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Standards that Matter

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Leadership matters. Principals set the tone of a school and can inspire students and teachers alike to reach new heights. They are second only to teachers among the in-school influences on student success.

Yet we don’t hear much about how to measure a principal’s performance. And the little research that exists on principal evaluation suggests that current systems do not accurately judge performance, do not provide information that is useful for professional growth, and often aren’t even used.

The federal government has begun to take note, making changes to principal evaluations a condition of Race to the Top funds, School Improvement Grants, and waivers to some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, they are often requiring that the evaluations be based in significant part on student performance on standardized assessments. As we all know, test scores represent a very narrow definition of ...

By Tim Magner, Executive Director, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Despite many education experts, business leaders, and higher education professionals joining the bandwagon to implement and highlight 21st century skills and helping define the now 10-year old 21st century skills movement, there’s been an important missing element: Research in the arena of 21st century skills to date has been scarce. With the release of the National Research Council's report Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century, we now have additional confirmation to support both the abundant opinion research and anecdotal evidence we have used over the years to advocate the importance and value of an education that includes both knowledge and skills. 

P21 commends the National Research Council (NRC) and the sponsors of the report for producing the most comprehensive research-based articulation of the case for 21st Century skills to date. The caliber and breadth of the research community brought together on this effort speaks to not only its importance in the future of our education system, but to the impact these findings will have across the K-12 education spectrum.  This report represents a historic validation of what the 21st century skills education community has worked hard to ...

Editor's Note: This post first appeared on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ blog in July 2012. Reposted with permission.

As both a former classroom teacher and long-time nonprofit executive, I'm well aware of the importance of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication (the Four C's) to success in both the classroom and the workplace. So I've been a strong supporter of imbedding the acquisition of those skills into formal education even before the inception of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and the creation of the impressive tools that have resulted from the P21 work. Also, I've been impressed with the thoughtful (and collaborative) work that's gone into the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics and English language arts that pull together the wisdom of practitioners and researchers in the education field to establish goals and benchmarks for what students should know and be able to do in order to be successful in the 21st century world of work and citizenship. And, all sixteen member organizations in the Learning First Alliance share that commitment to providing rigor and relevance to all of the students we serve.

With that in mind, I've been mystified by some of the resistance to implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which to date have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, based on two complaints: (1) that the CCSS are a "top down" over reach of the Federal government and (2) that the adoption of these standards and the common assessments that are being developed to measure student progress will lead teachers to "teach to the test", thus ...

There’s a saying: When you have a hammer, everything suddenly becomes a nail. It is not surprising that student surveys, as a tool analogous to the hammer, are suddenly viewed through the lens of usefulness when applied to teacher evaluations.

Student surveys provide valuable feedback for teachers that contribute to professional development and can result in improved classroom practices. Over the years, the classroom-level cycle of feedback and adjustment can produce improved student performance results. It already happens in some places; imagine the possible impact if such a process were adopted system-wide. But when it comes to teacher evaluations, implementation is – as always - fraught with unforeseen consequences. The errors of the policy-making community, when in a rush, are plentiful, and in this instance, threaten to undermine the already established usefulness of student feedback when it comes to developing highly effective teachers. ...

According to the recently released 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, more than one in five high school students reported taking a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription. 

Whether it is intentional abuse (taking a medicine without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed, or for the experience of feelings elicited) or misuse (unknowingly or mistakenly taking a prescription drug in a way other than intended or directed), the consequences can be serious, even life-threatening.

Many students erroneously believe that prescription medicines are “safer” than illegal street drugs. Teens who abuse prescription drugs report that it is relatively easy for them to get the drugs from friends or relatives Adults might not understand some of the risks associated with the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs (for example, using an antibiotic prescribed for one child’s sore throat for another child’s). 

Antibiotics and other medicines can save lives, and the proper use of prescription drugs is an important life-skill. School health education programs can help build the skills and the knowledge that young people need to make healthier choices.  It is especially important to reach students before ...

obriena's picture

What Was the Lorax?

And why was it there?
And why was it lifted and taken somewhere…?

Back in 1971, Dr. Seuss brought us the Lorax, a small orange creature who speaks for the trees (“for the trees have no tongues”). The Lorax goes up against the greedy Once-ler, who cuts down all the Truffula  trees in his rush to make a product he believes that everyone must have – Thneeds ("It's a shirt. It's a sock. It's a glove. It's a hat."). As a result of the damage to the environment that his production brings, the Lorax and the other inhabitants of the community (Swomee-Swans, Brown Bar-ba- loots, and Humming-Fishes) must leave.

The story is told by the remorseful Once-ler to a young boy curious as to why the world is the way it is. At the end, the Once-ler reveals that he has saved one last Truffula seed and gives it to the boy so that he can create a new forest.

Today, March 2, The Lorax serves as the centerpiece of the National Education Association’s 15th Read Across America campaign.* I am so pleased that The Lorax is the highlight of the day. On a personal level, it is one of my favorite Seuss books. And on an educational level, in addition to promoting the literacy skills the day intends to celebrate, it can also help students develop some of the other skills they will need to be successful in the global community – a favorite theme of politicians and ...

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. ...

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