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By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

As the school year starts, I keep thinking about how teachers never really get a break. Despite the myth about “summers off,” I was with several thousand educators this July – not at the beach, but at TEACH, the AFT’s largest gathering of educators focused on their professional practice and growth. Teachers spent long days learning from fellow educators and other experts about concrete ways to improve teaching and learning. Many teachers told me how they were spending the rest of their summer: writing curriculum aligned to the new, challenging Common Core State Standards; taking classes, because teachers are lifelong learners; and working with students – in enrichment camps and programs to stem summer learning loss. So much for the dog days of summer.

And our conferees did much more. We also committed to reclaim the promise – the promise of public education. Not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as what public education can be to fulfill our collective obligation to help all children succeed.

Yet even amidst this dedication and inspiration there is a great frustration. The promise of a great public education for all children is under pressure not only from out-of-touch legislators, but from economic and societal factors outside school that ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

At the beginning of her teaching career, my daughter shared with me that she would never want to be a "staff developer." She told me how people were not happy with the staff development required by the school system. They wanted time to work in their schools and with their colleagues to study their curriculum, plan their lessons, and problem solve around situations facing their school and their students.

What she was expressing was precisely the definition of effective professional learning. That was five years ago and she was in her second week of her first year of teaching. Today, her job is, indeed, staff developer. She serves as a master teacher in a Title 1 elementary school. While the challenges are different and often require additional resources, what her colleagues want for their students is no different than what other educators around the world desire. ...

By William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director, Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)

We have a new addition to our family. Tom is our new son-in-law, and one of his quick observations of our family is that we have trouble making decisions. We cannot decide where to go for dinner or what time to meet. He is constantly asking, “Would someone just make a decision?”

Difficulty making decisions is not uncommon for families, but it can also be troublesome for businesses, schools, and organizations. While decisions about dinner plans are relatively trivial, decision-making for bigger concerns is complex and carries higher stakes.

Whether you are a classroom leader, building leader, school system leader or organizational leader, you have to make decisions on a daily basis that might affect hundreds or thousands of students. Today, districts need to make decisions about closing schools or consolidating, as in Evanston, Illinois.  Schools are considering community and business partnerships, as in Reading, Massachusetts. And there are always decisions to be made about students, as in ...

By Elaine Weiss, National Coordinator, Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, and Noelle Ellerson, Associate Executive Director, Policy & Advocacy, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Since the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk, policymakers have asserted that US students are falling behind their international peers, with dire consequences if we do not improve. The result has been three decades of increasingly high-stakes "standards-and-accountability" reforms, which rely on rigorous academic standards and test-based evaluation systems to hold schools and teachers accountable for student progress. As a comprehensive 2011 National Academy of Sciences report found, there is no evidence that this strategy has produced any meaningful improvement. Moreover, a series of recent reports suggests that we have been misinterpreting A Nation at Risk. Our education system is not so much falling behind as it is pulling apart, and the past decade of heightened accountability measures has likely further widened the gaps.

The Equity and Excellence Commission's February report, For Each and Every Child, points to poverty and inequities as core hurdles to U.S. educational improvement. It focuses on the long-neglected issues of school funding equity and state school finance systems, and its core recommendations include more equitable school finance, access to preschool, and comprehensive student supports. Soon after that report's publication, the Council on Foreign Relations released the newest report in its Renewing America Scorecard series. Its findings echo those of the Equity and Excellence Commission: "The real scourge of the U.S. education system -- and its greatest competitive weakness -- is the deep and growing achievement gap between socioeconomic groups that ...

By Cheryl S. Williams, Executive Director, Learning First Alliance, and Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

When leaders of the nation's largest education membership associations gathered recently for the annual meeting of the Learning First Alliance, one of the most interesting speakers challenged the group to come together on messages that resonate with the public and are actionable across policy and decision-making groups. Representing more than 10 million educators, policymakers, and parents, Learning First Alliance has a responsibility to advocate and advance policies and practices that improve learning for both educators and their students. While we may on occasion debate at the "how" level, we stand together on the why and the what.

We offer these recommendations for the start of a great 2013-14 school year. They provide guidance to policy makers and decision makers across the country. They engender the support of education practitioners at all levels. They underlie our precepts as a moral and democratic society.

1. Invest in early childhood education. We have a responsibility to take care of the children. We are among the wealthiest nations in the world and yet we have among the highest percentage of children living in poverty. Education is the single most powerful pathway into ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, Ed.D., President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Last month, President Barack Obama visited colleges in New York and Pennsylvania to discuss a plan to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all Americans. Soaring costs threaten accessibility; lack of accessibility threatens the economic growth of the country. Therefore, attention to this matter is absolutely required.

Throughout the country, an increasing number of students must rely on loans to pay for postsecondary schooling and are burdened with debt after graduation. According to the College Board (2012), among students earning bachelor’s degrees in 2010-11 from either public or private nonprofit, 4-year colleges, 60% of students took out student loans and graduated with an average debt of $25,300. This educational debt is especially taxing for graduates who choose to enter lower paying public service careers, such as the teaching profession.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2012), as of 2009, more than 47% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in education will accumulate an average of $21,400 in student debt. In fields such as education, where salaries are notoriously low, mitigating debt through grant programs is essential to recruiting and retaining the most talented men and women in the field.

Since 2008, a little-known grant program has made college accessible and affordable for talented students interested in teaching. The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program, authorized in ...

By Joseph Bishop, Director of the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign and Executive Director of Opportunity Action

Last week, New York education officials released scores from the first Common Core-aligned standardized state tests. Student scores showed a dramatic drop in performance from previous years.  Statewide, just 31.1 percent of students tested proficient in English Language Arts, and 31 percent tested proficient in math.

We can’t be surprised by the results, as New York leaders and many state decision-makers across the country have failed to recognize that new standards alone won’t drive students to succeed. Standards must be matched with common core supports for students, parents, teachers and principals.  The challenge the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign is trying to address with organizations like the Alliance for Quality Education and A+New York is about more than closing the achievement gap on state tests. We’re working to rectify the ever-present opportunity gap that ...

I recently attended an information-rich meeting sponsored by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), at which Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the University of London, addressed the topic of Teacher Expertise: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How We Can Get More of It.  The results of Dr. Wiliam’s research are fascinating and important as we work collectively towards improving our public education system.  The first thing that came to mind after listening to his talk was the old humorous adage, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, Practice, Practice.”

What Dr. Wiliam’s work has uncovered is that only investing in existing teachers produces enough improvement to result in the changes we need in our education system and that this is not happening systematically in most schools and districts…but that it could be. ...

By William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director, Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)

“I touch the future…I teach!” With these six words, Christa McAuliffe summed up a personal philosophy. McAuliffe, a teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, was one of seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster January 28, 1986. She believed educators must be willing to take risks and model that risk-taking behavior for students—tomorrow’s leaders—to give them courage to move society beyond our current boundaries.

School doors are beginning to swing open and a new group of eager minds and bodies will be arriving in our classrooms. What will they see? What will they hear? What will be the environment in our classrooms? What risks and risk-taking behaviors will we model for our students?

To set the stage for why I think you should read further I will describe a personal story that shows how, as a father of a new teacher, I am inspired and confident about the future of ...

By Michael A. Resnick, Associate Executive Director for Federal Advocacy and Public Policy, National School Boards Association (NSBA)

In the 12 years since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was enacted, we’ve seen firsthand how the federal role in education has expanded substantially, particularly by unilateral decisions made by the U.S. Department of Education to transform the educational delivery system through initiatives such as its waiver program.

Now, we have an opportunity to change this course through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The National School Boards Association (NSBA) applauds Congress’ overall goal to ensure through legislation that all students are ready for college and careers. NSBA also is pleased to see that Congress is turning its attention to the growth of the federal role, including where it may adversely impact states and local schools.

Within the U.S. House of Representatives, the majority view supports a more bottom-up approach to the federal role. The Senate committee bill supports strong direction from the federal level. The divide between the two approaches is wide and presents Congress with major decisions about how federal education policy will be made for years to come under ESEA and ...

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