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Blog Posts By Tarsi Dunlop

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. ...

We either pay by investing in capacity building to reduce out of school suspensions now, or we pay later as a society as students go from schools to prisons. This succinct assessment, offered by San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Richard A. Carranza on a recent AASA webinar, highlights the importance of supporting school staff so they can meet students’ social emotional and behavioral needs while keeping them in a safe academic environment. Out of school suspensions (OSS) are a risk factor in predicting the likelihood that a student will drop out of school and of later involvement with the justice system, and these suspensions disproportionately affect minority students. To break the school to prison pipeline, district leaders need to develop and implement effective supports for students and staff alike. ...

 Principal Thomas Payton has spent several years as an assistant principal and principal, following his classroom teaching, in schools across the country from New York City to Clark County, Nevada. He is currently a principal at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School in Riverhead Central School District, NY. Principal Payton is also a National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) State Representative and recently served as a member of the NAESP/NASSP Teacher Evaluation Committee. The committee put together a set of policy recommendations aimed at supporting principals in implementing teacher evaluation systems.


As a school leader, Principal Payton is working to create a building wide understanding of the Common Core - in both ELA and math - with teachers across all grade levels to better facilitate student learning in accordance with the new standards. In a recent e-interview, he took the time to discuss the specifics of this work. He also shared his thoughts on effective teacher evaluation systems and the importance of creating individualized professional development opportunities for classroom teachers.
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As a child, I was told never to say that I was bored. Being bored meant I wasn't able to find something interesting or engaging to do, which was not acceptable. “The world is big and full of opportunities, do something!”, as my mother would say.

Boredom, as highlighted in the May issue of the Kappan, a PDK International publication, "is a mismatch between wanting intellectual arousal but being unable to engage in a satisfying activity."  The above description of boredom, from the article "Neuroscience Reveals That Boredom Hurts," suggests that students who seem to willfully defy urgings to focus on school assignments and work may simply be experiencing an involuntary brain reaction. ...

Mark White is the incoming President of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). He began his career as a principal 25 years ago, after serving as a classroom teacher for six years, and he is eminently qualified to share best practices and recommendations as a long-serving building leader. Mr. White has been the principal of Hintgen Elementary School in La Crosse, Wisconsin, since 1990. He has served as President of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators and held a variety of positions with NAESP, including State Representative and Federal Relations Coordinator. He is in his third year on the NAESP Board of Directors, representing Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Principal White was kind enough to share key insights and advice on a diverse array of topics, including supporting new teachers, creating a safe school climate, the need for elementary principals to have background in early childhood development, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In his comments, he exemplifies a respect for teachers, appreciation for the critical role parental support plays in a child’s education, and the need to communicate with the local community. LFA is deeply appreciative for Principal White’s contribution to our interview series.

Public School Insights (PSI): You’ve been a principal for 25 years. How have principal needs changed in the past decade or so? And what advice would you give to newer principals who are starting out?

White: The role of the principal has shifted dramatically in the past decade.  The need for a refined set of leadership skills by principals has never been more important.  The expectations by the community, parents, and staff point directly to the principal’s office.  With those high expectations comes great responsibility and resulting possibility.  The education community has never been more open to innovation and creativity on the part of principals.  Along with the openness comes increased expectations and accountability ...

There are over 95,000 school board members nationwide; often overlooked, they are an invaluable factor in the success of education initiatives and the quality of public education in districts across the United States. Anne M. Byrne is the President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Since 1981, Byrne has been a member of the Nanuet School Board, on which she has served as president and vice president. She's also served as an officer of the New York school board association in a variety of capacities.

LFA is deeply appreciate to Ms. Byrne for taking the time to share her thoughts on both the importance of the Common Core State Standards as well as some of the challenges states face in implementing them, with a particular focus on her home state of New York. She also discussed the critical leadership role that school boards across the country play in setting the tone and agenda for public education in our communities.

Public School Insights (PSI): First, we would love to get your thoughts on the actual standards. As a school board member, and as a state and national leader, when you assess the standards, what are your first impressions, both in terms of opportunity and potential challenges? Are there particular elements you are excited about, or nervous about? What are the implications for student achievement and equity?

Byrne: This movement to higher standards is a very good thing. High standards are a must whether you call them career- and college-ready standards or the Common Core ...