TEACHING MATTERS -- August 29, 2013

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August 29, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

graphic illustrating the relationship between college and employment

Americans with a college degree earn more and are more likely to be employed.


Creating A Sure Path to the Middle Class

Last week President Obama outlined an ambitious new agenda to combat rising college costs and make college affordable for American families. His plan will measure college performance through a new rating system so students and families have the information to select schools that provide the best value. After this rating system is well established, Congress can tie federal student aid to college performance so that students maximize their federal aid at institutions providing the best value.

Additionally, the President’s plan will also take down barriers that stand in the way of competition and innovation, particularly in the use of new technology. It also brings attention to the most cutting-edge college practices for providing high value at low costs. And the plan will help student borrowers struggling with their existing debt by ensuring that all borrowers who need it can have access to the Pay As You Earn plan that caps loan payments at 10 percent of income. He also directed the Department of Education to ramp up its efforts to reach out to students struggling with their debt. Learn more about the President's plan. Watch a GooglePlus Hangout with Arne Duncan about college affordability. Read Fact Sheet: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class: Jobs.


Cuts to Head Start are the Worst in History

Last year about 1 million of the nation's poorest children got a leg up on school through Head Start, a program that helps prepare children up to age five for school. This fall, about 57,000 children will be denied a place in Head Start and Early Head Start as fallout from sequestration that slashed over $400 million from the federal program's $8 billion budget. Read the story (USA Today, Lu).

shot of cover of paper



What Does it Mean to Empower Teachers?

One of the smartest educators I know recently reminded a few of us at ED, "Collaboration is not power-sharing among adversaries." Similarly, there are plenty of inaccurate assumptions that the best way to sell the reform du jour is to invite teachers to a meeting to get their "buy in." Instead, he pointed us to this powerful guide produced by the Reform Support Network. We like the guidance because it turns stereotypes about teacher buy-in upside down and operates under the proposition that true educator empowerment begins with authentic engagement.

Personalized Learning Gets a Boost


When ED announced the recent round of the Race to the Top District competition, it invited applicants to demonstrate how they can personalize education for all students in their schools. Through the grant, districts will provide teachers the information, tools, and supports needed to personalize the learning experience and substantially accelerate and deepen each student’s learning. It will also create opportunities for students to identify and pursue areas of personal academic interest. For more information, check out the Race to the Top District website.

Personalized learning



Education: the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time


The day before the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, Arne Duncan spoke about the importance of education, framing it as a critical civil rights issue. Appearing before 400 students, a crowd of civil rights leaders, and educators at School Without Walls (Washington, D.C.), he called on the audience to press for real progress out of "mental slavery" that results when marginalized students are denied a quality education. "From North Carolina -- where underpaid teachers go on public assistance -- to Philadelphia -- where politicians argue about whether there's enough money to open the schools -- Dr. King’s message still hasn't been heard," he said.


Duncan also lauded progress that has been made in civil rights. He received much applause when he spoke about an important difference between the original event and the anniversary march. "Tomorrow, just like fifty years ago, an African-American man will stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and speak about civil rights and justice," Duncan said. "But afterwards, he won’t visit the White House. He’ll go home to the White House. That’s how far this country has come." Learn more. Read Duncan's remarks. Read the EDWeek article.

Quote to Note

College Opens Doors to the Middle Class


"The unemployment rate for Americans with at least a college degree is about one-third lower than the national average. The incomes of folks who have at least a college degree are more than twice those of Americans without a high school diploma. So more than ever before, some form of higher education is the surest path into the middle class."


(From President Obama's remarks at State University of New York Buffalo last week. Watch the President's speech.)

Common Core Connections

THE COMMON CORE AND THE COMMON GOOD. In this NY Times op-ed, Charles Blow makes the case for more rigorous standards, citing evidence of declining readiness to compete in the global economy. "Even as the job market becomes more global and international competition for jobs becomes steeper," writes Blow, "We have gone from the leader to a laggard."


CORE COMMUNITY. edWEB.net offers a Common Core professional online community for educators interested in developing a better understanding of the standards and how to implement them. Sign up here to get information, guidance, resources and platforms to discuss emerging practices with education experts and colleagues.


PARCC SAMPLE ITEMS RELEASED. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a 19-state consortium working together to create next-generation assessments, recently released additional sample items for both English language arts/literacy and mathematics. The sample items show how PARCC is developing tasks to measure the critical content and skills found in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). 



Letting Go of the "2 Percent Rule"


ED has published proposed regulations to transition away from the so-called "2 percent rule" so that all students are prepared for college and careers. Under the existing regulations, states have been allowed to develop alternate assessments aligned to modified academic achievement standards for some students with disabilities and use the results of those assessments for accountability purposes. In making accountability determinations, states currently may count scores as proficient for up to 2 percent of students in the grades assessed using the alternate assessments.

Under the Department's proposed regulations, students with disabilities will transition to college and career ready standards and general assessments that are aligned to those standards and accessible to all students. Research has shown that struggling students with disabilities make academic progress when provided with appropriate supports and instruction. More accessible general assessments, in combination with such supports and instruction for students with disabilities, can promote high expectations for all students, including students with disabilities, by encouraging teaching and learning to the academic achievement standards measured by the general assessments. The public is invited to comment on the proposed regulations through Oct. 7.




Musical Budgets?


We recently received a letter from an educator in New York who compared scant education budgets with a familiar children's game:


"In kindergarten, we all remember that game of musical chairs, as being something fun to play. But as we grow older and hopefully wiser, we come to realize that this classroom game was more than likely created by a teacher of unknown origin for two reasons:


1) "not enough chairs in the room for the number of students; and

2) inadequate budget allocated for ordering a few more chairs in the school at the time."

Maddie Fennell (2013-14 Classroom Fellow). Check out the press Fennell has received since being appointed as a new Teaching Ambassador Fellow at ED. She is a literacy coach at Miller Park Elementary School (Omaha, Neb.).

TAF News



America’s Kids Need a Better Education Law


In this recent Washington Post editorial, Arne Duncan calls the No Child Left Behind law "outmoded and broken" and urges Congress to pass legislation that gives systems and educators greater freedom. Here is an excerpt:

Arne at a recent school visit in Denver

"No Child Left Behind has given the country transparency about the progress of at-risk students. But its inflexible accountability provisions have become an obstacle to progress and have focused schools too much on a single test score. NCLB is six years overdue for an update, and nearly all agree that it should be replaced with a law that gives systems and educators greater freedom while continuing to fulfill the law’s original promise.


The vision of American education that President Obama and I share starts in the classroom — with fully engaged students, creative and inspiring teachers, and the support and resources needed to get every child prepared for college and career. Students in our poorest communities should enjoy learning opportunities like those in our wealthiest communities. Zip code, race, disability and family income should not limit students’ opportunities or reduce expectations for them. The progress of U.S. students should remain transparent."

School is a Life Changer, Even in Prison


Inmates who participate in correctional education programs have 43% lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who do not.


Each year approximately 700,000 individuals leave federal and state prisons; about half of them will be re-incarcerated within three years.


(From research recently released by ED and the Justice Department showing that prison education reduces recidivism, saves money, and improves employment. Learn more.)

the New Math

Resources from the School Turnaround Learning Community

ED AWARDS GRANTS TO HELP LOWEST ACHIEVING SCHOOLS. ED announced this week that New Hampshire, Hawaii, and Idaho will receive approximately $5.2 million for School Improvement Grants (SIG) to turn around their persistently lowest achieving schools. "Turning around our lowest-performing schools is hard work," said Arne Duncan, "but it's our responsibility. We owe it to our children, their families and the broader community." Learn more.



Supporting Teachers in the New School Year


In this SmartBlog on Education, Arne fields questions about issues teachers face returning to the classrooms this fall, including transition to the Common Core and how to support teachers who will be juggling many reforms during the new year.




What Parents Think of Our Schools


It's worth the time to check out a recently-released AP-NORC poll on Parents' Attitudes on the Quality of Education in the United States. Some highlights:


Parents hold favorable views of their local schools, but when asked specifically about outcomes, less than half think the schools do a good job preparing students for the workforce or giving students the practical skills they will need as adults.


Parents generally believe their child’s teachers are high quality, and they rate teachers who are passionate, effective, and caring especially high.


Not all parents are satisfied with the quality of teaching at their child’s school. Significant minorities report that finding and retaining good teachers is a serious problem, as is the overall quality of instruction. And 17 percent of parents report that their child had a poor-performing teacher in at least one subject this past year. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of parents favor making it easier for school districts to fire teachers for poor performance.


PDK/Gallup. This month PDK/Gallup also released data from their annual survey of attitudes toward America's public schools. Some findings:


62% of respondents haven’t heard of the Common Core


22% think increased testing helps school performance


58% reject using student test scores to evaluate teachers


33% think hiring more security guards is the most effective way to promote school safety


68% favor the idea of charter schools


35% believe the biggest problem that public schools in their community must deal with is lack of financial support


Keeping up with ED

Did you know you can receive a daily email that has a collection of all the Department's and Arne’s tweets without joining Twitter? You can also get an email when a blog is posted or subscribe to these: press releases, media advisories (sent all together at the end of the day) and speeches.

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes



• ATTENDANCE AWARENESS MONTH. September is Attendance Awareness Month, and your school can get involved! Attendance Works, a nonprofit promoting the importance of attendance in student learning, has more information here.

• NEWER, BETTER ERIC. The Institute of Education Sciences released a new ERIC site this month. Check it out at www.eric.ed.gov.


• FACTS ABOUT FINANCIAL AID. The National Center for Education Sciences just released a report of findings about student financial aid during the 2011–12 academic year. The report includes a number of insights into who is benefiting from financial assistance, what types of assistance they are receiving, and the sources of the aid. These facts stood out for us: 


  • Among all dependent undergraduates, 16 percent came from families with incomes under $20,000, and another 18 percent came from families earning $20,000–$39,999. Twenty-eight percent of dependent undergraduates had family incomes of $100,000 or more.

  • Among all independent undergraduates, 30 percent had incomes under $10,000, and another 20 percent had incomes between $10,000 and $19,999.


Read Arne Duncan's statement about the report.


• THE BEST OF SUMMER LEARNING. This ed.gov blog highlights quite a few schools and districts that used innovative strategies to boost student learning over the summer.

Tools for Students


BREAKING BARRIERS FOR ADVANCED COURSEWORK. ED recently announced the award of more than $28.8 million in grants to 42 states to cover a portion of the fees charged to low-income students for taking Advanced Placement (AP) tests. Based on the anticipated number of test-takers and other factors, the grants under the Advanced Placement Test Fee Program are expected to be sufficient to pay all but $10 of the cost of each Advanced Placement exam taken by low-income students. Learn more.

Students' Corner

Owning It--cover

Recommended Reading


• OWNING OUR PROFESSION. After seven years of writing columns on concrete teaching strategies and teacher ownership of the profession, 2009 California Teacher of the Year Alex Kajitani penned Owning It. The text provides a chronicle about teachers as classroom leaders, colleagues and public professionals. In addition to innovative, clear advice and ideas on how to improve outcomes for students, Kajitani offers inventive, thought-provoking advice that’s not all common sense (or politically correct). For example, Kajitani suggests that in-classroom cell phone use could be used to support language development for English Language Learners. More than anything, Kajitani gives food for thought and asks educators to own it all by examining teaching in the classroom, school and larger community. Find Owning It at www.OwningItBook.com.


• GAMING THE STUDENTS. Learn how some creative teachers are using games to teach computer coding in this EDWeek article (Davis). One clever Ft. Worth (Texas) teacher reports that students "don't even realize they're learning computer coding." 

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

teacher at a Coretta Scott King leadership event

Teacher Oluwateniola Osinubi speaks at the Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy, which Arne attended.


Top 5 Teacher Quotes


Wisdom from educators heard by ED


 5. “Teachers must begin introducing themselves as, ‘Hi, my name is ____ and I am a professional teacher.'” (School Board Member, N.J.)


4. "[The Common Core] is really a culture shift for most teachers. I wish we had more time for PD." (Teacher, Ill.)


3. "When educators sit around a table together and look at data, it motivates them to make changes." (Teacher, Kan.)

2. "We need to eliminate tracking based on [a student's] perceived ability." (Special Education Teacher, Va.)


1. "Principals have to find a way to get out of the office more. It takes a great instructional leader who provides a culture of student learning." (Teacher, Pa.)