The Teachers Edition

April 10, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

two people in safety suits for science experiments

High school girls use high tech tools to put out fires – as their interest in STEM heats up!


The Next Jane Foster

Teachers constantly strive to provide their students with authentic, real-life experiences. Last fall, 10 young women, ages 14-18, received the opportunity of a lifetime and an experience that will help solidify their passion for the STEM fields by earning a spot in the "Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - Ultimate Mentor Adventure."  

A collaborative effort of MARVEL, the National Academy of Sciences, Dolby Laboratories, and Underwriters Laboratories, this contest encourages girls to embark on a journey to explore their potential in the world of STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Girls paired with mentors (successful women in STEM fields), interviewed them about their work and their path, and then made 2-minute videos about their mentor experiences and their own STEM aspirations. 

girls on red carpet

The ten finalists traveled to Hollywood for the ultimate STEM experience. They learned about the newest technology in Surround Sound from Dolby, explored the agricultural industry, and conducted safety tests in the lab.

Above: The finalists on the red carpet of the Thor premiere.

Throughout the week, their guides were women who provided a context for what a career in STEM fields could look like. Not only did this experience generate amazing mentor relationships that are fostering the next generation of female scientists, but possibly the most important, unintended outcome is the "sisterhood" that these girls have created to support one another. Bonus: a star-studded red-carpet premiere of the movie that featured the inspiring female scientist, Jane Foster.

Read an interview (The Credits). Watch the video of the weeklong adventure.

Still from ASK ARNE video


Student Data Privacy

In March, Teaching Ambassador Fellow Emily Davis sat down with Arne Duncan to discuss data privacy questions she has heard from teachers. The questions include, What data is collected from students? Who has access to it? How is it used? 

The bottom line: "Students' personal data can never be a commodity," Duncan says. 

The pair also discuss teacher leadership and the field tests happening now. "I am absolutely excited," Duncan tells Davis. "These tests are going to start to be the end of the fill-in-the-bubble tests." Watch the video


MEASURING GLOBAL RESPECT FOR TEACHING. The Varkey GEMS Foundation's Global Teacher Status Index, which measures the level of respect for teachers in different countries, served up some sobering stats for teachers everywhere. Out of 21 countries surveyed in the Index, only in China did people see teachers as having an equal status with doctors. In the UK, by contrast, fewer than 5% of people thought that teachers had an equivalent status. Download the report.

WHAT IS TEACHER LEADERSHIP? Jessica Griffin at the Great Teachers and Leaders Center at AIR offers this recap of answers to this question from an array of presenters at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' Teaching and Learning Conference. 


24 Schools Win Youth CareerConnect Grants

At Bladensburg High School in Prince George's County, Md., President Obama announced winners of grants to encourage innovative curricula that prepare students for jobs likely to be in high demand in coming years.

Youth CareerConnect program is a national program, backed by the Departments of Education and Labor, dedicated to redesigning America’s high schools for the 21st century economy. The program is offering $107 million in new grants — ranging from $2.2 million to $7 million — to local partnerships of local education agencies, workforce investment boards, institutions of higher education, and employer partners. The goal is for partners to strengthen America's talent pipeline through:

  • Integrated academic and career-focused learning.
  • Work-based learning and exposure to the world of work.
  • Robust employer engagement.
  • Individualized career and academic counseling.
  • Integration of post-secondary education and training.

 Learn more and find out which schools won grants. 

Common Core Connections

CONFUSING MATH HOMEWORK? DON'T BLAME THE COMMON CORE. Correspondent for Atlantic and former English Teacher Jessica Lahey provides a refreshing perspective about the barrage of articles published lately about the seemingly "incoherent" math practice students are bringing home from school. She dispels the "fiction that fuzzy math is a function of the Common Core State Standard" and advises parents to relax because "states, districts, and schools are actually in charge." Read her article. Read a related NY Times article about research that suggests we may be underestimating our youngest students in terms of their ability to think about numbers (Paul).

REPORTER PUTS HIMSELF TO THE TEST. NPR reporter Cory Turner recounts his experience taking an eighth grade ELA PARCC assessment and describes how different the new generation of tests are from the soon-to-be-outdated, fill-in-the-bubble versions. The story is enlightening and provides nifty before/after examples. In a related piece, NPR's Charlotte Albright provides a window into an eighth grade Vermont classroom where students are learning to do close reading with Holocaust texts.

ACCENTUATING THE POSITIVE. This article by Joshua Bleiberg takes a fresh look at the Common Core State Standards and offers four reasons why critics might want to reconsider their opposition. Among other benefits, Bleiberg argues that the new standards will improve innovation and the transfer of ideas, and help systems learn smarter ways to look at big data and use it for the good. Learn more (Hechinger Report).

NO COOKIE CUTTERS NEEDED. Patricia Sorrentino, in her fourth year teaching at New Horizons High School in New Haven, Conn., writes about how her opinion of the Common Core has shifted. Like many teachers, when she first heard about new standards she was mistrustful, thinking, "Great, just what our education system needs — more unnecessary paperwork that takes away from teachers’ main focus: their students.” Through solid professional development, however, Sorrentino was surprised to learn that rather than being a “cookie-cutter” curriculum that’s "fed to teachers by people who do not know what it feels like to teach," the standards allow her to "write the curriculum for my own students, because I know better than anyone what will engage them." Learn more (New Haven Register). 

AN ENCOURAGING START. Los Angeles teacher Yana Gracile reports that the Smarter Balanced field tests underway in California and 21 other states are receiving positive feedback from schools. Learn more (LA School Report).

question mark


Did You Know?

87 percent of all low-income black parents want their children to go to and finish college

From African American Parent Perceptions of K-12 Education, a survey by the United Negro College Fund's Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute.

FALLING OUT OF THE LEAD. Read the Education Trust's newly released report showing that many black and Latino students and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds who enter high school as top academic performers lose important ground as they progress toward graduation day.

What's wrong with this picture?

Where Have All the College Counselors Gone?

• To prepare students to enter college and find the right fit, the National School Counselors Association recommends a ratio of one school counselor for every 250 high school students.

• The national average is 471 to 1.

(Find out what the distribution looks like in your state.)

P Chat

Principal Chat

MEETING TIME IS CRITICAL. Building teacher collaboration into the regular school schedule is not always easy, but educators say that this time is essential to creating an environment where students succeed. Discover how some principals are reworking schedules to make room for "the glue that holds schools together." Learn more (Mezzacappa, Notebook)

MY BROTHER'S KEEPER. Principal Kevin Bennett wrote this reflection about disparities in education and the criminal justice system for boys and young men of color, stating that as a principal and father, "the issue is a personal, professional, and moral one for me." Bennett asks educators to consider how we have become so accustomed to "the current state of black and brown boys" that we do not "see our failures to engage and authenticate their learning experience?" Read his piece (Teaching Channel).

AMERICA'S PREPAREATHON! is a nationwide, community-based campaign to increase emergency preparedness and resilience through hazard-specific drills, group discussions and exercises conducted at the national level every fall and spring. Educators may register to join America's #PrepareAthon with their family, school, or workplace and practice staying safe for emergencies in the April 30 National Day of Action. 



The Great Outdoors in the Palm of Your Hand

Released in honor of Earth Month and in conjunction with the April 18th nationwide release of the new movie Bears, this free new app - Disneynature Explore - combines an augmented reality experience with animal behavior game play to encourage children ages 4-8 to get outside and connect with nature. 

The technology allows 3-D images of animals to appear in the camera's viewer, providing wild adventures in a child's own backyard. View surroundings through a butterfly’s eyes, follow tracks along with the bear to find its cub, and crack a nut like a chimpanzee. Additional features we like: Spanish option, suggestions for outdoor play, photo journal capabilities, and fun sound effects. Check out the accompanying educator guide.

"There is no profession more essential than that of an educator, and it's time for all of us to embrace and celebrate their importance and contribution to America's children."

Queen Latifah, who narrated TEACH, a CBS documentary about the teaching profession.

Read about Gail Ruscetta, who changed her career at age 57. Ruscetta teaches English language learners in Alexandria, Va. She is profiled in an article that includes resources for those considering teaching as a second or third career (Rich, NY Times).

Quote to Note

the New Math

The Cost of For-Profit Colleges

72% of for-profit career programs produce graduates who earn less than high school dropouts

Cited by Sophie Quinton in her article, "Will a For-Profit Degree Get You a Job?" (National Journal). 

Quinton writes, "New data from the Education Department suggest that for-profit schools usually don't deliver on their promises to prepare students for successful careers. Of the more than 5,000 career programs for which the agency has recent earnings data, 72 percent offered by for-profits produce graduates who earn less than high school dropouts. (The comparable figure for programs at public institutions is 32 percent.)" Read the ED data.

Seriously? News no one can use.



Boy Suspended for 21 Days for Throwing up Three Fingers in a Photo

If you are going to view the video of Dontadrian Bruce talking (and crying) about being suspended from Olive Branch High School (Olive Branch, Miss.) for unwittingly using a gang symbol in a group photo, plan to have plenty of tissues handy. Better yet, check out the latest Civil Rights Data Collection evidence in your area and the latest disciplinary guidelines and get organized.

According to writer Sarah Fuss, "It didn't matter that Bruce earns As and Bs. Didn't matter that he said he had no knowledge that the gesture he'd made was a sign used by a gang known as Vice Lords. Didn't matter that he'd never been in trouble at school before. Or that his football coach could have testified that the boy spent too much time practicing to be involved in gang activity. The disciplinary hearing officer sentenced Bruce to “indefinite suspension with a recommendation of expulsion.” Read the article (takepart).


A Badge of Honor

Fifty percent of pre-kindergarten through 12th grade will be eligible to retire within the next ten years. Refilling half of the educator workforce is both an opportunity and a daunting task. Earlier this week, Arne Duncan addressed this issue and shared his hope that highly qualified teachers will be competing for those spots as a panelist at a TEACH event at George Washington University. However, he noted that if we are going to create an environment that serves teachers and ultimately serves students, we need to shift the perception of teachers in our society and we also must "make it a badge of honor - a privilege - to work with kids who need the most help." Read the article (NadkarniWashington Post). 

Tools for Students


Before turning up your nose at the latest mystery meat in the cafeteria, check out the tasty items that could be on the menu if schools ever decide to take a cue from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Recently this organization made the case for all humans to consume insects, because they are great for the environment, our bodies, and our economic livelihood. Learn more and check out the photos (takepart). Instead of grabbing hot fries, you may be eating hot flies!

Students' Corner

TAF News

 JASMINE ULMER (2009 Classroom Fellow ), EDIT KHACHATRYAN (2010 Washington Fellow) , PATRICK LEDESMA (2010 Classroom Fellow)  and JONATHAN ECKERT (2008 Washington Fellow) presented a paper about teacher leaders' career pathways  at the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting conference in Philadelphia last week. Their paper was based their survey and interviews of the 2008-2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellows. 

LISA CLARKE (2012 & 2013 Washington Fellow) served on a panel discussion of "Scaling Up Teaching," sponsored by the Alliance for Education and moderated by Bob Wise this week. Clarke and panelists from the Asia Society and school districts discussed lessons from the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New Zealand last month. 



In the Weeds

A LOOK AT RURAL SCHOOLS RECEIVING SIG GRANTS. The Study of School Turnaround analyzes the school improvement process in a sample of 35 schools receiving federal funds through the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program over a three-year period (school years 2010–11 to 2012–13). This evaluation brief focuses on the nine SIG schools that were in rural areas and how respondents in these schools influenced specific turnaround activities through a rural lens. 

Among the findings:

• Although rural SIG schools reported some challenges that other SIG schools have also reported, such as low student motivation and staff morale, the rural schools reported additional challenges resulting from their schools' remote locations that affected the recruitment or retention of teachers.

 School and district administrators and teaching staff mentioned multiple factors limiting parent involvement in school-based activities. Specifically, lack of access to transportation limited parent involvement, as did the distance between schools and parents' homes.

Hamster Missing


Photo of the Week

Seeing this sign on the wall when visiting the Center for Inspired Teaching Demonstration School reminded the teachers at ED about some of the joys (and tears) of teaching. Teachers there confided that in light of the missing hamster, they were rethinking a policy to allow snakes as class pets.

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS. Educators interested in connecting with teachers in other countries may be interested in checking out the work of the Organization of American States. This organization includes ITEN, a professional network of leaders in education sharing knowledge, experiences, research and good practices in the field of teacher education, and CO-TEP, and Inter-American collaborator on the teaching profession.

SCOUTING FOR TOP TEACHERS. The LIVE with Kelly and Michael show is conducting its top teachers annual search, which honors teachers from across the country for making their schools better, and for their service and commitment to their students and communities. Teachers can be nominated as individuals or in groups, and all teachers are eligible, from public or private schools, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The deadline for submission is April 21, 2014. Get more info

• OPTING IN! While parents concerned about over-testing may be choosing to "opt out" of new state exams, teachers at Uncommon Schools are taking a very different approach--making the challenge fun. Learn why Uncommon CEO Brett Peiser sees the "state exams as a perfect opportunity for our teachers and leaders to create the wackiest and most joyful ways to pump up our 5,000 students as they gear up to show what they know." Read his article (NY Daily News).

• CONNECTED EDUCATORS. Through this 3-minute compilation video that includes segments provided by students, learn more about President Obama’s ConnectED initiative. The initiative aims to provide high-speed Internet to every school in America, and make affordable computers, tablets, software, and other digital resources widely available to educators who are trained in how to use them. Learn more. Watch a video of an ISTE webinar about becoming a ConnectED teacher. Learn about a school in Vail, Ariz. using technology as a powerful tool to change the learning environment and culture (Dunlop, Learning First Alliance).

Emerging Research

STUDY: TEACHER PERCEPTION IS NOT NECESSARILY REALITY. A study done in the Northwest region of the country found teachers’ perceptions of school improvement goals, processes, and supports measured by the Educational Effectiveness Survey (EES) were not generally related to three student outcomes in Idaho schools: proficiency in reading, proficiency in math, and attendance. The study focused on 75 low-achieving Idaho schools that used the state’s improvement services and took the EES in 2012. The findings suggest that educators should proceed cautiously when using perceptual survey data to make school improvement decisions. Learn more.

WHAT WORKS FOR EL LITERACY. The What Works Clearinghouse has published a practice guide, Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School. The guide includes four concrete recommendations that address what works for English learners during reading and content area instruction (e.g., mathematics, science, history). It provides extensive examples of activities that can be used to support students as they build the language and literacy skills they need to be successful in school: listening, reading, writing, and speaking in English for academic purposes.

open book

Recommended Reading

• TOO ____ TO BE A TEACHER? As schools near Teacher Appreciation Week, Nashville teacher Shani Jackson Dowell vents her frustration with the country's conflicting discourse about the profession. "When we are honest," she writes, "we recognize that we—collectively as a country—are guilty of not recognizing the hypocrisy here. We say how important teachers are, and then we discourage the really talented people we know, including our own children, from teaching." Read her article (Pass the Chalk). 

• INTERNATIONAL STUDY OF PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem Solving: Students’ Skills in Tackling Real-Life Problems. The report is the OECD’s first assessment of problem-solving skills and its first attempt to measure the creative skills that today’s economy demands from its workers. Watch a presentation of the report by Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary-General, on how American fifteen-year-olds perform compared to their peers in top-performing nations. Read the PISA data.

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

Arne Duncan talks with educators and families in Hawaii

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

 5. "I want to work at a school that gives me the time and space needed to be amazing." (Teacher, N.H.)

4. “Regardless of anyone’s perspective on the Common Core, they can’t argue that they [the standards] have changed the conversation going on in education.” (Teacher, Reading Mass.) 

3. "A distributed leadership model enables me to leverage individual teacher strengths to positively impact the entire school and keep my 'eye on the prize' of student achievement." (Principal, Calif.)

2. Describing the kind of school he would like to teach in:  "[A place] where the sterility and anxiety that currently surrounds standardized testing (remnants of NCLB still buried like shrapnel throughout our system 6 years after Spellings' departure) has been replaced with the best practices of high-performing nations like Finland: fewer, better (and, consequently, more expensive) tests. (Teacher, Ark.)

1. “Principals should be still practicing teachers. If you’re going to be a motivational leader, you should still be very connected to teaching.” (Principal, Penn.)