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Earlier this month, the Learning First Alliance participated in a day-long tour of three traditional public schools in the District of Columbia (DCPS), our nation’s capital and “home town.” The tour was hosted by DCPS and sponsored by Discovery Education, and it included stops at three campuses where teachers are using digital resources to meet the individual needs of the students in their classrooms. The day was worthwhile, instructional and (most importantly) uplifting as we observed excellence in teaching and learning in traditional urban public schools.

Those of us who have worked in public education for years know that there is much good work happening in public schools; however, most of that work doesn’t get attention, and the prevailing messages that “public education is failing” or “public education is not good enough” are, in addition to being inaccurate, also dispiriting. ...

By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

I hear a lot these days about how standardized, high-stakes testing has killed creativity and innovation in the classrooms of America. I can understand why so many people think this is true, because when tests are omnipresent, there is a huge amount of time spent in preparation, and this leaves less time for other ways of teaching. The right place for testing and the right amount of testing are relevant topics for parents today, and their voices should be heard in this debate.

But I continue to believe that there are wonderful teachers all over the country who still find ways to help their students learn in creative and innovative ways. I found one such teacher this week at Moss Haven Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, part of the Richardson Independent School District. Her name is Kim Aman, and she’s a special education teacher who created a farm and a chicken coop at the school. Moss Haven Elementary School promotes good nutrition and exercise and has partnered with the United Way and the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Their efforts are really ...

To get Common Core implementation right, educators must be truly engaged in the effort. Teachers are on the front line, charged with ensuring that our nation's students are prepared to be successful in the global community in which we live. But in debates over the standards, they are often overlooked in two very important ways: As advocates, and as practitioners with valuable expertise who need time and resources to align their work with the vision of college and career readiness for all that the Common Core embodies.

To help elevate the voice of teachers on this issue, as part of our continuing series of interviews on the standards, we are thrilled to highlight the perspective of Diane Siekmann, a National Board Certified Teacher at a Title I elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona. She has experience teaching first and third grade, including six years in a self-contained ELL classroom. And in addition to her current responsibilities as a third grade teacher, she is working with the National Education Association's Master Teacher Project with Better Lesson, an effort to highlight and share the best teaching practices around the Common Core.

In a recent email interview, Siekmann shares her thoughts on teaching under new college and career ready standards and the supports needed to get it right. What I found most encouraging: The changes she has seen in students under these new, higher standards. To quote: "The most exciting thing about the Common Core is witnessing the critical thinking by students. Their knowledge and skills are so visible, and they really enjoy explaining their thought process. The students have become great problem solvers with analytical skills that I have not experienced previously with my students. They truly enjoy the challenges placed before them....”

The complete interview is below.

Public School Insights (PSI): As you’ve transitioned to working under new college and career ready standards, how has your teaching changed?

Siekmann: The biggest change has been on the amount of reflection that takes place for my practice. As teachers we save and hold on to resources, worksheets, and “stuff” from year to year. This year with the change to the new college and career ready standards, I have changed by rethinking everything that is being presented in my classroom. Most of the resources I saved have now been replaced with new lessons and new approaches to teaching the standards. I’m always thinking about ...

By Jenn Kauffman, NEA Health Information Network

For middle school and high school communities, May can often bring anxiety and stress in the form of year-end testing and senior projects.

Stress isn't just limited to adults. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that teens experience stress, too - and their stress levels rival that of adults.

Even positive events can be stressful. And while stress can help people achieve peak performance - too much stress can impair performance and be harmful to health. ...

As states and districts across the country address the challenges inherent in the shift to new standards, superintendents play a critical role in facilitating the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Implementation of the standards, with accompanying assessments, presents districts with competing demands and numerous decisions as they consider their technology capability for the new online assessments, necessary changes in instruction and curriculum, how to handle evaluations and data reporting, and the concerns and worries from parents and community members. As district leaders, superintendents take center stage as champions for kids and student learning, and their buy-in is essential for the success of any initiative at the district level. As such, their feedback and critiques on any effort are also invaluable. As part of our continuing series of interviews on Common Core, we're thrilled to highlight the perspectives of long-time education leader, Dr. Benny Gooden.

Dr. Benny L. Gooden is Superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He has had a distinguished career as a public school administrator and educator, and he served as the President of AASA, The School Superintendent's Association, in 2012-2013. He was kind enough to share some thoughts with Public School Insights on the implementation of the Common Core State standards in a recent email interview. Dr. Gooden acknowledged the challenges facing superintendents and districts while simultaneously addressing the concerns around the standards. They're not perfect, but they are not some evil plot and district leaders have a key role to play in communicating with communities the importance of the standards for our country in the long-term.

Public School Insights (PSI): Thank you so much for taking some time to share your thoughts and perspective on public education and the rollout of the Common Core State Standards. You’ve had a long and distinguished career as an education leader and advocate. From a superintendent’s perspective, what are a few of the most significant changes in the education landscape in the past ten to fifteen years?

Dr. Gooden: Without question the greatest changes during the period have involved a vast expansion of federal influence upon states and local school districts.  While every federal mandate or initiative purports to improve student performance—and to a certain degree many have succeeded—the obsessive reliance upon testing has actually detracted from teaching and ...

Robin Zorn is the American School Counselor Association's 2014 School Counselor of the Year. Ms. Zorn works at Mason Elementary School in Gwinnett County. She's tireless in her efforts to help some of our youngest students gain a strong foundation to build on for the rest of their academic career. By emphasizing both social-emotional well-being and college-and-career readiness, Ms.Zorn and her team at Mason Elementary empower children to dream and plan for their future while providing them the necessary supports to succeed. We're thrilled to highlight Ms.Zorn on our site as a representative for the great work being done by school counselors across the country.

Question: How long have you been a school counselor?

I started in 1994, so this is my 20th year.

Question: At what levels have you worked (elementary school, middle school, high school)?

I did my internship in the middle school, but I have been in elementary the entire 20 years.

Question: What led you to become a school counselor? ...

By Libby Nealis, Project Consultant, NEA Health Information Network

The problem of prescription drug misuse and abuse by adults has been growing for years, but its recent increase within the adolescent population is alarming.  According to a 2010 survey, one in four adolescents has abused a prescription medication at some point in their lives, which is up from one in five teens in 2009.

In growing numbers, more adolescents are abusing prescription drugs than they are illegal drugs.  With the exception of marijuana, prescription drugs are the drug of choice among 12-13 year olds.  The prescription drugs that teens most commonly abuse or misuse are painkillers, stimulants (like medications taken for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD) and depressants (like anti-anxiety medications).  These medications are often easily accessible, sometimes from a parent’s medicine cabinet.  In fact, 64% of teens (age 12-17) who abuse prescription pain relievers say they got them from friends or relatives.

Schools can play an important role in combatting this growing and dangerous trend.  All educators, particularly those who most frequently work with at-risk populations, should be aware of the changing patterns of prescription drug misuse and abuse within ...

School discipline policies often promote a zero tolerance approach that disproportionately, and negatively, affects minority children. Pushing students out of the building for behavioral infractions is not the answer; instead, policies should prioritize programs and actions that create safe environments for students to learn and thrive. Zero tolerance is easy, but it is not a real solution because it actually funnels many students towards the cracks, letting them fall through with little ability to pull them back. Yet many schools lack comprehensive alternative courses of action. Schools and states need to revise their approach to school discipline if they truly wish to leave no child behind. ...

Each month during the 2014 calendar year, the Learning First Alliance will be highlighting our members’ expertise and resources around the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. This month, we spoke to a team of individuals at Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) to showcase professional learning and its critical role in helping teachers across the country transition to teaching in new and different ways to meet the new standards.

Professional learning has always been an integral component of strong learning systems, allowing teachers to grow and evolve their methods of instruction in response to student learning. It also allows teachers to use student data to guide their practice. Strong professional learning practices guide the implementation of any standards and changes in classrooms, and in light of the rapid rollout of Common Core, they will, once again, be essential. Learn more about professional learning and how it supports teachers and students alike by reading our conversation with Learning Forward Senior Consultant Joellen Killion. Special thanks to Dale Hair, Victoria Duff and Deborah Childs-Bowen from Learning Forward for their expertise in developing the interview content and structure.

Public Schools Insights (PSI): What does the general public need to know about professional learning and its role in implementing the Common Core State Standards or other learning initiatives?

Joellen Killion: Professional learning is the means for developing and expanding educators’ knowledge, skills, and practices. Because the new content standards increase expectations for students both in terms of depth of content and application of content, educators need to refine their instructional practices to ensure that all students achieve the standards and leave school college and career ready. Any new initiative, such as Common Core, a new evaluation system, or any other reform, depends on the capacity of educators to implement it. Professional learning is the primary strategy available to every school to support continuous educator development. Yet not all ...

By Jamila Goodman, Program Coordinator, NEA Health Information Network

Did you know that adolescents are more likely than young adults to become dependent on prescription medication?  The Office of National Drug Control Policy calls prescription drug abuse “the Nation’s fastest growing drug problem.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. The problem of prescription drug abuse and misuse is particularly alarming among young people. ...

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