THE TEACHERS EDITION -- November 13, 2014

The Teachers Edition

November 13, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

Elise Patterson writing on whiteboard

“I see how much of a change you can make on a day-to-day basis with individual students,” said Elise Patterson, an English teacher at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C. “Instead of quantity being the measure of how much you’re working with students, [it’s] more about quality.” 


The View from Ms. Patterson's Class

These are times of profound changes in education, and teachers like Elise Patterson are the force behind major progress in the classroom. She’s doing what she loves to do – helping students succeed. In this video, learn how she’s doing it, and see what the push for higher standards looks like through her eyes and the experience of one of her students.

Teach to Lead Update

Teaching and Leading

Check out the latest stories of teacher leadership posted on the Teach to Lead site.

  • Literacy Leadership Across the Curriculum. Serving in a hybrid role, Kentucky teacher Sarah Yost created cross-curricular literacy training that dramatically improved the students’ reading skill.
  • Transforming Student Relationships. As a teacher leader in his school, Chicago, Ill., teacher George Mueller helped initiate his school’s transition to Smaller Learning Communities that transformed relationships among students and teachers.

WHO'S IN. 53 organizations have joined as supporters of the Teach to Lead initiative. The latest include Generation Ready and Teaching Matters.  

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Getting Excellent Educators 

Where They are Needed Most

This week Secretary Duncan announced guidance and resources to help states create plans that ensure all students – especially students of color and students from low-income families – have access to excellent educators. 

The Department is especially focused on the requirement that states consult with educators in developing their plans and determining the root causes of gaps in access to great teachers. 

Learn more (Klein, EdWeek). Download guidance to states.


Uncovering the Stories Behind School Dropouts

Nationwide, roughly 500,000 students drop out of high school each year. These students are disproportionately students of color, low-income — and male. Though graduation rates among such students are rising — often as a result of significant efforts from both educators and community groups — many students of color and low-income students continue to achieve far below their potential and gradually disengage from school. The Education Trust’s latest paper, Butterflies in the Hallway, digs underneath the numbers to describe, in searing detail, the often-gradual process of school disengagement.

Blue Ribbon discussion


Honoring Blue Ribbon Excellence

“We celebrate Blue Ribbon Schools for their tireless effort and boundless creativity in reaching and teaching every student," Secretary Arne Duncan said as he recognized the 340 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools. Teachers and principals at ED held roundtable sessions with the winners to gain their perspective on pressing challenges in education, and Sean McComb, an inspired high school English teacher at Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts in Baltimore and the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, was the featured speaker. Watch as Duncan challenges the winners to become “engines of innovation – galvanizing others to transform their schools as well and learn from [their] example.” 

CHANGE MAKERS. As part of the Blue Ribbon Schools Program, eight principals from the 2014 Blue Ribbon Schools received the Terrel H. Bell Award for outstanding work in fostering successful teaching and learning. The award, named after the former secretary of education, honors leaders who have overcome challenging circumstances to provide an excellent education for every student. Great principals “inspire their teachers and have a positive impact on instructional practices that lead to improved learning outcomes,” Secretary Duncan said.


Why We Need Education Conversations in Rural Communities

One in five Americans live, work, and learn in rural communities. Yet rural places sometimes seem to play a far smaller role in conversations about improving education – a situation that must change, Secretary Arne Duncan said when he addressed the Rural Education National Forum on October 31 in Ohio. He acknowledged that rural places face tremendous challenges – access to resources, attracting and retaining the best teachers, and challenges around technology. 

STEM education is another challenge. According to Alexandra Ossola in The Atlantic, however, administrators from a consortium of rural communities have found new ways to make STEM classes better for teachers and students, both through their own ingenuity and by reaching out to other organizations. As Duncan acknowledged, rural communities are making tremendous progress. “The narrative of rural education is being rewritten,” he said. Learn more 

Read about  "The Forgotten Struggles of Rural Schools" in EdWeek (Bo Wang). The writer puts the challenges of rural schools in perspective and takes a look at what rural communities are doing to fill their pipeline of strong teachers. 

P Chat

Principal Chat

LESSONS FROM THE SHADOWS. Denisa Superville offers this in-depth report about lessons ED staff learned while shadowing principals during Principal Appreciation Month (EdWeek). Arne Duncan followed a principal at a Washington, D.C. high school. According to the principal, Duncan got to try his hand at the school's morning ritual: collecting cell phones from more than 1,000 students before class.

Did you know?


Attending a two-year for-profit institution costs a student four times as much as attending a community college.

From "What You Need to Know About New Rules to Protect Students from Poor-Performing Career College Programs" (Muňoz The White House Blog). Learn more about ED's new gainful employment rules that protect students at career colleges from becoming burdened by student loan debt they cannot repay. ED has issued regulations to ensure that these institutions improve their outcomes for students -- or risk losing access to federal student aid.

elements of character


Getting Into Character 

Educators tuned into how non-cognitive factors affect student success will be interested in checking out the resources available for teaching the essentials of character at Character Lab. The site provides resources to skills like curiosity, grit, optimism and research.

Common Core Connections

"WHAT COMMON CORE DID TO MY MATH CLASSROOM." Teacher Brooke Powers answers that in an interesting blog about how her teaching changed after she moved to Kentucky, a Common Core state. Bottom line, her classroom will never be the same. Read the article (Powersful Math).

WHAT'S NEXT FOR MATH AND THE COMMON CORE? In this EdWeek interview, math and Common Core gurus Phil Daro and Jason Zimba offer substantive insights into how the Common Core should be changing math instruction. They weigh in on a number of important topics, including the kinds of textbooks produced, the professional learning teachers need, and how the new standards should influence teacher preparation (Tucker). Here's an excerpt about professional development (Daro): 

"To a degree, in a somewhat confused way, I see more professional development dedicated to math content now. I do see teachers, middle school and below, who are interested in learning more math and talking openly about wanting to learn more math. It's less clear that's true at high school level. But workshops are not the way to approach this challenge. The way to do it is the way the Asians have done it. It is called lesson study in Japan, and goes by other names in other countries. It has to do with the way the work of the school is organized."


“Every good teaching idea becomes a bad idea the moment it hardens into orthodoxy.”

Robert Pondiscio, How to Kill Reading Achievement” (Education Gadfly)

Quote to Note


Feedback on Funding Game-Changing Evaluations 

ED is soliciting ideas on which high-priority, high-leverage evaluations it should fund in order to help drive major improvements in P-12 education. 

In particular, the agency is interested in hearing about which evaluation questions would provide information that students, parents, educators, policymakers and other stakeholders could use to improve strategies, programs and services for students. Educators who are interested can read about and respond to this opportunity with recommendations due by December 1. Learn more (Homeroom).

TAF and PAF news

AARON BREDENKAMP (2012 Classroom Fellow), who is now the dean of students at Westside High School (Omaha, Neb.) has been recognized as an Emerging Leader by PDK International, a global association of education professionals. His philosophy: “I feel it is essential that we personalize learning to help all of our students find success.”  



An i3 Record!

At the University of North Carolina campus in Greensboro, Secretary Duncan announced the 26 highest-rated applications for grants under this year’s $129 million Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, aimed at developing innovative approaches to improve student achievement and replicating effective strategies across the nation. These potential grantees -- representing 14 states and the District of Columbia -- must secure matching funds by December 10 in order to receive program funding. 

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• FIRST CLASS VETERAN AND TEACHER. The Teachers at ED love this profile of former colonel and veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan David Oclander. Oclander has brought lessons from the battlefield into his classroom in Chicago (Ill.). “I’ve failed so many times I’ve stopped counting,” he tells a student who is thinking of dropping out. “Failing doesn’t define you. If you define yourself by a snapshot in time, you are shortchanging yourself. You’re all going to college. You all have the potential.” Read the story taken from excerpts of Oclander's memoir (Parade).

• WHY SCHOOLS NEED LIBRARIANS. This video produced by the California State Library Association offers insights into the important work of school librarians, who teach students to be smart about using information. Teacher librarian Connie Williams compares her work teaching information literacy to a crossing guard teaching students to be safe looking both ways before crossing a street. On the Internet, she says, "looking both ways includes looking at the source, looking at the credibility, looking at the accuracy and looking at the reliability."

• AMERICAN EDUCATION WEEK (November 16-22) celebrates teachers and school staff. The week’s tagline, “Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility,” is a call for all Americans to do their part in making public schools great for every child. Learn more.

 EDU-SUPERSTAR KAHN. Vanity Fair has published Arne Duncan’s profile of Sal Kahn whose family tutorial sparked a You Tube channel with 400 million views and is changing the way kids learn. Read his article.

open book

Recommended Reading


This article is about an epiphany that Peter Bergson had when he was teaching in the 1970s, one that led him to understand that learning is primarily about "creating understanding." The revelation eventually prompted him to create the Open Connections center to "nourish and extend the connection-making abilities of young people and families." The piece offers five guiding principles for educators and other ideas about extending learning through partnership (Vangelova, Mind/Shift). 

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

teacher speaking during leadership roundtable

Top 5 Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. Reflecting on the autonomy her principal gives teachers in her school: "She tells us, 'There is one mountain, but many paths." (Teacher, Ark.)

4. "It makes me sad that some teachers are timid about changes happening in education. In ten years, we are all going to be saying, 'Why didn't we do this a long time ago?'" (Special Education Teacher, Indianapolis, Ind.)

3. "My VAM [value added measurement] score tells me much more about my teaching circumstances than it does about my teaching." (Teacher, Ga.)

2. "You have to have a passion for this job. Not everyone can do this work." (Principal, Va.)

1. "When you work in a culture of excellence, you really stand out if you don't believe in excellence." (Principal, Ark.)