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Blog Posts By obriena

There is precious little research demonstrating the value of school counselors on student achievement, with good reason – it is difficult to demonstrate the impact of counselors on standardized test scores, which have come to define achievement in recent years. But as a result, when it comes to making tough budget decisions, school counselors are not a priority. And that has real consequences for children. As Mindy Willard, an Arizona school counselor named the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) 2013 School Counselor of the Year, pointed out in a recent interview:

[T]he biggest challenge school counselors are faced with right now, on all levels, are our ratios. Currently, Arizona is 49th in the nation for counselor to student ratios with a ratio of 1 counselor to 861 students; ASCA recommends a ratio of 1:250! With numbers like this it is virtually impossible for school counselors to meet all of the personal/social, academic and career developmental needs of all the students on their caseloads.

But as we turn to new measures of school quality – such as the production of college and career ready students – there is new space for advocates to research and promote the benefits of school counselors. And an ongoing longitudinal study in ...

We know a great deal about the high school dropout problem. From the research of Robert Balfanz and others, we know where dropouts are likely to come from – the majority attends a small subset of high schools where the graduation rate is 60% or lower. We know who is likely to drop out – the warning signs start as early as first grade, and by middle school they can be defined as the ABCs (attendance problems, behavior problems, and course failure). And we know that there are effective interventions that help retain likely dropouts.

Where we have struggled is in putting together what we know and addressing the issue at scale. But that might be changing. At a May briefing at the US Department of Education on the progress of three Investing in Innovation (i3) grantees, I learned of a promising effort to do so: Diplomas Now. The innovation? Arranging what we know are effective education improvement strategies into a coherent whole.

Based on Balfanz’s research (and he is the program founder), Diplomas Now brings together three national networks – Talent Development, City Year and Communities in Schools – to deliver a comprehensive secondary school turnaround model in high schools where relatively few students graduate.  

Utilizing the evidence-based approaches taken by each of the partner organizations, Diplomas Now targets interventions at multiple levels – school, classroom and students. The model: Organize teachers into ...

Updated August 12, 2013

In a country where we expect free WiFi with our coffee, why shouldn't we have it in our schools?”

So asked President Barack Obama last week in announcing ConnectED, his plan for connecting all schools to the digital age. Acknowledging that success – for individual students, communities and the nation as a whole – in the 21st century is being driven by new technologies, the initiative aims to connect 99% of America’s students to high-speed internet within the next five years.

To meet this goal, President Obama is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “modernize and leverage its existing E-Rate program.” E-rate, created by Congress in 1996 and funded through a surcharge on telephone bills, provides discounts to assist schools and libraries in obtaining communications services, including Internet access. Currently, demand for the program much exceeds money available ...

Ten years ago, I attended one professional development session on using e-mail and another on using PowerPoint. These are both tools I learned about in high school and used extensively in college. I was annoyed at these wastes of my time, but I was also shocked at how many of my colleagues did not know the basics.

In the past, teachers needed training in the mechanics of e-mail and PowerPoint, just like today many need training in the basics of social media and tablet use. But these trainings are not necessary for everyone. Most of those entering the teaching force today never knew life without a computer. They grew up with e-mail, Facebook and YouTube. They operate easily on PCs, Macs, tablets and phones, and they adapt quickly to technological changes.

Young teachers instinctively incorporate ICT (information and communications technology, for those not familiar with the lingo) into their work to the extent that they are often hindered by school, district and/or state policies around it. But their ability to use new technologies is useless if ...

The first step in creating a culture of change and innovation is stakeholder buy-in. In education, we often recognize the importance of teacher and student buy-in, but we forget about another critical stakeholder: The community, particularly parents.

What is the best way to get community buy-in for an education initiative? Communication. By communicating directly and honestly, educators can avoid community fears that can ultimately derail efforts to implement new teaching and learning practices.

I recently attended the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ (NASSP) annual conference, where I learned from many principals who have created cultures of innovation. I was particularly impressed by the 2013 NASSP Digital Principals – Dwight Carter (Gahanna Lincoln High School, Gahanna, OH), Ryan Imbriale* (Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, Baltimore, MD), and Carrie Jackson (Timberview Middle School, Fort Worth, TX). ...

New technologies are dramatically changing how people learn. Unfortunately, many schools are moving far too slowly to adopt them, with classrooms today organized in much the same way they were in the 1950s. We in public education must do a better job incorporating new technologies into teaching and learning to prepare students for success in the changing world that awaits them.

But what does it look like when schools step into the digital age? And what can school leaders do to ensure students are learning in new ways?

We recently had the opportunity to hear about these issues from an expert, Ryan Imbriale, Principal of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Baltimore, one of NASSP’s 2013 Digital Principals and a PDK 2013 Emerging Leader. In an e-mail interview, he shared his thoughts on how school leaders can promote digital learning and the challenges they face in doing so, as well as specific examples of what it looks like in his building.

Public School Insights (PSI): Before we discuss your school in particular, I want to ask a couple overarching questions. You were recently named one of NASSP’s 2013 Digital Principals. What exactly is a “digital principal”?

Imbriale: Well, a digital principal is actually real – it’s not some sort of virtual person.  That’s been the running joke at my school since my staff found out I won the award.  The award is designed to recognize principals who exhibit bold, creative leadership with new technologies.

PSI: In general, what is the role of a school leader in digital learning?

Imbriale: The school leader must be willing to fostering an environment of innovation, exploration, experimentation, and trial and error.  When a school’s culture is student-centered and driven by a collaborative spirit it’s really amazing what can be accomplished.  But I will also say that the leader must also be a user.  It’s impossible to get buy-in if you are not modeling effective use.  I try hard to continually model my own personal and professional use of technology, whether it’s social media or flipping professional development.

PSI: Now tell me about your school. What is your vision for it?

Imbriale: My vision for Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts is to provide students with quality comprehensive educational experiences that enable them to develop the productive habits of life-long learners.  Our students will be able to think critically and creatively, learn independently and in collaboration with others, value ethical behavior, and develop skills needed to function in a technologically changing and ...

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Rules of Engagement

We all know of school improvement initiatives that failed when they should have succeeded. Technology initiatives, new evaluation systems, even changes to the school calendar – these are ideas that research suggests should improve student outcomes, but for some reason, in some contexts, they don't.

One reason that many education initiatives struggle to succeed is stakeholder resistance – or stakeholder apathy. When education leaders do not take the time to create a trusting culture that supports a vision of excellence and improvement, their reform efforts are at a severe disadvantage, if not doomed. As Bill Milliken, founder and vice chairman of Communities in Schools said, “It’s relationships, not programs, that change children.”

I recently had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Secondary School Principals' (NASSP) 2013 Ignite Conference. There, I had the chance to learn from a number of education leaders who have created cultures that led to true change in ...

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Top Posts of 2012

As we look ahead to what we hope to accomplish in education in 2013, it behooves us to also reflect on 2012. We reelected a president whose administration is committed to the issue (but whose policies we do not always agree with) and has granted many states waivers to key aspects of the nation’s top education law, No Child Left Behind. We moved closer to a vision in which students in Mississippi learn to the same high standards as those in Montana and Massachusetts as we worked to implement the Common Core. States and districts across the nation navigated new terrain in teacher evaluation and tenure. Educators continued exploring how to best take advantage of new learning technologies – flipping classrooms, starting one-to-one iPad initiatives, preparing for a shift to online assessments and more.  

With all that happened in 2012, what garnered the most attention from you, our readers? Here are our top five posts of 2012 (as indicated by our trusty Google Analytics tracking system). Enjoy!

5. Rethinking Principal Evaluation. Principals are second only to teachers among the in-school influences on student success. Yet we don’t hear much about how to measure their performance – and the little research that exists on the issue suggests that current evaluation systems are far from adequate.

4. Can Arts Education Help Close the Achievement Gap? Research suggests that arts education can help narrow the achievement gap that exists between low-income students and their more advantaged peers. But ...

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Getting Back to the Top

We often hear that the United States has dropped to 16th in the world when it comes to the percentage of adults who earn college degrees – it is a talking point used consistently by both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama. And the Administration is calling for us to regain the lead in this arena, for the good of the nation.

But is the situation really so simple? As with so many education claims, do we do ourselves a disservice when we accept these statements and goals at face value? In a recent report, Getting Back on Top: An International Comparison of College Attainment, Where the U.S. Stands, the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education unpacked the data behind these talking points. And some of their findings were a bit surprising.

It turns out that the United States ranks second in the world – behind only Norway – when it comes to the percentage of adults age 25-64 with a bachelor's degree or better (32%). However, we rank 18th in the world in the percentage of adults with a two-year degree (10%). Without differentiating between the two, we rank 5th in the world among the percentage of adults with degrees, at ...

Updated 12/17/12 & 12/18/12

All children deserve to be safe at school. But sometimes, as on December 14, 2012, the unthinkable happens. The deepest sympathies of the entire education community go out to those in Newtown, Connecticut, as they deal with a horrendous tragedy.

As American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said on the day of the incident, "The entire AFT community is shaken to its core by this massacre of young children and the educators and school employees who care for and nurture them. … We grieve for them all, and our prayers are with the Sandy Hook Elementary School community and all of Newtown, as well as the AFT nurses caring for victims at Danbury Hospital, following this heinous act.” Read the complete statement…

The Association for Middle Level Education grieved the tragedy, pointing out that "As educators, we care deeply about our students, and while we struggle to make sense of such an event, students struggle as well. It is particularly important to help students as they process the emotions generated by a traumatic event. ... We need to help calm their fears and bring back a sense of security and help parents and caregivers understand the importance of attending to their children with respect to the fears and anxieties that such a situation invokes." Read the complete statement...

National Association of Elementary School Principals Executive Director Gail Connelly mourned the tragic loss of life resulting from the shooting at the school, including that of the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, who was a member of NAESP. As she pointed out, “Elementary schools are meant to be safe havens that nurture and support our nation’s children, which makes ...