Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Public School Insights Blog

This month’s issue of School Administrator magazine focuses on combating poverty. It’s ironic that this should even be a topic for discussion in one of the richest countries in the world. Yet according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 45 percent of American children live in low-income households and more than half of public school students qualify for lunch subsidies.

Paul Buchheit, a teacher of economic inequality at DePaul University in Chicago, points out that in the past six years America’s wealth grew by 60 percent while in that same period the number of homeless children also grew by 60 percent. America is a leader in childhood poverty. UNICEF reports that the United States has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world and the majority of poor children are black, Latino and American Indian.

Is it any wonder we have an achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots? Should we be surprised when the zip code is as accurate a predictor of academic achievement as results on standardized tests? ...

You don’t need to look far within the hallways and classrooms to see the digital revolution in our schools. The growing use of technology is not only transforming learning – it is also extending and personalizing the learning experience.  

While this e-learning shift holds the promise to accelerate student success, school system leaders are faced with increased responsibility. Chief among those challenges: managing student data and security – and doing so with limited time and resources.

School system leaders need guidance when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of student data – and they need it today. That’s why the Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal Program was developed for school systems. 

Collectively formed by national and local education leaders, the voluntary CoSN-led TLE Seal is a mark of distinction for school systems, signaling to parents and communities that they have taken the measurable steps to assure the digital privacy of student data. ...

When the city of Flint, Michigan switched its water source in 2014, issues with the water quality became immediately apparent. But it wasn’t until recently that the problems with the water supply, corrosion of pipes and lead in the water became national news. Now, the water situation had turned into a crisis.

“Educators and students in Flint are doing the best that they can. Children and staff are only allowed to wash hands with the water from the faucets. Children have daily water in bottles. After-school programs use hydration stations to fill cups and water bottles in the schools,” said Karen Christian, President of the United Teachers of Flint.

Times of crisis often bring people together, and the residents of Flint are no different. In the face of anger, frustration, fear and health concerns about lead poisoning – especially for children who are still developing and growing – people are banding together to fight for their rights and to help one another access clean water. ...

Hawaii has many educational challenges related to its geography and diversity, but it has succeeded in its efforts to instill college- and career-ready standards. In the latest Get It Right podcast, Suzanne Mulcahy, Hawaii’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and student support, speaks to the state’s efforts to provide professional development and help schools make the transition to Common Core.

One way the state education agency helped teachers and school staff understand the changes was to send their staff, who had worked to become experts in Common Core, to the field.

The state staff studied the issue and made contacts with experts across the country, then delivered professional development to local school staff and trained local school leaders on the methodology.

“It wasn't a one-shot deal,” Ms. Mulcahy says. “They continued to come back, they continued to be visible and be available via e-mail, via conference call, via webinar--whatever was necessary.” ...

Teachers are an undeniably important factor for ensuring students receive a good education. But they are frustrated--they often feel that their voices are often lost in the ongoing debates about education policy and issues related to student learning, a new survey has found.

Earlier this year the Center on Education Policy surveyed more than 3,000 teachers—from elementary to high school, in rural, suburban and urban school districts--and found that they most value planning time, collaboration with colleagues, and smaller class sizes. Salaries and benefits ranked fourth in the survey.

The survey seeks to inform policymakers as some states are paying more attention to recruiting and retaining new teachers as shortages persist, enrollments in teacher preparation programs have dropped, and as many as half of new teachers leave the field during their first five years in the classroom. The survey also debunked several widespread assumptions about workplace conditions and teacher viewpoints. ...

I had the honor of attending a half-day conference at the White House last month celebrating the Operation Educate the Educators program, a joint initiative of AACTE and the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) to better prepare school personnel to meet the needs of military-connected children. ...

Of all the impassioned debate we’ve witnessed in this presidential campaign, there has been remarkably little said about a policy issue critical to America’s future: public education. When the candidates have talked about education, they have primarily focused on higher education, which is provided through colleges and universities. Our presidential candidates have largely been silent about their views on and plans to enhance K-12 public education. This is worrisome. Does the lack of focus suggest the candidates don’t consider K-12 education as important as addressing terrorism, immigration, the economy? Do they fail to recognize that our schools play a powerful role in overcoming these and other challenges facing our nation?

Too much of the public discourse has focused on the negative, encouraging division and animosity rather than engendering a spirited but positive dialog about the way forward for our country. ...

As an educator, I love that my professional life revolves around a school calendar, brand new school supplies each year, and the daily promise of children’s hugs. How very gratifying it is to know that what we do has the power to change a child’s trajectory in life! Teachers are in a unique position to accomplish what so few other occupations can: immortality. They live on forever in the stories shared between generations, the unforgettable memories, and the differences they made in their students’ lives. ...

We’re all increasingly using technology and digital devices in daily life. And our education system has shifted to make these technologies a greater part of learning to prepare our students for higher education, careers, and life in the 21st century. But many students from low-income families do not have access to high-quality broadband or current technologies at home, and this is exacerbating the Digital Divide and the related “Homework Gap.” The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recently found that only 3 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools said that their students had the digital tools necessary to complete homework assignments, compared to 52 percent of teachers in more affluent schools.
 
Several LFA organizations have made this issue a priority and are providing new resources for educators to manage these inequities. ...

Sometimes, you know you have to get involved because you can make a difference. That’s why Sara Brown, a health room assistant at Bordeaux Elementary School in Shelton, Washington, got involved in fighting student hunger. With more than 70 percent of her students’ families classified as low-income or homeless, hunger was a real issue in her school.

“We know that hundreds of children come to school without eating breakfast, and skipping breakfast can make kids feel tired, restless, and irritable,” said Sara. “This can lead to moodiness, changes in energy levels, and low retention.”

So, Sara and her fellow educators took action. With the help of her school’s community and staff members, Bordeaux Elementary School is working closely together with families to end student hunger. One of their great ideas to alleviate the issue is their school’s share bin.

“Our share bin is simple. If you have a piece of fruit or other food in your lunch that you didn’t eat or touch, you place it in the share box. This food is still good to eat and can easily be given to a student who is still hungry,” said Sara. ...

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