Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Rich Curriculum

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When and how did you learn about credit cards and credit scores? Did your parents teach you; did they lead by example; did you take a course; or did you learn by trial and error? What does just paying the minimum payment each month really mean in the long-term? April is National Financial Literacy Month and an opportunity to examine school’s role in educating young Americans when it comes to financial decision-making.

I did not have much exposure to financial education during my high school experience, but I was fortunate enough to learn a great deal from my mother and to have her support my navigation of the college financial aid process. Since graduation, I’ve also participated in a number of seminars, all of which  have proven tremendously helpful when it comes to my own financial decisions about higher education, home ownership, savings and investments and planning for retirement. It makes me wonder what decisions and mistakes I would have made without that enhanced understanding. ...

Recently, I’ve been reminded of the wealth of publicly supported educational resources outside the classroom that offer rich learning opportunities for students of all ages.  I’ve also mulled over how formal public schooling can take advantage of some of the resources and experiences to which I’ve been exposed.  Certainly, I’ve been involved for many years in advocating for the appropriate and effective use of new and emerging technologies to meet our teaching and learning needs in the public classroom.  But I’m reminded that nothing can change the ‘being there’ and there are ways that the technology can help us ‘be there’ as learners and also explore primary sources in ways not possible before.

My first reminder of the riches available to all of us was in January when the Learning First Alliance Board of Directors met at the Library of Congress in the elegant Jefferson Room.  In addition to hearing from the Librarian of Congress, we also learned from the Library’s education staff about the extensive work that’s been done providing access to the digitized version of primary sources and the educational enhancements that have been applied to these sources…i.e. you can now see the original version of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote along with the edits, identified by their author, and see which edits appeared in the final version and ...

A recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) suggests that arts education can help narrow the achievement gap that exists between low-income students and their more advantaged peers. But new data from the federal government suggests that low-income students are less likely to have access to arts education than their higher-income peers. 

Certainly arts education is important for its own sake. But in a time of tough budget choices, arts education advocates must speak to its tangible benefits, which the NEA report clearly does. By nearly every indicator studied, a student from a low-socioeconomic (SES) background with a high-arts educational experience significantly outperformed peers from a low-arts, low-SES background, closing (and in some cases eliminating) the gap that often appears between low-SES students and their more advantaged peers.

And not just the standardized test score gap. The report does show that low-SES eighth grade students who have a history of high arts engagement have higher science and writing scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than those who do not. Such high school students had better GPAs than their low-arts, low-SES peers (and in some instances, than all students). But I was more impressed with some of the other outcomes ...

Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger today is Ann Meier Baker. She is President and CEO of Chorus America, the advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that advances the choral music field.  Her 25-year career has included several leadership positions in the arts and in education.

Students composing songs about chaos theory, tessellations, and the Fibonacci Sequence is just the beginning.

March is Music In our Schools Month and this annual celebration is a wonderful opportunity for people to sing (pun intended) the praises of outstanding school music programs that are an important part of a comprehensive and competitive education. Today, while there is an enormous amount of compelling evidence about the value of these opportunities for young people, the reality is that school music programs are being cut at an alarming rate, leaving some of us wondering if it’s more appropriate to sing a dirge this month, rather than a song in celebration.

For example, in national research commissioned for Chorus America’s Chorus Impact Study, more than one in four educators surveyed said there is no choral program in their school  and, of the educators who said that their school has no choir program today, 31 percent said their school used to have such a program. And yet these same educators also agree that choir participation helps make students better team players, develops stronger social skills, leads to better emotional expression and management, improves overall academic performance, and helps instill self-discipline. These are the very skills and strengths students will need as they come of age in the 21st century—as a society, we cannot afford to ...

Yesterday I wrote about the DREAM Program in San Diego’s North County, where third-graders whose teachers had training and ongoing support in incorporating the arts – puppetry, miming, acting, dancing and more – into the curriculum showed incredible improvement on standardized reading tests compared to students whose teachers did not get such training or support.

Another successful program recently came to my attention out of Auburn, Maine. There, a controversial decision to supply iPads to kindergarten students is showing promising outcomes. Students who used iPads last fall scored higher than peers who did not in nine of out 10 areas recently tested around pre-reading skills, with one area – recognizing sounds and writing letters – statistically higher.

These two programs take extremely different approaches to improving student outcomes. Yet the success of both, like the success of most education initiatives, is discussed in the same way - almost entirely in terms of standardized assessments.

While test scores are important, they are not the end-all, be-all of student learning. Both of these programs are likely developing skills that students will need to be successful in the global community, but that ...

A recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune celebrated the Developing Reading Education with Arts Method (DREAM) program that is being implemented in ten school districts in San Diego’s North County. The program trains and supports third- and fourth-grade teachers in incorporating the arts (puppetry, miming, acting, dancing and more) into their lessons.

The results are, as quoted in the article, “astonishing.” Third-grade students whose teachers received a week-long summer training on integrating the arts into their teaching and weekly in-class coaching from arts professionals had an 87-point average increase on a standardized reading test (which is scored from 150 to 600). Students whose teachers received no arts training had just a 25-point average increase. While we know that standardized test scores are not always an accurate indicator of whether students are learning, this model is definitely one to consider as we look for ways to raise the reading levels of all students.

Three things stuck out to me as key lessons we can transfer from the DREAM experience to other educational endeavors:

1) A rich curriculum, including the arts, is important. We at the Learning First Alliance have long recognized the benefits of including the arts as part of a rich curriculum in our public schools, and we have lamented the narrowing of the curriculum in ...

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library. Materials are added at the rate of 10,000 per day and the Copyright Office has a card catalogue with more than45 million card entries. It contains 838 miles of bookshelves and holds a collection of more than 147 million items. The Library is open to the public and its resources are available on-site in Washington D.C to anyone older than 16 with government issued identification. The American Memory Project – an effort to digitalize a large portion of the Library’s collection – has more than  9 million items available electronically, for free, to anyone with access to the internet. ...

Have you checked out our collection of public school success stories lately?

Since December 2007, we at the Learning First Alliance have posted more than 150 stories about what is working in our public schools. Some come from our member and partner organizations. Others have been submitted by educators, parents and other community members proud of what is going on in their local public school.

Criteria for inclusion are relatively simple: A story must show that a public school or district (or even state) recognized a challenge, addressed it, and had some results. Often those results come in the form of standardized test scores, reduced dropout rates or increased graduation rates. Other times they recognize positive changes to student behavior, classroom grades, student health, or parental engagement. 

In the spirit of the “best of” lists that tend to circulate this time of year, here are the top five of these stories from 2011*, as determined by you, our audience (as indicated by our trusty Google Analytics tracking system). Enjoy!

5. Cleveland Program to Close Achievement Gap Shows Proof of Success

A Cleveland Metropolitan School District program provides personal attention and assistance to low-achiev­ing black eighth grade males who are deemed most likely to drop out of school. 

4. Alabama’s Graduation Coaches

Thanks in part to an initiative showing the success of school-level “graduation coaches," Alabama is ...

According to a recent report on science education in California, more than half of elementary school principals do NOT believe it is likely that a student receives high-quality science instruction at his or her school.

If anything, I would expect principals to be optimistic about the strength of their schools, so this finding really drives home longstanding concerns about the state of elementary science education.

And it makes sense when one looks at teacher responses to the survey. Forty percent of elementary teachers reported spending less than 60 minutes a week on science instruction. Thirteen percent reported spending less than 30 minutes a week on it.

These findings come as not only California stakeholders but the President, governors across the nation and the business community are all stressing the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to our nation’s economy and future competitiveness.

If everyone recognizes the importance of it, why isn’t science education better?

The survey offers some explanations around a general theme: The conditions to support high-quality elementary science instruction are rarely in place. Elementary teachers are unprepared to ...

In a recent Slate article, Dana Goldstein argues that “Michele Bachmann's growing popularity among the Republican base signals . . . a sea change in the party's education agenda.” I would add the same goes for Rick Perry’s popularity, and for the general abundance of Tea Party affiliated candidates among GOP nomination hopefuls.

Goldstein contrasts the common Republican positions of a decade ago—an era defined largely by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind—as often bipartisan, and emphasizing standards-and-accountability in order to make America more competitive in the global marketplace. Now, however, Goldstein notes that the GOP has shifted to cater to “the anti-government, Christian-right view of education epitomized by Bachmann, in which public schools are regarded not as engines for economic growth or academic achievement, but as potential moral corrupters of the nation's youth.” ...

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