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May 30, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

Teacher speaking in Odyssey Initiative video

"It's so important to teach our kids about their thinking to show them, even at an early age, that what they are doing here in school is thinking. And that is not something that is a passive activity. It's something that is active and needs to be talked about and celebrated all the time." (Meredith McNamara, Academy for Global Citizenship, Chicago, Ill.) 


Lessons from the Road

Teachers from the Odyssey Initiative recently posted this short video documentary highlighting lessons they learned while on the road talking with schools that are engaging students and teachers with creative learning environments. The piece is full of juicy tidbits, including several students who are sold on the importance of real-world learning. To emphasize his point, one student describes how he just finished making a bio fuel that he will use later in the week. Teachers remind viewers about the inherent joys of teaching and learning, and they describe unique talents great teachers bring to the profession. "Education is not a factory job," one reminds us all.


What Are You Hearing from the Public and Educators about Teaching?

In this conversation with Teaching Ambassador Fellow Dan Brown, Arne Duncan talks about what he is hearing from teachers and about teachers. He acknowledges the stresses teachers face in the current environment and urges them to lead the transformation of their profession. Watch the video.

Ask Arne about teachers


Don't Tell A Teacher (that She Can't Make a Difference)

A public figure recently came into the spotlight when he broke an unspoken rule of the profession by telling fellow teachers that they can't make a substantial difference in the lives students who are poor. While teaching at an alternative school that serves youth who are expelled or recently incarcerated, Memphis teacher and Teach Plus Fellow Casie Jones struck back. Read her EdWeek article, where she asserts that she makes that difference every single day.  


Outside the Box

"For school leaders and counselors, implementing the CCSS is not about thinking out of the box. It is about transforming the box itself."

(From Implementing the Common Core State Standards: The Role of the Secondary School Leader, published by Achieve.)

Quote to Note


An Economic Paradox: High Unemployment and 

a Scarcity of Skilled Job Seekers

McKinsey & Company’s Center for Government report, Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works, examines dual global crises: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills. The International Labour Organization estimates that 75 million young people are unemployed globally (and probably triple that number if estimates of the underemployed are included). 

The McKinsey report points out that, although global leaders are aware of the social and economic consequences, they struggle to develop effective responses and define what they need to know. The report addresses a lack of data on the skills required for employment, what practices are the most promising in training youths, and how to identify the programs with the best results. Six report findings emerged (pages 18–21):

  1. Employers, education providers, and youth live in parallel universes;
  2. The education-to-employment journey is fraught with obstacles;
  3. The education-to-employment system fails for most employers and young people;
  4. Innovative and effective programs around the world have important elements in common;
  5. Creating a successful education-to-employment system requires new incentives and structures; and
  6. Education-to-employment solutions need to scale up. 

Common Core Connections

PRACTICE TESTS RELEASED. One of the two consortia designing Common Core assessments, Smarter Balanced, has released sets of online sample test questions for grades 3-8 and 11 in both English language arts and math. The tests are expected to be available for states during the 2014-15 school year.

FOR PARENTS. Seeing the Future: How the Common Core Will Affect Mathematics and English Language Arts in Grades 3-12 Across America is a handy brochure for parents and the public that helps explain the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) from the views of educators from across the country who believe in the CCSS and are working to implement them.

TEACHER PERCEPTIONS ABOUT COLLEGE PREP. The results of the ACT National Curriculum Survey 2012 indicate that there continues to be a large gap between high school teachers’ perceptions of the readiness of their graduating students for postsecondary education and what college instructors expect their incoming first-year students to know and be able to do to succeed in credit-bearing college courses. To reduce the gap, the ACT recommends that states not only increase and improve professional development for teachers, but also expand collaboration between K–12 and postsecondary educators to ensure curricula and classroom materials reflect the skills needed for college and career readiness. Read the report to learn more about teacher preparedness to teach the CCSS and related recommendations.


Did You Know?

Having been freed from regulations in No Child Left Behind by being approved for Flexibility, the West Virginia Department of Education is promising a state-developed plan that "puts less focus on standardized tests. The plan will still use test scores but not as the primary factor in determining a school's performance."

From Saturday's Gazette Mail (Mays).

question mark

Still from the C-SPAN video of the teacher panel

As part of the summit at the Newseum, teachers participated in a panel discussion about innovation and technology. Participants discussed ways teachers can use technology to close achievement gaps and help those most at-risk to grow.


Reimagining Education

This week educators gathered for a summit to explore educational innovations. The purpose of the two-day event was to explore how the United States can connect education to 21st Century realities and create a learning approach designed for our times, one that extends beyond the walls of our classrooms and schools. ED and the MacArthur Foundation hosted the summit. Watch a video of the panel discussion with teachers José Rodriguez (Leander, Texas), Jennie Magiera (Chicago, Ill.) and Shira Fishman (Washington, DC) talking with Arne Duncan, NBA player Chris Paul, and NBC News' Andrea Mitchell about how they use innovative technologies in their classrooms. Follow the event on Twitter at #ReImagineEd.

Turnaround Tales from the School Turnaround Learning Community


"One was labeled a dropout factory for its 37 percent high school graduation rate in 2006. In 2008, another earned the title as the campus with more handgun violations than any other in the state. At the third, gang violence and empty desks from chronically absent students were the norm." Read the Augusta Chronicle's account of how three Richmond County (Ga.) schools used federal School Improvement Grants to fund intensive teacher training, technology, extended learning time, help from state intervention specialists, and a renewed sense of urgency (McManus).

Diversity of our Teaching Force

African American males only make up 2% of the teacher workforce.

(From an article highlighting a conversation with African American Educators written by David Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Read his piece and see how he debunks myths such as the idea that there are more African American men in prison than in college.)

the new math


Career Academies on the Rise

About 4,800 high schools nationwide reported having at least one career academy, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Reasons for the demand range from costs saved while exploring careers to improved academic success. Ashley Parker, of the Association for Career and Technical Education, said, “Kids who go through CTE programs do better on standardized tests; they’re less likely to have to take remedial classes, because concepts that are so difficult for other kids to learn, they see them applied in these programs.” Parker added, “These kids are able to go through the program, maybe save themselves a couple hundred thousand dollars before they spend it on a four-year program in which they don’t even know what they’re going to do.” President Obama has proposed a $300 million High School Redesign initiative in his administration’s fiscal-year 2014 budget that would provide competitive grants to LEAs and their partners so that students graduate from high school with the academic foundation and career-related skills they need to be successful. These models, which could include Career Academies, will ensure that all students graduate from high school with college level coursework or credit and career-related experiences or competencies. Read the USA Today article (Boyd).

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• IMPROVING OUR CONDITION. The National Center for Education Statistics released “The Condition of Education 2013,” a Congressionally mandated report on education in America today. The report presents 42 indicators grouped under four areas: population characteristics, participation in education, elementary and secondary education, and postsecondary education.

• HELP FOR HEALING. ED recently awarded $1.3 Million Grant to Newtown, Conn., to further support recovery from the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Learn more. Read Arne Duncan's blog about his meeting at Classical Magnet School in Hartford and what he learned firsthand from Connecticut about how they are leading the nation in common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence and improve school safety.

• THE VALUE OF RECESS. The Institute of Medicine has issued a report calling for more physical activity in school and after-school programs. According to the study, children need a full hour of exercise every day in order to be healthy and improve learning. Read Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School.

• REDUCING CLASSROOM DISRUPTIONS. In this piece from the Guardian, teacher Tracey Lawrence offers 10 Ways to Deal with Low-Level Classroom Disruptions that she gleaned from chatting with teachers and other professionals on Twitter. Whether it's passing notes or an upset student, her advice is both practical and insightful.

open book

Recommended Reading

LEAP YEAR. TNTP's latest report focuses on the most important year in teaching. A Gadfly interview with Tim Daly makes the case that a teachers' first year is "not a warm-up lap—it’s a very strong signal of how a teacher will perform in the future." It is also predictive of their future performance. Read the report.

• CASE-STUDIES IN POVERTY. The Enduring Challenge of Concentrated Poverty in America: Case Studies from Communities Across the U.S. profiles 16 high-poverty communities from across the country, including immigrant gateway, Native American, urban, and rural communities. Through these case studies, the report contributes to our understanding of the dynamics of poor people living in poor communities, how lack of education contributes to these conditions, and the policies that will be needed to bring the communities into the economic mainstream. Download full report (PDF 6.8MB) or  "A Synthesis of Themes from the Case Studies" (PDF). 

If you have questions or comments about Teaching Matters, please contact ED's Teacher Liaison at Laurie.Calvert@ed.gov.

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

 5. “Many of our parents and students live below living standards with no running water, dirt floors and little to no food. Although these students live this way, they manage to make it to school every day and give 100% of their attention.” (Teacher, Columbus, N.M.)

4. Commenting on Race to the Top competitions: "Transparency has worked. Continue with that. You post the applications on sight [on www.ed.gov]. We can see that it's not always the good writers who get the money." (Assistant Principal, Virginia Beach, Va.)

3. “Being listened to is different than being heard.” (Teacher, Altoona, Iowa)

2. “We cannot continue to serve only 20-year-old white students whose families can afford college.” (Student Teacher, Madison, Wis.)

1. “When I think of a reformed educational system I think of a reformed classroom.” (Student studying to be a Teacher, Minn.)

Arne Duncan at Savoy