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The Public School Insights Blog

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

States and districts are deep into the implementation of their educator evaluation systems. The backbone of these programs includes competent, skillful evaluators; high and explicit performance standards; constructive feedback; and individually focused professional learning aligned to individual areas for improvement. Individually focused professional learning holds both potential promises and pitfalls.

Among the promises is the opportunity to personalize learning to address the unique needs of each educator. Well-designed and developed systems provide access to a suite of differentiated professional learning opportunities and support to change practice. The ability to meet this promise depends on a rich educator development system that uses educator, student, and system data to establish individual improvement goals. This system must also identify and make available learning opportunities aligned with all performance standards and indicators, appropriate to all grade levels, disciplines, roles, and school and district contexts within which educators work. Such a system holds the individual educator responsible for his or her own growth, development, and results.

Individually focused professional learning, while addressing individual learning needs, has potential pitfalls. First, it may contribute to less collaboration and greater fragmentation among educators within a school community as ...

National PTA's Every Child in Focus is a campaign to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and reporting the disparities within diverse populations, and sharing resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child. January is the Month of the Suburban Child. Guest blogging for National PTA is Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. Her work primarily focuses on urban and suburban poverty, metropolitan demographics, and tax policies that support low-income workers and communities. To learn more, visit PTA.org/EveryChild

Mapleton Public Schools—a suburban district just north of Denver, Colorado—serves more than 7,600 students from Pre-K through grade 12 in its 15 schools. Though its enrollment numbers have remained steady in recent years, this district has been grappling with significant changes. In the span of a decade, the number of Mapleton students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch doubled. By the 2010-11 school year, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the student body was eligible for subsidized meals. As the number of low-income students has climbed, so too has the need for extra assistance that will help kids be ready to learn—from clothing and food to additional academic support.

Mapleton Public Schools isn’t alone. Suburban districts across the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have become home to growing low-income populations in recent years. In the last half of the 2000s, the number of suburban students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches grew by 22 percent, compared to an increase of just 8 percent in city districts during that time. At the same time, many school districts are also seeing more students experiencing homelessness.

These trends reflect larger shifts in the geography of poverty within the nation’s largest metro areas. Between 2000 and 2012, the population living below the federal poverty line in the suburbs (roughly $23,500 for a family of four in 2012) grew by 65 percent—more than twice the pace of growth in large cities and faster than the increases registered in smaller metro areas and ...

The National PTA Reflections Program was founded in 1969 by Colorado PTA President Mary Lou Anderson with a simple objective: to encourage students to explore their talents in the arts and deepen their self-expression through those experiences. Eleven years ago, the US Department of Education started a Student Art Exhibit Program, and each year they recognize many of the student Reflection winners as part of the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the art exhibit at the Department headquarters in Washington, DC. This year, the PTA Reflections theme was “Magic in a Moment,” and millions of students from across the United States created works of art in a variety of mediums, including film, music, literature, and photography. These works of art are exquisitely crafted and reflective of the artists’ stage in life and the experiences that inspired their creation. The student voice and perspective speaks to the world through the vibrant range of expression; it’s truly a celebration of the human experience. ...

By Margaret Glick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

We are teaching kids to live on a planet we’ve never seen.”  - Mary Catherine Bateson

This quote is as true now as it has ever been, but how are we to do this?  By developing students’ abilities to think critically, creatively and empathically.  How do we manage that?  By embedding three qualities—connection, purpose, and mastery into our classrooms. 

Brain research has given us a few solid principles in the past decade.  One is the concept of plasticity.  Plasticity is the ability the brain has to change with experiences.  Basically, our brain becomes what it does.  This is great news (or bad news, depending on what our brains are doing).  This means teachers can promote patterns of thinking that benefit students, and these patterns can become neural networks that assist whatever kind of thinking you’re after.  Another brain research principle is that emotions impact learning.  When we feel connected and safe in a classroom, a staffroom, or a boardroom, we are able to think in productive ways that might elude us otherwise.  Lastly, we know that when work is viewed as purposeful and relevant, the tracks of learning, inquiry, and motivation are greased. 

So how do we get there in classrooms?  How do we take some of the principles that have surfaced in brain research and apply ...

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

The National Student Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker is an invaluable service that can help districts better prepare their students for college success.

The National Student Clearinghouse is a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 by the higher-education community to track students who received loans to help pay for college tuition. Graduate schools provide enrollment information, while the NSC verifies to lenders that students are taking the necessary course work.

Since expanding its services, the NSC currently holds records for more than 137 million students and 3,500 institutions of higher education, covering 98 percent of the current enrollment in both public and private colleges and universities. Today, the NSC continues to provide enrollment, diploma verification, and ...

It’s difficult to imagine life without computers and technology in general - some days my eyes hurt from staring at screens too much. But computer science is much more in-depth than the basic Internet navigation and word processing skills many of us use in our professional lives. Coding, for example, is an important skill for students to master as we move towards the middle of this century in our electronic age, and can develop habits of mind that students can put to use in future STEM professions. Students who learn to code at a young age establish a strong foundation for more advanced classes in high school, better enabling them to pursue degrees in engineering and other technical professions in their post-secondary education. ...

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Top Success Stories of 2013

Looking back on 2013, the Learning First Alliance is pleased to bring you the five most viewed success stories* from the more than 170 stories housed on our site. Criteria for inclusion on the site is relatively straightforward – the story must show that a school, district or state identified a challenge, addressed it and produced positive results through their efforts. These results are measured in a variety of ways, from increased graduation rates or decreased dropout rates, to improved standardized test scores or positive outcomes in student health and behavior. Other indicators may highlight parent engagement, improved classroom performance, or new innovative practices that foster student engagement. Many stories also highlight the collaboration among education leaders. We would like to extend our thanks to all the organizations that allowed us to cross-post their features in this past year.

We wish you happy reading and a Happy New Year!

5. Using Electives to Get Struggling Students More Math

A Michigan district identified struggling students and then offered a math elective to help them reach their fullest potential. By holding them to high standards and ...

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Top Posts of 2013

In 2013, we tackled a number of issues here at the Learning First Alliance. For example, in June, our members – representing over 10 million public education stakeholders – came together in calling for a transition period in Common Core implementation, removing high-stakes consequences from new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards temporarily to allow the time necessary to implement them with fidelity. In August, recognizing the importance of connecting all students to the digital age, they joined forces in urging an increase to the E-Rate funding cap.

And earlier this month, we issued a statement reminding parents, educators, policymakers and other education stakeholders that the results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (a test of reading literacy, mathematics and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in approximately seventy countries and economies worldwide) must be viewed in context – and that there is a great deal we can learn from ...

As the year draws to a close and the fate of the carefully crafted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) seems tenuous while ill-informed policymakers at both ends of the political spectrum air their complaints, I’m reminded of what really matters to ensure student success in our public schools: great teaching and committed professionals.

This was confirmed for me recently when I had the opportunity to be a “student” in DC Public Schools social studies teacher Tanesha Dixon’s demonstration classroom on Capitol Hill, where she and other master educators were staging digital classroom simulations in a meeting sponsored by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET) to show how new technology tools can be used effectively in the classroom. Certainly the iPads Ms Dixon was using in her classroom provided important support for her lesson, but the real artistry on display was Ms. Dixon’s passion for her subject and creativity in engaging students to incorporate a spirit of inquiry put to use in a wealth of web based resources.

For her demonstration, Ms. Dixon used Discovery Education digital resources, but she acknowledged that the web contains an almost endless supply of rich information, much of it in the public domain and provided by such institutions as the Library of Congress, the ...

By Lisa Sharma Creighton, Senior Program Coordinator, Nutrition, Hunger and Physical Activity, NEA Health Information Network

The holiday season is known for serving up sugary treats like cookies, pies and hot chocolate, but with a little preparation and creativity, schools and parents can ensure that kids also have healthy and tasty options, too. Check out our top tips for intertwining healthy foods and physical activity into this month’s holiday celebrations:

1. Make healthy, holiday-themed snacks
Some of our favorite recipes include:

2. Skip sugary beverages 
Kate Uslan of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation suggests serving fruit-infused water in place of ...

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