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By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants

The problem with public education is that there isn’t enough tension. The other problem with public education is that there’s too much tension. And, perhaps the biggest problem is that both of these are correct, and we don’t distinguish between creative tension and destructive tension. 

Without distinguishing between the two, we cannot intentionally build structures and relationships that create the systems our students need: systems of shared leadership, strategic risk-taking and mutual responsibility. Systems of creative tension. Instead, we more commonly build top-down structures that generate destructive tension and bottom-up structures to avoid, relieve, or push back against them. ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

During a recent trip to the grocery store, the cashier told me that the city had instituted a five-cent charge for plastic bags. I immediately purchased three reusable bags to carry home my groceries and will always have those bags with me.

As I walked to the car, I thought about what had just happened. For years, I had watched while others brought their reusable grocery bags to the checkout lane. I thought it was a great idea, but I never took the step to change my habits. I knew why I should change my habits, but hadn't made the change -- it just wasn't important enough to me. And then, in the blink of an eye, I changed a behavior.  

It's not that I can't afford the five cents. It was the principle. But what was the principle? That I wouldn't pay for something that before had been free? That I heard the city's message about reducing waste? Or that I already knew it was the right thing and now had the motivation to change? ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, President and CEO, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

It’s an insidious message embedded in the American psyche: Those who can’t, teach. For years, report after report has banged the drum for raising admission standards into teacher preparation programs, citing international comparisons and championing cost-prohibitive recruitment policies.

In reality, the talent pool now entering teacher preparation programs is rich. Our programs are, in fact, attracting their share of high achievers—defined by any number of criteria.

One popular (if unreliable) measure of academic ability, SAT and ACT scores, has been trending upward among novice teachers in public schools. A recent study out of Stanford University finds that new teachers in 2008 had a wide range of SAT results, evenly spanning the bottom, middle, and top third of scores. This distribution reflects a change from scores reported in 1993 and 2000, when very few new teachers came from the top third. A similar study looked at new teachers in New York State and found a significant increase in teachers from the top third of SAT scores from 1999 to 2010.

Academic ability alone, of course, does not make anyone a good teacher, nor is it meaningfully reflected in SAT scores ...

By Brian Lewis, CEO, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

When it comes to meeting the needs of students, educators have aspirational goals. They passionately maintain a positive vision for what each student can become. Educators and school leaders know one size does not fit all. As such, many of them have a number of different learning and teaching strategies to reach every child. The same cannot typically be said for the delivery of professional learning for educators.

As Congress takes steps to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (more recently referred to as No Child Left Behind), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is calling upon leaders to include the Enhancing Education Through Technology Act of 2015 (EETT15) in the final bill.

When it comes to professional learning for educators, the approach too often adheres to the “sage-on-the-stage” method. Educators are expected to sit through one-time workshops or lengthened faculty meetings for passive professional development ...

Note: This post was written in reflection of the 2015 CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) Senior Delegation to Singapore.

Singapore’s public education system is viewed as one of the best in the world based on its students’ continued high performance on the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment). The CoSN delegation’s visit to the National Institute of Education (NIE) provided a chance for us to learn the strategy Singapore has used to push its student achievement close to the #1 spot on the international test. The NIE is charged with selecting candidates and providing preparation and ongoing support to the country’s teaching force to ensure that teacher quality is the highest possible.

Step one in this development approach is a rigorous process for selecting candidates for the teacher preparation program. Potential teachers must have scored in the top tier of the British style tests administered to secondary school students and are then subject to extensive interviews with the admissions committee to ascertain their aptitude for working with young people and ...

Nearly a year ago the fourteen member organizations of the Learning First Alliance (LFA) issued a rare but important statement of our collective belief that Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have the potential to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community. Included in that statement of belief was a clear signal that the “what” of CCSS was on track but the “how” of moving towards full implementation at the local and classroom level was moving too quickly with insufficient time, support and resources to ensure that the goal of the collaboratively created common standards could or would be met in the way envisioned by the leaders who initiated this ground-breaking project.

What we also knew was that some states and districts were mapping out implementation strategies that showed promise and yielded initial results in changed pedagogy and classroom culture that have the potential to result in measureable results on a host of evaluation instruments being designed to assess student progress. So, over the past year we’ve reached out to successful practitioners, asked them to share their experiences and wisdom, and collected stories of promising progress with implementation of the huge change in practice and process to meet the new, higher, common standards.

This week we issued a white paper describing some of the things we learned over the past year ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

The 2014-15 AASA International Seminar, under the auspices of the People to People Ambassador Program, took us to Australia and New Zealand. Both countries have a reputation for quality education, and the participants, including AASA President David Pennington and Past President Amy Sichel, were eager to experience whether the hype was deserved.

The Australian government provides funding for all of its schools, be they public or private. We visited with Judith Poole, headmistress of the Abbotsleigh School, an independent Anglican girls’ school serving 1,400 students preschool to grade 12. Poole comes from New Jersey, but she traveled to Australia 18 years ago with her husband, and they remained. Today she runs what is undoubtedly one of the best schools in the country. ...

By Helen Soulé, Ph.D, Executive Director, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

The class of 2031—these are the students who are in Kindergarten this year! If the past decade is any indication, these post-secondary graduates will face a very different world than we can imagine. Our challenge—help them get ready!

Now Is The Hour

Now more than ever, the traditional factory model approach to education practiced over the last 50 years in which students are "widgets" to which "parts" (content) are added by the workers (teachers) as they move along an assembly line and emerge identical to each other will not prepare our students for post-secondary education, work or life. In order to be successful, all students need both broad and deep content knowledge plus the 21st century's 4Cs, life and career skills and a global perspective. Learning must be engaging, connected to the real world, collaborative and personalized. Policymakers, district and school leaders and teachers must embrace new roles as facilitators, collaborators, leaders, lifelong-learners and project managers.

The Most Recent Research

For the last decade, P21 has advocated that 21st century learning requires large-scale transformation of our educational systems, including reimagining teaching, learning and structure. New models are emerging with promising results. Research just released by the American Institute for Research (AIR) ...

In reflecting on our work over the past year, we at the Learning First Alliance are particularly proud of our efforts to learn what it will take to get Common Core right. We highlighted perspectives on the issue from a number of state and local leaders in podcasts and written interviews, engaged with the public in a series of Twitter Town Halls on issues related to implementation, released commentary in local markets, and celebrated progress in our efforts to delay tying high-stakes consequences to standardized assessments aligned with the standards.

But education in 2014 wasn’t just about Common Core. In December alone, major events transpired: the U.S. Department of Education released proposed federal regulations for teacher preparation programs (open for comment until February 2), and the FCC approved a major increase in funding for the E-rate program, a decision will greatly expand schools' and libraries' access to high-speed internet.

We covered these items and much, much more on our blog this year. Of all that we posted, what caught the attention of you, our readers? Here are our top posts of 2014, as determined by Google Analytics. Enjoy!

  1. Three Ways to Build Trust for Professional Learning – In our top post of 2014, Learning Forward Senior Fellow Hayes Mizell argues that a lack of trust is at the core of many educators’ cynicism about and resistance to professional learning, and he offers three ways that leaders responsible for organizing professional learning can build it.
  2. Brain Research: Three Principles for the 21st Century Classroom – Brain research has given us some solid principles in the past decade
  3. ...

This piece was co-authored with Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. It first appeared in the Toledo Blade. View the original here.

Many lawmakers and political activists appear determined to perpetuate an endless debate over Ohio’s New Learning Standards, our version of the Common Core state standards. But teachers and school leaders across the state have been working hard to carry out the higher standards for student learning that we committed to years ago.

Teachers are already seeing benefits for students.

“They’re not doing as many paper-and-pencil activities and seat activities,” says Amy Whaley, a fifth-grade teacher in Toledo. “We’re up out of our seats. We’re doing projects. We’re encouraging students to talk and to share, because of the speaking and language standards that are involved.”

Like Ms. Whaley, teachers across Ohio are participating in and leading professional development, and creating new lessons designed to help students build a deep understanding of critical concepts in math and reading. Yet the challenge of introducing a new and higher set of standards, even as teachers dedicate time and energy to doing so, is significant. ...

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