TEACHERS EDITION -- April 9, 2015

The Teachers Edition

Note: The Teachers Edition will not be published next week, but will return to your inbox April 23.

April 9, 2015  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

teacher and students with underwater robot

Fredi Lajvardi and his award-winning robotics students at Carl Hayden High School (Phoenix, Ariz.) are the subjects of a new Hollywood film, a documentary and a book.    


Underwater Underdogs

Teacher leaders are driven by students' needs. When we are at our best, we make it a priority to design, invent and construct all manner of lessons to meet students where they are and help them grow into the adults they can be.

Carl Hayden High School science teacher Fredi Lajvardi recruited and supported a robotics team to inspire his students living in a a poor, immigrant community. When the team decided to enter the underwater robotics competition in their first year, they competed with engineering heavy hitters such as MIT. Who knew that the unlikely underdog team of undocumented Mexican immigrants on food stamps would overcome the odds to come out on top? 

Their story was driven by an inspired teacher who collaborated with his students and gave them plenty of room to fail, and ultimately to succeed. Read more (EdTech Magazine). Read the related article about President Obama's hope for this story (AZ Central).   

This inspiring story is now the subject of a documentary, Underwater Dreams, and a book, Spare Parts, which in turn led to a Hollywood film based on the story. In honor of National Robotics Week and the Let Everyone Dream coalition, a free virtual screening of the documentary is available this week in conjunction with the White House premiere. Educators can also access a free abbreviated or full version of the film with teaching materials by using the code STEM3M.

Facing History


Students Win Facing History 


The winners of the Facing History Together Student & Alumni Upstander Scholarship Contest are students Shireen Afzal (Woburn Collegiate Institute, Toronto, Ontario) and Arvaughn Williams (City Arts and Technology High School, San Francisco, Calif.).  

Afzal’s essay impressed judges with her focus on how stories can fight indifference. “I'm sick of indifference and whether it's through social media, newspaper articles, novels, or survivor stories, I don't intend to let the world turn away anymore,” she said.

Williams’s spoken poem, Reassurance, is a chant about his vision for the future, especially to overlooked people in society-- to let them know that their voices matter. “Pick up your pencil, don’t let them defeat you,” he says, and much more.


Demystifying Education Jargon

It's no secret that educators spend most of their time talking with students, colleagues and parents. As a result, many suffer from a lack of wonk fluency when talking with policymakers and politicians. 

Fortunately on April Fool's Day, the Al Shanker Institute published an Education Policy Glossary to help teachers and school leaders sift through the jargon. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Important: Reflecting my opinion
  • Thoughtful: Relatively close to my opinion, given the source
  • Interesting: Unsuccessful in making me question prior beliefs, but not infuriating
  • Predictable: Stupid
  • Misleading: Really stupid
  • Reform: My policy preferences
  • “Reform”: My opponents’ policy preferences
  • “The research shows…”: “I read an online article about a conference paper that found…”
  • “We need to…”: “Other people should"

Teach to Lead update

STRETCHING ACROSS MULTIPLE CLASSROOMS. At Bailey Middle Prep, a STEM magnet school in Nashville, Tenn., classroom teacher Whitney Bradley, plays the role of “multi-classroom instructor.” She not only teaches her own class, but she advises other teachers throughout the day. Read more about Bradley and other teachers like her who have opportunities for advancement while continuing to work primarily in the classroom in this blog by Jordan Moeny (EdWeek)Read and listen to the original NPR story from All Things Considered.

BREAKING FREE. How can teachers be better advocates for themselves? Get some answers in this interview between Nicholas Garcia at Chalkbeat Colorado and Frederick Hess, author of the new book, The Cage-Busting Teacher, and the director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Hess and Garcia address old school policies that have created barriers to reform, gridlock models of compensation and credentials, the need for teachers to take ownership for their profession, and ways to break free and solve problems by embracing leadership.


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


Celebrating African American Educators

Steven Sanders is the 9th-12th Grade Band Director at UIC College Prep in Chicago, Illinois. In 2012, he won the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice.

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

The one thing that I most celebrate about my students is the level of self-discipline they gain as they work through the curriculum. Many of my students come to me without any prior knowledge of music and must work hard to achieve success. When they leave my classroom, however, they have learned how to persevere and accomplish what many believe to be impossible.

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

I encourage parents, family members, and others to always hold a high expectation for their African American students. Statistics show that there is an alarmingly low percentage of African Americans finishing college and engaging in productive careers. If we are ever going to change that, we must hold our students to a high standard and teach them how to deal with and overcome the often-difficult circumstances they’re in.

 Read Steven’s Fishman Prize Essay, “Own Your Sound”


Celebrate Teaching

A group of teachers who formed TEACH LIKE ME have started a website and launched a campaign to highlight the value of teaching. Educators can participate by sending a short video clip that will be unveiled on TEACH LIKE ME DAY, May 5. Learn more

Teach Like Me t-shirt

If salaries had kept pace with per pupil spending since 1970 the average teacher would make $120,000 a tear


Imagine Paying Teachers What They’re Worth 

It's heartbreaking to work in a system where educators are paid so little that when Uber needed drivers, they automatically thought of teachers. In this TEDx talk, Teachers – a matter of the heart, Nínive Clements Calegari describes her vision of what our country would look like if teachers were paid what they deserve without being forced to take second jobs to make ends meet.  

“I want to live in a country where we treat teachers as a solution,” she says. The profession is one of America’s greatest assets, and Calegari advocates for a new paradigm for paying teachers. Calegari is the president and founder of the Teacher Salary Project and 826 Valencia, former executive director of 826 National and the Brave New Voices Network Initiatives Director.

Roadmap to creativity


Roadmap to Building Creativity

Did you know that research shows that there is a clear path to becoming creative? This white paper developed by the Center for Childhood Creativity with support from Disney Citizenship, Inspiring a Generation to Create: Critical Components of Creativity in Children, synthesizes more than 150 studies from various academic fields contributing to the understanding of creativity.

The authors propose seven critical components of creativity: 

1. imagination & originality; 

2. flexibility; 

3. decision making; 

4. communication & self-expression; 

5. motivation; 

6. collaboration; and 

7. action & movement.

They are organized across three childhood developmental areas—cognitive; social and emotional; and physical -- that help us think about and promote creativity.


Create Next X Factor for PARCC

Calling all math teachers and math-savvy colleagues! Now is your chance to try your hand developing items for the PARCC. Register at the  Item Writers Algebra Readiness competition through April 27. Help create the next generation of computer-based assessment items that challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems. Competition details can be found through the registration link.

Did you know?


Native American Education

Native American graduation rates rose 4.7% between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 school years, according to new data released from ED.   

(Read more from National Center for Education Statistics.)


scientific writing


Writing is Thinking

A group of teachers in Boston, Mass. have created a great website to help middle school teachers empower their English learners and students with disabilities to write across the curriculum. 

The site has some really great resources for teaching scientific writing and build writing stamina. 

Common Core Connections

WHAT THEY LEARN. “Common core puts the responsibility on the students, so they have to do the learning,” says Kathleen Assini. In this video, the 2014 New Jersey Teacher of the Year and eighth grade teacher at Delsea Middle school explains why Common Core State Standards are important. 

And in another short video, teacher Yianello Blanco (Queens, N.Y.) contends that “teaching to the Common Core allows a lot more flexibility with her special-needs students.” 

THROUGH A BUSINESS LENS. Last week the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board unveiled a three-video series that features business and education leaders discussing why college- and career-ready standards benefit students and employers. 

Each video features themes associated with the need for, and implications of, a high-quality education system:


"Education is the new buffalo."

(A high school senior from Stoney Nakoda Nation, speaking to Arne Duncan in Canada and quoting his grandfather who knew that at one time the buffalo met virtually every need of Indigenous people. Today education is the key to survival). 

Quote to Note


The Power of Federal Help

Evidence is mounting that federal accountability and federal support have helped make it possible for 1.8 million more students, most of them low-income minorities, to graduate from high school.

The remarkable turnaround in national graduation rates and the significant decline in dropout factory high schools is a reason to keep federal dollars going to cash-strapped schools, according to this editorial by Bob Balfanz (director of the Everyone Graduates Center, School of Education, Johns Hopkins University) and John Bridge (CEO, Civic Enterprises). The authors call for keeping the pressure on. 

“As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we must not take our foot off the gas,” they argue. Read more (The Hill). 

TAF and PAF news

• Gregory Mullenholz (2011 Washington Fellow) has been appointed by the Montgomery County (Md.) Board of Education as the next principal of Ashburton Elementary School, a preK-5 school with 950 students in Bethesda, Md.

• Nick Greer (2010 Washington Fellow) has a new position at Thread, a Baltimore organization that engages under-performing high school students confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom, by providing each one with a family of committed volunteers and increased access to community resources. 

Students' Corner


In Search of a Match

A Guide for Helping Students Make Informed College Choices is designed for counselors, teachers, and advisers who work with high school students from low-income families and students who are the first in their families to pursue a college education. 

The report offers strategies for helping these students identify, consider, and enroll in “match” colleges — that is, selective colleges that are a good fit for students based on their academic profiles, financial considerations, and personal needs.

The guide is published by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization dedicated to learning what works to improve programs and policies that affect the poor. 

CONTEST: CREATE TOMORROWLAND. That’s the challenge to students ages 8 – 17. The Disney XPrize Challenge contest defies students to create an invention or innovation of the future by submitting a story, image, or video that explains what it is, how it works, and the impact it has on the world. The creative approach will help to develop their science, technology, engineering, arts and math skills, preparing them to tackle today’s challenges and grapple with tomorrow’s. All contestants must register through their parent or legal guardian. The contest registration begins April 22 and ends May 17. Learn more about the rules


Inspiring a New Generation of STEM Talent

President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign has some new initiatives that will help develop an all-hands-on-deck effort to inspire students while they provide support for success in STEM subjects. So far, the Educate to Innovate campaign has resulted in over $1 billion in financial and in-kind support for STEM programs.

New commitments that will help students excel include:

· a $150 million philanthropic effort to empower a diverse cadre of promising early career scientists to stay on track to become scientific leaders of tomorrow;

· the $90 million “Let Everyone Dream” campaign to expand STEM opportunities to under-represented youth;

· a $25 million ED competition ( Ready to Learn Television) to create science- and literacy-themed media that inspires students to explore; and

· a series of roundtables in 2015 that will feature diverse voices in science and technology, with the goal of inspiring the next generation.

plan for sanity


Seven Steps to Keeping your Sanity

Keeping it simple and making a plan can help teachers maximize their non-student time. In her blog7-Step Prep: Make a Weekly Plan for YOU!, consultant and former teacher Maia Heyck-Merlin offers planning tools and resources to help. 

Teachers will find out more about how to prioritize their time, get and stay organized, and plan for the week ahead, while managing to laugh and relax (Edutopia).


Fellowship Deadlines Extended

Don’t forget about the Hope Street Fellowships. The Hope Street Group (HSG) is looking for great teachers all across the country to be Teacher Fellows, and the application deadlines have been extended. HSG Fellows collaborate with state and national leaders, as well as their colleagues, to develop strategic, practical solutions that address public policy challenges related to education. Find out more.

Deadlines: North Carolina: April 10, 2015; National Teacher Fellowship: April 17, 2015; Kentucky: April 17, 2015; Hawaii: May 1, 2015. 



Making Senior Year Count 

This new Education Commission of the States Education Policy Analysis on High School Assessments looks at ways to make the most of college and career readiness assessments that gauge students' mastery of standards in English language arts and math. The report investigates statewide high school college and career readiness assessments and how states are using them to overcome two persistent challenges -- the "wasted senior year" and high postsecondary remediation rates.

The report is being released with an accompanying 50-state database containing information about how states use the assessments to improve the 12th grade year. 

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• THE ABCs OF MATH INSTRUCTION. Math teacher Marilyn Burns has written a thoughtful article about how teachers can help their students experience math with the same kind of joy, creativity and discovery they feel when learning to read. One insight: "No one finds it acceptable to think of a child as a proficient reader if he or she can pronounce the words but doesn't understand the material... The same standard should hold true for math."

• NCLB OVERHAUL. Arne Duncan has called for replacing No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), with a law that ensures opportunity for every child, expands support for schools, teachers, and principals, and preserves accountability. Learn more.

• EYE-OPENING WEBCAST. Mark your calendar for the Action Research Summit (Pikeville, Ky.), which is an opportunity to hear directly from teachers and students about how they are transforming teaching and learning in their classrooms. Look for the link to the live webcast for national audiences on the day of the broadcast, April 21.  

• STAND OUT STORIES. Find out more and read some of the stories that teachers were reading last month in past editions of The Teachers Edition.

• MAKING HISTORY MEANINGFUL. Bringing students into the “historical problem space” by using historical documents is challenging and few teachers get it right, according to the report Entering the Historical Problem Space: Whole-Class Text-Based Discussion in History Class by Abby Reisman. She focuses on reasons this work is difficult and ways to bring students into the discussion (Marshall Memo).

• PILLARS OF LITERACY. Consider these seven ways to support and promote reading and writing literacy from FREE as a means to engage students. These activities could help them now or when the school year ends.

• NEW PSAT. The College Board has posted sample questions and an entire practice test to help students get ready for the revamped PSAT, which will debut in the fall. The test does away with the dreaded SAT vocab; instead, it emphasizes close reading and analytical skills. 

• SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT. As a new teacher, Lily Jones felt overwhelmed by the range of students' abilities in her classroom. As she learned more about differentiation strategies, it became easier to meet the needs of all of her students, but it remained one of the most challenging aspects of teaching. To help other new teachers, her blog from the Teaching Channel shares six great differentiation strategies.  

Now, that's progress


Rhode Island Department of Education is working with about 30 of its schools in need of improvement in a more supportive and collaborative way to improve students' outcomes. Specialists meet with the schools four times a year to help them analyze a variety of data and discuss ways to adjust their improvement plans to expedite progress. 

Rather than limiting them to four models for whole-school reform (closure, restart, transformation or turnaround) required by the terms of their federal waiver from some of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provisions, schools are able to take a much more tailored approach. Read more on the PROGRESS blog. 


The 2015 Brown Center Report on american education - How Well Are American Students Learning? - examines the gender gap in reading, effects of the common core and student engagement. 

Emerging Research

One Fact: If Finland were only a nation of young men, its PISA ranking would be mediocre. Read more


Recommended Reading

• A TIDAL WAVE OF GRATITUDE. Check out this poignant story in the Kansas City (Mo.) Star about a businessman that reached out to teachers who had made a difference in his life--with a thank-you and a big check (Robertson).

TOUGH CHOICES. PBS Education reporter John Merrow posed this question to a small group of principals in training: "Imagine you’ve been made responsible for making dramatic improvements in our public schools…but with the stipulation that you must choose one point of attack and focus almost all of your energy and resources on that." Their answers and his take on them make great reading.

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

teacher in Los Angeles

Top 5 Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. Reflecting on her work at a Teach to Lead Summit: "Our children will benefit from the opportunity we were given to share and develop our [leadership] idea.'” (Teacher, Buffalo, N.Y.)

4. "Kids who are highly engaged lead to schools that are wildly successful." (Teacher, Kansas)

3. "Education needs to do a better job of leveraging the talents of remarkable teachers." (Principal, Maine)

2. A true story: "You know a teacher is tired when she puts her lunch in the photocopier instead of the microwave." (Teacher, Massachusetts) 

1. "The people closest to their work know their work the best" (Teacher, Maryland)