Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

By Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

Recently, Education Week published an article on the rise of family engagement as a priority for schools and districts across the country. The article spotlights states and districts in which family engagement initiatives are part of long-term, integrated and high-impact strategies to bolster student achievement. It is an important piece to help underscore the critical role family engagement and family-school partnerships play in children’s learning and growth. The article also is timely considering the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB) and National PTA’s work to include stronger family engagement provisions in the bill ...

Many school districts are concerned that assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards will show lower test scores, and ultimately, a backlash against that standards. But Dr. Dallas Dance, the acclaimed superintendent  of Baltimore County, Maryland, public schools, says much of the concern can be alleviated with proactive communications with parents and teachers so they can understand the benefit of CCSS.

“Let's be honest--scores will dip,” Dance said in a podcast interview with the Learning First Alliance as part of its “Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core” campaign.

Communication is essential “not just to our parents in our community, to our teachers, to our principals, but also communicating to our students that what we're learning today is quite different from what we learned even three years ago,” he added. ...

Written by Jim Bellanca, P21 Senior Fellow and co-editor of Becoming Self-Directed Learners.

Ephie was facing her first solo outside the school walls. It was her senior capstone project. It wasn’t her first official learning experience “out there”.  In her two years in the Global Studies School, she had completed internships, researched in the local library, traveled to the city for another project and taken a course at the local community college. This was the first time she would have to move round on her own.

As more schools adopt new ways of learning that include outside the walls study, internships and other formats, questions arise. What value? Who benefits? Who pays?  Who is responsible for what?  The best answer to all is “the student” at least when it comes to a self-directed capstone project. Such a project as Ephie’s is there to test her mettle as a self-directed learner. As a capstone, it is a final exam.  ...

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

It is not going to happen. ESEA will not be reauthorized any time soon. I have been a skeptic throughout the entire process. ESEA could have been easily reauthorized during the first two years of the Obama administration when the Democrats held a majority in both houses of Congress but that clearly was not a priority. After the 2011 midterm election, the Democrats lost the House and chances for reauthorization diminished. After the 2015 midterm elections, when the Republicans gained control of both legislative chambers, the possibility emerged that the Republicans had the votes to pass bills in both Houses but the threat of a Presidential veto loomed large.

Truth be told, there really are no significant policy issues between the two parties when it comes to education. The reality is that the House and Senate, whether Democrat or Republican, agree on far more than not, and that the grid lock is more aligned with adults and politics than with students and schools. At one time there was a clear delineation between Democrats and Republicans on issues like school choice, vouchers, teacher tenure, and seniority and education reform. Today those lines are blurred, and the differences have become political rather than pedagogical ...

Parent engagement and community engagement have been trending in education lingo for some time, but what do these really mean for school districts? 

Parent engagement strategies are designed to go beyond the required parent-teacher conferences, volunteering, and seminars and events that public schools have used for decades to draw in families and community members. Now, we are happy to see that a few school districts and states are trying to encourage longer-term strategies that are directly tied to student learning, Education Week reports.

These school leaders see that parents who are aware of what’s going on in their child’s school and get involved in working toward academic goals will help their child succeed academically. But it also helps draw needed support for public education from parents and the community. ...

How have the Common Core State Standards impacted higher education and teacher training? Dorie Combs, a professor in the School of Clinical Educator Preparation at Eastern Kentucky University, recently spoke to the Learning First Alliance about how higher education institutions in Kentucky are using the CCSS to prepare new teachers.

Combs described the process that brought together higher education and K-12 practitioners to analyze the standards and figure out how they could be successfully integrated into teacher training in her state. That collaboration, while sometimes messy, was key to ensuring everyone saw the benefit of the standards and could weave the standards into their specific curricula, she said.

Combs said the higher education community saw much potential in the standards, particularly to help connect higher education with the high school curriculum. ...

With more than 81 percent of students graduating within four years of entering high school, the Class of 2013 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate in U.S. history, according to the 2015 Building a Grad Nation report. After graduation rates languished in the low 70s for nearly four decades, rates have accelerated dramatically over the past decade.  According to the report, if this rate of improvement continues the national graduation rate will reach 90 percent by 2020, a goal of the authors of Grad Nation.

While attainment gaps remain, the gap is narrowing between traditionally disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. This is particularly true for Hispanics, the fastest growing group of students in our nation’s schools, whose graduation rate increased from 71 percent to 75 percent between 2011 and 2013. Black students made significant gains during this period as well, improving their graduation rate from 67 percent to 71 percent. Despite these gains the graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are still significantly lower than those of white students (87 percent). ...

By Mel Riddile, Ed.D, Associate Director of High School Services, National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)

Author’s note: This is the second of a two-part post on the challenges faced by principals implementing online testing tied to the Common Core and new college- and career-ready standards. So much has happened in recent weeks that I divided the entry into two parts because one post would not do justice to the topic.

In part 1, I described that with the spring testing season now winding down, principals in a number of states feel as though they are under siege. For some schools, whatever could go wrong has gone wrong.

From my contact with principals in a number of states and my ongoing work with principals in schools in five states, I have learned that online assessments present principals with a number of new and old challenges.

I divided this post into two parts. Part 1 addressed non-technical challenges principals face in implementing the new assessments. This entry will address the technical issues.

Following are eight technical challenges school leaders face in implementing online testing related to the Common Core and new college- and career-ready standards:

The transition from paper-and-pencil to online assessments takes several years before it becomes normal.

We learned from previous experiences with online instruction that it usually took time to work out the technical problems. So, when we began high-stakes, online testing, we expected problems. We prepared for problems, and we learned from the problems ...

By Mel Riddile, Ed.D, Associate Director of High School Services, National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)

Author’s note: I initially intended that this blog entry would focus only on the technical side of online testing, but so much has happened in recent weeks that I would not do justice to the topic if I ignored the context in which the new, online testing occurs.

With the spring testing season now winding down, principals in a number of states feel as though they are under siege. For some schools, whatever could go wrong has gone wrong.

From my contact with principals in a number of states and my ongoing work with principals in schools in five states, I have learned that online assessments present principals with a number of new and old challenges.

I have divided this post into two parts. Part 1 will address non-technical challenges principals face in implementing the new assessments. Part 2 will address the technical issues.

Following are six non-technical challenges school leaders face in implementing online testing related to the Common Core and new college- and career-ready standards:

The new standards are a decade-long implementation initiative.

Whereas some reformers mistakenly believe that the Common Core and new college- and career-ready standards have already been implemented, I know differently ...

In a recent Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core podcast, sixth-grade teacher Tanya Golden spoke about how her district has used Teacher Leaders to develop Common Core-aligned units of study and help school staff the implement these new units.

Golden is a sixth grade teacher at Carver Academy in California’s ABC Unified School District. She feels that having teachers at the table to determine how the district should use Common Core is helpful in figuring out whether something that sounded good in theory could actually work in the classroom.

“That’s where the teacher’s voice is important, for us to let them know, ‘yes this sounds wonderful--but this is what I need as a teacher,’” she said.

In the classroom, Common Core has caused her to look at previously taught lessons in a totally different way. A recent lesson about a book provoked more critical thinking about the storyline and the characters as opposed to reading for comprehension, she said. ...

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