TEACHING MATTERS -- August 15, 2013

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August 15, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters


“STOP. RIGHT THERE. WAIT, NO. A LITTLE TO THE LEFT. Before you read any further, let this be a warning to you […] If you happen to be looking for a cake recipe, a large snowshoe, bacon-shaped pencils, or rabbit carcasses, you should probably look elsewhere (or see a doctor). But, on the other hand, if you happen to be looking for a collection of stories, poems, essays, and other assorted compositions from a gradeful of teenagers, you need not look any further. This book is for you.” -- from the book jacket of Halfway to Infinity


Age 13 and Published

Recently a New York City public school teacher, Vanessa Snowden, wrote to Arne Duncan, "If you give teachers the space we need to cultivate a context for the standards that speak to students, you will see all the ways in which we can create success." As evidence, she sent him a book, the product created when Snowden gave her students the room "to be people." The results are powerful: Halfway to Infinity is an anthology crafted and published entirely by students, from cover to contents, and its 305 pages exhibit a compelling array of literary forays. Each entry offers insight into the complexity and depth of the human experience from the remarkably sophisticated perspective of eighth graders. A few of our favorites (among the many) include "Easy and Completely Accurate Stereotyping: Bigotry for Simpletons"; "A Synopsis of the Modern World in Under Two Hundred Words"; "#thatawkwardmoment When You Can Relate to a Dog"; and "Our Nature Shoved in a Poem."

While cultivating student writing in the digital age continues to challenge educators, Snowden has tapped into an effective strategy. ED's Office of Innovation and Improvement's SEED and I3 grants also help fund the National Writing Project (NWP), which launched the website Digital Is in 2010. This web tool allows educators to share instructional ideas for writing in an era of increasingly complex communication, and it fosters a supportive and creative community. For example, Christopher Working, a third grade teacher from Michigan, experimented with a project in which students give feedback on one another's writing through social media. Robert Rivera-Amezola, a fourth-grade teacher from Philadelphia, combined environmental service learning with student-made podcasts in his classroom. Intrigued? Read more about NWP's Digital Is.  

ED's Teacher Quality Programs office is hosting a seminar this fall on the NWP's Digital Is project and its Common Core-related efforts. For more information, contact Margarita Melendez at Margarita.Melendez@ed.gov


117 Perspectives on Teaching

The New Teacher Project (TNTP) has released Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers, a report reflecting on what high-performing teachers in high-need schools think about their classrooms and careers, identifying three key results: 1) The teachers surveyed love what they do but struggle with the burdens of the profession--and as a result, 60% plan on leaving teaching within five years. 2) They measure their own success as teachers through a large variety of indicators including student grades and scores as well as feedback from colleagues and students. 3) They rank professional development programs lowest on a list of factors contributing to their success as teachers. Check out the report and TNTP's discussion of the results on its blog.




Teachers as Leaders 

WHAT LEADERSHIP LOOKS LIKE. In this Edutopia blog post, Middle school math teacher and coach José Vilson offers "a way of looking at teacher leadership" that values teacher expertise and spreads the idea of teacher-as-thought-leader to the rest of the country. He offers four pieces of advice for teacher-leaders: 1) Know your stuff. 2) Create something new. 3) Structure your role. 4) Keep the energy going. You can also take a look at Vilson's other work on effective teacher leadership for more tips.


"I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think."

-- Steve Jobs, The Lost Interview

Quote to Note

Common Core Connections

THE STATE OF THE STATES. Confused about which states are moving forward with the new state standards and what their timelines are for implementation? Check out this handy implementation map published by the Pew Charitable Trusts, using information supplied by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

INNOVATIONS IN IMPLEMENTATION. Schools and districts across the country are working together to creatively implement Common Core in classrooms. The Journal (Demski) profiles two Illinois districts, South Berwyn School District 100 and Zion Elementary School District 6. One uses eChalk, an online learning platform, to facilitate teacher communication and instruction; the other draws on new software to teach students technology skills. The article also offers advice from Geoff Fletcher, deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, and Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

NY SCORES TO BE EXPECTED. New York adopted the Common Core State Standards early and implemented its standards-aligned assessment system this past year. As expected, students' scores were significantly lower than in years past due to the increased rigor of the exams. USA Today's article notes that New York State Commissioner John King said the results "will effectively create a new baseline of student learning" that "more accurately reflect[s] students' progress toward college and career readiness" (Toppo). “Too many school systems lied to children, families and communities,” Arne Duncan said. “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable" (Politico, Simon). Want to know what the tests looked like? The New York Times has sample questions from a state math test aligned with college-and-career-ready standards. 


Did You Know?

85% of kids who enter the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate.

(From former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's recent speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council.)

question mark


Job Creation 101: Repeal Sequestration

This week's Economic Snapshot, by Economic Policy Institute analyst Rebecca Thiess outlines the impact that canceling sequestration would have on jobs and the economy. Thiess explains that repealing sequestration would increase real GDP by $113 billion (0.7 percent) and generate 900,000 new jobs in the next year--equal to about 40 percent of all jobs created over the last 12 months. If our objective is strong economic growth and increased employment, cancelling sequestration is clearly the right path. Read an article about Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Arne Duncan's discussion on the effects of sequestration at the Wind River Indian Reservation (Wyo.).

the New Math

For Special Ed, "All Means All"

Of the nearly 746,000 preschool children served in IDEA-funded preschool programs, about 35 percent are in segregated settings.

(From Arne Duncan's remarks to the IDEA Leadership Conference called Building Bridges. In his speech Duncan called for all children to participate fully in high-quality, inclusive programs.)

Tools for Students

YOU CAN TEACH. The Future Educator's Association (FEA), recently recognized as a Career and Technical Student Organization by the U.S. Department of Education, has chapters for students considering becoming teachers. Activities hosted by a local chapter or state program often include student teaching and leadership opportunities. They also provide resources for aspiring teachers, such as a state-by-state guide to scholarships and aid for college, specifically for those who aim to teach. FEA Vice President Jalen Brown (Ohio) recently visited ED and explained, "For those in high school who want to teach, [FEA] is like a trampoline. It gives us a way to get started, to start jumping."

Students' Corner

ies Institute for Education Sciences

"Early College, Early Success"

That's the finding of a new study by the American Institutes for Research on the effects of early college high schools on student achievement. Students who attended early college high schools--where they began working toward degrees at local universities alongside their normal studies--had higher rates of success for high school and college completion than students in the control group who attended traditional high schools. ED's What Works Clearinghouse, which reviews the quality of academic studies in education policy, rates this study as meeting their evidence standards without reservations.


ED Asks for Input

As states move toward implementation of Common Core State Standards, many are rethinking how they assess student learning. The Department of Education is asking for the public's input on the best approaches for reviewing and approving how states test their students' learning. Michele McNeil at Education Week covers the story and identifies the questions that need to be answered regarding ED's assessment of state testing systems.

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• REMAKE YOUR CLASSROOM. On Edutopia, David Bill offers an interesting blog with eight tips to makeover your classroom so you can reorganize, inspire, and clear away the clutter.

• GATES FUNDS TEACHING STANDARDS. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has recently received a $3.74 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in order to further develop the National Board Certification, a hallmark of skill in the profession. The NBPTS is working to support teachers pursuing the certification and to ensure its standards reflect current best practices of instruction.

• GOOD TO BE GREEN. ED’s Green Strides Webinar Series provides tools for schools to reduce their environmental impact, improve health, and teach environmental literacy, from STEM to civic engagement. Check out the upcoming session on Aug. 14, 2-3 p.m.: "Training Tools for Healthy Schools (CDC)."

• VETERANS NEED SCHOOL TOO! President Obama, with the help of ED and the Department of Veterans Affairs, issued a call to community colleges and universities to address the educational needs of veterans--and schools have listened. More than 250 community colleges and universities are working to implement the eight keys to veterans' success outlined by ED and VA. View the eight principles, and see which schools are taking action to support veterans.

• KUDOS FOR ED FROM NATION'S TOP DOCTOR. Last week, the EPA published a blog post from former Surgeon General Regina Benjamin that recognized ED's Green Ribbon Schools and their focus on prevention.  


Tami Fitzgerald (2013-14 Washington Fellow). Check out the Zanesville Times Recorder's article about this science teacher who will teach high school students in Ohio while contributing a teacher's voice to ED policy during the 2013-2014 school year.

Arne Duncan meeting with Teaching Ambassador Fellows in August of 2013

Arne Duncan meets with the 2012 and the 2013 cohorts of Teaching Ambassador Fellows at ED.

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. On teacher preparation: "We need better ways to measure dispositions [beyond] just a person’s interest in teaching.” (Teacher, S.D.)

4. “Teachers need the space and room to work hard and fail, so they can continuously improve their work in a trusted environment.” (Teacher, Edison, N.J.)

3. "My son has not completed a school year with the same teacher from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year since the 1st grade and he is going to the 4th grade.” (Teacher, N.C.)

2. "A school library is not an add-on or extra. It's part of a quality school." (Teacher, Petaluma, Calif.)

1. "To teach is to learn." (Teacher, Idaho)