TEACHING MATTERS -- September 19, 2013

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Nelba Marquez-Greene's 6-year-old daughter Ana Grace, who was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012.

September 19, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters


"Love Them All"

Nelba Marquez-Greene is a mother who lost her 6-year-old daughter, Ana Grace, in the Sandy Hook shooting in December last year. She wrote this beautiful and inspiring letter to teachers in Ed Week, a message well worth reading and reflecting on as we begin the new school year. 

"While I pray you will never find yourself in the position of the teachers at Sandy Hook, your courage will support students like my son, who have lived through traumas no child should have to," Marquez-Greene writes. "Your courage will support students who are left out and overlooked, like the isolated young man who killed my daughter. At some point he was a young, impressionable student, often sitting all alone at school. You will have kids facing long odds for whom your smile, your encouraging word, and your willingness to go the extra mile will provide the comfort and security they need to try again tomorrow..."

"Parents are sending their precious children to you this fall. Some will come fully prepared, and others not. They will come fed and with empty bellies. They will come from intact homes and fractured ones. Love them all."

Marquez-Greene is a marriage and family therapist and the mental-health and relational-wellness director for Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization that supports those affected by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and advocates policy changes related to mental health and gun violence.

Testing Flexibility

ED Issues Guidance for Schools Moving to Higher Standards

In guidance offered this week, states will be able to suspend their current tests this spring if they administer field tests being designed by the two common-assessment consortia in math and english/language arts. States that use that option will not have to report the results of the field tests. Read an article covering the new guidance in EdWeek's Curriculum Matters (Gewertz). Read the letter from Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle describing the states' testing options as they transition to the Common Core State Standards.

bus tour day three

On the third day of the bus tour, Arne made kindness coins with students at Dodge Traditional Magnet School (Tucson, Ariz.).


The Challenges, the Lessons, the Asks

As Arne's 4th Annual Bus Tour closes, he takes time to reflect on what he has learned over the course of this week in the Southwest. In his closing remarks at Castle Park Middle School in Chula Vista, Calif., he ends with some demands for action from us all: from students, he asks that they work hard as no one will hand an education or a job to them; from parents, he requests that they get to know their children's teachers, find out how to stay informed, and build partnerships with teachers; and from Congress, he demands: "as you go back and visit schools in your district, sit in the classrooms. Don't talk at teachers and parents. Listen to them. Get a first-hand sense of what is really going on in our schools [in order] to use that experience to inform your thinking on what a strong, reauthorized law should look like... [And] ask parents and educators, if they think education is an investment--or just another expense on a budget line."

Check out more coverage of the final days of the tour, including the wrap-up blog and this video of Arne's teachable moment, talking with kids about whose responsibility it is for them to get a great education.



Professionalization 2.0

The American Enterprise Institute has published an interesting paper making a case for something authors Jal Mehta (Harvard) and Steven Teles (Johns Hopkins) characterize as "plural professionalism." According to Mehta and Teles, plural professionalism offers a model of a teaching profession with a high level of consistently strong teaching, while conferring on education the status, respect, and pay seen in more established fields. What doesn't come with their model are the trappings of a monopolized industry that "limits diversity, restricts innovation, and forces a unity of values in a field that is deeply pluralistic." The paper is still in draft form and subject to change, but it is well worth considering. 


“Countries that are passive in the face of a global economy…will lose the competition for good jobs [and] for high living standards."

(President Obama, quoted by Arne Duncan in a video message about International Education Week. This year's International Education Week theme is "Learning Matters.")

Quote to Note

Common Core Connections

OUR FAVORITE THINGS. If you haven't yet checked out the Huffington Post's "13 extreme statements" made about the Common Core, you must make time, if only to provide some comic relief. Here are a few of our favorites:

• "What the heck am I talking about? The end of the world? Some kind of natural disaster? Zombies? No, something even scarier: the Common Core." – David Kierski

• "This is the progressive movement coming in for the kill. And believe me, if we don’t stop it, this will be the kill." – Glenn Beck

• "If this isn't Nazism, Communism, Marxism and all the 'ism's' I don't know what is." – Christina Michas

• "Now they’re teaching something called Common Core. Folks, this president is emulating dictators. Do you not understand that he is not playing games? If you look at Mao Tse-tung, this boy is emulating Mao Tse-tung to a T." – Bradlee Dean

THE MISSING LINK. A Bridgespan paper provides information about what teachers need to bridge the huge gap between the Common Core State Standards and improved learning. The report provides evidence that, while many states haven't yet done some of the critical work, three exemplars are leading the way: Kentucky, Hillsborough County Public Schools (Fla.), and Center for Inspired Teaching. We like this piece because it focuses on the need to involve teachers in the Common Core movement and describes the critical need to provide "teachers with the structures, time, and resources required to sustain the many years and many cycles of inquiry and improvement necessary to achieve the new bar for student learning." Read than executive summary. Download a PDF of the report, Building the Missing Link between the Common Core and Improved Learning.

A DIFFICULT NECESSITY. This editorial in the Buffalo (N.Y.) News argues that though the Common Core State Standards represent a heavy lift for educators, both higher standards and better assessments are needed. 

NEA POLL: TEACHERS SUPPORT THE COMMON CORE.poll released by the NEA last week indicates that roughly two-thirds of teachers support the Common Core State Standards and only eleven percent have objections. Top reasons given for their support: teachers like the "clearer guidelines and education goals," as well as the increased rigor. Twenty seven percent said the standards are already aligned with what they teach.


"I Must Have This Wrong"

Patricia (from Calif.) sent this letter to ED.

"Please tell me I have this wrong. You, Arne Duncan, are going to withhold funds from the state...because of a recently passed [California] Senate bill suspending Star Testing, an outdated test, for ONE year? I must have this wrong."

Here is what we can tell her and other teachers in California:

Letters to ED

It is critical that parents, families, and educators have information about what students are learning. They need to be able to know when students are on track and when they aren’t making progress, so they can make adjustments where needed. Unfortunately, the California plan would let an entire year go by without gathering information about the learning of a large group of students, denying teachers, parents and the students themselves the information they need to make sure all students move forward and gaps are being closed.  While current state assessments aren’t perfect, they still provide useful data about where students are struggling and whether schools are serving all students.

To help teachers and schools in the transition to college- and career-ready standards and new assessments, Secretary Duncan has offered states the opportunity to request flexibility to delay making high stakes decisions using new teacher and principal evaluation systems and to avoid double testing students who take field tests this spring. The Department is open to working with California on this issue, but doesn't see getting zero information about student learning as the answer.


Did You Know?

At least 34 states are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit.

(From a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Of all the states, Alabama has cut the most money, slashing $1,242 per student since before the recession.)

question mark


Virtual Visits to Our National Parks

Wishing you could find a way to bring your science students to the Grand Canyon? Look no further than the National Park Service's (NPS) website. Last week, NPS unveiled a new website specifically for teachers. NPS is using technology to help students and teachers truly experience America without costing a penny! In addition to some of the online resources that we have become accustomed to in terms of curriculum materials, this resource will also offer professional development opportunities, distance learning programs, and virtual field trips. Some of our favorite non-traditional resources that this site offers (and by the way, they provide grade level, subject matter, and aligned standards for your reference) include:

female park ranger talking to kids in park
  • Arrange for a ranger or park scientist to come to your class as a guest speaker.
  • Request a traveling trunk of primary documents and artifacts to be sent to your classroom for your students to explore.
  • Loan materials such as snowshoes or binoculars for your students.

To celebrate the announcement, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis joined students at Hyattsville Middle School in Maryland as they “traveled” live to the Grand Canyon for a lesson with national park rangers. Watch this video that highlights these students' response to the site and some of its exciting new features!


ED Awards More Than $15.1 Million in Grants to Make Sure Students are Ready for Kindergarten

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded more than $15.1 million in Enhanced Assessment Grants (EAGs) to three state education agencies—North Carolina, Maryland and Texas—to develop or enhance their Kindergarten Entry Assessments. "A child who's ready for kindergarten has a strong start toward success in school and in life," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. "The high-quality assessments that these states will develop will give educators and parents an additional tool for understanding a child's cognitive and non-cognitive development." Learn more.


Teaching Ambassador Fellows Toni Hull (2012-13 Classroom Fellow) and Lisa Clarke (2012-14 Washington Fellow) ride behind Arne and the students of Columbus Elementary School (Columbus, N.M.), where seventy-five percent of the students are U.S. citizens who live in Mexico and cross the border each day for school.

TAF News

Strong Voices, Great Trip

Last week as 2013 Teacher Ambassador Fellows (TAFs) traveled through the Southwest with Arne Duncan, they experienced a unique “Bus Tour” all their own. For them, this year’s tour not only represented a “Strong Start and Bright Future,” for American students and education, but also the tremendous power of teacher voice. TAFs reached out to teachers, leaders, students, and others interested in education, providing them with the opportunity to share their concerns and insights regarding current education policy. Some highlights:

An exceptional teacher at Sunnyside High School (Tucson, Ariz.) asked after a discussion about teacher pay, “Can we afford to stay in the profession?” (Emily Davis)

• Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque (N.M.) integrates the Lakota, Tiwa and Navajo cultural traditions and language into every facet of instruction and support for their students. (Joiselle Cunningham)

The young students at Columbus Elementary are so motivated to learn that they cross the border from Mexico to New Mexico every day with their laminated birth certificate in hand. (Toni Hull)

A standout  principal at Canyon Breeze Elementary School (Avondale, Ariz.) seamlessly moved from deconstructing a 5th grade teacher’s lesson on decomposing numbers, to briefing me in depth about an individual student’s progress, to speaking with his superintendent about Title 2 funds.  (Josh Klaris, Resident Principal)

• At a time when some schools are defunding the arts, the New Mexico School for the Arts (Santa Fe) provides students both rigorous art and serious academic education. Students said the professional level arts training they received fueled their interest in academic courses and helped pay for college. Last year’s graduating class of 38 students received over $2.8 million in scholarships.  (Lisa Clarke)

the New Math


Small High Schools Work

New findings from a multi-year study by MDRC show that small high schools in New York City, which serve mostly disadvantaged students of color, continue to produce sustained positive effects, raising graduation rates by 9.5 percentage points -- nearly 10 more graduates for every 100 entering ninth-grade students.

These effects are seen in virtually every subgroup, including male and female students of color, students with below-grade-level eighth-grade proficiency in math and reading, and low-income students. In addition, there is evidence that small high schools may increase graduation rates for two new subgroups for which findings were previously unavailable: special education students and English language learners.

The schools also raised by 6.8 percentage points the proportion of students scoring 75 or more on the English Regents exam, a critical measure of college readiness used by the City University of New York.  Read the report that for the first time includes a look inside these schools through the eyes of principals and teachers, as reported in interviews and focus groups.

Questions about the Common Core?


Common Core Questions

We mentioned in a previous issue the Teaching Channel's September event to answer teachers' burning questions about the Common Core State Standards. However, we are so impressed by the feedback teachers are getting on topics like these, that we want to be sure all educators are aware of the resource. Educators can also weigh in and answer the questions.

My principal makes us write the common core objective on the board. With so many objectives in one day I am having trouble posting them. Any quick and easy suggestions? Read the responses.

Can visual art be considered a "text"? Is "reading" information from a work of art (a primary source document) encouraged within the Common Core? Read the responses.

Hi, I am a second grade teacher and RI.3 has me stumped. What is it asking? Could you give me a few examples? Read the responses.

Tools for Students

BEGINNING YOUR HIGH SCHOOL YEAR WITH THE END IN MIND. U.S. News and World Report recently released their rankings and reviews of the nation's best universities, colleges, liberal arts colleges, regional colleges (and much more). The reviews include enrollment, tuition and fees, deadline information, and much more information worth checking out! The publication also provides Applying to College Knowledge Center with information about how to apply, write application essays, select references, so on.

GIVE YOUR PRINCIPAL A HIGH FIVE. NASSP and SchoolTube are sponsoring a video contest for National Principals Month in October. Students who attend great schools can give a shout out to their principal and gain national exposure on YouTube, SchoolTube, and NASSP.org. Three winners will receive a $200 Best Buy gift card. Entries must be received by October 31, 2013. Details can be found on the SchoolTube website.

LEAD. INSPIRE. INNOVATE. TEACH. Do you know a student who would make a great teacher? Encourage him or her to check out this newly relaunched website, www.teach.org, that serves as a dynamic one-stop shop for creating a personal path, starting in high school, to becoming a teacher, including state requirements, various types of prep programs, and scholarships, etc. 

Students' Corner


How to Structure Conversations about Data

A new Regional Educational Laboratory guide, Five Key Steps for Structuring Conversations about Data, walks teams through important steps for using data to make informed decisions. These include setting the stage, examining the data, understanding the findings, developing an action plan, monitoring progress and measuring success. Guiding questions, suggested activities, and activity forms are included.


Common Myths about Dual Language Learning in Pre K- 3rd Grade

The Foundation for Child Development (FCD) just released an update of Linda Espinosa's 2008 research on dual language learning in early grades. The report identifies seven commonly-held, erroneous assumptions about young learners who enter the country speaking another language and provides recommendations for educators.

Myth 1: Learning Two Languages During the Early Childhood Years Will Overwhelm, Confuse, and/or Delay Acquisition of English.

Myth 2: The Language Development of Dual Language Learners Looks the Same as Monolingual Language Development.

Myth 3: Total English Immersion from Pre-kindergarten Through Third Grade Is the Best Way for a Young Dual Language Learner to Acquire English.

Myth 4: Because Schools Don’t Have the Capacity to Provide Instruction in all the Languages Represented by DLL Children, Programs Should Provide Instruction in One Common Language—English.

Myth 5: Spanish-Speaking Latinos Show Social As Well As Academic Delays When Entering Kindergarten.

Myth 6: Native English Speakers May Experience Academic and Language Delays in Dual Language Programs.

Myth 7: If the Instruction in Your Program is Delivered Primarily in English, You Do Not Need to Worry About DLL Children’s Progress in Their Home Language.

Download the report (PDF).

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

CAN EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE BE TAUGHT? Jennifer Kahn's article in the NYTimes about teaching students socio-emotional skills provides a good overview of the emerging research and examples of schools and teachers who are focused  on strengthening the soft skills. Kahn writes, "So-called non-cognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures."

• COLBERT GETS SCHOOLED. If you missed Arne Duncan on The Colbert Report this week, you can watch the segment here on Comedy Central.

MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS. "Parents: 19 Meaningful Questions You Should Ask Your Child's Teacher" (Heick) offers topics to move teacher-parent conversations off the usual script, including, "What did you do in school today?" Among the better questions: "What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?" and "What t am I not asking but should be?"

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING IN SCHOOL. This May 2012 report from the Everyone Graduates Center is worth revisiting because it focuses attention on students who are chronically absent for 10% or more of the school year and advocates for interventions. While schools currently track daily attendance, the researchers at Johns Hopkins argue that because chronic absenteeism contributes to gaping achievement gaps and high dropout rates, schools should systematically track and analyze absences by student.

• LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION. Fifteen Kenilworth Parkside youth participated in the Digital Media Academy (DMA) sponsored by the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) and supported by an ED Promise Neighborhood grant. During the summer, these students had the opportunity to learn from top media artists, journalists, web designers, and other professionals representing more than 23 media-related organizations, a number of which offered internships behind the camera or microphone. Read more.


ED Awards $30 Million in Supporting Effective Educator Development Grants 

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced awards to six national non-profits to improve student achievement by increasing the effectiveness of teachers and principals. The national non-profits funded under the Supporting Effective Educators Development (SEED) program will enhance preparation of pre-service teachers, provide professional development to in-service teachers and leaders, and disseminate best practices, ultimately serving approximately 27,000 teachers and principals, reaching a significant number of students across all 50 states. The six grantees are the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, Teach for America, WestEd, National Writing Project, National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, and National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. For more information about the grantees, see the press release.


Virginia Lottery Recognizes Super Teachers

We love to hear how companies and folks outside of education appreciate and recognize teachers. Virginia Lottery annually recognizes a Virginia "Super Teacher." One of the eight awards for 2013 honored John Bennett at Mary Munford Elementary School in Richmond. Check out the video of his surprise award presentation

Virginia Lottery Super Teacher logo

Sponsored by the Virginia Lottery, the Virginia PTA and Virginia-based The Supply Room Companies, the Super Teacher award, now in its sixth year, consists of a $2,000 cash prize and an additional $2,000 classroom credit from The Supply Room Companies. Later this fall, each of the eight schools in which a teacher was honored this year, will participate in a public vote to receive $5000 in classroom supplies. For more information and to watch the inspiring stories of other winners, go to the Super Teacher page.

open book

Recommended Reading

GATSBY IN LA. "In 2007, after twenty years of working as a television writer," Ellie Herman writes, "I decided on an impulse to become an English teacher." Teaching at a high-needs school in Los Angeles, however, turned out not to be the rosy picture portrayed in the movies. After 5 years of teaching, Herman is taking a year off to hone her practice by visiting a variety of schools, observing classes, and talking with great teachers, recording on her blog what she learns.

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. Comparing a teachers' overwhelmed feelings as they prepare to teach the Common Core State Standards: "Teachers are taking their first piano lesson. Yet they feel like they have a concert in one week at Carnegie Hall." (Principal, Albuquerque, N.M.)

4. “If we fundamentally believe that all students can learn then we should believe that all who really want to teach can also be taught.” (Teacher, S.D.) 

3. "If teachers were paid by the hour instead of with a contract the government could not afford any teacher. We give so much of our personal time to be the best we can be for our students and NO ONE, except fellow teachers and our families know what we give of ourselves each year. Athletes, movie stars, music performers, doctors, lawyers, government officials all make more money than teachers. Have any of them ever thought that it was a teacher(s) who helped them earn that knowledge so that they can be where they are today?" (Teacher, in an email to ED).

2. “It’s very powerful to have a teacher watch a teacher…” (Elementary Teacher, Albuquerque, N.M.) 

1. On the need for universal early learning: “How can you build a strong house on a weak foundation?” (Teacher, Tucson, Ariz.)

Albuquerque. N.M.