Learning First Alliance

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The Public School Insights Blog

Aaron Thiell, principal of Latham Ridge Elementary School in Latham, New York, answers questions from Melissa Fraley, a parent and PTA member at the school, about how teachers and school leaders have worked together to implement the Common Core State Standards at Latham Ridge Elementary.

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Following is an edited transcript:

LFA: Welcome to Get It Right—Common Sense on the Common Core, a Podcast Series from the Learning First Alliance. Across the nation, we've embraced the possibility of college- and career-ready standards, and their potential to transform teaching and learning. In community after community, we see the potential these standards offer to helping all children gain the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the Global community. ...

By Kevin Scott, Director of Member Engagement, ASCD

Last month, I wrote about the possibility of the final weeks of school being a spring board for the rest of the school year. I basically asked this question: “What if the bulk of the school year had the energy and excitement for students that we (parents and teachers) see once the state tests are over?” As the final weeks of summer wind down, I’m already thinking about what I, as a parent, want the 2015–16 school year to look like for my sons. And since everyone seems to be interested in lists, I created a list of my top five “wants.” 

1. Reduce Anxiety and Stress: Last year, my 6th grader struggled with reading and math. As a former teacher—and a former math struggler—I had to put my growth mindset hat away as my son and I tried to get to the root of the problem. We found a tutor who helps him and connects well with his learning style. When my parents had to do the same for me a couple of decades ago, it was a mismatch because the tutor and I didn’t gel. The connection between my son and his tutor, however, ultimately dissolved the argument about the value of math in general. It was almost cool for him to get some extra help. Having a tutor that my son respects and enjoys working with has greatly reduced the stress level in my house. In general, I want us all to be a little less stressed and take the actions to insure that happens ...

By Joshua P. Starr, Chief Executive Officer, PDK International

This year’s PDK/Gallup Poll on the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools marks a shift in both the poll and PDK International. As I assume leadership of the organization, I will build on PDK’s legacy while embracing opportunities to keep the organization at the center of the dialogue about how to ensure that every child in every classroom in America has in front of her or him the most qualified and professional teachers.

Realizing this goal requires comprehensive analysis, honest debate, and a willingness to look at old assumptions with new perspectives. And it requires the kind of trustworthy, independent data about public values that the PDK/Gallup poll provides. The data enable policy makers, leaders, educators, families, and communities to understand the issues before designing and implementing solutions. Toward that end, PDK International will, for the first time, convene thought leaders throughout the year to explore survey results, engage in deep dialogue about the issues, and develop a common understanding of their complexity. We hope our leaders and those who help them craft policy will recognize that the successful solutions we seek can only be the offspring of well-defined data and deeply understood problems. ...

As the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, Shanna Peeples wants to bring attention to the impact of poverty on students’ lives and education. She frequently works with students in crisis as part of her job as a high school English teacher and teacher mentor in Amarillo, Texas, a town that hosts refugees from all parts of the world. Many of her students arrive knowing little or no English and often have escaped extreme poverty and violence in their home countries, sometimes having left behind parents and family members.

As a teacher, Ms. Peeples is committed to helping all the students reach their potential and build a better life in the United States. But she notes that working with such vulnerable students can be a heartwrenching journey that may not lead to a happy outcome. ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Schools districts throughout America are rushing headlong to make the digital leap. The lure of the technology, the one-to-one laptops systemwide, is a powerful attraction for educators wanting to be rid of the traditional textbook.

Occasionally, however, superintendents fall in the trap of rushing into the technology without the proper planning, which includes the professional development of staff, the cultural changes that move the teacher from the sage on the stage to the facilitator of learning and the acquisition of the right software and hardware.

With these challenges in mind, AASA established a Digital Consortium of superintendents who have made the plunge into the digital arena and are well versed in the pitfalls and difficulties involved in a successful implementation. Our first meeting occurred in Seattle, hosted by Amazon on their campus. Last May, thanks to support from Pearson and Cisco, the consortium met again in Mark Edwards’ district, in Mooresville, NC. ...

Common Core State Standards do not immediately transform a state’s educational system, nor do they occur in a vacuum. Kentucky is often considered the model for states that built a strong coalition of supporters and then used the standards as part of a broader transformation that included assessments, effective teaching, and school, district, and community improvement.  

In a recent interview for the Learning First Alliance’s Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core campaign, Felicia Cumings Smith reflects on the importance of coalition building and professional development in Kentucky’s systemic Common Core implementation process. Smith is the former associate commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education and is the director of Kentucky Rising at the National Center on Education and the Economy.

Kentucky built a strong partnership with a variety of stakeholders, which was essential to helping the standards succeed. Ms. Cumings Smith gave her insights on how those relationships were cultivated and maintained. ...

Ask new high school graduates what their plans are and chances are very good they will say college. Once a sign of privilege, going to college is now seen as almost a rite of passage. And little wonder. By 2020, two-thirds of all jobs will require education beyond high school. But what about the small proportion of grads who, for whatever reason, say "enough" to school? What does the future hold for them? And what difference, if any, does high school make in their ability to be productive, self-supporting adults?

We recently published a study at the Center for Public Education that examines these questions based on the experiences of the graduating class of 2004. The analysis, The Path Least Taken II: Preparing non-college goers for success, is by Jim Hull and is the second in a series of reports that take a close look at the 12 percent of high school graduates who had not enrolled in college by age 26. ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), and Joe A. Hairston, Howard University

As the first cohort of leaders embarks on their course of study with the new AASA Urban Superintendents Academy at Howard University and the University of Southern California, we are thrilled to see this promising work come to life. Urban districts desperately need forward-thinking leaders, particularly those from underrepresented demographic groups, prepared to be barrier-busting champions for every student in their care.

Following an intensive kick-off conference later this month, participants in the Academy—predominantly from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups—will spend the academic year undertaking internships in the field, focusing on problems of practice under the guidance of experienced mentors, and taking graduate courses at the university before completing culminating projects ...

Common Core has transformed teaching and learning in many classrooms, but one of the biggest challenges is explaining how it all works to parents and guardians—and then teaching them how to help their children at home. The Learning First Alliance recently spoke with Audra McPhillips, a mathematics specialist and pre-K-12 instructional coach for the West Warwick, Rhode Island district, as part of its Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core campaign.

What’s different about this interview is that she was questioned by Alicia Proulx, a parent and teacher in the school district, who asked about new strategies for teaching mathematics and the process for building those strategies.

A key difference in teaching to Common Core standards is that a subject is explored more deeply, and rather than taking a test and moving onto the next subject, teachers tie that knowledge to the next subject. For instance, Ms. McPhillips noted that multiplication is taught using arrays and the area model, which can help students better understand fractions and algebra in later grades. ...

By Mary Cathryn Ricker, Executive Vice-President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

When I was elected president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) in 2005, I thought my own story might help transform the relationship between teachers and administrators as well as improve the image of teachers in the community. I was a veteran middle school English teacher, and I’d been honored for my work. And I had been active in the SPFT as a political and community volunteer as well as the union’s professional representative on local and state committees.

I had also spent enough time in my classroom and in the city to know—and be bothered by—the dominant story told about public school teachers and our union by the mass media, a number of Minnesota legislators, and in many local communities. On a local TV station’s evening news show, a Minnesota Republican state senator, Richard Day, had even declared, “We all know Minneapolis and St. Paul schools suck.” In too many conversations, I got accused of failure unless I quickly told people about the awards I had won for creating a model English/language arts classroom and running a program for my colleagues on how to improve writing in middle schools. If local citizens, especially parents, could learn about our talent, our dedication, and our ideas, I was convinced their perceptions would change ...

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