TEACHING MATTERS -- 20 June 2013

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June 20, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

Maryland and DC Teachers discuss Common Core testing with Arne Duncan and senior staff

Teachers from Maryland and the District of Columbia met at ED June 3 to talk about a number of education issues, including new Common Core assessments, professional learning, and flexibility in new test implementation for states.


Teachers Help ED Clarify Testing Policy

In response to thousands of teachers and leaders who have engaged in a dialogue with the Department of Education about how best to manage new assessments while becoming familiar with higher standards, Secretary Arne Duncan announced a plan this week to offer some breathing room. In a letter to states, he described how states that have approved waivers may choose to avoid double-testing and give teachers time to adjust to the new assessments before using them to make high-stakes decisions. Read Duncan Discusses Influence of Teacher Voice on New Flexibility Decision. Watch a related "Ask Arne" video (6:41). Learn more in the NYTimes and the Washington Post.

VIVA Teacher Freeda Pirillis

Chicago teacher Freeda Pirillis works with VIVA Teachers to advance her profession.

Teacher Voice Groups Strengthen Teaching

The Center for American Progress talked with teachers representing a number of teachers' organizations about getting more teachers’ voices heard in education-policy discussions. Their compilation video includes teachers from a number of teacher voice groups that are working to professionalize teaching by giving educators more opportunities to shape their profession.


"It was believed that there were still places in the economy [that high school dropouts] could go. We know now that isn't the case."

(Researcher commenting on data in Diplomas Count 2013.)

Quote to Note

Common Core Connections

DEBUNKING THE MYTHS. In this op-ed, Karin Chenoweth, writer-in-residence at Education Trust, debunks  misinformation about the Common Core Standards (CCSS), including claims that the CCSS "will cost money we don’t have; they will force students to read insulation manuals in English class; they represent a federal takeover of schools.” Instead, Chenowerth writes about a growing “enthusiasm for Common Core Standards among educators in successful high-poverty and high-minority schools.”

MATH MISALIGNMENT. According to a new report from Change the Equation and the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, though “almost all states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, just a fraction of them require students to take math courses that teach content to meet the standards.” Only 11 of the Common Core states have fully aligned their graduation requirements in mathematics with those standards.

REMEMBERING ITS ROOTS. Noting that the CCSS were developed at the state level after governors and state education chiefs became “alarmed that US students were being outpaced globally” and “banded together to develop clear and consistent standards,” this Washington Post editorial criticizes the backlash happening in state legislatures.The editors point out that "the standards don’t dictate curriculum; rather, they lay out the math, reading and writing skills that students should master from kindergarten through 12th grade." Further, the piece stresses that this was a bipartisan effort relying on research from experts and input from teachers.


Every Kid Needs a Champion

In this TED Talk, veteran teacher Rita Pierson shares her heartfelt perspective on the impact that a teacher can have on students by simply believing in them and connecting with them on a personal, human level. In response to a colleague who once quipped, "They don't pay me to like the kids," she aptly responded, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like."

Rita Pierson

awards ceremony


Stunning Student Writers

To hear recent news reports, you'd wonder if there's a teen left in America who can write a coherent sentence! Though only 27 percent of 12th-graders tested proficient in writing on the last reported National Assessment of Educational Progress, here's one trend that gets lost: there's another group of American teens writing with greater sophistication and creativity than probably ever before. Read more about NPR consultant Joseph Shapiro's experience at the recent Scholastic Art and Writing Awards celebration.

student talking to teacher


Not Your Momma's History

Earlier this month students from around the country participated in the National History Day Contest (NHD). Anything but a typical historical research project, this competition asks students to choose a topic related to the theme and present it in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary, or a website. Projects range from censorship in rock music to Marilyn Monroe, and from Star Trek to the explosion of the Challenger. For this year's competition, students had to prove their historical moment was a turning point.

This year Whittier Middle School (Maine), made it to the finals after only its second year participating in the program. To share the secret to their success, Maine's Department of Education captured Whittier's teachers and students on video preparing for the event and reflecting on what made this learning experience so fulfilling. Watch the History Channel's video on the History of NHD.

the New Math

Presidential Scholars

Of the 3 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 3,300 candidates qualified for the 2013 Presidential Scholar Awards. 141 Scholars were selected to receive this prestigious award.

Eligibility is determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams and through nominations made by the Chief State School Officers or the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts’ national YoungArts™ program. (See U.S. Department of Education Presidential Scholars program.)

Resources from the School Turnaround Learning Community (STLC)


Cooperative Group Work Webinar. On June 24 from 2:30pm to 3:30pm EDT, participate in a discussion designed to provide a platform to talk through the challenges of implementing Cooperative Group Work (CGW). The webinar will cover working with struggling students, as well as how to use CGW across subjects and get feedback. Instructional coaches will be on hand to facilitate the conversation and share best practices. Registrants will receive a tool with lesson plan ideas and supporting templates developed. Register here. View the past webinar discussion on CGW: Strategies for At-Risk Youth, the recording of which can be found by clicking here.

Tools for Students: LGBT Pride Month

LGBT SUPPORT. The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) supports and provides resources to student organizers and Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA), as well as training workshops for educators. Register your school's GSA.

FIGHTING FOR HUMAN RIGHTS. The Human Rights Campaign works to provide tools, facilitate connections with other LGBT student activists across the country, and empower youth to fight for LGBT equality on campus and beyond. Their site also includes resources such as an LGBT scholarship database and maps of state laws and policies.

GAY-STRAIGHT ALLIANCE. Gay-Straight Alliance Network is a national youth leadership organization that connects school-based Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) to each other and community resources through peer support, leadership development, and training. Find out more about events, resources, and ways to get involved.

Students' Corner


Reducing Student Drinking

How can we decrease the acceptability of reckless, alcohol-fueled student behavior? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has announced a challenge that seeks proposals for cost-effective, portable technology-based products to do just that: decrease the acceptability of and engagement in high-risk drinking among college students. Winners will receive $60,000 for first place, $30,000 for second place, and $10,000 for third place. Submissions must be received by July 8, 2013. Learn more

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• GOT TRAVEL? WILL LEARN. Enhance summer learning opportunities while traveling with these geography resources from EPA, Library of Congress, and other agencies.

• TEACHING CLIMATE CHANGE. At ClimateChangeLIVE, the U.S. Forest Service, Prince William Network and partners bring climate learning to teachers through webcasts, webinars, and online climate education resources.

TEACHING TOLERANCE. In honor of LGBT Pride Month, check out Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, created as a place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools. Resources include professional development, classroom resources, film kits, a free magazine subscription, among others.

• STILL A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE.  Last week Arne hosted the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) at ED as UNCF launched their "Better Futures" campaign. The slogan for Better Futures brings new life to an existing theme.


Did You Know?

The Affordable Care Act makes it possible for recent graduates to stay on a parent's insurance plan until age 26, and it prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.  

(Find out more about the protections and benefits afforded students. Read the ED blog.)

question mark

preschool children


Too Small To Fail

Hillary Clinton recently took on an active role in helping the nation's youngest students get off to a good start, by forming an alliance on their behalf called Too Small to Fail. A partnership between the Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, the initiative will promote children's brain development research, empower parents to improve learning and health, and engage businesses in the quest to improve conditions for families. “One of the best investments we can make is to give our kids the ingredients they need to develop in the first five years of life.” Read the Washington Post article.


Preparing for the Worst

• WEBINAR. ED will host 90-minute webinars that provide an overview of the recently released Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans. The guide was created to help schools develop and implement high-quality emergency operations plans. Register for An Overview of the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans taking place Thursday, June 27 (1:00 - 2:30 p.m. EDT) and Friday, June 28 (2:00 - 3:30 p.m. EDT). Review the archived webinars.

• GUIDE. Download the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans.

• OP-ED. Read EdWeek's take on the resources: Don't Arm Teachers (Zubrzycki).

• FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: Read about the administration's progress on reducing gun violence and promoting safety in our schools and communities.

open book

Recommended Reading

• LESSONS LEARNED. Todd Sutler, Brooke Peters and Michelle Healy of the Odyssey Initiative spent the last school year traveling around the country and learning from some of the best and most progressive schools they could find. They learned that the old saw that "There aren't any good schools out there" just isn't true. In fact, they found "many educators who are achieving quantifiable and qualitative success without pushing test-prep." Learn more about them.

PARTING WORDS. When Arne Duncan addressed the graduates at McKinley Tech High School last week, he reflected on the school's aspirational motto: “No excuses, just solutions.” Duncan hypothesized that the motto does not imply that graduates will not fail, but said it serves to remind them that they have "the talent, the skills, the resilience, and the character to respond to failure – to learn and grow from it – and to find solutions." He urged them to take the motto to heart and make it their own. Read the speech.

• A TEACHER-PREP DISCONNECT. A report from the National Council on Teacher Quality has found that most teacher prep programs fail to adequately prepare educators for the real-world experience in the classroom. The report provides information about more than 1100 college and university teacher prep programs so that aspiring teachers, parents and school districts can compare programs and determine which are doing the best -- and worst -- job of training new teachers. Read about ED's plans to support teacher preparation in "Our Future, Our Teachers: The Obama Administration’s Plan for Teacher Education Reform and Improvement."

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. “Compensation should be worthy of expectations of teachers in the profession.” (Teacher, Deming, N.M.)

4. “NCLB has to change because now all children are being left behind and school is not fun. Constant testing and constant pressures are turning children off, not on, to learning.” (38-year Teacher, Naples, Maine)

DCPS teacher

3. “It’s no longer okay to look down your nose on the PE teacher, and to think he’s just the guy rolling out the ball. What we teach kids and prepare them for is going to make their lives better and the data is proving us out.” (Physical Education Teacher, Virginia)

2. “I felt like I needed permission to speak out before today. Now, I don’t.” (Teacher, Naples, ME)

1. "We need to keep raising expectations for what we expect from our parents and our communities." (Teacher, Kentucky)