Learning First Alliance

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By Allison Gulamhussein, doctoral student at George Washington University, former high school English teacher and spring 2013 policy intern for the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education (CPE)

Recently, students in New York City took their first round of exams aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Their experience was far from painless. Many reported that the tests elicited a bevy of worrisome responses: Some children said they had nightmares about bubbling in answers, and others broke down in tears at the end of exams. Such responses stand as a stark reminder that the Common Core standards do not simply ask for more of the same, but instead insist on drastic changes in what students are learning.

The major instructional change demanded in the Common Core is a switch from rote memorization to a focus on critical thinking. Many argue that this change is for the best, but regardless of its merit, a focus on critical thought is a radical shift in instruction.

For more than a century, studies have shown American schools are fact-focused. Research consistently shows that teachers predominately ask students fact-recall questions, and studies analyzing classroom instruction have found that 85 percent of instruction is lecture, recitation, or ...

You cannot just “PBIS” a child who happens to be misbehaving or acting out. That simple reality is probably one of the most important facts about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), also known as school wide positive behavioral supports (SWPBS). It’s defined as a framework for enhancing adoption and implementation of a continuum of evidence-based interventions to achieve academically and behaviorally important outcomes for all students. Through this framework, PBIS seeks to improve school climate, reduce discipline issues and support academic achievement. In mid-July, George Sugai from the Neag School of Education (also Director, Center for Behavioral Education & Research and Co-Director, Center of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) joined out-going Principal Rodney Moore from Stone Hill Middle School in Ashburn (VA) – a school that implemented PBIS – at a U.S Department of Education briefing in Washington D.C. ...

At some point in our education, we learn about the term and concept of multipliers (a third grade concept according to the Common Core State Standards). By one definition, a multiplier is “an instrument or device for multiplying or intensifying some effect.” If you have something positive, or something that is working well in your office or environment, it seems logical if you want to increase or intensify that factor. This math term is applied to the concept of school leadership in a book called The Multiplier Effect, written by Liz Wiseman, Lois Allen and Elise Foster. ...

When I logged onto my Twitter account last Tuesday, an interesting string of comments/news scrolled across my screen.  As fate would have it, the National Education Association (NEA) annual meeting and the National Charter Schools Conference (NCSC) were both taking place, and their keynote speaker addresses filled my Twitter feed. 

The NEA speakers, former Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools (MCPS) district superintendent Jerry Weast and Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond offered perspectives on the roles teachers can and should play as successful practitioners in the classroom and beyond.  Dr. Weast profiled the MCPS Peer Assistance and Review Program (PAAR), designed in collaboration with the local unit of NEA and the district administration to institute a system of teacher evaluation led by teachers and predicated on ...

We know a great deal about the high school dropout problem. From the research of Robert Balfanz and others, we know where dropouts are likely to come from – the majority attends a small subset of high schools where the graduation rate is 60% or lower. We know who is likely to drop out – the warning signs start as early as first grade, and by middle school they can be defined as the ABCs (attendance problems, behavior problems, and course failure). And we know that there are effective interventions that help retain likely dropouts.

Where we have struggled is in putting together what we know and addressing the issue at scale. But that might be changing. At a May briefing at the US Department of Education on the progress of three Investing in Innovation (i3) grantees, I learned of a promising effort to do so: Diplomas Now. The innovation? Arranging what we know are effective education improvement strategies into a coherent whole.

Based on Balfanz’s research (and he is the program founder), Diplomas Now brings together three national networks – Talent Development, City Year and Communities in Schools – to deliver a comprehensive secondary school turnaround model in high schools where relatively few students graduate.  

Utilizing the evidence-based approaches taken by each of the partner organizations, Diplomas Now targets interventions at multiple levels – school, classroom and students. The model: Organize teachers into ...

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

Across the nation, new state legislation is weaving together educator evaluation, student assessments, and continuous professional learning for educators. New evaluation systems for educators commonly define levels of effective performance, require preparation for those responsible for conducting the evaluations, and call for support systems for educators' continual professional growth and development. Too often these evaluation systems fail to include the essential policy components to support effective educator professional learning necessary for continuous growth, which reinforces an already deeply embedded practice of inequity in students' opportunity to learn.

Some educators are fortunate enough to work in school systems and states with sound professional learning policies that define effectiveness; hold school systems, third-party providers, and others accountable for effective professional learning practices; and make the necessary resources available for continuous learning. When other educators do not benefit from such policies, students' opportunities to ...

I recently attended an event showcasing state initiatives that focus on the goal of ensuring all third grade students read on grade level – a lofty and perfectly reasonable goal.  The participants in the program included three governors as well as a panel of state superintendents of education.  One of the governors kept mentioning that in her state too much attention has been paid to the adults in the system to the detriment of the students.  Her belief in this root cause of the disappointing literacy rate of her state’s third grade students struck a cord and reminded me of another event hosted by Learning Forward and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) last month. That event, Advancing the Common Core: State Strategies for Transforming Professional Learning, showcased a set of resources to improve teacher practice developed under the leadership of Learning Forward with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sandler Foundation, and the MetLife Foundation. It included a panel of education leaders at the state and local level who have participated and contributed to the project.

One panel member, Cynthia Cash-Greene, superintendent of the Orangeburg (SC) Consolidated School District #3, was especially impressive, and her message resonated with me.  She said district leaders need to be bold and know what they stand for.  She has focused on ...

Earlier this month the Learning First Alliance (LFA) hosted our annual Leadership Council meeting for LFA member organizations’ executive directors, senior staff, and elected leadership.  This year’s meeting brought 100 education leaders together under the theme Setting a Bold Agenda for Collaborative Leadership in Public Education, and working groups were charged with outlining the focus for the LFA coalition’s work in the coming months. With background information provided by Warren Simmons, executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University; Saul Rubinstein, Associate Professor, School of Management & Labor Relations at Rutgers University; and Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University and 2013 recipient of the LFA Education Visionary Award, attendees outlined two major action items for our collective efforts.

The first day’s small group discussions centered on developing a common vocabulary and message approach that emphasizes the success that public schools have achieved individually and collectively throughout our country’s history.  Attendees were reminded that critics of public schools, who call themselves “reformers”, have a simple, straightforward message about public education that ...

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

Establishing more time for collaborative professional learning is only a first step. Using the time effectively and efficiently is also essential. Four simple processes can focus the interactions that occur in teams and connect what team members learn with student learning.

Establish a clear purpose for each meeting. At the beginning of each session or at the end of the previous session, team members commit to a clear purpose for the meeting that specifies the learning goals for educators and the outcomes they expect for students when their learning goals are implemented. Establishing a purpose also means being clear about what the non-purpose of the session will be. This trick of non-purpose is a powerful tool for maintaining a laser-like focus on the identified purpose and ...

By Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, Assistant to the President for Educational Issues, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Last month, AFT president, Randi Weingarten called for a moratorium on the stakes associated with Common Core-aligned assessments. Let me be clear, the AFT has long been a supporter of higher common standards and expectations for all students, regardless of ZIP code.

From the outset, we've maintained that the standards themselves would only be as good as the system that supports them: aligned curricula and classroom resources (including state-of-the-art online tools); meaningful, sustained professional development; time for teachers and other staff to adapt to the new standards; aligned and timely assessments that support college and career readiness and inform instruction; and participation of family and community stakeholders in the awareness-building, advocacy and support needed for the standards to truly change teaching and ...

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