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The Public School Insights Blog

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Teachers - Got Plans Sunday?

If not, consider joining a live chat for Education Nation’s Teacher Town Hall. It will be held Sunday, September 26, at 12pm Eastern/9am Pacific. And during this event, NBC’s Brian Williams will talk with teachers on-air and online about issues facing educators and education. Just remember--you must register to participate.

For those who do not know, NBC News’ Education Nation is a week-long event, starting Sunday, that will examine and redefine education in America. It “seeks to engage the public, through thoughtful dialogue, in pursuit of the shared goal of providing every American with an opportunity to pursue the best education in the world.” Believing that we have allowed our students to fall behind, that our workforce is largely unprepared for today’s marketplace and that we face stiff competition from abroad, NBC hopes to provide quality news and information to the public to help us decide: Is it time to reinvent American as an Education Nation?

This event will feature in-depth conversations about improving education in American, including the Teacher Town Hall (which, by the way, will be aired live on MSNBC, educationnation.com, scholastic.com and msnbc.com). For the entire week, “NBC Nightly News,” “Today,” “Meet the Press,” “Your Business,” MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, msnbc.com and ...

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Groundbreaking Public Schools

Monday’s episode of Oprah, as you may know, featured DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, billionaire Bill Gates and Davis Guggenheim, currently famous as the man behind Waiting For Superman. Theoretically, the show examined public education in America, though I don't think I was alone in noticing the voices missing from the show.

But in addition to presenting a one-sided view to education and school improvement in America, I was really disappointed with one thing in particular. Oprah celebrated six groundbreaking charter schools/charter networks that work with mainly under-resourced populations. Each got a million dollars from her “Angel Network.” Now, these schools have accomplished amazing things. They should to be commended for the hard work that their staff puts in on behalf of their students. Clearly, they are all very deserving of the money and recognition they got on her show.

But the fact the show highlighted ONLY charter schools was unsettling. Such actions unwittingly (or unfortunately, perhaps wittingly) imply that charter schools are the best hope for our disadvantaged kids. But that is ENTIRELY untrue. While there are struggling public schools (which was clearly evident from this show), there are also public schools across the country that help children from all backgrounds reach great academic heights. In them, unheralded teachers are doing extraordinary things every day. But ...

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Reading is Fundamental

Yesterday’s release of a major report on teacher pay dwarfed much else in the education news. I may write on that soon, if I feel I have anything to add to the conversation. But today I wanted to talk about my favorite book, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

It has been my favorite book since the 5th grade. I haven’t read it in years, in part because I am afraid of what would happen if I read it again and thought, “Well, it’s okay.” But up through college I read it multiple times each year. I read it so many times that the cover of my first copy fell off when I was in high school, and my parents bought me a replacement copy.

I’m not exactly sure why this book touched me so. Likely because I got the book as a very young adolescent, about to go through many of the things that Francie went through in the book. She was relatable.

This isn’t the only book to have touched me over the years. But it was the first. And it helped cement the love of reading, and of books themselves (I'm not sure I'll ever get a Kindle), that I have today.

I thought of this book after seeing Sarah D. Sparks’ EdWeek blog yesterday. She posted about a meta-analysis of book-distribution programs. The study, commissioned by the book distribution group Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), found that students from low-income homes who had access to print materials through book ownership or lending programs like theirs had improved reading performance. Such programs were correlated with children better knowing the ...

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Public Service or Profession?

What makes a great school? The September 20 issue of Time magazine plastered this question across its cover, implying that it might, I don’t know, attempt to answer it. Instead, the magazine contained an editor's letter, a list of ways that various constituencies could get involved in public schools and two articles on public education: a fairly biased look at the upcoming documentary Waiting for Superman and a fairly reasoned look at teacher recruitment, training and professionalism.

The implication of the issue is that it is teachers that make a school great. I would expand that to all the people in the school—the principal, counselors, paraeducators, other support staff. And actually, I think that to be great, a school must have a culture that is great. And culture isn't dependent on merely on the people in the school building. The parents, the district staff, even the surrounding business community, all play a role.

But no one will deny that teachers are a huge part of it, which is one reason that I was drawn to John Cloud’s piece How to Recruit Better Teachers. (Unfortunately, this article is not available in its entirety on-line, but I’ll do my best to summarize the important themes). The recruitment, training and support of new teachers are incredibly important in our quest to strengthen schools.

Of course, one of the first programs mentioned in the article was TFA (Teach For America). One of the next was TNTP (The New Teacher Project). Both are alternative ways to move through the teacher certification process.

Next came criticism of schools of education. “A-ha!" I thought. “Cloud has hit the magic formula of ‘us’ versus ‘them’…two sides, pitted against each other in a bloodbath, winner cares about kids.”

But then Cloud asks a question. A question that I think really should be at the forefront of all education reform discussions:

“What does it mean when we decide that teaching is more a public service than a profession?”

Rumor (spread by Cloud in this piece) has a forthcoming McKinsey study showing that the best undergraduates in the U.S. see teaching as equivalent to ...

As promised, last week the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released their strategy to improve STEM education in America’s elementary and secondary schools. It has two prongs, focusing on both preparing students (improving STEM education itself) and inspiring students so they are motivated to study STEM subjects and have careers in STEM fields in the future. The report divided recommendations into five general priorities for the federal government: improving federal coordination and leadership, supporting the state-led movement to establish a baseline for what students should learn in STEM courses, cultivating/recruiting/rewarding STEM teachers, creating STEM-related experiences that excite and interest students, and supporting the transformation of schools into STEM learning centers.

As I said last week, I was anxious to see the strategy proposed for motivating students in STEM. As a science and remedial math high school teacher in a low-income community, I found that getting students excited about STEM subjects was one of my biggest challenges. And if students weren’t excited, they were not going to learn it. Plain as that. I suggested that doing more to ...

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Today in History...

On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting. There was only one item of business: Signing the Constitution of the United States of America. Henceforth, September 17 came to be known as Constitution Day.

The Constitution established the framework for a government. A government dependent on its people for survival. So it seems fitting on this day in history to consider American students' performance in civics.

The most recent results available from National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP) test in civics are from 2006 (the test was administered in 2010, but the results have not yet been released). On that test, we learned that about two out of every three American students at grades 4 (73%), 8 (70%) and 12 (66%) have at least a basic knowledge of civics.* That does not sound TOO bad, though it is certainly concerning that a third of our high school seniors do not have even a basic sense of civics--and these are the students who make it to twelfth grade. ...

I am a DC resident, and I am very interested in the politics that have been going on in the District over the past couple of days, especially as they relate to school reform. But I am not going to write about that, at least not directly. Rather, I want to highlight the results of EducationWorld.com's informal teacher survey on school climate.

Nearly 99% of teachers believe that school climate has a significant impact on student performance. And in general many of them are satisfied with key aspects of the climate in their school--for example, nearly 75% say their principals always or often involve staff in decision making, nearly 70% say they have the instructional materials needed to do their jobs and about 75% work schools that are in good repair. Overall, about 66% think that their school is a pleasant place for students and teachers to learn and work.

The problem is that then the reverse of each of those numbers is then true as well. So over 30% of teachers have needs for instructional materials that are not being met. And nearly a ...

Last November, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate campaign with the goal of moving our students to the top of the world in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education. And in the coming days, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology will release a report with recommendations on just how the federal government can accomplish that goal.

According to a preview by Erik Robelen on EdWeek yesterday, the report concludes that the federal government has lacked a coherent approach to STEM education for the last quarter century. The Council recommends the government take action to improve the standards, teachers and technology around STEM education. It recommends more STEM-based schools. And it calls for stronger leadership at the federal level, as well as increased opportunities to inspire a passion for STEM subjects in students.

I am anxious to see the report. After all, STEM has been a priority of LFA for years. Back in ...

No one would deny that having a high-quality teacher in every classroom is important. Research confirms that effective teaching improves student achievement. So it stands to reason that very few would deny that it’s important for all teachers to have access to high-quality professional learning. After all, research confirms it is a significant pathway to more effective teaching.

Yet as evidenced by a recent report from Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council), the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and Council of Chief State School Officers, far too few states and school districts ensure that their educators have access to effective professional learning activities.

Advancing High-Quality Professional Learning Through Collective Bargaining and State Policy takes an in-depth look at the professional learning policies of six states. The conclusion? Professional learning does not have a significant place in policy and collective bargaining language. But there is hope—the report offers recommendations and examples of collectively bargained language, legislation, regulations and administrative guidelines to inform the development of policy language that can strengthen the quality of professional development in the future.

To learn more about the report and its implications, we spoke to three individuals who each brought a unique perspective to this issue: Joellen Killion (Deputy Executive Director of Learning Forward), Linda Davin (Senior Policy Analyst at NEA) and Joyce Powell (now serving on the NEA Executive Committee after four years as the president of the New Jersey Education Association and decades in the classroom).

Public School Insights: Why is it important to do address professional development through collective bargaining and state policy?

Killion: At Learning Forward, we believe that if there are strong policies in place that set clear expectations, then there will be improved practice. So when collective bargaining language addresses with clarity the importance of the opportunity for teachers to engage in professional development, and when state policy simultaneously provides resources, guidelines and expectations for effective professional development, we believe that the practice of professional development will be improved.

Davin: I couldn’t agree more. Although we know that we can have high quality professional learning in districts where it is not included in collective bargaining language, we also know that ...

Concerned about the state of arts education in America? This is a great week to do something about it.

The U.S. House of Representatives has designated this, the second week of September, as “Arts in Education Week.” The goal is to showcase the important role that arts education plays in producing engaged and successful students. Their resolution, which passed last July, stated:

Arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential element of a complete and balanced education for all students.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily news. A number of schools--Alabama’s Mary B. Austin Elementary and New Jersey’s Woodrow Wilson School come to my mind immediately--have recognized the importance of, and prioritized, arts education for ...

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