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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A look back in time...

This story was taken from a local newspaper and details a really interesting perspective about the local home of my colleague's mother. It is well-worth the read!

If you read the Gazette yesterday for Rockville, Aspen Hill, or Wheaton, Maryland, the cover story was about a home my mom lived in when she was a little girl. My grandparents and my mom and her siblings were pictured in the article below.
Description: Batz family photo circa 1963
Standing in back, Joe Batz and Pigeon Batz. Front left to right are their kids Ricky, Debbie, Jody, Gary, Terry, Cindy and Mary.
Description: Dan Gross/The Gazette
(From left) Pigeon Batz, Joe Batz and their son Gary Batz visit the burned remains of a house at 175 Watts Branch Parkway that they rented for five years from 1963 to 1968.  They have a picture of the entire family out front of the house when they lived there.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The 7 Habits of Calm....

Great resource on creating “calm” habits…nice tools for working in a middle school or ANY school! J

Monday, February 25, 2013

More great titles to read!

The list continues...

11. Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning
By David H. Rose and Anne Meyer

12. Designing Personalized Learning for Every Student
By Dianne L. Ferguson, Ginevra Ralph, Gwen Meyer, and others

13. Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom
By Judy Willis

14. Teaching in Tandem: Effective Coteaching in the Inclusive Classroom
By Gloria Lodato Wilson and Joan Blednick

15. Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas
By Judie Haynes and Debbie Zacarian

16. Strategies for Success with English Language Learners: An ASCD Action Tool
By Virginia Pauline Rojas

17. Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners
By Jane D. Hill and Kathleen M. Flynn

18. Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success
By Bryan Goodwin

19. Teaching What Matters Most: Standards and Strategies for Raising Student Achievement
By Richard W. Strong, Harvey F. Silver, and Matthew J. Perini

20. Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning
By Mike Schmoker

Friday, February 22, 2013

New titles to check out!

It's time for my regular new and noteworthy boom update. Happy reading!

1. Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom
By Mark Barnes

2. Principal Evaluation: Standards, Rubrics, and Tools for Effective Performance
By James H. Stronge with Xianxuan Xu, Virginia Tonneson, and Lauri Leeper

3. Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today's Lesson
By Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart

4. How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading
By Susan M. Brookhart

5. Classroom Assessment and Grading that Work
By Robert J. Marzano

6. Great Performances: Creating Classroom-Based Assessment Tasks, 2nd edition
By Larry Lewin and Betty Jean Shoemaker

7. Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom
By Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey

8. Using Data to Focus Instructional Improvement
By Cheryl James-Ward, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp

9. Supervision for Learning: A Performance-Based Approach to Teacher Development and School Improvement
By James M. Aseltine, Judith O. Faryniarz, and Anthony J. Rigazio-DiGilio

10. Improving Teaching with Collaborative Action Research: An ASCD Action Tool
By Diane Cunningham

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How do we honor ALL of the languages our students speak?

What are you doing in your classroom, implicitly or explicitly, to honor your students' language diversity? Feel free to share your own ideas for creating a language-inclusive classroom.

Honor Students' Language Diversity

Liliana X. Aguas
I will always remember the first time I observed Ms. King's class. As I walked down the hallway on my way to her room, I was captivated by a bulletin board displaying a series of plastic spoons wearing colorful paper clothing, sporting yarn for hair, and featuring silly faces drawn on with permanent marker.

I smiled as I began to read the stories that accompanied the spoon people. All of them were written in both English and Spanish. I couldn't believe it. I walked through the classroom door and found Ms. King speaking in Spanish to an attentive group of 4th and 5th grade students.
In that moment, I felt a sense of validation about my first language that I'd never experienced before in an academic setting. I spent the rest of that school year student-teaching in Ms. King's two-way immersion classroom, conducting research on first-language maintenance and bilingual students and investigating the relationship between English language learners' perception of their first language and their academic performance.

What I found is that students who have a positive perception of their first language academically outperform students who view their first language negatively. My investigation clearly demonstrated that those teachers who created a language-inclusive classroom simultaneously created a more effective learning environment.

Value Students' First Language

Teachers play an important role in helping students form a positive image of themselves. When teachers recognize and value their students' first language, they not only contribute to their students' academic success and second language development, but also tell students that they value and appreciate their cultures and backgrounds. By doing so, teachers encourage their students' sense of self-worth and competence.

It is important to mention that teachers do not need to be fluent in the native languages of their students to recognize the value of those languages. In fact, I have seen many monolingual, English-speaking teachers create inclusive classroom environments. Many of the activities that I use in my classroom to recognize my students' first languages were shared with me by such colleagues.

My Favorite Classroom Practices

Here are some of my favorite classroom practices that I use with my students to create a positive and inclusive learning environment where students' language diversity is honored.
  • Family tree: I ask my students, both in my elementary and college classrooms, to create a family language tree. Students then share their trees with the class.
    This year, my students made colorful trees by placing their handprints on construction paper using tempera paint. Students took their trees home and asked the relatives they were visiting over the holiday break to tell them what languages they spoke.
  • Thank-you cards: In November, students learn to say "thank you" in many different languages. One parent volunteer helped my class make multilingual thank-you cards using letter stamps and colorful ink.
  • Teaching cognates: Cognates are words that mean the same in English and Spanish and are often pronounced and spelled similarly. For example, cognado is Spanish for cognate. I teach my Spanish-speaking English language learners how to use what they know in Spanish to figure out the meaning of an unknown word in English, and vice versa for my native English speakers.
    However, I also teach them about false cognates, such as the word largo, which means long, not large. We keep a list of cognates and false cognates in our classroom. Whenever we come across one, we write it down.
  • See the assets: I subscribe to an assets-based teaching pedagogy and reject "deficit" ideologies that view English learners as bundles of deficiencies with nothing to offer their learning community.
  • Make barriers flexible: I establish and uphold flexible language barriers. In other words, I allow my students to verbalize their thinking in their native languages in my classroom.
  • Create meaningful writing assignments: I create meaningful writing assignments based on ideas such as, "¿Vale la pena ser biling├╝e?" (Does it pay to be bilingual?) The year that I taught with Ms. King, she read an article from Time magazine written by a monolingual English-speaking mother who wanted to raise her children bilingual.
    Using the article as a springboard, the class spent considerable time discussing the effort, benefits, and outcomes of being bilingual and wrote essays in English and Spanish expressing their thoughts.
  • Share research: I share my knowledge and research findings on the benefits of being bilingual with my students and their families. In fact, this week I was invited to speak to parents of incoming kindergarteners about the importance of first-language maintenance and the two-way immersion program at our school.
  • Greetings in different languages: One of the teachers at my school teaches her students a different greeting each month. When she takes attendance, her students answer by using the greeting of the month. She starts with greetings in the languages represented in her classroom.
  • Include songs: We listen to and sing songs in other languages. Every morning in my classroom, the Student of the Day picks a song for the class to sing from our collection.
    In my experience as an educator, creating learning opportunities that place value on students' heritage languages is a crucial part of ensuring academic and social success.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Flip your classroom!

We've all heard of this concept and wonder whether it can work for our students. Here are some ways real teachers have flipped their classrooms. See what ideas you can take back to your school!

February 2013 | Volume 55 | Number 2
Tips to Help You Flip Your Classroom Pages 1-4,5

Tips to Help You Flip Your Classroom

By Ellen Ullman
Jason Kern began reading about flipped classrooms almost two years ago. Kern, who taught for a decade before becoming a technology director, says, "I always wanted to bring the real world into my economics classes but battled with having to deliver so much information. Flipping [the classroom] seemed to be the answer."
Flipping, as its name implies, involves transposing the traditional classroom paradigm of lecture during class and homework after class. In a flipped classroom, students watch the instructor's lecture outside of class via video and engage in discussion and hands-on activities, when appropriate, inside the classroom. Kern, for example, turned his lectures into podcasts, which students could then listen to as many times as necessary.

"I'd always lectured for 20 or 30 minutes and then had 25 minutes of discussion, but it irritated me that my students could never discuss the material," Kern says. "Once I started podcasting, our discussions were so much richer.
"The students told me they needed time to process the information. Flipping gives them time to synthesize."

Kern has heard from his former students, now in college, who tell him they listen to the podcasts, too.
Across the country, teachers are thinking about flipping their classes or are already giving it a try.

Administrators and school leaders can help get teachers interested in trying this model by doing a few key things:
  • Addressing issues of equity and access.
  • Helping teachers rethink what happens during class and what homework looks like.
  • Modeling the behavior for teachers.
  • Making the production aspect of creating the videos as easy as possible.

Bridging the Digital Divide

Unfortunately, for some schools issues of equity and access pose challenges to implementing a flipped classroom. If students are expected to watch online video lessons outside the classroom, they need to have Internet access.

Some school districts are working with local telecommunication companies to offer Internet access for free or at a reduced cost, says Scott McLeod, director of innovation for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency 8 in Iowa. McLeod says that other districts facing access challenges are tapping into Connect2Compete, a national nonprofit organization that provides discounted high-speed Internet and low-cost computers.

Alan Landever, director of technology at Fort Leavenworth School District in Kansas City, Mo., knows he may never have a one-to-one district—one in which all students have their own mobile devices or computers—but he doesn't let that stop him from encouraging teachers to flip their classrooms.

Landever encourages teachers in his district to use Moodle, the free open-source learning management tool, to revamp their curricula by integrating technology into lessons. One teacher in Landever's district uses Moodle to post videos. Every week, his students spend an hour in the district computer lab watching the videos.

If using a learning management system like Moodle seems too complicated, there are easier ways to make sure that everyone can watch lectures outside the classroom. Jonathan Bergmann, technology facilitator at the Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth, Ill., says, "We began in 2007, when 25 percent of our students had no Internet access at home. We just burned our videos onto DVDs and handed them out. It cost about 20 cents per student, and everyone had a DVD player."

Redesign Class Time

The success of the flipped movement is not about the videos; it's about what happens when the students return to the classroom after watching the videos.

"If you use that time to just do more 'sage-on-stage' stuff, you miss the opportunity," McLeod says. "Instead, you should be having rich discussions, doing hands-on or collaborative projects, and doing things that can't be done at home."

Make no mistake, this shift is monumental and requires rethinking the pedagogical model. Leaders have to do some professional development and continually monitor what's happening both inside of the classroom and at home.

"It's about how teachers build on the video," says Peter DeWitt, principal at Poestenkill Elementary School in New York and a blogger for Education Week. DeWitt says his teachers who have always focused on using small-group instruction were eager to try a flipped classroom model. Many of them say flipping has made it even easier to differentiate instruction and do project-based learning.

Jonathan Martin, an education consultant and former head of St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson, Ariz., agrees. He says that his teachers are using the model to diversify instruction.
"I think there are good teachers who can't see the way to do more collaborative or project work because they feel so responsible for content delivery," Martin says.

At St. Gregory, teachers told him that flipping led to powerful changes in their classrooms. In calculus, for example, the teacher was able to support students as they tackled challenging problems. And in chemistry, students conducted much more complex and engaging lab experiments.
Kern says flipping leads to more interactive classes and is a great first step for teachers who want to have an inquiry-based class.

"It doesn't matter how you flip; it frees up class time for something other than lecture," Kern says. "You can go so much deeper into the subject. Once I began flipping, we were having discussions within two weeks that used to take until the end of the semester."

Practice What You Preach

Just as teachers are experimenting with flipping, some principals are using the flipped model as well.
When DeWitt started flipping faculty meetings last September, it took some time to catch on.
"At first it didn't go well, but now, when we meet, we go more in-depth on a topic," he says. "We're having real discussions about accountability—not just running through a list of dates."

DeWitt believes that it's difficult for teachers to try flipping if their administrator isn't doing it as well. Teachers wonder, "If it's truly that great of an idea, why aren't you doing it yourself?"

"Be careful that it doesn't become yet another top-down initiative," DeWitt says. "Instead, try to naturally infuse it into what you're doing, and you'll give your staff the impetus to try it out."

To encourage his teachers to take risks, DeWitt adopts the attitude that if something fails, everyone learns and moves on.

Make Video Production Easy

McLeod notes that teachers don't necessarily have to create the learning resources their students will use. One of the best things we can do, he says, is to get children to make learning resources for each other.

"Everyone's excited about Khan Academy [the online, educational video library], but this can be even better," McLeod says. "Ask students to think about something they struggled with but eventually understood, and then work in small groups to make videos or other learning resources. Not only does this solidify their learning, but it also gives them a chance to be creative and deliver an authentic resource for next year's class.

"We have to get beyond the notion that a teacher is the sole finder/creator of learning resources. Kids can find them, create them, and share them, particularly if they have access to technology. We're not tapping into that potential and power yet."

Martin agrees with McLeod that teachers don't need to do all the work. "We're at the cusp of a wide availability of high-quality lectures," he says.

"If I taught history, I'd love for my students to spend time seeing professors from Harvard, Stanford, Duke, etc., so that they could develop the skills of listening to a college lecture."

Does Flipping Deliver Results?

After Clintondale High School in Michigan became a 100 percent flipped school, state test scores improved in every subject.

"We saw an 11 percent increase in English language arts, a 5 percent increase in social studies, and 7 percent in writing," says the school's principal, Greg Green.

The graduation rate also improved, from 80 percent to 90 percent in two years, and the amount of disciplinary incidents dropped from 736 in 2009–10 to 187 in 2011–12.

Quick Tips for Administrators

  • Be supportive. Use every opportunity to let teachers know that you have their backs.
  • Strengthen the technology infrastructure. Figure out how to provide devices (this might require getting creative) or launch a BYOD (bring your own device) movement. At the least, make sure the library has computers. Perhaps most important, be sure families have Internet access outside of school.
  • Train your teachers. From technique-heavy workshops to ongoing coaching, make sure that teachers get the support they need.
  • It's not one-size-fits-all. Flipping is not appropriate for all subjects all the time. Ask teachers who are thinking about flipping to start with this question: What's the best use of your class time for this area?

Resources for the Flipped Classroom

Try these tools to help you get started.

Copyright © 2013 by ASCD

Monday, February 18, 2013

For a laugh ONLY....

Alternative to Hand Gun under the Bed. 

I know some of you own GUNS but this is something to think about... 

If you don't have a gun, here's a more humane way to wreck someone's evil plans for you.  Did you know this?  I didn't.  I never really thought of it before. I guess I can get rid of the baseball bat. 

Wasp Spray A friend who is a receptionist in a church in a high-risk area was concerned about someone coming into the office on Monday to rob them when they were counting the collection.  She asked the local police department about using pepper spray and they recommended to her that she get a can of wasp spray instead. 
The wasp spray, they told her, can shoot up to twenty feet away and is a lot more accurate, while with the pepper spray, they have to get too close to you and could overpower you.  The wasp spray temporarily blinds an attacker until they get to the hospital for an antidote.  She keeps a can on her desk in the office and it doesn't attract attention from people like a can of pepper spray would. She also keeps one nearby at home for home protection.  Thought this was interesting and might be of use. 

On the heels of a breakin and beating that left an elderly woman in Toledo dead, self-defense experts have a tip that could save your life. 

Val Glinka teaches self-defense to students at Sylvania Southview High School .  For decades, he's suggested putting a can of wasp and hornet spray near your door or bed. 

Glinka says, "This is better than anything I can teach them." 

Glinka considers it inexpensive, easy to find, and more effective than mace or pepper spray.  The cans typically shoot 20 to 30 feet; so if someone tries to break into your home, Glinka says "spray the culprit in the eyes". It's a tip he's given to students for decades. 

It's also one he wants everyone to hear.  If you're looking for protection, Glinka says look to the spray.  "That's going to give you a chance to call the police or maybe get out." It may even save your life.

Please share this with your contacts. 

Did you also know that wasp spray will kill a snake?  And a mouse!  It will! Good to know, huh?  

It will also kill a wasp!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Help your students find the right idea!

Do your students need the right handout, the right idea, illustration, organizer?
This TRIAL database may be of interest and help to you. Lasts until March 22!
For middle school, high school, and junior college teachers and students seeking material to supplement their coursework in core subject areas—including U.S. and world history, science, and geography. This electronic library of curriculum-related handouts provides access to a broad selection of visual content, including maps, science diagrams, science experiments, historical images, historical timelines, and other handouts, all of which can be saved, e-mailed, printed, or distributed for educational purposes

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Want a Good Book? Don't know what to read next?

This is a access to Novelist, which will give you ideas of what to read NEXT!

mcps trials

Good until March 22, 2013!


Friday, February 15, 2013

My school in the news!

Check out this article posted on the Gazette today about our students winning third place in the STEMFuse contest. Special thanks to peer Betsy Johnson for helping the boys in her class prepare for the contest!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Great new jobs available!

From a fellow Harvard Ed School grad:

Hello T440-ers!

I am a '12 alum of T440 and I am writing today to send along arts, education and innovation job postings at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

We have TWO full time positions we are hiring for:

Senior Director of Arts, education and Innovation and Director of Academic Success: focusing of Arts and Science

Folks are welcome to contact me regarding these positions at Interested applicant can also view the job postings below:

Director of Academic Success: Arts and Science (Disney Grant/Art Science Prize)

Senior Director of Arts, Education and Innovations:

Please feel free to pass these job postings along to anyone you'd like! Thanks so much!!


Val Heron-Duranti
Director of Academic Success: Arts Program Specialist
Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Terrible puns!

Lovely literacy people:

Passing these on from my aunt, a retired English teacher. I rarely actually LOL, but a few of these got me.


1. Ratio of an igloo's circumference to its diameter = Eskimo Pi

2. 2000 pounds of Chinese Soup = Won ton

3. 1 millionth of a mouthwash = 1 microscope

4. Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement = 1

5. Weight an evangelist carries with God = 1 billigram

6. Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour =

7. 365.25 days of drinking low-calorie beer = 1 Lite year

8. 16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone = 1 Rod Serling

9. Half a large intestine = 1 semicolon

10. 1,000,000 aches = 1 megahurtz

11. Basic unit of laryngitis = 1 hoarsepower

12. Shortest distance between two jokes = a straight line

13. 2000 mockingbirds = two kilomockingbirds

14. 1 kilogram of falling figs = 1 Fig Newton

15. 1000 ccs of wet socks = 1 literhosen

16. 8 nickels = 2 paradigms

Monday, February 11, 2013

Connecting Start-ups with K-12 Educators!

I LOVE this concept! New York City and Virginia initiatives aim to bridge the gap between what products and services schools need and what companies are providing. Read on...

Competitions Connect Tech. Startups With K-12 Educators

N.Y.C., Virginia aim to inspire creation of better products

Premium article access courtesy of
Many education-technology developers are convinced they have great ideas. Many schools have great needs, and are convinced that technology can help meet them, if they can find the product or tool tailored to the challenges facing their students.
Now, some state and local education agencies are bringing an age-old concept—competitions—to unfamiliar environments and audiences in an effort to close what they see as a disconnect between ed-tech developers and schools. The goal is to encourage technology entrepreneurs and companies to think more closely about how they can craft products to meet the specific demands of schools, as opposed to coming up with devices that look or sound great in theory but are of little practical value to educators or students.
The architects of those technology competitions liken them to contests that have brought together public and private sector interests in other fields, such as science, aviation, and transportation, with the goal of producing innovations.
One of the most ambitious of those contests is being staged by Innovate NYC Schools, a program within New York City's department of education that has asked developers of apps, games, and devices to come up with their best ideas for tools that can help students conquer middle school math.

Ideas and Inspiration

That competition, called "The Gap App Challenge," is the first of what could be many such contests and activities meant to prod technology developers to build products that address the most pressing challenges facing schools, district officials say.
"There can be a moat, a communications gap, between the problems schools need to address, and the problems that vendors work on," said Steven Hodas, the executive director of Innovate NYC Schools. The goal is to prod developers to work "real problems" in schools, "that people will put real money toward solving."
Applications for the New York competition are due by April 10. Entrants can expect to be evaluated by judges with a strong understanding of school needs: A panel of teachers and principals will evaluate their work, along with a separate panel of city officials and others familiar with technology, media, and design.
Teachers and principals judging the competitors will have one question to ask, Mr. Hodas said: "Would I use this in my classrooms?"
New York City schools drew ideas and inspiration from a number of public- and private-sector competitions in piecing together the Gap App challenge, said David Weiner, the city schools' deputy chancellor for talent, labor, and innovation. Those contests included the X-Prize, a competition, focused on science, exploration, and other areas, and the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority's "App Quest" competition, designed to spawn technology tools that can help customers navigating through the city's massive public transportation system.
Individuals and companies submitting bids aren't competing for a lot of money: The winners, which will be announced later this year, will be eligible for a total of up to $104,000 in this round of the competition, and can receive technical support from sponsors of the competition. The Innovate NYC Schools program is supported through a $3 million Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and has received about $500,000 in private contributions, including foundations, Mr. Hodas said. The gap-app competition, he added, is funded through private sources.
The prize money isn't necessarily the biggest hook for developers to take part, Mr. Hodas said. All applicants in the competition will be considered for pilot projects to be conducted in schools within New York City's Innovation Zone, a network of more than 250 schools established to test and implement new ideas in teaching and learning.
New York City's school system is the nation's largest, serving 1.1 million students, and it has a yearly operating budget of about $20 billion. The competition is a break from the city schools' traditional process for procuring technology, one that tends to favor large companies capable of making polished pitches to officials and of serving large numbers of schools immediately, Mr. Weiner said. While that process typically draws companies responding to the school system's request for specific products, the competition is a more open-ended search for new ideas, and as such is likely to draw many more small entrepreneurs, he said.

Competition in Virginia

In Virginia, state officials are supporting a series of ed-tech competitions meant to address a different set of needs. One such contest, sponsored by the state and theCenter for Innovative Technology, is inviting individuals and businesses to create apps using at least one data set from the state's student longitudinal-data system, which collects academic, demographic, and other student data over time. A second contest asks high school students to come up with theoretical software applications using K-12 data. The state is awarding $25,000 in cash and prizes through its various tech competitions, with funding coming from the federal Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems grant program.
The competitions are designed to produce tools and ideas that will make education data more understandable and useful for educators, researchers, and the public, said Paul McGowan, the vice president of consulting services for the center, a Herndon, Va.-based nonprofit that supports technology-based economic development in the state.
In addition, the state has joined with the center to support "hackathons"—events in which computer programmers, designers, software developers, and others build software or other tools collaboratively—as well as competitions for startup ed-tech developers.
As with New York's gap-app challenge, one goal of the Virginia efforts is closing the disconnect between what ed-tech developers produce and what schools need, Mr. McGowan said.
"There isn't enough interaction and communication between the stakeholders—educators, developers, investors, entrepreneurs, and researchers. These groups simply don't talk to one another," Mr. McGowan said. "We wanted to get the word out—we've got the data" and invite developers to help the state and schools make wise use of it, he said.
"We know we're not the smartest people in the room," Mr. McGowan said. "We wanted to find the smart people, and have them apply their talents to our data."
While it's possible that competitions among developers could produce innovative and useful tools for schools, Elliot Soloway, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said that kind of payoff is a long shot. To succeed in serving K-12 schools, developers need a sophisticated knowledge of how schools operate and use curricula. That is knowledge they are not likely to gain from taking part in contests, he said.
"This is not a scalable, sustainable strategy," Mr. Soloway argued.
Time will tell. But for now, Chris Cooper, a Web developer in Glen Allen, Va., is an early beneficiary of those competitions. This past fall, Virginia's department of education and the center hosted four, 24-hour, simultaneous hackathons over a weekend.
A newcomer to hackathons, Mr. Cooper, attended an event in Richmond on a Friday, worked on his idea—a tool that uses demographic, academic, and other data to assess students' risks of dropping out—and went home for the evening, returning the next day to finish it. (Some of the hackathon entrants camped out at the various sites all night, center officials said.) Mr. Cooper was impressed with his competition—one idea called for a mobile app that helped donors locate Virginia classroom projects; another came up with a way to simplify queries that people use to search the data system.
But on Saturday, Mr. Cooper learned that his project, titled "Predictive Outcomes," had won a grand prize, worth $1,500. All told, more than $6,000 in prizes were awarded across the state.
Mr. Cooper, who owns a company called Daymuse Studios, said that when he has worked with K-12 systems in the past, he has occasionally grown frustrated when his proposals to improve school technology systems don't mesh with the desires of district technology staff. "You're kind of competing with their internal services," he said.
He said that competitions like the hackathon could encourage developers who had never considered producing tools for K-12 systems to give it a look.
"You think of education as a government institution that's always behind the ball," Mr. Cooper said. But the competition, he said, sends a signal to developers who would "love to apply their skills to areas that aren't for profit."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

When Lessons Go (Terribly) Wrong...

Lesson plans sometimes fail. It happens to all teachers. But how can teachers quickly modify lesson plans for the next class? This video—presented as part of a new partnership arrangement with the Teaching Channel—offers some tips.


Part of a new editorial partnership, this page features a weekly selection from the Teaching Channel, a nonprofit organization that provides high-quality videos on inspiring and effective teaching practices. Watch and share with colleagues.


LESSON IDEA (COMMON CORE) When a Lesson Goes Wrong (16 min)
Grades 9-12 / ELA / Analysis

Lesson plans sometimes fail. It happens to all teachers. But how can teachers quickly modify lesson plans for the next class? This video offers some tips, using a high school English class as an example.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

We want more money!

With budgets tight, states must link teacher pay to student achievement, Eric A. Hanushek writes.

Why Educators' Wages Must Be Revamped Now

Premium article access courtesy of
It is no secret that some school districts spend their money better than others. One can easily find groups of districts with the same student demographics and with the same expenditure levels producing very different levels of student achievement. Put another way, some (many?) districts are spending more than they need to spend, based on what other districts show is possible. Economists would summarize this as indicating the existence of considerable inefficiency in the operation of schools. But does this excess spending imply that we can simply cut back on spending without harming students?
This surely is a key question that will come up this spring in statehouses across the nation as they face another tough budget year. District officials, if they are wise, will not just rely on the same old belt-tightening maneuvers. Indeed, perhaps the only viable option is seriously addressing policies toward educator salaries.
To put the issue in perspective, let's start with some basic history about the budgetary picture for schools. The recession of 2008 was a rude shock to state and local governments, and especially to schools. Coming off a century of continuous growth in spending per pupil, districts were slow to adjust to the possibility that the revenue collapse might actually put them on a more perilous spending path.
Initially, they were saved from tough decisions. The federal government, faced with a weakened overall economy, charged in to make up for fiscal shortfalls of school districts through a stimulus package designed to get the macroeconomy moving again. This package provided a bridge that kept spending in most states from falling at the pace of lost revenues.
In the 2009-10 school year (the latest with available data), when the stimulus was in full swing, the overall story was still not rosy. State and local revenues per pupil fell in real terms in 39 states. When federal stimulus dollars were added, overall real spending per pupil still declined in 23 states.

— Mathis
Moreover, the stimulus package was explicitly a temporary fix that was designed to end quickly—and it did. To the extent that they thought about it, most states and districts implicitly presumed that, as the stimulus funds were phased out, their own funds would return, and that they could then resume on their prior path. For that reason, in many states, the initial response after the stimulus money stopped flowing was largely to try to do what had been done before the recession and to wait out the storm.
The shock came after the stimulus went away. Even as state revenues began to recover, school spending generally did not return to its previous trajectory.
In reality, state and local revenues continue to be slow to recover, and states have found themselves facing deficits (many of which are illegal, according to state constitutions). Given overall state demands, a number of states are dealing with deficits by allowing school spending to fall. Moreover, most projections suggest that general fiscal pressures on schools are likely to last for some time.
A first response has been to resist any spending decreases, generally arguing that schools should be exempt from fiscal shocks. For some, this resistance has included going to court (e.g., in New Jersey and Kansas) to argue that reduced funding violates established state constitutional requirements for providing students with an adequate education. Nonetheless, a majority of the states have simply fought out their funding battles in their legislatures—with few states returning to the spending growth of the past.
This leads back to the simple question: Isn't it possible that forced spending reductions will make the education system more efficient? Since there is spending in many districts that is not contributing much to student learning, can't we simply squeeze out this inefficiency by cutting the funding to schools?
Although we do not have a definitive answer to that question, my response is most likely no.
If school districts had a line item in their budgets for "waste, fraud, and abuse," we could just reduce that to deal with the budget pressures. Unfortunately, we do not find such itemized inefficiency.
It is possible, as the Council of the Great City Schools has convincingly done, to document wide differences in costs of various management functions, ranging from finance operations and procurement, to safety and security, to transportation. Many of these differences are large enough to explore further, but acting on them is unlikely to solve long-term fiscal problems, since each is a relatively small budget item.
"The only way that efficiency will be significantly improved is by strengthening the relationship between salaries and performance."
The big money still resides in instructional personnel, meaning mainly administrators and teachers. Salary and benefits funding for instructional employees represents the largest spending area in the typical district, bringing to mind the old Willie Sutton adage about robbing banks "because that's where the money is." The case for inspecting this spending, however, runs much deeper.
First, as is widely recognized, teachers and principals have the largest impact on student performance, implying leverage on the achievement side of the efficiency equation. Second, numerous studies have shown that teacher pay based on degrees and experience is unrelated to teacher effectiveness, implying leverage on the cost side of the efficiency equation. Addressing issues of inefficiency almost certainly demands addressing the fact that salaries, and by implication, total compensation paid by schools, are unrelated to student outcomes.
Dealing with either side of this efficiency equation has no historic precedent, and districts are unlikely to focus on these issues just because funding is cut. Partly because of existing state labor and education laws, these issues are often simply not on the table even in times of fiscal stress. Yet, that is not the full story, because even when these constraints are not binding, we see little systematic movement toward rationalizing instructional spending and performance.
A number of states have moved forward by at least eliminating pure LIFO—last in, first out—rules for reductions in the teaching force, which are designed to protect more-experienced teachers during layoffs. Wisconsin got the bulk of the publicity for its work on this front, but Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, and others have also opened the way for decisions more closely related to teacher performance. These states have taken the first necessary steps of reducing teacher-tenure guarantees and calling for better evaluations of teachers and administrators.
These actions, however, will probably be insufficient. There is considerable inertia in local districts. There are contracts that restrict action. There is resistance from teachers' unions. There is little experience or political will to change.
And there is the final defense of the status quo: "Surely reform would cost money, and we do not have it." But, yes, districts do have it. They are currently spending money in ways unrelated to achievement, and rform means ending that, not just adding on to what was done before.
The only way that efficiency will be significantly improved is by strengthening the relationship between salaries and performance. Currently, we dramatically underpay our best teachers while dramatically overpaying our worst. Efficient policies imply paying significantly more to the best teachers—not just giving small, temporary bonuses for student achievement—to keep them in the classroom longer. Additionally, it probably also means having them teach more students, because dealing with tighter budgets and paying significantly higher salaries will most likely require slightly larger class sizes. At the other end of the performance spectrum, we cannot reduce the pay of the worst teachers enough, and we simply must move them out of the classroom. The impact of the small numbers of unacceptably ineffective teachers is disproportionately large and represents a huge drain on both achievement and finances.
These are not things that happen easily or automatically. As we embark on a new budget season, we should not delude ourselves that just cutting school budgets will lead districts to a new, more efficient place. Left to their own devices, districts are much more likely to do what they have always done, but on a somewhat restricted scale. This path will lead neither to more efficiency nor to better results—and in fact could significantly harm students.
Improving outcomes—either with fewer or more resources—requires significant change. It will be virtually impossible to get such change without active state policies that push for the alignment of salary budgets with classroom performance.
Vol. 32, Issue 20, Pages 28-29, 31