Teach to Lead

teach to leadSecretary Duncan announced that, over the next year, he and NBPTS President Ron Thorpe will co-convene a new initiative, Teach to Lead, to foster ambitious commitments on authentic opportunities for teachers to take up leadership roles without leaving the classroom.

The goal is to ensure that when important decisions are being made about the work teachers do, they are there to help set the direction for their classrooms, schools, the profession, and, ultimately, make sure students have the best opportunities to learn.

Teach to Lead will entail a series of gatherings engaging teachers, principals, district leaders, Chief State School Officers, and teacher groups.  Participants will commit to acting on the steps necessary to create more opportunities for teacher leadership in the field.  The Secretary and Thorpe will report back on the commitments and activities from this diverse group at next year’s NBPTS meeting.

Secretary Duncan, in considering the need for Teach to Lead, remarked, “I’ve heard from many teachers who are tired of the heartbreaking choice between serving their students and serving their profession.”  

The work of Teach to Lead was begun back in 2012 with the Blueprint for RESPECT campaign. In 2012 ED released the Blueprint for RESPECT, which was informed by input from thousands of educators and calls for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession in the United States. Importantly, rather than envisioning this teacher leadership as requiring teachers to leave their classrooms, RESPECT calls for career pathways so teachers can lead from their classrooms.

For more information, please visit:



PISA results: American Students as Creative Problem Solvers

pisa.ashxThe Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released the PISA 2012 Results, entitled Creative Problem Solving: Students’ Skills in Tackling Real-Life Problems. It is the OECD’s first assessment of problem-solving skills and its first attempt to measure the creative skills that today’s economy demands from its workers.

Some are surprised to see an international test in which U.S. students are punching above their weight class. It turns out that American teens are better at trouble-shooting vexing problems than they are at algebra and geometry. The U.S. scored above the OECD average and on par with a dozen European countries on a test of problem-solving skills. That’s far better than analysts would have predicted based on our dismal showing on the most recent PISA math test. The OECD’s report gives American 15-year-olds particular credit for flexible thinking and bold use of intuition.

But it’s hardly time for a victory lap. The Asian powerhouses of Korea, Japan, Singapore and Shanghai far outstripped the U.S. on the problem-solving test. Just 11.6 percent of U.S. teens scored at the top two levels. In Korea, 35.2 percent of test-takers hit that mark. Canada, Finland and Australia also handily beat the U.S.

Try your hand at sample questions here: http://bit.ly/1lyhGiJ

A video presentation of this important report is also available directly from Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary-General, on how American fifteen-year-olds perform compared to their peers in top-performing nations.

Watch Schleicher’s presentation at http://youtu.be/WdE4vISrz2o

After his presentation, Schleicher sat down with Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise and Senior Fellow Robert Rothman to discuss the report and its implications for U.S. education policy. Topics of discussion included universal access to preschool, Common Core State Standards, and “deeper learning” competencies that all students need to succeed in college and a career.

Download the complete OECD report, PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem Solving: Students’ Skills in Tackling Real-Life Problems, at http://www.oecd.org/pisa/.


When “You’re Wrong” Isn’t Right: What Common Core Proponents Can Learn from the Anti-Vaxxers

commoncore1Misinformation about the Common Core State Standards Initiative abounds. Those who seek to correct this misinformation might glean some insights from recent public health research about the power of disinformation campaigns. Navigator Communications  suggests a new approach to communicating with parents and the public about the standards, based on communications work in the health sector.

Becky Fleischauer of Navigator Communications argues that research about the attempt to convince parents that vaccines do not cause autism (a myth based on faulty research done by a former doctor (his license was revoked) that has been conclusively disproved with research) offers a good picture of how difficult it is to correct misinformation. The causes may be diverse, but researchers believe one of the most important is the fact that people do not like to be wrong. Not only does it mean admitting fault; it also means making changes to one’s attitudes and practices that may be uncomfortable.

In response, Fleischauer makes two main suggestions: put teachers, masters at conveying information in a self-esteem boosting way, to work in correcting the misinformation.  After all, teachers are the ones who will be most affected by Common Core along with the students, so parents may be more open to hearing information and opinions from teachers.

Second, Fleischauer suggests employing a steady “show, not tell” strategy. The more that parents see the facts in a form from which they can draw their own conclusions, the more likely they are to overcome the misinformation that has been presented, such as that the Common Core Standards are a federal initiative.

With only Indiana having rejected the standards thus far, and others such as Arizona moving to simply change the name of the standards to make it more clear that the standards are a state-led initiative, Fleischauer is not yet too concerned for the ultimate fate of Common Core. Yet, she clearly believes that every bit of support helps in order to bolster this new initiative designed to prepare the next generation of American workers and bring Americans students onto a level playing field with their international peers.

For more information, please visit:



Carnegie Report Examines Lack of Experience in the Teacher Workforce

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Receives Funding to Rethink the Carnegie Unit | Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of TeachingA new report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching highlights the causes for and consequences of a relatively inexperienced teacher workforce, as well as promising practices in response to this reality.

The high number of inexperienced teachers in public school classrooms is a largely unrecognized problem that undermines school stability, slows educational reform, and, new research suggests, hurts student achievement. These are among the conclusions of a new report on beginning teachers by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

More than one in five teachers today – about 750,000 – have five or fewer years of experience. Experts consider teachers at this stage of their careers to be still learning their craft. The report, “Beginners in the Classroom: What the Changing Demographics of Teaching Mean for Schools, Students, and Society,” explores the causes and consequences of a less experienced profession, and it looks at some promising ways of addressing the problem, including intensive mentoring and residency programs.

Novices are leading so many classrooms not only because of greater demand for teachers, but because so many teachers in existing jobs are leaving before they become accomplished educators. Although the recent recession slowed the exodus somewhat, teacher turnover rates are exceptionally high. In many urban districts, more than half of teachers leave within five years. And teachers abandon charter schools at especially high rates, a significant problem given the growing presence of charters in many metropolitan areas.

The report, by Carnegie Senior Associate Susan Headden, concludes that money, or lack of it, is not the primary cause of teacher attrition. Teachers leave largely because of a lack of administrative support – poor professional development, insufficient emotional backing, and scant feedback on performance.

Many principals don’t track teacher turnover, the report finds. And the critical issue of fit – looking beyond competence to compatibility – is often overlooked, especially by school districts that scramble to fill spots even after the school year has already started.

“Beginners in the Classroom” examines these and other issues, and it highlights three types of induction programs that show promise for keeping new teachers in the profession and helping them to become better faster.  

For more information, please visit: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/sites/default/files/new_teachers_carnegie_report.pdf


50-State Strategy for Equitable Distribution of Teachers

edThe U.S. Department of Education is developing a 50-state strategy that may finally put some teeth into a key part of the No Child Left Behind Act that has been largely ignored for the past 12 years: the inequitable distribution of the nation’s best teachers.

Managing to bring more equity to the distribution of teachers is one of the more challenging tasks for education reformers.

First of all, there is the roadblock of the complexity of distribution of teachers even within a school: how are teachers distributed by grade, by subject, etc.? Beyond that, there is the basic fact that hiring is usually done on the local level, and usually by individual schools. This means that any effort by school districts will meet difficulties because individual schools will not want to cede authority over hiring. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Then there is the wrangling over teacher evaluations.  Central to the idea of distributing quality teachers to those students most in need is the question of how to decide which teachers are the most effective.  At this point, the primary means used to decide are the traditional methods of seniority, education, and level of certification, but as more complex methods of teacher evaluation become more common, these will need to be integrated into the system of teacher distribution. It is clear that the work on teacher evaluations is far from over, and even in those states where new methods of teacher evaluations have  become somewhat settled, there still has not been enough time to reflect on the new results and use those to distribute teachers.

Another roadblock is that the U.S. Department of Education does not really know where to begin because assembling accurate data on teacher distribution is such a headache.  It requires compliance from various school districts which use strikingly different means of collecting and assembling data.

Central to the federal strategy will be a mix of enforcement and bureaucratic levers to prod states into making sure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective and unqualified teachers at higher rates than their peers.

Among those levers, according to the department: investigations of districts and schools using the power of the department’s office for civil rights, or OCR; new state teacher-equity plans; and perhaps new rules for future NCLB waiver renewals.

What is clear is that the OCR faces a monumental task, but it is one that they take extremely seriously because it is part of the No Child Left Behind Law, which, until Congress decides otherwise, remains in effect.

For more information, please visit: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/02/19/21equity_ep.h33.html


Fast Start: Training Better Teachers Faster with Focus, Practice and Feedback

TNTP imageA new report from TNTP provides an inside look at their effort to rebuild their own pre-service teacher training from the ground up, with one goal in mind: Give new teachers the skills they need to be successful from the moment they set foot in their classrooms.

TNTP had to tackle the same problems that are holding back other preparation programs across the country-such as a lack of clarity about the skills new teachers need to be effective, and an emphasis on theory instead of practice. Their solution is a new five-week pre-service training program called Fast Start.

Fast Start differs from conventional teacher training models in three major ways:

  • Focus: Fast Start focuses on four critical skills most closely linked to first-year success: delivering lessons clearly, maintaining high academic standards, maintaining high behavioral standards and maximizing instructional time.
  • Practice: Like athletes or musicians, teachers need to learn by doing-but most programs spend too much time on theories about teaching. In Fast Start, teachers spend 26 hours in intensive, hands-on practice activities.
  • Feedback: Every Fast Start participant benefits from 32 hours of one-on-one and group coaching to help them constantly fine-tune their use of essential instructional techniques.

TNTP is still in the early stages of this work, but they have already seen some promising results: After two years in 14 training sites across the country, they have found that teachers who performed better during Fast Start training earned higher ratings from their principals and did better on their district’s performance evaluation system. And they have learned much along the way about how to make pre-service training even more useful for new teachers.

For more information, please visit:  http://tntp.org/key-issues/view/fast-start


Help NBPTS revise its new certification process

National Board for Professional Teaching StandardsThe National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is now recruiting! Help shape the future of National Board Certification and experience a sample of the process that thousands of teachers have called transformative.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is seeking PreK-12 grade teachers to volunteer to participate in field tests of the revised National Board Certification process.

Performance-based and peer-reviewed, National Board Certification is the profession’s highest mark of accomplished teaching. The revisions are aimed at making the certification process more flexible, affordable and efficient so that many more teachers and students can benefit. National Board Certified Teachers as well as teachers or educators who have not yet achieved certification are invited to apply.

Important Things to Note
• There is no cost to participate in the field tests and there is also no compensation for participating. (Teachers who serve as scorers for the field tests will receive some compensation. To apply to be a scorer, please visit scorenbpts.pearson.com.)
• Scores on the field test components are for research purposes only and will not be provided to the participants or be counted toward National Board Certification.
• Participating in field testing will not preclude you from participating in the revised assessment process.
• Unfortunately, they cannot accept volunteers who are undergraduate students and pre-service teachers at this time.

When and Where?
The National Board will be field testing three components of the revised certification process: Content Knowledge (delivered at the assessment center); Teaching Practice and Learning Environment (involves creating a video); and Effective and Reflective Practitioner (a new written component). A large number of teachers are required to complete the field testing process. In addition, a significant subset of field test participants will be asked to complete all three of these components over a three-year timeframe, as outlined in the table below.

When Assessment Component Details
Spring through Fall 2014Spring through Fall 2015 Content Knowledge
  • Participants will test on 2 separate dates in either 2014 or 2015. Anticipated testing dates will vary based on your certificate area.
  •  Total testing time is projected to be 2 hours in Spring,  plus 1.5 hours in the Fall
  • Available testing locations can be searched here: http://www.pearsonvue.com/vtclocator/
  • Scheduling for 2014 testing appointments will start in April
Late Spring 2015 Teaching Practice
and Learning
  • Participants will have several months to prepare the component
  • Submission will be via ePortfolio system
Late Spring 2016 Effective
and Reflective Practitioner
  • Participants will have several months to prepare this component
  • Submission will be via ePortfolio system

Selection Process
The National Board must recruit a diverse pool of participants, reflecting a mix of geographies, certificate and grade levels and experience. They are seeking NBCTs and non-NBCTs in various positions and school settings, among other factors.

Field Test Participation Application
Interested in volunteering? Please fill out this short online survey.

Learn more and apply now at  http://www.nbpts.org/national-board-field-tests


Researchers Question Common Core Claims from Publishers

Common CoreNew studies of textbooks calling themselves “Common Core Aligned” suggest that schools and teachers should remember that a “buyer beware” policy is essential when it comes to purchasing quality textbooks.

William Schmidt, a professor of statistics and education at Michigan State University in East Lansing and head of a research team that recently analyzed about 700 textbooks from 35 textbook series for grades K-8 that are now being used by 60 percent of public school children in the United States, dismissed most purveyors of such claims as “snake oil salesmen” who have done little more than slap shiny new stickers on the same books they’ve been selling for years.

Other researchers agreed. University of Southern California professor Morgan Polikoff reached a similar conclusion after analyzing seven 4th grade math textbooks used in Florida.

In response, textbook companies assert that researchers were not looking at the right materials. For example, Lisa Carmona, the vice president of the pre-K-5 portfolio at McGraw-Hill Education, based in Columbus, Ohio, expressed disappointment that the researchers “didn’t pick a more current program” to analyze.

Some of Polikoff’s findings, she pointed out, were based on supplemental materials her company copyrighted in 2012 in order to help extend schools’ use of her company’s 2009 Math Connects program, which is no longer marketed. That textbook has been replaced by the McGraw-Hill My Math program for K-5, a digital and print resource created especially for the Common Core, Ms. Carmona said.

The reality of the situation may be somewhere in the middle. It seems probable that many of the textbooks companies have dubbed “Common Core Aligned”, which are largely the same as they ever were, will continue to be used by teachers who might not have access to other resources or know any better than to continue using such texts. That does not necessarily make the publishing companies completely culpable because they have often worked directly with the authors of Common Core in order to create new, often digital, material for teachers to use.  The issue is whether or not these new materials will get into the hands of teachers and be successfully implemented. It certainly takes a lot of work to completely redo textbooks, and publishing companies don’t want to risk losing out on the $9 billion annual market.

Following is a graphic that represents some of the discrepancies noted by the recent studies:


For more information, please visit: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/05/23textbooks_ep.h33.html



Wyoming Blocks new Science Standards

ngssLawmakers in the state of Wyoming recently became the first lawmakers in the country to block the education department of its state from implementing the new Next Generation Science Standards. This blog has written multiple pieces about the gradual adoption of NGSS, which 9 states and DC have already adopted.

Before diving into the issue in Wyoming, let’s look at a few key myths and facts about NGSS (from the Wyoming Star Tribune):

Myth: The same federally funded groups developed the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards in English and math.

Fact: The Next Generation Science Standards were developed independently of the Common Core State Standards. Several groups were involved, including:

  • National Research Council
  • National Science Teachers Association
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • the nonprofit education reform group, Achieve

At the bottom of each page of the science standards, however, are suggested ways teachers can connect science with Common Core State Standards in English and math.

What do the standards teach about climate change?

  • Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.
  • Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise.
  • Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming).
  • Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

What do the standards teach about evolution?

  • Anatomical similarities and differences between various organisms living today and between them and organisms in the fossil record, enable the reconstruction of evolutionary history and the inference of lines of evolutionary descent.

In a recent session of the Wyoming State Legislature, Gov. Matt Mead signed, as part of a budgetary footnote, a bill that in some capacity limits Wyoming schools from teaching NGSS. There is a dispute as to whether the law means that no part of NGSS can be taught or if it cannot function as the main science standards even though selections from it can be taught.

Wyoming is a state that has seen a recent economic boom thanks in large part to extraction of various minerals and fossil fuels.  In particular, fracking is being used in certain parts of the state to extract deeply entrenched oil and natural gas.  The fact that NGSS clearly cites human usage of fossil fuels as a factor in global warming, then, is a problem for some lawmakers in Wyoming.

There has been pushback from Democrats in the state as well as some parent groups who believe that blocking the standards is a clear case of political tampering with education.  These groups cite the fact that the new law was passed despite a committee of about 30 science specialists unanimously recommending NGSS.

The specific request of those who passed the bill is that the standards be revised to present climate change as a theory, instead of a fact, and to present the benefits mineral extraction has brought Wyoming.

For more information, please visit: http://trib.com/news/local/education/wyoming-blocks-new-science-standards/article_5d0ec624-6b50-5354-b015-ca2f5f7d7efe.html



Great Principals: Developing Every Teacher

america achievesAmerica Achieves’ latest multimedia report in its Spotlight on Promising Practices series is entitled “Great Principals: Developing Every Teacher.” As the title indicates, these stories showcase effective school leadership and its impact on teaching and learning.

Watch how at Merrill Middle School in Denver, school leaders have implemented an incredibly thoughtful practice in which educators observe each other’s lessons in “Learning Labs” and then offer up direct and meaningful feedback. Everyone involved says the effort has done much to improve instruction at Merrill and has built a tremendous culture of strong relationships there.

See how talented leaders at the other featured schools help their teachers excel through goal setting, coaching, mentoring, and more. Of particular note are the thoughtful and supportive approaches at work in these schools, where the focus is always on improvement for students and teachers alike. For an in-depth look at how these great principals develop teachers and drive teacher quality, check out the rich, multimedia case studies that accompany the Spotlight videos.

These promising practices have implications for policy. Take a moment to check out the useful policy guide that New Leaders has put together to help states and districts recruit, support, and retain great school leaders who in turn can help develop highly effective teachers.

In addition, America Achieves has made available a guest blog post by education leader Jarvis Sanford, who manages public school turnarounds in Chicago. Read about his experience helping Chicago teachers and students improve and his views on what we can all learn from the educators featured in the videos.

For more information, please visit: