Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

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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 ...

Learning First Alliance Executive Director Announces Retirement


LFA Executive Director Cheryl Scott Williams announced her retirement from the organization on Dec. 31, 2015. Williams has led the Alliance, a coalition of 15 national education organizations, since 2010.

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. ...

Aaron Thiell, principal of Latham Ridge Elementary School in Latham, New York, answers questions from Melissa Fraley, a parent and PTA member at the school, about how teachers and school leaders have worked together to implement the Common Core State Standards at Latham Ridge Elementary.

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Following is an edited transcript:

LFA: Welcome to Get It Right—Common Sense on the Common Core, a Podcast Series from the Learning First Alliance. Across the nation, we've embraced the possibility of college- and career-ready standards, and their potential to transform teaching and learning. In community after community, we see the potential these standards offer to helping all children gain the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the Global community. ...

By Kevin Scott, Director of Member Engagement, ASCD

Last month, I wrote about the possibility of the final weeks of school being a spring board for the rest of the school year. I basically asked this question: “What if the bulk of the school year had the energy and excitement for students that we (parents and teachers) see once the state tests are over?” As the final weeks of summer wind down, I’m already thinking about what I, as a parent, want the 2015–16 school year to look like for my sons. And since everyone seems to be interested in lists, I created a list of my top five “wants.” 

1. Reduce Anxiety and Stress: Last year, my 6th grader struggled with reading and math. As a former teacher—and a former math struggler—I had to put my growth mindset hat away as my son and I tried to get to the root of the problem. We found a tutor who helps him and connects well with his learning style. When my parents had to do the same for me a couple of decades ago, it was a mismatch because the tutor and I didn’t gel. The connection between my son and his tutor, however, ultimately dissolved the argument about the value of math in general. It was almost cool for him to get some extra help. Having a tutor that my son respects and enjoys working with has greatly reduced the stress level in my house. In general, I want us all to be a little less stressed and take the actions to insure that happens ...

By Joshua P. Starr, Chief Executive Officer, PDK International

This year’s PDK/Gallup Poll on the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools marks a shift in both the poll and PDK International. As I assume leadership of the organization, I will build on PDK’s legacy while embracing opportunities to keep the organization at the center of the dialogue about how to ensure that every child in every classroom in America has in front of her or him the most qualified and professional teachers.

Realizing this goal requires comprehensive analysis, honest debate, and a willingness to look at old assumptions with new perspectives. And it requires the kind of trustworthy, independent data about public values that the PDK/Gallup poll provides. The data enable policy makers, leaders, educators, families, and communities to understand the issues before designing and implementing solutions. Toward that end, PDK International will, for the first time, convene thought leaders throughout the year to explore survey results, engage in deep dialogue about the issues, and develop a common understanding of their complexity. We hope our leaders and those who help them craft policy will recognize that the successful solutions we seek can only be the offspring of well-defined data and deeply understood problems. ...

As the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, Shanna Peeples wants to bring attention to the impact of poverty on students’ lives and education. She frequently works with students in crisis as part of her job as a high school English teacher and teacher mentor in Amarillo, Texas, a town that hosts refugees from all parts of the world. Many of her students arrive knowing little or no English and often have escaped extreme poverty and violence in their home countries, sometimes having left behind parents and family members.

As a teacher, Ms. Peeples is committed to helping all the students reach their potential and build a better life in the United States. But she notes that working with such vulnerable students can be a heartwrenching journey that may not lead to a happy outcome. ...

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