Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child


Alexandria, Va. Sept. 22, 2016 Educators from across the country recently joined the Learning First Alliance (LFA) for a first-of-a-kind work session to discuss implementation of college- and career-ready standards, including Common Core, in their states.

The overriding message from these educators is, “Give us the tools and the space to make college- and career-ready standards work.”

LFA is now releasing “Where We Are and Where We’re Going,” a report that calls for state and local governments to continue moving forward with Common Core and other college- and career-ready standards and support these efforts with better communication, more focus on students’ individual needs, and realistic expectations and timeframes.

The think tank of practitioners included teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members and specialized educators nominated by the 14 national associations that are members of LFA. Through a series of virtual meetings and the in-person work group that met over a five-week period, these individuals discussed both the challenges of implementing such standards and the successes that are unfolding in schools and districts across the country.

“This group of practitioners has high expectations for the future of college- and career-ready standards, provided they are supported and kept away from the political fray,” said Richard M. Long, executive director of LFA. “These educators want to continue the work they’ve started and want their states and school districts to stay the course so that they, and their students, can succeed.”

The report’s main recommendations include:

  • Continue to move forward with Common Core and similar college- and career-ready efforts on a realistic timeframe to allow students and teachers time to adapt the standards;
  • Ensure the new standards are meeting the needs of individual students;
  • Expand communications efforts with government officials and show how the standards are improving graduates’ readiness for college and careers;
  • Continue to support collaboration between teacher preparation programs and PK-12 programs;
  • Expand targeted professional development for all teachers;
  • Redesign assessment and accountability systems to ensure these accurately assess knowledge and include multiple measures. Standardized tests should only be a portion of these systems.

The report includes message and direct quotes from the participants (who were given anonymity so that they could discuss local challenges more openly). Overall, many felt that the issue with Common Core and other standards was that it was put in place too quickly, and teachers and other educators did not have the resources needed to ensure successful implementation.

The report, which was funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is available at: http://www.learningfirst.org/whereweareandwhereweregoing.

View the complete release here.


Alexandria, Va. – July 19, 2016 – The Learning First Alliance today released, “Working Together for Student Success: A Back-to-School Communications Toolkit,” a resource to help educators communicate with their parents and communities.

LFA is a coalition of 14 national education groups that collectively represent more than 10 million educators and parents.

The toolkit contains advice for helping local school leaders and other educators publicize and explain their successes in implementing college- and career-ready standards. The document is designed to help shore up support for public education across the country by showcasing innovative and effective programs in schools as well as the myriad of school staff members who help students on their paths to graduation.

“We are proud to offer a toolkit that will help school leaders and other educators strategize back-to-school communications,” said Richard M. Long, executive director of the Learning First Alliance. “We know that there are many good programs and examples of schools preparing students for post-graduation success, and we hope this guide gives superintendents, principals, PTA leaders and other educators ideas and inspiration to show the good work that is happening in their schools.”

The toolkit is designed to be a starting point for communications, with sample communications and ideas to help show school success. Access the guide online at: http://www.learningfirst.org/backtoschooltoolkit

View the complete release here.


Alexandria, Va.  July 5, 2016 – Thomas J. Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association, is the new 2016-17 chair of the board of directors for the Learning First Alliance (LFA), a partnership of 14 leading national education organizations.

The organization also named JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, as its 2016-17 Secretary-Treasurer. Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of Learning Forward, is now the immediate past president.

Gentzel brings more than three decades experience in education policy and advocacy. Prior to joining NSBA as its executive director in 2012, he was a key figure at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, serving as its executive director for 11 years after working as chief lobbyist for more than 20 years. He also was an officer at the National School Public Relations Association and a member of Pennsylvania State University’s Outreach Advisory Board.

“Tom Gentzel’s deep knowledge of education and the policymaking process is a valued asset as the Learning First Alliance is turning its attention to the Every Student Succeeds Act and other federal actions,” said LFA Executive Director Richard M. Long. “I look forward to working with Tom and LFA’s new leadership team in the coming year.”

LFA has been a facilitator of leading education organizations since it was incorporated in 1996, and the alliance continues to cultivate relationships that advance best practices in public education. In coming months, LFA will be focusing on implementing college- and career-ready standards, ESSA and its requirements for educator engagement in the policymaking process, as well as the election transitions in Congress and the White House.

“This is an important time for the Learning First Alliance to bring together its members to build on our successes in public education and use our collective strengths to improve student learning,” said Gentzel. “I am honored to be leading the Learning First Alliance in its 20th year of service as we work with new leaders in Washington.”

View the complete release here.


Alexandria, VA –  June 21, 2016 –  For the first time, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes the expertise that educators can bring to the policymaking process and calls for collaboration by practitioners and policymakers – but it gives few details on how those groups should work together. To facilitate that process, Learning First Alliance (LFA) today proposes principles to guide stakeholder engagement.

ESSA requires states and localities to bring together educators, parents, and other leaders to determine policies and practices under the new law.

“We appreciate that lawmakers have recognized the shared and overlapping responsibilities of education decision making,” said Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of Learning Forward and chair of the Learning First Alliance. “ESSA creates a process to integrate the expertise and firsthand experiences teachers, principals and other school staff can bring to policymaking. Ultimately, this collaboration will bring more stability to our education systems as it ensures the expertise of those who have the greatest stakes in our public schools have a hand in developing policies and practices.”

ESSA gives little guidance on how the process should take place, so further steps are needed to ensure that the right people are at the table and the process works as the lawmakers intended, Hirsh said.

Among the principles proposed, LFA is requesting that the consultative process:

  • Be a discussion process that includes goal-setting and development of principles aimed at defining and executing policy, not just information sharing;
  • Be sustained, with stakeholder participation in discussions at the decision-making, implementation, and evaluation stages;
  • Include participants who have a stake in the law and represent groups or individuals who will hold their representatives accountable;
  • Be initiated or reinitiated by a participant if the process stalls;
  • Be transparent and open to the public

The principles are intended for the states and districts that have not yet started the consultative process or are in the beginning stages, or those who are undertaking the work in a manner inconsistent with the intention of the law.

Download the principles here.

View the complete release here.