Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Blog Posts By Cheryl S. Williams

In 1987 I attended my first ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Philadelphia.  At that time the meeting was called NECC, short for the National Education Computing Conference.  Saturday, I arrived in Philadelphia for my 28th visit to this event that attracts K-12 educators and university researchers from around the world.  As I reflect on both the topics discussed and the nature of the meeting, much has changed and still much has remained the same. 

In sessions, innovative education leaders continue to emphasize that the technology should not be the focus of our conversations, rather the instruments that enable us to lead and participate in more dynamic, inclusive learning spaces and activities.  The emphasis continues to be on meeting each student where he/she is, personalizing the learning activities, and ensuring that the approach is student-centered, not teacher-dictated ...

For the past eighteen months the Learning First Alliance (LFA) has been gathering stories from the field showcasing state, district, school, and community leaders who are working together to implement new higher, college and career ready standards well.  In January we released a white paper, Getting Common Core Right: What We’ve Learned that shared local stories and summarized our learning. It highlighted the importance of three key factors in successful Common Core implementation:

  • The need to engage a broad community, including teachers, parents, school boards and community leaders—from the very beginning of implementation efforts
  • The importance of separating the standards from the assessments, helping all stakeholders understand what they mean and how they apply to the classroom
  • The necessity of taking the time to get it right, realizing that implementation is a multi-year process that requires real attention to instructional materials, lessons, high-quality professional development and community engagement.

LFA believes to its core – and demonstrates on a daily basis – that collaborative leadership is essential for the success of public schooling. ...

This month, the first year of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and Smarter Balanced assessment began. Both are aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and designed to measure student academic progress. This month, the media has also been full of stories of parents who are “opting out” of their child’s participation in the assessments. While none of us who have worked in the public education sphere for years believe that testing should be the focus of our work with students (and certainly it makes perfect sense to re-evaluate on a regular basis the time and energy expended on assessment) the hysteria around this assessment season seems overblown and misplaced.

This parental concern does give us a chance to stop and consider what’s most important in our developing children’s lives. As the adults in the room, we need to remember that a test, any test, has major limitations and serves as a snapshot in time of what the test taker knows and is able to communicate ...

As part of the Get It Right campaign, LFA recently published a report called Getting Common Core Right: What We've Learned. The piece highlights three key lessons, gleaned from interviews with state and local officials and frontline practitioners, on what it will take to get Common Core right.

We’ve also compiled the resources that LFA member organizations have produced to help support and guide implementation of the standards. But we recognize that there are a number of other organizations that are creating great resources to aid your work in supporting the Common Core. The resources listed below are broken down into several categories. Please comment if you have other great materials you think we should add to the list. ...

I’ve been reminded over the past weeks of the importance of language in arriving at agreement on what needs to happen for the public education experience to be successful for all our students, regardless of their background and socioeconomic condition. The use of language and its different translations/meaning for different citizen groups was brought home during recent debate over proposed changes in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education bill that is now before Congress. A few examples:

  • Accountability – From my standpoint, accountability just means assessing the progress of those who have some skin in the game and can influence the outcome of any endeavor. I actually prefer the word responsibility ...

Note: This post was written in reflection of the 2015 CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) Senior Delegation to Singapore.

Singapore’s public education system is viewed as one of the best in the world based on its students’ continued high performance on the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment). The CoSN delegation’s visit to the National Institute of Education (NIE) provided a chance for us to learn the strategy Singapore has used to push its student achievement close to the #1 spot on the international test. The NIE is charged with selecting candidates and providing preparation and ongoing support to the country’s teaching force to ensure that teacher quality is the highest possible.

Step one in this development approach is a rigorous process for selecting candidates for the teacher preparation program. Potential teachers must have scored in the top tier of the British style tests administered to secondary school students and are then subject to extensive interviews with the admissions committee to ascertain their aptitude for working with young people and ...

Nearly a year ago the fourteen member organizations of the Learning First Alliance (LFA) issued a rare but important statement of our collective belief that Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have the potential to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community. Included in that statement of belief was a clear signal that the “what” of CCSS was on track but the “how” of moving towards full implementation at the local and classroom level was moving too quickly with insufficient time, support and resources to ensure that the goal of the collaboratively created common standards could or would be met in the way envisioned by the leaders who initiated this ground-breaking project.

What we also knew was that some states and districts were mapping out implementation strategies that showed promise and yielded initial results in changed pedagogy and classroom culture that have the potential to result in measureable results on a host of evaluation instruments being designed to assess student progress. So, over the past year we’ve reached out to successful practitioners, asked them to share their experiences and wisdom, and collected stories of promising progress with implementation of the huge change in practice and process to meet the new, higher, common standards.

This week we issued a white paper describing some of the things we learned over the past year ...

With the news that the U.S. is now going to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, I’ve become hopeful that other things might change for the better, including in the world of K-12 education, in the year ahead. To put this thinking in context: I was part of a People to People delegation to Cuba the first week of September this year and came away fully convinced that the only way life would improve for both Cubans and Americans was to lift the embargo (still to be done) and open up travel and exchanges between the two countries (with last week’s announcement, this will begin immediately).

In the same vein, I’d like to start anew in 2015 to build bridges between those of us who have spent our professional lives in a variety of positions in public education (mine began with four years teaching English language arts with middle and high school students) and those who loudly proclaim themselves “reformers” out to shake up the status quo and push out change resisters so “innovation” can happen.  Let’s begin by talking to and about each other in a more careful way—for example: ...

This piece was co-authored with Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. It first appeared in the Toledo Blade. View the original here.

Many lawmakers and political activists appear determined to perpetuate an endless debate over Ohio’s New Learning Standards, our version of the Common Core state standards. But teachers and school leaders across the state have been working hard to carry out the higher standards for student learning that we committed to years ago.

Teachers are already seeing benefits for students.

“They’re not doing as many paper-and-pencil activities and seat activities,” says Amy Whaley, a fifth-grade teacher in Toledo. “We’re up out of our seats. We’re doing projects. We’re encouraging students to talk and to share, because of the speaking and language standards that are involved.”

Like Ms. Whaley, teachers across Ohio are participating in and leading professional development, and creating new lessons designed to help students build a deep understanding of critical concepts in math and reading. Yet the challenge of introducing a new and higher set of standards, even as teachers dedicate time and energy to doing so, is significant. ...

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to have an invitation to the White House to attend the President Obama’s announcement of the Future Ready Schools Initiative as part of the administration’s ConnectED program. One hundred school superintendents were also in the audience as part of the first-ever Superintendents’ Summit at the White House, which served as the kickoff to the initiative. During the ceremony the superintendents signed a pledge – on their tablets – that proclaimed their commitment to ensuring their districts were Future Ready with broadband connections to the classroom, digital content for their students, devices to support the curriculum materials and professional development for their teachers so they are supported in using technology effectively for teaching and learning activities.

What this part of the administration’s ConnectED initiative recognizes is that leadership counts when change is happening. I couldn’t agree more, and it’s my hope that all the efforts being put forth by the education leaders in the room and across the country, whether a pledge is signed or not, are successful in bringing innovation supported with appropriate technology to every school and every classroom. The elephant in the room is that these sorts of photo op ceremonies and initiatives around bringing technology into public schooling have been taking place for more than twenty years ...