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Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger today is Michael Ragan, Vice President of the Washington Education Association and Chair of the Washington Learning First Alliance.

January 5th, 2012, was a momentous day for public education in Washington State.  That was the day the Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld the McCleary trial court’s decision that the State is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to amply fund public education.

Article IX, section 1 of our constitution states that “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…”  Without dissent, the Supreme Court declared in the written opinion that paramount duty means this mandate is the State’s first and highest priority, before any other; that ample provision means considerably more than adequate; that all children means no child is excluded; and that education means the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in our democracy.  The high court also completely rejected all of the State’s excuses, even the State’s claim that a financial crisis can justify education funding cuts. The State did not dispute any of the trial court findings on the importance of education to ...

A recent article in the Kappan, a publication of Phi Delta Kappa International, a member organization of the Learning First Alliance (LFA), chronicles the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to create and support passage of “model legislation” for states that advocates increasing what they refer to as “choice” and “scholarships” (read vouchers) in public schooling.  Authors Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead, both on faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, make a strong case that ALEC is behind the recent legislative efforts in Midwestern states to strip public employees of their bargaining rights and modify school funding provisions to allow greater shares of public funds to go to for-profit education provider; companies specifically mentioned are K-12 and Connections Academy.

I have a long-held belief that market forces as they relate to access to quality education have no place in American public schooling, and I believe that as long as we fund our public schools primarily with local tax dollars, local communities should have a strong say in how those school are operated.  However, I do think there’s a role for the for-profit community in designing and ...

On February 13, 2012, President Obama released his FY2013 budget proposal. While many analysts believe the budget is dead on arrival in Congress, those in the education community are praising the president for recognizing the important role that education plays in our economy and our society.

In his budget, President Obama called for the U.S. Department of Education to receive a $1.7 billion (2.5 percent) increase in education spending over the current budget year – one of only two departments to receive an increase. Highlights from the budget impacting k-12 education include $30 billion for school modernization, $30 billion to help prevent teacher layoffs and improve teacher quality, money for competitive grant programs (including $850 million for Race to the Top, $150 million for Investing in Innovation [i3], and a new $5 billion competitive program aimed at attracting, preparing, and rewarding great teachers), and level funding for some formula programs, including Title I and Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

All Learning First Alliance members who have responded to the budget applaud the President’s investment in education or focus on education jobs. National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, for example, praises the president’s commitment to students, saying that he “wants what every parent, student and the NEA want -- qualified, caring and committed adults in every school in America to provide the support and programs needed for students of all ages to succeed.”

However, while supporting the overall emphasis on education in the budget, some organizations had concerns with some aspects of it. One, shared by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), National School Boards Association (NSBA), and ...

Tomorrow is the inaugural Digital Learning Day, a nationwide celebration of innovative teaching and learning through digital media and technology. New technologies are the future of learning, and it is inspiring to see how some teachers and schools are transforming the educational experience.

While celebrating these accomplishments, we must not forget that there are still a number of children who lack access to the promise that digital learning offers. Often, these children are also disadvantaged by virtue of their socioeconomic status.

Nick Pandolfo’s recent piece for The Hechinger Report really drives this point home. He highlights Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, a school that (according to the article) shares a homework lab with two others at Chicago’s DuSable High School campus – 24 computers for nearly a thousand students. Many of the school’s students (93% of whom receive free or reduced price lunch) cannot afford computers at home, and they do not have much access to them at school. Pandolfo writes that “Bronzeville Scholastic students born into a digital era struggle with basic skills, such as saving work to a flash drive and ...

On January 14 and 15, "CNN Presents" aired coverage of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's visit to Southern Middle School in Reading, Pennsylvania. The episode looked at districts in several states, but Reading stood out as a district in dire straits. The video footage from Reading showed mold and mildew, leaking buildings, and rain pouring into a classroom.

The poor indoor environmental quality of this school and many more around the country has a devastating impact on the health and performance of the student and staff who study and work in these buildings every day. Poor indoor environmental quality is linked to asthma, respiratory illness, headaches, and other short and long term health problems. Asthma alone is one of the leading causes of absenteeism in the United States, causing many children to miss school or be tardy each day.

While schools in all communities are in need of some repair, as with many concerns in public education, it is students who live in low-income and minority communities who often suffer the most from ...

Earlier today a press release for a study in the January 2012 issue of Sociology of Education caught my eye: Study Suggests Junk Food in Schools Doesn’t Cause Weight Gain Among Children.

According to the press release (I’m not a subscriber of the journal, so I didn’t have access to the full text of the study), “While the percentage of obese children in the United States tripled between the early 1970s and the late 2000s, a new study suggests that—at least for middle school students—weight gain has nothing to do with the candy, soda, chips, and other junk food they can purchase at school.”

To me, this makes a lot of sense. As one of the study’s authors, Pennsylvania State University Professor Jennifer Van Hook, points out, “Schools only represent a small portion of children’s food environment.”

But something in the release disturbed me: Van Hook’s comments that, in light of the focus in the media on the money that ...

1/19/12 Update: NEA Today has the latest on the situation in Chester Upland.

Educators in Pennsylvania’s Chester Upland School District were forced to make that very difficult decision recently, when the district announced that without an infusion of new cash from the state, it would not be able to make payroll starting January 18.

But members of the Chester Upland Education Association and the Chester Upland Education Support Personnel Association are doing all they can to keep schools running as long as possible. These educators and education support personnel have passed a resolution vowing to stay on the job for as long as they are individually able, even if the district fails to pay them in the near future.

Why? Commitment to students. As elementary school teacher Sara Feguson said in The Philadelphia Inquirer, ...

Making international comparisons about education systems was all the rage in 2011. Rhetoric suggested that America’s education system is performing so poorly that we as a nation have lost our competitive edge, and that the world’s emerging economies are out-educating us, which will result in the further decline of our nation.

I’m not sure if that rhetoric will stop in 2012, but it is time we move beyond it. How can we do that?

First off, in talking about our education system, we need to acknowledge that, as Dan Domenech (executive director of the American Association of School Administrators and chair of the Learning First Alliance Board of Directors) points out, it is actually the best that it has ever been. Graduation rates, college attendance rates and performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are at their highest levels ever. Domenech also points out that when educators and education leaders travel internationally, they find that “overseas colleagues refer to our school system as the gold standard” and “parents in every corner of the world want to send their children to American schools.” ...

Have you checked out our collection of public school success stories lately?

Since December 2007, we at the Learning First Alliance have posted more than 150 stories about what is working in our public schools. Some come from our member and partner organizations. Others have been submitted by educators, parents and other community members proud of what is going on in their local public school.

Criteria for inclusion are relatively simple: A story must show that a public school or district (or even state) recognized a challenge, addressed it, and had some results. Often those results come in the form of standardized test scores, reduced dropout rates or increased graduation rates. Other times they recognize positive changes to student behavior, classroom grades, student health, or parental engagement. 

In the spirit of the “best of” lists that tend to circulate this time of year, here are the top five of these stories from 2011*, as determined by you, our audience (as indicated by our trusty Google Analytics tracking system). Enjoy!

5. Cleveland Program to Close Achievement Gap Shows Proof of Success

A Cleveland Metropolitan School District program provides personal attention and assistance to low-achiev­ing black eighth grade males who are deemed most likely to drop out of school. 

4. Alabama’s Graduation Coaches

Thanks in part to an initiative showing the success of school-level “graduation coaches," Alabama is ...

Yesterday I wrote about Mark Schneider’s belief that to significantly raise student achievement in this nation, we need to “shock” the system. Today, I learned about a partnership aiming to do just that in a rural West Virginia district.

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, State Board of Education Vice President Gayle Manchin and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have announced Reconnecting McDowell, a public-private partnership with more than 40 partners aimed at enhancing educational opportunity for children in McDowell County, a district that has ranked lowest in the state in academic performance for most of the past decade. 

As a community, McDowell County faces a number of challenges in addition to a low-performing educational system. According to the Washington Post, while historically the area has produced the most coal in the state, with the collapse of the coal and steel industries in the 1960s, the unemployment rate has risen dramatically. Nearly 80% of children in the school district live in poverty; 72% live in a household without gainful employment. The area has a high incarceration rate. It also has a large number of residents struggling with addition, and it leads the nation in ...

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