Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Public School Insights Blog

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Hot Summer Reads

Planning to take advantage of another hot (in much of the country) weekend to catch up on your reading? Check out some of the top stories that you may have missed on the Public School Insights’ blog during the 2015-2016 school year:

Five Things School Leaders Do That Make a Big Difference For Teachers. Learning Forward Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh shares research on what system and school leaders do that teachers find most helpful in their efforts to ensure high-quality instruction for all.

New Models of Professional Learning: Why Now Is the Time to Invest in Different Solutions. ISTE’s Yolanda Ramos talks about her organization’s efforts to advance teacher quality through team-based professional learning. ...

What is the worth of real work experiences for today's students?

What was once a rite of passage in our collective coming of age stories—the summer job—has succumbed under fuller employment and other socio-economic factors which remove these opportunities for young people. With the death knell of summer jobs has gone countless experiences essential to our young peoples' academic and life skills development. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, summer labor for young people (ages 16-24) has declined from a high of 77.5% to 60.0% in 2015.

 "The labor force participation rate for all youth was 60.0 percent in July 2015, little changed from a year earlier. The summer labor force participation rate of youth has held fairly steady since July 2010, after generally trending downward for many years. The summer youth labor force participation rate peaked at 77.5 percent in July 1989." –Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2016. ...

What's next for the college- and career-ready standards movement? Learning First Alliance Executive Director Richard M. Long discussed the pertinent issues with Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in a recent chat on social medium Blab.

With the worst of the Common Core political wars behind us, the issue now turns to how to educate students who are disadvantaged and those who were struggling to keep up before the higher standards came into play, Mr. Petrilli says.

Learn more about upcoming issues in the ongoing move to instill college- and career-ready standards by watching the chat on YouTube.


Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the consideration of race in admissions in its Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin decision. In our contemporary policy context of expanded civil rights—and their accompanying backlash—this ruling prompts reflection on the fundamental value of cultivating a diverse community, especially in educational settings, that includes but also extends beyond race.

Why is it important to give college students the opportunity to learn with peers from both similar and different backgrounds? For all students, having at least a “critical mass” of peers with shared characteristics boosts self-efficacy and academic success. Meanwhile, being situated in a heterogeneous learning community, particularly one that supports interaction both within and across groups, builds students’ interdependence, empathy, and fluency with “otherness.” ...

The Learning First Alliance welcomes Thomas J. Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association, as the new 2016-17 chair of the board of directors. The LFA board also has chosen JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, as its 2016-17 Secretary-Treasurer; and Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of Learning Forward, is now the immediate past president.

Gentzel brings more than three decades experience in education policy and advocacy. Prior to joining NSBA as its executive director in 2012, he was a key figure at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, serving as its executive director for 11 years after working as chief lobbyist for more than 20 years. He also was an officer at the National School Public Relations Association and a member of Pennsylvania State University’s Outreach Advisory Board.

“Tom Gentzel’s deep knowledge of education and the policymaking process is a valued asset as the Learning First Alliance is turning its attention to the Every Student Succeeds Act and other federal actions,” said LFA Executive Director Richard M. Long. “I look forward to working with Tom and LFA’s new leadership team in the coming year.” ...

It seems sacrilegious, really, but I am advocating that we do away with the K-12 grade level structure in education. Perhaps because it is how we have organized our schools since we evolved from the one room schoolhouse back in the nineteenth century, the grade level structure is taken for granted. You notice that reform agendas do not include doing away with grade levels. We have vouchers, charters, extended day, extended school year, evaluating teachers and principals if we are not firing them, privatizing schools or closing them and reopening them under new management, but no talk of doing away with grade levels. If anything, there is renewed interest in having students repeat grades as a backlash against social promotion.

We talk about thinking out of the box but no one talks about thinking out of grade levels. ...

Join Learning First Alliance Executive Director Richard Long and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Michael Petrilli for a video chat about the recent past and near future of college and career ready standards. They will consider the state of Common Core, progress and continuing gaps in student outcomes across the country, assessments and the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on the playing field for college and career readiness.

Bring your thoughts and questions to this free broadcast; an audience Q&A will be included.  

Wednesday, June 29

3 – 4 p.m. EDT

Subscribe via Blab (http://bit.ly/1rpFSJd) before the event. A Facebook or Twitter account is required  to view this live chat.



Colonial School District straddles the boundary where suburban Wilmington gives way to Delaware’s rural eastern shore. Its one high school, William Penn, serves a racially diverse population, about 40 percent of whom come from low-income families. Penn is a model for getting kids ready for life after graduation. Ninth-graders who enter its doors are asked to choose among 19 “degree programs” — essentially, career tracks ranging from construction to engineering — that will be their focus for the next four years. But there’s one choice they don’t have to make: Whether their “degree” will prepare them for college or the workforce. At William Penn, all graduates will be ready for both.

During a recent visit there, I spoke with a senior in the school’s culinary arts program who exemplifies the Penn way. In addition to his studies in the busy kitchen, which doubles as a student-run catering business, he has six AP courses under his belt along with his industry certification. Elsewhere in the building I saw physics being taught in a wood shop, while in another more traditional classroom, 11th-graders explored issues of race and equality in Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian story “Harrison Bergeron.” ...

For the first time, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes the expertise that educators can bring to the policymaking process and calls for collaboration by practitioners and policymakers – but it gives few details on how those groups should work together. To facilitate that process, Learning First Alliance (LFA) today proposes principles to guide stakeholder engagement.

ESSA requires states and localities to bring together educators, parents, and other leaders to determine policies and practices under the new law. ...

Summer slide refers to a decrease or loss of academic skills over the summer break.  As summer goes by, if students do not actively engage in learning experiences, the progress they had made throughout the school year will not only decrease, it can actually regress.

Avoiding this “summer slide” is easy if strategies are in place to help students stay fresh until the next school year. This is where digital tools and technology can step in and help students be ready for the start of the new school year.

Ways to avoid the slide

There are many digital options for helping students avoid this summer slide.  With the rise of technology, students have access to diverse tools with many options for providing these learning extensions.  Students have choices when given opportunities for practice and this will help them to return to school better prepared.   ...

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