TEACHERS EDITION -- March 19, 2015

The Teachers Edition

March 19, 2015  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

Teach to Lead video screen shot

This video, played at the Teaching and Learning opening plenary session, features teachers describing the work of Teach to Lead and the impact it has had on them. 


"If There is No Seat at the Table, Make your Own Table"

When Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the Teach to Lead initiative at last year's Teaching and Learning Conference, he asked educators to hold him accountable for making progress. This blog by Nebraska teacher Maddie Fennell details what teacher leaders have accomplished through Teach to Lead, and she provides highlights of Duncan's report-out at this year's conference. In his remarks, Duncan encouraged teachers,"If there is no seat at the table, make your own table."

Duncan also participated in a panel discussion with teachers who have attended the Teach to Lead Summits, including Lesley HagelgansJennifer Aponte, Chris Todd, and Geneviève DeBose.

“I was hopeful [about teacher leadership] last year," he told the crowd of 3,500+ attendees. "I am convinced we are onto something really important and special now. Change has to come from teachers who own it and lead it.” 



Atwell Captures Global Teaching Prize

It was a high-stakes contest, but ultimately Nancie Atwell, a writing teacher from Edgecomb, Maine, took home the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for teaching. Atwell was one of ten finalists, along with two other Americans,  Naomi Volain (Springfield, Mass.) and Stephen Ritz (New York, N.Y.). 

One of the judges said Atwell’s teaching "transcends buzzwords and trends, it is very thoughtfully grounded, prioritizing the work learners need to do in order to become autonomous critical thinkers. What's even more impressive is that she's created an institution and framework through which to share it with other teachers." 

But Atwell maintains her humble beginnings. "Don’t introduce me by talking about all the books I wrote," she has said. "Just tell [teachers] I was in the classroom yesterday, like they were.”  

Read more about Atwell who started teaching in 1973, authored nine books and founded the Center for Teaching and Learning, an independent demonstration school to experiment with teaching methods for students in kindergarten through eighth grade (Toppo, USA Today).

parcc report


Teachers Walk Through the PARCC

Most teachers see PARCC as an improvement over previous tests, according to a report from Teach Plus1,000 Teachers Examine PARCC: Perspectives on the Quality of New Assessments and authors  Mark Teoh, Susan Volbrecht and Michael Savoy.

The organization surveyed more than 1,000 teachers after a day of professional development about the PARCC tests. Five interesting findings emerged:

FINDING #1: Teachers believe that PARCC is a better assessment than their prior state tests.

FINDING #2: Teachers find clear alignment between PARCC and what they are teaching.

FINDING #3: While the majority believe PARCC measures skills needed to be college- and career-ready, teachers are mixed on whether the test is grade-appropriate or too challenging.

FINDING #4: Teachers find the English Language Arts assessment strongly aligns to the key instructional shifts of the CCSS but may require knowledge students don’t yet have.

FINDING #5: Teachers find the math questions cognitively demanding and balanced among concepts, procedures and application, though they want to see additional questions that increase the assessment's rigor.

still from "Word Crimes"

In his new video, Weird Al Yankovic reminds viewers that when they use single letters to represent the "be, see, are" and "you," they are guilty of serious word crimes.


Quirky Inspiration for Grammar Geeks 

(and their Students)

In this wonderful video for teachers and students, Weird Al Yankovic and his band spin art and visuals to remind us "It's a good time to learn some grammar." Watch this when you or your students need a stretch break or a reason to set the test prep aside. 

Not only do his examples provide great ways to ease into a review of English language usage rules, truly hardcore teachers can use the video to examine the filmmaker's purpose.

Teach to Lead update

A Leader of Leaders

Check out this profile of Corona-Norco, Calif., Superintendent Michael Lin, who has been recognized as a leader who develops leaders. Education reporter Stephen Sawchuk says that this former engineer turns the tired old phrase "building leadership capacity" into a meaningful practice. Teachers and principals say Lin understands the importance of teacher leadership, that he "gets it" (EdWeek).

Raeford teacher

Editor's note: The following is part of a series reporting on excellent African American educators. Educators were selected by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.


Celebrating African American Educators

James Raeford is a retired Army Sergeant who teaches JROTC at William A. Hough High School in Cornelius, N.C.

Why and how did you decide upon a career in education?

I decided to pursue a career in education after retiring from the Army. I had served several years as an Army Instructor and thought I could use my experience as a teacher for the Army to help shape America’s most precious commodity, young high school students.

What is the one thing you most celebrate about your students?

I really celebrate the fact that my students are eager to learn and the willingness to serve others in their school and in their community.

 In what ways do you encourage parents, family members, and other caring adults to support the learning and development of African American students?

In my community, at church or at the golf course, no matter where I am, I talk up education and share some of my experiences and needs of our African American students. I also try to model the need of parent involvement by sharing how I’m actively involved in my grandchildrens' education.

NYC teacher


Floored by Students

Want to see educators who are truly inspired by their students? Watch this two minute video from America Achieves with Upstate New York principal Francine Leggett and New York City teacher Amber Peterson telling stories about the independent thinking their students bring to the classroom. 

Their students are gaining critical thinking skills because of the teachers' and schools' higher standards.  


"Comparability" Loophole Revealed

Secretary Duncan has been working to raise awareness about the "Title I comparability loophole" that results in large spending gaps between rich and poor schools. Duncan said that as Congress rewrites ESEA, he wants them to close a federal loophole that permits wealthier schools to receive more funding than needier schools. Read more (Klein, EdWeek).

The Title I provision intended to provide extra resources for high-poverty schools has this loophole, which allows districts to mask spending disparities between schools. Instead of comparing actual school-level expenditures, districts may calculate adjusted per-pupil expenditure figures for each school based on average teacher salaries rather than using actual salary expenditures in each school. This results in inequitable resource distribution within school districts. Put simply, it makes it easier for schools to use funds earmarked for poor students in schools where there is less need.

According to a report, Comparable but Unequal: School Funding Disparities, from the Center for American Progress, “Federal law explicitly prohibits districts from calculating comparability using actual expenditures. Instead, it chooses to treat teachers as interchangeable widgets” (Hanna, Marchitello and Brown).

Did you know?


Twenty states strengthened their state proficiency standards since 2011, while just 8 loosened them. 

(From the sixth in a series of reports that grade state proficiency standards on the traditional A-to-F scale used to evaluate students from Education Next.)

P Chat

Principal Chat

GROWING GREAT LEADERS. In this National Association of Independent Schools interview, Michael Brosnan taps organizational expert and author Jim Collins about the qualities needed to be a strong school leader. Collins explains, "If I were to pick the most compelling of the social sectors, it would be education. I happen to believe that the single most important investment we can make as a society is to get as many kids as possible to a strong starting point for adult life by the end of high school." 

RECIPROCAL LEARNING. Overcoming her fears, Principal Melissa Fink blogs about her visit to ED and the opportunity to learn from others around her. Fink is featured in ED's video about her school, The View from Jones Elementary School (Springdale, Ark.).

Common Core Connections

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Colorado teachers can breathe a sigh of relief as initial apprehension gives way to understanding the new PARCC English language arts and math tests, and align instruction and learning for PARCC 2016. Read more (Sutton, Denver Post Opinion).

READ METhe Bat Boy and His Violin, One Crazy Summer, My Man Blue and more. Authors Fenice Boyd, Lauren Causey and Lee Glada offer teachers great suggestions for culturally diverse literature that addresses Common Core standards in this Reading Teacher article.

DON'T FIGHT. DON'T SWITCH. Instead of fighting about Common Core standards and blaming them for a variety of problems, this editorial argues that teachers and parents should do their homework and focus on helping students meet and exceed those standards (Seattle Times). 


"The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain. In the same way, we need diversity – in teams, organizations, and society as a whole – if we are to change, grow, and innovate… This is how diversity works: by promoting hard work and creativity; by encouraging the consideration of alternatives even before any interpersonal interaction takes place."

(Katherine Phillips in “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” (Scientific American).

Quote to Note

Graphic showing growth by demographic groups


Data Worth Braggin' On

New grad rate data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that the gap between minority and white students is closing. These are positive signs toward the goals of ensuring every student has the opportunity to succeed and closing the gap between minority and white students.

Graduation rates for black and Hispanic students increased by nearly four percentage points from 2011 to 2013, outpacing the growth for all students in the nation. Between 2010-11 and 2012-13, the graduation rates for American Indian, black, and Hispanic students increased by nearly four percentage points over two years, outpacing the growth for all students. Learn more. Check out the data.

Students' Corner

Tools for Students

#COLLEGEOPPORTUNITY. Too many students are graduating from college feeling burdened by their student loan debt. That’s why President Obama has proposed this new Student Aid Bill of Rights that outlines actions the Administration will take to make paying for higher education easier and fairer. Read more. Take the pledge for a Student and Borrower Bill of Rights because "higher education is the door to a future of your own making. No American – regardless of their background or station in life – should be priced out of the education they want and need."  

TAF and PAF news

KAREEN BORDERS (2011 Classroom Fellow and 2012 Regional Fellow): In her new role as Director of Assessment and Professional Learning at Olympic Educational Service District 114, Borders is the principal investigator on a recently awarded Math and Science Partnership grant, Olympic STEM Pathways Partnership. The partnership brings together researchers, non-profits, business, K12 and more. The three-year program will engage teachers from the most western point on the contiguous United States and include tribal schools, military communities and rural populations in an effort to support STEM Teacher leadership and a partnership with the University of Washington. 

Hope Street Logo


Teacher Leadership Opportunity

A Hope Street fellowship is the chance for outstanding teachers from across the country to elevate their voices and have a meaningful impact on education policy. Hope Street Group (HSG) National Teacher Fellows collaborate with local and state leaders, as well as their colleagues, to develop strategic, practical solutions that address public policy challenges in education. 

Teacher Fellows stay in their classrooms full-time and work with HSG 15-20 hours each month. They receive a $5,000 stipend for the twelve-month fellowship. Find the application and more information here. Applications are due by Friday, April 3.


Cross-Cultural Communication

MINNESOTA HMONG US. It's been 40 years since the Hmong people first began arriving in Minnesota. Today, the state boasts the second-largest Hmong population in the nation. Learn more about a new exhibit at the Minnesota History Center that fills you in on ten things about Hmong culture, food, and language you probably didn't know.

GET SMART. Interested in some Fast Facts about the Asian/Pacific Islander community? Check out this free fact sheet from ED’s Office of English Language Acquisition. It highlights information on the languages spoken by English Learners from the Asian/Pacific Islander community.

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• WIRED OR NOT. In this View from the Chalkboard essay, fifth grade teacher Ryan J. Schaefer reflects on reading in the electronic age. He confronts his emotional response to getting tablets in his classroom.

• GETTING GOOD JOBS. School districts and partner organizations from communities in the Midwest met in Chicago to discuss current innovations and practices for college access and completion. Led by Greg Darnieder, senior advisor for college access to Secretary Duncan at the “On Track to College Completion” forum, the blog by David Carson and Janice Hawkins explains ways they shared ideas and made connections.  

• CALL FOR NOMINATIONS. The UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize for Outstanding Practice and Performance in Enhancing the Effectiveness of Teachers recognizes initiatives that contribute to improving educational practices around the world, with priority given to developing countries and to marginalized and disadvantaged communities. The $300,000 prize will be equally divided between three winners whose projects aim at improving worldwide the performance and effectiveness of teachers. To submit a nomination, download the guide, the application and nomination form and submit by Oct. 31. 

• WATCH FOR GOOD WEATHER. From weather patterns and food chains, to human society's daily electricity and heating needs, energy drives everything. See these processes come to life in a new video series that highlights the seven Energy Literacy Principles. Videos will soon be available in Spanish on YouTube.

WEBINAR TODAY. A free webinar from Library of Congress and Teaching Tolerance that helps teachers identify bias and perspective when teaching about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is taking place today, March 19 at 4 p.m. EDT. Register for the third hour-long webinar now.

• FIRST IN STEM CLASS. STEMJobs released a new professional development classroom training series to help teachers learn to create a classroom environment in which students feel comfortable studying STEM topics. Check out the videos and free lesson plans and teacher guidebook teachers can get when they sign up. 


Accessible Television Portal 

for Children with Unique Learning Needs

The digital age has made it possible for children with visual or hearing disabilities to be able to watch shows like Ocean Mysteries, Magic School Bus, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and more. Thanks to the Department of Education's Accessible Television Portal project, teachers and school personnel, parents, and other professionals working with qualified students can visit www.dcmp.org and apply for access to the portal. Learn more.

poster womens history


Female Power

Women have always played an important role in the progress of our nation. From fighting for civil rights to advancing the field of science, the contributions of women are recognized every March during Women’s History Month. The Teachers Edition will feature teaching resources to support this year's Women’s History Month throughout March.

SING ON. Women musicians and songwriters have succeeded in the music business on their own terms, often in genres traditionally dominated by men. Learn more about Women Breaking Musical Barriers in this Smithsonian Folkways article.

STAY HOME, GIRLS. Some folks said, "There would be nothing like this happen if you would stay at home." But the women suffragists marched at the Capital Parade in 1913. Learn more

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

Principals at ED

Top 5 Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. "It's time to start moving schools forward and stop worrying about the past." (Teacher, Iowa)

4. “The power of teacher leadership is truly important. It’s spreading like wild-fire. It was amazing to see that power.” (Teacher, Arizona)

3. "We need to be involved in leading because you are either at the table or you are on the menu." (Teacher, Wisconsin)

2. "Lack of passion is fatal." (Teacher, New York)

1. "Students learn when teachers lead." (Teacher, Boston, Mass.)