Learning First Alliance

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By Joan Richardson, Editor-In-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

The older I get, the more I realize how much my early experiences have shaped and continue to shape my life.

How different would my life be if my dad had not decided to complete high school after military service in World War II? How different would my life have been if he had not gone on to college after that? If he had not pulled himself up into the middle class, where would I be today?

Those wonders were answered, at least in part, by a groundbreaking study done by Johns Hopkins University sociologist Karl Alexander. In his new book, The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood (Russell Sage Foundation, 2014), Alexander concludes that a child’s fate is largely determined by the family they’re born into.

“A family's resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children's life trajectories," he said in an interview published by the university.

In 1982, Alexander and colleagues Doris Entwisle and Linda Olson began tracking 790 Baltimore 1st graders and followed them until they turned 28 or 29 years old ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Throughout the past year, AASA was deeply involved in the confluence of efforts related to the modernization of the E-Rate program. Created in 1996, the program is administered by the Federal Communications Commission and helps schools and libraries afford their teleconnectivity (Internet).

As the role of connectivity and technology within schools and classrooms changed over the last 18 years, it was time to update the E-Rate program, from one about simple connectivity to one that focuses on adequate connectivity, including broadband and WiFi.

Even before modernization efforts began in earnest a year ago, I was nominated to the Universal Services Administrative Company (which oversees administration of the E-Rate program, among others) to represent the voice of schools and libraries. While this position is apolitical and separate from AASA’s advocacy, it is an excellent vantage point for highlighting the functionality of E-Rate, from application and processing to awardees and distribution. ...

In April, the Learning First Alliance issued a statement urging states to take the proper time to implement the Common Core State Standards. Believing in the potential that the standards have to transform teaching and learning, we worry about rushing to make high-stakes decisions (such as student graduation, teacher evaluation and school performance designation) based on assessments of the standards before they have been fully and properly implemented. So we – in a call that has been echoed by others – urged a transition period during which such high-stakes are removed. And we are pleased to see that places like New York and Washington, DC, are heeding that call.

But when we get that time, how should we best use it to get CCSS implementation right and help students achieve these higher standards?

Last week, we hosted a Twitter Town Hall – hashtag #CCSStime – to start exploring that issue. We were overwhelmed with the participation – more than 600 Twitter users sent out nearly 2,000 tweets during the hour-long event. To quote Eduflack's coverage:

It was the beginning of a very important discussion, all of which can be found at #CCSStime. Why was it so important? Mainly because it was a productive talk on how to get it right, not on urban legends or dreaming ways to short circuit standards that are not going away.

See below for highlights from the conversation ...

By Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Learning Forward

National education reports often have difficulty getting attention, but that was not the case when the Gallup polling organization released State of America's Schools.  Rather than prescribing technocratic approaches for improving education, the report focused on the "human elements" that drive student achievement.

According to Gallup, the factors of engagement, relationships, collaboration, hope, and trust are essential for learning and high performance. This is true not only for students, but also for teachers.

In fact, the report's headline grabber was that nearly 70% of teachers "are not emotionally connected to their workplaces and are unlikely to devote much discretionary effort to their work."  Among reasons for teachers' lack of engagement, two stand out. In a Gallup survey of employees in 14 different occupational categories, K-12 teachers "were dead last ... in saying their 'supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.' " ...

By Shannon Sevier, Vice President for Advocacy, National PTA

National PTA recently released a video series on the Common Core to educate parents on the standards and empower them to support the implementation of the standards at school and home. The series was developed in partnership with The Hunt Institute as part of the association’s ongoing efforts to provide accurate information about the Common Core, ensure parents are knowledgeable about the standards and new assessments, and support parents every step of the way as states transition to the standards.

The series features 14 videos that highlight the importance of and need for clear, consistent and rigorous standards; dispel myths about the Common Core; and provide perspectives from educators, administrators, PTA leaders and others on the positive changes they’ve seen with the standards. The videos also spotlight the steps PTAs can take to effectively advocate for the standards in their communities. ...

It is no secret that in many places the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are under attack. Yet despite what those of us paying attention to the debate at the national level hear, the fact is that there are a number of communities in which the Common Core is NOT controversial. In some of these places, that is because communications about the standards have been so direct and informative. But in other places, the controversy might be biding its time, waiting for a trigger – for example, the results of CCSS-aligned assessments that show a significant drop in proficiency rates – before it erupts.

Pre-Empting a Local Debate

At the national (and in some cases, state) level, one huge factor contributing to the current rhetoric around the Common Core is that, on the whole, advocates were often not prepared for the pushback that the standards received. As a result, they did not always respond quickly or appropriately to criticisms (or even general inquiries) about the CCSS, which created an empty space that opponents of the standards were able to fill with their voices – and occasionally, misinformation. So even if you are fortunate not to have experienced pushback yet in your community, you may still want to prepare for an upcoming debate. ...

By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

The past few weeks have been graduation season at high schools across America. The Class of 2014 has been unleashed on the world!  

As a school board member in Texas for nine years, nothing compared to handing diplomas to our graduates. Their eyes were shining as they crossed that stage, and their bright eyes reflected the efforts of so many to get them to that point – schools, school boards, teachers, the community, parents, and the students themselves!

A few weeks ago, there was good news about graduation rates in America, using data from 2012. Graduation rates have reached 80%, representing a 10% increase from a decade ago. The new graduation rates are now at levels from 40 years ago. Graduation rates are difficult to track, because of things like transfer students, the number of years it takes to graduate, and the various ways data is collected.  In 2008, the federal government created a new calculation system which has helped schools report data the same way and gain more consistency.

 American public schools have seen progress, and there are good reasons for it. Schools have become more accountable for the numbers of students who graduate. They have worked one-on-one with students in danger of not graduating. Schools with the most challenges have been given additional support. And there has been more of an awareness of the need ...

By Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

On June 12, I had the honor of bringing the voice of families and child advocates to Capitol Hill and testifying before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry at a hearing titled, A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to Our Nation’s Health, Economy and National Security.

Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the nation’s child nutrition programs. The Act requires that schools make updates to serve healthier food to students during the school day, including in a la carte lines, vending machines and school stores. In exchange, Congress increased the reimbursement rate schools receive for each meal served. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry currently is considering the reauthorization of child nutrition programs, which is due in 2015.

Strengthening programs that promote healthy school environments and ensuring that all children have access to critical nutritious food options has been a longtime priority for National PTA. It is essential that improvements continue to be made as high quality national nutrition programs are critical to the future of our children ...

By Dr. Helen Janc Malone, Director of Institutional Advancement, Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL)

The Institute for Educational Leadership is a non-profit organization whose mission is to equip leaders to work together across boundaries to build effective systems that prepare children and youth for postsecondary education, careers, and citizenship. The work of IEL focuses on three pillars required for young people and their communities to succeed:

  1. Involving the broader community with public education to support the learning and development of young people.
  2. Building more effective pathways into the workforce for all young people and supporting the transition to adulthood.
  3. Preparing generations of leaders with the know-how to drive collaborative efforts at all levels.

The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Institute for Educational Leadership. Fifty years yields many lessons. IEL’s broad network of leaders—superintendents, principals, policy leaders, academics, public officials, private funders and community-based practitioners—shared what they have learned about effective leadership as a part of IEL’s 50th anniversary celebration. Ten powerful lessons emerged from our review of their advice. We are grateful for their contribution.

  1. Leaders are anchored in a commitment to equity and the pursuit of social justice. They mobilize partners and ...

By Jessica Medaille, Chief Membership Officer, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

There’s a lot of talk right now about leadership across many professions. As leaders in education, we have long recognized that to effect change, we must look to and listen to our colleagues as well as to voices from other professions and communities. That way we can hear points of view that may differ from ours, expand our thinking and view issues from a new angle.

As we approach the ISTE annual conference, we’re excited about the unique range of opportunities participants will have to hear about new strategies, build leadership skills and to learn what works. Stories of triumph and perseverance are what make the ISTE community, and our annual conference, a unique experience.

In reflecting on the leaders we’ve invited to speak at this year’s conference, I’m inspired by their collective work. Leaders like Ashley Judd, who during a recent TEDx talk carried a powerful message about empowerment, lending her voice to those whose voices are not heard and telling stories to inspire others in the hopes of changing policies. Or Dale Dougherty, founder of Make magazine, creator of Maker Fair and coiner of the phrase Web 2.0, who brings the do-it-yourselfer mindset to everyday technology, celebrating the right to tweak, hack and bend any technology to your own will ...

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