The Teachers Edition

July 24, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

Will Smith on Tavis Smiley


On Alchemy, Choice and 

the Power of Hard Work

At a recent meeting of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), researcher Angela Duckworth showed a video clip of actor and singer Will Smith talking with Tavis Smiley to illustrate the importance of persistence. "So much in life is determined by effort," Duckworth told the audience of teacher leaders.

In the video, Smith attributes much of his career success to his choosing to work hard and to never give up. "There's a redemptive power that making a choice has," Smith tells Smiley. "The only thing that is distinctive about me," he asserts, "is that I am not afraid to die on a treadmill." Find out why, and learn the part that one of Smith's favorite books, The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho), plays in his motivation to succeed.

nation builders


Tweet Your Favorite Teacher Synonym

Two teachers attending NNSTOY national conference this month, Megan Allen and Taryl Hansen, are working on a campaign to re-brand the title teacher with a term that explores more of the complexity of our work. 

Hansen, a famous sketch-noting artist in her own right, created the logo shown at right based on something she heard Arne Duncan say at the conference. She and Allen are inviting other educators to join them @azk12 and @redhdteacher by Tweeting their ideas using the hashtag #rebrandteaching.

They plan to illustrate some of the ideas and contribute to the national conversation about what it means to be a teacher.

Teach to Lead

Teacher Leadership

THE FOUR I'S OF TEACHER LEADERSHIP. This smart essay by Florida teacher Anthony Colucci helps teachers interested in taking on leadership responsibilities to prioritize their options and separate genuine leadership opportunities from more of the same (EdWeek). 

ED'S TEACHER FACE LIFT. The Teachers and Leaders page on ED's website has been updated to include links to resources, initiatives and programs that support teaching and leading, including Teach to Lead, the Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellowships, and the RESPECT initiative. 

the New Math

Momentum Builds for

My Brother's Keeper

60 of the nation's largest school districts are joining forces to improve the educational futures of young African American and Hispanic boys. 

At the Walker-Jones Education Campus in Washington, D.C., the White House recently announced a major expansion of the My Brother's Keeper initiative to improve the education of boys and young men of color, with educators, star athletes, companies and foundations joining forces. Learn more. View a video clip from the event. 

According to an article in the New York Times (Rich), the districts joining the movement "represent about 40 percent of all African-American and Hispanic boys living below the poverty line, and have committed to expand quality preschool access; track data on black and Hispanic boys so educators can intervene as soon as signs of struggle emerge; increase the number of boys of color who take gifted, honors or Advanced Placement courses and exams; work to reduce the number of minority boys who are suspended or expelled; and increase graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic boys." 


"Sobering" Signs about Financial Literacy

Earlier this month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released results from the first administration of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) financial literacy assessment.  The Department’s National Center for Education Statistics summarized the performance of U.S. 15-year-old students in a Data Point report and data tables. The test was conducted in 18 of the 65 education systems that participated in the 2012 main PISA and measured students’ knowledge of the financial world, including financial concepts, products and risks. 

Among the findings: the U.S. average score was 492, not measurably different from the average of all participating countries (500) but lower than the average in seven systems; 9% of U.S. students scored at the top level (Level 5), not measurably different from all countries (10%) but lower than four systems; and 18% of U.S. students scored below Level 2, not measurably different from all countries (15%) but higher than seven systems.

At an event hosted by George Washington University, Secretary Duncan called the PISA results “sobering,” underscoring the need to redouble our efforts to teach financial literacy to American students. Likewise, in an earlier interview at the Investment Innovation and the Global Future of Retirement conference, the Secretary emphasized financial literacy needs to be a staple of the American education system.



Calling Ed Tech Buffs

EdSurge and Digital Promise have partnered to create the first annual Digital Innovation in Learning Awards, a celebration of educators who are using technology in innovative ways.

Anyone can nominate an educator for an award, and both teachers and principals are encouraged to apply.

Applications and nominations are due by Oct. 1, 2014. To apply or to find out more information, visit the Digital Innovation in Learning Awards website.

Did you know?

In a Word...

Talking to a baby doesn’t just promote language development.

It promotes brain development.

Learn more about the "word gap," including the research showing that during the first years of life, a poor child hears roughly 30 million fewer words than her more affluent peers. 

Find out about the President's Early Learning Initiative to address early childhood readiness for school. 

Read a new national poll released by the First Five Years Fund that finds 71 percent of voters support greater federal investments in early childhood education.

Wadley in Girl Rising


Can't Keep a Good Girl Down

Educators and folks from the international community gathered this month at ED to view excerpts from the film Girl Rising and participate in a panel discussion about the global campaign for girls' education. The screening included the unforgettable stories of four girls living in the developing world who overcome incredible odds to be educated and achieve their dreams. 

During the panel discussion, ED's Maureen McLaughlin recounted a story from last year about when she and Arne Duncan met Wadley, a girl from Haiti who refused to be excluded from school after the country's devastating earthquake. "She is just like she appears on film. A total delight," McLaughlin said. 

Other speakers on the panel included representatives from USAID, the UN GEFI Youth Advocacy Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Girl Rising. Learn more. Check out resources for teachers.


Leader in Leader Prep

In response to growing concern about the quality of principal preparation, Illinois launched a quest to improve principal training and certification in 2005. A truly collaborative effort, the Commission on School Leader Preparation brought together stakeholders from k-12, higher ed, community organizations and businesses to develop a plan for change.

The hard work paid off. This summer, the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Board of Higher Education and Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University (ISU) was awarded the 2014 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation by the Education Commission of the States for their work to build broad support to improve principal training. Illinois' work has also been highlighted in recent publications by the National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures, in a seminar for legislators and during a webinar co-hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Urban Leadership Program is also the recipient of several national awards including the University Council of Professors of Education Administration 2013 award as an Exemplary Leadership Preparation Program and the 2012 Urban Impact Award from the Council of Great City Schools. Check out Illinois' continued efforts via the Illinois School Leadership Website.

Principal preparation programs at both UIC and ISU are funded through ED School Leadership Program grants.

child tying shoe of another child


Power of Doing Good

Looking for ways to engage pre-schoolers in community service and citizenship? Disney's Jake and Sofia are helping young citizens understand how they can make a difference and be of service to others during the Pirate and Princess Summer of Doing Good. Kids will enjoy the games and music videos, but adults should check out the tips and activities, like the animal care checklist. One simple suggestion: institute a cabinet of secretaries to be responsible for conserving resource. For example, the Light Secretary is responsible for making sure lights are turned off. 


TNTP Issues Report on Improving Teacher Pay

TNTP 's new report Shortchanged: The Hidden Cost of Lockstep Teacher Pay analyzes the impact of lockstep compensation systems, which pay teachers almost exclusively based on years of experience and academic credits, and proposes paying teachers for what really matters: how hard their jobs are and how well they perform.

Authors of the report argue that paying teachers without regard for their actual performance not only shortchanges great teaching, but it costs more for schools and students.

The report focuses on the impact of current salary structures on teachers, drawing attention to these realities:

 Low early-career salaries keep talented people from even considering teaching.

 Great teachers feel pressure to leave the classroom, while less successful ones are encouraged to stay.

The best teachers aren’t recognized for leading the classrooms where they’re needed most.

P Chat

Principal Chat

FREE ANTI-BULLYING SUMMIT. Educators can participate virtually in the 2014 Federal Bullying Prevention Summit, Keeping Kids Safe: Opportunities and Challenges in Bullying Prevention, to be held Friday, August 15 from 8:30-5:30 p.m. EDT. The summit promises to highlight strategies to create a positive school climate, look at current trends and data, and examine the state of the research in bullying prevention. SEA and LEA administrators will share their successes and lessons learned regarding their bullying prevention work. Register to join the summit virtually.

CONNECTED PRINCIPALS. Did you know there are many free technological teaching and learning resources that students and schools, especially low-income schools, can now access thanks to the corporate commitments that were made to support President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative? Teachers, principals and district staff should act quickly to take advantage of offerings, including free software and digital books. Details can be found on the White House ConnectED website.

HEALTHY, HUNGER-FREE KIDS. Recently Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack issued a blog regarding the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, in which schools provide free breakfasts and lunches for all of their students, and cover any costs that exceed the reimbursements from USDA.

The CEP is a useful tool to increase child nutrition and reduce paperwork at the district, school and household levels, saving staff time and resources in cash-strapped school districts. Starting this school year, the program is available to schools across the country. The decision to participate in the CEP is a local one, and schools should consider whether this program is right for them. To give schools more time to make that decision, the deadline for participation in the  2014-2015 school year was recently extended. Schools now have until August 31 to enroll. Learn more.


Lovin' on Peg + Cat

Staff at ED are lauding the PBS animated series Peg + Cat, which was recently honored with three Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards. 

Funded in part by ED's Ready To Learn program, the series follows the spirited Peg and her loyal sidekick Cat as they embark on hilarious musical adventures, learning math along the way. Learn more about the series and how it was honored recently at ED.


Common Core Connections

FREEDOM TO TEACH. Smart piece by teacher Jessica Poiner about the autonomy she experienced teaching to the Common Core State Standards. She illustrates her point using one of the ELA standards, describing a number of teaching strategies and texts she chose that were not dictated by the Common Core. “If teachers are feeling constrained by the Common Core,” Poiner writes, "the fault surely lies at the feet of those choosing curricula and materials“ (her emphasis). Read her article (Gadfly).

TOOLS TO COMMUNICATE THE CORE. Florida teacher Rob Kriete has created two tools that teachers can use to illustrate the principles of the Common Core State Standards to parents. Teachers can download his nifty poster and evidence sheet on the CTQ Collaboratory site. 

WHAT DOES A COMMON-CORE ALIGNED LESSON LOOK LIKE? Student Achievement Partners have released instructional practice tools to support educators in planning and reflecting on lessons that capture students’ attention while helping them to meet the expectations of the Common Core State Standards.

 Instructional Practice Guide: Coaching facilitates instructional coaching conversations and builds understanding and experience with Common Core-aligned instruction. 

 Instructional Practice Guide: Lesson Planning (BETA) helps teachers prepare Common Core-aligned lessons. It references the Core Actions and indicators found in the coaching tool to allow clear connections to be made between what a teacher is planning and what may be observed during classroom instruction.

teachers in baseball uniforms


"Building a Ladder to the Stars"

Recognized for making a difference in the lives of students and communities, 30 educators were recently chosen by their students, peers and fans to represent Major League Baseball teams at the 2014 MLB All-Star Game in Minnesota as part of the Target Presents PEOPLE All-Star Teachers contest. During the pre-game ceremony, these teachers were thanked for "stir[ring] our imagination, ignit[ing] our curiosity, and ... build[ing] a ladder to the stars."

Teacher, Blake Smith, representing the Los Angeles Angels, credits the support and training that he received in the On-Track: Transition to Teaching program at California State University, Fullerton, a preparation program funded by a $1.3 million ED TTT grant that identifies and trains teachers to work in special education, science or math in high-need school districts.

"Students like Melissa and Cesar, who walk into the classroom with greater challenges than more affluent students, are not the obstacle to attracting skilled teachers to high-poverty schools. They’re the motivation." 

Arkansas teacher Justin Minkel in his Washington Post article describing what he and three other teachers told the President during lunch earlier this month. 

Washington, D.C. teacher Dwight Davis wrote this article about what he told the President and Arne Duncan when they asked why he became a teacher. Davis says he was drawn to the profession in order to answer this burning question: "What if?" (Hechinger Report).

Quote to Note

Now, that's progress!


PARENTS AND TEACHERS PARTNER IN PROGRESS. Schools in South Huntington, NY are engaging teachers to communicate with parents during their transition towards higher standards. Teachers have held events for parents and guardians to demonstrate what is happening inside their classrooms and how new higher standards are helping them raise achievement and student success. These educators, like many across the country, are raising expectations and asking students to engage more deeply in their learning. Creating awareness about these changes among parents helps ensure they can actively support them in their children’s learning. Learn more in this post on PROGRESS.



Good Stuff for Eduwonks

IF YOU COOK IT... K.J. Dell'Antonia reports on two studies, both funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Bridging the Gap” program, that found students have exhibited “acceptance and even happiness” about the newer and healthier school lunches that have been introduced. Under the new standards from the US Department of Agriculture, “schools are required to serve a vegetable and a fruit daily; there can be no trans fat; and half of the grains offered must be whole grains” (NY Times).

MISSING AN OLD FRIEND? Educators who have been missing the Doing What Works (DWW) resources may find the library of research-based practices housed now at WestEd. At the library, educators will find a searchable home for a full range of DWW materials, including interviews with researchers and educators, multimedia examples and sample materials from real schools and classrooms, and tools that can help educators take action. To get started, check out this Quick Start Guide.                                     

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• TEACHING TOLERANCE. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently announced the five winners of the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching: Christopher Avery (Philadelphia, Pa.), Amy Vatne Bintliff (Oregon, Wisc.), Christopher Hoeh (Cambridge, Mass.), Barrie Moorman (Washington, D.C.) and Michelle Nicola (Portland, Ore.). Learn more about these educators who are committed to social justice in their classrooms and watch videos of their teaching. 

• ED GRANTS TEACHER EVALUATION WAIVER. ED has granted Maryland a one-year waiver allowing the state to use test scores as part of teacher evaluations for one more year. Learn more (Bowie, Baltimore Sun).

• NATURAL ENERGY LITERACY. Most Americans don’t know where their electricity comes from (coal) and cannot name a fossil fuel. To address the challenge of energy illiteracy, ED is hosting a virtual conversation of ongoing efforts from across the country utilizing the Energy Literacy Framework August at 3 pm ET. The webinar will also include a discussion on how to engage diverse young learners on the energy issue. Learn more.

Emerging Research


From Soup to Nuts

A pair of reports from the New America Foundation examines exit exams and early education.

 Beyond “Subprime Learning”: Accelerating Progress in Early Education presents a series of recommendations including: revamping state teaching licenses to make sure that all PreK-3 teachers have the knowledge and skills to teach young children successfully; creating Head Start 2.0 by streamlining Head Start standards; experimenting with Head Start grants to states that meet criteria for quality and access using a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge model, making stronger linkages between Head Start and programs housed in the U.S. Department of Education serving similar children; and applying the Pell Grant model to increase access for low-income families and high-quality early child care.

 The Case Against Exit Exams argues that states should reconsider the use of exit exams because of the risk of weakening the intent of the Common Core and undermining efforts to increase rigor, build stronger curricula and authentically evaluate students’ post-secondary readiness.

open book

Recommended Reading

• "THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT PEOPLE FEAR." In this Q&A, charter school founder Ravi Gupta offers insights into his experience starting Nashville Prep. He provides useful commentary about why charter schools can sometimes solve problems that stymie traditional public schools and describes why some public charters do well when others fail. Read his interview with the Hechinger Report's Kayleigh Skinner. Gupta tells her, "We are the opposite of what people fear."

• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM. After conducting an analysis of PISA data, researchers Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann argue that it's not just poor kids who lag in essential skills. "When viewed from a global perspective, U.S. schools seem to do as badly teaching those from better-educated families as they do teaching those from less well educated families," they write. Read the article (Education Next).

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

Arne Duncan speaks with an educator during a school visit.

Top 5 Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. "Education policy is like a bowl of fruit. There is just too much in the bowl." (Teacher, Vt.)

4. "We teachers are a profession. We are becoming much more involved in driving the profession." (Teacher, Texas)

3. “The first paragraph of the Constitution states that America will provide ‘justice’ and ‘promote the general welfare.’ I don’t think our education is promoting the general welfare, and there is no justice when there’s a 20% difference in high school graduation rates, depending on your race. …This is our generation’s Million Man March.” (Teacher, San Jose, Calif.)

2. On how to recruit good students to be teachers: "Change the standards that folks need to get into education programs. I didn't have to do anything at all to get into education at my school." (Future Teacher, Ohio)

1. “I get tired of hearing people say every child can learn. You have to say, every child will learn and make it a priority.” (Principal, Tenn.)