Using the Wisdom of Educators

One of education’s big problems is that the collective wisdom, insights, observations and experience of educators are pretty much squandered.

That is to say, millions of educators have figured out important things about what and how to teach under different kinds of conditions — but no system exists for them to contribute their bit of knowledge to the larger field in ways that help them and their colleagues get smarter and better.

EdTrust-LogoWell-organized schools and districts have systems to ensure that the expertise of faculty and staff is exposed and shared — but most schools and districts are still organized around the long-standing tradition of isolated, autonomous practice.

Although this is frustrating for individual educators, the real problem with an inability to aggregate collective wisdom is that it means education has few ways to get better as a field.

This is why Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better is a welcome addition to school literature. Written by Anthony Bryk — the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching — along with Louis Gomez, Alicia Grunow and Paul LeMahieu, the book lays out a systematic way to roll up what it calls the “micro-expertises” of individual educators into the collective wisdom of the field.

The big idea of the book is that educators should come together in what it calls Networked Improvement Communities to focus on what the authors call a “high-leverage” problem, and then use the knowledge of individual educators, armed with relevant research, to tackle the problem and monitor progress. One of the keys is what the book calls “learning from variance.” That is, if a program or practice is tried, and it works well in one place and not in another, that variance needs to be studied to understand what factors made the difference.

By starting very small and working in ever larger groups to develop hypotheses, test, monitor, learn from success and failure, and revise, the book argues that large-scale improvements are possible.

That’s the theory, anyway, and Learning to Improve describes a couple of big efforts by the Carnegie Foundation to solve education problems.

For example, if you give students something to read that draws on Carol Dweck’s work on Mindsets, will that change their attitude toward whether they can become good at math? One developmental math teacher tried it and found that it did have an effect on his students; others started as well and were able to map under which conditions it had a positive effect — or no effect.

Many such micro-experiments, complete with data and analysis can be conducted and rolled into a larger framework in ways that do not conflict but instead complement each other.

This is a complex and deep process that has a lot of aspects to it, but if you’re interested in solving big problems in education in a way that honors the knowledge and expertise of educators in a methodologically rigorous way while addressing the larger systems in which educators work — this could be a book for you.


Report Offers Comprehensive Look at What Students Need to Succeed As Adults

Foundations for Young Adult SuccessAmid growing recognition that strong academic skills alone are not enough for young people to become successful adults, a new comprehensive report offers wide-ranging evidence to show what young people need to develop from preschool to young adulthood to succeed in college and career, have healthy relationships, be engaged citizens and make wise choices. It concludes that rich experiences combining action and reflection help children develop a set of critical skills, attitudes and behaviors. And it suggests that policies should aim to ensure that all children have consistent, supportive relationships and an abundance of these developmental experiences through activities inside and outside of school.

The report, “Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework” by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (UChicago CCSR), is an unusually comprehensive look at what research, theory and practice identify as the building blocks for life success. It synthesizes knowledge from the fields of youth development, psychology, sociology, education and the cognitive sciences as well as insights from practitioners. The Wallace Foundation awarded a competitive grant to UChicago CCSR in 2013 to undertake the project, which included a review of relevant literature spanning decades as well as interviews with national experts in research, policy and practice, and young people and the adults who work with them in schools, programs and agencies throughout Chicago.

The report offers evidence to show how, where, and when the “key factors” to success develop from early childhood through young adulthood, emphasizing the kinds of experiences and supportive relationships that guide the positive development of these factors. Recognizing that there are no silver bullets to promoting social-emotional learning, the report emphasizes a range of factors that build on one another over time. It also emphasizes factors that are particularly malleable, as well as the age at which each of the key factors comes into prominence, offering adults the most promising window for positive intervention.

A key problem the report identifies is that disadvantaged youth often face extra challenges. For example, they often have fewer in-school and out-of-school opportunities for consistent, positive developmental experiences and relationships and face significant opportunity gaps to developing the essential skills to become productive adults.

The report identifies three key factors children need to acquire for success in adulthood:

  • Agency or the capacity to shape the course of one’s life rather than simply reacting to external forces.
  • Integrated identity or a strong sense of who one is, which provides an internal compass for actively making decisions consistent with one’s values, beliefs and goals.
  • Competencies or the abilities to be productive, effective and adaptable to the demands of different settings.

Those three factors rest on four “foundational components” that develop from early childhood through adulthood:

  • Self-regulation, which is the awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings, and management of one’s attention, emotions and behaviors to achieve goals.
  • Knowledge and skills, which are information and an understanding about oneself, other people and the world, and the ability to carry out tasks.
  • Mindsets, which are beliefs and attitudes about oneself, the world and the interaction between the two. They are the lenses individuals use to process everyday experiences.
  • Values, which are enduring, often culturally-defined, beliefs about what is good or bad and what is important in life.

The report also includes implications for educators, youth practitioners, parents and families:

  • A narrow focus on content knowledge in isolation from the other foundational components can undermine learning and development.
  • Taking a developmental lens is essential to ensuring that structures and practices meet the developmental needs of the young people being served.
  • Ensuring all young people have access to a multitude of rich developmental experiences is imperative to their success.

It also contains implications for policymakers:

  • Policies that put too great an emphasis on content knowledge and standardized tests create incentives for practitioners to see the development of content knowledge as the sole outcome of interest.
  • Policies that promote all the components would help to create conditions that foster both the learning of academic content and the development of young people more holistically.
  • Policymakers need to move beyond standardized test scores to consider other outcomes of interest; however, policymakers should proceed carefully with incorporating them into school accountability systems.

The report can be downloaded for free at at


Scholastic Survey of the 2015 State Teachers of the Year

screenshot-edublog scholastic com 2015-06-07 16-37-45


In a newly released survey of the 2015 State Teachers of the Year (STOY), this new class of accomplished teachers shared their views on topics affecting educators across the country.

Forty-six of the 56 STOYs responded to Scholastic’s online survey, and while this is not a nationally representative sample of teachers, it is an interesting voice in the ongoing dialogue about our schools. For instance, the top three areas on which STOYs would focus school funding in order to have the highest impact on learning are anti-poverty initiatives (48%), early learning (37%) and reducing barriers to learning such as access to wrap-around services, healthcare, etc. (35%). This group of teachers also shared the barriers to learning they see in their classrooms, including challenges of teaching and areas of high satisfaction, views of and experiences with independent reading, the impact of higher standards, and more.

Results from the survey can be found here:

For more from the Washington Post:


June Issue Brief: Social and Emotional Learning

In Case You Missed It!With all of the recent focus on college and career-readiness, some educators are feeling that they are being diverted away from fostering social and emotional learning in students. The fact is, however, social and emotional learning, or SEL, is critical for student success in the 21st century. In this month’s issue brief, we explore various resources, research reports, and ideas related to the development of social and emotional learning in our students.

How can educators foster social and emotional learning while still meeting the rigor of college and career readiness standards? Can student attainment of SEL be measured? Should it? What resources do you find most valuable in promoting these skills? Please respond to our call for commentary. We’d love to hear from you!

To check out this month’s newsletter and access resources on this month’s topic, please follow this link:

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Retooling the District Operating System for Dynamism

crpeSteven Hodas of the Center on Reinventing Public Education recently wrote a report describing the crucial role of what he called “DOS,” short for District Operating System. Hodas defines DOS as “a set of unsexy, below-the-radar functions like procurement, contracting, IT, and HR that determine the look and feel of what schools do. It also determines how effective and responsive schools can be, since it is through the DOS that districts define their problems, seek their answers, and acquire their tools.”

DOS is certainly not a topic in education that gets the most headlines or creates the most water cooler conversation, but it needs to be discussed more. Certainly, education professionals understand the reality that the behind the scenes work at their school or other educational institution is essential. But it is Hodas’ claim that “the reason we are dissatisfied with our schools is not because they do the wrong things but because they do things wrongly, whatever the thing is” which truly deserves our attention.

We often think of politicized education reform efforts as our best hope to help American students, but we also see how reform efforts, either liberal or conservative, can be derailed by political changes before they have a true chance to take effect. Either that, or the will to carry through the changes called for by the reforms fades. In Hodas’ vision, there is a chance for educational success regardless of the reform vision because in his view, whatever is being done should be done well. This cannot take place without concentrating on the details of DOS.

For more information, please visit:



Rating of Social and Emotional Learning Programs for Middle and High Schools

caselThe Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) released a new tool to help middle and high schools meet their students’ most critical needs.

The 2015 CASEL Guide: Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs–Middle and High School Edition provides a framework for examining social and emotional learning (SEL) programs used in secondary schools and rates well-designed, evidence-based programs in a Consumer Reports-style review. CASEL published a similar guide to preschool and elementary school programs in 2013.

Nine programs earned a spot on the CASEL Guide’s “SELect list.” The programs had a range of effects on schools from improved academic outcomes to a drop in problem behaviors.

“Social and emotional learning should be an essential part of education for all of America’s children. Educators need a trusted source when selecting an evidence-based program, and the 2015 CASEL Guide provides that. This is sure to move the field forward,” said CASEL board member Tim Shriver.

Writing about the new guide in Education Week, Evie Blad noted that, “For schools, the decision to focus on the social and emotional learning of their students is just the first step. The real work kicks in when leaders try to navigate a confusing and still-developing field to select an evidence-based program that will translate the findings of researchers into actual results in the classroom.”

To read the report, see


Achieve Report Highlights “Honesty Gaps” in More than Half of States’ Student Proficiency Ratings

achieveNAEP-1A new report by the education reform organization Achieve finds large “honesty gaps” between state-reported proficiency rates in math and reading compared to those on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is also known as the Nation’s Report Card. The report, Proficient vs. Prepared: Disparities Between State Tests and the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), calls NAEP the “gold standard for measuring student achievement” and a “yardstick for state comparisons,” but it notes that parents and students are usually unfamiliar with the test, instead relying on their state tests to know how students are performing.

“Parents and educators deserve honest, accurate information about how well their students are performing, and the extent to which they have a solid foundation for their continued learning,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. “Tests are not the only source of this information, but they are certainly an important one. We don’t do our students any favors if we don’t level with them when test results come back.”

According to the report, more than half of states report a difference of 30 percentage points or more between their own proficiency results and those provided by NAEP. Georgia, for example, had one of the largest discrepancies for the 2013-14 year, reporting proficiency levels for fourth-grade reading and math that were 60 and 53 percentage points higher, respectively, than NAEP reported.

Essentially, what this means is that many states are sugar-coating test results, even test results for tests of their own creation and implementation. For this reason, Achieve urges states, educators, families, and students to make use of the NAEP results, at least as a cross-reference for test results. Achieve also urges continued use of national standards, such as Common Core aligned testing to ensure greater accountability.

By contrast, some states, which the report deems “truth tellers,” are accurately reporting student achievement. The report notes that New York, for example, actually boasts proficiency requirements on its state tests that are more rigorous than NAEP according to the 2013-14 data. It was also the only state to report a smaller percentage of proficiency than NAEP for both fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math. For that, New York earned the highest rank on Achieve’s “Top Truth Tellers” list.

Proficient vs. Prepared asserts that while the “misleading” deficiencies are a problem, many states are working to correct the “honesty gap” by introducing more challenging and rigorous curriculum and aligned assessments that can better measure a students’ college and career readiness. Kentucky had some of the nation’s largest gaps in proficiency before adopting the Common Core State Standards in 2010. The state narrowed a 32-percentage-point differential to 15 between 2011 and 2014, the report notes.

“Leaders in many states have already recognized the need to administer more rigorous tests that will provide more honest and accurate information. Unfortunately, in some states there is already political pressure to abandon their new assessments and go back to using less rigorous tests,” said Cohen. “This report shows us that we can’t go back to the way we’ve always done it.”

Proficient vs. Prepared is available at

Learn more about the “Honesty Gap” in each state and Washington, DC, at


Three New REL Toolkits Help Educators Understand Logic Models, Establish a Culture of Data Use, and Evaluate Instruction with Classroom Data

rel-logo-largeThree new toolkits from the Regional Education Laboratory (REL) Program are designed to help educators and leaders use data and evaluate programs and policies:

Logic models for program design, implementation, and evaluation: Workshop toolkit

This Logic Model Workshop Toolkit from REL Northeast & Islands helps state and district leaders design, implement, and evaluate programs and policies that address pressing education issues. The workshop guides participants through the stages of developing a logic model and demonstrates how to use logic models for program design, implementation, and evaluation. The workshop can be customized to fit specific contexts, and includes a slide deck, participant workbook, and facilitator manual.

Toolkit for a workshop on building a culture of data use

A second REL Northeast & Islands toolkit introduces a framework and set of tools to help administrators and teachers foster a culture of data use in their education settings. Five essential elements found in districts and schools with successful data-use practices are woven into a workshop to help leaders establish data use not only as an obligation, but also as a working culture that improves practice and learning. Workshop participants will develop an understanding of the five elements, analyze examples of school and district data-use practices aligned to the five elements, apply key findings to their own practice, and outline next steps to enhance the culture of data use in their schools. The toolkit includes a brief introduction to the workshop, a step-by-step facilitator guide, participant handouts, and a slide deck that organizers can customize to fit specific learning goals.

Instructional improvement cycle: A teacher’s toolkit for collecting and analyzing data on instructional strategies

A third new toolkit, developed by REL Central in collaboration with York Public Schools in Nebraska, provides teachers with a process and tools to deliberately study a single classroom instructional strategy. The toolkit includes access to a preprogrammed spreadsheet that determines the significance of test results between classes taught with and without the new strategy. The reflection guide offers information on how teachers can reflect on their results and consider adjustments to their instruction to increase student learning.


Educating the Whole Student through Social Emotional Learning

SCOPEIncreasingly, researchers and educators recognize that schools cannot focus solely on students’ academic learning to improve achievement. They also must nurture students’ psychological development, often described as social emotional learning (SEL). While this new focus on SEL benefits all students, it is especially critical for low-income students and students of color, according to Social Emotional Learning in High School: How Three Urban High Schools Engage, Educate, and Empower Youth, a new study from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).

The SCOPE study examines how three diverse small public high schools have implemented social emotional learning schoolwide and analyzes that implementation across three areas—school climate and culture, organizational features and structures, and school practices. The researchers selected the three schools—Fenway High School (Boston, Massachusetts), El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice (Brooklyn, New York), and International School of the Americas (San Antonio, Texas)—because each school has an explicit schoolwide focus on SEL and demonstrated stronger academic outcomes and graduation rates than similar schools in their districts. Although each school serves fewer than 500 students, each one serves predominantly students of color. At Fenway High School and El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, the majority of students also qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, while at the International School of the Americas about one-quarter of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Researchers conducted in-depth case studies of the three SEL high schools, surveyed their students, and compared their responses with a national survey of students in traditional public high schools. Students in the SEL high schools reported a more caring school climate, stronger relationships with teachers, greater engagement with school, stronger feelings of efficacy and resilience, and more ambitious goals for higher education, compared to students not attending SEL schools.

While traditional SEL focuses primarily on students’ abilities to understand themselves and build supportive relationships with others, the schools featured in the SCOPE study take an expanded view of SEL that emphasizes social justice education as a well. The researchers determined that the social justice component enhances SEL by grounding it directly in the needs of the diverse student populations the schools serve and encourages students to examine issues of equity and advancement in their local communities.

“A growing body of research shows that when schools attend to students’ psychological, social, and emotional development alongside academic learning, student engagement and academic achievement improve,” the lead researcher writes in her blog post. “While we can’t clearly prove direct cause and effect between the schools’ social emotional and social justice skill building and positive student responses, our findings suggest these approaches hold promise.”

Social Emotional Learning in High School: How Three Urban High Schools Engage, Educate, and Empower Youth is available at


May Issue Brief: Great Principals

In Case You Missed It!School administrators serve as instructional leaders and set the tone for the culture of a school. The principal’s influence is pivotal. In this month’s issue brief, we explore effective school leadership and recommendations for improving the training, support and evaluation of educational leaders.

What essential skills should principals master in order to be exceptional instructional leaders? What are your go-to tools and resources for the training and support of principals? Please respond to our call for commentary. We’d love to hear from you!

To check out this month’s newsletter and access resources on this month’s topic, please follow this link:

To ensure you do not miss future issues, we encourage you to subscribe to the monthly newsletter by following this link: