Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child


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Last month, after overwhelmingly bipartisan approval in Congress, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the latest iteration of the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The 15 member organizations of the Learning First Alliance believe that this law is overall a good departure from the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, and each organization has analyzed the law to determine what it will mean for their constituents. In December we published members' statements on passage of the law, we've now compiled some of the new resources and commentaries. ...

When it comes to the recent passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (or ESSA), we can cheer for this big score leading to a victory over some of the lasting remnants of No Child Left Behind legislation. But like the athlete who dances in the end zone too early in the game, we really have a great deal of ground to gain before this game is over.

First, congratulations to many from “both sides of the aisle” who finally made this happen. The new law does rid education leaders of a number of the persistent roadblocks that most of us have been harping about for so many years. And most important, the Act adds more flexibility as well as state and local control to hammer out the details of what it can do for or do to your system.

And Therein Lies the Rub

I have worked in the Washington, D.C., environment for 3 decades. Even though NSPRA primarily works with local school districts and agencies, we know the reaction and the “look” you may have when federal officials greet you saying, “We’re from Washington and we are here to help you.” ...

President Obama today signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), bringing in a new era of state and local responsibility and bringing significant changes to the federal role in K-12 education. This legislation is the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the main federal K-12 education law, which has been due for reauthorization for nearly a decade as public schools endured punitive and untenable federal accountability measures.

The 15 organizations that make up the Learning First Alliance (LFA), which collectively represent more than 10 million educators and parents at the ground level, are largely pleased with the new law, which gives states responsibility for annual student testing and much more say in accountability. Representatives from several LFA member organizations attended the law’s signing at the White House.

Below are statements, articles and editorials that articulate the nuanced positions of some of the LFA member organizations: ...

Joshua Starr, who took the helm of Phi Delta Kappa International this summer, left a high-profile job as Superintendent of the Montgomery County, Md., schools, where he had focused on accountability and high standards for the fast-growing and increasingly diverse 154,000-student district. While some were surprised that Dr. Starr did not seek another job as superintendent, he is now focusing his work on improving teaching and learning through systemic change at PDK International.

Dr. Starr also has worked as director of accountability for the New York City public schools and as superintendent of the Stamford, Conn., school district. Dr. Starr has a doctorate in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a master’s degree in special education from Brooklyn College, and a bachelor’s degree in English and history from the University of Wisconsin. His three children attend public schools in Montgomery County, and he began his career as a teacher working with adolescents with several emotional disabilities.

Dr. Starr recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance about his experience as a superintendent, the recent PDK/Gallup Annual poll, and his plans for the organization. ...

The Learning First Alliance brought together educators and representatives from national associations for the #CCSSData Twitter Town Hall on September 24, 2015. The chat followed a webinar, “Let’s Talk Data: What Common Core Test Results Tell Us About Teaching and Learning” held two days earlier.

Key themes that emerged from those conversations included:

  • Context is critical in communicating Common Core-aligned assessment data to teachers, parents and students. Assessment reports must be more than just a score. 

  • There are a host of great resources for teachers, parents and students around Common Core assessment data. Unfortunately these resources don’t always make it into the hands of those who need them most.

  • A host of organizations are creating resources and tools to help teachers, parents, and students interpret and use Common-Core data. The National PTA, Be a Learning Hero, the Data Quality Campaign, and the Teaching Channel all provide free resources. 


As testing data tied to high standards and Common Core State Standards comes to fruition in numerous states, the Learning First Alliance brought together a panel of national, state and local education leaders for a webinar to discuss how to use this new data to improve teaching and learning. The Sept. 22 event was part of LFA’s “Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core” national campaign.

The Common Core standards give researchers and educators an unprecedented opportunity to glean rich information and use that data to follow students over time and find ways to improve teaching and learning, said Aimee Guidera, president and CEO of the Washington-based Data Quality Campaign.

“Data needs to be at the beginning of the story, not the end, that’s the part of the conversation we need to reset,” she said.

Ms. Guidera noted numerous issues for educators to build their understanding of data and how it should impact their work: ...

By Joshua P. Starr, Chief Executive Officer, PDK International

This year’s PDK/Gallup Poll on the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools marks a shift in both the poll and PDK International. As I assume leadership of the organization, I will build on PDK’s legacy while embracing opportunities to keep the organization at the center of the dialogue about how to ensure that every child in every classroom in America has in front of her or him the most qualified and professional teachers.

Realizing this goal requires comprehensive analysis, honest debate, and a willingness to look at old assumptions with new perspectives. And it requires the kind of trustworthy, independent data about public values that the PDK/Gallup poll provides. The data enable policy makers, leaders, educators, families, and communities to understand the issues before designing and implementing solutions. Toward that end, PDK International will, for the first time, convene thought leaders throughout the year to explore survey results, engage in deep dialogue about the issues, and develop a common understanding of their complexity. We hope our leaders and those who help them craft policy will recognize that the successful solutions we seek can only be the offspring of well-defined data and deeply understood problems. ...

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 ...

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 ...

By Mel Riddile, Ed.D, Associate Director of High School Services, National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)

Author’s note: This is the second of a two-part post on the challenges faced by principals implementing online testing tied to the Common Core and new college- and career-ready standards. So much has happened in recent weeks that I divided the entry into two parts because one post would not do justice to the topic.

In part 1, I described that with the spring testing season now winding down, principals in a number of states feel as though they are under siege. For some schools, whatever could go wrong has gone wrong.

From my contact with principals in a number of states and my ongoing work with principals in schools in five states, I have learned that online assessments present principals with a number of new and old challenges.

I divided this post into two parts. Part 1 addressed non-technical challenges principals face in implementing the new assessments. This entry will address the technical issues.

Following are eight technical challenges school leaders face in implementing online testing related to the Common Core and new college- and career-ready standards:

The transition from paper-and-pencil to online assessments takes several years before it becomes normal.

We learned from previous experiences with online instruction that it usually took time to work out the technical problems. So, when we began high-stakes, online testing, we expected problems. We prepared for problems, and we learned from the problems ...

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