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A recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune celebrated the Developing Reading Education with Arts Method (DREAM) program that is being implemented in ten school districts in San Diego’s North County. The program trains and supports third- and fourth-grade teachers in incorporating the arts (puppetry, miming, acting, dancing and more) into their lessons.

The results are, as quoted in the article, “astonishing.” Third-grade students whose teachers received a week-long summer training on integrating the arts into their teaching and weekly in-class coaching from arts professionals had an 87-point average increase on a standardized reading test (which is scored from 150 to 600). Students whose teachers received no arts training had just a 25-point average increase. While we know that standardized test scores are not always an accurate indicator of whether students are learning, this model is definitely one to consider as we look for ways to raise the reading levels of all students.

Three things stuck out to me as key lessons we can transfer from the DREAM experience to other educational endeavors:

1) A rich curriculum, including the arts, is important. We at the Learning First Alliance have long recognized the benefits of including the arts as part of a rich curriculum in our public schools, and we have lamented the narrowing of the curriculum in ...

Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan hosted a town hall meeting to launch the RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) Project, a proposed $5 billion program included in the Obama Administration’s 2013 budget. Typical of this administration’s education initiatives, this program is competitive and challenges states and district to work with teachers, unions, colleges of education and other stakeholders to comprehensively “reform” the field of teaching. 

I would have preferred that the Secretary used language that was more in line with “support and strengthen” the field of teaching since the word “reform” has been coopted by every harsh critic of public education, most of whom have  little interest in exploring solutions that could strengthen the complex nature of teaching and learning.  Having said that, the initiative provides much to celebrate and works to move the conversation around the important work of supporting public schooling to the strategy level in which all interested parties (which should be all of us) are involved. ...

Editor's note: This post was originally written for Edutopia.

As 2011 winds to a close, we are about to turn the page on a year that saw new evidence suggesting that the education reform policies du jour aren't really working. Most charter schools perform no better than traditional public schools (at least in Chicago); value-added modeling does not produce consistent, reliable measures of teacher effectiveness; and the school curriculum is narrowing, in part because of the pressures of state tests (according to teachers).

Student performance on standardized assessments has remained stubbornly flat during the past few years (though much more progress has been made in math than reading). And despite all our efforts over the past decade to dictate down school improvement through governance and accountability policy, the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their middle- and upper-class peers is actually growing. We must be doing something wrong.

In looking ahead to the education agenda of 2012, I hope that we can learn from what hasn't worked in school improvement over the past few years, as well as what has ...

Today the largest teachers’ union in the US, the National Education Association (NEA), announced an action plan to strengthen the teaching profession and invest in the development of teacher leaders whose advocacy for and support of effective classroom practitioners will result in improved student learning and stronger public schools.  The recommendations made today are based on the work of an independent Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching made up of accomplished teachers and educational leaders that looked at best practices from effective teachers across the country. These recommendations will result in an increase in the quality of teacher candidates before they reach the classroom; ensure that teachers remain at the top of their game throughout their careers; and improve student achievement by improving the profession.

The NEA Action Agenda has three major components:

  • Raising the Bar for Entry—advocating to strengthen and maintain strong and uniform standards for preparation and admission to teacher preparation programs
    • Every teacher candidate should have one full year of residency under
    ...

Too often when discussing the challenges public K-12 education faces, sweeping generalizations are made that in addition to being inaccurate, unfairly categorize professional educators and public schools as uniformly unsuccessful or at best inadequate.  For instance, there is no proof that charter schools are guaranteed to produce better results than traditional public schools. In fact, the best research to date suggests that just 17% of charter schools outperform traditional public schools – and that 37% of them actually perform worse, though that is a statistic that is rarely acknowledged in some camps. There are great public schools and great charter schools, and then there are struggling schools in both categories. There are great teachers and there are bad teachers. Would we all like great teachers, great schools, and well-educated students? ...

This week, the American Education Research Association and National Academy of Education hosted Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: A Challenge for Policy Makers, which highlighted concerns of education researchers with using value-added modeling (VAM, a model that measures a teacher's contribution to student test scores) in teacher evaluations.

The consensus of the research community: Most believe VAM is not appropriate as a primary measure for evaluating individual teachers. The standardized test score data used in these models is just not reliable, given issues with the small sample size of classrooms, the nonrandom assignment of students to classrooms, and the fact that while a student might, for example, work on reading skills with a teacher, a parent, a tutor and a paraprofessional, the only one who gets credit (or blame) is the teacher.

Two studies were cited that I found particularly disturbing: One found that 27% of teachers who get an “A” rating one year on a VAM-based system get a “D” or “F” rating the next – and that 30% of “F” teachers get an “A” or “B” the next. Another found that these models predict the influence of a 5th grade teacher on their students 4th grade test scores – scores received prior to the teacher even meeting the students.*

Despite the concerns of the research community, districts all over the country are including VAM in teacher evaluations – and ...

In a recent Slate article, Dana Goldstein argues that “Michele Bachmann's growing popularity among the Republican base signals . . . a sea change in the party's education agenda.” I would add the same goes for Rick Perry’s popularity, and for the general abundance of Tea Party affiliated candidates among GOP nomination hopefuls.

Goldstein contrasts the common Republican positions of a decade ago—an era defined largely by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind—as often bipartisan, and emphasizing standards-and-accountability in order to make America more competitive in the global marketplace. Now, however, Goldstein notes that the GOP has shifted to cater to “the anti-government, Christian-right view of education epitomized by Bachmann, in which public schools are regarded not as engines for economic growth or academic achievement, but as potential moral corrupters of the nation's youth.” ...

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the “Big Ideas Retreat” hosted by the Knowledge Alliance at the Aspen Institute conference center in Wye, Maryland.  The theme for this year’s retreat was Opportunities in the New Normal – Leveraging Knowledge to Move Forward.  In addition to their members, Jim Kohlmoss and his staff at the Knowledge Alliance assembled an exciting group of education thought-leaders, researchers, and practitioners.  In addition to the opportunity to interact with such an interesting and knowledgeable group of professionals, the program also showcased successful educators sharing their experience providing rich educational environments in a time of shrinking resources.  A sampling of what I heard that particularly resonated. ...

For some time I’ve been pondering how those of us who work to strengthen public K-12 education could spend less energy attacking each other (i.e. the “reformers” vs the “establishment”) and more time on problem-solving in a way that would help us serve all students regardless of economic/social/family situation to find success in a complex world.  Of course one thing that would be helpful is if we could collectively acknowledge that a student’s out-of-school situation DOES have a profound impact on school performance—not to use that acknowledgement as an excuse, but rather to factor it into the efforts we design to ensure school success.  ...

Recently the Wall Street Journal featured an interview with Bill Gates in which Gates conceded some missteps in his philanthropic efforts toward public education. $5 billion dollars after his debut into public education affairs, Gates admits “It’s been about a decade of learning.” It’s a common concern that private dollars toward education can actually be counterproductive when they direct attention and commitment to misplaced priorities, and so it’s somewhat gratifying to hear Gates acknowledging this.

Gates offered a more tempered view on education than the WSJ interviewer (who in the article described public education in cities as “dysfunctional urban school systems run by powerful labor unions and a top-down government monopoly provider”), but despite his avowed learning from past mistakes,  he still seems naïve in some respects. ...

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