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Two large concrete disks fitted with seats don’t attract much attention on the Brickyard at the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh, N.C. When you sit on the seat in one of those disks and speak in a normal voice, sometimes even in a whisper, someone sitting in the seat in the other disk can hear you quite clearly, even though the two disks are hundreds of feet apart.

The disks are parabolic reflectors, which amplify and focus sound waves so no shouting is required in order to be heard.

It’s been years since I sat in one of those concrete disks, but I thought of that phenomenon over and over again as I read through the results of this year’s PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. A lot of what we learned from the poll is old news or at least not very surprising news: Testing is flunking with Americans, the public isn’t really behind the Common Core, Americans want the federal government to play a less active role in education, and lack of funding is the biggest problem facing local schools. Oh, and everybody thinks their own schools are better than everyone else’s schools. ...

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

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing teachers posting pictures of their classrooms on Facebook, saying, “My classroom’s ready!” That takes me right back to my childhood, helping my mom prepare her classroom for the students in the waning days of August.

My mom taught second and third grade at Valley Cottage Elementary School. And I remember her ritual of using the days before Labor Day to ready her classroom for her students.

Of course, preparing the classroom — even back then — meant spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars out of her own pocket on supplies — just as her colleagues did and teachers do today.

When I was a kid, we were lucky to have a laundry room that housed the washer and dryer, of course, but also served as my mom’s office, filled with all the supplies she bought for her class. It was a treasure trove of books and paper and pens. ...

By Kevin Scott, Director of Member Engagement, ASCD

Last month, I wrote about the possibility of the final weeks of school being a spring board for the rest of the school year. I basically asked this question: “What if the bulk of the school year had the energy and excitement for students that we (parents and teachers) see once the state tests are over?” As the final weeks of summer wind down, I’m already thinking about what I, as a parent, want the 2015–16 school year to look like for my sons. And since everyone seems to be interested in lists, I created a list of my top five “wants.” 

1. Reduce Anxiety and Stress: Last year, my 6th grader struggled with reading and math. As a former teacher—and a former math struggler—I had to put my growth mindset hat away as my son and I tried to get to the root of the problem. We found a tutor who helps him and connects well with his learning style. When my parents had to do the same for me a couple of decades ago, it was a mismatch because the tutor and I didn’t gel. The connection between my son and his tutor, however, ultimately dissolved the argument about the value of math in general. It was almost cool for him to get some extra help. Having a tutor that my son respects and enjoys working with has greatly reduced the stress level in my house. In general, I want us all to be a little less stressed and take the actions to insure that happens ...

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 Mary Cathryn Ricker, Executive Vice-President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

When I was elected president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) in 2005, I thought my own story might help transform the relationship between teachers and administrators as well as improve the image of teachers in the community. I was a veteran middle school English teacher, and I’d been honored for my work. And I had been active in the SPFT as a political and community volunteer as well as the union’s professional representative on local and state committees.

I had also spent enough time in my classroom and in the city to know—and be bothered by—the dominant story told about public school teachers and our union by the mass media, a number of Minnesota legislators, and in many local communities. On a local TV station’s evening news show, a Minnesota Republican state senator, Richard Day, had even declared, “We all know Minneapolis and St. Paul schools suck.” In too many conversations, I got accused of failure unless I quickly told people about the awards I had won for creating a model English/language arts classroom and running a program for my colleagues on how to improve writing in middle schools. If local citizens, especially parents, could learn about our talent, our dedication, and our ideas, I was convinced their perceptions would change ...

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

More than 200 superintendents, including members of AASA’s Executive Committee and Governing Board, gathered in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to take part in this year’s Legislative Advocacy Conference. The Association of School Business Officials International partnered with AASA this year, and a number of school business officials were in attendance, including John Musso, ASBO’s executive director.

Last year’s advocacy conference occurred while the Federal Communications Commission was considering major revisions to the E-Rate program. Our superintendents charged Capitol Hill and met with their congressional representatives as well as FCC commissioners and their staff. That advocacy effort proved very successful as later in the year we saw major changes to the E-Rate program and an unprecedented increase of $1.5 billion to the E-Rate cap ...

The Common Core has affected how all education professionals approach their work. We recently spoke with two leading school counselors—Dan Peabody and Cory Notestine—about how the implementation of the Common Core has impacted their work and the ways in which they are collaborating with colleagues during the transition to the new standards.

Dan Peabody (shown at right) is a counselor at Patapsco Middle School in Howard County, Maryland. Mr. Peabody was recognized as the Maryland State 2015 Middle School Counselor of the Year and recently elected to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Board of Directors.

Cory Notestine (shown below) is a counselor at Alamosa High School in Alamosa, Colorado, and was named as the 2015 School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association.

Q: What do you see as the primary role of a school counselor in 2015?  ...

Eighty-eight percent of respondents surveyed by the Kentucky Department of Education gave their state's standards – which are based on the Common Core State Standards – a thumbs up. And of the approximately 12 percent of respondents who indicated they would like to see some sort of change in one or more of the standards, the majority wanted to see one or more of the standards moved to a different grade level.

This data was collected through the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS) Challenge, which aimed to both increase awareness and understanding of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in English/language arts and mathematics and to solicit actionable feedback on the standards as part of the department's regular review of the state's academic standards. ...

By Rich Bagin, APR, Executive Director, National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)

Most people outside of our profession do not fully grasp how busy school leaders are during the summer. Whether it is preparing your facilities for the new year, juggling last-minute staffing changes, upgrading tech applications, getting instructional materials and furniture where they belong, or planning professional development of all sorts for your instructional staff, you’ve got your hands full.

But for many school leaders, early summer is a good time for a bit of retrospection. And, take it from the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), summer can be good time to assess what went well and what went wrong in communication and engagement during the past school year.

  • So just how did the roll-out of your brand of Common Core go with your system?
  • And how then are you going to approach releasing the first round of assessments this upcoming year?
  • Are you ready for increasing requests to opt-out of testing? ...

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 ...

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