Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Public School Insights Blog

An article featured on Edweek this week by Jeffrey Henig and S. Paul Reville, “Why Attention Will Return to Non-School Factors” provides a great summary of issues surrounding education that public school advocates have been trying to direct attention to for years. However, the optimism that the public will inevitably invest in these issues may be overly rosy—though I certainly hope their prediction pans out.

The authors point out that “when thinking about their own families, parents take it as a given that non-school factors . . . affect whether their children will thrive.” Likewise, analysts studying patterns of education achievement “take it as a given that socioeconomic status, concentrations of poverty, and school and residential mobility are dominating predictors that must be statistically controlled for before one can accurately register weaker and less reliable effects of teachers and schools.” The authors add: “[t]hat there are exceptions to the rule—that children and schools in poor neighborhoods succeed against all odds—does not gainsay the core reality that the odds are steep.”

Despite these realities that indicate people certainly consider non-school factors to be greatly significant, the authors point out that often times in education reform circles, many fear “[a]ttention to non-school factors . . . as an excuse to ...

The intent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in its current form is to ensure that all students are held to high achievement standards and that there is accountability for every student’s success. The Learning First Alliance has long applauded these goals and shares a commitment to ensuring that standards of excellence are adopted and implemented in every public school district in the nation. LFA and its members have advocated (and continue to advocate) for improving ESEA in ways that support educators, student learning and local public school reform.

However, ESEA is now more than three years overdue for reauthorization. And despite the noble intentions of the law, it is widely acknowledged that it contains unfair, counterproductive and overly burdensome regulations. These regulations require local districts to focus scarce resources on compliance, sanctions and reporting that do little to contribute to student success.

Given known flaws in the current iteration of ESEA, and concern that reauthorization will not occur prior to the start of the 2011-12 school year, 16 members of the Learning First Alliance have joined together to send the U.S. Secretary of Education a letter urging the Department of Education to explore its authority for offering appropriate and immediate regulatory relief around ESEA.

This request is predicated on our desire to focus the limited resources available for public education in ways most directly ensuring the highest level of student learning and achievement.

Read the letter and accompanying press release.

Members of the Learning First Alliance signing on to the ...

Teacher evaluation is an extremely hot topic these days. Districts from Houston to DC  – and states from Indiana to Washington – are experimenting with new ways to measure teacher performance. But, as Dr. Laura Goe (principal investigator for the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality and research scientist in the Performance Research Group at ETS) pointed out recently at the Learning First Alliance’s annual Leadership Council meeting, “Policy is way ahead of the research in teacher evaluation measures and models.”

In reviewing the research to date on teacher evaluations, Dr. Goe reminded us that we don’t really know which evaluation model and/or combination of measures will identify effective teachers. And what stuck out to me from her presentation: She, a very accomplished researcher on this issue, doesn’t promote any of the models of teacher evaluation currently in use.

Of course, as she pointed out, it is hard to develop or support an evaluation that can measure whether an educator is effective, given that we don’t have a good definition* of what an effective teacher is. As she said, “Much of the research on teacher effectiveness doesn’t define effectiveness at all, though it is often assumed to ...

To kick-off last week’s LFA Leadership Council meeting, the LFA gave its first Education Visionary Award to Richard W. Riley—former Secretary of Education under President Bill Clinton—for his public service, which has benefited all constituencies LFA organizations serve. While governor of South Carolina, Mr. Riley raised funding and support for education through the Education Improvement Act, which the RAND Corporation called “most comprehensive educational reform measure in the United States.” During his two terms as DOE Secretary, he stressed raising academic standards, improving teaching, and increasing education grants to help disadvantaged children. In 2008, Time Magazine named Riley as one of the “Top 10 Best Cabinet Members” of the 20th century. In his address following his award acceptance, he discussed a few major themes, including high standards, good assessment systems, diversity among the student population, and poverty—all major focuses of the LFA as well. ...

Last week, the LFA held its annual Leadership Council meeting for our member organizations.  The meeting featured a presentation by Mona Mourshed—a partner and researcher at McKinsey and Company—on a great resource for school improvement. Clearly many people feel they have winning formulas for school success, but this McKinsey research presents a truly compelling set of recommendations based on extensive research.

In the report, "How the world's best performing school systems come out on top,"—a follow-up to the 2007 publication by the same name—researchers examined the common attributes of school systems that exhibited continued performance. To do so, they conducted hundreds of interviews and gathered a large body of statistical data to create a comprehensive analysis of global school system reform. From this, they identified reform elements that they feel are replicable for school systems everywhere.

Diverse Case Studies ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Steve Berlin. Steve is Senior Communications Manager at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE, a Learning First Alliance member).

For anyone reading this post, it should come as no surprise that education professionals have long agreed on these two proactive ways to improve scholastic achievement, at least in principle: dropout prevention efforts must begin before students reach high school, and it is incumbent on education entities to seek partners from outside the field to help students succeed. Further, we must consider looking beyond the “usual suspect” when it comes to partnerships because as a nation, everyone has a vested interest in students’ success.

At the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), we have found a promising formula to help increase the high school graduation rate through our partnership with the U.S. Army. Together, we developed and launched in January 2011 the Partnership for All Students’ Success (Project PASS).  

Project PASS is designed to support students’ academic, social, and emotional needs to increase high school graduation rates and college and career readiness with the new Junior Leadership Corps (JLC) in middle schools and ...

Preparing General Ed Teachers to Succeed with Students with Disabilities

96% of students with disabilities spend at least part of their day in general education classrooms. But how prepared are general ed teachers to work with those students?

Not very. And that may be part of the reason why students with disabilities perform significantly worse than their peers – even students whose disabilities should not prevent them from reaching the same academic outcomes.*

Yesterday, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education** and the National Center for Learning Disabilities released a white paper that lays out a new vision for preparing general education teachers to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. It also offers recommendations to federal and state policymakers, as well as providers of teacher education, as to how to make that vision a reality.

I was fortunate enough to attend a briefing on the paper, and one major theme stuck out at me: We’ve got to move beyond this notion that some general ed teachers have – and that our education system in many ways reinforces – that it’s not their job to handle all the issues that students with disabilities bring.

The paper points out that while teachers often work with a wide range of students in the classroom, their teaching license typically limits them to work in an elementary or secondary school, and as a general ed, special education or ...

Clearly we live in an age when customers have great choice in products and services, many of which can be delivered via computer applications. Education authors and former teachers and administrators Chuck Schwahn and Bea McGarvey want to integrate this reality into school learning.

They recently published a new book, Inevitable: Mass Customizing Learning, in which they discuss how schools can alter current outdated practices by utilizing customizing technologies to better meet individualized needs of students. We recently asked the pair some questions about their book and its potential for improving the schools. Check out the description Bea provided of creating a learning plan/schedule under their system at the bottom of the page after the interview.

Public School Insights:  Your book is titled Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning.  What is Mass Customized Learning?

Schwahn/McGarvey: Mass Customized Learning (MCL) is actually a very descriptive label.  From a learner’s perspective, MCL means that “every day when I go to school, I am met at my individual and personal learning level, I am able to learn in my most powerful learning modes, I am motivated to want to learn with content that is of interest to me, I feel a sense of challenge, I am successful, and I look forward to ...

Last week, the National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual report on the state of preschool. Among what we learned: Enrollment in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs has grown more than 70 percent over the past decade. But despite trends in growth, total state funds for pre-k were $30 million less in 2010 than the previous year – and would have been close to $50 million greater were it not for stimulus funds. Per-child spending fell an average of $114 last year.

The growth in enrollment makes complete sense. After all, research continues to show the benefits (both academic and economic) of pre-k education. But especially given those benefits, the decline in state funding is quite worrisome. Unfortunately, it is not unexpected – and given the current economic crisis in many states, I could be forgiven for assuming that state capacity to maintain and expand pre-k programs will shrink in the coming years.

That pessimism is one reason I was pleased to see the announcement earlier this week that several national education organizations (including several Learning First Alliance members) are joining forces specifically to support high-quality pre-kindergarten. As a sign of their ...

The NAACP recently released a report—“Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate”—which, as the title suggests, argues the federal and state governments are misplacing priorities in their allocation of funds to prisons rather than education. In the report and in recent interviews, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and other sympathizers (including some fiscally conservative groups and prison groups) make compelling points about this funding tradeoff.

An Edweek article quotes Jealous saying that this “multidecade trend of prioritizing incarceration over education is not sustainable.” The report cites data from the Pew Center on the States among other sources that backup his assertions about allotment: ...

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