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Yesterday I wrote about the DREAM Program in San Diego’s North County, where third-graders whose teachers had training and ongoing support in incorporating the arts – puppetry, miming, acting, dancing and more – into the curriculum showed incredible improvement on standardized reading tests compared to students whose teachers did not get such training or support.

Another successful program recently came to my attention out of Auburn, Maine. There, a controversial decision to supply iPads to kindergarten students is showing promising outcomes. Students who used iPads last fall scored higher than peers who did not in nine of out 10 areas recently tested around pre-reading skills, with one area – recognizing sounds and writing letters – statistically higher.

These two programs take extremely different approaches to improving student outcomes. Yet the success of both, like the success of most education initiatives, is discussed in the same way - almost entirely in terms of standardized assessments.

While test scores are important, they are not the end-all, be-all of student learning. Both of these programs are likely developing skills that students will need to be successful in the global community, but that ...

Yesterday President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that 10 states have been awarded waivers that provide flexibility from some of the main provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), including the 2014 deadline for 100% of students to reach proficiency in reading and math and the requirement that 20% of Title I funds be set aside for public school choice and supplemental educational services.

To receive a wavier, states had to agree to implement college and career-ready standards and to reform teacher and principal development, evaluation and support systems. They had to set new performance targets for improving student achievement and develop accountability systems that recognize and reward high-performing schools, provide “rigorous and comprehensive” interventions in the lowest-performing schools, and improve educational outcomes for underperforming subgroups of students. ...

Updated 1/31/12

In the State of the Union, President Obama made several references to education, reiterating its importance to his administration and to a healthy economy. 

While k-12 education was not a primary focus of the speech, he did touch directly on a few major education issues. He pointed out that nearly all states have raised their academic standards in recent years. He also made one very specific policy proposal: He called on all states to keep students in school until they either graduate from high school or turn 18.

In addition, the President emphasized the importance of good teachers. As he put it:

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

What did the education community have to say about this speech?

Gayle Manchin, president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, was pleased that ...

When it comes to high stakes testing, of any kind, its purpose should always be questioned. What is the value-add of a high school exit exam? Should it test students’ basic skills? College and career readiness? Do today’s tests do either?  

A few weeks ago, a school board member in Florida took a version of the state’s 10th grade high school test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Students must pass this test to graduate, and they have five opportunities to do so. The school board member averaged a D on the reading section, noting that: “In our system, that would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.” This individual has two masters’ degrees and a successful professional career. He admits that while the material tested wasn’t fresh in his mind, he also didn’t use it in his work, thereby making him wonder how relevant it really was for the average student’s success after leaving school. ...

Have we hit a plateau in student achievement in this nation? In a paper released today, Mark Schneider suggests that yes, we have.

Schneider was asked to study student achievement in Texas over the past few years, at the time their Governor Rick Perry was a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had suggested that Perry ran an inadequate school system, and the Fordham Institute wanted to determine whether or not that was true.

As Schneider reviews, Texas’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) over the past few years has been relatively flat, after a few years of rapid improvement. But in his research, Schneider uncovered a larger trend. And rather than blame stagnant performance on the governor, he suggests that it’s somewhat inevitable.

There’s a concept in biology known as punctuated equilibrium. It posits that systems typically exist in a steady state (equilibrium) in which little change occurs. Occasionally there is a shock to a system from ...

According to a recent report on science education in California, more than half of elementary school principals do NOT believe it is likely that a student receives high-quality science instruction at his or her school.

If anything, I would expect principals to be optimistic about the strength of their schools, so this finding really drives home longstanding concerns about the state of elementary science education.

And it makes sense when one looks at teacher responses to the survey. Forty percent of elementary teachers reported spending less than 60 minutes a week on science instruction. Thirteen percent reported spending less than 30 minutes a week on it.

These findings come as not only California stakeholders but the President, governors across the nation and the business community are all stressing the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to our nation’s economy and future competitiveness.

If everyone recognizes the importance of it, why isn’t science education better?

The survey offers some explanations around a general theme: The conditions to support high-quality elementary science instruction are rarely in place. Elementary teachers are unprepared to ...

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. ...

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. ...

As the only person working in the LFA office who was alive for both the assassination of President John F. Kennedy AND the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, I was assigned the reflective activity in remembrance of that challenging time ten years ago when our sense of safety and security was seriously damaged.  Like all natives of Washington, DC, I was struck by the contrast between the sheer physical beauty of the day… blue skies, low humidity, gentle sunlight, soft breeze, one of those days that remind you how good it feels to be alive… and the horror of attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, using commercial airplanes as human filled bombs.  As adults we know, but fail to remember on a daily basis, that evil does exist in the world, and as educators who work with young people, we struggle to balance how we talk about that evil in our work with students.

What I initially felt that day was fear, and like many others I know, I worked hard to work through that fear and regain a sense of security and safety.  One of the things we as educators don’t want to impart to the students we work with is fearfulness, because fear of ...

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 ...

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