Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

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obriena's picture

Rules of Engagement

We all know of school improvement initiatives that failed when they should have succeeded. Technology initiatives, new evaluation systems, even changes to the school calendar – these are ideas that research suggests should improve student outcomes, but for some reason, in some contexts, they don't.

One reason that many education initiatives struggle to succeed is stakeholder resistance – or stakeholder apathy. When education leaders do not take the time to create a trusting culture that supports a vision of excellence and improvement, their reform efforts are at a severe disadvantage, if not doomed. As Bill Milliken, founder and vice chairman of Communities in Schools said, “It’s relationships, not programs, that change children.”

I recently had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Secondary School Principals' (NASSP) 2013 Ignite Conference. There, I had the chance to learn from a number of education leaders who have created cultures that led to true change in ...

By Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association

It starts early. When we are maybe age three or four or five. When we are young and impressionable. Someone close to us opens a book and reads to us about animals that talk, ghosts that live in haunted castles or pirates in search of buried treasure.

And we are hooked. We can't wait for someone to read us another story that causes our imaginations to run wild. If you've ever shared a book with a child, you know the joy and excitement this small act can bring. It's almost comical how some children want to hear the same story over and over and over — they are so spellbound by it.

Research shows that children who are read to at home have a higher success rate in school and frequently develop stronger reading skills. Reading is the foundation of education.

Unfortunately, too many children have no one to read to them. The National Center for Education Statistics tells us that almost 50 percent of children ages three to five do not get read to on a daily basis. This is staggering.

We at the National Education Association (NEA) are working to change this. We offer a number of resources to help educators improve reading instruction and to help parents develop reading skills in their children. And each year we host Read Across America, an initiative that celebrates reading and literacy and encourages more adults to ...

Deeper learning will ensure students possess transferable knowledge, or the ability to use their knowledge and skills to solve problems and navigate new situations. As a 21st century skill set, it should be a core element of the public education academic experience.  A recent report from the National Research Council, Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century argues that when facilitated through teaching and learning of academic subjects, this approach to learning pushes students beyond rote memorization of facts and procedure, and prepares them to succeed in work and life. This opportunity ensures that we are teaching and assessing the skillsets that we want our students to acquire as a majority of states work to implement the Common Core State Standards. Emphasizing deeper learning will require several shifts, in teaching methods, curricula, and assessments much like the shifts that are necessary to ensure success for Common Core. ...

To close out the 2012 calendar year, the Learning First Alliance is pleased to bring you the five most viewed success stories from our collection of more than 160 stories housed on our site. Criteria for inclusion is relatively straight forward – the story must show that a school, district or state identified a challenge, addressed it and produced positive results through their efforts. These results are measured in a variety of ways, from increased graduation rates or decreased dropout rates, to improved standardized test scores or positive outcomes in student health and behavior. Other indicators may revolve around parent engagement or improved classroom performance.

These stories were selected based on our Google Analytics numbers that reflect our audience views from the past year. We wish you happy reading and a Happy New Year!

5. Iowa’s Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program for Four-Year Olds ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Born in Another Time

If you are ever curious about the nuances and challenges of local policy-making and governance, look no further than the U.S public education system. When you consider the statistics and actors – nearly 14,000 school districts, 95,000 principals and more than 90,000 school board members – it is no wonder that public schools see higher levels of success when local leaders come together to collaborate and develop solutions.

The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) represents the state boards of education that govern and design education policy at the state level. These bodies set the tone, agenda, and overall vision for their state. One area in which their leadership is urgently needed: education technology. To that end, NASBE recently commissioned a study group, whose core composition consisted of 18-20 state board members, that produced Born in Another Time: Ensuring Educational Technology Meets the Needs of Students Today – and Tomorrow.  This report puts forth a vision for education technology in our nation’s public schools, along with key recommendations on how to get there. In essence, it takes a big, bold vision for 21st century learners and ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Voices From the Field

Education reform debates increasingly belong to a relatively small number of very loud voices. Hundreds of thousands of other voices get lost in the din. They belong to students and teachers, and their vision for our nation’s high schools varies dramatically from the content in mainstream education reform discussions.

The College Board recently released a supplement to Phi Delta Kappan that highlights key thoughts from students and teachers on both school reform and student engagement.  The results are worth summarizing and repeating mostly because the takeaways are remarkably uniform with regard to recommendations and advice for education reformers. The main message is that we need a long-term commitment to a well-rounded, multi-pronged approach to school improvement. ...

The civic mission of schools has a tendency to get lost in the din of other debates surrounding our nation’s education system. Beyond the uproar over teacher evaluations, standardized testing and the role of government, we must keep in mind the fundamental purposes of public education, the heart and soul of a public system.

This civic purpose of public education seeks to empower our nation’s children, and future leaders, with a deep seated understanding of citizenship, civic duty and societal needs. It aims to provide the very tools needed for future generations to participate in the debates surrounding not just education policy, but other critical issues we as a nation – and member of the global community – face in the twenty first century.  Education is more than just factual knowledge, and civic engagement and participation depend on a deeper understanding of our culture, society and history. ...

There’s a saying: When you have a hammer, everything suddenly becomes a nail. It is not surprising that student surveys, as a tool analogous to the hammer, are suddenly viewed through the lens of usefulness when applied to teacher evaluations.

Student surveys provide valuable feedback for teachers that contribute to professional development and can result in improved classroom practices. Over the years, the classroom-level cycle of feedback and adjustment can produce improved student performance results. It already happens in some places; imagine the possible impact if such a process were adopted system-wide. But when it comes to teacher evaluations, implementation is – as always - fraught with unforeseen consequences. The errors of the policy-making community, when in a rush, are plentiful, and in this instance, threaten to undermine the already established usefulness of student feedback when it comes to developing highly effective teachers. ...

You know you’re witnessing learning in action when you see children clamoring to answer a math question, hardly able to stay in their seats with hands stretched to the sky. For those who are often removed from the classroom, analyzing data, processing paperwork in human resources or working in national advocacy, it is always refreshing to be in the presence of educators and their students.  Two weeks ago, I participated in a National School Boards Association Technology Leadership Network site visit to Clark County. More than 300, 000 students are enrolled in the Clark County School District (CCSD) in Nevada, the nation’s 5th largest district. The district has 37,361 employees on payroll, making it the state’s largest employer. ...

Consider a community in which people cannot own property. Where housing consists of trailers or old manufactured homes packed closely together, with options for food and shopping very limited. Where a large population of feral animals poses a consistent threat. With high crime rates, high alcoholism, high gang activity. Would you want to live – or teach – there?

Alchesay High School in Whiteriver, Arizona (part of the White Mountain Apache Reservation) is located in such a community. Prior to the arrival of Principal Roy Sandoval in the summer of 2010, the school had the lowest math scores in the state, a 47% graduation rate, and a large population of 18-20 year-old students with less than five credits. There were 291 on-campus drug and alcohol incidents in the 2009 school year (SY2009), and “bootleggers” were selling alcohol to students from land adjoining the campus. There was great rancor and mistrust between teachers and administrators. ...

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