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Each month during the 2014 calendar year, the Learning First Alliance will be highlighting our members’ expertise and resources around the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. This month, we spoke to a team of individuals at Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) to showcase professional learning and its critical role in helping teachers across the country transition to teaching in new and different ways to meet the new standards.

Professional learning has always been an integral component of strong learning systems, allowing teachers to grow and evolve their methods of instruction in response to student learning. It also allows teachers to use student data to guide their practice. Strong professional learning practices guide the implementation of any standards and changes in classrooms, and in light of the rapid rollout of Common Core, they will, once again, be essential. Learn more about professional learning and how it supports teachers and students alike by reading our conversation with Learning Forward Senior Consultant Joellen Killion. Special thanks to Dale Hair, Victoria Duff and Deborah Childs-Bowen from Learning Forward for their expertise in developing the interview content and structure.

Public Schools Insights (PSI): What does the general public need to know about professional learning and its role in implementing the Common Core State Standards or other learning initiatives?

Joellen Killion: Professional learning is the means for developing and expanding educators’ knowledge, skills, and practices. Because the new content standards increase expectations for students both in terms of depth of content and application of content, educators need to refine their instructional practices to ensure that all students achieve the standards and leave school college and career ready. Any new initiative, such as Common Core, a new evaluation system, or any other reform, depends on the capacity of educators to implement it. Professional learning is the primary strategy available to every school to support continuous educator development. Yet not all ...

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

States and districts are deep into the implementation of their educator evaluation systems. The backbone of these programs includes competent, skillful evaluators; high and explicit performance standards; constructive feedback; and individually focused professional learning aligned to individual areas for improvement. Individually focused professional learning holds both potential promises and pitfalls.

Among the promises is the opportunity to personalize learning to address the unique needs of each educator. Well-designed and developed systems provide access to a suite of differentiated professional learning opportunities and support to change practice. The ability to meet this promise depends on a rich educator development system that uses educator, student, and system data to establish individual improvement goals. This system must also identify and make available learning opportunities aligned with all performance standards and indicators, appropriate to all grade levels, disciplines, roles, and school and district contexts within which educators work. Such a system holds the individual educator responsible for his or her own growth, development, and results.

Individually focused professional learning, while addressing individual learning needs, has potential pitfalls. First, it may contribute to less collaboration and greater fragmentation among educators within a school community as ...

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Top Posts of 2013

In 2013, we tackled a number of issues here at the Learning First Alliance. For example, in June, our members – representing over 10 million public education stakeholders – came together in calling for a transition period in Common Core implementation, removing high-stakes consequences from new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards temporarily to allow the time necessary to implement them with fidelity. In August, recognizing the importance of connecting all students to the digital age, they joined forces in urging an increase to the E-Rate funding cap.

And earlier this month, we issued a statement reminding parents, educators, policymakers and other education stakeholders that the results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (a test of reading literacy, mathematics and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in approximately seventy countries and economies worldwide) must be viewed in context – and that there is a great deal we can learn from ...

Earlier this week, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2012 Programme for International Assessment (PISA). As predicted, the results show little change in the performance of U.S. students since the assessment was last administered in 2009.

While much of the media coverage of the release focused on PISA’s ranking of education systems, with the U.S. remaining below many international peers in performance in mathematics, reading and science, the education community responded differently, focusing not on numerical results but on the lessons we can learn from OECD’s research on the policies and practices that high-performing nations use in successful efforts to improve student achievement – policies and practices that suggest a strategy for education reform that is much different than the one that we as a nation have been operating under for more than a decade.

As American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said in a statement, “none of the top-tier countries, nor any of those that have made great leaps in student performance, like Poland and Germany, has a fixation on testing ...

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Learning from PISA

The Learning First Alliance (LFA), a partnership of leading education organizations representing more than 10 million parents, educators and policymakers, has released the following statement:

Today, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test of reading literacy, mathematics, and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in the United States and approximately seventy countries and economies worldwide.

It is vital that parents, educators, policymakers and other education stakeholders view these results in context. While the ranking of the United States is disappointing and reflects little change in how our nation’s students are performing relative to their peers around the world, this ranking is only one indicator of student achievement. Other measures show significant improvement in the performance of U.S. schools in recent years. The U.S. estimated on-time graduation rate has improved dramatically since 2000 – the first year of PISA. In addition, on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. 4th and 8th graders made significant gains in math scores between 1995 and 2011.

We would also like to remind stakeholders that there is valuable information in the PISA report beyond the rankings that we should not ignore, including the results of OECD research on the policies and practices that high-performing nations use ...

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What is Innovation?

What is innovation? Google the term and it is, “the action or process of innovating” – a fairly unhelpful definition for those who subscribe to the notion that you can’t define a word using a derivative of it. Synonyms include change, alteration, upheaval, transformation, or breakthrough.

People frequently imagine new technologies, electronics, scientific advances, startups and other types of change when they hear the word innovation. People, including those who care about education and those who work in education, frequently want to be innovative. Yet innovation frequently connotes disruption; not always the best environment for students and children. But, can simply changing a process itself be considered innovative? If a process is changing or transforming, then isn’t it by definition, innovative? What’s more, when the conditions are ripe for innovation through process, it’s not just about an innovative change-maker bringing in an idea; it becomes about the innovator inside each and every person with the expertise to create a wider scale change. The collective power of people, in a community, with good ideas, changing the process to produce different outcomes: that’s legitimate innovation. ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Roxanna Elden. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Miami, Florida. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a funny, honest, practical guide with hundreds of stories and tips from teachers around the country. “It’s the book I needed my own first year,” she says. “It’s meant to keep the great teachers of the future in the classroom long enough to become great.”

The time frame between Halloween and Thanksgiving is often a low point for rookie teachers – so much so that the New Teacher Center has named it the “disillusionment phase.” The honeymoon period of student behavior – if there ever was one – has long ended. The hours of lost sleep have added up, and many rookie teachers are feeling particularly sensitive about the trial-and-error nature of their teaching. Naturally this season sees many new teachers reaching out to colleagues for suggestions.

But beware: Not all advice is created equal. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end, here are a few examples of common suggestions with potential pitfalls.

“Be consistent.” / “Set high expectations.” / “Stay organized.”
It is seldom helpful to redirect rookies to the general principles served up in teacher training. Chances are, new teachers have heard these suggestions and are struggling to put them into practice. In mid-November, a rookie teacher’s most pressing question is not likely to be, “Should I set high expectations?” It is more likely to be, “How do I set an expectation of college readiness when, despite my best efforts, only two of my students regularly turn in homework?” To be truly helpful, suggestions should be case-specific and ...

By Kristen Amundson, Executive Director, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)

I had no idea my first slide was going to turn out to be a laugh line.

Let me explain: When you give a lot of speeches, you pretty much know when people are going to laugh. So as I prepared my presentation to board members attending NASBE’s New State Board Member Institute, I built in a couple of places where I expected at least a smile from the audience.

But Slide #1 was not on my list. It read: “So they told you this job would take one day a month.”

And it evoked more than just a chuckle. They laughed. Out loud.

You see, although these 35 new state board of education members had been on the job for less than a year, all of them realized their responsibilities take much more than the one day a month typically scheduled for a meeting. They have to ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

Recently a reporter asked me how teachers are supposed to be able to distinguish among all the professional development opportunities that claim to be aligned with the Common Core standards. While I could refer the reporter to many resources on what constitutes effective professional learning as well as how to evaluate opportunities, this isn't what she was asking. Here's how I responded and what I would tell the many educators who are trying to answer this for themselves. 

While I hope that very few teachers are trying to make these decisions in isolation from supervisors and colleagues, I also understand not everyone works in ideal circumstances. Therefore, I offer the guiding questions below to assist teachers in making the best decisions possible. First, here are three prerequisites to consider before you go ...

One of the greatest challenges that the education community faces in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is ensuring that the education workforce is ready to help students succeed under these new, higher standards.

Facing this challenge requires providing the current workforce with high-quality professional learning opportunities, something we talk about a great deal at the national level. But it also requires preparing new educators to enter classrooms ready to teach under the CCSS, something we talk about very little. How are the higher-education institutions that train the vast majority of our nation’s teachers working to ensure the successful implementation of the Common Core?

To help answer this question, we contacted Linda McKee, Director of the Teacher Preparation and Certification Program at Tulane University. McKee is currently serving as the president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (an affiliate of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AACTE) and as the president of Louisiana Learning Forward. She collaborated with two of her colleagues at Tulane – Holly Bell, Coordinator for Assessment & Accreditation and an early childhood education faculty member, and James Kilbane, a professor for secondary education in math and science – in responding to several questions on how university-based teacher preparation programs in general, and Tulane in particular, are preparing educators to teach in the age of the Common Core.

Public School Insights (PSI): As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, you see firsthand the products of the nation’s high schools. Do you think that the Common Core will help ensure students are better prepared for college or career? Why or why not?

McKee, Bell, and Kilbane: The Common Core (CC) is more rigorous than we have previously seen in Louisiana, and if implemented correctly, the new standards could make a difference. We desperately need to make a difference in students’ learning to think. The difficulty with the CC lies in educators understanding the aims of the standards and being able to implement them with fidelity. The Common Core standards represent a dramatic change from the specialty area standards that most states had developed and were testing. The challenge is that those standards were not being met, so we question if the CC standards will be met any better without ...

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