Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Exciting Classroom Management Webinar on 3/2 from 2-3 p.m.

Creating Effective Classroom Assessments

K-12 education abounds with discussion of "data-driven decision making." Successfully using data to inform instruction starts with creating effective assessments, especially as states and districts begin to transition to the Common Core State Standards. Discover that—whether teachers are practicing formative assessment, creating quizzes or end-of-unit tests, or selecting vendor-based items and tests—addressing three key areas can make a real difference in producing actionable results.

You will hear a practical discussion of the following:

(1) Defining the purpose of your assessment—starting with the end in mind;

(2) Aligning your assessment to the standards—and, ideally, curriculum and instruction; and

(3) Ensuring item/test quality.

And you will see how to avoid common mistakes and easily improve the quality of your classroom assessments. Equally important, we will discuss how professional development and coaching can help educators build capacity in this essential skill.


Stuart R. Kahl, Ph.D., Founding Principal, Measured Progress

Deborah Farrington, M.Ed., Measured Progress Professional Development Specialist

Ellen Vorenkamp, Ed.D., Assessment Consultant, Wayne County (Mich.) Regional Educational Service Agency

This webinar will be moderated by Stuart R. Kahl, Ph.D., Founding Principal, Measured Progress.

Register now for this free live webinar at:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What about the GIFTED kids??

In the drive to raise achievement for all students, policymakers must not forget the most talented students, Frances Spielhagen writes.

Don't Leave Gifted Students Behind

High achievers are essential to global competition

The annual wars, aka school budget deliberations, are about to begin. Across the nation, states and local districts will once more struggle to maintain educational integrity in the face of annual budget shortfalls, "race to the top" to grab federal dollars, and, hopefully, improve overall student achievement.
Yet, as all eyes are focused on making sure that most, if not all, students meet minimum standards, one group continues to suffer from a kind of benign neglect that actually is not benign at all. These are the very students who can succeed at the highest levels, our gifted students. In classrooms from coast to coast, these students are languishing. They are simply not progressing and learning commensurate with their potential.
Last fall, a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute brought into sharp focus the decline in achievement among the top students in our nation, those with the potential and demonstrated capacity to excel in school and assume leadership roles in the United States and the global community. Quite simply, the report, titled "Do High Flyers Maintain Their Performance: Performance Trends of Top Students," suggested that this nation's brightest students are the unintended victims of the lofty goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. Rather than making the much-heralded "adequate yearly progress" that is supposed to characterize school success, they are losing ground when their performance is tracked over time.
The Fordham report followed a Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader in December 2010. Not only had a majority of 15-year-old students in the United States lagged in mathematics and science performance, but America's top students compared dismally with their peers across the globe. In math, only 1.9 percent of U.S. students scored in the 95th percentile on the assessment's highest proficiency level, below the average of 3 percent of the total sample of students from other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development-member nations, and well below the top students in South Korea (7.8 percent), Switzerland (7.8 percent), Singapore (15.6 percent), and Shanghai (26.6 percent).
"In a nation devoted to the underdog, we seem to have forgotten that gifted students need to grow, too."
Why can't more of our brightest students attain this high level of proficiency? And, why should we care? Here's why: Providing for the continued growth, development, and achievement of our most capable students is akin to betting on the favorite. The most-talented students are most likely to bring this nation out of the economic basement, create new inventions, cure deadly diseases, and, yes, restore the United States to its former place as the international leader in innovation and scholarship. In a nation devoted to the underdog, we seem to have forgotten that gifted students need to grow, too. In fact, in many ways, gifted students are the new underdogs in American education.
Our struggle to bring all students up to a minimum level of proficiency is a laudable and necessary goal. However, attention to the majority has caused the nation to lose sight of the equally valid learning needs of the most-capable students in our care. Several factors have created this situation. First, fears of elitism permeate our collective understanding of the role of schools in a democracy. Second, justifiable rejection of rigid tracking policies has resulted in few grouping options for students who can learn more quickly than their peers, while classroom instruction remains at a uniformly homogenous level.
No one wants to see any student condemned to substandard education, a result of some tracking systems. However, the brightest students are condemned to working at levels below their potential. At the same time, acceleration to the next grade is often not considered or even allowed, despite research-based evidence, such as the 2004 report "A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students," that documents the benefits of acceleration for our top students. Finally, most teachers have not been trained to work with highly able students in the regular classroom, and that's where most of the high-flying students can be found.
In the past decade, the emphasis on standardized testing has resulted in an information-retrieval model of instruction and assessment, rather than the problem-solving and higher-order thinking on which advanced learners thrive. Struggling to improve the performance of the majority of students, teachers often have neither the skill nor the will to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of their highest-performing students.

—iStockphoto/Rob Friedman
Last year, U.S. Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., along with U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., introduced a bipartisan bill as part of the reauthorization process for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind. The TALENT (To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation's Teachers) Act would require that state assessments capture when students perform above grade level and report the educational growth of the most-advanced students on state report cards required under NCLB. This would represent a critical improvement in the current reporting system and drive schools to consider the educational development of the highest-achieving students. It would also spur policymakers and curriculum developers to provide more-advanced curriculum for high-achieving students. It would expand professional-development opportunities for teachers and establish research initiatives to explore ways that teachers can support and serve high-ability students. The bill is still awaiting action in Congress.
As a former high school teacher and coordinator of programs for gifted students, I know firsthand the frustrations of the very capable student who must slog through drill-and-kill reviews every fall while teachers ensure that everyone is up to speed and ready to move forward. The situation repeats itself throughout the school year, as teachers and students progress toward the annual standardized tests that will be used to determine individual teachers' effectiveness.
The focus on teacher accountability has accentuated the very real pressures on teachers to make sure that all students perform at an accepted level of proficiency, and I am in no way suggesting that teachers are maliciously neglecting the brightest students in their classes. However, when one's job security is on the line, good will and the intention to differentiate instruction for highly able students easily fall prey to meeting the needs of the majority. If gifted youngsters already meet the minimum-proficiency standards, there is no need to move them forward. For now, there is no federal mandate to meet their academic needs.
Moreover, the states lack the grit, will, and resources to provide for these students. The TALENT Act would provide resources for highly able students and for professional development that would foster advanced teaching in the regular classroom. The students are there, waiting and longing to be instructed at the levels they are capable of attaining. How much longer must they—and we—wait?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Publicly Traded Education Companies Barely Exist...

There's a risk to taking education to Wall Street, one that explains why so few publicly traded companies cater to public schools. Read on...

Publicly Traded Ed. Companies Are Rare

New data offer window into school, student preferences

K12 Inc., the nation's largest provider of online precollegiate education, was launched in 2000 and went public seven years later after raising about $140 million in revenue. Like other companies, it moved from being privately held to being publicly traded to raise more money quickly, increase brand awareness, and accelerate business goals.
The company now works with more than 2,000 U.S. school districts and reported $522.4 million in revenue last fiscal year. "No school district could ever invest what we do and get the productivity we get," said Chief Executive Officer Ronald J. Packard. He said his company invests about $40 million a year in new technology and programs.
But there's a risk to taking education to Wall Street—one that helps explain why so few publicly traded companies cater to the educational needs of students in elementary, middle, and high school.
K12's stock prices plummeted after a Dec. 12 article in The New York Times accused the Herndon, Va.-based company of wresting profits from public school dollars by increasing enrollment without concern for student retention, assigning teachers to unmanageably large classes, and lowering standards.
The article also reported that Mr. Packard's $5 million salary in fiscal 2011 was nearly twice the previous year's $2.67 million, and that his annual bonus is partially linked to enrollment. Shares fell from $28.79 the day the story ran to $17.25 three weeks later on the New York Stock Exchange.
Then, on Jan. 31, a lawsuitRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader was filed by a K12 Inc. shareholder against the company and some of its senior executives, alleging it had violated securities law by making false and misleading statements to investors. ("K12 Inc.'s Public Status and Growth Attract Scrutiny," this issue.)
"There are so many strings that come with being a public company," said Steve Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association, a nonprofit organization based in Vienna, Va., that helps education entrepreneurs connect with the K-12 market. "It's not for the fainthearted."
Beyond having to deal with a level of transparency that privately held companies are generally protected from, publicly traded companies offering K-12 instructional services face other potential complications.
They have a poor track record, for starters. Edison Schools Inc., now EdisonLearning Inc., a former leader in for-profit schooling, is the most prominent example, with analysts using its heyday and subsequent troubles as an object lesson in what not to do as a public company. New York City-based Edison reported only one profitable quarter over the four years it was publicly traded, failed to deliver on its promises of academic improvement, and lost contracts with school districts across the country.
And it's expensive to comply with multiple and extensive reporting requirements from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which Mr. Pines called "an audit on steroids."
What's more, the scrutiny is intensified when the educational best interests of children are put on a profit-loss spectrum. The tension leads one academic observer to label the act of gratifying shareholders while providing superior education "an inherent clash of cultures."
Those two goals are at odds with each other, said Alex Molnar, a research professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder's school of education. He used an example of a company that moves a factory to Mexico to double profits to 12 percent.
"The move will be socially destructive by killing pensions, eliminating health care, and destroying jobs, but the shareholders will get an extra 6 percent—and that's the sort of environment we're headed toward in public education," Mr. Molnar said. "It's not illegal, but it's not serving the public very well."

'Healthy Solution'

Regardless of the current debate over the profit motive in education, the stock market can pump a lot of money into companies targeting the K-12 instructional market. And if a company's goal is to grow big, venture capitalists can only take it so far, observers say.
"If you want to get your hands on $500 million, it's hard to do that privately," said Frederick M. Hess, a resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a free-market-oriented think tank in Washington.
"If you're a relatively small company grossing $30 million a year, and your capital requirements are $5 million, you could certainly get that from one angel investor and avoid the whole headache of going public," said Mr. Hess, who also writes a blog for "But in most of the world, the goal is to go public because that's where the founders can grow a really thriving enterprise."
Mr. Hess doesn't see why there have to be winners and losers when education companies go public: "It's a business proposition. They're offering a service and trying to get paid for it. Contracting for services can be a perfectly healthy solution, and I'm always interested in why we try to make it such a moral issue," he said.
Publicly traded education companies point out that school districts have outsourced services for decades—for construction, transportation, meals, and staff training, for example—and argue that if they didn't deliver on their promises, they would stop growing and eventually go out of business.

'Oversight Complicated'

The long-term impact of unwelcome attention on K12 Inc., meanwhile, is uncertain.
According to Mr. Packard, the New York Times article was an "unfair and erroneous attack" that ultimately strengthened the resolve of K12's employees and proved that its long-term core investors truly backed the company's mission.
The stock slump didn't last long. Prices began rising again by early January. At press time, K12 stock was trading at $21.89.
K12's financial report for the second quarter of fiscal 2012 showed that while net income was down 46 percent, with higher costs causing profits to fall short of Wall Street predictions, revenues grew to $166.5 million—an increase of $37.5 million, or 29 percent, over the same period the prior year.
"Companies that are great over the long term are companies that worry about their customers, not the stock market," Mr. Packard said in an interview this month. "The stock will eventually take care of itself."
Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University and a National Education Policy Center fellow, said he won't be surprised if other companies find themselves in the same situation as K12's, particularly with the industry's high dependence on self-reporting.
"It's like asking Coke or Pepsi which soda is best," he said. "Oversight becomes complicated."
K12 started rebounding quickly, however, and will continue to thrive because it has figured out, in football terms, "an end run," said Samuel E. Abrams, a visiting scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is writing a book on school reform for Harvard University Press.
"It has grown because it can achieve economies of scale, especially as we become more comfortable with online learning and online living in general," Mr. Abrams said. "It's a much more subtle form of educational outsourcing, and as such it doesn't generate the same pushback and distrust" as for-profit management of brick-and-mortar schools.
2011 study by the National Education Policy Center deemed virtual schools the fastest-growing segment of alternative education.
In 2010, 48 states and the District of Columbia had virtual school programs, 27 states allowed virtual charter schools, and approximately 1.5 million students took one or more courses online, according to the Evergreen Education Group, a consulting firm in Durango, Colo.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Some companies are going public through mergers and acquisitions, often by selling themselves to larger companies in the educational technology sector.
The textbook-publishing giant Pearson, a publicly traded company based in London, acquired Connections Education, the United States' second-largest online school business, in September from an investor group for $400 million in cash.
Based in Baltimore, Connections had been a stand-alone, privately owned company since 2004. It operates virtual schools or academies in 22 states—with plans to enter Iowa in the fall—and serves about 40,000 students.
With a yearly 30 percent revenue growth, an estimated $190 million in revenue in 2011, and annual surveys consistently showing that 95 percent of families would recommend Connections, the company expects to have an even greater impact in the world of online learning now that it has the benefit of Pearson's global reach. At press time, Pearson's stock was trading at $19.41.
"There was never a timetable set or a path chosen for us to become a public company," said Ted Ochs, the chief operations officer and chief financial officer for Connections Education. "But we've always said that if we serve our students well, we'll figure out the business model to make things work."
Wireless Generation, based in New York City, also appreciates the larger platform it was given after Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought a 90 percent share of the educational technology company for $360 million in 2010. (Larry Berger, a co-founder and the CEO of Wireless Generation, is a trustee of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.)
"There was a time when Wireless Generation was trying to get attention for the products and services it was offering, and it was a little hard to do," said Zachary Silverstein, the chief of staff for the company, which says it serves more than 200,000 educators and 3 million students in all 50 states. "Being part of a bigger company presents more of an opportunity to be recognized and to tell the world about what we're bringing to the classroom."
But Wireless Generation could also be tarnished by its association with News Corp., which is best known in the United States for its ownership of right-leaning media outlets and is embroiled in a scandal over its news-gathering practices in Britain. New York state blocked a contract awarded to Wireless Generation in the wake of the News Corp. scandal. ("Scandal Clouds News Corp.'s Move Into Education," Aug. 10 and "Wireless Generation Loses Contract in Wake of News Corp. Scandal," Sept. 14, 2011.)
Meanwhile, some companies, for strategic reasons, bounce back and forth between being publicly traded and privately held. Now a private tutoring company, Baltimore-based Sylvan Learning has done just that since it first went public in 1993.
Sylvan spokeswoman Darshana Patel said via email that the company's "capital-structure decisions are made with two goals in mind—maximizing educational outcomes and shareholder value."
While some economic analysts note it's unlikely many more education companies will go public in the near future, a few trends—such as the increasing emphasis on digital education, as well as global education in emerging markets worldwide—may eventually turn the tide. Large companies pay big prices for acquisitions, in fact, because they anticipate those trends will reap big rewards.
"This usually predicts that smaller companies will resist the temptation of being bought up, and instead get to the scale where they take themselves public," said Susan Wolford, the managing director and head of the business-services and media group at BMO Capital Markets in New York City. "And then, hopefully, off they go."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Great upcoming webinar on 3/1!

Sponsored by:
Forging the Technology-Curriculum Link 
School leaders are accustomed to working hard to make curricula challenging and engaging and to make sure it meets state standards. And many educators are now becoming more skilled at using technology in their classrooms, whether it’s laptops, digital whiteboards, or smartphones. But experts say that to get the best results for students, it’s important to be deliberate and thoughtful in the way technology is incorporated into curricula. Just layering technology on top of an already existing curriculum is often not the best way to enhance the learning process and maximize the effectiveness of the technology tools available. School and district technology leaders and curriculum experts must work together to find the best way to integrate technology into teaching and learning in order to develop the most innovative and successful methods for delivering curricula to students.

  • Noreen M. Walton, the director of learning support services for the 33,000-student Poway Unified School District in San Diego
  • Mark Hofer, associate professor of educational technology, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.

This webinar will be moderated by Michelle R. Davis, senior writer, Education Week Digital Directions.
Register now for this free live webinar.

Webinar Date: Thursday, March 1, 2 – 3 p.m. ET

Can't attend? All Education Week webinars are archived and accessible"on demand" for up to six months after the original live-streaming date.

Register online at:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Are YOU becoming a teacher leader?

Published Online: February 21, 2012

5 Tell-Tale Signs You're Becoming a Teacher Leader

How do you know you're ready to become a teacher leader? Will a trusted colleague tap you on the shoulder and say, "It's time!"? Do you have to get so frustrated by something that you simply must speak up and work toward a solution? Maybe—but sometimes the signs are subtler. Here are a few things that may signal that you're on the road to becoming a teacher leader:
Sign #1: You wish you had an impact beyond your classroom.
If you find yourself yearning to take an idea beyond your classroom, you're probably ready to become a leader.
The first step might be as small as sharing a lesson plan with a colleague down the hall. Then you might spread your expertise further. Perhaps you will blog about how your students are using iPads to work on letter recognition, submit an article to your favorite professional journal, or share your knowledge in topic-focused Twitter chats. Or maybe your next step will be to help "unpack Common Core standards" for your department, or to offer to lead a workshop on bullying.
Whatever path you take, don't wait to be invited. Act on your interests—you'll be glad you did.
Sign #2: Colleagues often ask you for advice.
Are you a go-to teacher? You aren't sure quite why, but your colleagues are beginning to turn to you (yes, YOU!) for advice on how to handle difficult situations. Guess what? You probably have what it takes to lead.
See Sign #1 for some ways to proceed. It's great that your colleagues come to you for advice, but are there ways to share your expertise with even more educators?
Sign #3: You "think big" about problems.
When others are complaining, you're imagining solutions. You can see ways that the system can change to help you and your colleagues to better serve students—whether at the school, district, state, or national level.
Maybe your next step is to have frank, open conversations with your principal about solving problems at your school. Maybe you will serve on a district leadership committee, acting as a spokesperson for your grade level at a school board meeting. Or perhaps you'll become involved with teacher advocacy through your union.
Whatever the case, other teachers are beginning to look to you as someone who can help them move beyond frustration to positive action. You have the potential to extend the impact of your leadership by getting involved in district, state, and even national initiatives to improve teaching and learning.
Sign #4: You want to take new teachers under your wing.
You watch new teachers at your school and think, "Wow, I've been there and wished someone would help me out." You have a keen sense of what kind of preparation teachers need to be successful in the classroom. You've probably offered advice and informal support to at least one new teacher.
Your next step might be to volunteer as a cooperating teacher for a preservice college student, or an official mentor to a new teacher in your building. Maybe you will agree to serve on a "walk-through" team, observing teachers and offering helpful feedback. You might even become an instructional coach or take on a hybrid role in which you are adjunct faculty at a local teacher- preparation program.
Whatever the case, you care about the future of the profession. When you begin to invest time and energy in new teachers or preservice teachers, it's a sure sign that you're becoming a leader.
Sign #5: You always want to know more!
You are afflicted with lifelong learning. What you know about the profession isn't enough—you are eager to dig deeper into pedagogical strategies and/or your content area. You read. A lot.
Perhaps you've already taken one next step: enrolling in a master's program. Or maybe you've already developed a Personal Learning Network of teachers across the country who regularly exchange ideas and help each other improve. And you might also be pursuing the rewarding but challenging experience of seeking National Board Certification. So many avenues for learning!
So …
When you find yourself writing, advising, listening, collaborating, networking, seeking knowledge, reflecting, be aware. These are traits of leadership. Know, too, that there is no one "correct" path to becoming a teacher leader. I encourage you to check out the Teacher Leader Model Standards, which highlight a range of ways for teacher leaders to improve schools.
The right next step for you will depend on your own strengths, ambitions, and circumstances. But I can promise you this: When you go beyond what is expected, when you act on your desire to develop and learn, you won't regret it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A fun clip worth watching!

This is completely unrelated to teaching but for all those music and dog lovers out there. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Critical Explorers -- A Blog Worth Reading!

Check out a former colleague's message and blog -- definitely worth your time:

There's a new comment on my most recent Critical Explorers blog post asking for experiences related to using critical exploration to strengthen learners' executive functioning capabilities. Eleanor, Alythea, and I are wondering whether anyone on this list has anything to add to the discussion. If you do, please feel free to post a comment to the blog post in reply, or e-mail me so we can add your wisdom to the thread. Thanks!


Question (from Jen Killpack): "I’ve really enjoyed reading this discussion! I’m going to throw out this idea and would LOVE some feedback from anyone interested. I’m working on my M.Ed. right now and my research interest is along this line. I’m wondering about the success of CE with students who have Executive Function deficits (e.g. ADHD, TBI). My thinking is that it will be (is?) highly beneficial in allowing the natural tangential thinking that sometimes occurs to the student’s benefit. I think that CE might also allow these students to strengthen their executive function capabilities. Eric Amsel and I were talking about it tonight (he’s on my committee) and he agreed that it might work counterintuitively… I think it’s a natural fit. Am I way off base? What do you all think? Have you any experiences that might speak to this?"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When should kids be able to read?

It's a question many teachers and parents ask themselves. Research suggests different points of view that are all worth considering. ALL children deserve the right to exposure to a variety of high quality and diverse literature ASAP, that's for sure!

When should kids be able to read?

By Valerie Strauss

It used to be that kids in the early elementary school grades were allowed to learn how to read at their own speed. Today test-obsessed public schools don’t offer that luxury; if youngsters aren’t starting to learn to read in kindergarten, and can’t read by the end of first grade, they are already behind.

The new Common Core standards, which have been adopted by most states, say, for example, that first graders should be able to, “With prompting and support, read prose and poetry of appropriate complexity for grade 1.”

The second grade standard: “By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories and poetry, in the grades 2-3 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.”

This flies in the face of research that shows that some students need more time to learn how to read, and that boys as a group are being put a disadvantage with earlier and earlier reading demands.

Richard Whitmire, author of the book (and blog of the same name) “Why Boys Fail,” wrote on this blog:

“Based on my book research, the biggest culprits behind the gender gaps are education reforms that wisely ramped up verbal skills in the earliest grades but unwisely failed to adjust reading and writing instruction for boys, who have always gotten a late start on those skills. The reform-minded governors intended to boost college readiness, but with boys, their good intentions backfired.

“Up until about 20 years ago, when students got a slower start on verbal skills, boys caught up by fourth or fifth grade. These days, many boys never quite catch up. They conclude that school is for girls and seek satisfaction in outlets such as video games, which in turn get blamed unfairly for causing the problem.”

Kids who live in poverty are especially at risk of academic failure because of poor reading skills; of the fourth-graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test sometimes called the nation’s report card, 83 percent of children of low-income students failed to reach the “proficient” level in reading.

Now the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation and about 70 other foundations are joining in a new campaign that attempts to infuse some sense into the reading world.

"The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading” intends to bring together public and philanthropic efforts to close the gap in reading achievement and to lobby so that grade-level reading by the end of third grade becomes an explicit priority for educators, policymakers, civic leaders, parents and advocates. It is, of course, no coincidence that this is happening as Congress considers whether and how to rewrite No Child Left Behind.

With all of the initiatives to improve education, it’s hard to argue that any are more important than making sure kids can read. Doing so is, of course, more than a matter of selecting an effective reading program; it involves early literacy at home, the availability of reading material, summer reading, and more.

President Obama has made a priority out of pushing STEM education, or science, technology, engineering and math. If kids can’t read, it isn’t terribly likely they will find their way into one of those fields.

But if they aren't given the adequate amount of time to develop the habit of reading at their own pace, they will never become readers. It's time to rethink how we address this most basic enterprise.

Full article available at:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Can we save American education?

You betcha! Let's hope all of us in education actually think we can.

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews offers some good tips on doing so:

5 ways to save American education

By Jay Mathews

A research team led by Marc S. Tucker, a relentless advocate for adopting successful international practices in U.S. schools, recently concluded that we, in essence, are doing almost nothing right.

His investigators could find no evidence, Tucker said, “that any country that leads the world’s education performance league tables has gotten there by implementing any of the major agenda items that dominate the education reform agenda in the United States, with the exception of the Common Core State Standards.”

Congratulations, I guess, go to the 45 states implementing that new common curriculum. Other American approaches, such as charter schools, vouchers, computer-oriented entrepreneurs and rating teachers by the test scores of their students, are rarely found in the overseas systems showing the greatest gains, according to Tucker’s new book, “Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems.”

On Monday, I listed several false assumptions that Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, says have caused us to go astray. They include our view that our mediocre scores on international tests are the result of too many diverse students, that more money will help schools improve and that it is better to focus on lowering class sizes than raising teacher salaries.

Today, I offer the solutions Tucker and his team propose.

They are heavily influenced by what is working overseas, particularly in Japan, Korea, Finland, Shanghai, Singapore and Canada. Can these reforms blossom in our very different culture, with stronger local control of schools and less respect for teachers? I guess at the chances of success here for each suggestion.

1. Make admission to teacher training more competitive, pegged to international standards of academic achievement, mastery of subject matter and ability to relate to children. Most U.S. education schools can’t survive financially without enrolling many average or below-average students, so this has only a 20 percent chance.

2. Raise teacher compensation significantly. Initially, this has the same bad odds, a 20 percent chance. But over time, standards and salaries could rise if education schools developed special academies — similar to undergraduate honors colleges — that were as selective as the Columbia, Harvard and Stanford education schools and the Teach for America program. Tucker says that with better pay, fewer teachers would quit, saving money now spent to train replacements.

3. Allow larger class sizes. More students per classroom means more money to pay teachers. The American trend toward smaller classes (down to an average of about 25 per classroom) has run its course. Some of the most successful public charter schools have 30 students in a class. Japan does well with large classes. Given those developments, chances are 70 percent this could be done.

4. End annual standardized testing in favor of three federally required tests to gauge mastery at the end of elementary school, 10th grade and 12th grade. The change has an 80 percent chance because it would save money and please many teachers and parents who think we test too much. Such tests overseas are of higher quality, not so much computer-scored multiple choice and would help raise American learning standards, Tucker says.

5. Spend more money on students who need more help getting to high standards. Based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Tucker favors a weighted pupil finance formula, which only a few U.S. districts have tried. There would be the usual per-pupil funds but extra money for students who need to be brought up to the standard. Americans favor more support for struggling students, but I give this only a 60 percent chance because of state and federal budget difficulties.

Making these changes seems daunting, but Tucker notes that the best school systems overseas took 30 to 100 years to get there. With some patience and luck, we could do that, too.

Full article available at:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thoughts on Differentiation

The following information on differentiation is a must-read!

Response: More Ways To Differentiate Instruction -- Part Two

I posed this question last week:
"What is the best advice you can give to a teacher about differentiating instruction?"
I've shared my response in an Ed Week Teacher article that I've co-authored with my colleague, Katie Hull Sypnieski. It's titled "The Five By Five Approach To Differentiation Success."
Today's column includes commentaries from Dr. Kimberly Kappler Hewitt and Daniel K. Weckstein, and from Megan Allen, as well as ones from readers
Response From Dr. Kimberly Kappler Hewitt & Daniel K. Weckstein
Dr. Kimberly Kappler Hewitt serves as Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at University of North Carolina Greensboro and Daniel K. Weckstein is the Principal of Oakwood Junior High School in Dayton, Ohio. Kim and Dan co-authored Differentiation is an Expectation: A School Leader's Guide to Building a Culture of Differentiation:
Interested in differentiating instruction in your classroom? Here's how to jump-start your process.

* Recognize that differentiation is an approach to teaching and learning, not a list of strategies. Differentiation requires commitment to the idea that one size doesn't fit all. Differentiation means that "fairness" isn't everyone getting the same thing but rather everyone getting what she or he needs to maximize potential.
* Recognize and celebrate what you already do. It's likely that you are already doing some differentiation in your classroom (e.g., flexible grouping for guided reading). Build on what you are already doing.
* Assess yourself to identify your strengths and areas for growth. Use a differentiation self-assessment rubric.
* Set reasonable goals/expectations for yourself. Once you identify ways in which you can grow in how you differentiate content, process, and product, identify one or two reachable goals for yourself.
* Learn! Model life-long learning by using books, DVDs, and websites about differentiation to grow as a teacher. We recommend The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (Carol Ann Tomlinson, ASCD, 1999) and Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom (C. A. Tomlinson, ASCD, 2010), as well as the website Differentiation Central and the DVD series Differentiated Instruction in Action (ASCD, 2008).
* Be candid with your students, administrators, and parents about what you are doing. Folks tend to be skeptical of what they don't understand. Generally, though, people respond well when they know that a teacher is differentiating instruction to help students soar. A helpful book for administrators might be our own book, Differentiation is an Expectation: A School Leader's Guide to Building a Culture of Differentiation.
* Find a collaborative group of colleagues with whom you can learn and dialogue. Are you part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC)? If so, leverage it to support your differentiation efforts. If you don't belong to a PLC, consider starting one with a couple of respected colleagues. PLCs can be an immensely powerful way to learn and grow as an educator. Learn more about PLCs here.

* Consider the implications for assessment. Differentiation has all sorts of implications for assessment (e.g., use of formative assessment, including pretesting for flexible grouping and use of performance assessment). The book Fair Isn't Always Equal by Rick Wormeli provides a good introduction to these issues.
Response From Megan Allen
Megan Allen is Florida's 2010 State Teacher of the Year, a part of The Center For Teaching Quality'sHillsborough New Millennium Initiative work in Florida, and is currently Educator In Residence at the University of Central Florida. Megan also has just published a post on Ed Week about teacher preparation:
Our search committee asked job candidates a standard question: "How do you differentiate instruction?" Unfortunately, the answers were standard, too. After one interview, my colleague erupted, volcano-style: "Why do we assume differentiated instruction can only happen in guided reading?" Good point, my fiery-tempered friend.

Differentiated instruction can apply to any subject. I contemplated this truth recently while indulging in my latest exercise addiction: yoga. Sprawled across a wood floor in an uncomfortable position, wishing I had the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast, I realized something. My yoga instructor uses the same differentiation strategies in the studio that work in our K-12 classrooms:
Identify students' starting points and interests. My yoga instructor begins every class by asking each student about any injuries and what they hope to accomplish in the session.
Offer ample opportunities for students to engage with concepts, stretch their thinking (or tendons), and reach their goals. I think of it as differentiated "construction" rather than "instruction"--I construct learning experiences using what I've discovered about students' interests, abilities, and learning styles.
Provide students with avenues for growth. For each pose, my instructor demonstrates an easy starting pose, then bumps it up notch-by-notch. That way, I can start with the beginner's pose and attempt more advanced versions the moment I'm ready.
Gauge students' progress--and know when to push them. My yoga instructor's informal observations help me to move forward and try new poses, even if they're uncomfortable at first.

My yoga instructor's teaching is student-centered--adapted for each student's needs, interests, abilities, and learning styles. Yoga has improved my flexibility, but it's also reminded me of the flexibility of differentiated instruction strategies. They're not just for guided reading. As the yogi of our classrooms, we must use these tools to reach each student.
Response From Readers
bill writes:
I think one of the best ways to differentiate content is by using student-generated questions. You can teach the skills you want, but each student's topic is by definition relevant to them. For skills, there have been two years where I worked a system wherein they all start with an identical skill list and then as they achieve proficiency in different areas, I give them a list of new skills from which to choose.
Ed Week Teacher blogger Coach G wrote:
I think we should think of it more as differentiated learning than differentiated instruction. Hand in hand with this is the recognition that real learning doesn't happen when teachers are presenting information, but rather when students are applying that information--and teachers are there to coach them as necessary. Check-out my post for more on this....
Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.