A Maine middle school prioritized collaboration, flexibility for teachers and building student and staff morale; as a result, student performance is improving.
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A December report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress and investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars – reiterates what we at the Learning First Alliance have been saying for well over a year: We need to provide the time and support necessary for teachers, administrators, parents and communities to get Common Core right.
Of course, when it comes to new college- and career-ready standards, it is not only the Common Core State Standards that require time to implement. The report found that all states (whether they adopted the Common Core or not) are using the same strategies – professional development, new curriculum and communications strategies – in implementation. They are also facing the same challenges. And while none of the GAO’s findings are surprising to either educators in the field or their policy advocates, hopefully their report brings these issues to the attention of a new audience ...
In reflecting on our work over the past year, we at the Learning First Alliance are particularly proud of our efforts to learn what it will take to get Common Core right. We highlighted perspectives on the issue from a number of state and local leaders in podcasts and written interviews, engaged with the public in a series of Twitter Town Halls on issues related to implementation, released commentary in local markets, and celebrated progress in our efforts to delay tying high-stakes consequences to standardized assessments aligned with the standards.
But education in 2014 wasn’t just about Common Core. In December alone, major events transpired: the U.S. Department of Education released proposed federal regulations for teacher preparation programs (open for comment until February 2), and the FCC approved a major increase in funding for the E-rate program, a decision will greatly expand schools' and libraries' access to high-speed internet.
We covered these items and much, much more on our blog this year. Of all that we posted, what caught the attention of you, our readers? Here are our top posts of 2014, as determined by Google Analytics. Enjoy!
- Three Ways to Build Trust for Professional Learning – In our top post of 2014, Learning Forward Senior Fellow Hayes Mizell argues that a lack of trust is at the core of many educators’ cynicism about and resistance to professional learning, and he offers three ways that leaders responsible for organizing professional learning can build it.
- Brain Research: Three Principles for the 21st Century Classroom – Brain research has given us some solid principles in the past decade ...
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 ...
"The most obvious benefit so far has been student engagement. As students take more of an active role in their own learning, they stay engaged and motivated. As we expect them to talk about their ideas and questions, they begin to control and use academic language, which enables them to read more complex text as well as express themselves in writing."
- California Educator Kathy Harris, on how students in her school are benefiting from changes in instructional practice made thanks to the Common Core ...
When we discuss the implementation of new college- and career-ready standards, such as the Common Core, we talk a lot about how teachers can adapt their practice to best help students achieve. And we talk a bit about the important role that principals, superintendents and parents will play in the process.
One stakeholder is rarely mentioned: The school counselor. Yet the adoption of new standards directly impacts their daily work, their pre-service training and their professional learning.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is in the process of updating their Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success, which identify and prioritize the specific attitudes, knowledge and skills that students should be able to demonstrate as a result of a school counseling program. This document is intended to serve as the foundation for classroom lessons, small group work and activities within a school counseling program, and its newest iteration will be aligned with the Common Core, as well as with other national, state and district level documents.
In a recent e-interview, ASCA Assistant Director Eric Sparks took the time to tell us more about this project and the important role that school counselors play in academic support, as well as how their work is shifting with the adoption of new college- and career-ready standards.
Public School Insights (PSI): What are the topline messages that those in the education community who are not school counselors – such as teachers, principals and parents – should know about the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success?
Sparks: The ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success describe the knowledge, skills and attitudes that students need to achieve academic success, college and career readiness and social/emotional development. ...
Today, in response to the U.S. Department of Education announcement that states may delay tying teacher evaluation to standardized assessments, the Learning First Alliance (LFA), a partnership of leading education organizations representing more than 10 million parents, educators and policymakers, released the following statement:
“The Learning First Alliance supports the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to allow states to delay tying teacher evaluation to standardized assessments aligned to new standards, including the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
LFA has long recognized the potential of the CCSS to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community; we have also long advocated for a transition period that respects the time that good implementation requires prior to attaching high-stakes decisions to aligned assessments. Today’s decision is a good step in the right direction. ...
Today, the first results of the 2014 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools were released.* The overall conclusion: Americans aren’t convinced that federal involvement will improve public education.
The report is called Try It Again, Uncle Sam, but some of the topline findings suggest that Get Out of the Way, Uncle Sam may better reflect the public’s views on the federal role in education – as the report notes, a majority of Americans do not support public education initiatives they believe were created or promoted by federal policymakers. Consider:
- 56% of Americans say local school boards should have the greatest influence in deciding what is taught in the public schools
- 60% of Americans who are aware of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) oppose having teachers in their community use them to guide what they teach
The results of Maryland’s annual reading and math assessments were recently announced – and scores are at their lowest level in seven years, according to The Washington Post. Why? In large part, because the state is currently teaching to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but the tests are not aligned to them. So ultimately, as social studies teacher and Maryland state legislator Eric Luedtke said, “The scores mean nothing at all. You are testing kids on content that they are no longer learning.”
Maryland education officials were prepared for this situation – both State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery and Maryland State Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Jack Smith are quoted in the Post article acknowledging it directly. And the results had “no bearing on school accountability measures or principal and teacher evaluations” – appropriate, given that the tests did not reflect what was happening in the classroom.
But the Maryland situation is far from unique. Across the country, schools, districts and states are in different phases of Common Core implementation. In some places, the standards have been adopted, but the curriculum not yet aligned. In others, the curriculum has been aligned, but the assessments have not. In still others, the standards and assessments have been aligned, but the curriculum has not. In all, educators are working hard to implement, but they are not done yet. ...
It is no secret that in many places the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are under attack. Yet despite what those of us paying attention to the debate at the national level hear, the fact is that there are a number of communities in which the Common Core is NOT controversial. In some of these places, that is because communications about the standards have been so direct and informative. But in other places, the controversy might be biding its time, waiting for a trigger – for example, the results of CCSS-aligned assessments that show a significant drop in proficiency rates – before it erupts.
Pre-Empting a Local Debate
At the national (and in some cases, state) level, one huge factor contributing to the current rhetoric around the Common Core is that, on the whole, advocates were often not prepared for the pushback that the standards received. As a result, they did not always respond quickly or appropriately to criticisms (or even general inquiries) about the CCSS, which created an empty space that opponents of the standards were able to fill with their voices – and occasionally, misinformation. So even if you are fortunate not to have experienced pushback yet in your community, you may still want to prepare for an upcoming debate. ...
We know that effective communication is critical in public education, both for building support for public schools and for ensuring the successful implementation of education initiatives, such as the Common Core State Standards. But what does a good K-12 communication strategy look like?
Missouri’s Nixa Public Schools, a suburban K-12 system serving 6,000 students in 11 schools, provides one example. Communication has been a key aspect of the district’s strategic plan for well over a decade, and Nixa has developed a transparent, high-functioning communications program that is two-way in design. For this work, the district was named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership Through Communication Award, with Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith and Director of Communication Zac Rantz recognized for their exemplary leadership in the field. The district was commended for building a culture where there is a common language between internal and external stakeholders; creating an environment in which information can be shared in a variety of ways; providing the community the opportunity to offer input which is listened to and acted upon; and more.
In a recent e-mail interview, Rantz took the time to discuss the district’s program and give advice to those looking to strengthen their communications strategy.
Public School Insights (PSI): What is the district’s general philosophy on communication?
Rantz: Inform early. Inform often. Inform through multiple channels.
PSI: What are the key components of your communication program?
Rantz: We structure our communication channels into two main sections: internal and external ...
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