Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child


Blog Entries

By David Ferrier, Policy Research Intern, National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education (CPE)

A study released last month shows that children who attended high-quality preschools in North Carolina were significantly less likely to require special education services in the third grade. These findings were from a longitudinal study following children from at-risk families from birth to the end of third grade. It examined two programs, More at Four and Smart Start, both publicly funded programs in North Carolina, that aim to provide high-quality child care to 4-year-olds living in poverty and to improve the quality and delivery of child care and preschool services for children from birth to 5, respectively. The focus on this developmental period of life is reflective of much developmental research showing that significant cognitive, social, and emotional development occurs across this timeframe and thus, it is a critical period to support. Furthermore, educational psychologist Jeffrey Liew highlights that cognitive and social-emotional development in early childhood can be heavily influenced by teaching efforts targeting those skills.

These findings evidence the importance of a high-quality early childhood education ...

By Heather Naviasky, Program Associate, Coalition for Community Schools

Twice in the last several months, schools have received attention because of their strong academic performance. But in telling their stories, the Education Trust (in the case of Menlo Park Elementary a "dispelling the myth school" in Portland, OR) and the Washington Post (in the case of Carlin Springs Elementary in Arlington, VA) focused only on academic improvements, overlooking the role of educators and their community partners in ensuring that low-income children also have the opportunities and supports they need to thrive. Last month we at the Coalition for Community Schools expanded on the success of Menlo Park Elementary; this month, we dive deeper into Carlin Springs.

On January 10, 2015, the Washington Post highlighted how Carlin Springs Elementary was raising test scores. It focused on how "teaching to the test" and test prep created double digit test score gains for the school. Once again, while they zoomed in on one area of achievement, the Post did not capture other dimensions of the school’s improvement strategy ...

By Amber Chandler, American Federation of Teachers member and 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts Teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, NY

Teaching is my calling. I can’t give directions without teaching them to you. Sometimes, depending on your learning style, I will draw you a map on a napkin. Other times, I might get you to Google Maps and have Siri talk you through it. Occasionally, I’ll give you only the landmarks—“Go past the 7-11, until you see a Tim Horton’s on the right. It is directly across from there.” There are teachers who teach a subject, and teachers who teach children, and it is that difference that we must all consider as Education (with a capital “E”) under fire.

Policy makers and bureaucrats are attempting to convince the world, who are incidentally probably laughing at how backwards we are approaching this manufactured education crisis, that the woes of society should be squarely on my back. For those of you who might say that I am making taking this personally, let me remind you that it is my performance that is being questioned. Please. Pay attention. I am trying to teach your children ...

I’ve been reminded over the past weeks of the importance of language in arriving at agreement on what needs to happen for the public education experience to be successful for all our students, regardless of their background and socioeconomic condition. The use of language and its different translations/meaning for different citizen groups was brought home during recent debate over proposed changes in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education bill that is now before Congress. A few examples:

  • Accountability – From my standpoint, accountability just means assessing the progress of those who have some skin in the game and can influence the outcome of any endeavor. I actually prefer the word responsibility ...

By Lily Eskelsen García, President, National Education Association (NEA), and Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

This piece first appeared in the Washington Post. View the original here.

Public education for every child was an American idea, but it has always been a local and state responsibility. Even when Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 50 years ago, the intended federal role was limited but clear: ensuring equal opportunity.

The act provided federal resources for states to level the playing field between schools in wealthy and poor districts. However, its 2002 reauthorization, which became known as No Child Left Behind, took the law off track by mandating that all students hit arbitrary scores on standardized tests instead of ensuring equal opportunities.

No Child Left Behind has failed. Now we have a chance to fix the law by refocusing on the proper federal role: equal opportunity. To do that, we must change the way we think about accountability.

Under No Child Left Behind, accountability has hinged entirely on standardized test scores, a single number that has been used to determine whether students graduate or teachers keep their jobs. The problem is, a single test score is like a blinking "check engine" light on the dashboard. It can tell us something's wrong but not how to fix it ...

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

Editor’s note: This post was compiled from a series written during Domenech’s participation in the 2015 Lifetouch Memory Mission in Constanza, Dominican Republic.

Building a School in the Mountains of the Dominican Republic

For several years, Lifetouch, one of AASA’s major corporate sponsors, has organized Memory Missions. These are opportunities for people to travel to areas in need of assistance in underdeveloped countries.

For four years, the Memory Mission has focused on helping the mountain community of Constanza build a school. AASA members and staff have participated in all of them. This year, I am joined by David Pennington, the president of AASA, and Noelle Ellerson, AASA’s associate executive director, policy and advocacy. We are laying down bricks to help finish the school. It is intense manual labor but the work is being done side by side with superintendents, principals, teachers and PTA members—all taking part in the Memory Mission.

The reward comes from seeing the joy in the eyes of the students and the gratefulness on the part of parents as they see the school being constructed for them. It is instant gratification for all. That’s something that educators don’t get much of these days ...

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA) 

When she said, “My husband has set a goal that America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” the audience erupted in applause. Her husband is President Barack Obama, so “she” is, of course, First Lady Michelle Obama. She was speaking in the East Room of the White House at a ceremony honoring the 2015 School Counselor of the Year, Cory Notestine, of Alamosa High School in Alamosa, CO, and the award finalists and semifinalists.

The American School Counselor Association and other organizations have been working with Mrs. Obama for more than a year to develop her Reach Higher initiative to help students compete their education beyond high school. “The more that I learned about our school counselors, the more I realized that often America’s school counselors are truly the deciding factor in whether our young people attend college or not,” she said.

She reiterated a fact that educators know well, that post-secondary education is essential for good jobs with good wages. But she also described a bigger impact ...

By Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association (NSBA)

Last week was National School Choice Week, self-described as "an unprecedented opportunity to shine a spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children."

Ironically, "opportunity" for America's schoolchildren is what National School Choice Week places at risk. The further irony is "choice" can mean public tax dollars siphoned away from community schools to subsidize for-profit ventures. Vouchers, tuition tax credits and charter schools not governed by local school boards create a secondary, profit-driven system of education that strains limited resources and risks re-segregating schools, economically and socially, by admitting only certain, top-performing students.

Our nation's grassroots democracy was founded on the principle that all children, regardless of ZIP code, deserve access to a world-class education. Nine out of 10 school-age children today are enrolled in public schools, which are their gateway to the future. Choice absent accountability can hurt vulnerable students when the choice turns out to be a bad one ...

By Rich Bagin, APR, Executive Director, National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)

People often say, “Numbers don’t lie,” when they paint a negative picture of the U.S. education system in international comparisons. But numbers also “tell the truth” when you look at some other startling international indicators that compare factors of social stress and economic equity of U.S. students and families with eight other major countries studied in the report, School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect.

Jointly published by the Horace Mann League of the U.S.A. and the National Superintendents Roundtable, this research report gives school leaders new insight to better explain the big picture of international comparisons. For the full report, a summary, and an electronic news release, go to http://www.hmleague.org/ or http://www.superintendentsforum.org/. NSPRA’s main mission is to build more support for education and is helping both organizations tell this story so that policymakers can better understand where our community support is most needed.

International assessment results are generally presented as scores, ratings or rankings, creating what might be called a scoreboard mentality. But thoughtful private and public leaders know instinctively that a range of social, economic and cultural conditions affect those numbers. For example, a country with the highest average GDP per person might also have an extraordinarily high level of economic inequity and social stresses that have profound implications for students and their achievement in school ...

This post was written by the National Coalition for Public Education (AASA serves as co-chair of this coalition)

Jan. 25 – 31 is “National School Choice” week. This annual event presents private school voucher proponents with the opportunity to tout the supposed benefits of “school choice,” an innocuous-sounding moniker that includes not only vouchers but also public school choice like charter and magnet schools. 

But the public school options are mere window dressing. Pull back the curtain and you see that the real focus of this event is a push for private school vouchers. This reckless scheme threatens public education and doesn’t offer quality school choice.

First, private school vouchers do not provide students and parents with real and meaningful choice. Under private school voucher schemes, the ultimate choice rests with the school, not with the students and their families. Voucher programs usually allow participating private schools to reject students based on numerous factors, including economic status, gender, religion, academic achievement, sexual orientation, and even disability. Public schools, on the other hand, are required to accept all students.

Some students have even less choice than others. Students with disabilities often aren’t guaranteed the same services in the voucher school that they would ordinarily receive in a public school and can find few voucher schools that offer them the services they need ...

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