Join the conversation

...about what is working in our public schools.

Blog Posts By obriena

Advocates hope that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative will lead to deeper learning by students – that the standards will result in students learning not only academic content, but how to think critically, work collaboratively, communicate effectively and more. And they recognize that for this to happen, classroom instruction has to change.

Many assume that new assessments aligned to the Common Core will serve as a key lever in its implementation, driving changes in instructional practice. But is that a reasonable assumption? Do large-scale assessment systems influence instruction?

While common sense and popular opinion hold that yes, they do, the research base on the issue is surprisingly thin. But in summarizing the little there is, New Assessments, Better Instruction?, a RAND literature review commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation, confirms what we already knew – testing does indeed influence instructional practice, particularly when high-stakes are attached to it.

The review (which included available research on high-stakes testing and performance assessment in U.S. public education, assessment in international settings, formative assessment, military and ...

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are one of the most important education initiatives of our time. While historically each state had its own academic standards, which varied widely in quality, under the Common Core students in the 45 adopting states (plus the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity) will be held to the same internationally-benchmarked educational standards.

These standards were developed with input from educators and other experts in math and English/Language Arts, and educators continue to support them. A recent survey from the National Education Association showed more than 75% of their members (teachers, administrators, support staff and other education professionals) support the standards either wholeheartedly or with some reservations, tracking closely with results from an earlier American Federation of Teachers’ poll finding that 75% of teachers surveyed support the Common Core. Even more recently, a preview of the 2013 Primary Sources project highlighting 20,000 teachers’ thoughts on the Common Core shows that overall, 73% those who teach math, English language arts (ELA), science and/or social studies in Common Core states are enthusiastic about the implementation of the standards in their classrooms.

But the general public is another story. The 2013 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools found that prior to taking the poll, only 38% of respondents had heard of ...

One of the greatest challenges that the education community faces in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is ensuring that the education workforce is ready to help students succeed under these new, higher standards.

Facing this challenge requires providing the current workforce with high-quality professional learning opportunities, something we talk about a great deal at the national level. But it also requires preparing new educators to enter classrooms ready to teach under the CCSS, something we talk about very little. How are the higher-education institutions that train the vast majority of our nation’s teachers working to ensure the successful implementation of the Common Core?

To help answer this question, we contacted Linda McKee, Director of the Teacher Preparation and Certification Program at Tulane University. McKee is currently serving as the president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (an affiliate of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AACTE) and as the president of Louisiana Learning Forward. She collaborated with two of her colleagues at Tulane – Holly Bell, Coordinator for Assessment & Accreditation and an early childhood education faculty member, and James Kilbane, a professor for secondary education in math and science – in responding to several questions on how university-based teacher preparation programs in general, and Tulane in particular, are preparing educators to teach in the age of the Common Core.

Public School Insights (PSI): As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, you see firsthand the products of the nation’s high schools. Do you think that the Common Core will help ensure students are better prepared for college or career? Why or why not?

McKee, Bell, and Kilbane: The Common Core (CC) is more rigorous than we have previously seen in Louisiana, and if implemented correctly, the new standards could make a difference. We desperately need to make a difference in students’ learning to think. The difficulty with the CC lies in educators understanding the aims of the standards and being able to implement them with fidelity. The Common Core standards represent a dramatic change from the specialty area standards that most states had developed and were testing. The challenge is that those standards were not being met, so we question if the CC standards will be met any better without ...

The call to expand learning time to ensure that American students remain competitive with their international peers has become quite popular. While the rationale is perhaps a bit misguided (some evidence suggests that our students already experience as much instructional time as their peers, and other research confirms that teachers in the United States spend more time on instruction than teachers in other nations do), there are certainly reasons to focus on the issue, not least of which is the summer learning loss that disproportionately impacts our nation’s most disadvantaged youth.

But as those in the education community know, it is not necessarily the idea of extending learning time that is appealing – it is the idea of expanding learning opportunities. Partly in response to federal accountability measures, curriculum in many schools – particularly those serving predominantly disadvantaged students – has narrowed to focus on reading and math at the expense of the arts, physical education, civics and other subjects. In addition, the budget cuts of the Great Recession caused schools to further pull back in areas like art, sports and extracurricular activities – and, as a recent survey points out, the sequester has had an impact as well.

Yet in all these cuts, wealthier students are less likely to be impacted than their lower-income peers, in large part because their parents ensure they are exposed to enrichment opportunities either at school (perhaps paid for by fundraising efforts) or in ...

When you think of the PTA, you might picture parents getting together to put on a fall carnival or bake cookies for teacher appreciation week. And while the National PTA does encourage teacher appreciation (and has a great Pinterest board dedicated to the topic), the organization is about so much more.

The overall purpose of the PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. The national organization prides itself on being a powerful voice for children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education, working in cooperation with many national education, health, safety and child advocacy groups and federal agencies on behalf of every child.

Otha Thornton was installed as President of the National PTA in June 2013, making history as the first African-American male to lead the organization. He recently took the time to tell us about himself and his views on education, as well as how the PTA is gearing up to address the challenges facing public education.

Public School Insights (PSI): It’s been widely noted that you are the first African American male president in the National PTA’s history. What do you think is the significance of that?

Thornton: It demonstrates that PTA, as an Association, transcends race. The founders did not start PTA as a segregated Association, but due to our southern states and their laws earlier in our country’s history, the National Congress of Colored Parents was formed in 1911 by Selena Sloan Butler to address the needs of black children. The two Congresses combined in 1971 to form the National PTA with the shared mission that all children of all races need advocates to ...

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). ...