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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. ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Steve Berlin. Steve is Senior Communications Manager at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE, a Learning First Alliance member).

For anyone reading this post, it should come as no surprise that education professionals have long agreed on these two proactive ways to improve scholastic achievement, at least in principle: dropout prevention efforts must begin before students reach high school, and it is incumbent on education entities to seek partners from outside the field to help students succeed. Further, we must consider looking beyond the “usual suspect” when it comes to partnerships because as a nation, everyone has a vested interest in students’ success.

At the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), we have found a promising formula to help increase the high school graduation rate through our partnership with the U.S. Army. Together, we developed and launched in January 2011 the Partnership for All Students’ Success (Project PASS).  

Project PASS is designed to support students’ academic, social, and emotional needs to increase high school graduation rates and college and career readiness with the new Junior Leadership Corps (JLC) in middle schools and ...

According to the National Endowment for the Arts and data from Chorus America, choral singing is the most popular form of participation in the performing arts; however, opportunities to participate in a school choir are declining. The arts are getting slashed from many schools as we become myopically focused on reading and math in this budget-crunched time.

To help schools avoid this fate for programs in their communities, earlier this week, Chorus America released a free advocacy guide schools can use in making a case for choral arts programs. From a pragmatic standpoint, as the American economy increasingly becomes more service-oriented, and creativity-driven, it makes sense to emphasize the arts in schools. From a motivating standpoint, courses and programs that actively engage students and offer some bonafide entertainment make school a lot more pleasurable for students, and provide them with something to look forward to. A Chorus Impact Study reported that 90% of educators believe choral singing can keep some students engaged in school who might otherwise lose interest and/or drop out.

Arts integration in schools is not a pie in the sky dream: arts used to be a much bigger focus in American schools. Dana Gioia, former Chairman of ...

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

On March 2, 1904, Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He would become an accomplished writer and illustrator, publishing articles in popular periodicals such as The Saturday Evening Post, Life and Vanity Fair. He gained a national reputation in advertising. During the World War II era, he first drew political cartoons for a left-leaning publication and then posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. With his first wife, he wrote Design for Death, a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1947.

But Geisel is best known for his children’s books, penned under the pseudonym “Dr. Seuss.” His first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published in 1937. His last, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, was published in 1990, just a year before his death.

The most famous of his books is (arguably) The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957. I am sure you are familiar with the story. But you may not know just how it came about.

Back in 1954, Life magazine published an article entitled "Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading." That article was quite critical of ...

I was intrigued by two stories in the December 13 issue of Newsweek on the subject of public school reform in the United States: the cover story, an essay authored by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools whose picture and quote “I’m not done fighting” graced the cover (as a former English Language Arts teacher, I would have hoped for a more elegant word choice, but then I suppose space was an issue); and a second story, buried in the middle of the magazine entitled “Give Peace a Chance”, featuring a full page photograph of the president of the Hillsborough County, FL teacher’s union and chronicling the successful school improvement efforts in that school district, the result of collaboration among all the professionals in the system, including the teachers’ union. As a career educator, I think the more provocative magazine cover would have featured photographs of both women juxtaposed with the question: What will it REALLY take to improve all our schools?? ...

"When we make decisions we think we’re in control, making rational choices. But are we?"

In his best-selling book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, behavioral economist Dan Ariely challenges the basic assumptions of our economic system, exploring the powerful tricks that our minds play on us and showing that actually, we humans are far from rational.

Of course, irrationality is not always bad. His follow-up, The Upside of Irrationality, offers another look at the irrational decisions that influence our lives, as well as some of the positive effects that such irrationality can have.

Ariely recently spoke with us about his work and its implications for education reforms involving teacher compensation and school choice.

Public School Insights: You are a behavioral economist. What does that mean?

Ariely: My Ph.D.s are actually not in economics. I have a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, and I have a Ph.D. in business administration. But what I do lies between psychology and economics.

I ask questions that economists would ask, but instead of assuming straightaway that people behave rationally, I just observe how people behave. So think of it as something that has no assumption; it's just observational in its nature. That's the basic story.

Public School Insights: You've written a couple of books, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality. Could you briefly describe them?

Ariely: Yes. In Predictably Irrational, I talk about how people think, mostly about financial decisions. The things that we buy. One chapter asks the question, "How do we decide how much something is worth?" Economic theory has a very simple assumption about this. But I ask the question, "How do we really do it?"

Or I ask the question, "What happens when the price of something drops to zero?" People get overly excited about it, usually. But is it just because ...

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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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