THE TEACHERS EDITION -- February 6, 2014

The Teachers Edition

February 6, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

TAFs meet with Dr. Biden

Dr. Jill Biden meets with the Teaching Ambassador Fellows as part of her efforts to elevate the teaching profession, in the Vice President's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Jan. 30, 2014. (Official White House photo by David Lienemann). "Teachers are so under appreciated. I want to celebrate them and lift them up," Dr. Biden told the teachers.


From the School House to the White House

It's not every day that a teacher is asked to share an opinion about education policy. It's even rarer to be asked at the White House.

Nevertheless, after teaching a full day at an area community college, America's "First Teacher," Dr. Jill Biden hosted Teaching Ambassador Fellows from the U.S. Department of Education to share insights into their work with her and officials from her office and ED. "I want to know what you are thinking, your concerns, and what we can do," Dr. Biden said. 

While some teachers expressed concern about how "heavy" the job is getting as they work to sustain the energy to meet increasing demands, others stressed the importance of having more time to collaborate during the day and of getting better professional development that supports their work. "The key factor is teacher voice," said Emily Davis, "having teachers at the table and knowing they are appreciated and listened to." Maddie Fennell asked Dr. Biden to help create a "counter narrative" that lifts up the work of teaching. Following the discussion, one Teaching Fellow said about their meeting with Dr. Biden, "We were heard." 



Left to right) Emily Davis, Arne Duncan, Maddie Fennell and Mauro Diaz.

Teaching Ambassador Fellows and Principal Ambassador Fellows were in town last week meeting with folks at the U.S. Department of Education to brief officials about what they have learned in their 90+ events with more than 1,000 educators (so far) during this school year. See more pictures.



Double Down on Technology

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama addressed the ConnectED Initiative to equip 99% of our students with next-generation connectivity within five years. In support of this initiative, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has committed to wiring 15,000 schools and getting 20 million kids online by making $2 billion available through E-rate over the next two years. The goal is for this immediate down payment to support high-speed broadband upgrades for schools and their libraries. Other supports for the initiative include over $550 million in commitments by major companies such as Adobe, Apple, AT&T, AutoDesk, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon for devices, teacher support, software and content, and home access. Learn more about progress being made.


 “Yes, it does matter. All of us would prefer to fix the law and fix it for the country. That would be our strong preference.”

Quote to Note

(Arne Duncan, referring to reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA). Following the State of the Union Address, an education reporter asked Duncan if it matters whether or not ESEA is reauthorized and rewritten this year. Duncan said the President has not given up on revising NCLB during the second term. “We’re ready, able and willing — today, tomorrow, next week, next month, whenever. If they want to come together and start to behave in a more functional way, what better place to start than education?” )

Comic Strip Approach

In this video from the Teaching Channel, Sarah Brown Wessling uses comic strip templates to help her students identify and map the attributes that they would find in nonfiction texts.  


Use Comic Book Templates as an Entry Point into Nonfiction

Watch how Iowa high school English teacher and former National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, uses a popular medium – comic books – to get her students to tackle the complex task of analyzing the structure of informational texts. While on the Teaching Channel site, teachers can download Wessling's templates and try her techniques for teaching according to the Common Core State Standards.

Common Core Connections

STATE CHAMBERS STAND BEHIND CORE. Michele Molnar (EdWeek) reports that state chambers of commerce “in a growing number of states” are defending the Common Core Standards “against increasingly vocal opposition.” The article describes how the standards have created a rift in the Georgia GOP, and quotes U.S. Chamber of Commerce Education, Employment, and Training Committee Chairman David C. Adkisson saying, “The battle lines are informally drawn nationally between the business establishment and a more conservative element, a more politically motivated element.” The article notes that state-level chambers “are considered to be among the most proactive and highly regarded interest groups” defending the standards as “essential to business interests and the long-term economic viability of their states.” Read the story.

MONTANA'S "SIGNIFICANT STEP." A group of award-winning math and science teachers in Montana penned a letter in support of Common Core State Standards implementation. Writing, "Montana was the last of 46 states to adopt the Common Core Standards because the Montana Board of Public Education wanted to make sure they were right for Montana students," the teachers throw their support behind the Common Core. Read their letter and reasons why they consider the standards "a significant step forward" (Missoulian).

PARCC GOES NON-PROFIT. Management of the multi-state assessment consortium Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) has moved to a new non-profit with some familiar names and faces. PARCC, Inc. spun off from Achieve, Inc., on Jan. 1 and assumed responsibility for management of the PARCC consortium, as well as the development and implementation of PARCC assessments in 17 states and the District of Columbia. A former high school English teacher, Laura Slover, previously served as senior vice president at Achieve, and she is now chief executive officer of the new PARCC, Inc. Learn more.

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME. Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post reports that in the face of pressure from opponents of the Common Core, Arizona, Iowa, and Florida have all moved to rebrand the standards, giving them new names or removing references to them, but leaving their content intact. Learn more. Arne Duncan has said that he does not consider it important for the standards to have the same name, or even that they be common, but that they should be rigorous.


Did You Know?

President Obama recently signed into law an omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014, increasing Department of Education funding by $1.6 billion over FY 2013. While not restoring the full $2.3 billion in discretionary funding cut by the 2013 sequestration, this bipartisan act adds funds to a dozen large elementary and secondary formula programs and several higher education and student loan programs. 

question mark

For early learning, the act provides $250 million for another Race to the Top early learning competition and a $1 billion increase for Head Start. For K-12 education, the act has $14.4 billion for Title I (+$624 million over FY 2013) and $11.5 billion for special education state grants (+$480 million over FY 2013), allows five-year awards under the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program, and makes funding available for school safety proposals. Under higher education, the act provides $75 million for the First in the World initiative aimed at college access and affordability. Meanwhile, the President will release a summary of his FY 2015 budget proposal on March 4.


Strike It Rich!

To strengthen teaching in public schools, the Yale National Initiative offers teachers a rich array of thousands of free curricular units written by public school teachers who have participated in their summer local and national Teacher Institutes. The units are well done and have been vetted in the classroom. They include inspiration for teaching each unit, detailed objectives, analysis, plans, and resources on a wide range of topics in the humanities.

Under the topic Interpreting Texts and Making Meaning: Starting Small, we found a unit written by Jo Stafford, a teacher in Tulsa, Okla., who introduces students to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. California teacher Wm. Miles Greene offers a unit designed to reach the learner's head and heart in Teaching Tone, Mood and Purpose through the Interpretation of Activist Poetry.

To find other lessons written and used by language arts, math, science, art, music, and history teachers, check out the listing of topics offered by year. If you dig a little, no telling what you may find.

letters to ED

Why We Work

Arne Duncan received this letter from a student in Florida. His letter is a testament to the educators and community who taught him the value of education and nurtured his dreams.

Dear Arne,

I decided to write to you to bring to your knowledge something of good. I want to thank you for everything great that the Department of Education has done. Thanks to all this, I received the Pell Grant and I am going to a community college.

My goal is to become a doctor and help those in need. It has been my life dream ever since I moved to America, and thanks to the Department of Education, it will be a reality. I give you my word that every penny I receive, I will donate back, so that others can continue to attend college, and for some, achieve their dreams.


[Student planning to attend community college in Florida]


ED Offers States Options for Using Tests and Test Scores

Michele McNeil (EdWeek) reports on ED's offer of testing flexibility to states seeking to avoid double testing students as the Common Core State Standards are rolled out. She also examines the department's one-year extension, to 2015-16, for tying personnel decisions to new teacher evaluations and updates readers on which states have applied for and received testing flexibility waivers. Learn more. Read Arne Duncan's thinking behind offering states flexibility around testing.

P Chat

Principal Chat

PRINCIPAL MENTORING. Read about Mary Kay Scharf, principal at Oakland Elementary School in Bloomington (Ill.) District 87, who has been tapped to lead one of three principal training programs in her state. The article spotlights innovative approaches to training school leaders, while making good use of the talented, effective leaders that have been in schools for decades. Read her story in Pantograph (Nagle). Scharf's principal training program is funded by a School Leadership Program grant from ED's Office of Innovation and Improvement. 

PRINCIPALS NEED GREAT LEADERS TOO! Lesli Maxwell reports on the Wallace Foundation’s recent initiative to strengthen the skills and capacity of those who supervise our nation’s principals. The foundation is kicking in $24 million to help bosses of principals to be better coaches and evaluators of school leaders. Read the story (EdWeek). Read the foundation’s report, Rethinking Leadership: The Changing Role of Principal Supervisors.

IT'S ELEMENTARY: BLENDED MATH. EdWeek is offering a webinarBlending Math Instruction for Elementary Grades, which will will take place Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time/10:00 a.m. Pacific Time. Content will feature an elementary level math teacher and an elementary level technology specialist discussing the concept of blended learning. The session will provide successful approaches for implementing blended learning, including resources, strategies, examples of instruction, and tips for modeling the strategy in elementary school math classrooms.

Library of Congress Summer Teaching


Teaching with Primary Sources

The Library of Congress is now accepting applications for its summer program for K-12 educators. The week-long program in Washington, D.C., will focus on strategies for teaching with primary sources. Educators and school librarians of all grade levels and subject areas are encouraged to apply. Read more and apply by March 24.


Satisfaction & Autonomy Improve

James Marshall Crotty reports in Forbes on a new study from the Center for American Progress that finds teachers at U.S. schools are “reporting higher rates of job satisfaction than many analysts have predicted,” noting that the 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey indicates “a five-year high in overall job satisfaction among teachers” and rising perceptions of autonomy in the classroom. Data from the study are taken from an IES 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey. Read the article.

the New Math

Long Term English Learners (LTELs*)

• The majority (59 percent) of secondary school English learners are LTELs.

• English learners who enroll in kindergarten have a 50 percent chance of becoming a LTEL.

(From A Closer Look at Long Term English Learners: A New Direction, by Laurie Olsen, Ph.D. *Olsen characterizes long-term English learners as students who have been in American schools for six or more years but who are not making significant progress with English proficiency. Visit ED's National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition to find resources to meet the educational needs of English Learners and bring the percentage of LTELs down.)

States Make Progress Improving Teaching

The National Council on Teacher Quality has released its 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbooka 51-volume, 360-degree analysis of every state law, rule and regulation that shapes the effectiveness of the teaching profession, from teacher preparation, licensing and evaluation, to compensation, professional development and dismissal policy.

In the report, NCTQ finds "significant state policy progress to improve teacher effectiveness." According to the report, 31 states have earned higher grades. Florida earned the highest overall teacher policy grade in the nation, a B+. Louisiana, Rhode Island and Tennessee earned Bs, and 10 other states earned B-. At the other end of the spectrum, there are a handful of states falling increasingly out of step with important teacher reform trends across the nation. 


Calling All Students!

The U.S. Department of Education is accepting applications for summer 2014 internships through March 15. ED is a place where students can explore their interests in education policy research and analysis, or intergovernmental relations and public affairs, or even work with social media while learning about the role federal government plays in education. Learn more

Students' Corner

Aida Overton Walker

(left) African-American vaudeville performer Aida Overton Walker was known as the "Queen of the Catwalk."


Refresh Your Lessons 

February is African-American History Month, and February 17 is Presidents Day. Teachers who seek fresh material for their lesson plans may want to peruse the Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE). The FREE website offers more than 1,500 teaching and learning resources from dozens of federal agencies, including 140 resources specifically highlighted for these events.


Emerging Research

Is College Worth It For Me? How Adults Without Degrees Think About Going (Back) to School examines what adults, ages 18 to 55, who are considering pursuing postsecondary credentials want, need, and expect from a school, and if these students know how to find the best institution to meet their needs. Public Agenda is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that works to “help diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues and work together to find sustainable solutions.” The Public Agenda study was funded with support from the Kresge Foundation.


FREE RESOURCES FOR COMPUTER CODING. is offering a free 20-hour Intro to Computer Science courseThe class is self-guided (with video lectures by stars like Bill Gates and Chris Bosh) and features artwork from popular games Angry Bird and Plants vs. Zombies. It also includes “unplugged” activities for students to work collaboratively in groups with no computer at all.

Teachers whose students take the course can earn money for classroom projects. When 15 students finish the 20-hour course, teachers will receive $750 to DonorsChoose. If seven or more of those students are girls, teachers will earn an additional $250 for a total of $1,000.

DIGITAL LEARNING DAY. This year participants in Digital Learning Day took the pledge to give every child the “opportunity to learn in a robust digital environment every day.” Digital Learning Day is a celebration of effectively using technology within the classroom to create authentic educational experiences for students. And while the event happened February 5, we celebrate digital learning all year. Watch videos, access free tools, attend events and make every day a Digital Learning Day with the Tip of the Day.

Teachers' Notes

• EXERCISING GOOD JUDGMENT. Schools considering cutting back on PE classes to make room for test prep should think again! A new study of Kansas elementary and middle school students found a link between physical fitness and better performance on math and reading exams. Learn more in the Washington Times (AP). Meanwhile, in West Virginia, the state senate is considering a bill that would require students to participate in physical exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Read the story in the Charleston Daily Mail (Burdette). 

sticky notepad

HOW MUCH SNOW DOES IT TAKE TO CANCEL SCHOOL? For educators who find themselves driving to a teacher work day wondering why school has been cancelled, this article quantifies the amount of snow it typically takes to cancel school across the country. While any snow at all will typically close school in places like North and South Carolina, school closings in the Midwest and Great Plains depend "more on wind chill and temperature than on snow accumulation." Read more.    

• EXPANDING YOUR WORLDVIEWInternational Matters is a quarterly newsletter from the International Affairs Office at ED that highlights important events, articles and topics related to international education. Educators can sign up for International Matters here. 

 INNOVATE NYC. Read about how Innovate NYC Schools is using a grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement to solve alignment challenges using an ecosystem approach.

Open book


Recommended Reading

A number of interesting research reports were presented at the 2014 Annual CALDER Education Conference held at the American Institutes for Research last month. All of the papers and the presentations can be found on the conference site, but here are a few of our favorites:

BUSTING THE "OLD DOGS/NEW TRICKS" ADAGE.  According to Helen "Sunny" Ladd and Lucy Sorensen (Duke), middle school teachers in N.C. continue to learn and grow on the job as they progress through the years. From Returns to Teaching Experience, Ladd presented research about middle school teachers that indicates most teachers continue to improve their effectiveness with experience, though their growth fades after about 15 years. The research also indicates that teachers with more experience tend to be absent from school less and have fewer problems with student behavior. 

THE LONG AND SHORT OF LEARNING. From Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge, Ben Master (Stanford) presented findings that show 20% of what students learn from a teacher is long-term knowledge, not facts that are memorized and easily lost. Also the long-term knowledge that students gain in an ELA class affects student learning in other subjects, including math.

RIGHT SIZING THE CLASSROOM. In this study, Michael Hansen (CALDER/AIR) presented findings from New York that suggest students learn more with a great teacher, even if that great teacher has more students in his or her class. His results are compelling and raise questions such as whether or not there is value in shifting more students into classes with better teaching and allowing teachers who need help to work with smaller numbers of students. 

Blue Ribbon Schools discussion

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

 5. Reflecting on the relationship between a school and the school district: "Who works for who? Are you there to support me, or am I there to support you?'” (Principal, Philadelphia, Pa.)

4. "PD seems to be the common factor in teachers' satisfaction with the Common Core. Teachers are okay with it if they have had the professional development and pretty angry if they haven't." (Teacher, Brooklyn, N.Y.)

3. "If I am a real leader in my school, my primary job is [as a] talent scout." (Teacher, Omaha, Neb.)

2. "Teachers aren't really worrying about the Common Core. They are just feeling overwhelmed. They tell us: 'Back Off.'" (Teacher, Zanesville, Ohio)

1. "Successful principals aren't compliance driven." (Principal, Washington, D.C.)