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Blog Posts By Cheryl S. Williams

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 ...

For nearly three decades I’ve been an advocate for technology’s appropriate (and changing) use in teaching and learning, and during that time I’ve attended more meetings on “integrating” and  “scaling up” technology’s use in schools and classrooms than I can count on. As one might imagine, I’ve become somewhat cynical about the conversation since the themes and challenges remain the same. But despite my cynicism, I came away with some new language to use when discussing school improvement and the use of technology to support it after attending the EdTech Summit, Empowering Educators to Enhance Student Learning in the Digital Era, hosted by the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, the LEAD Commission and Common Sense Media earlier this week.

First, and most importantly, the conversation was centered on teaching and learning and on building the human capacity to make change ...

This piece was co-authored with Dean Vogel, President of the California Teachers Association. It first appeared in the Sacramento Bee. View the original here.

The new school year brings one of the biggest transitions our state’s elementary and secondary education system has ever experienced. As students settle into new classrooms, our teachers are adjusting their instruction to help students meet expectations of the new Common Core state standards. It’s our job – as parents, business leaders, students, community members and educators – to look beyond both the hype and hysteria to ensure that students benefit from thoughtful, locally driven implementation.

Part of the challenge we’re facing is a lack of clear information about what the standards are and aren’t. They emphasize critical thinking, problem solving and inquiry-based learning – what students need to thrive in college and in today’s global economy. Far from prescribing what should be taught or how, the new standards outline what students should know while giving teachers the flexibility to decide how to help each student get there. Under Common Core, there are actually fewer standards, allowing teachers to slow down and students to explore each topic in depth. ...

A week ago, U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, issued a Back to School message in his Department of Education blog, Homeroom, that made news because it announced that states will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation in their compliance efforts with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Certainly, this was a welcome announcement, and the Learning First Alliance (LFA) issued a statement later that same day in support of the Secretary’s announced flexibility.

However, the aspect of the announcement that was most heartening to me wasn’t the new flexibility offered, but the tone of the message and the respect communicated for the educators on the ground doing the work. Too often in the past, messages from the Department of Education have led with doom and gloom and the assertion that America’s K-12 public education system is “failing” and that the professionals working in the system are not among the academically skilled in the workforce and “come from the bottom third of their class”. This year’s Back to School blog was “a message of celebration and thanks” for the educators who have worked tirelessly over the past years with the results that America’s students have posted some unprecedented achievements ...

A recent meeting hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education on Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers brought back memories of my time teaching many years ago. And it seems that though my experience happened long ago, I fit right into the profile of today’s teaching force: I left the profession after four years of teaching. The difference is that today attention is focused on the problems posed by a work force that overwhelmingly turns over in the first five years and provides an essential service not only to the health of our education system, but to our country. What was true then and is now being identified through research and increased attention is that to retain and develop a highly skilled teaching force, we need to provide support and continued learning opportunities for all our beginning teachers. 

At the Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers event, Richard Ingersoll, Professor of Education and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, shared his research on the demographics of the teaching profession and how that’s dramatically changed over the past twenty plus years, with the result being that the majority of the current teaching profession have fewer than five years’ experience in the classroom. Dr. Ingersoll’s research has looked at the kinds of new teacher induction practiced with this novice work force and the effect that induction has on teacher turnover in the first five years of employment. Percentage of turnover ranges from 41 percent for those teachers who received no induction support to 18 percent for those who were supported in significant ways in their first year on the job. ...

The Learning First Alliance (LFA) is leading a focused campaign advocating for time, support and resources for successful implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). It includes interviews with education leaders from across the country who are sharing how their states and communities are working to Get It Right, the title we’ve given our campaign. Several meetings I attended recently outlined strategies for “getting it right” that showcased research and practice in key areas necessary to “get it right”:  accountability measures, state education agencies’ capabilities and classroom teacher practice.

Last week, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) hosted a daylong meeting on Rethinking Accountability: Putting Students and Learning First that looked at accountability from a variety of angles, including accountability for meaningful learning, professional capacity and resources. All three types of accountability point to the requirement for system change that’s built on an evidence-based design and factors in responsibility at a variety of levels – state, district, school, classroom and community. While success happens locally, that success and the responsibility for that success is dependent on adequate resources, a culture of support and a realization that professional capacity is built over time ...

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. ...