Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

District wide strategies

Blog Entries

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 Nancy Levesque, executive director 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 2.5 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). ...

The National Education Association (NEA) is guided by the mantra “A Great Public School for Every Student,” while NEA Healthy Futures is committed to “Improving Schools, Improving Lives.” Each motto offers the vision of a society where all students have equal access and opportunity to lead successful lives. Unfortunately, the fact remains; the journey to achieving this success is mired by pitfalls and potholes that have permeated this society for far too long.

As a result, access and opportunity for all remains a mirage of hopes and dreams for many students; especially, for students of color. Why is this? Why in the 21st century are we still having the same conversations we have had in 18th, 19th, and 20th century? What is the stumbling block denying the “American Dream” for so many students? Two words—Institutional Racism. ...

Privacy is often a contentious issue that raises deeply held fears. Concerns around privacy have been rising in the U.S. since the revelations of electronic monitoring by the National Security Agency, the hack of Target credit cards and shuttering of the education data platform inBloom. 

Privacy debates often are divisive, putting superintendents and other educators on the defensive. Parents believe too much data is collected about their children, that it’s left unsecured, and it’s inappropriately used by companies for commercial gain.

Trust is at the heart of this privacy debate. As author Stephen Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Shared Guidance

The best example of the evolving context around the privacy of student data is a recently released set of student privacy principles.  ...

When “A Nation at Risk” was published more than 32 years ago, it sparked impassioned calls for reform to our irreparably broken education system. Like most sparks and passions, education reform eventually flickered away in a disappointing puff of smoke, leaving the education system no better, and in some ways worse, than it was before the report. Since then, we’ve seen a succession of education movements designed to finally fix the system. Standards-based education. Dropout prevention. School-to-work. Whole language. New math. Education reform has become a jumble of clichés. The only constant is change. But the more things change, the more they remain the same, and if you don’t like the education system, stick around, it’ll change in a few years.

No wonder experienced teachers, administrators and even parents are wary of the next new thing. They know it will come and go without making a real impact. So, why is it so hard to change a system that everyone agrees needs to be changed? After all, many of our current educational structures were already in place at the turn of the last century. Do we rely on anything else on a daily basis that hasn’t changed significantly for more than 100 years? ...

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. ...

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