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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 ...

Technology is an integral part of life in Washington’s Vancouver Public Schools (VPS), located just north of Portland, Oregon – and it has been for quite some time. They are the only district to host three NSBA Technology Leadership Network (TLN) site visits, the first in 1993, the second in 1999 and now 2013, which I was able to attend.

VPS serves 22,744 students in K-12 and it has 21 elementary schools, six middle schools and five high schools, as well as a school of the arts and Vancouver ITech Preparatory. The district is committed to providing an innovative learning environment for all students and helping them develop knowledge and essential skills so that they will be competent, responsible and compassionate citizens. During our visit to VPS, it was immediately apparent that the teachers, administrators and leaders are determined to serve each child. And while the commitment to the effective use of technology in classrooms is priority, the district also provides extensive supports for students and families. ...

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 ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief of Kappan magazine (PDK International)

In the 1980s, educators and policymakers swarmed across Germany to examine its two-tier education system that separated college-bound students from vocational ed students, all in an effort to boost the national economy. In the 1990s, Japan and its unique lesson study model attracted American attention.

Along came the 2000s, and Finland has the starring role. A country that once didn't warrant much attention, Finland has zipped to the top in international measures of education, and American educators in particular want to know its secret.

"It was a surprise to us that we were so high on the PISA in 2000," said Leo Pahkin, councellor of education at the Finnish National Board of Education who spoke to a group of American educators visiting Finland last fall in a trip sponsored by PDK International. "We knew we had good readers, but maths and science, that was a surprise to us." ...

While we live in a market-driven economy, where winning and wealth accumulation are desired outcomes, education advocates on all sides of the political aisle currently assert that public schools are failing our children, especially minorities and low-income students.  Education is a common good; it is the stepping-stone through which students can make something better of their futures. Therefore, we should not be setting up a system to create winners and losers. ...

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

AACTE's recent report The Changing Teacher Preparation Profession: A Report From AACTE's Professional Education Data System (PEDS) tells of the rapidly shifting work of preparing U.S. teachers. The report finds the academic prowess of college students entering teacher preparation is strong, with programs attracting students with GPAs that exceed minimum entry requirements. We also see that preservice programs are designing alternative routes to licensure, integrating technology to meet the needs of distance learners, and working to incorporate capstone performance assessments such as edTPA.

The report's findings also indicate that more work is needed to make extended clinical experiences a central component of preparation. Although virtually all programs incorporate supervised field experiences, only 5 percent have a full-year residency program. One-year residency programs are required for eligibility for the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grant Program and they are championed in recent reports, such as those from NCATE's Blue Ribbon Panel and the National Research Council, as well as in AACTE's PEDS report. Further, we know that candidates who engage more regularly in actual classroom activities are more likely to remain in the profession and have a more positive impact on student learning than ...

By Richard L. Valenta, Ed.D., Board Member for the American Association of School Personnel Administrators (AASPA) and Director of Personnel Services for Birdville ISD

Several researchers have affirmed the importance of both the engagement of people at work (for example, see several meta-analyses and surveys done by scholars at and/or for Gallup) and the impact of talented teachers on meaningful school outcomes, specifically student achievement. Based on this research, it is appropriate to acknowledge the importance of creating great schools for educators to work and be engaged in. Likewise, it is paramount that students are taught by talented teachers who are effective in providing instruction that significantly and consistently affects achievement gains.

In a 2006 book, Gary Gordon proclaimed a need to ensure that teachers in this country work in environments that promote their engagement in order to fully tap students' potentials. Teacher engagement refers to the individual teacher's involvement in and enthusiasm for teaching students in schools and reflects how well teachers are known and how often they get to do what they do best. Gordon also expressed the importance of valuing ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director of Learning Forward

I was at a conference and during a discussion period had the opportunity to dialogue with colleagues — we were seating ourselves according to our interests as indicated by table tents. As I approached the table labeled "teacher evaluation," I cheerfully remarked, "Oh, I can't sit with you. You won't want to talk about professional learning."

Oh no, my colleagues cried — sit with us! That's all we want to talk about. I realized I was holding an assumption that was out of date. When the teacher effectiveness conversation heated up many months ago, the focus swiftly turned to evaluation, without much mention of teacher support or growth.

Fortunately, however, many (though certainly not all) participants in this conversation have moved in the direction of recognizing the importance of teacher support as part of evaluation systems. Advocates for meaningful evaluation systems acknowledge that attending to the development of teacher knowledge and skills is essential on ...

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