Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Urban

Blog Entries

Summer vacation is eagerly anticipated by students and teachers – eight weeks of out-of-school time in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). But it harbors a built-in risk that we call the Summer Slide: Academic ground gained during the school year can be lost without targeted summer learning. ...

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. ...

Van Henri White has seen the impact of poverty and violence in his native Rochester, N.Y. After graduation from Georgetown University Law School, he served as an assistant district attorney and the city’s “Crime Czar.”  He later opened a private practice specializing in school safety issues, and in his most famous case, he represented the mother of a 13-year-old student who was stabbed to death by a classmate in a lawsuit against the Rochester City School District.

But a few years after that case, Mr. White decided to try to instill change within the high-poverty, predominantly minority, and low-performing school district by running for a seat on the school board. Since being elected, he has initiated efforts to boost the graduation rate and reduce truancy, improve school safety, address lead poisoning and examine school discipline policies. For the past two years he also has served as the chair of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) ...

Barbara Haeffner, director of curriculum and instructional technology at Meriden Public Schools in Meriden, Connecticut, discusses how her district integrates technology into the classroom to prepare more students for higher-level learning.

Download as MP3

Ms. Haeffner works with a team of educators who have integrated technology to build personalized learning experiences, so that students not only learn core content, they can more deeply explore subjects that pique their interests. Students can read or watch videos at their own pace, for instance. ...

School counselors bear a tremendous responsibility to guide their students to academic and career success and, along the way, nurture their emotional well being. For Katherine Pastor, school counseling is a career that allows her to help hundreds of students at at Arizona’s Flagstaff High School achieve their potential each year.

The American School Counselors Association named Ms. Pastor as the 2016 School Counselor of the Year and is celebrating National School Counseling Week from February 1-5, 2016. Ms. Pastor and other finalists were honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony on January 29, which can be viewed on YouTube. ...

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. ...

Studies show that students perform better in school when parents or caregivers are actively involved in the education of their children.

Men and women think differently and bring different perspectives and skills to school and PTA activities, but oftentimes, the women dominate in this area—until now.

The National PTA tackled this issue from the grassroots perspective in an interview with Anthony King, who is responsible for creating a unique PTA of its own kind, the Detroit Area Dads PTA.

PTA:  What motivated you to start a male-centered PTA?

King:  I felt that there was a need for an organization to reach out to the men. I wanted to encourage dads.  You always hear about the women, but you don’t hear or see many dads around school.  I became a part of PTA because of my daughter when she was at Vernor Elementary School here in Detroit. I just started volunteering and wanted to make sure the kids got to school in the morning. It just evolved. I got more involved in the school and the PTA.  I started as the sergeant at arms and when the PTA president’s child graduated, I somehow ended up as PTA president. ...

By Dr. Joseph Bishop, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

What does equity have to do with accountability?

Many teachers and principals are likely feeling stressed as they think about how to make up for lost instructional time in the wake of an uptick of winter storms like Juno. This isn't the case for students in Hamilton, Michigan. In fact, a little more cold and a little more ice might be a good thing for their math and science projects. As part of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math) program at Hamilton Middle School just outside of Grand Rapids, students are developing the fastest sleds they can make, using cardboard and duct tape. Students are doing more than playing in the snow, seeing how learning can be fun in the right conditions. One student said it best, "It's cool because no one else in school has ever gotten to learn like we are."

But under the current accountability system, often lurking behind the classroom choices are inevitable questions about the ‘what if.’ Like, will an innovative project-based lesson similar to testing sled designs have consequences for student preparation for tests or test responses? Instead, educators should be thinking about more important things, like finding the best creative way to make sure a lesson sticks like fresh snow. And far too often, No Child Left Behind and many state accountability plans have looked too quickly at test results, and not addressed the unequal conditions that are making it hard for communities to deliver enriching public school experiences. ...

We talk a lot about transforming teacher preparation to meet the changing demands of both today’s P-12 students and the education workforce. Often these discussions revolve around alternative certification programs, but to make a large-scale impact, we have to consider how the institutions of higher education that train nearly 90% of incoming teachers should respond to the challenges that new teachers and P-12 schools and districts face. 

Fortunately, there are a number of models from which we can learn, institutions of higher education working in innovative ways to ensure that teachers enter the classroom prepared to be successful. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s (AACTE) The Innovation Exchange highlights many such programs, including Georgia State University’s Network for Enhancing Teacher Quality (NET-Q) program.

NET-Q is a collection of projects designed to prepare educators for the demands of teaching high-need subjects in high-need schools. To learn more about this impressive initiative, we contacted Dr. Gwendolyn Benson, who serves as the associate dean for school, community and international partnerships in the College of Education at Georgia State University and as the principal investigator for the NET-Q program. She graciously took the time to describe the key features of NET-Q, including its teacher residency program and partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the impact of the program, which includes higher teacher retention rates, academic gains for P-12 students and richer and truer partnerships with local schools and districts.

Public School Insights (PSI): Critics often claim that educator preparation programs don’t prepare teachers – particularly those who will work in high-needs communities – for the realities they will face in the classroom. But I understand Georgia State University’s College of Education is facing that challenge head on, with the Network for Enhancing Teacher Quality (NET-Q) project. Could you briefly describe the initiative?

Benson: The goal of this project is to increase the quality and number of highly qualified teachers who are committed to high-needs schools, thus positively impacting the achievement of students in these schools. This is accomplished by increasing the recruitment and support of prospective teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; special education; and English language learners, to meet the needs of urban schools in the Metro Atlanta area and nearby rural high-need districts ...

Earlier this month, the Learning First Alliance participated in a day-long tour of three traditional public schools in the District of Columbia (DCPS), our nation’s capital and “home town.” The tour was hosted by DCPS and sponsored by Discovery Education, and it included stops at three campuses where teachers are using digital resources to meet the individual needs of the students in their classrooms. The day was worthwhile, instructional and (most importantly) uplifting as we observed excellence in teaching and learning in traditional urban public schools.

Those of us who have worked in public education for years know that there is much good work happening in public schools; however, most of that work doesn’t get attention, and the prevailing messages that “public education is failing” or “public education is not good enough” are, in addition to being inaccurate, also dispiriting. ...

Syndicate content