Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Public School Insights Blog

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 ...

Studies show that students perform better in school when parents or caregivers are actively involved in the education of their children.

Men and women think differently and bring different perspectives and skills to school and PTA activities, but oftentimes, the women dominate in this area—until now.

The National PTA tackled this issue from the grassroots perspective in an interview with Anthony King, who is responsible for creating a unique PTA of its own kind, the Detroit Area Dads PTA.

PTA:  What motivated you to start a male-centered PTA?

King:  I felt that there was a need for an organization to reach out to the men. I wanted to encourage dads.  You always hear about the women, but you don’t hear or see many dads around school.  I became a part of PTA because of my daughter when she was at Vernor Elementary School here in Detroit. I just started volunteering and wanted to make sure the kids got to school in the morning. It just evolved. I got more involved in the school and the PTA.  I started as the sergeant at arms and when the PTA president’s child graduated, I somehow ended up as PTA president. ...

Alicia Proulx, a parent and teacher in West Warwick, Rhode Island, speaks with Audra McPhillips, a mathematics specialist and pre-K-12 instructional coach for the district. Together, they explore what the shift to Common Core-aligned math means for students and parents.

Download as MP3 ...

By Jasper Fox, Sr., Middle School Science Teacher and ASCD Emerging Leader, class of 2015

Despite major inroads in improving graduation rates across the country, there remains much work to be done. Nowhere is this truer than our nation’s urban areas. Recent findings outlined in ASCD’s national whole child snapshot indicate that there are major discrepancies in graduation rates between different groups of students who attend our nation’s high schools. There are major structural changes that need to be addressed to improve the educational experience for students in these schools in order for them to leave high school ready for their lives and careers. Taking it back to basics is important. Creating a supportive experience and paying attention to details such as attendance and credit requirements means focusing on each student and asking, “How can we get every child to complete their K–12 education?” ...

What are you reading this summer? If you’re looking for something a little more substantive than the usual summer reading, the Learning First Alliance has some suggestions.

As part of LFA’s Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core campaign, we’ve interviewed dozens of practitioners, researchers and policymakers to learn how Common Core is taking hold at the local level. We recently compiled our Top Five list of resources to help explain the standards and using them to improve teaching and learning in local schools.

(And if you haven’t already signed up for our bimonthly Public School Insights e-newsletter and Get It Right update—where this list first appeared--please do so here.) ...

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

Teaching is our heart. Our students are our soul. And the union is our spine.

I heard that sentiment over and over again last week during the American Federation of Teachers' biennial TEACH conference, one of the largest professional development conferences for educators in the nation. That's right, a conference on teaching and learning, sponsored by the union.

The conference included sessions on a wide range of topics, as well as a daylong summit with an organization called EdSurge, where educators had the opportunity to give feedback on classroom technology products, and a town hall meeting with the AFT's three officers, where members could ask or share anything.

Two-thousand educators descended on Washington, D.C., to learn from experts and one another, and once there, the theme was resounding: The voices of educators matter ...

Mud pies. Gardening. Digging for buried treasure. Puddle jumping. Burying a time capsule in the backyard. None of these opportunities should be missed in the span of a young life. There are a thousand ways that dirt is not only good — it’s FANTASTIC. Simply put, dirt is an essential ingredient to a happy childhood.

So if you find that your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or heck — even yourself are far too clean these daysunplug from your electronic device of choice and go outside and PLAY. It’s good for the body, mind and spirit. (Watch this video from Persil detergent for more inspiration).

And quite frankly, so many children and teens today have no idea what they have been missing. We are raising a very indoor generation, comparatively speaking. So be a little patient with them; it might take them awhile to get the hang of good old fashioned outdoor play and adventure. But they will. It’s in all of us — naturally.

Check out these resources to help get your kiddos or family outside:

Nature Rocks ...

Updated July 30, 2015

Last week, the United States Senate passed a sweeping rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s federal K-12 law, providing a rare example of bipartisan governance in an increasingly polarized political climate. An overwhelming majority of the Senate voted for the bill under the leadership of its co-authors, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

This marks the first time since 2001 the Senate has taken such action, and it is an important step in freeing states from the demands of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current iteration of ESEA that is widely acknowledged to be broken.

If enacted, this legislation – known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) – would significantly roll back the role of the federal government in public education and give states more flexibility in how they provide it. For example, the bill would eliminate the nation’s current accountability system, known as adequate yearly progress, and instead allow states to create their own systems. It would require states to identify low-performing schools, but would not be specific about how many schools states need to target or what interventions should look like ...

As a top official at the National Governors Association, Dane Linn was one of the key developers of the Common Core State Standards. Now Vice President of Education and Workforce for the Business Roundtable, Linn recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance about the development process and the future course for the standards. The interview was part of LFA’s Get it Right: Common Sense on the Common Core campaign.

“The work that we started in the Common Core State Standards had one key objective, and that work was to really help ensure that all students, no matter where they live, whether they live in Shaker Heights, Ohio, downtown Detroit, or in the countryside out in Kansas, that their opportunity to have an equal shot of being successful in college and the workplace was going to be a reality,” he said. 

It will take time for the standards to have an impact on the U.S. workforce and economy, Linn added. But he noted that currently many employers are advertising jobs and receiving applications from people who are not qualified for the work. ...

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