Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Public School Insights Blog

During the school year, families depend on the fact that students receive healthy well-balanced meals. In fact, more than 21 million children rely on the nutritious, free and reduced priced meals provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, a simple snack or supper, schools and food service professionals do their part to ensure all students have the fuel they need to learn and grow strong during the school year. But what happens over summer break?

At NEA Healthy Futures, we heard from educators and parents that the need for access to affordable, healthy food doesn’t stop over the summer months.

Luckily, Summer Nutrition Programs help to fill the void during summer vacation. This important program has continued to increase over the last three years and in 2014, more than 187 million summer meals were provided at over 50,000 sites nationwide. This represents a 6 percent increase in meals served nationally from the previous year. ...

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

The conflict of man against machine has been a common theme in literature almost as long as there have been machines. This concept seems more popular than ever, especially in this summer’s blockbuster movies such as the “Terminator” series, the “Mad Max” series, “Ex Machina,” “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and last year’s “Transcendence” and the “Transformer” series.

This idea has also existed as an organizational theory for decades. In their 1961 book, “The Management of Organization,” British theorists Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker developed the concept of mechanistic and organic organizations.

Mechanistic organizations have a highly complex and formal structure governed by a system of rules and procedures tightly controlled by a centralized hierarchy of authority. This sounds like the typical school district. Unfortunately, Burns and Stalker suggested this structure works best in stable and predictable environments. That doesn’t describe the typical school district at all ...

Engaging parents, students, school staff and stakeholders is a top priority for Baltimore County Public Schools and Superintendent S. Dallas Dance. Mychael Dickerson, Chief Communications Officer for the school district, has worked with the superintendent to shape the district's communications strategies and ensure that all parties are getting the information they need, on time. For its success, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), AASA, the School Superintendents Association and Blackboard honored the district with the 2015 Leadership Through Communication Award.

Dickerson recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance about Baltimore County's philosophies and strategies.

LFA: Communications has not always been a top priority for school districts, especially in times of budget cuts. Tell us, in your view, why do school districts need to prioritize and invest in communications?


By Sharon P. Robinson, President and CEO, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Professional advocacy organizations support their members by helping them advance a collective voice. By articulating a field’s consensus positions, associations empower their members to speak clearly about what they know, identify priorities, invest their energy strategically, and communicate confidently with internal and external audiences.

These unified understandings, which we adjust as research and best practices evolve, help us fulfill our obligation to correct misinformation and to respond to critics—a frequent need in the field of educator preparation. More importantly, though, they provide a foundation for action by the profession and help us recognize areas of need. In educator preparation, we’ve instituted a variety of reforms in recent years that have prompted us to develop new resources to increase our capacity, assess our progress, and inform our knowledge base.

First and foremost, we needed a common measure to allow us to document candidates’ abilities after they completed their preparation program. Without a valid and reliable performance assessment, the field was unable to commonly identify what teacher candidates could actually do ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

When I was a local school board member, parents frequently asked for my advice on how to ensure their child got a particular teacher in a school. I knew how the game would be played after I reminded them this wasn't the role of the school board: They would write the principal with their requests for the next year. The principal would respond to assure the parents that no matter which classroom their child was assigned to, he or she would have a great year.

However, in some cases, the principal knew that wasn't entirely accurate. Some teachers were stronger than others in his or her school, and there was no mechanism to give all students access to the best ...

By Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

Recently, Education Week published an article on the rise of family engagement as a priority for schools and districts across the country. The article spotlights states and districts in which family engagement initiatives are part of long-term, integrated and high-impact strategies to bolster student achievement. It is an important piece to help underscore the critical role family engagement and family-school partnerships play in children’s learning and growth. The article also is timely considering the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB) and National PTA’s work to include stronger family engagement provisions in the bill ...

Many school districts are concerned that assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards will show lower test scores, and ultimately, a backlash against that standards. But Dr. Dallas Dance, the acclaimed superintendent  of Baltimore County, Maryland, public schools, says much of the concern can be alleviated with proactive communications with parents and teachers so they can understand the benefit of CCSS.

“Let's be honest--scores will dip,” Dance said in a podcast interview with the Learning First Alliance as part of its “Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core” campaign.

Communication is essential “not just to our parents in our community, to our teachers, to our principals, but also communicating to our students that what we're learning today is quite different from what we learned even three years ago,” he added. ...

Written by Jim Bellanca, P21 Senior Fellow and co-editor of Becoming Self-Directed Learners.

Ephie was facing her first solo outside the school walls. It was her senior capstone project. It wasn’t her first official learning experience “out there”.  In her two years in the Global Studies School, she had completed internships, researched in the local library, traveled to the city for another project and taken a course at the local community college. This was the first time she would have to move round on her own.

As more schools adopt new ways of learning that include outside the walls study, internships and other formats, questions arise. What value? Who benefits? Who pays?  Who is responsible for what?  The best answer to all is “the student” at least when it comes to a self-directed capstone project. Such a project as Ephie’s is there to test her mettle as a self-directed learner. As a capstone, it is a final exam.  ...

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

It is not going to happen. ESEA will not be reauthorized any time soon. I have been a skeptic throughout the entire process. ESEA could have been easily reauthorized during the first two years of the Obama administration when the Democrats held a majority in both houses of Congress but that clearly was not a priority. After the 2011 midterm election, the Democrats lost the House and chances for reauthorization diminished. After the 2015 midterm elections, when the Republicans gained control of both legislative chambers, the possibility emerged that the Republicans had the votes to pass bills in both Houses but the threat of a Presidential veto loomed large.

Truth be told, there really are no significant policy issues between the two parties when it comes to education. The reality is that the House and Senate, whether Democrat or Republican, agree on far more than not, and that the grid lock is more aligned with adults and politics than with students and schools. At one time there was a clear delineation between Democrats and Republicans on issues like school choice, vouchers, teacher tenure, and seniority and education reform. Today those lines are blurred, and the differences have become political rather than pedagogical ...

Parent engagement and community engagement have been trending in education lingo for some time, but what do these really mean for school districts? 

Parent engagement strategies are designed to go beyond the required parent-teacher conferences, volunteering, and seminars and events that public schools have used for decades to draw in families and community members. Now, we are happy to see that a few school districts and states are trying to encourage longer-term strategies that are directly tied to student learning, Education Week reports.

These school leaders see that parents who are aware of what’s going on in their child’s school and get involved in working toward academic goals will help their child succeed academically. But it also helps draw needed support for public education from parents and the community. ...

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