When leaders of the nation’s largest education membership associations gathered recently for the annual meeting of the Learning First Alliance, one of the most interesting speakers challenged the group to come together on messages that resonate with the public and are actionable across policy and decision-making groups. Representing more than 10 million educators, policymakers, and parents, Learning First Alliance has a responsibility to advocate and advance policies and practices that improve learning for both educators and their students. While we may on occasion debate at the “how” level, we stand together on the why and the what.
We offer these recommendations for the start of a great 2013-14 school year. They provide guidance to policy makers and decision makers across the country. They engender the support of education practitioners at all levels. They underlie our precepts as a moral and democratic society.
1. Invest in early childhood education. We have a responsibility to take care of the children. We are among the wealthiest nations in the world and yet we have among the highest percentage of children living in poverty. Education is the single most powerful pathway into the middle class, and it begins with high-quality early education. We need leaders who call for and vote for early childhood education for every child in need.
2. Promote funding equity. Establish the foundation for every child’s education. We have schools with no library, no widespread access to technology, and no guidance counselors. We have schools where students are afraid to go to restrooms. Every child and every educator deserves a clean and safe school. Why, in a nation like the US, should the quality of a child’s education be dependent on his or her zip code? While there are cases where systems and children succeed despite the level of funding, these are the exception rather than the norm. Policy makers and decision makers must use their authority to ensure those less able have advocates for their future.
3. Professionalize teaching and leadership for the learning profession. Ask leaders to establish and adhere to standards that define entry into the profession, continuing in the profession, and reasons for being removed. Establish criteria that rely on demonstration of practice and evidence of effectiveness. Expect and support continuous learning for individuals throughout their careers. Establish the framework for their successful work.
4. Build accountability systems that rely on multiple measures and use standards and assessments primarily for program improvement rather than summative measurement. Apply the internationally accepted standards that govern the appropriate use of assessments. Ensure all educators have assessment literacy so they appropriately apply the data they gather from assessments and use them to prioritize helping more students meet standards rather than score well on tests.
5. Invest in innovation in intelligent ways. We need reforms that work successfully in public as well as private schools. We need reforms that are scalable and transferable. We need reforms that will benefit the children and educators who need them most. Limited pilots and investments are valuable for small-scale studies, but larger investments need to be made in the systems committed to serving our most vulnerable students. While we don’t want our service of children to be one experiment after another, we also do not want them to have to wait a decade or have to transfer to a new school to get the benefit of significant advances in our field.
6. Prioritize learning for educators. If children are to succeed, educators need to continue to learn as well. Develop stronger policy that influences better practice of professional learning. Set high expectations, prepare leaders at all levels, provide necessary resources, and measure results.
This is an agenda educators can support. This is an agenda that legislators and other policy makers should support. This is an agenda that will ensure educators and students learn and perform at high levels every day. Let’s not allow another school year to go by without getting educators and students the support they need to achieve the goals we want for them as a nation committed to fulfilling its moral and democratic purposes.
Cheryl Scott Williams
Executive Director, Learning First Alliance
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.