Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

District wide strategies

Blog Entries

LFA’s member organizations and partners have many examples of schools that have adopted innovative practices or have taken risks that have paid off in their students’ academic achievement. As we head back to school, here are five of our favorite success stories from 2016 that we hope will give inspiration and ideas for your work.

District officials in the Tacoma, Wash. district have designed a system of supports to help students transition from prekindergarten through high school, and they work with local universities to ensure their curriculum is aligned and students have access to financial aid. High school graduation rates have dramatically increased under the strategic plan, two Tacoma administrators write in this article for School Administrator magazine. ...

July always marks a special time of year for AASA, The School Superintendents Association. Some of the sharpest minds in public education have gathered in our nation’s capital for our annual legislative advocacy conference.

Dozens of superintendents, the “champions for children” who are the catalysts behind the achievements taking place in our school systems today, joined us this month.

It was only fitting that during AASA’s 150th anniversary year, we saw the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The strong efforts from our members combined with the great work of our policy and advocacy team was a major lever in creating the new legislation. ...

Learning First Alliance Executive Director Richard M. Long chatted about the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the importance of stakeholder engagement on a recent episode of Education Talk Radio.

ESSA, the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, gives a new voice to practitioners as it largely shifts accountability back to the state level. To guide the process for stakeholder engagement, LFA has released a set of principles for state and local policymakers.

The new statute does not specifically define what stakeholder engagement must entail, but requires the process to be meaningful, Long said.

He also noted that the concept of engagement has evolved to bring in stakeholders to work together and have time to go back and forth with concepts. ...

There is a fast-growing trend with Phishing scams targeting school districts. Perpetrators are using social engineering tactics to trick people into giving up information. They’re researching organizational charts and reporting structures from your district’s website. This provides them with some initial information to start their scam.

One of the common ways a Phishing scam starts is when a spoofed email message is sent. A spoofed email looks like a legitimate email from another employee when in fact it’s not. Most of the time they involve a request from the superintendent, assistant superintendent, or other business official:

Once a reply is made, the perpetrator of the email starts a conversation to try and get a money wire transfer, payroll, W2 or other personal information from the district. ...

What is the worth of real work experiences for today's students?

What was once a rite of passage in our collective coming of age stories—the summer job—has succumbed under fuller employment and other socio-economic factors which remove these opportunities for young people. With the death knell of summer jobs has gone countless experiences essential to our young peoples' academic and life skills development. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, summer labor for young people (ages 16-24) has declined from a high of 77.5% to 60.0% in 2015.

 "The labor force participation rate for all youth was 60.0 percent in July 2015, little changed from a year earlier. The summer labor force participation rate of youth has held fairly steady since July 2010, after generally trending downward for many years. The summer youth labor force participation rate peaked at 77.5 percent in July 1989." –Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2016. ...

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. ...

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