Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

21st Century Skills

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What if students planned their own out-of-class work?

I often wonder at the amount of time a teacher can devote to entering zeroes in to a grade book, day after day. Johnny never does his homework. Parents are called. Parents are told he will get detention. He appears day after day, but his homework doesn’t. Just the zeroes.

Yes, this may be an extreme case. But I often think of how much time teachers waste on all of their students worrying about homework grades. Between the total “no-do” kid and those who put their noses to the grindstone finishing their homework no matter how much midnight oil it takes, is the time spent entering their Fs and As and all in between worthwhile?

THE PBL LENS ...

Should public schools’ primary purpose be to prepare students for work and careers, instill citizenship, or teach higher-level academics?

The answer, according to the 2016 Phi Delta Kappa poll on education, is that Americans don’t have a consensus. More precisely, the more than 1,200 respondents surveyed split over the question: 45 percent of American adults said that preparing students academically is the main goal of a public school education, while 25 percent said the main purpose is to prepare students for work and 26 percent said good citizenship.

That was one of several prominent findings in the in the 48th annual poll, which this year was conducted by PDK International and, for the first time, Langer Research Associates of New York. PDK International split with longtime partner Gallup last year, and PDK officials say the new survey partnership allows the organization to look more deeply into trends and opinions that impact public education. ...

Professional learning is extremely important to student learning, and for students to succeed, schools must invest in the adults who teach them.

Learning Forward focuses on professional learning as a vehicle for school improvement, and its Deputy Executive Director Frederick Brown brought examples of principals' strategies to help teachers guide their students to college- and career-readiness in a webinar produced by Learning Forward and the Learning First Alliance on Aug. 18, 2016. A related webinar will be held on Aug. 30, 2016.

In the first webinar, which can be replayed, Brown discussed the importance of teacher efficacy—the collective responsibility by school faculty to reach a desired outcome for student achievement. He also detailed Learning Forward’s backmapping model for professional learning strategies: ...

LFA’s member organizations and partners have many examples of schools that have adopted innovative practices or have taken risks that have paid off in their students’ academic achievement. As we head back to school, here are five of our favorite success stories from 2016 that we hope will give inspiration and ideas for your work.

District officials in the Tacoma, Wash. district have designed a system of supports to help students transition from prekindergarten through high school, and they work with local universities to ensure their curriculum is aligned and students have access to financial aid. High school graduation rates have dramatically increased under the strategic plan, two Tacoma administrators write in this article for School Administrator magazine. ...

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.

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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.

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