Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Public School Insights Blog

Dr. Summer Stephens believes that educators are only beginning to understand the power of assessments and data to improve teaching and learning. And, as superintendent of Westin County School District #7 in Upton, Wyo., she sees that the Common Core State Standards are beginning to transform not only what is being taught but also the way her students are learning.

She recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance for its “Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core” national campaign. As part of the campaign, LFA is profiling educators across the country to learn about their experience with the Common Core.

“One of the strengths that we've noted in our students with the new standards is the push for them to really be in charge of their own learning, which is what we know you need as an individual in the world to be a productive citizen and excel in your world of work, or if you go on to college, that you have to be able to own your learning,” Dr. Stephens said. “We're really trying to take advantage of the approach with the standards to develop that independence for our kids." ...

“One more time.”

These are the most dreaded words when you’re trying to get a rambunctious two year old to go to sleep—and it’s already 10:30 p.m. The big stack of board books had toppled. The Dreamland CD was finishing its last lullaby. Mom needed to do some work before bed.

But my son wouldn’t give it up—he just wanted to read the same books over and over: “Good Night Little Pookie” and the whole series of Sandra Boynton’s board books, “Trains” by Byron Barton, the classic “Big Joe’s Trailer Truck,” and anything about trucks, trains, or transportation.

Eventually, he began memorizing the rhymes and recognizing sight words. We moved on to longer books but I came back to several of his favorites to help him spell and sound out familiar words and phrases. Those late nights eventually paid off. By age 4 he was reading… his preK teacher didn’t believe me until she spelled out a word to another teacher and he announced it to the class. When he entered kindergarten his initial reading assessment score was already higher than the minimum to complete the grade.

As the National PTA kicks off its Family Reading Challenge this summer, consider these statistics: ...

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

As we fight our way back from the recession, it's clear that our economy isn't working for everyone. Too many are out of work or have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Too many don't have the skills they need for the jobs available in their communities. Too many get the skills they need only to be saddled with crippling debt or faced with unaffordable housing. For too many, the American dream is out of reach. Meanwhile, the rich get richer and government grows increasingly gridlocked as money drives politics.

As a union, the American Federation of Teachers takes on these issues. Indeed, our members and those we serve count on us to fight back. So, yes, we confront corporations like Pearson in front of their shareholders for business policies that lead to gagging teachers and spying on children. We protest for-profit colleges like Corinthian that leave students with a worthless degree and a load of debt. And we call out hedge fund managers who denounce teachers' pensions as they profit from teacher pension funds ...

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. ...

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