Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

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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 ...

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development. She directs RAMP (the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program), a high tech career-focused mentoring program for youth with disabilities involved with or at-risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. Today she reflects on the program, its outcomes, and what has been learned over its first few years.*

As the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) enters its third year, community partnerships have emerged as an important component to making the program work in all communities.  With support from the Institute for Educational Leadership, the 12 RAMP sites around the country provide career-focused mentoring for youth with disabilities who are at-risk of or currently involved in the juvenile justice system. Unfortunately, as youth with disabilities are highly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, all youth with disabilities – especially those with learning disabilities or mental health needs – are at-risk of becoming involved in the system. The RAMP programs place special emphasis on engaging youth with disabilities with a history of high truancy rates, low grades, or school discipline incidents.

Through a mix of education, employer, and community partnerships, RAMP sites have succeeded in providing career-focused mentoring to these youth with outstanding results! In the first year, 95% of the youth enrolled in the program engaged in ...

You might assume that people with children would be more informed on education issues than those without. But a recent survey on school communication by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) suggests otherwise.

More non-parents (65%) than parents (47%) feel very well informed or pretty well informed about the issues impacting education in their local district. 59% of non-parents feel that way about state education issues, compared to just 39% of parents.

While at first glance that seems a bit counterintuitive, survey authors offer several possible reasons for these findings. Perhaps parents are mainly focused on classroom and school-level issues. Maybe they have busier lives, juggling careers with children, and have less time to spend informing themselves. Or perhaps non-parents are simply more concerned with big-picture issues, such as the tax burden and impact of district performance on their property values.

Regardless of who knows more and why, none of those numbers bode particularly well for public education at a time when budgets are strained at both the state and local levels. If citizens are not informed about education issues, they cannot be advocates for ...

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Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is David L. Kirp, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children’s Lives and America’s Future (2011).

Schools are just beginning to open their doors, but the education food fights are already underway. I’m not thinking about kids in the cafeteria but adults wielding books and blogs. Amid this tomfoolery among the grownups the critical needs of children are going ignored.

On the one side of the current fight stands the “no excuses” crew, personified by Michelle Rhee, the broom-wielding ex-superintendent of the Washington D.C. schools. To them, and to the producers of “Waiting for Superman,” retrograde unions and bloated bureaucracies are biggest impediments to reform. Turn the schools over to the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter school network, make every teacher as well-pedigreed as those recruited by Teach for America and our education problems will be solved. Diane Ravitch was once a dues-paying member of this group. She switched sides—detailed in her recent book The Death and Life of the Great American School System—and since has been on the warpath, staunchly defending the contributions of teachers unions and the quality of public school teachers. From the outset this fight has been nasty, and with the recent publication of Steven Brill’s Class Warfare it has turned downright vicious. Brill makes a big deal of the fact that Ravitch is earning a bundle by (shock, shock!) being handsomely paid to give speeches to organizations that share her beliefs; Ravitch, saying that Brill has got his facts wrong, is threatening a defamation suit. Oy!

What gets lost amid all this “he said, she said” squabbling are the needs of kids. Little attention is getting paid to what’s important, not only to

Last week WAMU ran a segment on charter school closings in Washington, DC, that bothered me. Not because poorly performing (in terms of academics or finances) charter schools were closed (I firmly believe that low-performing charter schools should close), and not only because of the process by which the schools were closed (too late in the year for students to get into either the DCPS lottery for out of neighborhood schools or the lotteries of many other charters, and with little communication with the families of students attending the schools), but because of some of the language used to talk about the situation, specifically the word “placement.”

As the result of three charter schools closing and two eliminating their high school programs, nearly 750 students needed to find new schools. Several have had a great deal of difficulty in doing so. According to reporter Kavitha Cardoza, about 50% of students were without “placements” just ten days before the start of the school year. 64 of the 128 students impacted by the ...

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The Public Has Spoken!

Today Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) and Gallup released the results of their 43rd annual poll of the public’s attitudes towards public schools. The poll, a representative survey across all segments of the population of telephone-owning households, makes for a fascinating read.

Something I always find interesting in these polls are the discrepancies. These discrepancies appear both within the poll itself and when comparing the results to broader conversations on education. For example, last year I wrote that the poll showed “[t]he American public is not necessarily having the same conversation as policymakers when it comes to education,” since the poll found that the public did not always agree with the decisions policymakers were making regarding our public schools.

This year, one could argue that the American public is not having the same conversation as the media when it comes to education. 71% of respondents have trust and confidence in the men and women teaching in America’s public schools – and 69% gave the teachers in their communities a grade of A or B. Yet 68% of respondents hear more bad stories than good about teachers in ...

Social media in education is a touchy issue, for some good reasons. In utilizing social media, schools, educators and students take certain risks. Consider the consequences when bullying on sites like Facebook creates a distraction at school – or is conducted on school-owned equipment. And think about the (extremely rare) cases in which a social media site contributes to an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a student (the state of Missouri is so concerned about this potential it has enacted a law that says contact between these parties must be in the public, not private, sphere – in other words, “teachers can set up public Facebook pages or Twitter accounts but can’t reach out to their students as friends or followers, or vice versa”).

There are educational consequences, too. For example, recent research suggests that middle school, high school and college students who are active on Facebook get lower grades, display more narcissistic tendencies, and are more prone to anxiety and depression than students that aren’t.

So why would we promote the use of social media in education?

Last week I attended the first #140edu event, a conference that allowed stakeholders from students to teachers to company owners share their thoughts on “The State of Education NOW” – specifically, the effects of the real-time web on education. And I heard a number of great reasons why social media should be incorporated into a school culture.

Conference co-host Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann, for those of you on Twitter), principal of Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, pointed out that social media gives students the power to be “in and of their world,” – for example, the ability to ...

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