Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

District wide strategies

Blog Entries

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. ...

As part of its Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core national campaign, the Learning First Alliance recently interviewed administrators and education leaders to  highlight perspectives on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Kansas. As one of the first states to adopt the CCSS, Kansas reached full implementation of the standards in the 2013-2014 school year. Kansas educators have praised the standards—known in Kansas as the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards—for setting rigorous performance expectations for all students and thereby improving teaching and learning in the state.

Across Kansas, districts have used a number of effective strategies to ensure that CCSS implementation has been successful. In particular, administrators have focused on building district cultures that place real value on the new standards and which treat the standards as a permanent improvement to teaching and learning, as opposed to a temporary reform. ...

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

Schools districts throughout America are rushing headlong to make the digital leap. The lure of the technology, the one-to-one laptops systemwide, is a powerful attraction for educators wanting to be rid of the traditional textbook.

Occasionally, however, superintendents fall in the trap of rushing into the technology without the proper planning, which includes the professional development of staff, the cultural changes that move the teacher from the sage on the stage to the facilitator of learning and the acquisition of the right software and hardware.

With these challenges in mind, AASA established a Digital Consortium of superintendents who have made the plunge into the digital arena and are well versed in the pitfalls and difficulties involved in a successful implementation. Our first meeting occurred in Seattle, hosted by Amazon on their campus. Last May, thanks to support from Pearson and Cisco, the consortium met again in Mark Edwards’ district, in Mooresville, NC. ...

Community partnerships -- are we really better when we work together? 

To Collaborate (verb) – to work one with another; 
to cooperate.

Imagine yourself as a homeless high school student in your town or neighborhood. You need a place to sleep, but before that you want a quiet place to do math homework. Or stand in the shoes (probably with holes in them) of a homeless parent with three toddlers. You do want them to get to school every day…at two different buildings…but first you want to feed them. Where do these folks go? Where do they start?

In all too many cases, homeless parents and students and other high need families with basic, basic needs are confused about what they need and how to get help. They are further confused by the many, many different doors they can enter. In some, the many doors lead to silos of help that confuse even more. Do I go into the school? Do I go to that office or this one?

Guidelines to help ...

As California’s ABC Unified School District begins weaving the Common Core State Standards into its classroom curriculum, high school teacher Richard Saldana says the district has learned that cooperation and coordination among all staff is key to helping the standards meet their potential.

The school district regularly brings together teachers, principals and other staff to discuss implementation, then they use those sessions to speak with a unified voice to stakeholders such as the school board and parents.

“We do our best to bring as many stakeholders together as we can, starting with the teachers in the district,” says Saldana, who is the social studies chair at Artesia High School and a member of the district’s executive committee thatguides CCSS implementation. “And we believe that's essential because the teachers are the ones that are using the curriculum with the students.”

Saldana and other teachers quickly noticed that the new standards are much more rigorous, but he feels that once implementation takes hold, the CCSS will ultimately improve his students’ learning. ...

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants 

In our February 18 blog, we clarified the distinction between creative tension and destructive tension as they relate to our relationships and our work in schools. And, our example was focused on the relationships among adults in a school.

In this blog, we focus on what creative tension means specifically for the relationship between young people and adults in our schools. For starters, we cannot develop real creative tension unless we change the way we see young people and their role in education.

What would happen if we decided our students were our partners in education, rather than mere recipients of it? What if we believed they had something to teach us? To teach each other? What if our goals were shared goals and our accountability collective? What if education were intergenerational work?

How would this change the relationships between students and adults in a school? ...

Dr. Barry Bachenheimer is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Pascack Valley Regional High School District (NJ) and a 2014 NSBA 20 to Watch Education Technology Leader. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a teacher, social studies supervisor, principal and central office administrator. He also served as Director of Instruction in the Caldwell-West School System in Caldwell, NJ, prior to coming to Pascack.

Dr. Bachenheimer values personalized learning, student voice and thoughtful integration of technology in classrooms, and he recently supported Pascack Valley’s efforts in creating a “Virtual Day” to take the place of a snow day in 2014. He was kind enough to take time to share his thoughts on these and other issues, including implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Public School Insights (PSI): Let’s start with your background. Where were you before you came to the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, and what positions did you hold that contributed to your current work in curriculum, instruction and assessment, as well as with technology? ...

We either pay by investing in capacity building to reduce out of school suspensions now, or we pay later as a society as students go from schools to prisons. This succinct assessment, offered by San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Richard A. Carranza on a recent AASA webinar, highlights the importance of supporting school staff so they can meet students’ social emotional and behavioral needs while keeping them in a safe academic environment. Out of school suspensions (OSS) are a risk factor in predicting the likelihood that a student will drop out of school and of later involvement with the justice system, and these suspensions disproportionately affect minority students. To break the school to prison pipeline, district leaders need to develop and implement effective supports for students and staff alike. ...

Students who fail to graduate – dropouts who perhaps more appropriately should be described as over-age and under-credited – exemplify the significant hurdles that come with the commitment to educate all students. These young individuals have fallen through the cracks, and once they’ve left the school setting, it’s difficult to re-engage them. Yet some efforts to find, support and ultimately prepare these students for future success in the postsecondary environment are showing impressive results. This work is an important reminder that it takes a village – and committed collaboration among key groups of stakeholders – to create a truly comprehensive system. ...

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