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Blog Posts By obriena

When we discuss the implementation of new college- and career-ready standards, such as the Common Core, we talk a lot about how teachers can adapt their practice to best help students achieve. And we talk a bit about the important role that principals, superintendents and parents will play in the process.

One stakeholder is rarely mentioned: The school counselor. Yet the adoption of new standards directly impacts their daily work, their pre-service training and their professional learning.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is in the process of updating their Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success, which identify and prioritize the specific attitudes, knowledge and skills that students should be able to demonstrate as a result of a school counseling program. This document is intended to serve as the foundation for classroom lessons, small group work and activities within a school counseling program, and its newest iteration will be aligned with the Common Core, as well as with other national, state and district level documents.

In a recent e-interview, ASCA Assistant Director Eric Sparks took the time to tell us more about this project and the important role that school counselors play in academic support, as well as how their work is shifting with the adoption of new college- and career-ready standards.

Public School Insights (PSI): What are the topline messages that those in the education community who are not school counselors – such as teachers, principals and parents – should know about the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success?

Sparks: The ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success describe the knowledge, skills and attitudes that students need to achieve academic success, college and career readiness and social/emotional development. ...

Today, in response to the U.S. Department of Education announcement that states may delay tying teacher evaluation to standardized assessments, the Learning First Alliance (LFA), a partnership of leading education organizations representing more than 10 million parents, educators and policymakers, released the following statement:

“The Learning First Alliance supports the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to allow states to delay tying teacher evaluation to standardized assessments aligned to new standards, including the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

LFA has long recognized the potential of the CCSS to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community; we have also long advocated for a transition period that respects the time that good implementation requires prior to attaching high-stakes decisions to aligned assessments. Today’s decision is a good step in the right direction. ...

Today, the first results of the 2014 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools were released.* The overall conclusion: Americans aren’t convinced that federal involvement will improve public education.

The report is called Try It Again, Uncle Sam, but some of the topline findings suggest that Get Out of the Way, Uncle Sam may better reflect the public’s views on the federal role in education – as the report notes, a majority of Americans do not support public education initiatives they believe were created or promoted by federal policymakers. Consider:

  • 56% of Americans say local school boards should have the greatest influence in deciding what is taught in the public schools
  • 60% of Americans who are aware of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) oppose having teachers in their community use them to guide what they teach
    ...

In April, the Learning First Alliance issued a statement urging states to take the proper time to implement the Common Core State Standards. Believing in the potential that the standards have to transform teaching and learning, we worry about rushing to make high-stakes decisions (such as student graduation, teacher evaluation and school performance designation) based on assessments of the standards before they have been fully and properly implemented. So we – in a call that has been echoed by others – urged a transition period during which such high-stakes are removed. And we are pleased to see that places like New York and Washington, DC, are heeding that call.

But when we get that time, how should we best use it to get CCSS implementation right and help students achieve these higher standards?

Last week, we hosted a Twitter Town Hall – hashtag #CCSStime – to start exploring that issue. We were overwhelmed with the participation – more than 600 Twitter users sent out nearly 2,000 tweets during the hour-long event. To quote Eduflack's coverage:

It was the beginning of a very important discussion, all of which can be found at #CCSStime. Why was it so important? Mainly because it was a productive talk on how to get it right, not on urban legends or dreaming ways to short circuit standards that are not going away.

See below for highlights from the conversation ...

The results of Maryland’s annual reading and math assessments were recently announced – and scores are at their lowest level in seven years, according to The Washington Post. Why? In large part, because the state is currently teaching to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but the tests are not aligned to them. So ultimately, as social studies teacher and Maryland state legislator Eric Luedtke said, “The scores mean nothing at all. You are testing kids on content that they are no longer learning.”

Maryland education officials were prepared for this situation – both State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery and Maryland State Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Jack Smith are quoted in the Post article acknowledging it directly. And the results had “no bearing on school accountability measures or principal and teacher evaluations” – appropriate, given that the tests did not reflect what was happening in the classroom.

But the Maryland situation is far from unique. Across the country, schools, districts and states are in different phases of Common Core implementation. In some places, the standards have been adopted, but the curriculum not yet aligned. In others, the curriculum has been aligned, but the assessments have not. In still others, the standards and assessments have been aligned, but the curriculum has not. In all, educators are working hard to implement, but they are not done yet. ...

It is no secret that in many places the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are under attack. Yet despite what those of us paying attention to the debate at the national level hear, the fact is that there are a number of communities in which the Common Core is NOT controversial. In some of these places, that is because communications about the standards have been so direct and informative. But in other places, the controversy might be biding its time, waiting for a trigger – for example, the results of CCSS-aligned assessments that show a significant drop in proficiency rates – before it erupts.

Pre-Empting a Local Debate

At the national (and in some cases, state) level, one huge factor contributing to the current rhetoric around the Common Core is that, on the whole, advocates were often not prepared for the pushback that the standards received. As a result, they did not always respond quickly or appropriately to criticisms (or even general inquiries) about the CCSS, which created an empty space that opponents of the standards were able to fill with their voices – and occasionally, misinformation. So even if you are fortunate not to have experienced pushback yet in your community, you may still want to prepare for an upcoming debate. ...

We know that effective communication is critical in public education, both for building support for public schools and for ensuring the successful implementation of education initiatives, such as the Common Core State Standards. But what does a good K-12 communication strategy look like?

Missouri’s Nixa Public Schools, a suburban K-12 system serving 6,000 students in 11 schools, provides one example. Communication has been a key aspect of the district’s strategic plan for well over a decade, and Nixa has developed a transparent, high-functioning communications program that is two-way in design. For this work, the district was named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership Through Communication Award, with Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith and Director of Communication Zac Rantz recognized for their exemplary leadership in the field. The district was commended for building a culture where there is a common language between internal and external stakeholders; creating an environment in which information can be shared in a variety of ways; providing the community the opportunity to offer input which is listened to and acted upon; and more.

In a recent e-mail interview, Rantz took the time to discuss the district’s program and give advice to those looking to strengthen their communications strategy.  

Public School Insights (PSI): What is the district’s general philosophy on communication?

Rantz: Inform early. Inform often. Inform through multiple channels.

PSI: What are the key components of your communication program?

Rantz: We structure our communication channels into two main sections: internal and external ...

For his decades of work towards, and advocacy for, the advancement of public education in North Carolina and across the nation, the Learning First Alliance honors Governor James B. Hunt with its 2014 Education Visionary Award.

Considered by many to be the nation’s first “education governor,” Hunt served an historic four terms as governor of North Carolina, from 1977-1985 and 1993-2001. Under his leadership, North Carolina public schools improved test scores more than any other state in the 1990s, according to the Rand Corporation.  

Hunt has also been at the forefront of national education reform, particularly in the areas of early childhood development and the improvement of the quality of teaching. Among his many successes in education, his Smart Start program received the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award from ...

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 ...

When Daisy Dyer Duerr was named principal of rural Arkansas’ St. Paul High School, the school was struggling. It was also, in her words, “disconnected.” Three years later, the school is achieving academically, and it’s largely low-income student population is being exposed to, and empowered through, experiences previously unknown to them thanks to the power of technology.

For her work at St. Paul, Duerr was named one of NASSP’s 2014 Digital Principals, an award that honors those who exhibit bold, creative leadership in their drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals.

In a recent e-mail interview, she shared her philosophy on digital learning and discussed St. Paul High School’s transition to a technology-infused school, emphasizing the challenge that bandwidth (or more specifically, a lack of bandwidth) presents to her rural community. The school’s story is both inspirational and instructive, offering guidance on how to incorporate and support new technologies in teaching and learning to best prepare students for life in a rapidly changing world.

Public School Insights: Tell me about St. Paul High School.

Daisy Dyer Duerr: St. Paul High School is an extremely rural, isolated school in Northwestern Arkansas. We serve approximately 125 students in grades 7-12; we are actually a preK-12 campus (with approximately 250 students), and I am the principal of the entire campus. The central office for our school district is 30 minutes from our campus.  

Demographically, depending on the year, our socioeconomically disadvantaged rate has ranged from 80-88%. We serve 93% Caucasian, 5% Pacific Islander, and 2% "other" students. Only 10% of our students have internet service in their homes, according to a 2012 survey.

At St. Paul High School, we are a small town school using technology and genuine relationships with students to provide a ...