THE TEACHERS EDITION -- August 22, 2014

The Teachers Edition

August 22, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

Panel discussion at Jefferson

Arne Duncan held a conversation about testing and evaluation with teachers at Jefferson Academy, in Southwest Washington, D.C. Educators with Duncan are pictured left to right: Teaching Ambassador Fellow Emily Davis (St. Johns, Fla.), STEM/special education teacher Suraj Gopal (New York, N.Y.), Jefferson Academy Principal Natalie Gordon, Jefferson Academy humanities teacher Rochelle Collins, and DCPS elementary teaching coach Meghan Dunne. DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson has the microphone.

Listening to Teachers on Testing

In a room packed with teachers from District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Arne Duncan took on a tough subject this week: testing. Describing anxieties he has heard from teachers who fear new tests being used too soon in teacher evaluations, Duncan announced that any state that would like more time may have another year before tying scores on brand new tests to educator evaluations. "We think many states will want to take that [time] pressure off of teachers," he said. Later he reminded them, "How you use this year is critical." 

During a panel discussion that followed, humanities teacher Rochelle Collins expressed relief that DCPS has decided to take a year before using scores from new PARCC assessments on teacher evaluations. She said educators in the district "are really fortunate to have a year to have that flexibility" to work on the "learning curve" that inevitably comes with new standards and assessments. 

Echoing what he has heard from teachers over the last six months, Duncan also spoke about frustration with how tests have been layered on top of one another by states and districts, leading to over-testing. Speaking about the students at Jefferson Academy, Duncan said, "I don't want them to spend all of their time taking tests," and he insisted that no teacher, no student, no district, and no school "should be defined by a test score." 

Teaching coach Meghan Dunne agreed and said she is concerned that educators seem to be building testing systems "on the fly," with out thinking them through. DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who also spoke at the event, agreed that decisions around testing need to be made "based on thought and reason, not on rhetoric and heat."

View a video of Duncan's remarks. Read Mokoto Rich's (NY Times) story about the testing announcement. Read Duncan's recent blog, where he describes how "testing issues are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools." Review Teaching Ambassador Fellow Maddie Fennell's take on the announcement (EdWeek). 

Teacher Michael Towne

Teacher and Fishman Prize winner Michael Towne


Into the AP Breach

In an effort to increase access to college-preparatory courses, ED announced Tuesday that it is awarding $28.4 million in grants to 40 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands to help low-income students pay AP exam fees. The grants aim to encourage low-income students and those without a legacy of college attendance to take AP exams, and to complete college.

When combined with other existing subsidies, the grants could reduce some students’ obligation from $100 to $18. Learn more. Listen to the press call with Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle, teacher and Fishman Prize winner Michael Towne, and Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Thomas Bice

Mr. Towne, who has been teaching since 2001, brought physics to rural Citrus Hill High School, about an hour east of Los Angeles, Calif. At the time of his arrival, only 41 students were enrolled in physics and none in engineering. He responded by developing a new physics and engineering program from scratch, increasing enrollment to over 350 students in eight years while maintaining the highest standardized test scores for any subject in the district. Last year, an astonishing 26% of the Mexican-American students who passed the AP Physics Electricity & Magnetism exam in the entire state of California came from his classroom.

teacher outside with students


Drink it Up

National Geographic is offering teachers free professional development courses this fall. Learn about water as a resource and how to facilitate learning through outdoor watershed education. These online programs allow teachers to teach environmental education in the classroom and develop action plans. Bonus: They can be applied towards professional development requirements. More information

FLOW Education: Facilitating Learning through Outdoor Watershed Education - September 17– October 29. This course is designed for classroom teachers of grades 4-9 to learn about watersheds and outdoor education using the Chesapeake Bay watershed as an example. Sign up for this course

Water: The Essential Resource - October 15–December 17. This course focuses on both ocean and freshwater subjects and provides strategies for teaching environmental topics in grades 4-8. Sign up for this course

Deeper Learning Video Series


Rolling in the Deep

The Teaching Channel is offering a 50+ video series that showcases what can happen when the Common Core is approached with innovative teaching models that emphasize real-world experience, academic mindsets, and collaborative project work. 

The collection is useful for helping students think critically and communicate powerfully about their learning and who they are becoming in the world. Series commentators Carol Dweck, Kathleen Cushman and Milton Chen share how the new standards are fundamentally changing outcomes in education. Learn more

Common Core Connections

CORE RESEARCH. The Center on Education Policy has published A Compendium of Research on the Common Core State Standards, by Matthew Frizzell. The research includes over 60 studies focused on the Common Core State Standards and encompasses research from multiple sources, such as government entities, independent organizations, and peer-reviewed publications from academic journals and other outlets. The compendium includes files specifically for teacher preparation, teaching and professional development, and testing and assessment. Learn more.

RANGEFINDING: LESS WONKY THAN YOU THINK. Ohio teacher Brian Shimko explains the concept of rangefinding, which involves looking at student samples from field tests and determining what scores they would receive based on a rubric. Shimko reports that his experience rangefinding for the new PARCC assessments allowed him and other teachers to have a "real influence on how test scorers would score each of these questions" and that "it debunked the idea that many in education have that teachers don’t have a part in the state testing process." Learn more

IN STUYVESANT, SCORE ONE FOR THE CORE. A recent NY Daily News editorial describes two lessons that can be taken from the newest Common Core test results. The first: "more kids are learning."  Read about the second lesson.

Katie Brown with Bill Gates


Ms. Brown Schools Mr. Gates

Washington Teacher of the Year Katie Brown talks with Bill Gates about huge shifts taking place in professional learning among teachers in this terrific video embedded in an article by Gates. "Once a staff and a leader in a building or a principal commits to giving teachers time in their school day to actually work on instruction, when teachers are granted that time to collaborate" Brown says, "it immediately transforms the culture." Learn what her school does so that everyone in the school learns from each other.

"I've always believed that for every nonreader, there is a book just waiting to be discovered."

Greg Neri in "How Author G. Neri and Librarian Kimberly DeFusco Changed a Life" (School Library Journal).

Quote to Note

Pie chart indicating that 49.8% of students are White, 25% are Latino, 15% are Black and 5% are Asian or Pacific Islanders


Demographic Shift

NCES is projecting that minority students will, for the first time this year, outnumber a historical white majority in American public schools. The figures are no surprise, as they reflect years of shifting demographics in the U.S., and are largely driven by the growing number of Hispanic children, the Associated Press reports. 

Learn more (Hefling, AP).

None of the Above report cover



None of the Above

Educators 4 Excellence have released a policy report written by a body of New York teachers about better ways to approach testing and assessment. Recommendations from the report center of improving the accuracy and design of tests, creating a positive culture in schools, and using data gleaned to improve instruction and make critical decisions. 

Download the report.

P Chat

Principal Chat

VIEWING SCHOOL THROUGH A STUDENT SCOPE. The Standford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) has created an online toolkit to help schools learn ways to implement student-centered practices in their own schools and classrooms. The tool includes features of student-centered schools, video examples of student-centered practices and reflection questions for educators to use when integrating practices in their classrooms and school-wide.

ON BETTER, MORE CANDID OBSERVATIONS. In “If You Thought I Was Perfect, You Weren’t Paying Attention,” author Shawn Blankenship points out that "great teachers feel slightly disappointed and somewhat unappreciated with a perfect evaluation." Learn why and discover how to sharpen your observation skills and provide feedback that helps teachers grow (Connected Principals).

GUIDANCE ABOUT THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS AT THE BORDER. ED has been receiving inquiries regarding the educational services available for the unaccompanied children from Central America who have recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. To help educational leaders understand the responsibilities of states and districts in connection with the humanitarian crisis on the border, ED and other agencies have produced a fact sheet. The fact sheet describes the existing resources available to help educate all immigrant students and contains frequently asked questions.

TAF and PAF news

MADDIE FENNELL (2013 and 2014 Classroom Fellow) has been filling in as a guest columnist for Rick Hess's "Straight Up" at EdWeek. Check out her piece calling education stakeholders to take a whole-systems approach to education reform instead of focusing on teachers and teaching.

Students' Corner

Tools for Students

APPLYING TO COLLEGE FOR LESS. According to the College Board, college applications will cause fewer financial headaches for low-income students starting this fall. For those who qualify to take the SAT for free, College Board is doling out up to four college application fee waivers. More than 2,000 colleges - a mix of public, private, two- and four-year institutions - are participating. Here's a breakdown of the participating colleges by state. Some of the colleges on the list already don't charge application fees.

MOVIN' ON UP. The move from middle school to high school is exciting for some students, but can be incredibly difficult for others. Some students require intensive support to stay on the path to graduation. Read about what students had to say about their experience in a recent conversation with Arne Duncan at ED in this blog (Ryan, Homeroom).



Good Stuff for Eduwonks

KICK-STARTING PRESCHOOL Applications are now available for preschool development grants, a new, $250 million federal program that will support states to build, develop, and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for children from low- and moderate-income families. Review the fact sheet.

TO THE LETTER. Those interested in key policy letters from the U.S. Secretary of Education or the Deputy Secretary can access them can on this page of ED's website.

RESPECT teaching

States to Watch

Check out what five states are doing to engage educators in shaping  evaluation, feedback and support systems. 

Denver Public Schools (Colorado) avoided the “happy talk” that often undermines credibility with its “keep-it-real” communications campaign, and focused on successes and challenges. Union leaders and teachers from evaluation pilot programs traveled to other schools to articulate first-hand experiences, an effort that led to 92 percent of schools joining the pilot evaluation program.

Hillsborough County (Florida) created educator advisory panels and surveyed teachers (“pulse checks”) to assess their understanding of and attitudes toward the evaluation and support system. The district is using this feedback to adjust communications with teachers via e-magazines and podcasts, publish updates to address confusion and efficiently solve technical problems with the system.

Illinois proactively engaged two statewide teachers’ unions through early discussion and advisory roles to co-create its teacher evaluation, feedback and support system. And the state worked with the nonprofit Teach Plus to organize several feedback forums.

New Haven Public Schools (Connecticut) teachers are helping craft the educator evaluation and support system, which has been held up as a model of labor-management collaboration. A teacher’s overall evaluation is based on classroom observations (conducted by peers or administrators) and student learning goals (including student assessment data) that teachers set with their supervisors.

Tennessee set up an online rapid response system to answer questions about the new teacher evaluation and support system. The department fielded up to 75 questions a day and responded within 48 hours.

Learn more. Check out details in Engaging Educators: A Reform Support Network Guide for States and Districts.

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• TEACHER TRENDS. In a recently released report Richard Ingersoll, Lisa Merrill and Daniel Stuckey update information from their 2012 report on shifts taking place in the teaching profession. The updated report, Seven Trends, the Transformation of the Teaching Force, discusses whether earlier trends that they reported have continued since the economic downturn began in 2008. Their new findings indicate that the profession is leveling, and that the number of teachers in private schools has grown faster than in public schools, despite a sharp decrease in students enrolled in private schools. 

In the 2012 report, Ingersoll and Merrill  previously reported about shifts in the teaching force from 1987 to 2008, including the ballooning, greening, and diversifying of the profession, as well as the profession becoming less stable and employing fewer males. 

• THREADING THE NEEDLE OF PLANNING FOR DIVERSE LEARNERS. Student advocate John McCarthy explores how teachers differentiate instruction, focusing on what teachers can do to tailor the product, process and content to the needs of students. Learn more in this Edutopia series.

  FOOD FOR THOUGHT. Maryland teacher Ann McCallum has published her second in a series of cookbooks for elementary students. This one is called Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds. McCallum's books are meant to reinforce lessons in math and science through cooking recipes at home. Learn more (McEwan, Maryland Community Gazette).

• TIME OUT. Teacher Tracy Mercier offers practical advice about how to use timeout effectively, not as a way to shame or blame, but to teach students to self-regulate their behavior. Read her piece (Responsive Classroom).

• ARE TEACHERS THE "DIVERGENTS" OF OUR TIME? In this recent speech, Cheryl Redfield characterizes the teachers of today as divergents, people who seek to change the system and threaten the status quo. Redfield argues that teachers have the answers to our most pervasive challenges. Learn more (Stories from School).

• ALL IN. Teacher Larry Ferlazzo offers sound strategies to engage the whole class in learning. Read his advice (EdWeek).

Emerging Research

TEACHING CC CONTENT TO ENGLISH LEARNERS. In Educational Testing Service's 23rd issue of R&D Connections, the authors discuss the role language plays when teaching content to the growing population of English-language learners. The authors contend that teaching the Common Core will impact all students, but especially English-language learners, demanding more of content teachers who need to be aware of the role of language in teaching content. Download the abstract or the full report

 YOUR FEEDBACK ON EDUCATION RESEARCH IS NEEDED. The Institute of Education Sciences invites suggestions and feedback on the work of its two research centers: the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research. It welcomes written comments on three topics in particular: 

  • the characteristics of education and special education studies that have had the most influence on policy and practice, and the lessons these studies offer for future work; 
  • critical problems or issues on which new research is needed; 
  • recommendations on how to target research funding to do the most good for the field.

Learn more and submit your suggestions

open book

Recommended Reading

FROM "LOSERS TO LEADERS." Great story by Michael Towne about a Florida principal who rebranded his failing dropout prevention program as a leadership development program designed to help others succeed in school. At first, the students invited were confused about why they were being tapped as leaders. However, the process drew them out, enabled them to share their difficulties and solutions for students with similar problems. The result? "They were being listened to by the highest authorities they knew," writes Towne. "They had a purpose. A voice. Everything had changed." Read the story (EdWeek).

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

Leslie Ross, Greensboro, NC

Top 5 Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5."The best professional development is rooted in a community of inquiry." (Teacher, Hawaii)

4. Reflecting on having no budget for science labs or materials in her high-needs school: "You cannot continue to label schools as priority schools and not make them a priority." (Teacher, Greensboro, N.C.)

3. “I have a teacher friend who switched to teaching in high-income schools and before she left she said, ‘I need to find out if I’m burned out on teaching, or on being in high-needs classrooms.’” (Teacher, San Jose, Calif.)

2. "Theoretically, STEAM might be a good idea. But as a music specialist, I hate feeling like I have to fit into STEM to be valued. Music has value on its own." (Teacher, N.H.)

1. "Teacher leadership is not a contradiction in terms. You can be both and be both simultaneously." (Teacher, Md.)