How Schools Are Rethinking Senior Year -- THE TEACHERS EDITION -- June 2, 2016

The Teachers Edition

What Teachers Are Talking About This Week

June 2, 2016  |  Sign up to receive The Teachers Edition.

ED Proposes More Holistic Approach to Assessing Schools

The U.S. Department of Education released a set of proposed accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act last week. The regulations recommend a shift to a more holistic view of school performance based on multiple measures beyond just reading and math and requires more meaningful involvement of stakeholders including educators and parents in implementing the new law.  Secretary John King said the regulations represent an attempt to move away from the "over-prescriptive and, to some extent, punitive" approach to accountability that existed under No Child Left Behind (Ujifusa, Education Week). 



When Ashley Millerd and Julia Ryan administer state testing to their students at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, N.H., they already know what it'll look like. That's because they actually had a hand in writing those tests themselves. Rather than relying on computerized testing or multiple-choice bubble sheets, some New Hampshire districts employ performance assessments that are more closely aligned to what they teach in class. "Instead of standardized tests driving our curriculum, our curriculum drives the assessments," they write in this entry on our Homeroom blog. 


Growing Up in the Age of Likes and LOLs

Without a doubt, technology has changed what it's like to come of age in America. Washington Post reporter Jessica Contrera goes inside the life of a Virginia 13-year-old to try to pin down some of what has changed. Snapchat. Instagram. Facebook. Sociologists, advertisers, and educators want to understand what it's like to grow up in a generation that's glued to their screens. One insight from the teen subject: "I don't feel like a child anymore. I'm not doing anything childish. At the end of sixth grade, I just stopped doing everything I normally did. Playing games at recess, playing with toys, all of it, done." 

How We Ought to Rethink Substitute Teachers

Schools spend $4 billion per year on substitute teachers, and there aren't even enough of them to go around. Social entrepreneur Jane Vialet says the model is broken. "If you described the way we do substitute teaching to an alien, they wouldn't believe it," she says. She proposes replacing busywork and babysitters with guest instructors who could "come into a classroom and lead it with your authentic, exuberant passion." She imagines professionals in finance or computer science sharing what they do with kids instead of finding anyone willing to fill the time (Eisenberg,

Before Graduation, He Treated His Teachers to Fancy Dinner


Eleven-year-old Cody Dortch had one piece of unfinished business before leaving his Oklahoma elementary school behind and heading off to middle school. He wanted to take his teachers out to dinner. Cody's dad is a teacher, and so he said he knows how hard teachers work. He saved up the $200 he needed to cover the tab, and certainly, the teachers were touched by the gesture, including one who said it was the kindest thing to happen to her during her 23-year career (ABC News). 

Study Finds Teachers Are Prone to Vocal Damage

More than half of all teachers develop a voice disorder during their lifetimes, according to new research. In fact, teachers, who speak for long stretches at a time and often have to speak over competing noises, are more than twice as likely to have voice problems than people in other professions. Some districts are even experimenting with equipping their teachers with microphones to amplify their voices and minimize damage. See more of the research and tips on how to preserve your voice in the classroom here (Will, Education Week). 

The Teachers Who Went Without Salary to Prove Their Idea

North Carolina teachers Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller believed so deeply in their idea to transform the high school experience that they were willing to work for free just to bring it to life. Along the way, they successfully engaged students who were bored with traditional school, some of whom even give up much of their summers to keep working on their project. The documentary, If You Build It, follows their ups and downs and proves how creativity, design, and hands-on building can bring about the brilliance of youth and change a community.


How Children's Books Have Grown Up

American classrooms have had some form of children's books since the 17th century, but the books teachers have used, and the way they use them, have changed dramatically. We've come a long way from the first widely printed picture book for kids -- the Orbis Pictus (1658) -- to today's colorful and poignant tales. Along the way, children's books have been used to teach moral lessons and purely to entertain (Pinkerton, NPR). They're even getting more diverse, as Marley Dias, an 11-year-old who set out to collect 1,000 books with African-American female narrators, has found. Dias was the star of a Reading Party held at ED last week.

Coalition of Teachers, Supporters Releases Policy Proposals

A diverse group of teacher-supporting organizations -- ranging from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to Teach for America -- has found common ground around the need to modernize and elevate the teaching profession. They recently released their first TeachStrong policy proposal, centering on teacher recruitment. It points to strong examples -- including Illinois' Grow Your Own Teachers program and the Teacher Academy of Maryland -- before making recommendations for schools, districts, and teacher prep institutions. 

Schools Use Japan's Lesson Study Model to Improve Teaching

Unlike professional development that happens outside of school hours, more schools are borrowing a professional learning model from Japan -- the lesson study. Teachers plan lessons together, observe one another, and debrief after the lesson. Says one teacher: "You can get so wrapped up in this own little world of yours with the students you teach, and the opportunity to see how another person is teaching and to see what's working or not working is really invaluable." Twenty percent of San Francisco schools are using the practice (Schwartz, KQED).

How Schools Are Making Senior Year More Relevant

To ward off senioritis and all-out disengagement, some schools are rethinking senior year. At one school, kids are taking classes in personal finance, sewing, and cooking on a budget. Others are spending the last few weeks of senior year working on real-world skills like bike repair and self-defense. One San Diego 17-year-old says he is excited to learn personal finance: "It's weird that in the school system they don't teach something that everyone should know" (Krupnick, Hechinger Report).

The Graduation Speech That's Moving Viewers to Tears


Donovan Livingston, who graduated with his master's of education from Harvard, gave what might be the most-Tweeted commencement speech of the year so far. His rousing address will resonate with teachers: "I look each of my students in the eyes, and see the same light that aligned Orion's Belt and the pyramids of Giza. I see the same twinkle that guided Harriet to freedom. ... I teach in hopes of turning content into rocket ships, tribulations into telescopes, so a child can see their potential from right where they stand" (Nashrulla, BuzzFeed). 

Resources to Use

  • Toolkit for Supporting Foster Care Youth. The passage to adulthood is challenging for anyone, but for youth in foster care, it can be especially lonesome, confusing, and uncertain. ED recently released a toolkit to help youth in our nation's foster care system and those who work to support them.  
  • Implementing Early Literacy Interventions. The self-study guide is a tool for district and school leaders who wish to improve the implementation of early literacy interventions and reduce the number of students failing to meet grade-level literacy expectations by the time they enter grade 3. It includes a template for data collection and guiding questions for discussion. Read the report.
  • How Are Schools Using Their Disciplinary Data? Register for a webinar with the Urban School Improvement Alliance for a national and regional conversation on how analyzing school discipline policies and data to inform school improvement on Tuesday, June 14 from 1:00–2:30 p.m. ET. 

What We Heard from Educators This Week


5. "Kids are growing up on digital playgrounds and we must be on recess duty" (School Board Member, Kansas).
4. "The parents of tomorrow are sitting in our classes today. How will these future parents remember school?" (Administrator, Texas).
3. "You don't need a title to make a difference. It's a mindset" (Teacher, New York).
2. "Teacher leadership is being a voice in policy that affects us all" (Teacher, Colorado).
1. "Closing your door and doing your own thing won't work. It never has. Guaranteeing learning is a collaborative act" (Principal, Kansas).