TEACHING MATTERS -- September 30, 2013

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September 30, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

Hedging Our Bets

The teachers at ED didn't want you to miss out on the latest education information because of the possibility that the federal government might be closed this week. So we bring you Thursday's issue a couple of days early.



A scene from the trailer for the Latino Americans documentary on PBS. 


Celebración de la Cultura

Educators tell us that they strive to immerse their students in meaningful learning experiences that live well beyond knowledge of the subject. Hispanic Heritage Month provides plenty of meaningful opportunities to connect learning to the world we live in. Since 1968, Americans have annually celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15, though originally only for a week (until 1988). Significantly, this period coincides with Independence days for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile, as well as Columbus Day. This celebration recognizes the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens who come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

For inspiration, check out Latino Americans, a new three-part, six-hour documentary series on PBS, a first-of-its-kind to chronicle the rich and complex history of Latin Americans and their role shaping the United States over the last 500 years. Consider perusing the federal website for teachers offering a collection of related primary sources, lesson plans, research aids, and student activities from federal agencies. Smithsonian Education also hosts a dedicated webpage for Hispanic Heritage Month, including resources for teachers


"Budgets aren't just numbers. They reflect our values. I fundamentally see education as an investment, not an expense."

(Arne Duncan in Chula Vista, Calif., as captured on Storify.)

Quote to Note

Students at work in Houston Independent School District.


An Homage to Houston ISD

When the district’s name was called by Arne Duncan last week during the 2013 Broad announcement, the Houston Independent School District (Texas) became the first ever to win the Broad Prize for Urban Education  twice. The Broad is the biggest education prize in America awarded to a large urban school district that shows the greatest improvement while reducing achievement gaps among poor and minority students.

students looking through microscope

Houston, the nation’s seventh-largest district, serves more than 200,000 students (88% of whom are African-American or Hispanic, and 80% of whom are low-income). To earn the top spot, Houston bested three finalists: Corona-Norco Unified and San Diego Unified in southern California and Cumberland County in North Carolina. The $1 million prize goes to graduating high school seniors for college scholarships; Houston ISD receives $550,000, while the other three finalists each receive $150,000. Watch the video of the four district finalists.

Connected Educator logo


Plug In

Connected Educator Month starts October 1st. Here are three things you can do to participate:

1. Visit the Connected Educators website

2. Look at the calendar of planned events and activities for the month 

3. Create an online educator profile using the edConnectr tool 


ED Awards $13.3 Million in Grants to Support Principal Development

“[A] school leader's impact is huge. They help shape that school culture. They are, first and foremost, instructional leaders. They create an environment in which students and teachers are excited about coming to school each day,” said Secretary Duncan. “Great principals nurture, retain, and empower great teachers.” In the spirit of supporting the development of those leaders, ED awarded nearly $13.3 million for 20 School Leadership Program grants to prepare individuals to meet state certification requirements to become principals or assistant principals and provide professional development, serving over 1500 aspiring and current school leaders in 98 high-need school districts, including 6 rural areas, across 15 states and Puerto Rico. For a list of grantees and more information, see the press release or the program's award page.


JOIN THE RESPECT TEAM. Sign up to get updates on the RESPECT Project and to be added to the mailing list to learn more about transforming the teaching profession.

RAISING THE ENTRANCE BAR. State University of New York is raising their standards for admission to their teacher preparation program. Starting in 2015, new requirements will include a 3.0 GPA and passing a GRE-like exam. Raising the standard to enter the profession elevates the profession itself. Read the NY Daily News and Syracuse Post-Standard articles. 


Common Core Connections

PARENT PARTNERS. The PTA just produced and released its first of many parent assessment guides (for Arizona and Kentucky) for states that have adopted the Common Core. Their plan is to release one for every CCSS state within the next 12 months. These guides are companions to the PTA’s Parents’ Guides to Student Success and inform parents of the shift to more rigorous standards. Check out the PTA's CCSS website for additional resources.  


Did You Know?

Despite national attention focused on mental health and college access issues, states facing budget blues are cutting school counselors. According to an article in U.S. News and World Report (Bidwell), the national average remains "nearly twice the recommended rate set by the American Counseling Association, with each counselor seeing 471 students on average. Only two states have ratios that meet the recommended case load of 250 students for each counselor: Vermont, at 1:235, and Wyoming, at 1:200, according to data from the American School Counselor Association." The ratio in California is the highest in the nation, at one counselor for every 1016 students.

In August ED awarded $12.3 million to 35 schools districts in 17 states across the country to establish or expand counseling programs. Learn more.

question mark

art from Peg and Cat


A Girl, Her Cat & a Math Adventure

A new preschool series, Peg + Cat, is set to premiere on PBS Kids October 7. Featuring a girl named Peg and her cat, the series takes preschoolers on an adventure through different periods of history, encountering challenges requiring fundamental math and problem-solving skills. Funded through a Department of Education Ready to Learn Television grant, Peg + Cat also offers a multi-platform media experience with a dedicated website and an online app, full of games, activities, and resources for parents, educators, and preschoolers.

Lesli Rotenberg, General Manager of Children’s Programming for PBS, said the series answers an important need because “Over half of our nation’s children are performing below proficient levels in math by the 4th grade, which is why we need to start early to give young children the foundation they need to succeed in this important curricular area." She also highlights the importance of exposing girls to STEM.


Fishman Prize Winners Get Deep  

The papers from the winners of this year's Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice are out and well worth a read. Compiled in Going Deep: Empowering Students to Take Risks, Make Mistakes and Master Difficult Material, the papers focus on a common challenge many teachers face: How can teachers encourage students to take the intellectual risks necessary to master rigorous academic content? 

In the essays, these accomplished teachers share their expertise, writing about their own students and classrooms.

faces of four fishman prize winners

· What if the Question is the Answer?: Javier Velazquez walks readers through the in-depth questioning method that he uses to help students experience the joy and challenge inherent in the problem-solving process. 

· Pulling Back the Curtain: Jennifer Corroy describes how she uses children’s books and college-level literary theory to introduce her high school students to sophisticated analysis. 

· Banking on Students: Josalyn Tresvant illustrates how she meticulously guides her special education students through a process of reflection and goal-tracking, helping them take ownership of the behaviors and academic objectives that will steer them toward their college goals. 

· Gettin’ Messi: Keith Robinson writes about forging a classroom culture that values hard work over natural ability—by putting an international soccer star at its center.

the New Math


Hispanic Education in the U.S. 

63.2%   The percentage of Hispanics 25 and older that had at least a high school education in 2011.

13.2%  The percentage of the Hispanic population 25 and older with a bachelor's degree or higher in 2011.

14.5%  Percentage of students (both undergraduate and graduate students) enrolled in college in 2011 who were Hispanic.

22.5%  Percentage of elementary and high school students that were Hispanic in 2011

(Source: American Community Survey: 2011 Table S0201 (crossed with Hispanic origin) and School Enrollment Data Current Population Survey: October 2011, Table 1)


Not There Yet

In a Huffington Post story, Joy Resmovits reports on the latest SAT scores released by the College Board. The scores reveal that only 43 percent of test-takers in 2013 were prepared for college, a fact that has changed little in the last four years. Students scored an average of 496 in reading, down one point from 2011. Average math scores have remained stuck at 514 over the last three years. And the average writing score, 488, was down one point from 2011. "While some might see stagnant scores as no news, we at the College Board see this as a call to action," College Board President David Coleman told Resmovits. Read the HuffPo story or the AP story.


Shell Science Teaching Award

A partnership between the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Shell, the Shell Science Teaching Award recognizes one outstanding classroom science teacher (K-12) who has had a positive impact on his or her students, school, and community through exemplary classroom science teaching. The selected teacher will receive $10,000 and a trip to the NSTA National Conference during which he or she will be recognized in an award ceremony. Deadline to apply is November 8, 2013. Click here for more information and the application.


Tools for Students

As an African American girl growing up in Newark, Ohio, Julieanna Richardson recalls that the sum of her education about contributions of black Americans had to do with "slavery and George Washington Carver." Her experience motivated her to found The HistoryMakers, a non-profit research and educational organization committed to preserving and making widely accessible the untold personal stories of both well-known and unsung African Americans. Today The HistoryMakers houses the nation's largest African American oral history collection of its kind. Students can search the rich database and view biographies and oral histories of a variety of well-known and lesser-known people who have made rich contributions to our nation's history. Duncan chaired the 4th Annual Back to School with The HistoryMakers event in late September. Read the story.

Students' Corner

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

USE OF RACE. ED recently issued guidance supporting voluntary use of race to achieve diversity in higher education. The Departments of Education and Justice strongly support diversity in higher education. Learn more.

teacher helping student

Jill Szymanski (left) is the 2013 National History Teacher of the Year.


Her Story 

Meet Jill Szymanski, a 4th/5th grade teacher at Red Clay Consolidated School District in Wilmington, Delaware, recently named the 2013 National History Teacher of the Year.

Jill, a sixteen-year veteran of the classroom, credits her growth as a history teacher in part to her participation of three years in the Delaware Social Studies Education Project, a grantee of ED's Teaching American History program. Teaching American History grants support professional development in American History content by stressing the importance of making history engaging and helping students to think like historians. James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, said Ms. Szymanski has an “ability to push her students to think critically through the use of primary and secondary source documents and visits to historical sites, and her boundless energy." 

The National History Teacher of the Year Award is co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, The History Channel and Preserve America to honor outstanding K–12 educators of American history. The honoree receives a $10,000 prize as well as a trip for her and two students to New York City for an awards ceremony. For more information, visit the Gilder Lehrman Institute website. Read full article.

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. "I am hoping my state doesn't bail out on the Common Core. We have already invested so much time and energy in it." (Teacher, St. Augustine, Fla.)

4. "What we do in our schools and communities is next to sacred." (NASSP Principal of the Year, Maine)

3. On trusting Teachers: "[I always say that] the answers are in the room. We need to do a better job of working with the teachers in our own school and listening to them." (NASSP Principal of the Year, Colo.)

2. "Schools need good people, not a good person, to sustain them." (School Director, Albuquerque, N.M.) 

1. "The students are builders of our future nation and the world. So, we have to ensure for their good teaching and learning and have to protect them for our nation and the world." (Md. Humaun on the blog)

Socorrow, N.M.