Learning First Alliance

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September 8 is International Literacy Day, and 2016 marks the the 50th anniversary of an event designed to promote reading and literacy in U.S. communities and worldwide, and celebrate the work of educators and literacy specialists.  

As part of the events, the International Literacy Association is promoting a service learning kit and a guide to help students learn about other countries.

UNESCO, a sponsor of the event, has released some promising and some concerning date points on the need for greater attention to literacy worldwide.

The good news is that less than 10 percent of students age 15-24 are unable to read and write, compared to 24 percent 50 years ago.

But there are serious discrepancies in gender: the organization notes that, “Although literacy has been high on the development agenda over the past decades, UIS data show that 758 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills,” according to 2014 data. ...

If all goes well, about this time next year the new ESSA roll out in your state will be beginning. It will reflect your local input to your state’s plan and process. Your staff will be on board as they are fully aware of the new approach and have been given ample time to prepare for implementation. And your students and their families know just what to expect and what is expected of them. 

Or not?

In the past few years, we have witnessed how state assessments and testing are often catalysts for discussions that can lead to bashing public education. In addition to privacy issues in some states and the regionalized opt-out movement in others, state testing will once again become an issue as states are now wrestling with their new approaches to their assessment program mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Our prediction is that the new assessments will either sink or swim in the court of parent and public opinion depending on whether authentic communication and collaboration are effectively completed with staff, parents, and students. ...

Should public schools’ primary purpose be to prepare students for work and careers, instill citizenship, or teach higher-level academics?

The answer, according to the 2016 Phi Delta Kappa poll on education, is that Americans don’t have a consensus. More precisely, the more than 1,200 respondents surveyed split over the question: 45 percent of American adults said that preparing students academically is the main goal of a public school education, while 25 percent said the main purpose is to prepare students for work and 26 percent said good citizenship.

That was one of several prominent findings in the in the 48th annual poll, which this year was conducted by PDK International and, for the first time, Langer Research Associates of New York. PDK International split with longtime partner Gallup last year, and PDK officials say the new survey partnership allows the organization to look more deeply into trends and opinions that impact public education. ...

LFA’s member organizations and partners have many examples of schools that have adopted innovative practices or have taken risks that have paid off in their students’ academic achievement. As we head back to school, here are five of our favorite success stories from 2016 that we hope will give inspiration and ideas for your work.

District officials in the Tacoma, Wash. district have designed a system of supports to help students transition from prekindergarten through high school, and they work with local universities to ensure their curriculum is aligned and students have access to financial aid. High school graduation rates have dramatically increased under the strategic plan, two Tacoma administrators write in this article for School Administrator magazine. ...

The Learning First Alliance today released, “Working Together for Student Success: A Back-to-School Communications Toolkit,” a resource to help educators communicate with their parents and communities. 

The toolkit contains advice for helping local school leaders and other educators publicize and explain their successes in implementing college- and career-ready standards. The document is designed to help shore up support for public education across the country by showcasing innovative and effective programs in schools as well as the myriad of school staff members who help students on their paths to graduation.

“We are proud to offer a toolkit that will help school leaders and other educators strategize back-to-school communications,” said Richard M. Long, executive director of the Learning First Alliance. “We know that there are many good programs and examples of schools preparing students for post-graduation success, and we hope this guide gives superintendents, principals, PTA leaders and other educators ideas and inspiration to show the good work that is happening in their schools.” ...

Summer vacation is eagerly anticipated by students and teachers – eight weeks of out-of-school time in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). But it harbors a built-in risk that we call the Summer Slide: Academic ground gained during the school year can be lost without targeted summer learning. ...

Communication is complex, and tricky these days. And as important to our lives as the air we breathe. Let's look at air for a moment --it is all around us, 24/7, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is essential for our survival and for our success. In addition air must be of the highest quality - have the right combination of oxygen and hydrogen and little or no pollutants - in order to be most beneficial to us. Polluted air renders us unable to function properly. ...

Could education stakeholders in your state create a unified vision on how to educate every child to fulfill his or her potential? And could that help school leaders lead the conversation on improving public education?

At a session at the National School Boards Association's Annual Conference in Boston this month, panelists discussed those questions. For the past four years, school boards and superintendents in Oklahoma have spearheaded an effort to identify what kind of changes are needed in public education and build consensus on what actions and resources are required to fulfill that vision. They were inspired by similar efforts in Georgia, Missouri, and Texas. ...

What if I do more than share grades with parents?

I recently met with two parents and their son. It was a conference to discuss how he was doing in class and what they could do at home to help. If that kind of interpersonal communication is the "Gold Standard" of analog communications, we have to concede it's not the only way we can communicate with families, nor is it the most sustainable. But let's start with the conference and the tools for opening communication. Then on to other options.

Unlike years past, my year-round calendar does not allocate minimum days for conferencing anymore. My single conferences lasted one hour and fifteen minutes after school. To replicate this for my class of 28 students would require 35 hours. Quality communication? Yes. Replicable on a frequent basis? No.

While the recent conference was enlightening for the parents, student, and myself, I came away with two big wonderings: ...

Van Henri White has seen the impact of poverty and violence in his native Rochester, N.Y. After graduation from Georgetown University Law School, he served as an assistant district attorney and the city’s “Crime Czar.”  He later opened a private practice specializing in school safety issues, and in his most famous case, he represented the mother of a 13-year-old student who was stabbed to death by a classmate in a lawsuit against the Rochester City School District.

But a few years after that case, Mr. White decided to try to instill change within the high-poverty, predominantly minority, and low-performing school district by running for a seat on the school board. Since being elected, he has initiated efforts to boost the graduation rate and reduce truancy, improve school safety, address lead poisoning and examine school discipline policies. For the past two years he also has served as the chair of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) ...

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