Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

How do parents know that a license to teach means a person is ready to meet the needs of their child? That’s a good question in a nation where “teacher preparation” still means all things to all people, causing a lot of public doubt.

That’s why my recent visit to Western Washington University in Bellingham was so inspiring. Thanks to a grant from the AFT Innovation Fund, the AFT members at the university’s Woodring College of Education are connecting a series of very important dots in the teaching profession.

Their approach offers a model not just for preparing new teachers, but also for supporting practicing teachers as they mentor novices and work toward achieving certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It’s well aligned with AFT’s 2013 report, “Raising the Bar,” which calls for aligning and elevating teacher preparation, and the profession, through a clinical model. ...

The National PTA named Laura Bay as its president in July, and she has pledged to focus on whole child initiatives and expanding the PTA’s platform to deliver more relevant programs to local schools.  Ms. Bay is the mother of three adopted children and lives in Poulsbo, Wash.

In addition to her personal involvement in education and PTA, Ms. Bay works for the Bremerton School District as a coordinator for assessment and instruction, and prior to this position, was a teacher in the district.

Ms. Bay recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance about her experience and plans for the national organization.

LFA: I see that you have three children and also work as an assessment coordinator in the Bremerton, Wash., school district. Could you please tell us a little about your background and why you decided to get involved in the PTA? ...

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, continues to celebrate its 150th anniversary. We were founded by a small group of seven superintendents that came together knowing that like-minded education leaders needed an advocacy voice at the national level.

This was at a time when our nation was reeling from the end of the Civil War. A key element of our mission of what was first called the National Association of School Superintendents was equity. There were vast differences in the way our children were being educated.

Today, a century-and-a-half later, equity continues to be a major challenge in America. That’s why I am very pleased that AASA is partnering with Howard University and the University of Southern California in an effort to confront this challenge head on by working to develop urban leaders for our schools. ...

Our patchwork teacher recruitment pipeline is insufficient, and the new teacher shortage is headline news.

Only 5 percent of high school students taking the ACT exam said they intended to pursue a career as an educator. Enrollments in teacher preparation programs are down across the nation. Simultaneously, the demand is expanding through increasing retirements and student population, requiring more than 250,000 new hires for K-12 teaching positions each year.

And we’re counting on these million new teachers to be highly skilled, well-prepared professionals. We know that when teachers aren’t adequately prepared and built to last, students—especially the most vulnerable—feel the long-term consequences. ...

Being an innovator in education is much like being a freshwater fish dumped into the ocean. Some fish are stronger than others. But, eventually, they all succumb to the salinity of the salt water and die. As an educator, trying to make a difference in kids' lives, it is not enough to have the right intention or try to do the right thing — just like it is not enough to be a good, strong and healthy freshwater fish trying to survive in saltwater. Dumping more freshwater fish in the ocean won't solve anything either. The equally important work is for the community to create a container (policies, legislation) and ecosystem (school culture) that is perfectly suited for the freshwater fish educator to thrive. Just like the fish can't create its own container or freshwater, as innovators, you must define precisely the ecosystem you need to thrive so others can help create it.

 An Urgent Need ...

Two large concrete disks fitted with seats don’t attract much attention on the Brickyard at the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh, N.C. When you sit on the seat in one of those disks and speak in a normal voice, sometimes even in a whisper, someone sitting in the seat in the other disk can hear you quite clearly, even though the two disks are hundreds of feet apart.

The disks are parabolic reflectors, which amplify and focus sound waves so no shouting is required in order to be heard.

It’s been years since I sat in one of those concrete disks, but I thought of that phenomenon over and over again as I read through the results of this year’s PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. A lot of what we learned from the poll is old news or at least not very surprising news: Testing is flunking with Americans, the public isn’t really behind the Common Core, Americans want the federal government to play a less active role in education, and lack of funding is the biggest problem facing local schools. Oh, and everybody thinks their own schools are better than everyone else’s schools. ...

Every year for the last 47 years, PDK and Gallup have surveyed Americans about their attitudes toward public schools. The poll is the longest-running survey of the nation’s views on schools in history. The results are always eye-opening, and this year was no exception.

The 2015 survey, based on telephone and internet polling of 4,500 U.S. adults in May, produced some telling results – especially when it comes to the importance of teacher quality. Ninety-five percent of parents who participated in the survey said that great teachers are the cornerstone of successful schools. But how do we impact that all-important teacher quality that families crave? And how do we assure that teacher quality matches the needs of today’s digital age learners?

It all comes down to new models of professional learning. ...

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

Educators from PK-12 schools and higher education share the goal of preparing preservice teachers in a way that develops candidates’ skills, contributes positively to student growth, and stimulates mutual renewal of schools and collegiate preparation programs. The conception of clinical experience as a few weeks of student teaching not only is antiquated but runs counter to our professional commitment to quality. Instead, today’s preparation programs are nurturing complex clinical partnerships with yearlong residencies or internships that both produce beginning teachers who are practice-ready and support a process that strengthens the schools’ capacity to deliver high-quality education for their students.

This work is not easy, but such partnerships are well established as the vision of modern educator preparation. The National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER) has a strong track record of supporting these partnerships, as does the National Association of Professional Development Schools (NAPDS). Even the federal government has helped programs to blaze this path ...

Somehow the precious weeks of summer have quickly gone by and it is almost time for school to start again. The great thing about being an educator in a school setting is that each year you take a break for an extended period of time and then you start fresh again in the fall. Unlike other careers, you get to take time, six to eight weeks, to think about what you liked about the previous year and what you want to do differently in the upcoming school year. Each year I like to find something I could do better. If I expect students to be life-long learners then I, too, need to be one.

I recently read an article that suggested, “assume good intention” in all that you encounter. I thought about my work in the school over the past 10 years and questioned, have I assumed good intention when working with colleagues, administrators and parents? Have I assumed that their efforts and comments were made with good intention in mind? Or did I snap to quick judgment? Unfortunately, I think more times than not, I snapped to quick judgment. ...

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing teachers posting pictures of their classrooms on Facebook, saying, “My classroom’s ready!” That takes me right back to my childhood, helping my mom prepare her classroom for the students in the waning days of August.

My mom taught second and third grade at Valley Cottage Elementary School. And I remember her ritual of using the days before Labor Day to ready her classroom for her students.

Of course, preparing the classroom — even back then — meant spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars out of her own pocket on supplies — just as her colleagues did and teachers do today.

When I was a kid, we were lucky to have a laundry room that housed the washer and dryer, of course, but also served as my mom’s office, filled with all the supplies she bought for her class. It was a treasure trove of books and paper and pens. ...

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