Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child


Blog Entries

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, continues to celebrate its 150th anniversary. We were founded by a small group of seven superintendents that came together knowing that like-minded education leaders needed an advocacy voice at the national level.

This was at a time when our nation was reeling from the end of the Civil War. A key element of our mission of what was first called the National Association of School Superintendents was equity. There were vast differences in the way our children were being educated.

Today, a century-and-a-half later, equity continues to be a major challenge in America. That’s why I am very pleased that AASA is partnering with Howard University and the University of Southern California in an effort to confront this challenge head on by working to develop urban leaders for our schools. ...

By Joshua P. Starr, Chief Executive Officer, PDK International

This year’s PDK/Gallup Poll on the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools marks a shift in both the poll and PDK International. As I assume leadership of the organization, I will build on PDK’s legacy while embracing opportunities to keep the organization at the center of the dialogue about how to ensure that every child in every classroom in America has in front of her or him the most qualified and professional teachers.

Realizing this goal requires comprehensive analysis, honest debate, and a willingness to look at old assumptions with new perspectives. And it requires the kind of trustworthy, independent data about public values that the PDK/Gallup poll provides. The data enable policy makers, leaders, educators, families, and communities to understand the issues before designing and implementing solutions. Toward that end, PDK International will, for the first time, convene thought leaders throughout the year to explore survey results, engage in deep dialogue about the issues, and develop a common understanding of their complexity. We hope our leaders and those who help them craft policy will recognize that the successful solutions we seek can only be the offspring of well-defined data and deeply understood problems. ...

Updated July 30, 2015

Last week, the United States Senate passed a sweeping rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s federal K-12 law, providing a rare example of bipartisan governance in an increasingly polarized political climate. An overwhelming majority of the Senate voted for the bill under the leadership of its co-authors, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

This marks the first time since 2001 the Senate has taken such action, and it is an important step in freeing states from the demands of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current iteration of ESEA that is widely acknowledged to be broken.

If enacted, this legislation – known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) – would significantly roll back the role of the federal government in public education and give states more flexibility in how they provide it. For example, the bill would eliminate the nation’s current accountability system, known as adequate yearly progress, and instead allow states to create their own systems. It would require states to identify low-performing schools, but would not be specific about how many schools states need to target or what interventions should look like ...

By Marge Scherer, Editor in Chief, Educational Leadership

“If you believe that all children can have equal opportunity, get out of your seat and start doing something about it.” These words, spoken by P.S. 55 principal Luis Torres at a recent ASCD symposium on poverty and learning, could be the mantra of all the authors in our summer digital-only edition of Educational Leadership (EL).

Like Torres, many of the authors in this special bonus issue speak from personal experience about how they and their colleagues, no matter the obstacles, are making progress in improving schools from within. The stories express their passion and urgency as they make things happen instead of waiting for more support or resources from the outside world.

This digital-only summer issue of EL is our annual free gift to ASCD members and EL subscribers, and we want to extend this to everyone reading this post ...

In 1987 I attended my first ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Philadelphia.  At that time the meeting was called NECC, short for the National Education Computing Conference.  Saturday, I arrived in Philadelphia for my 28th visit to this event that attracts K-12 educators and university researchers from around the world.  As I reflect on both the topics discussed and the nature of the meeting, much has changed and still much has remained the same. 

In sessions, innovative education leaders continue to emphasize that the technology should not be the focus of our conversations, rather the instruments that enable us to lead and participate in more dynamic, inclusive learning spaces and activities.  The emphasis continues to be on meeting each student where he/she is, personalizing the learning activities, and ensuring that the approach is student-centered, not teacher-dictated ...

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

As we fight our way back from the recession, it's clear that our economy isn't working for everyone. Too many are out of work or have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Too many don't have the skills they need for the jobs available in their communities. Too many get the skills they need only to be saddled with crippling debt or faced with unaffordable housing. For too many, the American dream is out of reach. Meanwhile, the rich get richer and government grows increasingly gridlocked as money drives politics.

As a union, the American Federation of Teachers takes on these issues. Indeed, our members and those we serve count on us to fight back. So, yes, we confront corporations like Pearson in front of their shareholders for business policies that lead to gagging teachers and spying on children. We protest for-profit colleges like Corinthian that leave students with a worthless degree and a load of debt. And we call out hedge fund managers who denounce teachers' pensions as they profit from teacher pension funds ...

By Melanie Zinn, Owner, Director and Lead Teacher of a Licensed Home Child Care Program in Vermont*

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of blog posts on the early childhood education work force that the American Federation of Teachers is running in honor of Worthy Wage Day, celebrated this year on Friday, May 1. View the other posts in the series here.

We attribute many stereotypes to “those in need”: jobless, maybe homeless, lazy, struggling, etc. I would be surprised if a tidy-looking, professional person was the image that popped into your head at the mention of this phrase. However, the reality of many early educators is just that: In need. I am one of those in need, and I never thought I’d be able to actually admit it.

What could we possibly be in need of, you might ask? The picture of an educator can also be so stereotypical! A woman, right? And one in professional attire, who only has to work like 6 hours a day, who doesn’t even have the children in their classroom the entire time due to library and gym, etc., who has summers off and let’s face it, doesn’t really deserve to earn as much a doctor or lawyer or engineer, right? Oh, so wrong! ...

By Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

All too often, the life story of the struggling reader, especially the child from disadvantaged circumstances, is a heartbreaking one.

Often not identified as at-risk until third-grade high stakes testing, stigmatized by classroom pull-out programs, given one-size-fits-all remediation, and faced with the possibility of retention, the struggling reader must then continually play catch-up in all subject areas as reading becomes increasingly central to learning. ...

By Dr. Joseph Bishop, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

What does equity have to do with accountability?

Many teachers and principals are likely feeling stressed as they think about how to make up for lost instructional time in the wake of an uptick of winter storms like Juno. This isn't the case for students in Hamilton, Michigan. In fact, a little more cold and a little more ice might be a good thing for their math and science projects. As part of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math) program at Hamilton Middle School just outside of Grand Rapids, students are developing the fastest sleds they can make, using cardboard and duct tape. Students are doing more than playing in the snow, seeing how learning can be fun in the right conditions. One student said it best, "It's cool because no one else in school has ever gotten to learn like we are."

But under the current accountability system, often lurking behind the classroom choices are inevitable questions about the ‘what if.’ Like, will an innovative project-based lesson similar to testing sled designs have consequences for student preparation for tests or test responses? Instead, educators should be thinking about more important things, like finding the best creative way to make sure a lesson sticks like fresh snow. And far too often, No Child Left Behind and many state accountability plans have looked too quickly at test results, and not addressed the unequal conditions that are making it hard for communities to deliver enriching public school experiences. ...

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

A high-quality public education can build much-needed skills and knowledge. It can help children reach their God-given potential. It can stabilize communities and democracies. It can strengthen economies. It can combat the kind of fear and despair that evolves into hatred.

On my recent visit to Israel, the West Bank and Auschwitz, I was reminded how public education, by bringing children together—regardless of race, religion or creed—can promote pluralism. 

Public education can also provide the safe harbors our children need, especially in tough times. In December in Ferguson, MO, I saw how public schools gave kids the space they needed to process what was happening in their community, while instilling hope ...

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