February Issue Brief: Principalship

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, please follow this link: http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a4ae2b1b129b9f8a29d50b80f&id=d745974b76&e=19cfa03b4e

To ensure you do not miss future issues, we encourage you to subscribe to the monthly newsletter by following this link: http://tinyurl.com/byje6b9



ED Blog Spotlights Current Education Transformations

edThe U.S. Department of Education has launched a new online resource, PROGRESS, to highlight state and local innovative ideas, promising practices, lessons learned, and resources informed by the implementation of K-12 education reforms.

These stories will showcase the exciting transformations taking place in classrooms, schools, and systems across the country through the leadership of teachers, school, district and state leaders and their partners.

The Department launched PROGRESS to emphasize the voices and perspectives of educators, students, and administrators to better understand how policy changes are spurring education improvement and to draw out what can be learned from areas of progress occurring at the state and local levels.

Read about:

  • Delaware and Hawaii teachers and coaches using data to identify student needs and inform instructional improvement strategies;
  • Maryland elementary school students learning science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through new foreign language courses;
  • Hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida gaining access to incredible STEM learning opportunities through a state Race to the Top initiative to expand STEM education in rural schools;
  • Tennessee’s 700 teacher-coaches providing 30,000 of their colleagues with intensive summer training on new college- and career-ready standards through an ambitious and comprehensive statewide program;
  • Kentucky’s 100-percent increase in total Advanced Placement (AP) qualifying scores over the last five years, largely driven by the success of the AdvanceKentucky program in expanding access to AP classes for low-income students.

The PROGRESSblog will spotlight partnerships among the U.S. Department of Education, states, districts, educators, and families that are helping to build a better education for children.

Of particular focus is:

  • How students are being prepared to succeed in college and careers;
  • How educators are receiving higher quality support and opportunities; and
  • How innovative leaders and educators are transforming school systems to meet new, higher expectations.

PROGRESS does not recommend or endorse any particular approach. It is intended to share information that can be of use to educators, parents, learners, leaders, and other stakeholders in their efforts to ensure that every student is provided with the highest quality education and expanded opportunities to succeed.

Have an idea for content? Please send an email to  progress@ed.gov

For more information, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/progress/


Comparing school success creates impetus for reform

Education NextEdNext Editor-in-Chief Paul E. Peterson penned a recent op-ed in favor of the Common Core State Standards. Peterson highlighted a curious result of an EdNext survey of Americans, in which only 21% of those surveyed gave American schools an “A” or “B” but 49% of those surveyed gave their own schools an “A” or “B”. Clearly, there is a disconnect between perception and reality, which in turn impacts how Americans think about school reform.  If the problem is mostly somewhere else out there in the morass of American schools, then there is little impulse to work locally for reform. This is especially crippling given how much more of a chance for success local reform generally has as opposed to national reform.

Peterson also described the results of a recent Ednext poll, where participants were shown how their local schools rank in comparison to the performance of schools elsewhere in the state or in the nation as a whole. Once respondents learned how their local school districts actually measured up, they became increasingly in favor of school reform.

With regards to the Common Core, Peterson stated, “If the attempt to establish a common framework for what students need to learn can identify more precisely how well each school is doing, then it will provide the public with a tool it needs to correct its own self-deception.”

For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/1edKSqy


Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education

iNacolA new report released by CompetencyWorks, titled Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education, helps education leaders think through how to design grading policies that communicate academic performance to students and parents. As more schools and districts begin to develop competency-based pathways that allow students to progress based on demonstrated mastery of content knowledge and skills rather than just time spent in a classroom, it is imperative that they rethink their grading systems around competency.

Chris Sturgis, the report’s author and principal at MetisNet, said, “Our traditional grading system undermines learning because it allows students to “slide by” until they stumble over the gaps in their knowledge. It’s much better at ranking students than helping them understand what they need to do to succeed. In competency education, student learning is always the primary purpose. Challenging the traditional system of grading practices will prompt questions that will allow students and teachers to work together toward a shared vision of learning that provides support to students as they build and demonstrate new skills.”

As Progress and Proficiency points out, there are several weaknesses within the commonly accepted A-F grading system. First, it allows students to advance without fully mastering skills. Second, it is not a reliable indicator of knowledge and skills attained, often misleading parents into believing that their children are making progress toward college and career readiness. Finally, it is an ineffective tool for motivating students to perform.

Susan Patrick, President and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), said, “As districts and schools convert to competency-based learning, they quickly find the focus on advancing through mastery and performance means they need to address other practices in their schools around personalized, deeper learning. Innovators express that once grading is revised to reflect what a student can show and know instead of just accepting a subjective “mark”, it requires a redesign of classroom management practices and expanding support systems around personalizing learning for each student. This holistic reform toward student-centered learning has the potential to transform the models of teaching and learning, and how our students and parents acknowledge academic achievement.”

To assist leaders in their efforts, the report identifies six elements of competency-based grading followed in most, if not all, competency-based schools:

  • Embrace explicit learning progression or standards so that everyone will have a shared vision of what students should learn.
  • Develop a clear understanding of levels of knowledge so that students and teachers share an understanding of what proficiency means.
  • Ensure transparency so that educators, students, and parents all understand where all students are on their learning progression.
  • Create a school-wide or district-wide standards-based grading policy.
  • Offer timely feedback and meaningful assessments to students so that students can continue to progress and stay on track.
  • Provide adequate information to support students, teachers, and school-wide continuous improvement.

To download a copy of Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education, please visit http://bit.ly/progressandproficiency

For more information about CompetencyWorks, visit http://competencyworks.org.


Secretary Duncan: Parent Voices for World-Class Education

edOn January 13, 2014, Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave an address to the National Assessment Governing Board Education Summit for Parent Leaders. He highlighted the continual need for American parents to demand more from their children’s schools and teachers so that Americans can be prepared to compete in the demanding global business climate of the 21st century. Secretary Duncan focused especially on the work of Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World, which we have blogged about previously.

Duncan does not call for the United States to model its education solely on other high-performing industrialized nations such as South Korea, but he does challenge those in the audience to be a part of ending the decline of American education relative to other industrialized nations, which he and President Obama feel has been taking place in recent decades.

As for why the decline has taken place, Duncan does not go into lengthy details; however, he discusses the need to recruit teachers from the top of their classes and to ensure that the teaching profession is held in high regard so that high quality teachers enter and stay in the profession.  He also wants to do a much better job at making sure that the highest performing teachers are working in areas of greatest need, something he argues takes place in South Korea but patently not in the United States.

Here are some excerpts from his speech:

In 2009, President Obama met with President Lee of South Korea, and asked him about his biggest challenge in education. President Lee answered without hesitation: parents in South Korea were “too demanding.” Even his poorest parents demanded a world-class education for their children, and he was having to spend millions of dollars each year to teach English to students in first grade, because his parents won’t let him wait until second grade. President Lee was very serious. Korean parents were relentless and had the highest of expectations—insisting their children receive an excellent education.

I told that story when I spoke to the National Assessment Governing Board a couple of years ago, and said that I wished our biggest challenge here in the US was too many parents demanding excellent schools. Well, David and his fellow board member Tonya Miles took me seriously. They invited you—parents, leaders in your communities, people who care so much about education—to come together and raise your voices for better schools and increased educational opportunity.

I’m so grateful that all of you are here. As you think about how to use your voice, your time, and your energy, I want to pose one simple question to you: Does a child in South Korea deserve a better education than your child? If your answer is no—that no child in America deserves any less than a world-class education —then your work is cut out for you.

Because right now, South Korea—and quite a few other countries—are offering students more, and demanding more, than many American districts and schools do. And the results are showing, in our kids’ learning and in their opportunities to succeed, and in staggeringly large achievement gaps in this country.

Doing something about our underperformance will mean raising your voice—and encouraging parents who aren’t as engaged as you to speak up.

Parents have the power to challenge educational complacency here at home. Parents have the power to ask more of their leaders—and to ask more of their kids, and themselves. And all of those will be vital in a time when we are losing ground.

But, as we saw last month on a major international assessment of the skills of 15-year-olds – the PISA exam –other countries are progressing much faster, leaving us behind.

In today’s knowledge-based, global economy, jobs will go, more and more, to the best-educated workforce.

That will either be here, or it will be in places like South Korea, Singapore, China, and India.


Let me be clear: I’m not saying we should be just like South Korea, where – as President Lee told President Obama – the pressure to study can get out of hand.

In her book, Amanda Ripley talks about how Korean authorities have to enforce a 10 pm curfew on extra-tutoring schools, and students so exhausted that they wear napping pillows on their wrists in school.

We absolutely shouldn’t aim to emulate all aspects of Korea’s education system – there should be a sense of balance and common sense. But we need to act on what we know about countries that are out-educating us – and your role as parent leaders is vital.

. . .


It’s about giving our kids a fair chance to succeed, to compete, to become part of the middle class – to do better than you and I did. Our children deserve the best – we have to stop settling for less.

For the full draft of the speech, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/remarks-us-secretary-education-arne-duncan-national-assessment-governing-board-educati


TNTP Publishes Whitepaper on Classroom Observation

TNTP imageTNTP, which has recently published many helpful documents about teacher effectiveness, has a new whitepaper out about the connection between teacher evaluations and Common Core.  While these two issues have been on the tongues of most education professionals for the last several years, TNTP’s approach is unique in addressing each of these two issues together, even to the extent of calling them “two sides of the same coin.”

Here is their introduction to the whitepaper:

Classroom observations are the foundation of virtually every teacher evaluation system in the country, and they aren’t working. Today’s observation rubrics give observers too much to look for in a short amount of time. Most rubrics are still producing inflated and inaccurate ratings. And many observers struggle to provide useful feedback to teachers.

At stake here is the success of two critical policy changes that could dramatically improve the quality of teaching in classrooms across the country: improved teacher evaluation systems, and the Common Core State Standards. These two policies are really two sides of the same coin—better instruction for students—and neither one can work without the other.

Put simply, if we want Common Core and teacher evaluation to deliver on their promise for teachers and students, we have to fix classroom observations.

In our whitepaper, we propose a new approach to classroom observations built around two “must-haves”: assessing what’s being taught in addition to how it’s being taught, and putting observation rubrics on a diet. These changes would bring the same focus and coherence to observations that Common Core brings to academic standards.

TNTP will be coming out with their own draft version of a Common Core-aligned teacher evaluation rubric in the coming weeks. It will be freely available and open for peer feedback. Once finalized, the rubric will become available to any school district under a Creative Commons license.

Read the whitepaper at:



Shedding light on the nexus of business and education

med_gatesfoundationU.S. corporations donate an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion a year to K-12 education. A new report argues that’s not enough. The report, published by Harvard Business School, the Boston Consulting Group and the Gates Foundation, aims to prod CEOs to move beyond “checkbook philanthropy” and push more transformative change on the public education system. It cites as models a successful drive by business leaders in San Antonio to win voter approval for a sales tax hike to fund pre-K programs, and ExxonMobil’s efforts to improve math and science instruction through teacher training. Too often, the authors conclude, business leaders sell public education short: They “lack confidence that America’s schools can be made excellent” and thus don’t engage deeply in reform. Educators, in turn, “view business as a useful source of near-term funding and volunteer manpower, but rarely as a long-term partner.”

For more, please visit: http://bit.ly/LzNFiC.

A companion piece explores a survey given to more than 1,100 superintendents nationwide. Nearly all reported some form of business involvement in their districts, and most viewed that positively. But just 3 percent described local business leaders as well-informed about public education – and 14 percent characterized them as outright misinformed. Only 12 percent of superintendents said the local business community was deeply involved in the public schools.

For more on the survey details, please visit: http://bit.ly/1erlak3


PARCC Sample Test Questions Ready for Computer Practice

parccTeachers in 18 states and the District of Columbia have new resources to help them prepare their students for upcoming field tests. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers has posted sample test items for every grade on the testing platform students will use when taking the field test later this spring.

This means teachers, students, parents and others will be able to engage with the sample items using computer-based tools such as drag-and-drop, multiple select, text highlighting, and an equation builder. PARCC also released online tutorials that demonstrate how students will navigate the test; how to use the computer-based tools; and features that make the test more accessible for all students, including those with disabilities and English learners.

“This spring’s field test will allow us to try out PARCC test questions, ensure the questions are aligned to the content area they cover, and build the best test we can,” said Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester, who serves as chair of the PARCC Governing Board. “Today’s release of fully functional sample test questions will allow schools and students to experience and become comfortable with the new testing format in advance of the field test.”

“The educational value and the quality of the test items really becomes evident when you see the items on the technology platform they were intended for,” said Laura Slover, PARCC’s chief executive officer. “These new assessments are tied to more rigorous expectations for students that will prepare them for success after high school in college or careers.”

The sample items were available previously as downloadable printouts. The sample items have gone through a rigorous review process to ensure they are of high quality and are similar to the types of items students will see when the test is fully operational in spring 2015. The sample items are available at www.parcconline.org/computer-based-samples. To get a true understanding of the range of rigor, item types and functionalities, users are encouraged to try out items across all grades and to provide feedback. The sample items will not be scored.

The PARCC assessments represent a range of more rigorous and engaging test items — from a new take on traditional multiple choice style questions aided by technology to longer tasks that ask students to show their understanding.” In reading and writing, students will have to show they can read and understand complex passages, write persuasively, and present findings based on research. In math, they will have to show their work and demonstrate they understand a concept, rather than simply memorize a formula; they will have to apply math knowledge to real-world problems.

The field tests, slated to begin in late March, are an opportunity for students and teachers in the PARCC states to play a significant role in the development of their states’ future tests. Hundreds of educators from all of the participating states have been instrumental in developing and reviewing the test items. Students and schools will not be scored on the field tests, which are designed to make sure test items and the technology function correctly, and to work out any glitches that might occur. PARCC will update items and tutorials in February based on feedback from the field.

Approximately 1.2 million students in 14 of the PARCC states — roughly 10 percent of students in grades 3 through 11 across the consortium — will take the field test this spring. All students in the PARCC states will have access to practice tests this spring so that students not participating in the field test can become familiar with the types of test items and the functionality of the online testing.

For more on PARCC, please visit: http://www.parcconline.org


Teacher Leadership Initiative Launches

ctqThe National Education Association (NEA), Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), and National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) are launching a groundbreaking initiative to advance teaching as a 21st-century profession.

The Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) will support accomplished teachers in leading effective pedagogical, policy, and union reforms. In the 2014 pilot year, TLI will engage over 150 teachers from six states (Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi and Washington) and will include individual capstone projects.

The teachers selected will participate in a comprehensive leadership training pilot program, concluding with a field-based leadership capstone project blending instructional leadership, policy leadership and union leadership. Participants will focus on three key policy areas: The Common Core, educator evaluations and school redesign. Much of the training will be online, with face-to-face statewide meetings.

The goal is for participating teachers to become leaders in the profession, with the knowledge, skills and core values to meet the demands of the teaching profession in the 21st century.

“This initiative will ultimately develop expertise and engage thousands of teacher-leaders in leadership work in schools, with NEA affiliates, and in state houses throughout the country—because every student should have the best possible educators in their schools,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “The program will prepare and support the next generation of our profession’s leaders to meet the demands of a 21st century teaching professional and ensure the success of their students.”

Participants will engage with an interactive curriculum designed and facilitated by other expert teachers. Their learning will take place on CTQ’s Collaboratory platform and in face-to-face meetings. Once teacher leaders have been prepared, TLI will mobilize their leadership to help advance student learning, strengthen the teaching profession, and provide vision and direction to the Association.  In addition, the partners will develop systems to support their on-going professional growth.

The initiative will call on the voices and expertise of accomplished teachers,” said CTQ CEO Barnett Berry. “It’s time to blur the lines of distinction between those who teach in schools and those who lead them.”

“The National Board is proud to partner with NEA and CTQ on the Teacher Leadership Initiative,” said Ron Thorpe, president and CEO of the National Board. “It is our strong belief that positive change in education must be driven by the profession and shaped by the invaluable experience of teachers working in classrooms. The TLI initiative marks an important milestone in our collective effort to elevate the profession.”

For more information, please visit:



Linking Teacher Evaluation and Professional Learning

stlcA free DVD from the School Turnaround Learning Community provides resources for conducting professional development on using educator evaluation results to create and support a system of professional growth for teachers. The module contains three sessions, each including agendas, PowerPoint slides, facilitator’s notes, multimedia, sample materials, and handouts:

Session 1: Overview of the connection between educator evaluation and professional learning, including reviews of how selection of evaluation measures can impact data quality and utility.

Session 2: Providing feedback to teachers, encouraging teachers’ self-reflection, recognizing and motivating teachers, and identifying professional learning goals.

Session 3: Key considerations in planning professional learning opportunities, and the importance of aligning teacher evaluation results, standards for teaching and learning, and job-embedded teacher professional learning.

Professional development packages on five additional topics are available and may be accessed from the following link.