Learning First Alliance

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Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger today is Michael Ragan, Vice President of the Washington Education Association and Chair of the Washington Learning First Alliance.

January 5th, 2012, was a momentous day for public education in Washington State.  That was the day the Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld the McCleary trial court’s decision that the State is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to amply fund public education.

Article IX, section 1 of our constitution states that “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…”  Without dissent, the Supreme Court declared in the written opinion that paramount duty means this mandate is the State’s first and highest priority, before any other; that ample provision means considerably more than adequate; that all children means no child is excluded; and that education means the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in our democracy.  The high court also completely rejected all of the State’s excuses, even the State’s claim that a financial crisis can justify education funding cuts. The State did not dispute any of the trial court findings on the importance of education to ...

A recent article in the Kappan, a publication of Phi Delta Kappa International, a member organization of the Learning First Alliance (LFA), chronicles the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to create and support passage of “model legislation” for states that advocates increasing what they refer to as “choice” and “scholarships” (read vouchers) in public schooling.  Authors Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead, both on faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, make a strong case that ALEC is behind the recent legislative efforts in Midwestern states to strip public employees of their bargaining rights and modify school funding provisions to allow greater shares of public funds to go to for-profit education provider; companies specifically mentioned are K-12 and Connections Academy.

I have a long-held belief that market forces as they relate to access to quality education have no place in American public schooling, and I believe that as long as we fund our public schools primarily with local tax dollars, local communities should have a strong say in how those school are operated.  However, I do think there’s a role for the for-profit community in designing and ...

Last week I had the privilege of celebrating the work of the 2012 School Counselor of the Year, Nicole Pfleger, at an elegant gala event held at Union Station and sponsored by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).  Nicole is a school counselor at Nickajack Elementary in Georgia’s Cobb County Public Schools and a reminder of how important individual excellence, leadership and enthusiasm are to the success of our students, schools, and districts.  Nicole is an impressive young woman with a talent for problem solving in the best interests of the students with whom she works.  At Nickajack Elementary she works to create an environment where students are respectful, responsible, and able to work cooperatively with others.  She established a school program called Rachel’s Challenge that focuses on creating a culture of compassion through acts of kindness and service projects.  This school wide program includes a curriculum, class meetings, service projects, student recognition and a Kindness and Compassion Club.

Pfleger has developed a close working relationship with a community homeless shelter for women and children where some of her students live, helping ...

On January 14 and 15, "CNN Presents" aired coverage of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's visit to Southern Middle School in Reading, Pennsylvania. The episode looked at districts in several states, but Reading stood out as a district in dire straits. The video footage from Reading showed mold and mildew, leaking buildings, and rain pouring into a classroom.

The poor indoor environmental quality of this school and many more around the country has a devastating impact on the health and performance of the student and staff who study and work in these buildings every day. Poor indoor environmental quality is linked to asthma, respiratory illness, headaches, and other short and long term health problems. Asthma alone is one of the leading causes of absenteeism in the United States, causing many children to miss school or be tardy each day.

While schools in all communities are in need of some repair, as with many concerns in public education, it is students who live in low-income and minority communities who often suffer the most from ...

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library. Materials are added at the rate of 10,000 per day and the Copyright Office has a card catalogue with more than45 million card entries. It contains 838 miles of bookshelves and holds a collection of more than 147 million items. The Library is open to the public and its resources are available on-site in Washington D.C to anyone older than 16 with government issued identification. The American Memory Project – an effort to digitalize a large portion of the Library’s collection – has more than  9 million items available electronically, for free, to anyone with access to the internet. ...

Yesterday I wrote about Mark Schneider’s belief that to significantly raise student achievement in this nation, we need to “shock” the system. Today, I learned about a partnership aiming to do just that in a rural West Virginia district.

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, State Board of Education Vice President Gayle Manchin and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have announced Reconnecting McDowell, a public-private partnership with more than 40 partners aimed at enhancing educational opportunity for children in McDowell County, a district that has ranked lowest in the state in academic performance for most of the past decade. 

As a community, McDowell County faces a number of challenges in addition to a low-performing educational system. According to the Washington Post, while historically the area has produced the most coal in the state, with the collapse of the coal and steel industries in the 1960s, the unemployment rate has risen dramatically. Nearly 80% of children in the school district live in poverty; 72% live in a household without gainful employment. The area has a high incarceration rate. It also has a large number of residents struggling with addition, and it leads the nation in ...

Native American National Heritage Month is a chance to highlight a component of American history that is often overlooked.  Native American Heritage Month celebrates those, along with their tribal ancestors, who were here thousands of years before Columbus or Cortes set foot in North America. The unique nature of America’s immigration history results in distinct parameters for discussions on race, ethnicity and heritage and unprecedented diversity. While we all have our individual ancestral heritage, this land – our country – has a complex and rich history that is far older than that of America and the Declaration of Independence. If we still claim, or even think, that this land belongs to us, should we not celebrate its entire history? That journey reveals some uncomfortable moments and brings up challenging discussions; all the more reason to have them. History is not just the past and it should not be left without context and relevance. ...

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. ...

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