Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

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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. ...

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 ...

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