Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Connected Community

Blog Entries

Education Week recently wrote about a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on student mobility in this country, done at the request of Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) to help lawmakers prepare for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The report found that about 13 percent of children change schools four or more times before enrolling in high school, and that 11.5 percent of schools had high rates of mobility (meaning that more than 10 percent of students left by the end of the school year). As is almost always the case when considering education statistics, this mobility is not spread evenly throughout the student population. It disproportionally impacts students who are poor, African-American and from families that do not own their home. Schools serving a mobile population also have larger percentages of students who are low-income, have limited English proficiency and receive special education services.

The report also reviewed evidence on the effect of mobility on student achievement. Not surprisingly, it is negative. Students who change schools frequently have lower standardized test scores than less mobile peers, and they tend to drop out of high school at a higher rate.

According to teachers interviewed for the report, some of the challenges that schools face in educating this population include differences in ...

obriena's picture

Moving Beyond the Blame Game

Media coverage of the recent Associated Press-Stanford University Education Poll has tended to focus on one thing: Blame. Just look at these headlines:

While the media and some policymakers have recently tended to blame teachers for the problems that ail American public schools, this poll finds that the public doesn’t buy it. Instead, the poll shows that just 35% of respondents believe that teachers deserve a great deal or a lot of the blame for the problems facing this country’s public schools. In fact, the public believes that teachers are least deserving of the blame for these problems. Check out how all the stakeholders fared:

  • Local School Administrators – 53% (of respondents believe they deserve a great deal or a lot of the blame for the problems facing this country’s schools)
  • State Education Officials – 65%
  • Federal Education Officials – 59%
  • Teachers – 35%
  • Teachers Unions – 45%
  • Parents – 68%
  • The Students Themselves – 46%

Okay. So teachers are not to blame. It is good to hear (and what many of us already knew), but now what? Educators certainly cannot just ...

Yesterday morning, guest blogger Noelle Ellerson talked about AASA’s new decennial study of the American superintendent. Yesterday afternoon, I went to the study’s release over at the National Press Club. And I was enthralled, which (I’ll be honest) I was not exactly expecting.

But I learned a TON. I could spew statistics at you like no one’s business. For example, in 2010:

  • 24.1% of superintendents were female
  • 94% were White (not Hispanic or Latino) – just 2% were Black or African-American and just 2% were Hispanic or Latino
  • 5.2% were 40 years old or younger; 47.7% were 56 years old or older
  • 96.6% of superintendents are very satisfied with their career choice, though just 50.7% intend to be a superintendent in 2015
  • The top reason for leaving a prior superintendency: Assuming a new challenge (30.3%). The next? School board conflict (15.3%)

I could talk to you about the marriage rate of superintendents, why they feel they were hired, what their biggest professional development needs are. But as one of the discussants at this meeting, Edgar Hatrick (Superintendent of Virginia’s Loudoun County Public Schools and President of AASA) asked, What does this mean for America’s children? How can this ...

Editor’s note: Our guest blogger today is Noelle Ellerson. She is the Assistant Director, Policy Analysis & Advocacy for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA, a member of the Learning First Alliance). Her efforts are focused on both policy and advocacy. She handles research/analysis supporting AASA’s advocacy work for public education, including AASA policy-related surveys and research to help school administrators better understand federal policy and inform federal education policy decisions. She also represents AASA's advocacy priorities on Capitol Hill, including funding and appropriations, ESEA, child nutrition, rural, and charters/vouchers, among others.

Today, AASA is releasing The American School Superintendent: 2010 Decennial Study. It is, as our Executive Director described in his Executive Perspective column in The School Administrator, a must-read report for every superintendent, aspiring system leader and those involved in their training. The press release and media conference being held for today’s release will give an overview of the rich content detailing the ever-changing faces of America’s public school administrators. It gauges everything from race, gender, and political positions to board relations, tenure trends, and educational preparation.

I’ll let the press release and conference, however, detail the summaries and sound bites. I want to delve more into the process that is the 2010 Decennial Study. Starting in April of 2009, under the guidance of lead authors Ted Kowalski and Bob McCord, AASA embarked on its once-per-decade study looking at how the state of the superintendency has—or has not—changed over the last ten years. While the goals behind this study mirrored those of earlier iterations (namely, reflecting today’s superintendents), there were many changes in the first decennial study of ...

obriena's picture

The Vital Equation

Last Friday, teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron embarked on what she called a “webquest of sorts,” simultaneously posting three articles that address three key components of the “vital equation” she believes must exist in order for a student achieve.

Family + Student + School + Policymakers/Voters = Student Success

At the Huffington Post, she offers the top ten things she believes family/home life must contribute to this equation. Among them: getting a student to school on time, fed on something other than Snickers, having received the proper medical care. And communicating with the school, being accessible and being honest with what the student has a tendency to do socially/academically/behaviorally.

On her Edutopia blog, she shares her top ten suggestions for the responsibilities that students must own in order to achieve. They include: being their own advocates, asking lots of questions and communicating struggles to teachers. She also suggests surrounding themselves with other students who can help, and dressing for success.

And at TweenTeacher, she proposes ten responsibilities of teachers to avoid student failure. Among them: being experts at content and communicating that content. Being a ...

obriena's picture

On Monday, Add Your Voice

One theme of this blog over the past several months has been concern that the conversation on public education does not reflect that the reality of most public schools. It reflects the spin of mainstream and talk show media, political figures and business celebrities. Educator and parent voices are often left out of conversations on the state – and future – of our nation’s schools.

Others share this concern. That is why this coming Monday, November 22 has been declared a national Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform. It is a grassroots effort to bring together educators (including parents) to offer their ideas on how to improve America’s public schools.

On that day, give thanks for educational successes, share your ideas for real reform or describe an educational community that makes a difference for contemporary learners.

Other potential topics include:

  • Can we fire our way to success? Some educational reformers view the inability to easily fire teachers and principals as a substantial barrier to ...

Yesterday over at Always Something, National School Public Relations Association Executive Director Rich Bagin offered some thoughts on how we can best promote public schools, taken from private schools’ marketing campaigns.

Chief among those thoughts: Promote individual schools. In public education, we typically promote school districts, not individual schools. But private schools – and though Rich does not mention them, I think charter schools as well – focus to great effect on what one individual school does for its students. And as Rich points out:

When real decisions are made, it comes to a school versus school and program versus program decision.

Given that we already know this, why does this PR strategy run so counter to what we in public education do? Do we want to avoid creating competition within the system, to avoid potentially concentrating families who lack the social capital to get into a better school in a struggling one? (Though isn’t that happening anyway, with charters, private schools and the ability of ...

obriena's picture

Can't We All Work Together?

Since the midterm elections last Tuesday, we have being hearing a lot about the importance of collaboration, compromise and mutual respect as we move forward in setting policy in all fields.

But I wonder if education officials in New Jersey got the memo. Last week, the state’s acting education commissioner refused an invitation to attend the New Jersey Education Association’s annual convention, claiming the union is “interested in protecting the status quo that continues to fail students” and is not cooperating with the governor’s office on school reforms.

Personally, I am not sure how this stance will help the acting commissioner (who represents New Jersey Governor Christie's administration) help children. The opportunity to present her platform to 40,000 teachers seems like a way to give her ideas a wider audience and allow her to dispel some of the myths about some of them.

And regardless of the administration’s stance on the NJEA, it would be nice if instead of only focusing on the refusal of the commissioner to attend the NJEA meeting, the media would highlight ways in which NJEA proves the commissioner’s statement wrong--the efforts of the union to improve schools.

For example, NJEA founded the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, a non-profit governed by an independent board made up of leaders in education, business and philanthropy. The Center works to empower teachers to be leaders in the transformation of ...

obriena's picture

Reminder: Vote Tomorrow!

Why? Well, it’s your civic duty. But if that isn’t enough, the fact that you read this blog indicates you are interested in public education. And this election could have big consequences for education. Races for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will influence education policy at the federal level, with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act expected in the coming months. And there are real ideological debates in some of those races, with some candidates calling for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education while others advocate for a greater federal role, and everything in between.

But elections at the state level will also have great impacts on public education. Consider the importance of voting for each of the following roles:

Governors: There are 38 gubernatorial races this year. Particularly given the fiscal crisis in many states, these races could have enormous consequences for public education. Governors wield great influence over state budgets--and funding is scarce. Cuts must ...

Editor's note: This interview was originally posted October 13, 2009, by former LFA Executive Director Claus von Zastrow. Given the recent light shed on the pressures of gay teenagers, it seems fitting to repost it now as a resource that schools and districts can use to help protect all of their students.

For another resource, referenced in the interview, see Public Schools and Sexual Orientation: A First Amendment framework for finding common ground.

Charles Haynes is one of the nation's leading experts on religious liberty in the public schools. He has worked with groups from across the political spectrum to help schools create ground rules for respectful dialogue on hot-button social issues. 

Haynes recently spoke with us about one of the fiercest battles in the culture wars: the battle over sexual orientation and public schools. This battle has grown all the fiercer since Education Department official Kevin Jennings started drawing fire for his past work at GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.

Schools need to create a safe environment for civil dialogue, Haynes told us. They need to protect the rights of everyone, from conservative Christians to gay rights advocates. They cannot guarantee that everyone will agree, but they can promote trust and respect.

Haynes gives Jennings a full-throated endorsement for supporting these essential principles.

Public School Insights: What do you think is happening when people discuss sexual orientation in public schools?

Haynes: I think in many places people are speaking—or should I say shouting?—past one another about this issue.

Schools, as usual, are caught in the crossfire of the larger culture wars in the United States. We have administrators, teachers and school board members struggling to figure out how to handle this very difficult issue at a time when the larger culture is not handling it well.

Public School Insights: Is it possible for teachers, administrators and other school stakeholders to create common ground on issues of sexual orientation?

Haynes: Yes. I think it’s not only possible, I think it’s imperative that we try harder.

Unfortunately, in many school districts people put their heads in the sand and hope this issue will just disappear and that they won’t have a fight. But then they are unprepared when something emerges, and ...

Syndicate content