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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? ...

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (September 18, 2011), featured a cover story entitled “The Character Test”, suggesting that our kids’ success, and happiness, may depend less on perfect performance than on learning how to deal with failure.  The two schools profiled were Riverdale, one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools, and KIPP Infinity Middle School, a member of the KIPP network of public charter schools in New York City.  The common factor in each of these schools is a headmaster or charter school superintendent whose leadership is focused on providing an educational experience for the students he serves that encompasses more than academic rigor and achievement.  Their strategies are based on the work of Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose scholarly publication, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, documents 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras.  The importance of these strengths does not come from their relationship to any system of ethics or moral laws but from their practical benefit:  cultivating these strengths represent a reliable path to “the good life,” a life that is not just happy but also meaningful and fulfilling. ...

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. ...

The United Way has long been committed to both improving education and mobilizing the power of communities. In that vein, they recently released several reports on public feelings about education, and one specifically focuses on the role of volunteer mentors in boosting students’ academic achievement.

In conjunction with publishing these findings on mentorship, the United Way is issuing a national call to action. They are seeking to recruit one million volunteers to act as readers, tutors, and mentors for students over the next three years. So far the United Way’s National Women’s Leadership Council, comprising 50,000 leaders in 120 communities, has pledged to recruit 100,000 volunteers.

Some of the goals of this effort outlined in the reports: ...

As National School Counseling Week draws to a close, it seems fitting to reflect on the state of the profession in our nation.

School counselors are highly trained individuals who help students improve their academic achievement, their personal and social development and their career planning. Their services help students resolve emotional and behavioral issues, often improving the climate of a school. And they help students develop a clearer focus or sense of direction, which can improve student achievement. Research over the past several decades shows the positive impact of school counselors.

But for all the evidence, the work of school counselors can be underappreciated and is rarely acknowledged in discussions of school improvement. And in times of tough budgets, it is often the school counselor (or other support staff) whose role is cut.

As Valerie Strauss pointed out back in January, school counselors in America are expected to help an extremely large number of students. It is recommended that there be one school counselor for every 250 students. In 2008, nationwide there was one counselor for every 457 students – and that was before school budgets were slashed. In California there were 814 students per counselor. In Arizona, Minnesota and Utah there were more than 700 students per ...

Editor’s note: Our guest blogger today is Kwok-Sze Wong. He is the executive director of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), which represents more than 28,000 school counselors across the nation. ASCA expands the image and influence of professional school counselors through advocacy, leadership, collaboration and systemic change. It also empowers professional school counselors with the knowledge, skills, linkages and resources to promote student success in the school, the home, the community and the world. ASCA is a member of the Learning First Alliance.

Sandy Austin, a school counselor at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood, Colo., has seen her share of crises. As a member of the crisis team that worked with students and parents in Columbine in the wake of the shootings, Sandy knew students couldn’t focus on school until they could deal with their grief from this devastating tragedy. She also saw the strength and compassion students have and how important that compassion can be in helping others heal. To give students a way to help those in need, Sandy formed the BIONIC Team – Believe It Or Not I Care. Students in the group reach out to others to provide support when they experience a death, illness or other hardship in their lives. During the past six years, the BIONIC Team has reached more than 38,000 people, and more than 400 schools worldwide have shown interest in starting similar programs. 

Terry Malterre, a school counselor at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, and TeShaunda L. Hannor-Walker, Ph.D., the school counselor at Northside Elementary School in Albany, Ga., may be separated by a continent and an ocean, but they are connected by many similarities. They both work at schools with a high percentage of low-income and underserved students. They both noticed that many of their students were failing because of high absenteeism, so they instituted home visit programs to involve families in learning. And they both found that ...

In times of fiscal crisis, which few would dispute most districts are in, we have been hearing a bit about “smart” increases in class size. Some are advocating for states to remove class size mandates all together.

In the past, this blog has supported class size reduction. Certainly, the evidence makes it clear to me that small classes, particularly in the early years and for our most disadvantaged students, can improve academic outcomes.

But the flip side of class size debates is not articulated nearly as frequently as it should be. The debate is not only about the benefits of small classes. It is also about the problems that can come with large classes.

I was reminded of this recently thanks to a Detroit Free Press article on the problems resulting from a teacher shortage in Detroit Public Schools. Among them (and there are a lot) are large class sizes. Teachers at nearly a third of Detroit’s schools – 44 of 140 – report classes over the limits outlined in their contract.

These large classes are overwhelming teachers – having 40 to 50 students in a class makes it hard for them to control students and guide their learning. One 24-year veteran who averages more than 40 students in ...

Yesterday I mentioned that one lesson I took from Monday’s Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform is that educators are concerned that neither our current educational system nor the reforms we tend to pursue address the fact that students are not identical. But as Ira Socol said, “kids are humans, not interchangeable parts of Eli Whitney’s or Henry Ford’s assembly lines.”

And we, as a system, do not do enough to recognize the individual strengths, weaknesses and interests of each student. Consider what Paula White said: “So many times we simply don’t allow students to show us their brilliance.”

The education reforms we tend to pursue perpetuate the notion that you can take one child—any child—and put him into a classroom with a strong curriculum and a teacher who has shown his students improve on standardized tests, and you will get success.

It is not that simple. A student needs to be engaged before she can truly learn. That engagement could take the form of an active interest in subject matter. It could take the form of a personal relationship with a teacher, and the knowledge that ...

I am sure that we all remember The New Teacher Project’s 2009 The Widget Effect and its claims “our school systems treat all teachers like interchangeable parts.” In many instances, that can be (or at least feel) true.

But reading through the fruits of yesterday’s Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform, I was struck by Michael Kaechele's somewhat similar perspective: “students are not widgets that can be taught by anyone using the same script.” And one of my takeaways from yesterday’s blogs was concern that the system and some of the reforms we pursue treat students as such. To transform the system, many educators seem to feel we have to get away from this mentality.

One example of the student-as-widget design of our current system: Age-based grade-levels. Ira Socol points out that age-based grades were not designed on any type of scientific basis, but to fill a need of ...

Seven years ago, Washington’s Everett School District awoke to a harsh reality. A change in how the state calculated graduation rates revealed that only 53% of the district’s students graduated on-time. Officials were shocked and embarrassed. They sprang into action.

Today, Everett’s on-time graduation rate is just under 84%. Its extended graduation rate is just over 90%. And the improvement has occurred across the board, in all ethnic groups and special populations.

To what do they credit their success? Getting a group of committed adults focused on the problem and meeting regularly to try to solve it. And they also moved from numbers to names—getting personal about who is not on track to graduate and what they can do about it. Everett’s Chief Academic Officer Terry Edwards recently told us more.

Public School Insights: Your district has recently gotten some press because of its improved graduation rates. Could you tell me a bit about the success you have had?

Edwards: It is something that I call “An overnight wonder that took seven years to get here.”

About seven years ago, in 2003-2004, the state of Washington changed how it calculated graduation rates. It moved from looking at the number of graduates in the senior class plus those who dropped out over the past four years to a cohort model, the on-time model that the federal government has adopted. This model looks at the number of kids who enter in ninth grade and the number who graduate four years later.

When we converted to that model, our district’s graduation rate was 53%. That was very hard for Everett to accept, because we had always believed that we were a very good school district and doing a good job. 53% was shocking and embarrassing. And it did not seem to follow what we perceived as reality. We did not see hundreds of children standing around on street corners in ...

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