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Blog Posts By Tarsi Dunlop

What makes good public policy? Some analysts might respond with the phrase "evidence-based research." Unfortunately, policymakers can also be political agents, acting in the interests of outside forces and influences. A recent book, Show Me the Evidence, by Ron Haskins, heralds the Obama Administration's focus on using evidence to inform public policy solutions. Unfortunately, the administration’s current obsession with the use of value-added measures (VAM) to track student growth and account for their progress in teacher evaluations runs counter to this evidence-based emphasis. ...

Aaron Bredenkamp currently serves as the dean of students at Westside High School in Omaha, NE, a position he's held for two years. Prior to this role, he worked for five years in a variety of capacities (including mathematics teacher, curriculum developer, technology director and building representative for the local teachers union) at Westside Career Center, an alternative setting. He began his teaching career in Chicago with Teach for America, and he is currently a doctoral candidate with an emphasis on school finance at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Mr. Bredenkamp was recently honored as a 2014 PDK Emerging Leader. In 2012, he was named a U.S Department of Education classroom fellow.

He recently took time to offer his insights on issues he cares deeply about, including approaches to school discipline, the importance of providing support to teachers and staff, and the valuable role of personalized learning as a tool for student engagement.

Public School Insights (PSI): First, let’s start with a little of your background. How long have you been dean of students at Westside High School, and where were you before that?

Bredenkamp: This is my second year as the dean of students. Prior to that I taught at Westside’s alternative setting for 5 years. I began my career teaching in alternative education in Chicago, IL, as a part of Teach for America, before returning home to use the skills I learned in TFA to contribute to the community where I was raised.

Public School Insights (PSI): You have a strong commitment to engaging all students. Would you discuss the role of personalized learning in this effort?

Bredenkamp: My commitment to personalized learning began as a teacher in the alternative setting. I quickly learned that students who were previously unsuccessful, and who often had behavioral issues, did not have their educational needs met in the standard academic environment. After I adjusted my own instruction in order to meet their learning needs, behavioral incidents decreased and academic success increased. Quickly these students developed a love of learning. ...

Common Core implementation brings more rigorous standards, new assessments, increased online technical demands and significant shifts in curriculum and instruction. Why, then, should we also ask educators and schools to prioritize social-emotional learning skills?

Preparing students for 21st century success means ensuring they are “College-, Career-, and Contribution-Ready,” as outlined in Social-emotional skills can boost Common Core Implementation, a piece by Maurice Elias in the November 2014 issue of PDK’s Kappan magazine. After all, we want our students to be productive citizens, contributing members in their workplace and family units, and prepared to embrace the diverse global community upon graduation. ...

Earlier this year, the Learning First Alliance launched a collaborative initiative to highlight best practices in Common Core implementation, Get it Right: Common Sense on Common Core. This campaign takes a multi-pronged approach to using new media to raise awareness of the benefits of the standards, celebrate where implementation is going well and advocate for the supports necessary to ensure that all students in Common Core states have access to instruction that lives up to the promise of the standards.

As part of this campaign, online engagement activities, such as Twitter Town Halls, involve wider audiences in important conversations around issues related to the standards, including what to do with extra time to support implementation, changes in teaching and learning that are the result of the standards, education technology concerns and more.  ...

The PTA at Eden Central (in Eden, New York) has taken an active role in reaching out to parents with information and resources regarding the Common Core State Standards. Their work has included a parent information night, parent academies and an instruction evening, all aimed at dispelling myths and providing useful contextual information around the formation of the standards and their classroom application. For these efforts, the Eden Central PTA received the National PTA's 2014 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award – the highest honor presented by the association. They have also been honored with the 2014-2016 National PTA School of Excellence designation for achievements in family engagement. ...

Given all the debates in education policy today, one might assume that education research is a valuable tool in guiding outcomes and decisions. Unfortunately, this assumption is incomplete because although research is often valued and held up to justify decisions, the research does not necessarily inform the decision making process. There are any number of reasons for that, from the flow of information to the actors involved in the policy changes.

In a recent book Using Research-Based Evidence in Education, Kara Finnigan and Alan Daly –along with other contributors- take a closer look at how evidence research is acquired, defined, moved, interpreted and shaped at different levels in education: federal, state, district and school. In a recent American Youth Policy Forum webinar, they highlighted three major themes that emerged: ...

October is National Principals Month, an annual opportunity to recognize the importance of school leaders and their role in supporting student learning, as evidenced by years of empirical research. Maximum levels of student learning are reached in optimal school conditions, many of which are the purview of school leaders. Strong leadership is an essential component in creating great public schools.

In an era where public schools are frequently under attack, recognizing outstanding leadership and the value of public school leaders is important as a way to remind the American public and policy makers that investing in human capacity is essential for building strong successful schools. Research indicates that leadership is second only to classroom teachers in terms of in-school factors impacting student learning, strong leadership is important for guiding sustainable school turnaround efforts and leadership matters even more for schools and communities facing challenging circumstances ...

While the ‘digital divide’ is well documented, studies show mixed results when trying to document technology’s influence on learning for at-risk students. In part, this is because the digital learning ecosystem is so complex. The academic realities for at-risk children, many of whom live in poverty, are also well known. More than half of all students enrolled in public schools today meet this designation. They are more likely to start school less academically prepared than their peers, fall behind throughout the summer due to learning loss and less likely to have access to technology, including computers, at home. ...

Dr. Barry Bachenheimer is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Pascack Valley Regional High School District (NJ) and a 2014 NSBA 20 to Watch Education Technology Leader. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a teacher, social studies supervisor, principal and central office administrator. He also served as Director of Instruction in the Caldwell-West School System in Caldwell, NJ, prior to coming to Pascack.

Dr. Bachenheimer values personalized learning, student voice and thoughtful integration of technology in classrooms, and he recently supported Pascack Valley’s efforts in creating a “Virtual Day” to take the place of a snow day in 2014. He was kind enough to take time to share his thoughts on these and other issues, including implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Public School Insights (PSI): Let’s start with your background. Where were you before you came to the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, and what positions did you hold that contributed to your current work in curriculum, instruction and assessment, as well as with technology? ...

Our frequently stated goal is for all US students to graduate from high school prepared for college and career. The current emphasis on standards-based education reforms reflects our belief that there are things students should know and be able to do that will help them in that endeavor. While one of the main purposes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was to better identify and support struggling students, the law ultimately resulted in an overemphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and school performance (though fortunately, some policy leaders are beginning to take steps to reduce the emphasis on testing, particularly as many state transition to new academic standards). Ironically, educators, businesses and parents generally agree that test scores are a poor indicator of future success. ...