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Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Top Success Stories of 2013

Looking back on 2013, the Learning First Alliance is pleased to bring you the five most viewed success stories* from the more than 170 stories housed on our site. Criteria for inclusion on the site is relatively straightforward – the story must show that a school, district or state identified a challenge, addressed it and produced positive results through their efforts. These results are measured in a variety of ways, from increased graduation rates or decreased dropout rates, to improved standardized test scores or positive outcomes in student health and behavior. Other indicators may highlight parent engagement, improved classroom performance, or new innovative practices that foster student engagement. Many stories also highlight the collaboration among education leaders. We would like to extend our thanks to all the organizations that allowed us to cross-post their features in this past year.

We wish you happy reading and a Happy New Year!

5. Using Electives to Get Struggling Students More Math

A Michigan district identified struggling students and then offered a math elective to help them reach their fullest potential. By holding them to high standards and ...

By Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

Early childhood education may be the single most important part of a successful learner’s P-12 experience. Because of that, early learning is an essential focus for elementary school leaders.

Nationwide, more than one out of every three third-grade students is still unable to read at grade level. Later, students drop out of high school at roughly the same rates as those who were struggling to read in elementary school. These are important reminders to elementary (and middle) school principals about how early the patterns of future success or failure are formed in the students they work with every single day.

NAESP understands the significance of early childhood education and the need to support a seamless continuum of learning for children coming from high-quality early childhood learning settings to the early grades, or from “age three to grade three.” Building an aligned P-3 system is a national and state priority. Investment in early childhood education systems and practices are essential to ensure that all children have a chance to learn on equal footing— especially those from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds, who are at risk of ...

Today the Learning First Alliance (LFA) and Grunwald Associates, with the support of AT&T, are releasing a report, Living and Learning with Mobile Devices, that documents survey results of parents’ attitudes and perceptions of the value of mobile devices as learning tools for their school-aged children.  Not surprisingly, parent perceptions are influenced by the level of personal usage they have with mobile technology and, as parental usage goes up, comfort level with the notion of their children’s use of this technology also increases. 

The report is an important reflection of just how far we’ve come in the use of and advocacy for appropriate use of technology in schools and classrooms.  As someone who has spent the past 25 years advocating for innovation in teaching and learning supported with technology and expanded connectivity, my view is that we’re at an important crossroads in transforming both the formal and informal learning spaces with new, less expensive, and more powerful technical devices.  As the survey found, more than 50 percent of high school students take a cell phone to school with them every day, and 24 percent of those surveyed use those cell phones in ...

A new study out of Kansas is adding to the pile of evidence that early childhood education not only has academic benefits for children (particularly disadvantaged youth), but economic benefits for society.

America’s Edge, a national nonprofit organization of business leaders whose members “work to strengthen businesses and the economy through proven investments in children,” has released a new report finding that in the short-term, for every $1 invested in early-learning programs in the state, a total of $1.68 is generated in spending. Early childhood education outperforms retail trade ($1.65), transportation ($1.63), construction ($1.59), wholesale trade ($1.51), and manufacturing ($1.46).

And remember, these are short-term benefits. Many other studies have documented the longer-term economic benefits of investing in early learning. Consider:

  • An evaluation of Chicago Public Schools' federally funded Child Parent Centers (CPCs) finding that for every dollar invested in the preschool program, nearly $11 is projected to return to society over participants' lifetimes—the equivalent of an 18 percent annual return.
  • A study showing that Georgia’s lottery-funded pre-kindergarten program was estimated to save the state $212.9 million over
  • ...

Benefits of high-quality early learning programs are clear, particularly for the country’s neediest children. For one, research into brain development shows that the period between preschool and third grade is critical for learning language skills, developing the ability to self-regulate behavior, and being able to work with peers. For another, there is the alarming number of children not proficient in reading by the end of third grade—a benchmark increasingly considered important. Further, fewer students are referred to special education programs when they receive proper early learning backgrounds, and research indicates a significant association between a poor early child educational experience, and dropping out of middle or high school. ...

Last week, the National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual report on the state of preschool. Among what we learned: Enrollment in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs has grown more than 70 percent over the past decade. But despite trends in growth, total state funds for pre-k were $30 million less in 2010 than the previous year – and would have been close to $50 million greater were it not for stimulus funds. Per-child spending fell an average of $114 last year.

The growth in enrollment makes complete sense. After all, research continues to show the benefits (both academic and economic) of pre-k education. But especially given those benefits, the decline in state funding is quite worrisome. Unfortunately, it is not unexpected – and given the current economic crisis in many states, I could be forgiven for assuming that state capacity to maintain and expand pre-k programs will shrink in the coming years.

That pessimism is one reason I was pleased to see the announcement earlier this week that several national education organizations (including several Learning First Alliance members) are joining forces specifically to support high-quality pre-kindergarten. As a sign of their ...

I have been fairly discouraged reading about the budget situations of states recently. And I am getting even MORE discouraged after learning about some of the tough choices they are making to save money.

One example: Early childhood education programs are being cut across the country.

A recent New Jersey Star-Ledger article talks about a plan by the state’s Senate Republican caucus to cut funding for early childhood education in urban districts, moving from full- to half-day preschools. They claim they don’t have a choice, given the financial situation of the state. And a recent Associated Press article describes Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s proposal to, for budgetary reasons, scale back the state program that provides pre-school in most of the state’s districts. The Governor does not question the importance of pre-school – but limited state dollars are forcing the issue.

These proposed cuts are quite discouraging for advocates of early childhood education. They should also be discouraging for Americans in general, given the benefit that these programs have for society.

A recent evaluation of the Chicago Public Schools’ federally funded Child Parent Centers (CPCs) found that for every dollar invested in the preschool program, nearly $11 is projected to return to society over participants' lifetimes. That is the equivalent of ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Gaming the Tests

If there's a test, then there's a way to game it. It's crazy to think that we should therefore abandon standardized tests. But it also makes no sense to rely on test scores without looking for supporting or conflicting evidence elsewhere. Yesterday's New York Times piece on the City's gifted and talented Kindergartens drives this point home.

Two years ago, the score on a standard city-wide test became the sole basis for admission to those programs. Since then, the share of black and Hispanic children in those programs has plummeted. It appears that wealthy parents are buying pricey test-prep books and services for their children. Poor children are, of course, priced out of that market.

I don't know how healthy it is for wealthy four year olds to "turn to jelly on test day" because they've absorbed their parents' fears that a low score will blow their chances at Harvard. But I'm at least as worried about the fate of poor kids when the testing system gives rise to a market whose very premise is that money buys advantage.

As usual, the intentions behind the testing program were noble. Schools chancellor Joel Klein wanted an objective measure that put all children on an equal footing.

But I'm not sure the unintended outcome should really surprise us. We need look no further than the college admissions industry to see what can happen. Wealthy parents buy test prep services, and some even hire college consultants to help them craft the perfect ...

OECD reports always leave me wanting more. The most recent report on child well being in industrialized countries is no exception. I want more information, better context, greater clarity. The report just seems to gloss over too many factors that affect children’s welfare.

One finding does seem abundantly clear: The United States fares poorly on many measures of child well-being. Our child poverty rate is over 20 percent, almost double the OECD average. We’re in the basement on children’s health and safety: twenty-fourth out of 30 OECD countries. And we do just as poorly in educational well-being. Our achievement gaps are much larger than in most other OECD countries. American students are also more likely than their OECD peers to lack important resources like textbooks, computers, or even a quiet place to study.

The report also finds that U.S. spending on children is higher than the OECD average. (Cue outrage over big spending on social programs....) But the OECD analysis leaves so much out of account that this conclusion is hard to support.

Take, for example, health care spending. The OECD admits leaving it out of the analysis: “Although the analysis does not include public spending on health, many of the indicators of child well-being are related to health.” Oh.... That's kind of a big deal.

In the U.S., poor children receive much worse health care than other ...

I just saw the shocking news! Reading Rainbow, a staple of PBS children's programming for 26 years, is coming to an end.

According to one of the show's representatives,

[T]he funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration..., which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

Reading Rainbow fosters the joy of reading in children who have already mastered basic reading skills. These days, funders want television shows that teach students how to read.

I have a few questions: Can't we sustain both kinds of children's programming? Isn't there still a need for programming that nourishes the enthusiasm of children who already know how to read? Is this more evidence that we're allowing an exclusive focus on basic skills to crowd out so many other things that inspire ...

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