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Dr. Barry Bachenheimer is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Pascack Valley Regional High School District (NJ) and a 2014 NSBA 20 to Watch Education Technology Leader. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a teacher, social studies supervisor, principal and central office administrator. He also served as Director of Instruction in the Caldwell-West School System in Caldwell, NJ, prior to coming to Pascack.

Dr. Bachenheimer values personalized learning, student voice and thoughtful integration of technology in classrooms, and he recently supported Pascack Valley’s efforts in creating a “Virtual Day” to take the place of a snow day in 2014. He was kind enough to take time to share his thoughts on these and other issues, including implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Public School Insights (PSI): Let’s start with your background. Where were you before you came to the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, and what positions did you hold that contributed to your current work in curriculum, instruction and assessment, as well as with technology? ...

As a child, I was told never to say that I was bored. Being bored meant I wasn't able to find something interesting or engaging to do, which was not acceptable. “The world is big and full of opportunities, do something!”, as my mother would say.

Boredom, as highlighted in the May issue of the Kappan, a PDK International publication, "is a mismatch between wanting intellectual arousal but being unable to engage in a satisfying activity."  The above description of boredom, from the article "Neuroscience Reveals That Boredom Hurts," suggests that students who seem to willfully defy urgings to focus on school assignments and work may simply be experiencing an involuntary brain reaction. ...

All humans have the potential and ability to be creative, and we do ourselves a disservice when we refer to individuals such as Mozart and Einstein as the defining examples of creativity to which we should all strive to emulate. This genius bar misrepresents the concept of creativity and distracts us from the necessary conversations on how to foster the creative mindset and why it’s so important to include in conversations around education. According to James Kaufman, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Connecticut who presented last week at the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Summit, creative people are more likely to get promoted, be satisfied with their jobs, be in better physical health and be more resilient. Those are all outcomes we hope for our children. ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Born in Another Time

If you are ever curious about the nuances and challenges of local policy-making and governance, look no further than the U.S public education system. When you consider the statistics and actors – nearly 14,000 school districts, 95,000 principals and more than 90,000 school board members – it is no wonder that public schools see higher levels of success when local leaders come together to collaborate and develop solutions.

The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) represents the state boards of education that govern and design education policy at the state level. These bodies set the tone, agenda, and overall vision for their state. One area in which their leadership is urgently needed: education technology. To that end, NASBE recently commissioned a study group, whose core composition consisted of 18-20 state board members, that produced Born in Another Time: Ensuring Educational Technology Meets the Needs of Students Today – and Tomorrow.  This report puts forth a vision for education technology in our nation’s public schools, along with key recommendations on how to get there. In essence, it takes a big, bold vision for 21st century learners and ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Voices From the Field

Education reform debates increasingly belong to a relatively small number of very loud voices. Hundreds of thousands of other voices get lost in the din. They belong to students and teachers, and their vision for our nation’s high schools varies dramatically from the content in mainstream education reform discussions.

The College Board recently released a supplement to Phi Delta Kappan that highlights key thoughts from students and teachers on both school reform and student engagement.  The results are worth summarizing and repeating mostly because the takeaways are remarkably uniform with regard to recommendations and advice for education reformers. The main message is that we need a long-term commitment to a well-rounded, multi-pronged approach to school improvement. ...

There should be no debate when it comes to children’s wellbeing and ensuring they have a healthy learning environment. Still, in an era where budgets are tight and the public school system finds itself under intense scrutiny, it is understandably necessary to justify the “why” behind a change or shift in policy. Green Cleaning Schools, the February issue of The State Education Standard, which is published by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE, a member of the Learning First Alliance), covers the why, the how and more of green cleaning in our nation’s schools. It highlights key benefits ensuring thorough and thoughtful consideration.   ...

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about how we, as a nation, need to increase the amount of time our students are in school. How our school calendar is based on an agrarian economy that no longer exists and hindering our competitiveness in the information-age. How students in the nations that outperform us on international assessments have a longer school year and/or spend more time in class each day. How one thing we can learn from high-performing high-poverty charter schools is the importance of increasing the amount of time that students in poverty spend in school. Students in those schools tend to have both days, a longer school year and school on Saturdays.

No real argument here. I personally agree that it's time to revisit an academic calendar designed in an era that no longer exists.

But consider what John Merrow said in a recent blog post: 

“With the awful truth that 6,000 kids drop out every school day staring them in the face, wouldn’t someone question the wisdom of extending both the school day and the school year? I mean, what are these dropouts leaving behind? ...

People on the stage moaned about the antiquated (agrarian) calendar and the fact that schools still look and act as they did 50 or 75 years ago—and then suggested that what our kids need are more hours and days of this!”

Yet again, we may be taking a promising idea, and killing it with simplicity. Simply increasing ...

An old idea is making a strong comeback in several states: Let 10th graders graduate from high school and enroll in community college if they're ready to do so. The idea of early graduation has a lot of merit, because it lets students choose a course that best suits their specific talents and aspirations.

But what about the opposite idea? What about late graduation?

No natural law dictates that high school should take four years. Some students can do it more quickly if they're ready to move on. But others, like recent immigrants who are still learning English, may need more than four years.

A high school principal once told me that she did what she could to keep some recent immigrants in her school as long as possible, even though her school's on-time graduation numbers suffered as a result. Some students arrive at her school at age 15 with no English and little or no formal schooling under their belts.

The larger point of any flexible graduation scheme is that the number of hours you spend warming a seat in your school should be less important than what you learn while you're there. As we weigh the benefits of early graduation, we shouldn't forget the needs of those students who need a little more time. ...

Emily and Bryan Hassel have an idea: Don't get too hung up on plans to make teachers better. Instead, figure out how to help the best teachers reach far more students. After all, they argue, the top 20 percent of teachers are three times as effective as the bottom 20 percent.

Try as they might, though, they cannot escape the need to support teachers through good old fashioned staff development, curriculum and assessment. It's time the education economists paid much closer attention to these critical areas, which are just so déclassé these days.

Of course, the Hassels' argument raises all sorts of questions. How do you identify the top 20 percent of teachers? Do we trust test scores? Will teachers stay in the top 20 percent from year to year? Are the "top" teachers good in every kind of school? Are they effective with every kind of student?

But the Hassels face an even bigger challenge. Their plan will require nothing short of a massive investment in all those things their fellow educonomists find oh-so tedious: Teacher training. New curricula. Much, much better tests. If we pursue the Hassels' brave new reforms the way we pursue most reforms--on the cheap--then we're going to be in a whole heap of trouble.

The Hassels, like so many of their ideological brethren, seem to believe that great teachers are born, not made. Hence their relatively dim view of staff development. (I've always found it curious that so many reformers who insist that every child ...

Success Stories

Keeping It Real: A Toledo Public School Prepares Students for College and Career

By Jennifer Dubin, for American Educator, on behalf of Toledo Technology Academy, OH

Story posted November 18, 2014.

A Toledo Public School Prepares Students for College and Career - See more at: http://www.aft.org/ae/fall2014/dubin#sthash.H08pQmkR.dpufResu

Results: 

  • Approximately 96 percent of the roughly 40 seniors who graduate each year continue in some form of postsecondary education
  • Students often enter projects in national competitions - and win
  • Businesses praise the school's graduates, and about 40 partner with the school to sponsor internships

“Why do I have to learn this?” It’s a question that crosses the minds of many high school students, but one that Ian Furstenberg doesn’t need to ask. Because of his classes in such technical fields as digital electronics and automation, he can see the immediate connection between his schoolwork and his career interests; he dreams of becoming an engineer.

Furstenberg attends the Toledo Technology Academy (TTA), a career-tech school within the public school system in Toledo, Ohio. TTA teaches students in grades 7 through 12 using a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum. In addition to the traditional academic subjects of English, history, science, and math, TTA also provides engineering and technology courses, such as those Furstenberg is taking his junior year.

When he graduates from TTA, Furstenberg will leave with a career portfolio, which will include certifications attesting to his technical expertise as well as letters of recommendation from his teachers and the company that hired him for his school-sponsored internship. If he decides to work right after high school, he can present that portfolio, showcasing his knowledge and skills, to a prospective employer. Or he can submit it to a college admissions office along with the standard application. ...

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