Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

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Communication is complex, and tricky these days. And as important to our lives as the air we breathe. Let's look at air for a moment --it is all around us, 24/7, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is essential for our survival and for our success. In addition air must be of the highest quality - have the right combination of oxygen and hydrogen and little or no pollutants - in order to be most beneficial to us. Polluted air renders us unable to function properly. ...

Learning Forward and the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF) recently announced the Agents for Learning competition. The competition is designed to engage educator teams in advocating for the best use of federal funding for professional learning under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The deadline to apply is June 10, and finalist teams will be announced June 21. Those teams will present their proposals at Learning Forward’s Summer Institute on July 21 and 22.

All teachers in the United States, particularly those working in high-needs schools and shortage areas, are encouraged to apply. Teams will be invited to answer questions that specifically address: ...

Summer break is often seen as an idyllic time for teachers, parents and students to take vacations, have fun, and forget about the stress of school.

But for the growing number of students living in poverty, summer vacations can be a significant setback to their learning, researchers say.

“Summer learning loss is a significant contributor to the achievement gap,” says Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “Every summer, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading achievement while their higher-income peers make slight gains."

According to NSLA, these losses accrue each year, and by fifth grade, cumulative years of summer learning loss in reading and math skills can leave low-income students two-and-a-half to three years behind their peers. Further, disadvantaged students may also deal with food insecurities and safety issues when they are out of school. ...

John-David Bowman, the 2015 Arizona Teacher of the Year, is pleased with his state's move to Common Core and Common Core-aligned assessments. But the amount of testing--particularly tests that are not aligned to state standards, or given at the whim of a school district or teacher, is hurting the potential for using the results to improve teaching and learning, says Mr. Bowman, who teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement history and theory classes at Westwood High School in Mesa, Ariz.

"Assessments are a necessary tool," says Mr. Bowman in the latest Get It Right podcast. "But we're being over-assessed--assessment for the sake of assessment, and not measuring student growth."

Students get to the point where they do not put as much effort into tests and those tests lose value, he adds. He's also seen students--and teachers--stressed because they do not have time to prepare for tests or teach the content and skills that are being assessed. ...

This month’s issue of School Administrator magazine focuses on combating poverty. It’s ironic that this should even be a topic for discussion in one of the richest countries in the world. Yet according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 45 percent of American children live in low-income households and more than half of public school students qualify for lunch subsidies.

Paul Buchheit, a teacher of economic inequality at DePaul University in Chicago, points out that in the past six years America’s wealth grew by 60 percent while in that same period the number of homeless children also grew by 60 percent. America is a leader in childhood poverty. UNICEF reports that the United States has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world and the majority of poor children are black, Latino and American Indian.

Is it any wonder we have an achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots? Should we be surprised when the zip code is as accurate a predictor of academic achievement as results on standardized tests? ...

Training, Communication Ease Hawaii's Transition to Common Core

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In a recent podcast, Suzanne Mulcahy, Hawaii’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and student support, speaks to the state’s efforts to provide professional development and help schools make the transition to Common Core.

You don’t need to look far within the hallways and classrooms to see the digital revolution in our schools. The growing use of technology is not only transforming learning – it is also extending and personalizing the learning experience.  

While this e-learning shift holds the promise to accelerate student success, school system leaders are faced with increased responsibility. Chief among those challenges: managing student data and security – and doing so with limited time and resources.

School system leaders need guidance when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of student data – and they need it today. That’s why the Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal Program was developed for school systems. 

Collectively formed by national and local education leaders, the voluntary CoSN-led TLE Seal is a mark of distinction for school systems, signaling to parents and communities that they have taken the measurable steps to assure the digital privacy of student data. ...

When the city of Flint, Michigan switched its water source in 2014, issues with the water quality became immediately apparent. But it wasn’t until recently that the problems with the water supply, corrosion of pipes and lead in the water became national news. Now, the water situation had turned into a crisis.

“Educators and students in Flint are doing the best that they can. Children and staff are only allowed to wash hands with the water from the faucets. Children have daily water in bottles. After-school programs use hydration stations to fill cups and water bottles in the schools,” said Karen Christian, President of the United Teachers of Flint.

Times of crisis often bring people together, and the residents of Flint are no different. In the face of anger, frustration, fear and health concerns about lead poisoning – especially for children who are still developing and growing – people are banding together to fight for their rights and to help one another access clean water. ...

Hawaii has many educational challenges related to its geography and diversity, but it has succeeded in its efforts to instill college- and career-ready standards. In the latest Get It Right podcast, Suzanne Mulcahy, Hawaii’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and student support, speaks to the state’s efforts to provide professional development and help schools make the transition to Common Core.

One way the state education agency helped teachers and school staff understand the changes was to send their staff, who had worked to become experts in Common Core, to the field.

The state staff studied the issue and made contacts with experts across the country, then delivered professional development to local school staff and trained local school leaders on the methodology.

“It wasn't a one-shot deal,” Ms. Mulcahy says. “They continued to come back, they continued to be visible and be available via e-mail, via conference call, via webinar--whatever was necessary.” ...

Teachers are an undeniably important factor for ensuring students receive a good education. But they are frustrated--they often feel that their voices are often lost in the ongoing debates about education policy and issues related to student learning, a new survey has found.

Earlier this year the Center on Education Policy surveyed more than 3,000 teachers—from elementary to high school, in rural, suburban and urban school districts--and found that they most value planning time, collaboration with colleagues, and smaller class sizes. Salaries and benefits ranked fourth in the survey.

The survey seeks to inform policymakers as some states are paying more attention to recruiting and retaining new teachers as shortages persist, enrollments in teacher preparation programs have dropped, and as many as half of new teachers leave the field during their first five years in the classroom. The survey also debunked several widespread assumptions about workplace conditions and teacher viewpoints. ...

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