Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

District wide strategies

Blog Entries

It seems sacrilegious, really, but I am advocating that we do away with the K-12 grade level structure in education. Perhaps because it is how we have organized our schools since we evolved from the one room schoolhouse back in the nineteenth century, the grade level structure is taken for granted. You notice that reform agendas do not include doing away with grade levels. We have vouchers, charters, extended day, extended school year, evaluating teachers and principals if we are not firing them, privatizing schools or closing them and reopening them under new management, but no talk of doing away with grade levels. If anything, there is renewed interest in having students repeat grades as a backlash against social promotion.

We talk about thinking out of the box but no one talks about thinking out of grade levels. ...

Colonial School District straddles the boundary where suburban Wilmington gives way to Delaware’s rural eastern shore. Its one high school, William Penn, serves a racially diverse population, about 40 percent of whom come from low-income families. Penn is a model for getting kids ready for life after graduation. Ninth-graders who enter its doors are asked to choose among 19 “degree programs” — essentially, career tracks ranging from construction to engineering — that will be their focus for the next four years. But there’s one choice they don’t have to make: Whether their “degree” will prepare them for college or the workforce. At William Penn, all graduates will be ready for both.

During a recent visit there, I spoke with a senior in the school’s culinary arts program who exemplifies the Penn way. In addition to his studies in the busy kitchen, which doubles as a student-run catering business, he has six AP courses under his belt along with his industry certification. Elsewhere in the building I saw physics being taught in a wood shop, while in another more traditional classroom, 11th-graders explored issues of race and equality in Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian story “Harrison Bergeron.” ...

Summer vacation is eagerly anticipated by students and teachers – eight weeks of out-of-school time in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). But it harbors a built-in risk that we call the Summer Slide: Academic ground gained during the school year can be lost without targeted summer learning. ...

Communication is complex, and tricky these days. And as important to our lives as the air we breathe. Let's look at air for a moment --it is all around us, 24/7, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is essential for our survival and for our success. In addition air must be of the highest quality - have the right combination of oxygen and hydrogen and little or no pollutants - in order to be most beneficial to us. Polluted air renders us unable to function properly. ...

Summer break is often seen as an idyllic time for teachers, parents and students to take vacations, have fun, and forget about the stress of school.

But for the growing number of students living in poverty, summer vacations can be a significant setback to their learning, researchers say.

“Summer learning loss is a significant contributor to the achievement gap,” says Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “Every summer, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading achievement while their higher-income peers make slight gains."

According to NSLA, these losses accrue each year, and by fifth grade, cumulative years of summer learning loss in reading and math skills can leave low-income students two-and-a-half to three years behind their peers. Further, disadvantaged students may also deal with food insecurities and safety issues when they are out of school. ...

This month’s issue of School Administrator magazine focuses on combating poverty. It’s ironic that this should even be a topic for discussion in one of the richest countries in the world. Yet according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 45 percent of American children live in low-income households and more than half of public school students qualify for lunch subsidies.

Paul Buchheit, a teacher of economic inequality at DePaul University in Chicago, points out that in the past six years America’s wealth grew by 60 percent while in that same period the number of homeless children also grew by 60 percent. America is a leader in childhood poverty. UNICEF reports that the United States has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world and the majority of poor children are black, Latino and American Indian.

Is it any wonder we have an achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots? Should we be surprised when the zip code is as accurate a predictor of academic achievement as results on standardized tests? ...

You don’t need to look far within the hallways and classrooms to see the digital revolution in our schools. The growing use of technology is not only transforming learning – it is also extending and personalizing the learning experience.  

While this e-learning shift holds the promise to accelerate student success, school system leaders are faced with increased responsibility. Chief among those challenges: managing student data and security – and doing so with limited time and resources.

School system leaders need guidance when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of student data – and they need it today. That’s why the Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal Program was developed for school systems. 

Collectively formed by national and local education leaders, the voluntary CoSN-led TLE Seal is a mark of distinction for school systems, signaling to parents and communities that they have taken the measurable steps to assure the digital privacy of student data. ...

Sometimes, the college and career standards become very real and personal.  This occurred for my wife and me at our son’s recent parent-teacher conference.  Our son is having a good year, thanks in large part to his wonderful teacher.  We reviewed his progress in reading, writing, math, and other subjects.  She was positive and enthusiastic with a good sense of humor.  When the subject of math came up, she highlighted how the students were using new practices like quantitative and abstract reasoning to develop a deeper understanding of key concepts.  She also shared that it had not been easy shifting to some of the new methods but that it had been worth it.  She observed that students were developing a deeper understanding of computational thinking.  She even exhibited the self-confidence of a good teacher by sharing that students often solve problems faster than her as she still uses the rote techniques that were drilled into all of us as students and have become part of our automaticity. ...

Your data has just been kidnapped and you will have to pay a ransom to get it back. This is the modern day “Stick-em up” and it is more common than you think.

Ransomware is becoming the crime of choice for cybercriminals to extort money from corporations, as well as individuals. It is not about stealing your data and sharing it with the world. It is not about privacy. On the contrary, your data is still residing on your system. It is about locking you out of your own system and data until you pay a ransom, and there is nothing you can do about it. It sounds unreal, but it is true. ...

John B. King, Jr. has a compelling personal story: Orphaned at age 12, it was public education and his teachers who saw him through a tumultuous period in his life and in turn inspired him to become a teacher, school administrator, and now the nation’s top education official.

Dr. King, who is serving as Acting U.S. Secretary of Education as the Obama administration enters its final year, recently spoke about his ambitious agenda with the Learning First Alliance: He plans to push for student equity and excellence, a better equipped teaching force, and strategies to improve the college completion rates. He also will be responsible for regulations for the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ...

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