and school leaders to examine this issue from across the education community during the webinar. There will be a question-and-answer session, and participants are encouraged to visit www.edreports.org.

The webinar takes place on Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. EDT. Register today!  ...

Having health insurance makes a huge difference for children in school. Schools can make a huge difference by identifying uninsured students and connecting them to health insurance. The key is asking a simple question on school enrollment forms: "Does your child have health insurance?"

Make this part of your back-to-school plans this year. AASA, the School Superintendents Association, and the Children’s Defense Fund are excited to offer proven strategies, tips and tools to schools districts across the country through the "Insure All Children" Toolkit (www.insureallchildren.org), which shares real school stories and experiences and offers useful tools for ensuring all children in your school are happy, healthy and ready to learn. ...

People with difficult or annoying traits are everywhere. But the stakes are high in education: Managing – or even just working with – difficult people can drain even the most positive educators and take focus away from a school’s mission.

Veteran school administrators and leadership consultants Diane Watkins and Stephanie B. Johnson have dealt with many types of employees, from superintendents and teachers to support staff. Using stories they collected from the field, they’ve built a Top 10 list of people with troubling traits, and their work centers on how supervisors and fellow colleagues can work with them—or around them—to build a professional, supportive environment. Ms. Watkins, director of assessment and accountability at Virginia’s Chesapeake Public Schools, and Dr. Johnson, a retired administrator who is now an assistant professor of education at Hampton University in Virginia, recently shared their advice at the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ annual conference. They also took questions from the Learning First Alliance in a separate interview.  ...

Stephanie Johnson and Diane Watkins have a combined seven decades of experience as teachers, principals and school administrators, where they learned to deal with many difficult personalities at all levels. Dr. Johnson (below), an assistant professor of education at Virginia’s Hampton University, and Ms. Watkins (at right), director of assessment and accountability with the Chesapeake, Va., school system, recently took questions and shared their experiences with the Learning First Alliance:

LFA: Please tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and your experience with managing difficult employees. ...

Americans don’t agree on the purpose of public education, but they like their local schools, especially when they believe educators listen to their concerns.

The Bush-Obama era of nationalist education policy essentially ended with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Public education is a state function, and the U.S. Department of Education is supposed to be a regulator, policy maker, and distributor of funds. But from No Child Left Behind through Race to the Top, the past two administrations have stepped beyond their traditional roles to dictate interventions and influence decisions at the local level.

Our 48th annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools shows that overall the American public isn’t completely satisfied with the direction set over the past 16 years. The poll results offer some insight that should not only be heeded by the next administration but could be used by the two presidential candidates to align their policies to the interests of their constituents. ...

September 8 is International Literacy Day, and 2016 marks the the 50th anniversary of an event designed to promote reading and literacy in U.S. communities and worldwide, and celebrate the work of educators and literacy specialists.  

As part of the events, the International Literacy Association is promoting a service learning kit and a guide to help students learn about other countries.

UNESCO, a sponsor of the event, has released some promising and some concerning date points on the need for greater attention to literacy worldwide.

The good news is that less than 10 percent of students age 15-24 are unable to read and write, compared to 24 percent 50 years ago.

But there are serious discrepancies in gender: the organization notes that, “Although literacy has been high on the development agenda over the past decades, UIS data show that 758 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills,” according to 2014 data. ...

This fall, 50.4 million students will attend more than 98,000 public elementary and secondary schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which each year releases the latest data on public and private schools in the U.S. In recent years, the number of students has remained relatively steady--this year's total had a slight bump--while the number of minority students has increased.

Here are some of the notable statistics from this year’s report: ...

If all goes well, about this time next year the new ESSA roll out in your state will be beginning. It will reflect your local input to your state’s plan and process. Your staff will be on board as they are fully aware of the new approach and have been given ample time to prepare for implementation. And your students and their families know just what to expect and what is expected of them. 

Or not?

In the past few years, we have witnessed how state assessments and testing are often catalysts for discussions that can lead to bashing public education. In addition to privacy issues in some states and the regionalized opt-out movement in others, state testing will once again become an issue as states are now wrestling with their new approaches to their assessment program mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Our prediction is that the new assessments will either sink or swim in the court of parent and public opinion depending on whether authentic communication and collaboration are effectively completed with staff, parents, and students. ...

Should public schools’ primary purpose be to prepare students for work and careers, instill citizenship, or teach higher-level academics?

The answer, according to the 2016 Phi Delta Kappa poll on education, is that Americans don’t have a consensus. More precisely, the more than 1,200 respondents surveyed split over the question: 45 percent of American adults said that preparing students academically is the main goal of a public school education, while 25 percent said the main purpose is to prepare students for work and 26 percent said good citizenship.

That was one of several prominent findings in the in the 48th annual poll, which this year was conducted by PDK International and, for the first time, Langer Research Associates of New York. PDK International split with longtime partner Gallup last year, and PDK officials say the new survey partnership allows the organization to look more deeply into trends and opinions that impact public education. ...

Professional learning is extremely important to student learning, and for students to succeed, schools must invest in the adults who teach them.

Learning Forward focuses on professional learning as a vehicle for school improvement, and its Deputy Executive Director Frederick Brown brought examples of principals' strategies to help teachers guide their students to college- and career-readiness in a webinar produced by Learning Forward and the Learning First Alliance on Aug. 18, 2016. A related webinar will be held on Aug. 30, 2016.

In the first webinar, which can be replayed, Brown discussed the importance of teacher efficacy—the collective responsibility by school faculty to reach a desired outcome for student achievement. He also detailed Learning Forward’s backmapping model for professional learning strategies: ...

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