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

Like millions of immigrants, my parents came to America with the hope that their children would have better lives than they themselves had. The very foundation of the American Dream is the belief that people can be upwardly mobile despite their parents’ social and economic standing. Although many immigrant and low-income families struggle, those of us in the margins always believed we had the opportunity to join the middle class. Sadly, this is increasingly less true.

The United States continues to have the world’s largest gross domestic product (GDP) and more millionaires and billionaires than any other country. Unfortunately, the number of people living in poverty in the United States is also among the highest in world. The wealth gap has been steadily growing for more than a decade as the middle class continues to decline.

President Obama has called income inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” Although some conservative politicians contend there is no inequality, people on both sides of the political aisle agree on one factor crucial for improving Americans lives and mobility: education. ...

Each month during the 2014 calendar year, the Learning First Alliance will be highlighting our members’ expertise and resources around the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. This month, we spoke to a team of individuals at Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) to showcase professional learning and its critical role in helping teachers across the country transition to teaching in new and different ways to meet the new standards.

Professional learning has always been an integral component of strong learning systems, allowing teachers to grow and evolve their methods of instruction in response to student learning. It also allows teachers to use student data to guide their practice. Strong professional learning practices guide the implementation of any standards and changes in classrooms, and in light of the rapid rollout of Common Core, they will, once again, be essential. Learn more about professional learning and how it supports teachers and students alike by reading our conversation with Learning Forward Senior Consultant Joellen Killion. Special thanks to Dale Hair, Victoria Duff and Deborah Childs-Bowen from Learning Forward for their expertise in developing the interview content and structure.

Public Schools Insights (PSI): What does the general public need to know about professional learning and its role in implementing the Common Core State Standards or other learning initiatives?

Joellen Killion: Professional learning is the means for developing and expanding educators’ knowledge, skills, and practices. Because the new content standards increase expectations for students both in terms of depth of content and application of content, educators need to refine their instructional practices to ensure that all students achieve the standards and leave school college and career ready. Any new initiative, such as Common Core, a new evaluation system, or any other reform, depends on the capacity of educators to implement it. Professional learning is the primary strategy available to every school to support continuous educator development. Yet not all ...

By Jamila Goodman, Program Coordinator, NEA Health Information Network

Did you know that adolescents are more likely than young adults to become dependent on prescription medication?  The Office of National Drug Control Policy calls prescription drug abuse “the Nation’s fastest growing drug problem.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. The problem of prescription drug abuse and misuse is particularly alarming among young people. ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Next week (Jan. 27-31) is National School Choice Week, a campaign whose sponsors include proponents of vouchers, charters, magnets and other schools, though the real focus is on vouchers. When it comes to school choice and vouchers at AASA, we are deeply committed to supporting and strengthening the nation’s public schools, and have an absolute belief that public dollars are for public schools and equally strong opposition to vouchers.

We are very engaged in advocacy efforts to oppose federal education policy supporting vouchers. AASA is involved with the National Coalition for Public Education, a coalition of more than 50 education, civic, civil rights and religious organizations. NCPE brings these groups together in their common belief that maintaining strong public schools, which are open and nondiscriminatory in their acceptance of all students, is essential to preserving critical American values and ensuring our nation’s ...

Earlier this month, we at the Learning First Alliance were pleased to welcome our newest member, Parents for Public Schools (PPS). As we work to advance public education nationwide, we recognize the important voice that this organization – and those it represents – brings to the school improvement conversation.

PPS has local chapters throughout the country that work to elevate the role of parents in public schools from passive consumers to active participants. The organization helps accomplish its mission through strategies and programs that educate, engage and mobilize parents. Through its ongoing work, PPS’ parents help raise standards, solve problems and advocate for their community.

Parents for Public Schools Executive Director Anne Foster recently took the time to tell us more about the organization.

Public School Insights (PSI): What is Parents for Public Schools?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools (PPS) is a national organization of community-based chapters working to strengthen public schools by engaging, educating and mobilizing parents.

PSI: Why was the organization formed?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools was started in 1989 in Jackson, Mississippi, by a group of parents. They were committed to supporting public schools and challenging the entire community to do so as well. They were convinced that parents could positively impact public schools, and one of their first acts was to help pass ...

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

States and districts are deep into the implementation of their educator evaluation systems. The backbone of these programs includes competent, skillful evaluators; high and explicit performance standards; constructive feedback; and individually focused professional learning aligned to individual areas for improvement. Individually focused professional learning holds both potential promises and pitfalls.

Among the promises is the opportunity to personalize learning to address the unique needs of each educator. Well-designed and developed systems provide access to a suite of differentiated professional learning opportunities and support to change practice. The ability to meet this promise depends on a rich educator development system that uses educator, student, and system data to establish individual improvement goals. This system must also identify and make available learning opportunities aligned with all performance standards and indicators, appropriate to all grade levels, disciplines, roles, and school and district contexts within which educators work. Such a system holds the individual educator responsible for his or her own growth, development, and results.

Individually focused professional learning, while addressing individual learning needs, has potential pitfalls. First, it may contribute to less collaboration and greater fragmentation among educators within a school community as ...

National PTA's Every Child in Focus is a campaign to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and reporting the disparities within diverse populations, and sharing resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child. January is the Month of the Suburban Child. Guest blogging for National PTA is Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. Her work primarily focuses on urban and suburban poverty, metropolitan demographics, and tax policies that support low-income workers and communities. To learn more, visit PTA.org/EveryChild

Mapleton Public Schools—a suburban district just north of Denver, Colorado—serves more than 7,600 students from Pre-K through grade 12 in its 15 schools. Though its enrollment numbers have remained steady in recent years, this district has been grappling with significant changes. In the span of a decade, the number of Mapleton students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch doubled. By the 2010-11 school year, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the student body was eligible for subsidized meals. As the number of low-income students has climbed, so too has the need for extra assistance that will help kids be ready to learn—from clothing and food to additional academic support.

Mapleton Public Schools isn’t alone. Suburban districts across the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have become home to growing low-income populations in recent years. In the last half of the 2000s, the number of suburban students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches grew by 22 percent, compared to an increase of just 8 percent in city districts during that time. At the same time, many school districts are also seeing more students experiencing homelessness.

These trends reflect larger shifts in the geography of poverty within the nation’s largest metro areas. Between 2000 and 2012, the population living below the federal poverty line in the suburbs (roughly $23,500 for a family of four in 2012) grew by 65 percent—more than twice the pace of growth in large cities and faster than the increases registered in smaller metro areas and ...

The National PTA Reflections Program was founded in 1969 by Colorado PTA President Mary Lou Anderson with a simple objective: to encourage students to explore their talents in the arts and deepen their self-expression through those experiences. Eleven years ago, the US Department of Education started a Student Art Exhibit Program, and each year they recognize many of the student Reflection winners as part of the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the art exhibit at the Department headquarters in Washington, DC. This year, the PTA Reflections theme was “Magic in a Moment,” and millions of students from across the United States created works of art in a variety of mediums, including film, music, literature, and photography. These works of art are exquisitely crafted and reflective of the artists’ stage in life and the experiences that inspired their creation. The student voice and perspective speaks to the world through the vibrant range of expression; it’s truly a celebration of the human experience. ...

By Margaret Glick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

We are teaching kids to live on a planet we’ve never seen.”  - Mary Catherine Bateson

This quote is as true now as it has ever been, but how are we to do this?  By developing students’ abilities to think critically, creatively and empathically.  How do we manage that?  By embedding three qualities—connection, purpose, and mastery into our classrooms. 

Brain research has given us a few solid principles in the past decade.  One is the concept of plasticity.  Plasticity is the ability the brain has to change with experiences.  Basically, our brain becomes what it does.  This is great news (or bad news, depending on what our brains are doing).  This means teachers can promote patterns of thinking that benefit students, and these patterns can become neural networks that assist whatever kind of thinking you’re after.  Another brain research principle is that emotions impact learning.  When we feel connected and safe in a classroom, a staffroom, or a boardroom, we are able to think in productive ways that might elude us otherwise.  Lastly, we know that when work is viewed as purposeful and relevant, the tracks of learning, inquiry, and motivation are greased. 

So how do we get there in classrooms?  How do we take some of the principles that have surfaced in brain research and apply ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

The National Student Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker is an invaluable service that can help districts better prepare their students for college success.

The National Student Clearinghouse is a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 by the higher-education community to track students who received loans to help pay for college tuition. Graduate schools provide enrollment information, while the NSC verifies to lenders that students are taking the necessary course work.

Since expanding its services, the NSC currently holds records for more than 137 million students and 3,500 institutions of higher education, covering 98 percent of the current enrollment in both public and private colleges and universities. Today, the NSC continues to provide enrollment, diploma verification, and ...

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