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:



Doing What Works: Using Student Achievement Data

doing what worksThis free professional development package features everything you need to facilitate a three-hour presentation on using student achievement data to support instructional decision making.

Produced by the Doing What Works (DWW) project at WestEd, this “one-stop-shop” professional development package contains:

  • A sample workshop agenda; presentation slides; facilitator’s checklist; an optional set of slides about the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) What Works Clearinghouse practice guides and how they are developed; the IES Practice Guide, Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making; and multimedia files
  • Participant handouts and other presentation materials, including a copy of the PowerPoint presentation, visual diagram, flyer, and a presentation checklist
  • Transcripts of all the multimedia in the package
  • Additional materials including a list of DWW professional development resources, an inventory of all the documents and media on the topic; and an introduction to DWW, narrated by Project Director Nikola Filby

For more information, please visit:



Do College Rankings Matter to Students?

The American Council on EducationStudents, particularly low-income students, aren’t really thinking about college rankings when choosing higher education options, according to a new brief released by the American Council on Education.

The study comes as the Obama administration works on its highly anticipated college rating system, which ACE says will become a de facto ranking system. Fewer than 25 percent of students said college rankings were “very important” when it comes to choosing a college. For low-income students, location is more important.

The findings of this survey fly in the face of the proposed motivation for the Education Department’s rating system: to help open the doors to higher education to those from lower income backgrounds by providing key information about colleges that provide the best value for the money.

For example, here what has been released so far on the structure of the forthcoming ED ratings:

The new ratings system has not been developed yet and we will work with all stakeholders— including students and families, states, colleges and universities, and higher education experts– to identify those metrics that will help consumers compare colleges based on their affordability and value, such as:

  • Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell grants
  • Affordability, such as net price and loan debt
  • Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, earnings of graduates, and completion of advanced degrees

If the reality is that the rankings/ratings mostly matter to the colleges and universities themselves, in addition to students from wealthier backgrounds, then it seems that the government efforts, however much as they might be focused on student needs, are misguided.

For more on the U.S. Education Department’s perspective on its forthcoming ratings system, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/college-affordability/college-ratings-and-paying-performance

For the full pdf version of the ACE report, please visit: http://bit.ly/1kJjGlj.

For a more balanced perspective, please see: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/03/20/new-report-says-obama-ratings-proposal-will-lead-same-problems-rankings


Flipped Learning Use and Potential

projecttomorrowNew Speak Up 2013 findings show growth in flipped classroom implementation and interest. A quarter of administrators identified flipped learning as having a significant impact on transforming teaching and learning in their school district, surpassing other digital learning trends such as educational games and mobile apps (21 percent) and even online professional learning communities for teachers and administrators (19 percent), according to new findings from Speak Up 2013 released during the CoSN 2014 Annual Conference. An additional 40 percent of administrators said they were interested in their teachers “trying flipped learning” this year.

The white paper, Speak Up 2013 National Research Project Findings: A Second Year Review of Flipped Learning, reveals significant growth in just one year in interest and implementation of flipped classrooms and a drop in concerns about student online access. Teacher interest in professional development on making quality instructional videos and on how to best use class time in a flipped classroom remained high, but this interest among administrators has declined. Some administrators, however, are beginning to provide this training.

During the fall of 2013, more than 403,000 K-12 students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members participated in the 11th annual Speak Up online surveys facilitated by the national education nonprofit organization, Project Tomorrow. For the second year, in conjunction with the Flipped Learning Network, specific questions were asked of students, educators and administrators on flipped learning and use of videos in the classroom.

For the survey, flipped learning was defined as using lecture videos as homework while utilizing class time for more in-depth learning such as “discussions, projects, experiments and to provide personalized coaching to individual students.”

Speak Up 2013 flipped learning findings include:

– One out of six math and science teachers are implementing a flipped learning model using videos that they have created or sourced online.

– 16 percent of teachers say they are regularly creating videos of their lessons or lectures for students to watch.

– 45 percent of librarians and media specialists are regularly creating videos and similar rich media as part of their professional practice.

– 37 percent of librarians are helping to build teacher capacity by supporting teachers’ skills in using and creating video and rich media for classroom use.

– Almost one-fifth of current teachers have “learning how to flip my classroom” on their wish list for professional development this year,

– 41 percent of administrators say pre-service teachers should learn how to set up a flipped learning class model before getting a teaching credential.

– 66 percent of principals said pre-service teachers should learn how to create and use videos and other digital media within their teacher preparation programs.

– 75 percent of middle and high school students agree that flipped learning would be a good way for them to learn, with 32 percent of those students strongly agreeing with that idea.

The five-page white paper is available online at http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/2014_FlippedLearningReport.html


Illinois scraps limits on basic skills test-taking

taptestJust four years after passing a law mandating that prospective teachers must pass the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP) within five attempts, Illinois state board of education officials have scrapped this law in hopes of “manipulating the pipeline” of new teachers.

State officials, dismayed at the disproportionately low number of minority teachers compared to minority students in state public schools (for example, in Chicago Public Schools, 86% of students, but less than half of teachers, are black or Latino), felt that something must be done in order to improve the chances of prospective teachers who are also minorities joining the ranks of Illinois teachers.  Advocacy groups, anxious to dissuade observers from seeing this move as simply a dumbing-down of the teaching pool, argue that the main reason that minorities were having a harder time passing the TAP test than non-minorities is their background in mostly underperforming schools. In other words, without this state change, the test would be perpetuating a cycle that would never allow for more minority teachers.

The TAP test is not an easy test for anyone who takes it. Melissa Sanchez, writing for Catalyst Chicago, puts it this way:

Test result data from the fourth quarter of 2013,  for example, showed that only 18 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Latinos passed the math portion of the test, compared to 40 percent of whites. Meanwhile, only 26 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Latinos met the reading comprehension requirements, compared to 52 percent of whites. Overall, less than a third of all test-takers – and less than 18 percent of black and Latinos — passed all four sections of the test last year, according to state records.

The change certainly indicates that Illinois officials are serious about bringing more minority teachers into classrooms, although a recent study still showed a gap between education programs, which believe that elements of the programs are the most important to prospective teaching students, and prospective teaching students themselves, who see relationships as the most important element.

For more information, please visit: http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/notebook/2014/03/12/65790/boost-teacher-diversity-state-scraps-limits-basic-skills-test-taking