Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Standards that Matter

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John B. King, Jr. has a compelling personal story: Orphaned at age 12, it was public education and his teachers who saw him through a tumultuous period in his life and in turn inspired him to become a teacher, school administrator, and now the nation’s top education official.

Dr. King, who is serving as Acting U.S. Secretary of Education as the Obama administration enters its final year, recently spoke about his ambitious agenda with the Learning First Alliance: He plans to push for student equity and excellence, a better equipped teaching force, and strategies to improve the college completion rates. He also will be responsible for regulations for the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ...

On December 10, after many painful years of wrestling with the heavy-handed No Child Left Behind Act and state waivers that were often more prescriptive than the law itself, educators finally got a new federal law governing PK-12 education. Its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), promises to return power to the states, reduce accountability burdens, and broaden the scope of support for students with the greatest needs. I join my fellow educators around the country in celebrating these improvements.

Nonetheless, there are lemons lurking among the plums in the new ESSA. This law contains more concessions to reformist entrepreneurs and venture philanthropists than many of us would like. For example, one provision in Title II allows states to create charter-like “academies” for preparing teachers and principals for high-need schools—an idea that has been debated for several years and widely opposed by education organizations. Now that it is part of the law, however, we will do well to heed Maya Angelou’s advice: if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. So let’s celebrate the plums and then get busy making lemonade. ...

President Obama today signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), bringing in a new era of state and local responsibility and bringing significant changes to the federal role in K-12 education. This legislation is the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the main federal K-12 education law, which has been due for reauthorization for nearly a decade as public schools endured punitive and untenable federal accountability measures.

The 15 organizations that make up the Learning First Alliance (LFA), which collectively represent more than 10 million educators and parents at the ground level, are largely pleased with the new law, which gives states responsibility for annual student testing and much more say in accountability. Representatives from several LFA member organizations attended the law’s signing at the White House.

Below are statements, articles and editorials that articulate the nuanced positions of some of the LFA member organizations: ...

Updated July 30, 2015

Last week, the United States Senate passed a sweeping rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s federal K-12 law, providing a rare example of bipartisan governance in an increasingly polarized political climate. An overwhelming majority of the Senate voted for the bill under the leadership of its co-authors, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

This marks the first time since 2001 the Senate has taken such action, and it is an important step in freeing states from the demands of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current iteration of ESEA that is widely acknowledged to be broken.

If enacted, this legislation – known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) – would significantly roll back the role of the federal government in public education and give states more flexibility in how they provide it. For example, the bill would eliminate the nation’s current accountability system, known as adequate yearly progress, and instead allow states to create their own systems. It would require states to identify low-performing schools, but would not be specific about how many schools states need to target or what interventions should look like ...

The Common Core has affected how all education professionals approach their work. We recently spoke with two leading school counselors—Dan Peabody and Cory Notestine—about how the implementation of the Common Core has impacted their work and the ways in which they are collaborating with colleagues during the transition to the new standards.

Dan Peabody (shown at right) is a counselor at Patapsco Middle School in Howard County, Maryland. Mr. Peabody was recognized as the Maryland State 2015 Middle School Counselor of the Year and recently elected to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Board of Directors.

Cory Notestine (shown below) is a counselor at Alamosa High School in Alamosa, Colorado, and was named as the 2015 School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association.

Q: What do you see as the primary role of a school counselor in 2015?  ...

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

The conflict of man against machine has been a common theme in literature almost as long as there have been machines. This concept seems more popular than ever, especially in this summer’s blockbuster movies such as the “Terminator” series, the “Mad Max” series, “Ex Machina,” “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and last year’s “Transcendence” and the “Transformer” series.

This idea has also existed as an organizational theory for decades. In their 1961 book, “The Management of Organization,” British theorists Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker developed the concept of mechanistic and organic organizations.

Mechanistic organizations have a highly complex and formal structure governed by a system of rules and procedures tightly controlled by a centralized hierarchy of authority. This sounds like the typical school district. Unfortunately, Burns and Stalker suggested this structure works best in stable and predictable environments. That doesn’t describe the typical school district at all ...

By Summer Stephens, Superintendent, Weston County School District No. 7 (Upton, WY), and 2014-15 PDK International Emerging Leader

Tonight, my husband remarked on something he read on a Facebook post about the Common Core when my daughter was explaining her math homework. She blurted out, “It isn’t Common Core. It is practice!” 

“How apropos,” I said to myself. This perspective is exactly what I needed to support my theory that the undercurrent and the overt propaganda flooding social media about the Common Core really has nothing to do with students. My 10-year-old 5th grader loves math, learns a great deal from her teacher’s instruction and from the materials the school uses to convey the 5th-grade math concepts. She sees her day-to-day work in school as practicing, demonstrating what she has learned, and accepting new challenges in her subjects. She doesn’t see negativity, injustice, or conspiracy.  The fuss and confusion often lie with those who don’t spend their days in schools, unlike the children and teaching and support staff who are learning and growing in many, many ways. ...

The Learning First Alliance’s Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core campaign shares success stories and resources with educators, parents and community leaders across the country to help them better understand and implement the Common Core State Standards in their local schools. LFA Executive Director Cheryl Scott Williams recently spoke with Discovery Education about the purpose of the Get It Right campaign and how LFA took on Common Core as an initiative.

“Get It Right is our way of saying we believe a strong public education system works toward high standards for all children,” she told Discovery Education Senior Vice President Scott Kinney during the interview. “It’s a complicated business educating all children to high standards. ‘Get It Right’ says let’s step back, let’s give our professionals time to learn, to develop new approaches, collaborate, have the resources and support to get it right, and implement Common Core with fidelity.” ...

By Alex Sczesnak, Algebra 1 Teacher, Math Department Chair, and UFT Chapter Leader at Metropolitan High School in the South Bronx* 

Hello, and greetings from New York! March—infamously “the longest month” for students and teachers—roared right along, blustery and wet as ever. Last year at this time, the big question on every Algebra 1 teacher’s mind was “what will the test look like?” Here we are, a year later, and the course is feeling a little more lamb-like, as we now have the experience to better translate the expectations of the CCSS into the lessons, problem sets, and classroom assessments that make the standards come to life. This has been a boon for teachers everywhere; most would agree that these standards are far more focused and coherent than anything we’ve implemented previously, leading to curricula that make math meaningful for students in ways that were not previously possible.

That doesn’t mean all teachers are singing the praises of the Common Core just yet, however. One of the most common complaints I hear from Algebra 1 teachers is ...

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

Adam Ross has decided to frontload his adult life with experience rather than education. He expects to eventually enroll in a four-year college, probably earning an engineering degree. But first he’s going to work a few years for the company that has offered to pay his community college tuition in exchange for his agreement to work for them for two years after earning an associate’s degree.

“Nobody will hire you after college unless you have experience so I’m going to get my experience first and then go to college,’’ said the savvy 17-year-old high school senior.

Ross can manage this because he elected to enroll in the Engineering & Emerging Technologies (EET) program, one of nine career clusters offered by the Oakland Schools Technical Campus in suburban Detroit, MI. He spends half of every school day at OSTC’s campus in Pontiac where he’s earning high school credits, college credits, and professional certifications that he can immediately take into the workplace ...

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