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The Public School Insights Blog

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 ...

By Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association (NSBA)

One year later, the nation continues to memorialize the 26 adults and children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, support their survivors, grieve, and move forward. For school board members, the urgency of making schools around the country safer and more responsive to future threats is an ongoing imperative and legacy of the Newtown shootings.

As part of their duties, school boards must ensure that school buildings keep children and school personnel safe without becoming fortresses. In cases of natural disasters and man-made situations, school buildings – equipped with high-occupancy gymnasiums and cafeterias – are often the first shelter, serving as community safe havens and command posts. School boards recognize that even the best emergency preparedness policy is perishable, and they are monitoring and improving their districts’ policies on a routine basis.

School districts can ensure that parents and the community have a clear and actionable understanding of emergency response plans. One example is ...

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A Different Spin on Failure

Dr. Maria Ferguson recently addressed the topic of failure in a column written for the December issue of the Kappan, a PDK publication. In it, she pointed out that many education leaders and policy makers are unwilling to accept that some amount of failure is predictable and that there are lessons to be learned from failure. It reminded me of the saying, if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again. We set lofty goals in education; Dr. Ferguson highlights the goal of 90% graduation rate under the Clinton administration, with the target date of the year 2000. There was also the objective set out under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), 100% proficiency by 2013-2014.

Our graduation rate is increasing, but we’re well past 2000. NCLB failed to produce the results we desired. Did we really believe our education system was prepared to accomplish those ends within the timeframe we prescribed? If we set ourselves up for failure, it is no wonder that we find ourselves falling short. But then, what do we learn from these repeated failures? ...

By Soeren Palumbo, Co-Founder, SO College and the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign

Special Olympics Project UNIFY has a transition program called SO College, which aims to bring together college students and individuals with intellectual disabilities to create a campus and community of inclusion and acceptance.

Outlined against a blue-gray November sky in the beating heart of the Southeastern Conference, two teams took to a Tuscaloosa field Saturday. The brass echoes of Yea Alabama faded with the cheers of the crowd, fans and band drawing breath in anticipation.  Before them, crimson red met royal purple in athletic tableau. 

Here, college football is a civic – if not always civil – religion.  “Roll Tide” and “Geaux Tigers” are more than team cheers; they are salutations, exclamations, sometimes even punctuations.  There are no moral victories here.  Athletic competition of young men and women, joined by the collective will of aptly-termed “fan nations,” determine the bragging rights of the coming winter, spring, and summer. ...

By Jill Cook, Assistant Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

Robin Zorn believes school counselors can make a difference in students’ lives, and she goes out of her way to prove it.

It’s this belief that informs her work every day at Dr. M.H. Mason Jr. Elementary School in Duluth, GA, and her advocacy work at the district and state level. Her efforts were recognized last week when the American School Counselor Association named her the 2014 School Counselor of the Year.

Robin and the six previous winners of the award exemplify the work school counselors across the country do to increase academic achievement while promoting students’ personal/social development and career needs. Since she became a school counselor in 1999, the profession has undergone a transformation from being reactive to proactive and from ancillary to a critical cog in overall school improvement. 

This transformation is due largely to the ASCA National Model, which was published in 2003 and provides a framework for school counseling programs so they are comprehensive in scope, preventive in design and developmental in ...

Earlier this week, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2012 Programme for International Assessment (PISA). As predicted, the results show little change in the performance of U.S. students since the assessment was last administered in 2009.

While much of the media coverage of the release focused on PISA’s ranking of education systems, with the U.S. remaining below many international peers in performance in mathematics, reading and science, the education community responded differently, focusing not on numerical results but on the lessons we can learn from OECD’s research on the policies and practices that high-performing nations use in successful efforts to improve student achievement – policies and practices that suggest a strategy for education reform that is much different than the one that we as a nation have been operating under for more than a decade.

As American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said in a statement, “none of the top-tier countries, nor any of those that have made great leaps in student performance, like Poland and Germany, has a fixation on testing ...

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