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May 23, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

Michelle Obama speaking at graduation of Bowie State University

"Please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white," the First Lady urges graduates.



"Education Means Emancipation"

First Lady Michelle Obama's commencement address at the graduation for Bowie State University served as part homage to African American education and part inspiration about the value of education. "More than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of 'separate but equal,' when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered," she said. Mrs. Obama insisted that earning a college degree brings obligations and responsibilities. "If the school in your neighborhood isn’t any good, don't just accept it. Get in there, fix it," she told them. Watch her inspirational speech. Read the transcript. Read Arne Duncan's commencement address at Morgan State University, A World without Silos.


Dealing with the Devastation of a Tornado

The heroism displayed by educators in Moore, Okla., as they helped students stay safe during this week’s tornado, was a reminder of the selflessness of teachers—and also of the importance of preparing for natural disasters and knowing how to help children cope with traumatic events.

PREPARING AND RECOVERING FROM TORNADOES. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a number of informative resources to help families cope with a tornado emergency before, during and after the destructive event. The site addresses not only how to find shelter, but whether or not helmets are beneficial, and it shares techniques to prevent the spread of disease. The Environmental Protection Agency provides information about how to protect the environment in the event of a tornado, including dealing with debris, storing chemicals and fertilizer, and protecting water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers specific planning tools, a list of tornado warning signs, and important facts. The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center offers resources to help youth and children recover from traumatic events.

SUPPORTING THE SCHOOLS. Teachers can donate to rebuilding the Moore schools that were devastated by the tornadoes through Donors Choose, which has set up a special fund. The fund will be used to help Moore teachers create classroom recovery projects for critical supplies such as clothing, food, books, therapy resources and classroom furniture. Read President Obama's remarks about the disaster and federal plans to support recovery.


Fishman Prize Winners Announced

TNTP announced the winners of the 2013 Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, a prestigious award that spotlights excellence in teaching and highlights the practices of the nation’s most effective educators. The winners will receive $25,000 and participate in a summer residency with TNTP. The Fishman Prize application opens annually to all full-time teachers working in high-poverty public schools. For more information, visit www.tntp.org/fishmanprize.

Fishman Prize winners

Javier Velazquez is a 6th grade math teacher at the Howe School of Excellence in Chicago, Ill. Jennifer Corroy teaches 11th and 12th grade English Language Arts at IDEA College Preparatory Donna in Donna, Texas. Josalyn Tresvant is a special education teacher at Knight Road Elementary School in Memphis, Tenn. Keith Robinson teaches 9th grade Algebra at People’s Preparatory Charter School in Newark, N.J. 


Extending the Reach of Great Teaching

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is working with the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect (the world’s largest online network of teachers) to build Share My Lesson. Share My Lesson is a growing repository of exemplary resources to improve the quality of teaching everywhere. It includes 240,000 teachers and registration is free. Click here to learn more and to register.



RESPECTing the Profession

IVY LEAGUE DISPARAGEMENT. Love teaching but hate being treated like a teacher? In this Washington Post op-ed, Columbia University history major Sharon Liao examines the subtle pressure she encountered from Ivy League schools that discouraged her from pursuing a career in teaching. Alumni reminded her about "the likely disrespect, insufficient pay, long hours and lack of autonomy that go with the job." Her stark observation that she is "being scared out of teaching by teachers" sounds a rallying cry for RESPECT. Read the article.

WHAT NBCTs SAY. Read what National Board Certified Teachers have said about the Blueprint for RESPECT.

JOIN THE RESPECT MOVEMENT. Sign up to get updates on the RESPECT Project and to be added to the mailing list for opportunities for educators to lead the transformation of their profession.


What Are You Seeing In Schools?

In this conversation with Teaching Ambassador Fellow Dan Brown, Arne talks about his observations from recent school visits and discusses the issues that keep him up at night. Watch the video.

Ask Arne: What are you seeing in schools?


Arne Tackles Questions from Left and Right!

Giving testimony before the House Education and the Workforce Committee about the President's budget, Secretary Duncan fielded questions about the country's education goals on Tuesday. The committee covered a range of issues including reducing the high cost of college, the need for access to high quality early learning, and the effects of the sequester on children of poor, Native American and military families. Arne also answered questions about waivers, the Common Core State Standards, special education funding, and the effects of the Affordable Health Care Act on education. View the C-Span video.

ED Goes Back to School

Paula Williams, Early Learning Teacher at Sheltering Arms Early Learning Center in Atlanta (Ga.), reviews sight words with her students.



A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Why Teachers Succeed  

Read some of the insights teachers shared about their love of teaching and learning when staff from ED's regional offices visited classrooms during ED Goes Back to School. Read about who the Office of Innovation and Improvement staff shadowed in their blog.


Arne Offers Future Policy Leaders Advice

At the commencement of Georgetown's Public Policy Institute, Arne Duncan offered observations and advice from his experience working on behalf of the public. He quoted advice that hockey great Wayne Gretzky received from his father: "Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been." Read the speech.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T:  What it Means to NBCTs

"...as educators we can't afford to let (RESPECT) sit on a shelf. The vision outlined in RESPECT is one that has been created by the profession for the profession, and teachers must now carry it forward."

President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Ron Thorpe, in a letter to National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs).

Quote to Note

the New Math

Raising the Bar

80% -- One state's proficiency rate on state tests

38% -- Same state's rate of seniors prepared for college

(Cited in Implementing the Common Core State Standards: The Role of the Secondary School Leader, illustrating the importance of states raising their standards to focus on college and career readiness.)


Sizzlin' at the Savoy

In 2010, Savoy Elementary School had been plagued by years of steep decline, while its remote location across the river in Anacostia and poor reputation earned it the nickname “Siberia” among other educators. In 2011, the district began a comprehensive turnaround of Savoy, selecting the school for a School Improvement Grant from ED. Last year, Savoy was also selected as one of eight Turnaround Arts schools that are using Arts Education to increase academic engagement and performance. This week Arne Duncan stopped by to see how the federal, district, and school investments are paying off. While there, he was treated to a performance of the Savoy Players, elementary students who sang, danced, and regaled ED with an inspiring rendition of “Yes, You Can.” Listen to an NPR report on Savoy's "Artful Approach to Improving Performance" (Blair).

Read more about how Young Children Learn Math Through the Arts

Savoy Elementary School

Common Core Connections


EdWeek reports that the two consortia of states (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) developing tests that align with the Common Core are working on creating alternate assessments for students with severe cognitive disabilities. Read Samuels' report about Dynamic Learning Maps and other strategies that teachers like Mary Skinner-Alexander, a high school special education teacher in the Sioux Falls, S.D., district, will use with her student who communicates by directing his gaze at printed cards.


Making the Case for STEM

Two reports issued in the past few years by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) are worth taking a second look at in light of current conversations about our country's need to prepare and inspire the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students. Last week Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis lamented his state's difficulty finding and retaining math and science instructors, as Governor Cuomo announced that New York will begin paying a premium for high-performing teachers of both subjects.

Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in STEM Education for America’s Future describes a two-pronged strategy to prepare students so they have a strong foundation in STEM subjects and are able to use this knowledge in their personal and professional lives. Recommendations include cultivating, recruiting, and rewarding STEM teachers who prepare and inspire students, creating STEM-related experiences that interest students of all backgrounds, and supporting states and school districts in their efforts to transform schools into vibrant STEM learning environments.

Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in STEM lays out a strategy for improving STEM education during the first two years of college that responds to the challenges and opportunities "the STEM education pathway presents."

Read more about ED's plans for STEM education:  http://www.ed.gov/stem.

Tools for Students

WHAT IS A STUDENT LOAN SERVICER AND WHY SHOULD I CARE? offers advice to students about their first loan bills. Also check out Class of 2013: What’s Next for Your Student Loans?

Students' Corner

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• REPORT ON LEARNING DISABILITIES. The National Center for Learning Disabilities issued Diplomas at Risk, a report that makes recommendations to improve the graduation rate of students with specific learning disabilities and to assure consistency and comparability in the graduation data for students with disabilities.

• TEACHING THE DIGITAL FOOTPRINT. This nifty lesson by elementary school librarian Barbara Jizba introduces students to the concept of a digital footprint and helps them evaluate what is safe and not safe to post online. Includes connections to English Language Arts standards. View the video on the Teaching Channel.

• ALASKA, HAWAII AND WEST VIRGINIA GET FLEX. Three states were approved this week to get relief from No Child Left Behind, bringing the total to 37, with some states' applications pending. ESEA Flexibility (also known as a series of Waivers) has become increasingly important due to the unlikelihood that the law will be reauthorized in the near future. Read more.

• WAIVERS UNCOVERED. This 5:30 video features state superintendents explaining ED's program to give states Flexibility. Officials discuss how Flexibility has helped states create and implement locally driven plans to raise standards and close achievement gaps. Watch the video.

• NATIONAL LANGUAGE TEACHER. A Spanish teacher at East High School in Denver, Co., Noah Geisel, was recently announced the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) National Language Teacher of the Year. Read more.

• GROWING UP DRUG-FREE. Educators may be interested in this resource for teachers: a 64-page guide to drug prevention for parents. The flyer includes a primer on what kinds of drugs kids may be doing (including less commonly-known substances such as steroids), 6 commonly-held myths about preventing drug use, advice for parents who suspect drug use, and other resources for youth and parents. Download the HTML document.


Teacher Gets Call of a Lifetime

We love this story about Minnesota science teacher Bruce Leventhal's complete surprise when he got a phone call from Arne Duncan last week. Read about the "secret setup" and the circumstances that generated the call in the Lake Forest Times (Riese). According to the article, Duncan quizzed Leventhal about his background in science, his application of inquiry education and his beliefs regarding the Common Core State Standards. “Without a doubt, I will remember this, and this was a very big deal to me,” Leventhal said.

Mr. Leventhal talks with Arne Duncan.

open book

Recommended Reading

• SCHOOL TURNAROUND IN SHANGHAI. For a number of years, Shanghai's approach to schooling has garnered attention because of students’ performance on international assessments. This interesting study by Ben Jensen and Joanna Farmer of Australia's Grattan Institute examines how one school system is using an innovative partnering approach that matches successful and low-performing schools to work together. Read more about the study. Download their report.

• THE TRUTH-TELLER OF EARLY LEARNING. Educators interested in early childhood education will want to check out this tribute to Barbara Bowman made by Arne Duncan at a Family Focus dinner. His speech chronicles some milestones for early learning and Bowman's heroic role in shaping the President's focus on preschool. Read Duncan's remarks.  

• FLIPPING FOR SCIENCE. This EdWeek piece illustrates how teachers like Chris Merkert are turning their classes into learning communities driven by technology. "I'm no longer giving 40-minute lectures four times a day and wondering which class got the raw deal, or collecting and grading exams only to discover too late that they weren't getting it," said Mr. Merkert, who teaches middle school science. Read how he does it (Fairbanks).

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. “All children have a fundamental right to learn how to move and to take care of their bodies. It’s our job to provide that.” (Physical Education Teacher, at the National AAHPERD conference in Charlotte, N.C.)

4. “We need to continue to look at vision. It’s not all about standardization.” (Teacher, Las Cruces, N.M.)

3. "Bringing in parents to 'fix' them is not the way to involve them.” (Education Professor, Las Cruces, N.M.)

teachers visiting ED

2. On the need for mental health services in schools. "Some of my students' emotional issues are honestly beyond my toolbox." (Assistant Principal, Virginia Beach, Va.)

1. "It is important that a teacher's career trajectory not stop mid-career. Teachers need a career lattice." (Assistant Principal, Wash.)