Learning First Alliance

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Data Driven Instruction

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By Keith Krueger, CEO, CoSN

This month, CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) – in partnership with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and MDR – unveiled the results of our annual survey that laid out the state of connectivity in schools across the U.S. There is lots of data for both pessimists and optimists among us.

Without question, there are some major challenges that are holding many school systems back from having a robust education network with broadband and WiFi capacity. Score one point for the pessimists.

And, there are also some encouraging signs that we are on the right track to reaching the President Obama’s ConnectEd vision of broadband and WiFi in 99 percent of classrooms over the next four years. Score half a point for the optimists. ...

High-performing nations set themselves on a course of steady, long-term improvement, which includes consistent practices for recruiting, preparing, and supporting teachers — that is among the big takeaways from state legislators who participated in a year-long study of education outside the United States.

The study was convened by the National Conference of State Legislatures to explore how education functions in countries that are high performers on the PISA assessment. The 22 legislators all serve on their states’ legislative education committees. (I talked with two of them as part of Kappan’s work preparing our November 2015 issue on what the United States can learn from other countries.)

What they’ve learned so far has surprised them.

Indiana State Rep. Bob Behning, a Republican from Indianapolis, and Arkansas State Sen. Joyce Elliott, a Democrat from Little Rock, came to the exploration with different experiences and political ideas, but they sound a lot alike when they describe what they learned from studying Shanghai, Finland, Singapore, Ontario, and more. ...

Joshua Starr, who took the helm of Phi Delta Kappa International this summer, left a high-profile job as Superintendent of the Montgomery County, Md., schools, where he had focused on accountability and high standards for the fast-growing and increasingly diverse 154,000-student district. While some were surprised that Dr. Starr did not seek another job as superintendent, he is now focusing his work on improving teaching and learning through systemic change at PDK International.

Dr. Starr also has worked as director of accountability for the New York City public schools and as superintendent of the Stamford, Conn., school district. Dr. Starr has a doctorate in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a master’s degree in special education from Brooklyn College, and a bachelor’s degree in English and history from the University of Wisconsin. His three children attend public schools in Montgomery County, and he began his career as a teacher working with adolescents with several emotional disabilities.

Dr. Starr recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance about his experience as a superintendent, the recent PDK/Gallup Annual poll, and his plans for the organization. ...

The Learning First Alliance brought together educators and representatives from national associations for the #CCSSData Twitter Town Hall on September 24, 2015. The chat followed a webinar, “Let’s Talk Data: What Common Core Test Results Tell Us About Teaching and Learning” held two days earlier.

Key themes that emerged from those conversations included:

  • Context is critical in communicating Common Core-aligned assessment data to teachers, parents and students. Assessment reports must be more than just a score. 

  • There are a host of great resources for teachers, parents and students around Common Core assessment data. Unfortunately these resources don’t always make it into the hands of those who need them most.

  • A host of organizations are creating resources and tools to help teachers, parents, and students interpret and use Common-Core data. The National PTA, Be a Learning Hero, the Data Quality Campaign, and the Teaching Channel all provide free resources. 


As testing data tied to high standards and Common Core State Standards comes to fruition in numerous states, the Learning First Alliance brought together a panel of national, state and local education leaders for a webinar to discuss how to use this new data to improve teaching and learning. The Sept. 22 event was part of LFA’s “Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core” national campaign.

The Common Core standards give researchers and educators an unprecedented opportunity to glean rich information and use that data to follow students over time and find ways to improve teaching and learning, said Aimee Guidera, president and CEO of the Washington-based Data Quality Campaign.

“Data needs to be at the beginning of the story, not the end, that’s the part of the conversation we need to reset,” she said.

Ms. Guidera noted numerous issues for educators to build their understanding of data and how it should impact their work: ...

By Maria Ferguson, Washington View Columnist, Kappan magazine (PDK International) and Executive Director, Center on Education Policy at George Washington University

Education research is a hot topic in Washington. I’m not talking “House of Cards” or “Scandal” hot but hot for education types who have been waiting a long time for Congress to take up any piece of education law. While other broad education legislation continues to await reauthorization, Congress has managed to make progress on behalf of education research. The Educational Sciences Research Act (ESRA) may not win a name recognition contest, but it is an important part of the nation’s education agenda nonetheless. The fact that a bipartisan bill to reauthorize ESRA (the Strengthening Education Through Research Act or SETRA) is making its way through the House and the Senate is not only a sign of hope that things can get done (whether they are done well is a topic for another column), it is also an acknowledgement that education research is not something any of us should take for granted.

My organization, the Center on Education Policy (CEP), has both hosted and participated in many conversations about the role research plays in education policy and practice. Focusing tightly on education policy while being housed within a university, we are acutely aware that policy makers view research through a completely different lens than education researchers. Policy makers tend to lead with policy and then look to research to validate their decision making. While this may not seem to be the best way to address education issues, we must be aware that the political nature of education — especially at the federal level — almost demands this kind of leap-before-you-look approach ...

By Patte Barth, Director of the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the National School Boards Association (NSBA)

The National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education is all about the importance of using data and research to craft effective school policy and practice. We also encourage everyone who has an interest in public schools to look at data when gauging their quality. Unfortunately, getting that data isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Even when found, it’s often presented in long tables, complicated graphs and confusing formats that obscure rather than shed light on school performance. ...

Given all the debates in education policy today, one might assume that education research is a valuable tool in guiding outcomes and decisions. Unfortunately, this assumption is incomplete because although research is often valued and held up to justify decisions, the research does not necessarily inform the decision making process. There are any number of reasons for that, from the flow of information to the actors involved in the policy changes.

In a recent book Using Research-Based Evidence in Education, Kara Finnigan and Alan Daly –along with other contributors- take a closer look at how evidence research is acquired, defined, moved, interpreted and shaped at different levels in education: federal, state, district and school. In a recent American Youth Policy Forum webinar, they highlighted three major themes that emerged: ...

By Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Founder and Executive Director, Data Quality Campaign

This article will also appear on The Huffington Post.

“My child is not a number!”

In the era of so-called big data in education, you’re likely to hear this refrain. Education data are, after all, mostly numbers. (I would argue that more anecdotal information—such as classroom observations—should also be considered part of a full picture of student “data,” but that’s a whole blog post in itself.) No child’s experiences can be reduced to a set of numbers on a spreadsheet, and no data policy should be about limiting a student’s options or reducing her experience. On the contrary: effective data use should expand a child’s horizons by providing more information about individual students to help guide the people making decisions about their learning—parents and educators. ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Once upon a time, we were challenged to find useful data about education. Not much information was collected, and it was largely inaccessible. In recent years, as public demands for greater transparency and evidence-based accountability have generated an information frenzy, we still face this challenge—but not because data are scant. Now they are overabundant, often difficult to decipher, or of unreliable quality. In this new environment, we must prepare teachers and other education leaders to be not only data literate, but also advocates for effective data use by others.

Researchers and education leaders must take responsibility for helping PK-12 practitioners and other decision makers interpret the data being generated by districts, states, think tanks, research and policy organizations, schools themselves, and a multitude of other sources—often with set agendas that taint the evidence. Too often, unscrupulous data collection and usage leads to antagonistic distractions, bad press, and worse policy decisions ...

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