THE TEACHERS EDITION -- February 20, 2014

The Teachers Edition

February 20, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

Ask Arne video with Emily Davis

Arne Duncan admits that during the State of the Union, he found himself thinking, "What's a kid from the south side of Chicago doing in this situation?"


The State of Education

A couple of weeks ago, Teaching Ambassador Fellow and Florida teacher Emily Davis sat down with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to talk about his education goals and the Department’s recent work to address discipline issues in school. "I think the road to the middle class runs right through America’s classrooms,” Duncan said. Watch the first half of their conversation and see what they say about the State of the Union address and Duncan's plans for granting states waivers and fixing NCLB.  


Putting Teacher Evaluations on "a Diet"

Though observations of teaching are at the heart of most teacher evaluation systems in the country, educators at TNTP contend that the way they are constructed today does not work. In a new white paper, they argue that current observation rubrics give evaluators too much to look at, produce inaccurate ratings, and provide little useful information. They propose a new approach that centers on two focal points: "what’s being taught" and "how it’s being taught." Read the white paper

marshmallow cannon

President Obama provides some elbow grease for Joey Hudy's marshmallow cannon before Hudy lets it fly in the State Dining Room of the White House.


"Don't Be Bored, Make Something"

Those paying extra close attention might have noticed 16-year-old Joey Hudy in the First Lady's box during the 2014 State of the Union Address. President Obama first met Hudy during a 2012 science fair at the White House when he impressed the President by firing his marshmallow cannon across the room and handing him a business card that reads, "Don't be bored, make something." Watch the video.

Inspired by “Joey Marshmallow” and the millions of citizen-makers driving the next era of American innovation, the White House has announced plans to host the first-ever White House Maker Faire later this year. The event will highlight both the remarkable stories of makers like Joey and the commitments made by leading organizations to help more students and entrepreneurs get involved.

Details of the Maker Faire are still to come, but students can begin by sending pictures or videos of their creations or a description of how they are working to advance the maker movement to, or on Twitter using the hashtag #IMadeThis. Learn more.

Common Core Connections

"LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND THE COMMON CORE." Read Mike Petrilli's take on the "seemingly unlimited willingness to engage in dishonest debate" about the higher state standards. His Flypaper blog includes clips from news shows that portray the new standards as a liberal conspiracy, calling their examples as "six degrees of separation from the Common Core."

HOW I'M USING THE COMMON CORE TO BUILD CRITICAL THINKING. Critical thinking and the Common Core may be some of the most ubiquitous buzzwords in teaching today. In his Tales from the Classroom, Bluff City, Tenn.teacher Jon Alfuth puts them in perspective. He describes how his "mini-nightmare" trying to teach the tools of geometry (compasses and protractors) in a day led him to an epiphany about what he really needed to accomplish. Alfuth argues that the "most important thing the standards do is to empower teachers to teach the skills so necessary in the global economy," and he offers insights into how the standards are improving his lessons. Read his piece.

COLLEGES RAISE THEIR HANDS FOR LESS REMEDIATION. Krishana Davis reports about a group of educators in Hartford County (Md.) who say that the Common Core State Standards written for K-12 students have real and positive implications for college. In Maryland, the new standards could dramatically reduce the number of students needing remediation when they get to college so that students don't burn money and time on classes that don't contribute to a degree. Read the story (Baltimore Sun).

THE PLEASURES OF TEACHING TO THE TEST? It's no joke. In this Wall Street Journal editorial, Queens, N.Y., high school teacher James Samuelson makes a pretty convincing case that rather than being "a soul-sapping exercise in rote learning... standardized tests are a critical thinker's dream." Recent tests, he says, are "not based on a test-taker's ability to memorize facts," but the ability to use higher order skills like making inferences and determining intent. Read more


Why He Wore #80 

(and what Grover Cleveland has to do with it)

In last week's NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, Arne Duncan donned a jersey with the #80--hardly a common player number in the NBA. In this blog, he explains the meaning behind the number and high-fives some schools that are making a difference, including one named after the only U.S. President to serve two non-consecutive terms in the White House. 

question mark

Many media outlets covered Duncan’s MVP performance, including the Chicago Tribune which dubbed him Arne Dunkin'. Read the article and check out his no-look pass to teammate Skylar Diggins. View a short compilation of Arne's basketball highlights. 


Teacher PD Improves Students' Scores

Dian Schaffhauser reports on new research out of the University of Utah and Brigham Young University that indicates increased professional development for teachers results in higher student test scores. 

The piece describes how researchers analyzed students’ test scores “before and after teachers in their schools began using a commercially available online professional development program.” Schaffhauser writes that schools in which educators were 'highly engaged' in professional learning had a 19 percent gain in student math scores and a 15 percent gain in reading scores. Schools in the same districts without the professional development saw a 4 percent increase in math and a 2.5 percent increase in reading. Read her report (the Journal) and check out the study.


More Students are Taking (and Passing) AP Exams

The College Board issued its annual report of trends in Advanced Placement (AP) test taking. The 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation profiles each state's efforts to provide students — in particular traditionally under-served minority and low-income students — the opportunity to gain and demonstrate college-level skills and knowledge in high school. This report also looks at the past 10 years of participation and performance in AP, which indicates that in the last decade, more students than ever before have experienced college-level rigor while still in high school by taking AP courses and exams.

statistics about ap test-taking and passing

According to the report, "When compared to their matched peers, students who score a 3 or higher on an AP Exam typically earn higher GPAs in college, perform as well or better in subsequent college courses in the discipline than non-AP students, take more—not less—college course work in the discipline, are more likely to graduate college within five years, [and] have higher graduation rates."

The most popular AP tests include English Language, English Literature, Psychology and U.S. History. Among the more popular exams, those with the highest pass rates include Calculus BC, Psychology and Spanish Language. Learn more, including information about specific state and course success rates.

Quote to Note

"After 31 years watching and interviewing hundreds of AP and IB teachers who welcome everyone into their classes, I am convinced that schools that challenge average or even below-average students ... have the right idea."

(Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews refuting the notion that too many students are put in classes that are too hard for them. Read the story.)

When Will College No Longer Be Worth the Price Tag?

Not until 2086!

According to findings from a study by Hamilton Place Strategies that asked when the sticker price for college will be too high. The report finds:

the New Math
  • A four-year degree would no longer be worth its cost in the year 2086 at the price of $181,000 per year, assuming tuition costs continue to increase at present rates;
  • The present benefit of a college degree over a high school diploma is equal to approximately $725,000 in lifetime earnings; and
  • The present benefit of a bachelor’s degree over an associate’s degree is equal to approximately $340,000 in lifetime earnings.

The bottom line? "According to our analysis, a college degree is and will remain one of the best available investments." Read the report.

TAF News

"Straight Up" Insights 

Several Teaching Ambassador Fellows who are part of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year have written guest articles for Rick Hess's "Straight Up" column in EdWeek

MARYANN WOODS-MURPHY (Washington Fellow 2011). The teachers at ED love Maryann's title so much that we put it in bold: "Teacher Leadership as a Disruptive Force." Check out her provocative take on nine principles educators can use to shake up the system. 

RYAN VERNOSH (Classroom Fellow 2012) argues that policymakers need to consider multiple perspectives when wrestling with education policy issues. "Unfortunately," he writes, "there are far too many instances when those who have never taught, or who have not taught for any substantial period of time, claim expertise over those doing the work every day." Read his article

MADDIE FENNELL (Classroom Fellow 2013) contends that school systems need new norms that operationalize teacher leadership. "Teacher leadership is the only thing that's going to save the education system. Period," she writes. Read her column


Blue Ribbon Superstar Rolls with the Changes

While ED’s National Blue Ribbon Schools (NBRS) are all national stars of educational excellence, the challenges faced in their respective communities are not equal. High student achievement earned Merrillville, Indiana’s Salk Elementary School its official status as a 2013 NBRS. However, those accomplishments came about amid striking demographic changes, making Salk a superstar. Read more.

Schools Worth Watching




 Digital Leadership. To some, the phrase seems self-explanatory. But EdWeek’s Berkowicz and Myers take note that leading in a world of digital learning is more complex than fostering simple innovation. Digital leaders are responsible for designing strategic plans for implementation of technologies, creating complex schedules to facilitate teacher collaboration and learning, and developing a renewed understanding of how children and adults learn in a digital age. As they discuss the need for technical systemic change to bridge the digital divide of leading and learning, they site principal Eric Sheninger's new book, Digital Leadership as a must read.

Going To College May Cost You, 

But So Will Skipping

Check out this interesting story by NPR's Jennifer Ludden about a study by the Pew Research Center that examines the high cost of not getting more education after high school. The bottom line: "On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment—from personal earnings to job satisfaction to full-time employment—young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education." Read the story or listen to the broadcast. 

In related news, did you know there's NO income cut-off for federal student aid? Everyone should fill out the FAFSA now. Here's how.

Students' Corner

weed plant


In the Weeds

CHOOSING THE RIGHT GROWTH MEASURE. This article by Calder researchers (Ehlert, Koedel, Parsons and Podgursky) examines the three most common methods of using student test-score growth in systems for evaluating school and teacher performance. The writers contend that a one-step value-added model (VAM) may be more effective than using either a student growth percentile (SGP) framework or typical VAMs. Read their article. Download the full report.

Teachers' Notes

• YOUNGER TEACHERS NOT PUSHING ON TESTINGJay Mathews writes that while some teachers feel testing may be hurting public education, young teachers don't perceive the situation as dark. Read why in his Washington Post column.

sticky notepad

 IS TRUTH REALLY STRANGER THAN FICTION? The Kavli Foundation is sponsoring an interesting “Science in Fiction” video contest. To compete, students in grades 6-12 investigate how science is portrayed in TV, films, and games and compare what they find to what we can do today with current or emerging technologies. Or they may describe what science needs to discover to make the fiction a reality. Students submit a video sharing their discoveries and making their case. Learn more. The deadline is March 21.

 EFFECTS OF BULLYING LINGER. Amy Norton reports on a study showing that kids who are bullied often experience lasting physical and mental problems, and that kids who are chronically bullied have the most issues. "Those continually picked on from fifth grade to tenth grade had the lowest scores on measures of physical and emotional health," she writes. Read the article (Newsday).

• COGNITIVE DISSONANCE (IN A HETEROGENEOUS CLASS). Teachers who have not been introduced to may want to check it out--sooner rather than later. The site offers teachers free news clips that can be modified for multiple reading levels. Inspired by reading teacher Adrianna Riccio, a number of educators at Glasgow Middle School (Alexandria, Va.) have been making heavy use of the site to teach lessons on just about anything--from stink bugs to sugary drinks to Syria--varying the text difficulty for multiple skill levels. "The students don't know they are reading an easier piece, and we can talk about it as a whole class," a language arts teacher told us. Teachers say that using multiple versions of the same text allows every student to read at a level of cognitive dissonance and grow their skills. 

• FREE WEBINAR: TEACHING SACRIFICE AND SELFLESSNESS WITH MEDAL OF HONOR WINNERS. The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation is offering a free webinar using Medal of Honor stories in lesson plans to teach character on Thursday, February 27 at 3PM ET. Noel Wall will review a lesson plan on a Medal of Honor Recipient and one on a Citizen Hero Awardee. This webinar also will present the Medal of Honor Character Development Program, a free resource for teachers that includes over 50 lesson plans and 100 video vignettes on the character traits of courage, integrity, sacrifice, commitment, citizenship, and patriotism, based on the Medal of Honor recipients' stories. Learn more and register.

• NEVER TOO LATEOwen Phillips reports on a recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which looked at the effects of academic and behavioral intervention in disadvantaged 9th- and 10th-grade males at a Chicago high school and found surprising and encouraging results. Read his story (EdCentral).

• THREE SMARTER QUESTIONS. In this blog, the Center for Inspired Teaching's Cosby Hunt shares a few of the principles that guided his work to write a Common Core assessment task for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Serving as a performance task writer for the SBAC, one of two consortia writing national assessments, Hunt always asks himself three questions about performance items: Is it engaging? Is it authentic? Is it accessible?

ies What Works Clearinghouse

Emerging Research

KIPP Study Results Show Achievement Advantages for Middle School Students

A recently released final report on a KIPP study conducted by Mathematica found that attending a Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) middle school improved students’ academic performance for up to 4 years following enrollment.

The experimental portion of the study found that students who were offered admission to 13 KIPP middle schools scored significantly higher on mathematics assessments in the first and second years after entering a school lottery as well as in the fall of the third year after the lottery than students who entered the lottery but did not win admission to KIPP charters.

Questions or comments about The Teachers Edition? Send them to ED's Teacher Liaison, Laurie Calvert:

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

 5. "Teachers deserve the opportunity to be treated and involved as intellectual, challenge-busting professionals. The best among us are truly amazing." (Teacher, Boston, Mass.) 

4. "The classroom/school I've always wanted is one where there is more learning and less teaching." (Teacher, Hanover County, Va.)

Deb Delisle with Teaching Ambassador Fellows

3. "My passion is creating school leadership that really envisions special education as a basic equity issue and not as an add-on." (Special Education Teacher, Brooklyn, N.Y)

2.  "The school I've always wanted to work in is teacher-led, where parents are welcomed partners." (Teacher, Ariz.)

1. "I get that the Common Core is about standards and not curriculum. But our state is choosing to adopt a scripted curriculum in response to the standards. I refuse to use this. It gathers dust on my back shelf." (Teacher, Tampa, Fla.)