TEACHING MATTERS -- September 26, 2013

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September 26, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

Kid President

The Kid President tells teachers and students, "It's time to get your learnin' on!" in this Soulpancake video.

Kid President Inspires Us All

If you haven't seen this Soulpancake video of the "Kid President's" pep talk to students and teachers, you must stop and view it now. It's a perfect reminder of why we are all in the learning business, one worthy of showing to your class or passing onto a teacher you care about. Watch the crazy, behind-the scenes True Story of Kid President, a boy named Robbie with remarkable resilience despite having a disease that has caused him to break his bones more than 70 times.


Achieving Excellence and Equity: The U.S. Department of Education’s Strategic Plan Released for Public Comment

ED's mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access to quality educational opportunities. Every four years, the Department has the opportunity to share our strategic plan for achieving this mission — making clear our goals and describing how the Department will meet them. This plan explains how we will define and attain this goal, and we hope to get your input. Please view the Department of Education’s draft FY2014-2018 strategic plan and submit all comments to strategicplancomments@ed.gov. Comments must be received by Friday, October 4th at 5pm ET. Learn more.



How to Promote Reading and Writing

September is National Literacy Month. While there are many ways schools can celebrate literacy, middle-school vice principal and supervisor of instruction, Brad Currie, identifies 8 Ways to Celebrate National Literacy Month. Currie writes in this blog post that at his New Jersey middle school, all students and staff are asked to read the same "age-appropriate book through the One Book, One School program." He also offers several ideas for schools to promote literacy including "blogging to promote a passion for literacy" and utilizing "Edmodo and Skype" to connect with authors and other readers.

Common Core Connections

BUSINESSES FIGHT FOR THE COMMON CORE. At an education forum held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representatives of major corporations discussed their efforts to promote the Common Core Standards through different strategies, including coast-to-coast advertising campaigns and outreach to company employees and parents in the overall community. Read more.

RAISING THE BAR. Superintendent and Geography Teacher Neel Durbin describes the importance of Common Core Standards for students and communities alike. Durbin explains, "As classroom teacher and director of a Tennessee public school district, I understand the importance of high expectations for all students through a challenging, rigorous curriculum. The Common Core State Standards are rigorous standards designed to provide students, parents, and teachers with a clear understanding of what is expected of them." Read more.

HELPING PARENTS UNDERSTAND THE COMMON CORE. Parent involvement is key to the success of the Common Core Standards. However, a recent Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa Poll  reports that 62% of parents have never heard of the Common Core Standards. As a result, schools are seeking new and innovative ways to educate parents to better understand the meaning behind the rigorous standards. Read more


Call to Action

Cheryl Williams of the Learning First Alliance and Stephanie Hirsh of Learning Forward published six actions that federal, state, and local policymakers can take that will lead to educator and student success. Among their recommendations, they include this nod to the RESPECT initiative: "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." Read the article and learn about their other RESPECT-like recommendations. 


Quote to Note


"I tell you the one thing I absolutely don't want is I don't want to be lied to. I don't want people to tell me my children are ready for success when they're not in the game."

(Arne Duncan talking with Susan Page on The Diane Rehm Show earlier this month. Read the transcript.)


What Happens When Public and Private Schools Join Hands?

What happened when two single-gender schools in Cleveland, Ohio - one public and one private - collaborated to enrich the learning and lives of girls attending both schools?

from North Star Academy

The North Star Collaborative was formed! Warner Girls' Leadership Academy, an elementary public school, and Laurel School, a secondary private school, are building strong relationships, improving academic success, and developing the girls of both schools into strong leaders. Watch the video of their story embedded in this blog.


Tie a Blue Ribbon Around These Schools

Secretary Duncan announced the 286 schools named as 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools. “Excellence in education matters and we should honor the schools that are leading the way to prepare students," Duncan said. “National Blue Ribbon schools represent examples of educational excellence, and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education.” Congratulations to the teachers and principals of these schools for your dedication to ensuring educational excellence!

The Blue Ribbon program recognizes schools in one of two performance categories: “Exemplary High Performing” and “Exemplary Improving.” Read the press release. Watch Arne's reflection on the significance of this award. 

students cutting the ribbon on new exhibition



“I believe that artists have the power to transform the world," declared Monique Chism, ED’s director of Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs, to the young artists gathered at ED for the opening ceremony of the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners. "Artistic expression, for me, is the canvas of life, and can spark a social movement.” She also spoke of the responsibility that all adults have to support an arts-integrated education for students in order to “stimulate and develop the imagination, develop critical thinking skills, and help refine cognitive and creative skills.” Read more about the event and Monique's take on the power of the arts.

question mark

Did You Know? 

Physically Fit Students Retain Information Better

The New York Times (9/19, Reynolds) reports that a new study to be presented at the American College of Sports Medicine, found that physically fit children “absorb and retain new information more effectively” than less fit peers, noting that the research highlights “timely questions about the wisdom of slashing physical education programs at schools.” Meanwhile, a Nebraska study posted last month in the Journal of Pediatrics found that “better fitness proved to be linked to significantly higher achievement scores.”


Champions of Change

To celebrate Connected Educator Month in October, the White House will host a “Champions of Change” event with education leaders, who will be guests of the White House. There they will showcase their accomplishments to support more connected schools and students.

In June President Obama launched the ConnectED Initiative to connect 99% of America’s students to high-speed wireless internet in five years, calling on the FCC to modernize its existing E-Rate program to meet this goal. As part of the initiative, the President challenged the federal government as well as states, districts, schools and communities to help prepare all teachers to thrive in a connected classroom and leverage technology to re-imagine learning.

Today, the average American school has less bandwidth than the average American home, even though it serves more than 200 times more people. Only around 20% of our students have access to true high-speed internet in their classroom. As President Obama asked at Mooresville Middle School at the launch of this important initiative: “In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, shouldn’t we demand it in our schools? Shouldn’t we want that for our children’s education?"

the New Math

Where Have all the Librarians in Philly Gone?

• Librarians in Philadelphia schools in 1992: 176

2011: 65

2013: 15 

During the last 20 years, the Philadelphia, Pa., school district has lost many of its certified librarians as money got tighter. Two of Philadelphia's most prestigious high schools -- Masterman and Central -- have closed their libraries. Read the heartbreaking article (Snyder, Philadelphia Inquirer).

Congress investigates Race to the Top States

"Mixed Record on Teacher Evaluation"

According to a report released by the Government Accountability Office, Race to the Top states are seeing different degrees of success with implementation but generally feel that ED has been very supportive of their reform work. EdWeek's "Politics K-12" (Klein) breaks down the success of states to craft and implement new teacher evaluations that take student performance into account.  

The report identifies states that have fully implemented teacher and principal evaluations, states that are currently piloting or have partially implemented evaluations, and states that are struggling to address teachers' concerns with the new systems and fast pace of change. States are seeking sustainable practices that will live on well after the Race to the Top grants run out in coming years, as well as how to hold teachers accountable in non-tested subjects like social studies and the arts. Want to know more? Here's your cheat sheet: GAO:  Race to the Top States Have Mixed Record on Teacher Evaluation.


At Reinvented Schools, Popularity Can Outpace Capacity!

Vocational Schools throughout Lehigh County, Pa., are filled to capacity with students who feel that the needs of a competitive job market seeking skilled workers outweigh the rising costs of higher education and student debt. 


The Lehigh Career and Technical Institute in North Whitehall Township has increased enrollment and jump-started careers for youth who can't afford college after high school. To meet the needs of students, schools are offering more programs such as engineering, criminal justice, automotive technology and computer systems networking to name a few. Furthermore, technical schools are focusing on boosting-up professional "soft-skill" sets to improve attendance, work ethic and teamwork. Read more.

student writing on flipchart


Morning Meeting

How do you begin the day with students? Education consultant and former elementary-school principal Lisa Michelle Dabbs investigates how the first 15 minutes of each day in class can help students "share their experiences, learn about being respectful and control their impulses through group activities that set the tone for a more positive school day." She offers online resources and tips to develop a morning-meeting routine in the classroom. Read the blog.

Tools for Students 

BRING YOUR VOICE. Youth Voices, a school-based social network, was started in 2003 by a group of National Writing Project teachers. This network merged several blogging projects to bring students together on one site. Individual students can read and write about their passions, connect with other students, comment on each other's work and create multimedia posts. They also bring together knowledge regarding curriculum and digital literacy.

STARTING COLLEGE AND NOT FINISHING. Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad? The Hamilton Project's Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney compare students who fail to complete a degree with students who complete "some college." Their findings suggest a higher return rate than many conventional investments, such as stocks and bonds, for completing even a fraction of college. The study suggests that students who enroll in a two- or four-year program but do not attain a degree experience "substantial increases" in earnings. "On average, these individuals made about $8,000 per year more than those with just a high school diploma. Over a lifetime, this results in over $100,000 more in earnings."

Students' Corner


College Career and Civic Life

The National Council for the Social Studies recently released their College. Career & Civic Life: C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards. Developed over three years by over 20 states and 15 organizations, the framework is intended to complement Common Core State Standards and highlights the acquisition and application of knowledge to prepare students for college, career, and civic life. The framework will prepare students to: (1) develop questions and plan inquiries; (2) apply disciplinary concepts and tools; (3) evaluate sources and use evidence; and (4) communicate conclusions and take informed action.
According to Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE, if states adopt the C3 framework, "it should improve students’ civics education experience if paired with good materials, professional development for teachers, appropriate tests and assessments, as well as ongoing education evaluations.”


Trapped in the Jargon Jungle?

Is "N.C.L.B." interfering with your scaffolding of student learning data? In this Hechinger Report piece, Liz Willen laments the acronym-laden lexicon that has taken over the field of education, arguing that "parents need to understand not just what’s going on in their children’s schools, but also how it fits into the larger picture of U.S. public education." In response, Willen offers some potential solutions to lose the wonky "edspeak," or at the very least, comprehend it, so that parents, teachers, and students can all speak a common language.

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• HOW TO TRUST YOUR STUDENTS. Todd Finley's Edutopia blog offers insights into how teacher mistrust affects students, particularly those in the underserved classrooms, and offers strategies to break the cycle of mistrust.

  • SICK OF BULLYING. LITERALLY. MedPage Today writes about meta research indicating, "Victims of schoolyard bullying face an approximately doubled risk of physical health problems compared with non-bullied children followed for up to 11 years." Read the article (Gever). A HealthDay report on  the research indicates that bullied children “are more than twice as likely as kids who aren't [bullied] to report feeling bad or sick, even when there’s no obvious explanation for their symptoms” (Goodman). For anti-bullying resources, visit www.stopbullying.gov. Check out the Youth Voices Project, which offers helpful interventions to reduce bullying and harassment in schools.
  • IN PRAISE OF FIELD TRIPS. University of Arkansas' Jay P. GreeneDaniel H. Bowen and Brian Kisida explain the education value of field trips in providing critical thinking skills, tolerance and equity for students. Read the article.
  • MONEY FOR STEM. Arne announced that 12 colleges and universities serving large minority populations will receive $2,748,619 in grants to strengthen education programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
  • WHAT MAKES A GREAT TEACHER? We recently reported on the Mathematica Policy Research study about the student achievement gains by Teach for America corps members and New Teacher Project's Teaching Fellows. Read Emily Richmond's take on the study in The Atlantic.


A Model for Non-Tested Subjects

The Tennessee Fine Arts Growth Measures System is drawing national attention as a new model to evaluate teachers of non-tested subjects. The teacher evaluation system focuses on non-tested subject areas such as world languages, health, physical education, and the arts and incorporates students' portfolios to gauge the effectiveness of teachers. Arne has highlighted the system as a model for other schools, which has expanded to North Carolina. EdWeek (Robelen) investigates using Classroom Portfolios as an Alternative-Teacher Evaluation Measure.



Recommended Reading

FEWER, CLEARER, HIGHER: HOW THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS CAN CHANGE CLASSROOM PRACTICE. Robert Rothman, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education, proposes that the Common Core can transform teaching, and that such a transformation is completely within reach for educators. The book is due in October from Harvard Education Press, but teachers can read an EdWeek review (Wickner).

HIS ISLAND VIEW. We really like teacher Tom Whitby's blog, My Island View. He covers a range of issues with passion and without polarizing. Check out his bit on "Duncan's Dilemma," where Whitby schools teachers and Arne on the process and expectations of reasonable policy discussions.  

If you have questions or comments about Teaching Matters, please contact ED's Teacher Liaison at Laurie.Calvert@ed.gov.

Top 5 Teacher Quotes 

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. Reflecting on the blame often laid on teachers: “It’s almost as if all of the failures in education are ‘teacher’ failures.” (Teacher, Tucson, Ariz.) 

4. "Teachers need teachers to lead them." (Teacher, St. Johns, Fla.)

3. "Value what we do and we will work hard." (Teacher, Tucson Ariz.)

2. On the need for strong principal leadership: "At the end of the day our job is to provide leadership to put great teachers in the classroom--whether we hire them or develop them or both." (Principal, Ariz.)

1. On teaching: "It's not a job. It's honing a craft and we should be proud of it." (Teacher, Md.)

Albequerque, N.M.