Learning First Alliance

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Joplin, Missouri, is a town in transition. After it was ravaged by a tornado three years ago, leaders have worked to rebuild the core of the town and its school district. Many of the 10,000 students’ families are struggling with poverty and economic hardships, and Superintendent Dr. C.J. Huff has been charged with not only managing the district’s rebuilding but also the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

District officials saw the Common Core as an opportunity to bring relevant experiences for a global economy to Joplin schools, and they were concerned that student achievement had plateaued. With the town’s rebuilding, Dr. Huff worked hard to engage the community, including parents, social service agencies, and the business and faith communities, in conversations about its schools and improving student achievement.

Not surprisingly, residents of this conservative area were skeptical of the Common Core, seeing it as an unnecessary federal interference. Yet Joplin school officials have successfully implemented the standards without backlash and even persuaded some of their critics to embrace the standards. ...

Maryland PTA President Ray Leone recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance as part of the “Get It Right: Common Sense on Common Core” campaign. Leone shared his experience on building parent understanding and support of the Common Core by engaging Maryland families and communities at the local level through public forums and open lines of communication to answer their questions and address concerns as the standards were being formulated.

Following is an edited transcript of his conversation with Kris Kurtenbach, founding partner of Collaborative Communications Group in Washington. LFA is also offering a podcast of this conversation.

MS. KURTENBACH: Welcome to Get It Right: Commonsense on the Common Core, a podcast series from The Learning First Alliance.  Across the nation we've embraced the possibility of college and career-ready standards and their potential to transform teaching and learning.  In community after community we see the potential these standards offer to help all children gain the knowledge and skills they need for success in the global community. ...

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants 

In our February 18 blog, we clarified the distinction between creative tension and destructive tension as they relate to our relationships and our work in schools. And, our example was focused on the relationships among adults in a school.

In this blog, we focus on what creative tension means specifically for the relationship between young people and adults in our schools. For starters, we cannot develop real creative tension unless we change the way we see young people and their role in education.

What would happen if we decided our students were our partners in education, rather than mere recipients of it? What if we believed they had something to teach us? To teach each other? What if our goals were shared goals and our accountability collective? What if education were intergenerational work?

How would this change the relationships between students and adults in a school? ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter: it’s a statement known around the world. And, because they matter, the system constructs that govern those lives also matter. Public education, both as a system and as a product of local communities, has an important role to play in improving the long-term outcomes for minority populations and low-income citizens. Earlier this year, the Schott Foundation published the fifth edition of its 50-state report on Black males and public education. Black Lives Matter provides clear evidence of the opportunity gap that young black men face in America today – and highlights what happens when we fail to close that gap.

Consider school suspensions. Zero tolerance policies and the presence of police officers in schools are pushing students out for minor infractions. In addition to lost learning time, such practices also contribute to the likelihood that a student will drop out of school and continue down a path that includes a greater probability of unemployment, reliance on social-welfare programs and potential imprisonment.  Suspensions push students towards the juvenile and criminal justice systems, a reality that is now termed the school-to-prison pipeline ...

By Heather Naviasky, Program Associate, Coalition for Community Schools

Twice in the last several months, schools have received attention because of their strong academic performance. But in telling their stories, the Education Trust (in the case of Menlo Park Elementary a "dispelling the myth school" in Portland, OR) and the Washington Post (in the case of Carlin Springs Elementary in Arlington, VA) focused only on academic improvements, overlooking the role of educators and their community partners in ensuring that low-income children also have the opportunities and supports they need to thrive. Last month we at the Coalition for Community Schools expanded on the success of Menlo Park Elementary; this month, we dive deeper into Carlin Springs.

On January 10, 2015, the Washington Post highlighted how Carlin Springs Elementary was raising test scores. It focused on how "teaching to the test" and test prep created double digit test score gains for the school. Once again, while they zoomed in on one area of achievement, the Post did not capture other dimensions of the school’s improvement strategy ...

By Anita Merina, National Education Association (NEA)

More than 45 million participants are expected to join the National Education Association’s 18th annual Read Across America Day celebration this year on Monday, March 2.  Here’s a rundown on activities taking place and ways you can help us spread the word about the nation’s largest reading event. Visit readacrossamerica.org to share your events and see what’s happening around the country and you’ll find free downloadable materials and activities at www.nea.org/readacross.

Cat-a-Van Reading Tour 2015:  NEA’s RAA Cat-A-Van hits the road this year from March 2 through March 6 and will visit California, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.  Visit www.nea.org/readacross for more information and a list of cities and participating schools. ...

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

In preparing for the celebration of AASA’s 150th anniversary, I read the copy of “AASA, The Centennial Story,” written by Arthur Rice in 1964, which sits on the bookshelf behind my desk. What a fascinating read. In this column, I draw liberally from the information provided by Rice, a professor of education at Indiana University.

It was on Aug. 15, 1865, in Harrisburg, PA, at a meeting of the National Teachers Association, that a group of superintendents created the National Association of School Superintendents. Earlier that year, the Civil War had come to an end and President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Six months later, in February, the group held its first convention in Washington, D.C. Nine state superintendents and 20 city superintendents attended.

Early Advocacy

It is clear, from the very beginning, advocacy at the national level would be a key mission of the newly formed organization ...

I’ve been reminded over the past weeks of the importance of language in arriving at agreement on what needs to happen for the public education experience to be successful for all our students, regardless of their background and socioeconomic condition. The use of language and its different translations/meaning for different citizen groups was brought home during recent debate over proposed changes in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education bill that is now before Congress. A few examples:

  • Accountability – From my standpoint, accountability just means assessing the progress of those who have some skin in the game and can influence the outcome of any endeavor. I actually prefer the word responsibility ...

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants

The problem with public education is that there isn’t enough tension. The other problem with public education is that there’s too much tension. And, perhaps the biggest problem is that both of these are correct, and we don’t distinguish between creative tension and destructive tension. 

Without distinguishing between the two, we cannot intentionally build structures and relationships that create the systems our students need: systems of shared leadership, strategic risk-taking and mutual responsibility. Systems of creative tension. Instead, we more commonly build top-down structures that generate destructive tension and bottom-up structures to avoid, relieve, or push back against them. ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

I’ve always preferred having blinds or curtains covering the windows in my home — at least the windows that face the street or my neighbors. I don’t want just anybody peeking into my house.

But the windows of my home office are only partly covered, allowing light to stream in and brighten the room and to let me look out to watch cardinals perch in nearby trees.

And, because I live in a three-story house, I have a few windows up high that aren’t covered at all, which allows me to look out over the evergreens and maple trees without any worry about nosy neighbors peering into my private space.

I’m guessing that most folks are like me — picking and choosing the times and places where we value our privacy and the times and places where we’re willing to open up a little because of the benefit we’ll gain by being a little less protective ...

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