TEACHING MATTERS -- November 20, 2012


November 20, 2012  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

Blue Ribbon winners

Dancing with the Blue Ribbon Stars

On the 30th anniversary of the program, 314 schools were recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools at an awards luncheon in Washington, D.C. During the ceremony, school leaders literally danced onto the stage, reveling in their accomplishment of significantly improving student academic success. 

"You have to own it," Blue Ribbon Schools Program Director Aba Kumi urged the principals, teachers, and superintendents, who took up the challenge and boogied, hip-hopped, pirouetted and waltzed onto the stage for almost three hours. Read about the event. Learn more about the Blue Ribbon Schools program. Find out about the seven principals who received the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership.

more stars

Teaching with Technology

Sugata Mitra's Hole in the Wall Experiment 

Sugata Mitra is an education researcher who, from 1999-2004, conducted an experiment by digging a hole in the wall bordering urban slums all over India, installing an Internet-connected PC, and leaving it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What he saw were kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and  teaching each other.

Sugata's Hole in the Wall in New Delhi, India

In this enlightening and motivating TED talk, Mitra describes his experiment and his conclusion that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who's now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it "minimally invasive education." His vision for technology education is for it to be digital, automatic, fault tolerant, minimally evasive, connected, and self-organizing.

Arne Duncan comments on the education budget.

Dispelling the Myth that Poverty = Destiny

At Education Trust's "Dispelling the Myth" awards celebration made just after the national election, Arne Duncan argues that education leaders have to stop fighting the wrong education battles and celebrates the success of three schools that are proving poverty is not destiny. Read his speech.

Early Snapshot of SIG Progress

ED recently released a data snapshot of the performance of School Improvement Grants (SIG) awarded to the nation's lowest-performing schools. Early findings indicate that:

  • Schools receiving SIG grants are improving. The first year of data show that two thirds of schools showed gains in math. And two thirds of schools showed gains in reading.
  • A larger percentage of elementary schools showed gains than did secondary schools, suggesting that it is easier to improve student performance at a young age than to intervene later. Seventy percent of elementary schools showed gains in math, and seventy percent showed gains in reading, a higher percentage of improving schools than was found in middle or high schools.
  • Some of the greatest gains have been in small towns and rural communities.

Read the story.

You can change the world

Datapalooza Offers Resources for Teachers

In October ED held Education Datapalooza, a summit highlighting some of the ways innovators and entrepreneurs are using open data to improve educational outcomes for learners of all ages. Richard Cullata, Deputy Director of the Office of Education Technology, wrote an interesting blog that describes how "all of the digital stars are aligning in such a way that the technology is available to design truly transformational learning." Check out some of the 7-minute, lightning style talks, including:

ED Facts

Did You Know?

Free teaching and learning resources are available at FREE.ED.gov, the Federal Resources for Educational Excellence website, where users can access information about the arts, sciences, math, language arts, history, social studies and health. Resources include primary documents, animations, photos, videos and web-based presentations.

question mark


Novice Teachers Struggle with Poverty

Emerging data from the National Center for Education Statistics give some clues as to why new teachers are likely to exit the profession in the first few years. While trying to learn the curriculum and hone their teaching skills, emerging teachers are more likely than ever to hold down another job. Read the Edweek blog by Sarah Sparks. Watch Arne's back-to-school speech to teachers in Baltimore, including his views on teacher salaries and the RESPECT Project.

The New Math

Race to the Top District Competition

Race to the Top District fact chart

* Check out the list of represented districts.

Advice for Teachers from Teachers

See Me After Class

Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow Dan Brown introduced us to this video of National Board Certified Teacher Roxanna Elden giving teachers advice about the "Myth of the Super Teacher." Read Brown's blog and view the video of Elden's humorous presentation, in which she proposes that teachers need more than "chicken soup" to survive the first year in a profession that "makes you or breaks you" very early on. Elden has a website for her book, See Me After Class, which Brown suggests is a must-read for new teachers.

apple in a martini glass

Students' Corner

Tools for Students

We Give Books is a free website that enables anyone with Internet access to put books in the hands of children who don't have them, simply by reading online. We Give Books combines the love of reading with the power of giving, while helping promote literacy in communities all over the world. The more books your students read on We Give Books, the more books are donated to children in need.

Invite your high school students to help build a sustainable future. The SMART Competition challenges international teams of high school students to redesign a gymnasium on an existing high school campus, incorporating sustainable materials and efficient energy concepts. Teams will have access to design software and international experts. Registration closes January 18th and the competition gets underway in May.   

Classroom Resources


Still "our only pal"

The Importance of Great Principals

Ongoing research points to the significant impact an exceptional teacher can have on the success of students, but teachers know that a supportive principal makes all the difference.  

This study by New Leaders examines 200 successful schools and identifies specific actions the strongest principals take to ensure great teaching and academic success. Their findings compare principals with great coaches who "invest time and resources in training the talent on the team, make smart choices about where and when to play their skill-players and instill a drive to win." Specifically, great principals amplify great teaching by focusing on three intersecting areas: developing teachers, managing talent, and creating a great place to work. Read the Executive Summary or the Playmakers full report

"Irreplaceables" Findings Play Out in DC

Three years ago, when DCPS made sweeping changes to its teacher evaluation and compensation policies, critics argued that the district would drive away its best teachers. However, a new study by TNTP, Keeping Irreplaceables in D.C. Public Schools: Lessons in Smart Retention, suggests that the DCPS strategy is working. Instead of losing them, DCPS has kept 85% of its best teachers and only 45% of those who scored the lowest on performance evaluations. The study also found that performance-based compensation—which allows highly effective teachers to earn $100,000 a year after just four years—is one of the leading factors keeping "Irreplaceables" in DCPS classrooms.

Recommended Reading

  • DATA PHOBIC NO MORE. Insightful blog by Los Angeles Teach Plus teacher Sujata Bhatt about a shift that has taken place in her attitude about using data in the classroom. Read her reflection in Huffington Post.
  • DEVELOPING INTO AN AUTHENTIC TEACHER LEADER. In Beyond Tokenism:Toward the Next Stage of Teacher Leadership, Brooklyn (NY) teacher Ariel Sacks describes her journey into a leadership role through the Teacher Leader Network. Sacks offers candid and concrete advise to teachers who want to use their expertise and experience to shape the policy outside of their classrooms.
  • BEYOND ACADEMICS: GRIT NEEDED TO COMPLETE COLLEGE. While post-secondary enrollment is trending upward, graduation rates remain flat. Edweek blogger Caralee Evans attributes much of this trend to the experiences of the current generation of students, many of whom have been so protected by their parents that they haven't developed the resilience needed to succeed after high school. Read her article, 'Soft Skills' Pushed as Part of College Readiness.
  • MOUTHS OF BABES. In Los Angelista's blog about the state of public education, a writer and mother of two interviews her 11-year-old son about his experience in public school. His insights are provocative and worth the read.
  • MORE EXPECTATIONS. Read the insights at Hechinger Ed about the Teach Plus Report issued last month, Great Expectations: Teachers' Views on Elevating the Teaching Profession. The report describes how beginning teachers and veterans diverge and coalesce in their thinking about teaching and reform.

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5.  "No school can call itself a good school without parent buy-in." (Principal, Florida)

4.  Teacher during an international STEM teaching conference in Naples, Italy: “In our country, teachers are respected and honored.  There is not a need for elevating the teaching profession because the teachers are our leaders and are treated that way.” (Teacher, China)

3.  “Our current incentive system (NCLB) is negative. If you are successful, you have merely avoided execution.” (Teacher, Seattle, Wash.)

2. "We are in the business of educating children. Making excuses for a lack of materials and other things will not help us in that mission." (Principal, Department of Defense school, Korea)

1. At the National Blue Ribbon Schools celebration, a school leader posted the following on a poster with this heading, "What works in your school"? "Doing what is right for the kids--FIRST--not what the schedule or the administrators or past practice dictates."

educators from Blue Ribbon schools