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Engaging Environments

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There’s a saying: When you have a hammer, everything suddenly becomes a nail. It is not surprising that student surveys, as a tool analogous to the hammer, are suddenly viewed through the lens of usefulness when applied to teacher evaluations.

Student surveys provide valuable feedback for teachers that contribute to professional development and can result in improved classroom practices. Over the years, the classroom-level cycle of feedback and adjustment can produce improved student performance results. It already happens in some places; imagine the possible impact if such a process were adopted system-wide. But when it comes to teacher evaluations, implementation is – as always - fraught with unforeseen consequences. The errors of the policy-making community, when in a rush, are plentiful, and in this instance, threaten to undermine the already established usefulness of student feedback when it comes to developing highly effective teachers. ...

You know you’re witnessing learning in action when you see children clamoring to answer a math question, hardly able to stay in their seats with hands stretched to the sky. For those who are often removed from the classroom, analyzing data, processing paperwork in human resources or working in national advocacy, it is always refreshing to be in the presence of educators and their students.  Two weeks ago, I participated in a National School Boards Association Technology Leadership Network site visit to Clark County. More than 300, 000 students are enrolled in the Clark County School District (CCSD) in Nevada, the nation’s 5th largest district. The district has 37,361 employees on payroll, making it the state’s largest employer. ...

Consider a community in which people cannot own property. Where housing consists of trailers or old manufactured homes packed closely together, with options for food and shopping very limited. Where a large population of feral animals poses a consistent threat. With high crime rates, high alcoholism, high gang activity. Would you want to live – or teach – there?

Alchesay High School in Whiteriver, Arizona (part of the White Mountain Apache Reservation) is located in such a community. Prior to the arrival of Principal Roy Sandoval in the summer of 2010, the school had the lowest math scores in the state, a 47% graduation rate, and a large population of 18-20 year-old students with less than five credits. There were 291 on-campus drug and alcohol incidents in the 2009 school year (SY2009), and “bootleggers” were selling alcohol to students from land adjoining the campus. There was great rancor and mistrust between teachers and administrators. ...

I’ve always had a fascination with shipwrecks. Specifically the Titanic, and in my defense, since long before James Cameron’s film came out in 1997. When I was 8 years old, my dad took me to see Robert Ballard (who discovered the wreck in 1985) at the local high-school and I promptly got into a discussion with two enthusiasts as to the significance of wrecks in general, including the World War II battleship Bismarck and the Andrea Doria, which claimed the lives of a family friend’s parents when he was just a child. The sinking of Titanic occurred 100 years ago Sunday, but its lessons live on for future generations.    ...

When and how did you learn about credit cards and credit scores? Did your parents teach you; did they lead by example; did you take a course; or did you learn by trial and error? What does just paying the minimum payment each month really mean in the long-term? April is National Financial Literacy Month and an opportunity to examine school’s role in educating young Americans when it comes to financial decision-making.

I did not have much exposure to financial education during my high school experience, but I was fortunate enough to learn a great deal from my mother and to have her support my navigation of the college financial aid process. Since graduation, I’ve also participated in a number of seminars, all of which  have proven tremendously helpful when it comes to my own financial decisions about higher education, home ownership, savings and investments and planning for retirement. It makes me wonder what decisions and mistakes I would have made without that enhanced understanding. ...

A recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) suggests that arts education can help narrow the achievement gap that exists between low-income students and their more advantaged peers. But new data from the federal government suggests that low-income students are less likely to have access to arts education than their higher-income peers. 

Certainly arts education is important for its own sake. But in a time of tough budget choices, arts education advocates must speak to its tangible benefits, which the NEA report clearly does. By nearly every indicator studied, a student from a low-socioeconomic (SES) background with a high-arts educational experience significantly outperformed peers from a low-arts, low-SES background, closing (and in some cases eliminating) the gap that often appears between low-SES students and their more advantaged peers.

And not just the standardized test score gap. The report does show that low-SES eighth grade students who have a history of high arts engagement have higher science and writing scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than those who do not. Such high school students had better GPAs than their low-arts, low-SES peers (and in some instances, than all students). But I was more impressed with some of the other outcomes ...

Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger today is Ann Meier Baker. She is President and CEO of Chorus America, the advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that advances the choral music field.  Her 25-year career has included several leadership positions in the arts and in education.

Students composing songs about chaos theory, tessellations, and the Fibonacci Sequence is just the beginning.

March is Music In our Schools Month and this annual celebration is a wonderful opportunity for people to sing (pun intended) the praises of outstanding school music programs that are an important part of a comprehensive and competitive education. Today, while there is an enormous amount of compelling evidence about the value of these opportunities for young people, the reality is that school music programs are being cut at an alarming rate, leaving some of us wondering if it’s more appropriate to sing a dirge this month, rather than a song in celebration.

For example, in national research commissioned for Chorus America’s Chorus Impact Study, more than one in four educators surveyed said there is no choral program in their school  and, of the educators who said that their school has no choir program today, 31 percent said their school used to have such a program. And yet these same educators also agree that choir participation helps make students better team players, develops stronger social skills, leads to better emotional expression and management, improves overall academic performance, and helps instill self-discipline. These are the very skills and strengths students will need as they come of age in the 21st century—as a society, we cannot afford to ...

As a member of the Millennial Generation, I couldn’t help but notice “The New Generation Gap in Schools,” an article in the March issue of the American School Board Journal, published by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) that asserts Millennials are arriving in schools – as parents – and that the public education community can prevent a new generation gap by earning our support.  I certainly agree.

The article’s generation profile says we are more diverse, racially tolerant, less conservative and less likely to have served in the military than the generations before us. We tend to be more liberal, socially and politically which may lead us to support public schools philosophically and theoretically, but does not automatically guarantee we will send our children to traditional public schools. ...

I appreciate research and data, particularly when results offer evidence on successful initiatives and best practices. Every now and then, I crave some anecdotal evidence, voices with stories from individuals whose journeys are often reduced to graphs, averages and groups of statistical significance. Kappan Magazine features a diverse series of articles for February, Black History Month, on educating black male students (black and Latino males in one case). The commentary is a reminder that thoughtful questions produce thoughtful answers and conclusions. How might we constructively acknowledge that there are differences between many black male youth and their more privileged peers? What should we expect of teachers and schools with regards to the education of black male students? And, how do resulting answers or conclusions affect various recommendations, initiatives and debates in education policy more broadly? ...

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library. Materials are added at the rate of 10,000 per day and the Copyright Office has a card catalogue with more than45 million card entries. It contains 838 miles of bookshelves and holds a collection of more than 147 million items. The Library is open to the public and its resources are available on-site in Washington D.C to anyone older than 16 with government issued identification. The American Memory Project – an effort to digitalize a large portion of the Library’s collection – has more than  9 million items available electronically, for free, to anyone with access to the internet. ...

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