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Clearly espousing emphasis in STEM education is all the rage these days—with good reason. However, despite theoretical broad support and frequent political lip service, successful implementation of STEM-fostering programs in public schools has been lacking.

That’s why a current competition funded by the Carnegie Corporation— Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science + Technology + Engineering + Math Education on the Changemakers website—sounds like a condonable endeavor. The website notes the lack of progress thus far, saying that “our communities are filled with many of the world’s most talented professionals in these fields. They work in hospitals, universities, and museums; biotech, engineering, and architecture firms; graphic-design and urban-planning studios; hedge funds, banks, and computer-software, gaming, and pharmaceutical companies. They just rarely directly impact our public schools.” ...

Last week, NPR revisited Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School. You may remember the school from the controversy that erupted last year after the district proposed to fire all its teachers, a move that both the U.S. Secretary of Education and the President appeared to support. You may also remember that many of those teachers were ultimately retained, after stakeholders agreed to a series of reforms – a “transformation” that was to include a longer school day, more after school tutoring and a tougher evaluation for teachers, among other changes.

But the school has struggled ever since. Last year, just 7 percent of Central Falls’ students tested at grade level in math, and 24 percent did so in reading. Some anticipate this year's test results will be worse.

Why have they continued to struggle, in spite of a plan that included a great many reforms that in some contexts have had success? Some ...

An article featured on Edweek this week by Jeffrey Henig and S. Paul Reville, “Why Attention Will Return to Non-School Factors” provides a great summary of issues surrounding education that public school advocates have been trying to direct attention to for years. However, the optimism that the public will inevitably invest in these issues may be overly rosy—though I certainly hope their prediction pans out.

The authors point out that “when thinking about their own families, parents take it as a given that non-school factors . . . affect whether their children will thrive.” Likewise, analysts studying patterns of education achievement “take it as a given that socioeconomic status, concentrations of poverty, and school and residential mobility are dominating predictors that must be statistically controlled for before one can accurately register weaker and less reliable effects of teachers and schools.” The authors add: “[t]hat there are exceptions to the rule—that children and schools in poor neighborhoods succeed against all odds—does not gainsay the core reality that the odds are steep.”

Despite these realities that indicate people certainly consider non-school factors to be greatly significant, the authors point out that often times in education reform circles, many fear “[a]ttention to non-school factors . . . as an excuse to ...

To kick-off last week’s LFA Leadership Council meeting, the LFA gave its first Education Visionary Award to Richard W. Riley—former Secretary of Education under President Bill Clinton—for his public service, which has benefited all constituencies LFA organizations serve. While governor of South Carolina, Mr. Riley raised funding and support for education through the Education Improvement Act, which the RAND Corporation called “most comprehensive educational reform measure in the United States.” During his two terms as DOE Secretary, he stressed raising academic standards, improving teaching, and increasing education grants to help disadvantaged children. In 2008, Time Magazine named Riley as one of the “Top 10 Best Cabinet Members” of the 20th century. In his address following his award acceptance, he discussed a few major themes, including high standards, good assessment systems, diversity among the student population, and poverty—all major focuses of the LFA as well. ...

Last week, the National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual report on the state of preschool. Among what we learned: Enrollment in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs has grown more than 70 percent over the past decade. But despite trends in growth, total state funds for pre-k were $30 million less in 2010 than the previous year – and would have been close to $50 million greater were it not for stimulus funds. Per-child spending fell an average of $114 last year.

The growth in enrollment makes complete sense. After all, research continues to show the benefits (both academic and economic) of pre-k education. But especially given those benefits, the decline in state funding is quite worrisome. Unfortunately, it is not unexpected – and given the current economic crisis in many states, I could be forgiven for assuming that state capacity to maintain and expand pre-k programs will shrink in the coming years.

That pessimism is one reason I was pleased to see the announcement earlier this week that several national education organizations (including several Learning First Alliance members) are joining forces specifically to support high-quality pre-kindergarten. As a sign of their ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Melissa Whipple, a District Resource Teacher for the San Diego Unified School District. In her current role, she coaches school staff to help them understand the value of family and community engagement and how to leverage it to boost student performance. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor at USD, teaching a master’s course demystifying Family, School, and Community Partnerships.

I have been teaching in many capacities since 1975, and it seems to me that most educational leaders want to skip to immediate implementation of educational changes or reforms without first building relationships.

They seem to be in such a hurry to prove themselves as change agents or visionary leaders or reformers, they fail to understand that taking time to build consensus and positive relationships with others is just as important (if not more so) as the content of their proposed reforms. John Wooden once said, "It is what we learn after we know it all that matters." I couldn't agree more.

Unfortunately, many educational leaders tend to lead with their mouths (telling others what is going to be done and how) rather than leading with their ears (listening to other points of view and figuring out how best to work in ways that develop a sense of shared responsibility for student success) and proceeding accordingly. It seems the message is, "Just do what we say. Don't worry, we have done all the thinking for you and we have all of the answers. Remember, it is our way or the highway." This doesn't go over well.

In my district, we have had a revolving door of superintendents and their imported administrative teams (we have had four complete turnovers in the last 10 years) who seemed qualified and also personally charming, and yet they each failed to understand that ...

All of us can agree that the United States needs to carefully examine our efforts in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) with an eye towards improving rigor, expanding reach and ensuring that more of our students are both interested and proficient in these subjects.  Certainly, from an economic health and employment standpoint, we should all be concerned with raising the bar on STEM standards while nurturing the effectiveness of the professionals who teach these subjects.  However, agreeing on the “what” that needs to be done is always easier than agreement on the “how” to get the job done. ...

It’s been more than a week since the U.S. Department of Education sponsored International Summit on the Teaching Profession took place in New York City.  For those of us who were observers, the conversation was valuable but the extended time spent sitting and listening challenged our ability to absorb all that was being exchanged.  However, a few themes kept resurfacing:

  • In countries with high performing students as measured by the PISA tests, the teaching profession is held in high esteem and attracts the strongest students to its preparation programs.
  • Conversely, those same countries support a highly selective process for identifying potential teachers and

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Earl C. Rickman III, president of the National School Boards Association (an LFA member) and president of the Board of Education of Mount Clemens Community School District in Michigan.

The recent Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration in Denver showed that when school boards, administrators, and teachers work as a team to improve student achievement, we can greatly strengthen the quality of education we provide to our students and our communities.

I was part of the 12-person delegation of school board leaders from NSBA and state school boards associations participating in the event. I was proud to also represent Michigan’s Mount Clemens Community School District Board of Education, where I serve as board president. My school district was one of the 150 school districts from across the country that participated in the conference.

This first-of-its-kind conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, brought national and local school leaders to hear from other superintendents, school boards, and teacher leaders who are working together to redefine the labor-management relationship in their communities, and it highlighted the successes some districts have achieved and ...

Technology has redefined how we work, play and communicate at work and at home.  For those of us involved in advocating for technology’s appropriate role and substantial impact on public K-12 schooling, the redefinition has been slower than we would have liked.  The Learning First Alliance (LFA) hopes to accelerate more widespread understanding and implementation of technology for both instruction and information management by expanding our coalition to include, effective March 1, 2011, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).   ISTE represents more than 20,000 educators, 80 affiliate member groups, 89 countries, and 65 education technology corporations in their efforts to advance excellence in learning and teaching through innovative and effective uses of technology.

ISTE’s value system aligns nicely with LFA goals and objectives and includes the belief that:

  • strategic partnerships and collaboration are essential to realizing a shared vision for education excellence
  • organizational excellence focuses on innovation, transparency, and fiscal responsibility
  • power resides in a diverse and inclusive global community of members who learn, teach, and lead to advance the field
  • global connections and partnerships advance educational excellence, teaching, and leadership for all stakeholders

For too long K-12 education leaders have communicated within silos of ...

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