Learning First Alliance

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21st Century Skills

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Colonial School District straddles the boundary where suburban Wilmington gives way to Delaware’s rural eastern shore. Its one high school, William Penn, serves a racially diverse population, about 40 percent of whom come from low-income families. Penn is a model for getting kids ready for life after graduation. Ninth-graders who enter its doors are asked to choose among 19 “degree programs” — essentially, career tracks ranging from construction to engineering — that will be their focus for the next four years. But there’s one choice they don’t have to make: Whether their “degree” will prepare them for college or the workforce. At William Penn, all graduates will be ready for both.

During a recent visit there, I spoke with a senior in the school’s culinary arts program who exemplifies the Penn way. In addition to his studies in the busy kitchen, which doubles as a student-run catering business, he has six AP courses under his belt along with his industry certification. Elsewhere in the building I saw physics being taught in a wood shop, while in another more traditional classroom, 11th-graders explored issues of race and equality in Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian story “Harrison Bergeron.” ...

Learning First Alliance Executive Director Richard M. Long chatted today with Education Talk Radio about the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its impact on college- and career-ready standards.

Dr. Long and host Larry Jacobs discussed DC’s move to give states more say in accountability for student achievement as well as the political environment behind Common Core and similar standards.

Dr. Long emphasized that the ability to use higher-level skills, including in literacy and math, is now part of the agenda, and this demand came from the business community, not the federal government. There are many new jobs for well-educated workers, he noted, but students must have the skills that employers need to attain these jobs.

The broadcast, "The New ESSA Law, Politics and Education,"  is archived on Education Talk Radio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edutalk/2016/04/06/the-new-essa-law-politics-and-education ...

What if I do more than share grades with parents?

I recently met with two parents and their son. It was a conference to discuss how he was doing in class and what they could do at home to help. If that kind of interpersonal communication is the "Gold Standard" of analog communications, we have to concede it's not the only way we can communicate with families, nor is it the most sustainable. But let's start with the conference and the tools for opening communication. Then on to other options.

Unlike years past, my year-round calendar does not allocate minimum days for conferencing anymore. My single conferences lasted one hour and fifteen minutes after school. To replicate this for my class of 28 students would require 35 hours. Quality communication? Yes. Replicable on a frequent basis? No.

While the recent conference was enlightening for the parents, student, and myself, I came away with two big wonderings: ...

How can debate support the goal of any 21st Century classroom?

In 1997, a shy, fearful young student walked into my 10th grade English class with her head down and no eyes on her future. She had been removed from four previous schools due both to her own behavior and fluctuating circumstances at home. It did not take long for her to begin this same detrimental path at her new school and in my classroom.

After a brief in-class debate exercise using the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, I noticed a slight spark of interest. On a hunch, I asked this student to join us for debate practice after school. Fast forwarding at lightening speed, this young lady went on to place third at the state debate tournament her senior year, graduate in the top 5 percent of her class, and obtain her Ph.D in Education. Like so many students, she found through speech and debate a vehicle to unlock the 21st Century skills and motivation necessary to become a lifelong learner. ...

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. ...

In this podcast, Alan Tenreiro, recently named the 2016 Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, discusses Common Core and the multifaceted process of building a culture of high expectations that emphasizes college and career readiness for all students.

Mr. Tenreiro is principal at Cumberland High School in Cumberland, R.I., which has seen increases in its academic achievement, graduation rates, and the number of students moving on to higher education. The high school has increased its Academic Placement offerings and expanded STEM courses to help student gain skills for success after graduation.

Download as MP3 ...

Collaboration is critical to ensure students are prepared for life after their K-12 education ends, regardless of whether they take part in professional training programs, the military, go on to community college or enter a four-year college or university.

This work begins, of course, at the school level, but widespread success ultimately requires the collaboration of local, state and national organizations working together to help all students reach for higher goals.

Nine such groups have joined forces to form the Council of National School Counseling and College Access Organizations. The council is working to develop tools and resources school counselors and college access professionals can use in helping students transition to life after graduation. ...

Following is a series of blogs by Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, as he travels with AASA's president and other U.S. education representatives through Austria to learn about that country's education system.

St. Polten, Austria – In Austria, children attend “Primary” schools for grades one through four. At the end of the fourth grade, when children are 10 years of age, a determination is made as to whether children will move on to the “Gymnasium,” an academic program, or a vocational school where they will learn a trade. Approximately one third of the students pursue the academic route, while the rest pursue vocational courses. This is typical of most European countries we have visited.

We were greeted at the St. Polten Gymnasium by Director Sylvia Klimek who runs the five-12 school. The lower grade (5-8) students take five classes, while the older grade (9-12) students take eight classes. The older students can opt to be in one of four tracks: languages, art, science or sports. ...

When “A Nation at Risk” was published more than 32 years ago, it sparked impassioned calls for reform to our irreparably broken education system. Like most sparks and passions, education reform eventually flickered away in a disappointing puff of smoke, leaving the education system no better, and in some ways worse, than it was before the report. Since then, we’ve seen a succession of education movements designed to finally fix the system. Standards-based education. Dropout prevention. School-to-work. Whole language. New math. Education reform has become a jumble of clichés. The only constant is change. But the more things change, the more they remain the same, and if you don’t like the education system, stick around, it’ll change in a few years.

No wonder experienced teachers, administrators and even parents are wary of the next new thing. They know it will come and go without making a real impact. So, why is it so hard to change a system that everyone agrees needs to be changed? After all, many of our current educational structures were already in place at the turn of the last century. Do we rely on anything else on a daily basis that hasn’t changed significantly for more than 100 years? ...

This post is part of a series on digital equity from Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. Read Keith's introduction to the series here.

In this post, I will highlight data on the scope of the digital equity problem in the United States.

In the political world, digital equity has been framed as “closing the homework gap.” In other words, as education becomes increasingly digital, we must ask ourselves: do all students have the at-home tools they need to complete their assignments?

How big is the problem?

In 2009, the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband task force reported that about 65 percent of students used the Internet at home to complete their homework, a statistic that has likely increased given the growing trends of digital learning. Approximately 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires access to broadband. ...

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