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Last week I had the interesting and mostly pleasant experience of attending two events showcasing issues in public preK-12 education on the same day:  one sponsored by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), the education arm of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the second hosted by the National Association for Elementary School Principals (NAESP) honoring America’s National Distinguished Principals.  As one would expect, the two organizations have very different perspectives on the status of public schools and the people who work in them.

With the exception of Steve Brill’s closing luncheon speech, the ICW meeting was generally balanced and featured interesting panel discussions around the event’s theme, “Race to the Top:  Are We There Yet?” (Never mind that we’re barely a year into the competitive, federally funded, state administered large scale initiative.  It’s lucky the first checks are in the mail much less that we’re “there”, wherever that might be.)  A couple of the panelists, Dan Cruce from the Delaware Department of Education and Pat Forgione from ETS in particular, provided reality based presentations on state department collaborations that work towards effective change management. ...

I may be able to afford my connection costs, but staying plugged-in is not cheap; a comparison of Comcast and Verizon shows prices between $69.99 and $100.00 a month, before taxes, for varying internet and cable packages.  For low-income families, prioritizing access comes after purchasing food, making loan payments, buying clothes and filling up the car with gas. Yet in the digital age, it’s becoming evident that children without basic technological skills will be at a disadvantage in the workforce and society. ...

This piece was initially written for ARTSBlog as part of their recent blog salon, a collection of 30 posts by arts education leaders in celebration of National Arts in Education Week (September 11-17, 2011). View the original posting here.

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Brad Hull. Brad is currently Deputy Executive Director at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE, a Learning First Alliance member). He holds advanced degrees in both education administration and music, and his experience extends from classical music performer, to college instructor, policy maker, national association manager, education researcher, and administrator. For more, see www.bradleyjhull.com.

I grew up in a small conservative town in Pennsylvania. As a budding piano player, my entire focus was on the great hymns of the faith, playing in church every Sunday.

The first time I had ever memorized a piece of classical music was in preparation for my college entrance auditions.

With this small bit of information about me, you can well imagine the sight of me as a very green, frightened, and shy freshman, entering the halls of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music as a piano major, walking around the three floors of practice rooms hearing incredible music emanating from almost every one. On top of that, due to a lack of attention to technique, I had developed tendonitis the summer before.

My piano teacher was phenomenal and we studied the Chopin Nocturne in D-Flat, op. 27 no. 2 for the entire year. Little did I know that these were lessons not only about Chopin, but also about living and working. Here are a few things that I learned:

1. The best things in life require attention, presence, and care. Don’t take anything for granted. Chopin ended the phrase on the half beat for a reason. Turning this ...

Story timeFall’s arrival heralds the start of school and classroom teachers are excited to welcome back their students for another year of learning. At the same time, they are faced with the reality that students seem to know less than they did last spring. On average, all students lose ground and begin the year a month behind where they performed in the spring. One study suggests that two-thirds of the achievement gap for low-income students entering ninth grade can be attributed to summer learning loss. The gap is particularly pronounced in reading, where low-income students lose ground, as opposed to high-income students who maintain or gain ground.

The achievement gap is a widely recognized reality in American public education. It is troubling, persistent, and continues to elude remedy. When a potential solution arises, it is difficult to maintain realistic expectations, and that is exactly what must be done when it comes to summer learning programs. We can take heart that evidence from studies to evaluations shows the promise of such programs in reducing the achievement gap that separates low-income and minority youth from their more privileged peers. ...

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development. She directs RAMP (the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program), a high tech career-focused mentoring program for youth with disabilities involved with or at-risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. Today she reflects on the program, its outcomes, and what has been learned over its first few years.*

As the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) enters its third year, community partnerships have emerged as an important component to making the program work in all communities.  With support from the Institute for Educational Leadership, the 12 RAMP sites around the country provide career-focused mentoring for youth with disabilities who are at-risk of or currently involved in the juvenile justice system. Unfortunately, as youth with disabilities are highly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, all youth with disabilities – especially those with learning disabilities or mental health needs – are at-risk of becoming involved in the system. The RAMP programs place special emphasis on engaging youth with disabilities with a history of high truancy rates, low grades, or school discipline incidents.

Through a mix of education, employer, and community partnerships, RAMP sites have succeeded in providing career-focused mentoring to these youth with outstanding results! In the first year, 95% of the youth enrolled in the program engaged in ...

Kenneth C. Davis is a New York Times best-selling author who has written about a myriad of significant popular issues—from American History, to geography, to literature, to the Bible, to mythology. His books, for both adults and children, provide an accessible and entertaining guide to these topics. For this interview, we focus on the latest revised edition of his book, Don’t Know Much About History: Anniversary Edition—which is now out in hard cover from HarperCollins. He contrasts this book with what he considers boring approaches in most history textbooks, and emphasizes that Americans are highly interested in history when it’s relayed in an engaging, realistic way.

Public School Insights: Why did you decide to write this book?

Kenneth Davis: To make history as interesting and exciting as I always thought it was! The book looks at 500 years of American History, from the voyages of Columbus, right up to the year 2000. I wrote the ...

Last week I was lucky enough to participate in a gathering called America’s Imagination Summit convened by the Lincoln Center Institute (the education arm of the Performing Arts Center), and held at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.  The Summit was the culmination of a series of Imagination Conversations that had been conducted around the country to bring local leaders together to consider the role that imagination and creativity can and should play in improving the education experience for all our children in a variety of settings.  With a few notable exceptions, the Summit avoided the now popular activity of bashing public schools and the professionals who work in them. Instead it concentrated on the role that imagination, i.e.” the capacity to see what is not,” plays in problem solving and how that approach can support our working together to ensure that a rich educational experience is offered to all our students, regardless of their social or economic station in life.

What follows are a few of the inspirational and thought-provoking moments from the speakers and panels: ...

In two recent Salon.com articles (here and here) political commentator David Sirota has pointed out key differences between Finland and the U.S. that he believes account for education discrepancies between these nations. It essentially boils down to differences in: 1) systemic equity, 2) incentives for and recruitment and support of teachers 3) focus on standardized testing, and 4) bipartisan support among all relevant stakeholders.

To open Sirota asks, “How has one industrialized country created one of the world's most successful education systems in a way that is completely hostile to testing”—and, I’ll add, that does not even attach consequence-based evaluation to teachers or schools? For answers, he refers readers to the documentary film "The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System” which paints the picture of an educational system that completely contrasts with what he calls “the test-obsessed, teacher-demonizing orthodoxy of education ‘reform’ that now dominates America's political debate.”

Some background to set the stage:

It’s clear by now that while the U.S. tests students more than any other nation, our students perform significantly worse in math and science than students in other industrialized countries. Nevertheless, Sirota points out that ...

Clearly espousing emphasis in STEM education is all the rage these days—with good reason. However, despite theoretical broad support and frequent political lip service, successful implementation of STEM-fostering programs in public schools has been lacking.

That’s why a current competition funded by the Carnegie Corporation— Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science + Technology + Engineering + Math Education on the Changemakers website—sounds like a condonable endeavor. The website notes the lack of progress thus far, saying that “our communities are filled with many of the world’s most talented professionals in these fields. They work in hospitals, universities, and museums; biotech, engineering, and architecture firms; graphic-design and urban-planning studios; hedge funds, banks, and computer-software, gaming, and pharmaceutical companies. They just rarely directly impact our public schools.” ...

A recent article from eSchoolNews highlights partnerships between schools and education publishers to create customized curriculum—one that caters to specific populations by using targeted materials rather than generic plans and texts—to make students’ educational experience more relevant.

The premise: the collaborating schools and districts work with a publisher (both Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are active participants) to develop affordable, customized curriculum for any subject that also fit state core and Common Core requirements. The electronic content can be delivered via the web, CD, PowerPoint, or other electronic files, and much of it is also available in print. In addition to readings it includes lesson plans, discussion questions, activities, syllabi, and assessment tools. According to a school or district’s preference, Pearson can modify an existing curriculum to meet local needs, or they can develop curriculum from the ground up with the help of administrators and teachers. ...

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