Learning First Alliance

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Recently I was looking through old paper files in the Learning First Alliance (LFA) office and happened upon a successful grant application that LFA had received some years ago to gather, record, and disseminate the knowledge, skills, and approaches successful school districts use to ensure their students achieve to their highest abilities.  The project resulted in a publication called Beyond Islands of Excellence that, indeed did chronicle what goes into an effective public school system and profiled districts whose students had benefited from their wise, effective leadership.   I was struck by how much the scope of work described in the successful grant application articulated the concepts and big ideas that LFA organizations and their leaders still work diligently to implement today. ...

As part of American Education Week, today is Parents Day, spotlighting the importance of parental involvement in education. Schools across the country invite parents into the classroom to experience firsthand what a day is like for their child.

Of course, schools shouldn’t wait until Parents Day to engage families in their child’s education. Research has shown that family engagement in, or support of, learning leads to better grades, more positive attitudes towards school, better attendance, higher graduation rates and greater likelihood of enrolling in postsecondary education.

A new report from the National Education Association's Priority Schools Campaign reviews this research and profiles 16 family and community engagement initiatives from across the country that have shown success in engaging families and/or community organizations in improving student outcomes. From these programs, it ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

This Veterans Day

My grandfather served as a Second Lieutenant in World War II, and I never once heard him speak about it. At our annual Christmas dinner, he used to bow his head to give a simple blessing ending with: “Bless those who could not be with us today.” He would always choke up on those words and I believe he was remembering the comrades he lost in battle. Those who die make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but the thousands who survive conflicts live with the memories of war. These experiences forever change a person and today - Veterans Day - we honor those who serve and defend our way of life. ...

In the Metro DC area, the Higher Achievement Program works to increase the educational opportunities for low-income middle school students who are eager for more rigor and support in their academic programming.  And it cannot keep up with demand, which says two things to me. First, the program is making a difference. And second, some children and parents in low-income areas are eager to engage with this type of learning opportunity.  In an era of budget cuts, public schools are being undermined in their mission to provide this opportunity to all children. This reality paints a troubling picture: a lack of resources holding back ambitious and dedicated young students who crave such support is quite simply, undermining our nation’s future one budget slash at a time. ...

I may be able to afford my connection costs, but staying plugged-in is not cheap; a comparison of Comcast and Verizon shows prices between $69.99 and $100.00 a month, before taxes, for varying internet and cable packages.  For low-income families, prioritizing access comes after purchasing food, making loan payments, buying clothes and filling up the car with gas. Yet in the digital age, it’s becoming evident that children without basic technological skills will be at a disadvantage in the workforce and society. ...

What comes to mind when you think about the PTA - bake sales and school fairs? Local PTAs are often involved in such activities.

But did you know that the National PTA is also the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the country? Working in cooperation with many national education, health, safety and child advocacy groups and federal agencies, the group provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child.

Betsy Landers was installed as President of the National PTA in June 2011, and has served on both state and local PTAs as well. She recently took the time to tell us more about the group, its advocacy efforts and where she hopes to focus during her tenure as President.

Public School Insights: You served as both a local PTA president and as Tennessee PTA president before coming to the National PTA. How have your experiences on those levels impacted the role you see for the National PTA?

Landers: It has afforded me invaluable grassroots experience.  Having served at the various levels of our PTA governance structure (from the local unit level to the state level) has helped me to experience National PTA's impact at each of these levels. It has also given me valuable insight into the needs of our leadership and membership at those levels.  Our members at the grassroots level are the heartbeat of this association.  This is where the true impact of our work is done.

Public School Insights: How has the role of the PTA shifted during your involvement with the organization, at both the local and the federal level? What sorts of challenges are unique to the current context?

Landers: Our advocacy efforts, whether on Capitol Hill or at the local board of education level, remains the hallmark of our impact on behalf of ...

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Anne Foster. Anne is Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools, a national organization of community-based chapters that promotes and strengthens public schools by engaging, educating and mobilizing parents.

For parents of public school children in America, the conversation around public schools is critical. They have the shortest window of time to make sure their kids’ schools are good and that schools have the resources needed for a quality education. But the conversation about public schools today is either non-existent or extremely polarized.  It’s time to change the conversation and come together across political lines to find solutions.

Things used to be simpler.  Our public schools were central to our way of life.  They became our foundation, and every community was built around one.  We came to understand that a strong America meant good public schools for all of our children. Public education meant claiming the American dream.  Teachers garnered honor and respect, and ...

Are school start times, grade level configurations and teacher assignments low hanging fruit for school improvement efforts?

The University of Michigan’s Brian Jacob and Columbia Business School’s Jonah Rockoff think so. At The Hamilton Project’s recent forum on how to improve student performance in K-12 education, they joined a conversation on their recent paper Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement, which discussed how these “mundane” reforms could lead to substantial achievement gains at relatively low cost and avoid the fierce political battles that erupt anytime we mention charter schools, teacher tenure or new academic standards.

The authors reviewed the evidence on each of the three reforms they propose, calculating the possible academic benefit of each and converting it to lifetime earnings gains per student. They also estimate the potential costs of implementing each, coming up with a benefit/cost ratio suggesting that districts seriously consider enacting them.*

For example, their review of the research suggests that starting secondary schools later in the day results in an estimated benefit in lifetime earnings per student of $17,500. They also find that implementing this reform is relatively cheap, costing $0 to $1,950 per student (depending on context; transportation costs were thought to be the largest component here), making the benefit/cost ratio 9:1 or more.

Of course, the politics of this issue can get sticky. In a panel discussion, former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Peter Gorman pointed out that when his district tried to move middle school start times, there was great concern about ...

As the only person working in the LFA office who was alive for both the assassination of President John F. Kennedy AND the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, I was assigned the reflective activity in remembrance of that challenging time ten years ago when our sense of safety and security was seriously damaged.  Like all natives of Washington, DC, I was struck by the contrast between the sheer physical beauty of the day… blue skies, low humidity, gentle sunlight, soft breeze, one of those days that remind you how good it feels to be alive… and the horror of attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, using commercial airplanes as human filled bombs.  As adults we know, but fail to remember on a daily basis, that evil does exist in the world, and as educators who work with young people, we struggle to balance how we talk about that evil in our work with students.

What I initially felt that day was fear, and like many others I know, I worked hard to work through that fear and regain a sense of security and safety.  One of the things we as educators don’t want to impart to the students we work with is fearfulness, because fear of ...

Updated 9/20/2011

Last night, President Obama revealed the American Jobs Act, a framework that calls for strategic investments intended to both put Americans back to work and rebuild critical components of the country’s infrastructure.

One clear winner in his proposal is education.  The President calls for $30 billion in new money to ward off teacher layoffs and $30 billion to modernize America’s schools. Administration officials estimate the money could save as many as 280,000 educators’ jobs and pay for makeovers to at least 35,000 public schools.

We at the Learning First Alliance applaud the President’s call to invest in schools and teachers. We support the President’s plan to put teachers back to work and invest in education infrastructure to make schools more efficient and innovative, and we urge Congress to support this plan, which will help improve public education for all children. Read our entire statement here.

What did others in the education community (and LFA network) have to say?  

Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association: President Obama clearly understands that quality education is the key to our nation’s future. He’s putting America’s unemployed construction workers back on the job to help modernize our aging K-12 schools and community colleges. We are pleased and encouraged that the President continues to demonstrate his commitment to the success of all students by helping to make sure they have  the best possible learning environment—a key element of quality education. Read more...

Anne Bryant, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association: In the face of massive budget shortfalls and education layoffs at school districts across the country, this new funding would provide necessary aid to America's schools. Our school children deserve a quality education and ...

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