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Nearly a year ago the fourteen member organizations of the Learning First Alliance (LFA) issued a rare but important statement of our collective belief that Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have the potential to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community. Included in that statement of belief was a clear signal that the “what” of CCSS was on track but the “how” of moving towards full implementation at the local and classroom level was moving too quickly with insufficient time, support and resources to ensure that the goal of the collaboratively created common standards could or would be met in the way envisioned by the leaders who initiated this ground-breaking project.

What we also knew was that some states and districts were mapping out implementation strategies that showed promise and yielded initial results in changed pedagogy and classroom culture that have the potential to result in measureable results on a host of evaluation instruments being designed to assess student progress. So, over the past year we’ve reached out to successful practitioners, asked them to share their experiences and wisdom, and collected stories of promising progress with implementation of the huge change in practice and process to meet the new, higher, common standards.

This week we issued a white paper describing some of the things we learned over the past year ...

In 2014, the Learning First Alliance conducted a number of interviews with leading education professionals. Many of these individuals are considered exemplar leaders in our coalition membership. The five listed below are the most viewed of the interviews that we conducted in 2014 and include a PDK Emerging Leader, a former President from AASA: The Superintendents’ Association and the National PTA President. While all but one of our top interviews this year focus on Common Core, we conduct interviews on a broad range of topics, highlighting leadership and best practices in public education.

We would like to thank our members for helping us connect with these individuals, and we thank all of our interviewees for taking time to share their insights and knowledge with our audience.

Happy New Year!

5. California Teachers Talk: Jesús Gutiérrez, Jr on the Common Core

As part of our Get It Right campaign on Common Core implementation, we are pleased to highlight the perspective of Jesús Gutiérrez, Jr, who is in his 10th year as an educator and was a 2013 Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year. Gutiérrez began his career ...

In reflecting on our work over the past year, we at the Learning First Alliance are particularly proud of our efforts to learn what it will take to get Common Core right. We highlighted perspectives on the issue from a number of state and local leaders in podcasts and written interviews, engaged with the public in a series of Twitter Town Halls on issues related to implementation, released commentary in local markets, and celebrated progress in our efforts to delay tying high-stakes consequences to standardized assessments aligned with the standards.

But education in 2014 wasn’t just about Common Core. In December alone, major events transpired: the U.S. Department of Education released proposed federal regulations for teacher preparation programs (open for comment until February 2), and the FCC approved a major increase in funding for the E-rate program, a decision will greatly expand schools' and libraries' access to high-speed internet.

We covered these items and much, much more on our blog this year. Of all that we posted, what caught the attention of you, our readers? Here are our top posts of 2014, as determined by Google Analytics. Enjoy!

  1. Three Ways to Build Trust for Professional Learning – In our top post of 2014, Learning Forward Senior Fellow Hayes Mizell argues that a lack of trust is at the core of many educators’ cynicism about and resistance to professional learning, and he offers three ways that leaders responsible for organizing professional learning can build it.
  2. Brain Research: Three Principles for the 21st Century Classroom – Brain research has given us some solid principles in the past decade
  3. ...

We talk a lot about transforming teacher preparation to meet the changing demands of both today’s P-12 students and the education workforce. Often these discussions revolve around alternative certification programs, but to make a large-scale impact, we have to consider how the institutions of higher education that train nearly 90% of incoming teachers should respond to the challenges that new teachers and P-12 schools and districts face. 

Fortunately, there are a number of models from which we can learn, institutions of higher education working in innovative ways to ensure that teachers enter the classroom prepared to be successful. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s (AACTE) The Innovation Exchange highlights many such programs, including Georgia State University’s Network for Enhancing Teacher Quality (NET-Q) program.

NET-Q is a collection of projects designed to prepare educators for the demands of teaching high-need subjects in high-need schools. To learn more about this impressive initiative, we contacted Dr. Gwendolyn Benson, who serves as the associate dean for school, community and international partnerships in the College of Education at Georgia State University and as the principal investigator for the NET-Q program. She graciously took the time to describe the key features of NET-Q, including its teacher residency program and partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the impact of the program, which includes higher teacher retention rates, academic gains for P-12 students and richer and truer partnerships with local schools and districts.

Public School Insights (PSI): Critics often claim that educator preparation programs don’t prepare teachers – particularly those who will work in high-needs communities – for the realities they will face in the classroom. But I understand Georgia State University’s College of Education is facing that challenge head on, with the Network for Enhancing Teacher Quality (NET-Q) project. Could you briefly describe the initiative?

Benson: The goal of this project is to increase the quality and number of highly qualified teachers who are committed to high-needs schools, thus positively impacting the achievement of students in these schools. This is accomplished by increasing the recruitment and support of prospective teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; special education; and English language learners, to meet the needs of urban schools in the Metro Atlanta area and nearby rural high-need districts ...

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

In the late 1990s, renowned Cape Town archbishop and social activist Desmond Tutu introduced the South African term ubuntu to a global audience. Roughly translating to, “I am because we are,” it reflects a belief in the importance of interconnectedness among human beings. Doris Candelarie, one of the National Distinguished Principals profiled in the November/December 2014 issue of Principal magazine, shared this concept with us as her chosen inspirational theme for the current school year.

When I heard about this philosophy of ubuntu, it struck a particular chord with me, as it seems to so aptly crystallize both the message and spirit of professional collaboration. After all, this network of human relationships and support across school, district, community, and beyond is the key enabling factor when it comes to successfully serving the students in our charge.

Research backs this up. Studies such as the Wallace Foundation’s 2010 Learning from Leadership confirm a strong connection between high-performing schools and decision-making structures that include input from a range of stakeholders. In particular, the study highlights the key role of teacher leaders, finding direct links between principal - teacher leader collaborations and higher standardized test scores and increased staff trust in principals—all without the loss of a principal’s clout ...

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

Numerous partnerships have sprouted in recent years between school districts and their local community colleges. Superintendents and college presidents have managed to blur the line that frequently exists between K-12 and higher education. There are many advantages to do this for both institutions, but it is the students who benefit the most.

Last September, under the auspices of AASA and the American Association of Community Colleges, 10 superintendents and 10 community college presidents convened to share the results of their partnerships and consider next steps to broaden their collaboration.

The K-12 goal to get students to be college and career ready is not much of a challenge for the top 40 percent of students. It is the remaining 60 percent who will require some heavy lifting, particularly for minority students and those living in poverty ...

By Frederick Brown, Deputy Executive Director, Learning Forward

It’s a dilemma many of us in the field of professional learning face. Our colleagues in schools and districts often frame their challenges in the following ways:

  • Our students’ literacy scores are below district and state averages.
  • We need to implement Common Core or our state’s new student standards.
  • Our student discipline is out of control.
  • My principal is about to be removed because the district feels she is ineffective.

As educators grapple with these types of issues, often they don’t see them as professional learning challenges. Instead, they are categorized in other ways that often lead schools and districts down paths that can be costly as well as ineffective. For example, consider the issue of low student test scores in a particular content area. Often, the curriculum and instruction department is tasked with finding a new set of instructional materials that offer more promise in helping students achieve at higher levels. This solution is based on the assumption that the test score problem comes from ineffective materials ...

The PTA at Eden Central (in Eden, New York) has taken an active role in reaching out to parents with information and resources regarding the Common Core State Standards. Their work has included a parent information night, parent academies and an instruction evening, all aimed at dispelling myths and providing useful contextual information around the formation of the standards and their classroom application. For these efforts, the Eden Central PTA received the National PTA's 2014 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award – the highest honor presented by the association. They have also been honored with the 2014-2016 National PTA School of Excellence designation for achievements in family engagement. ...

By Jodie Pozo-Olano, Chief Communications Officer, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

When we talk about change, we often use idioms such as “Rome wasn’t built in a day” or, my personal favorite, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” The point we are trying to make is that change, while challenging, takes time and requires training.

In no situation is this more apparent than when schools are working to transform education through effective technology integration. Successful change requires time and professional learning opportunities for all stakeholders.

Unfortunately, the one thing educators don’t have enough of is time.

What they do have is access to smart young minds with curious souls that, when motivated and inspired, have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. They are also tech savvy, and they are thrilled to connect and interact in new and interesting ways using a wide range of apps and devices. The educators charged with teaching today’s learners must have access to professional learning opportunities to help them better leverage their students’ enthusiasm for technology so that they can improve learning and achievement ...

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

Each year, our nation’s PK-12 schools rely on colleges of teacher education to prepare thousands of new teachers. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools is expected to grow from 55 to 58 million. Already, schools in high-need urban and rural areas struggle to recruit and retain enough qualified teachers, and many districts do not have sufficient special education or STEM specialists to serve student needs. Amidst these growing needs, however, enrollment in teacher preparation programs nationwide is falling, and data from AACTE’s 800 member institutions show reductions over the last decade in both undergraduate and graduate programs. What’s at the root of this worrisome decline, and how can we start to turn the tide?

It’s likely that the recent recession has contributed to the problem. Per-pupil spending is down in many states, and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been cut since 2008—trends that would be hard to miss for students with even a passing interest in or connection to the field. Indeed, local teaching jobs have declined by about 20% since the federal stimulus program came to a close ...

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