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A December report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress and investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars – reiterates what we at the Learning First Alliance have been saying for well over a year: We need to provide the time and support necessary for teachers, administrators, parents and communities to get Common Core right.

Of course, when it comes to new college- and career-ready standards, it is not only the Common Core State Standards that require time to implement. The report found that all states (whether they adopted the Common Core or not) are using the same strategies – professional development, new curriculum and communications strategies – in implementation. They are also facing the same challenges. And while none of the GAO’s findings are surprising to either educators in the field or their policy advocates, hopefully their report brings these issues to the attention of a new audience ...

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. ...

This piece was co-authored with Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. It first appeared in the Toledo Blade. View the original here.

Many lawmakers and political activists appear determined to perpetuate an endless debate over Ohio’s New Learning Standards, our version of the Common Core state standards. But teachers and school leaders across the state have been working hard to carry out the higher standards for student learning that we committed to years ago.

Teachers are already seeing benefits for students.

“They’re not doing as many paper-and-pencil activities and seat activities,” says Amy Whaley, a fifth-grade teacher in Toledo. “We’re up out of our seats. We’re doing projects. We’re encouraging students to talk and to share, because of the speaking and language standards that are involved.”

Like Ms. Whaley, teachers across Ohio are participating in and leading professional development, and creating new lessons designed to help students build a deep understanding of critical concepts in math and reading. Yet the challenge of introducing a new and higher set of standards, even as teachers dedicate time and energy to doing so, is significant. ...

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

A window of opportunity has just opened: Everyone who cares about education in this country has until February 2 to let the U.S. Department of Education know where our priorities lie.

Last week, proposed federal regulations for teacher preparation programs were released for public comment via the Federal Register. In brief, these proposed regulations would require states to rate teacher preparation programs based on problematic measures of their graduates’ performance—and then tie students’ eligibility for federal financial aid to those ratings.

The proposed regulations should be troubling to the education profession. Let me share three reasons why I believe you should not only pay attention, but join me in rallying others to voice their concerns during the public comment period ...

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 ...

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 Diane Staehr Fenner, President, DSF Consulting, LLC and former teacher and assessor of English Language Learners in Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

As you prepare for a new school year, I’d like to share with you a rich multimedia project that was recently added to Colorín Colorado. The Common Core in Poughkeepsie, NY highlights authentic ways six ESL teachers worked with middle and high school English Language Learners (ELLs) to implement Common Core-aligned lessons.

In this project, the teachers designed lesson plans with the support of ELL expert Dr. Diane August and David Pook, one of the authors of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts. Those lessons were then filmed with the teachers’ ELLs, and the resulting classroom videos showcase the kinds of innovative strategies the teachers used in the lessons to make the CCSS more accessible for ELLs ...

October is National Principals Month, an annual opportunity to recognize the importance of school leaders and their role in supporting student learning, as evidenced by years of empirical research. Maximum levels of student learning are reached in optimal school conditions, many of which are the purview of school leaders. Strong leadership is an essential component in creating great public schools.

In an era where public schools are frequently under attack, recognizing outstanding leadership and the value of public school leaders is important as a way to remind the American public and policy makers that investing in human capacity is essential for building strong successful schools. Research indicates that leadership is second only to classroom teachers in terms of in-school factors impacting student learning, strong leadership is important for guiding sustainable school turnaround efforts and leadership matters even more for schools and communities facing challenging circumstances ...

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