THE TEACHERS EDITION -- October 16, 2014

The Teachers Edition

October 16, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

photo of students taking a test


Striking a Balance 
Between Instruction and Assessment

Officials from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) announced steps to ensure that assessments are used in responsive ways that "strike the right balance between instruction and assessment." 

Chief State school officers committed to:

  • Increase transparency by publishing an easily accessible list of all state assessments;
  • Evaluate the quality and coherence of state assessment systems;
  • Work with stakeholders to eliminate redundant assessments; and 
  • Partner with school districts to review their benchmark and formative assessments. 

Large urban school districts committed to:

  • Review all assessments administered to determine alignment, appropriateness, and technical quality;
  • Convene a task force to review findings from a comprehensive survey of district testing and make recommendations for improvement; 
  • Streamline and/or eliminate assessments found to be low quality, redundant, or inappropriately used; and
  • Improve the use of assessment results to enhance classroom instruction and curtail counterproductive test prep practices.

Learn more from CCSSO and CGCS.

In response to the announcement, Arne Duncan said, "[I]n some places, tests – and preparation for them – are dominating the calendar and culture of schools and causing undue stress for students and educators. I welcome the action announced today by state and district leaders, which will bring new energy and focus to improving assessment of student learning. My Department will support that effort." Read his complete statement.

Late this summer, Duncan made remarks about difficulties arising from over-testing and from tying test scores to teacher evaluations too soon, giving states an option to apply for more time before tying new tests to evaluations.  Read Motoko Rich's (NY Timesstory about the testing announcement. Read Duncan's blog, where he describes how "testing issues are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools." 


Vote to Fund a Teacher's $100,000 Dream

In May 2014, Farmers Insurance announced their Dream Big Teacher Challenge, inviting educators across America to tell what they would do with a $100,000 grant. They have since selected 15 finalists and have posted summaries of their $100,000 grant proposals.

Educators can view the videos, read the stories and vote for the ones they deem most worthy. Five teachers, one from each zone, will be awarded the $100,000 grant. Voting will continue through midnight, November 30, 2014. Learn more

Teach to Lead update

Organizations Rally 
to Support Teacher Leadership

Thirty-seven organizations have joined the Teach to Lead effort to grow opportunities for teacher leadership. Since the original announcement last week, colleagues from Aspen Institute Education and Society ProgramKnowles Science Teaching FoundationBoston Teachers Union, Boston Teacher Leadership Certificate Program at Teachers21, the National Writing Project and the Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky have agreed to support teacher leadership through Teach to Lead. Read the complete list.

HOW TEACHER LEADERSHIP AFFECTS CLASSROOM SKILL (AND VICE-VERSA). In this interesting EdWeek columnPalo Alto (Calif.) English teacher David Cohen follows three teachers, examining how their classroom practice contributes to their teacher leadership and how their leadership transforms what they do in the classroom. 

AN INVITATION TO COMMIT TO LEAD. Teaching Ambassador Fellow and Nebraska teacher Maddie Fennell invites teachers and other school leaders to join the dialogue and move forward teacher leadership.

LEADERSHIP IN ACTION. Check out this week's inspirational stories of teacher leadership in action on the Teach to Lead website. 

 Utah's Allison Riddle, with the support of her principal, created a hybrid position to mentor teachers without leaving the classroom.

 New Jersey's Michael Dunlea organized a team of school and community volunteers to help students’ families rebuild after Hurricane Sandy hit their New Jersey township.

Taking a Test


When Changing Up the Test Is Good

After seeing stagnant results on the 2013 SAT, College Board is making changes. They are redesigning the age-old test to align it more closely with what students learn in their classrooms and to redesign how results are reported. 

They began by releasing the 2014 results from multiple tests simultaneously, so that educators can look at results and create more opportunities for students. 

By making these changes, the Board hopes to “paint a more complete picture of student progress during high school, revealing missed opportunities for just-graduated students, and showing areas where action can be taken to improve student outcomes for those still in school.” 

The number of students taking the SAT has increased every year, including more minority and low- income students, but there are has been no equivalent increase in the number of students who show they are college and career ready (Bidwell, US News & World Report).

Teach Plus report cover: Valuing Performance and Honoring Experience


On Tenure, Evaluation & Dismissal

In June 2014, the Los Angeles (Calif.) Superior Court struck down provisions in the state's education statutes that deal with tenure, dismissal and layoff policies. At an event in Washington, D.C. last week, Teach Plus unveiled a report prepared by 30 L.A. teachers who did extensive research on the issues and made smart recommendations about where to go from here. 

Their recommendations include strategies to strengthen tenure and make it more meaningful and to value experience and performance when making layoffs. They also include safeguards to protect due process for teachers. 

Kat Czujko, a lead author and teacher, said she believes teachers should lead on these issues and take ownership of the profession rather than waiting around for the appeals process to play out. "These recommendations will elevate the teaching profession," she said. Read the report.


Every Child Means Every Child 

In an op-ed Baltimore school board and president of the Baltimore Special Education Advocacy Coalition Kalman R. Hettleman lauds Arne Duncan’s remarks that outcomes for special education students "are simply too low," with his own take on the subject. "Disabled students aren't as disabled as you think," writes Hettleman. While the challenges for schools and districts can be daunting, Hettleman argues, “It is legally and morally wrong for the learning potential of students with disabilities to be underestimated.” Read more (Baltimore Sun).

Parents of students with disabilities and leading researchers agree. A recent report by the leading research institute on accountability in special education, the National Center on Education Outcomes, argues, "The vast majority of special education students (80-85 percent) can meet the same achievement standards as other students if they are given specially designed instruction, appropriate access, supports and accommodations as required by federal law." 

P Chat

Principal Chat

ELLSPERMANN NAMED NASSP PRINCIPAL OF THE YEAR. Seeing no limit to her students’ potential and her school’s potential to help them fulfill it, West Port High School (Ocala, Florida) principal Jayne Ellspermann was named 2015 National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Learn about her passion and focus on personalization, academic rigor, and collaborative leadership in Madeline Will’s guest blog and the celebration that followed the announcement in Joe Callahan’s article.

GREAT ASSISTANCE.  Dr. Jared Bigham, Director of College & Career Readiness for SCORE, which supports Tennessee's work to prepare students for college and the workforce, guest blogs about the assistant principal role in Education Week. His post, "Rethinking the Role of the Assistant Principal," challenges the perception of the position and urges readers to “stop viewing the position as a waypoint and start viewing it as a destination.” 

The Widget Report Cover


The Widget Effect at Five

Since the release of The Widget Effect, many states and districts have revamped teacher evaluation systems to reflect the job teachers are doing, by making evaluation ratings relevant in teacher placement, professional development, compensation, retention, and dismissal decisions. 

Yet for all the attention the initial report has received, Tim Daly reports on the TNTP blog that the widget effect persists and indifference toward instructional quality endures. Watch his blog, to find out where teacher evaluation stands five years after the report. 

Common Core Connections

CORE MATERIALS. Achieve the Core has released a set of materials to liven up math and ELA lessons now that teachers have had time to get to know their students. The materials are available for every grade, with mathematical tasks that reflect the focus, coherence and rigor of the Common Core State Standards. For more ideas, check out Illustrative Mathematics. If you haven't already seen it, check out this smart three-to-six-day lesson on teaching a close reading of the Gettysburg Address, published last year.

WHAT YOU MEASURE GETS DONE. Former Chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin Norman Augustine describes the Common Core standards as “very important” because they focus on results that have real consequences. Talking with engineering students at the University of Alabama, Augustine laments that some states have dropped them for political reasons and defends their importance in our schools. Read more (Lee Roop,

NO RIGOR MORTIS HERE. A new report by the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University found that 90% of school district leaders agree that the new standards are more rigorous than their state’s previous standards in math and English language arts. District leaders also said they are increasingly challenged by the need to overcome resistance. Read the report.

Students' Corner

Tools for Students

AVERAGE STUDENT DEBT = $24,301. Paying back student debt has taken center stage, causing some students to question whether higher education is worth it. This video featuring American Council of Trustees and Alumni president Anne D. Neal and vice president of policy Michael Poliakoff explores what colleges spend their money on and the how their spending affects student debt. The film, directed by James Mackenzie and produced by Mary Mackenzie, is sponsored by the Moving Picture Institute.

WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO AVOID LONG-TERM COLLEGE DEBT? Clare McCann, an education policy analyst at the New America Foundation, argues that completing college may be the best way to avoid defaulting on student loans. Her analysis found that over 60% of those beginning school in 2003-04 who defaulted on student loans six years later did not have a degree. Of all dropouts, one in four was unemployed in 2009, twice the rate of those with bachelor’s degrees. The piece closes on the fact that 88% of those that graduated and defaulted held only certificates, arguing that colleges offering “low-value certificate programs...are doing the borrowers at their schools a disservice.” Read the article (The Hill).

Now, that's progress


Parent University Pays Off

The PROGRESS blog recently reported on the commitment of the Boston Public Schools to engage parents and community members in turning around low-achieving schools. To engage parents in their children’s education, BPS’ Office of Family and Student Engagement launched a Parent University and placed an outreach coordinator at each school to help faculty and staff build productive relationships with families and community members. 

Five years later, this investment is paying dividends, with schools across Boston seeing increases in proficiency rates for English language arts and mathematics. 

“We view parents as partners and a necessary piece of the puzzle for improving student achievement,” said Meghan Welch, director of operations at Orchard Gardens, one of the Boston schools. “We want parents to be involved, so our school is open to families. Parents see teachers and know them. They see staff in action. It helps avoid misunderstandings. And if something is not going well, parents know it is okay to come in and talk because they have been here before for positive events.”


Good Stuff for Eduwonks 

WRAP-AROUND SERVICES. ED has awarded $4.7 million to nine partnerships to help improve the quality of elementary and secondary education and bolster community-wide, comprehensive services for students, families and their communities. Learn more

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

 FISHMAN APPLICATIONS OPEN.  TNTP just opened applications and nominations for the 2015 Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, one of the most prestigious teaching awards. The Fishman Prize is the only national award exclusively for exceptional teachers in high-poverty public schools. Four winners a year from across the country receive $25,000, gain national recognition, and spend a summer reflecting on teaching, meeting with education leaders, and writing a short collection of essays on their best teaching practices. 

Nominate the best teacher you know. Our friends at TNTP tell us that three of the four 2014 Fishman Prize winners decided to apply because of a nomination.

Check out essays of the 2014 winners, who offer a lens into their extraordinary classrooms.

• NO APP FOR GOOD TEACHING. In this blog, Laura Moorhead shares eight strategies to think about technology that actually improve learning in the classroom (TED). 

• SHARE MY LESSON.  Share My Lesson is an online platform where teachers share and collaborate on classroom lesson plans and materials. The site offers 300,000 free teaching materials and lesson plans, as well as over 24,000 Common Core related materials covering all subjects in grades K-12. Created by the American Federation of Teachers and TES Global, the website currently has over 595,000 users across the nation. 

DEEPER LEARNING, BETTER OUTCOMES. An American Institute of Research’s report, Study of Deeper Learning: Opportunities and Outcomesfound that students who attended schools that focused on deeper content knowledge learn more. Deeper learning leads to a greater ability to apply knowledge and skills to tasks and situations inside and outside of school, they found. Read more.

TENNESSEE TEACHERS GIVE TIPS ON TECHNOLOGY. During Connected Educator Month, teachers at are sharing tips on ways technology helps them in their classrooms.  Find out why fourth grade teacher Ashley Wolfenbarger urges teachers to focus on the positive and what she learned about managing and creating content in her blog, "Three Tricks for Integrating Technology in Your Class."

A SECOND CHANCE AT MATH. Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University Steven Strogatz is challenging students who had an unpleasant experience with math to take his undergraduate introductory math course for non-math majors. The curriculum is called Discovering the Art of Mathematics: Mathematical Inquiry in the Liberal Arts (DAoM). Developed at Westfield State University by Julian Fleron and three colleagues and funded by a National Science Foundation grant, the DAoM approach is publicly available through a free collection of books and workshops. Find out more. (Jessica LaheyAtlantic).


Going Green

The Green Strides Webinar Series provides tools for school communities to reduce their environmental impact and costs; improve health and wellness; and teach effective environmental education. It provides all schools access to the resources that help them move toward the Pillars of our U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition award. Here are some of their upcoming webinars for educators:

Oct. 21, 2014, 2 - 3:15 p.m. Financing Energy Efficient Upgrades with ENERGY STAR  (ENERGY STAR)

Oct. 21, 2014, 2 - 3:30 p.m. Basics of School Integrated Pest Management (EPA)

Oct. 21, 2014, 6:30–7:30 p.m.   K-2 NASA Education Series: Pt. 1. Literacy Components (NASA)

Oct. 22, 2014, 11a.m.–12 p.m. Earth System Science Series: Part 2 – Remote Sensing (NASA)

Nov. 11, 2014, 7 – 8:30 p.m  Eco-Schools USA Dashboard: Goals, Metrics, Success!  (NWF)

Questions or comments about The Teachers Edition? Send them to ED's Teacher Liaison, Laurie Calvert:

Teacher Talking

Top 5 Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. "I was given tenure just for showing up for two years. I didn't even realize I'd gotten it." (Teacher, Los Angeles, Calif.)

4. "[Demonstrating ability for several years] to attain tenure will raise the status of the teaching profession." (Teacher, Washington, D.C.)

3. "I love teaching. I'm at home having so many futures standing in front of me every day." (Teacher)

2. "Teacher diversity will continue to be an issue in education until the teaching profession receives the same level of respect as other professions thought of as 'more glamorous.'" (Kelly on the blog)

1. "Teacher diversity is also important for youth who live in suburban environments." (Doryce L Smith on the blog)