TEACHING MATTERS - November 29, 2012


November 29, 2012  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

Blaine Helwig

Principal Blaine Helwig's school was recognized as a Blue Ribbon Award Winner recently in Washington, and Helwig was awarded the Terrel H. Bell Award for outstanding leadership.

Graham Elementary School (Austin, Texas)

Beating the Odds (and the Naysayers)

Teachers at ED were impressed with all of the Terrel H. Bell principals that we met during the Blue Ribbon Schools National Celebration, but the principal of Graham Elementary School, Blaine Helwig, stood out because he has done what many thought was impossible: using home-grown strategies that others thought wouldn't work.

Graham math scores

 A self-proclaimed "upstart," Helwig said that his experience as a systems designer helped him plan systems that work for students in his school. "Yes, I am a rebel," he told us, "There can be no doubt of that. I will not follow a curriculum that is designed for children to fail or produce the level of academic results we are seeing continually in these urban schools."

Helwig's school is about 95 percent low-income. As reported in the Austin Statesman, the school has struggled for years because "it's not rich (and) it's located on the wrong side of town." Yet, against the odds, Graham excels. Since taking the helm in 2007, the school's academic achievement has grown so much that every student at Graham who took the state math exam passed it.

Helwig attributes his school's success to focusing on the variables he can control. While he can't change students' home environments or fix their poverty, he said that he can ensure they get what they need in his school. 

Read two stories from the Statesman that reveal insights into Helwig's leadership style and strategies: 

Austin District Should Build on Graham Elementary's Success and A Model of Academic Success at Graham Elementary.

Professional Development Opportunity

Summer 2013 Seminar in China for Elementary and Secondary Educators

U.S. K-12 educators, administrators, and media resource specialists who have responsibility for curriculum and instruction in the social sciences, humanities, foreign languages and area studies are invited to apply for the U.S. Department of Education's Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad program, an international four week experience to examine China’s history, culture, society, and economy. The itinerary will include site visits, meetings, and discussions in four different cities (Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, and one TBD) highlighting China's diversity. Applications are due December 10.

open education video

Open Education Matters

In July, winners of the Why Open Education Matters video contest were announced by Creative Commons, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Open Society Foundations. View the first place video, awarded to Blinktower, an extremely talented creative agency based in Cape Town, South Africa. Read the blog about the competition and view the other winners. Check out Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

To Keep Novice Teachers, Adjust the Climate

A study published in Elementary School Journal provides evidence of the importance of school climate when retaining teachers. According to the study, the probability that a novice teacher will remain in the job "is reduced when she perceives the quality of relations between teachers and administrators as poor, even after controlling for a prior measure of intent to remain teaching."

ED Facts

Did You Know?

The U.S. Department of Education released for the first time state graduation rates that use the same uniform standards across all states. Iowa topped the list of states with the highest percentage of high school graduates (88%) followed by Wisconsin (87%). Find out your state's graduation rate for all students and particular subgroups. Read the ED blog.

question mark

Teaching Ambassador Fellow, Marciano Gutierrez

What is ED’s Stance on Using Testing Data in Teacher Evaluation?

Teaching Ambassador Fellow Marciano Gutierrez answers a question from the ED mailbag to clarify what he has learned about the Department's views on testing data, dispelling his prior assumptions. Read his article.

Common Core

Kentucky Partners to Prepare the Public for Rigorous New Standards

Kentucky is the first state to use new state tests explicitly tied to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Anticipating that student scores would be lower when the bar was raised, the Kentucky Chamber Foundation produced a video affirming the value of the standards and asking the community to stand firmly behind schools, teachers and higher state standards. Watch the video. In November, the state's first round of tests tied to the CCSS revealed a significant drop in proficiency, but higher results than expected, according to State Commissioner Terry Holliday. Read an Edweek article about Kentucky's results.

Kentucky CCSS Video

Student with Disabilities

Sweet Inspiration

Read about how Scott Rich, a student with autism and behavioral problems, overcame his difficulties and earned a Master's Degree in special education. Today Rich works as an outreach advocate and mentors students with special needs and autism.

STEM Education Coalition banner

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition works to support STEM programs for teachers and students. Representing all sectors of the technological workforce – knowledge workers, educators, scientists, engineers, and technicians -- the participating organizations are dedicated to ensuring quality STEM education at all levels. Check out their STEM Resources and Legislative Information pages.

The New Math

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) 2012 Education at a Glance, U.S. teachers in upper secondary education with 15 years of experience and a bachelor's degree earned 72 percent of the earnings of 25- to 64-year-old full-time, full-year workers with a bachelor's or higher degree in 2010, compared to the OECD average of 90 percent.

chart illustrating international comparison of teacher salaries

Students' Corner

Resources for Students 

Ready Kids. FEMA offers a great tool for kids to help their families create emergency plans to prepare for the unexpected. In addition to a step-by-step guide for building an emergency kit and a family plan, the site also has activities, such as Flat Stanley/Stella, and opportunities to get involved. Check out the parent and teacher version of this resource as well.

Environmental Educators

Presidential Innovation Award

EPA logo

Teachers may apply for the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Sponsored by EPA and the Council on Environmental Quality, the award recognizes outstanding K-12 teachers who employ innovative approaches to environmental education and use the environment as a context for student learning. Up to two teachers from each of EPA's 10 regions will be selected. Awardees receive a commemorative plaque and $2,000 to further their professional development in environmental education. Each teacher’s school will also receive a $2,000 award to help fund environmental education activities and programs that support the teacher. Applications are due January 31, 2013. More information.

Teachers' Notes

  • TO TEXT OR NOT TO TEXT... Professor Larry Rosen of California State University offers teachers cutting-edge research and innovative strategies to Help Wired Students Learn to Focus. One tip: offer "technology breaks" that allow students to check social media so that they can concentrate for the rest of class.
  • RETHINKING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. When we talk with teachers about professional learning, they often lament the wasted hours they have spent in long seminars that they neither asked for nor needed. This article by Stephanie Hirsh of Learning Forward (EdWeek, Nov. 16) rewrites the paradigm and envisions PD as a way to treat teachers as professionals who are given time to work together to solve problems. 
  • WHEN RIGHT IS WRONG. Read about how Chicago's Erickson Institute is transforming how teachers approach pre-K - 3rd grade math in Early Math Teachers Celebrate 'Critical Thinking, Not Correct Answers.' Read about Erickson's Early Mathematics Education Project, funded partially from an Investing in Innovation Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. 
  • COMMON CORE: FACT OR FICTION?  The Mid-Illini Educational Cooperative offers an interesting true/false game on the Common Core State Standards. You can download the game and the answer key from their Common Core Resources site.
  • SAM ProjectFinding the time for principals to be instructional leaders. It's not a new problem. Principals striving to be instructional leaders often find themselves without enough time in the day. The SAM Project is a large-scale pilot program funded by the Wallace Foundation to help principals improve their time-management skills and develop strategies that benefit teaching and learning. The project’s goal is to shift the role of the principal to focus less on management duties and more on teaching practice, student learning and school improvement. Learn moreFAQs. Annual SAM Conference, February 1-2 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
  • A GLOBAL APPROACH TO EDUCATION. During International Education Week, the Department released its strategy for engaging with the international community to improve education, Succeeding Globally through International Education and EngagementRead more about recent international efforts. 

RTT-D Finalists Named

ED announced this week that 61 applicants have made it to the final round of the $400 million Race to the Top District competition (RTT-D). The 2012 RTT-D program will provide funds to support innovative locally developed plans to personalize and deepen student learning, directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student for success in college and careers. Read more and find out if your state has a district in the finals.

Harvard Study on LAUSD Teachers Released 

The Strategic Data Project (SDP), housed at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, recently released data from its Human Capital Diagnostic study of the Los Angeles (Calif.) Unified School District (LAUSD). A number of interesting findings for teachers emerged, including these:

  • NBCT Kudos. On average, National Board Certified Teachers outperform other teachers with the same levels of experience at a level that is roughly equivalent to two months of additional math instruction and one month of additional ELA instruction.
  • Practice Makes Perfect. LAUSD math teachers show substantial growth in effectiveness during their first five years in the classroom, roughly equivalent to three additional months of instruction in a calendar year.
  • Bad News for Graduate Programs. LAUSD teachers with advanced degrees do not have higher effects, on average, than their colleagues without such degrees.
  • Alternative Certification Programs hold their own. Teach for America and Career Ladder teachers have higher math effects on average than other novices in their first year, effects that are roughly equivalent to one to two months of additional learning. These differences persist over time. On the other hand, these teachers tend to leave the profession sooner.
  • The Significance of Starting Strong. Performance in the first few years of teaching is predictive of later performance, by almost seven months of instruction.
  • A Good Substitute--for Mathematics. LAUSD has increased its reliance on extended substitutes in the last several years. Relative to other new hires in middle school, extended substitutes have large positive effects in math, though not in other subjects.

Read the full report.

Recommended Reading

  • A NEW VISION OF TEACHING. The InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards, updated in 2011 by the Council of Chief State School Officers to facilitate a dialogue within states about the teaching profession, outlines the common principles and foundations of teaching practice that cut across all subject areas and grade levels and that are necessary to improve student achievement. Developed in cooperation with teachers' unions and more than 20 educational organizations, the standards reveal an emerging consensus about what effective teaching and learning looks like.
  • STRUGGLE MEANS LEARNING: DIFFERENCES IN EASTERN AND WESTERN CULTURES. This powerful article by Alix Spiegel (Mind/Shift) examines how Eastern and Western schools teach students to view their struggles and how these differences affect their learning. 
  • THE WRITING RENAISSANCE. In this Edweek article, Catherine Gewertz looks at the current resurgence of writing taking place in elementary and secondary education. Fueled partly by the Common Core State Standards and partly by emerging research, writing is regaining ground on the literacy landscape, as teachers strengthen the reading-writing connection.
  • FACING THE CLIFF. President of the National School Boards Association Ed Massey analyzes the potential impact of cuts to education that states and districts will face if Congress allows the country to go over the fiscal cliff. Read his editorial in Politico

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. Overheard at the National Blue Ribbon Schools celebration: “I think part of what we’re hearing today is that you don’t have to put a lot of money into finding the models – the models are all here in the room – we need to get these models into more places.” (Principal, Wyo.)

teachers talking at Blue Ribbon ceremony

4. “If I could say one thing to the Department of Education, it’s Teacher Prep – our new teachers are coming to us from all over the map.” (Teacher, San Antonio, Texas) 

3. At the National Blue Ribbon Schools celebration, this advice was posted under a heading that asked, "What is working at your school"? "Hiring strong, fabulous teachers."

2. “My principal is effective because he always models what he wants and expects us to do.” (Teacher, Mo.)

1.  “The days of principals being in their offices are over. We need to be out there, standing shoulder to shoulder with teachers to get this done.” (Principal, Conn.)