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Reading from the CFT desk: #CFTrecommendations

April 21, 2014

Below are some recommendations for reading that you might want to add to your list.

  • Teachers are Losing Their Jobs, but Teach for America is expanding.  What’s wrong with that?, Hechinger Report
    • This piece explores the issue surrounding the investment by foundations and the federal government into Teach for America, while cutting back funding for salary increases and professional development of experienced teachers.  Granted foundations cannot invest in faculty salary increases, but they could invest more resources into teacher professional development.  Is the heavy investment into TFA paying off for our students?  The data is confusing at best.  “Burned out and disillusioned!”  (American Scholar)  12 out of 16 TFA Recruits Leave City Schools.  (New Haven Independent)
  • Khan Academy, Open Ed. Providers Evolve with the Common Core, Education Week
    • Some are excited about organizations like Khan Academy getting into alignment of their materials to the Common Core, other educators urge a dose of caution as schools think of investing into these platforms.  The good thing about Khan is that their resources are free to users.  “I like what they do, says Barbara Kurshan, “but I think the education community has to be very careful that they don’t assume it’s a panacea.”  Are claims by Khan of Common Core alignment using high-end software solutions valid and reproducible?
  • Using the Arts to Turn Schools Around, Harvard Education Review
    • If you think about turning STEM into STEAM (A=Arts) then you want to read this piece in HEL.  The article looks at a successful experiment at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Boston, MA.  It is a Turnaround Arts School.  “The President’s Committee’s Turnaround Arts initiative, created in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council, is a public-private partnership designed to help transform some the nation’s lowest performing schools through comprehensive and integrated arts education.” (website quote)  Integrating arts into other disciplines helps to deepen the learning (Steve Seidel from HGSE)
  • Going to Scale with Teacherpreneurs, Phi DeltaKappan, April 2014
    • Investing in teacher leadership benefits students.  Successful schools need dynamic collaboration.  Principals can’t do it alone.  Top performing countries invest in teacher leaders.   Creating a system that supports teacherpreneurs who become invested in their schools, leading the way.  This article provides a vision and the reasons for implementing it.

Politicizing #commoncore takes focus off quality education!

April 21, 2014

The divisive politics surrounding the national debate about the efficacy of the Common Core has done little to advance the reasonable and informed dialogue we need to have regarding challenging issues in K-12 education.  With regard to the Common Core, we should be talking about how to implement it with fidelity and how to adequately train teachers so they can be effective agents of the implementation.  This piece in the New York Times, Republicans See Political Wedge in the Common Core, written by Jonathan Martin, highlights how the politics focus on sabotaging any productive conversation.

Consider the following quote from Martin’s article:

Conservatives denounce it as “Obamacore,” in what has become a surefire applause line for potential presidential hopefuls

The reason for instituting a “common core” set of national standards was to bring into greater alignment the diverse curricula and expectations across the different states.  The idea was to use a standards-based reform approach that involved all states in the United States.  The initiative was sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  As of January 15, 2013, Texas and Alaska are the only states that are not members of the initiative.  Nebraska and Virginia are members but have decided not to adopt the standards. Minnesota rejected the Common Core Standards for mathematics, but accepted the English/Language Arts standards. The standards were adopted in Indiana, but implementation has since been rejected by the Republican Governor, Mike Pence (click here).  Legislation to repeal Common Core Standards has been initiated in Alabama.  There is a public debate going on right now as to whether national standards are an effective means to increase student achievement in the US.

Progressive politicians seem to favor the development and implementation of the CCS, as well as the national assessments developed to test students’ mastery of the standards.  While conservative politicians see the standards movement as too much federal intrusion what should be a state’s matter.  However, there are politicians on both sides of the aisle that struggle with a focus on testing the mastery of a set of standards at a national level.

There is no question that our education system in the United States is “failing” many of our students so we need a major overhaul of No Child Left Behind and our over-reliance on high-stakes testing to measure student achievement in school.  Over the past 12 years, these efforts have done very little to improve the overall quality of education for all students.

Another interesting quote:

The Republican revolt against the Common Core can be traced to President Obama’s embrace of it, particularly his linking the adoption of similar standards to states’ eligibility for federal education grants and to waivers from No Child Left Behind, the national education law enacted by President George W. Bush.

Why should someone’s position on the validity of the Common Core be linked to the opinion of someone else?  I would argue this is absurd.  One’s position on the Common Core should be grounded in whether the framework is a valid mechanism for improving all students’ preparation to compete in a global society.  Rest assured, if states do not adopt national standards of excellence, they will have to create their own state standards, as in the past.  I think one could argue that many states, especially those in the south, have failed in their ability to design and implement a rigorous set of standards in the past.  To understand the failure of many states to adequately educate their students all we need to do is look at their abysmal high school graduation rates (click here).  It is unacceptable that in many states we leave behind nearly 25-40% of our students.  Indiana, which recently rejected the Common Core and will develop its own state standards, only graduates about 77% of students from high school.  That translates into a C+.  Should they be trusted to develop standards that are more rigorous or better than the Common Core?  I would be highly dubious.   With Tea Party politics pushing out misinformation about the Common Core, I wonder if typical citizens of Indiana actually understand what their politicians are doing.

Here are a set of facts that ALL Americans ought to know about the Common Core Standards (CCS):

  • Standards are only in Math and English Language Arts
  • CCS were designed by experts in the field and vetted by teams of experts.
  • CCS were designed using a large body of scholarly research on knowledge and skills students need to know for the 21st Century.
  • The federal government was not involved in creating the CCS.
  • The CCS requires teachers to cover the curriculum in a deeper fashion rather than cover broader set of content standards.
  • While the CCS emphasize the development of skills and the process of learning, they also place a high degree of importance on the content to be covered at each grade level.
  • The CCSs establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach.  Schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standard.

Another quote from Martin’s article:

Mr. Jindal’s position (Governor of Louisiana who is now against the CCS), a reversal for him, shows how quickly conservative opposition has grown. He recently announced his support for a bill that would remove Louisiana from the Common Core, on the same day the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which supports the program, released a video featuring his earlier endorsement of it.

I don’t understand how you can be a supporter of major legislation like the CCS one day and the next day you are signing bills to remove your state from the Common Core.  In my view, this further indicates the negative impact of political pressure on a reasonable and informed dialogue.  If you truly understand the seven facts listed above, you don’t just flip your position because a political party pressures you to follow their lead.  What is in the best interest of ALL students, even those who start out being educated in your state but move to a different state to continue their education?  That question should be driving the leadership, conversation and the decisions being made.  Let’s point out that Louisiana graduates only 69% of its high school students.  Thirty-one percent are left behind by an inadequate education system.  If  you live in Louisiana, do you trust Bobby Jidal to lead a state-sponsored development of educational standards better than the Common Core.  Their track record is poor at best (D+).

Finally, there is this quote:

It is not just conservatives who have turned against the Common Core: The leaders of major teachers unions are also pushing back because of the new, more difficult tests aligned to the standards that are being used to evaluate both students and teachers.

Common Core Standards are a GPS to guide schools and districts as they design and develop rigorous, interesting and relevant curriculum in math and language arts.  We need to address the assessment issues surrounding the Common Core as a separate but related issue.  The CCS are relevant regardless of how we choose to assess their mastery by students.  We first have to decide whether the relentless high-stakes assessment programs we pursue, both philosophically and economically, are paying off.  History would suggest that the testing corporations are raking in loads of money at the expense of an educational system that is not improving as a result of the administration of these expensive programs.  Why don’t we give school and districts more local control of  CCS assessment?  Do we really believe they will do a less effective job?  When good teachers know their students and their curriculum well, their assessment of student learning is richer and more accurate than any high-stakes, multiple-choice test.  Get assessment out of the hands of corporations that want to make a profit.  See other posts from the Center for Teaching on assessment and teacher evaluation (click here).

After reading this article and thinking about school reform on a regular basis, here are my thoughts about the current state of affairs with regard to the Common Core.

  • The CCS are well written and cover essential skills students need for being a well-rounded student.
  • Implementation of the CCS requires excellent training of teachers, many of whom feel as though they have not received adequate training.
  • Successful implementation of the CCS requires bold leadership on the part of principals and district leaders.
  • The conversation about high-stakes tests measuring mastery of the standards should be separated from any decision about whether the standards are robust.  While linked, the standards should stand on their own.
  • Politicians should not be trusted when pushing one position or another with regard to the standards.  Their motives get in the way of honest conversation about the standards’ value.  Also, they are ill-equipped to make informed decisions and generally use information that is not accurate.

Put decision-making about national education standards in the hands of a state or district panel or task force that is composed of researchers, educators, developmental psychologists and school administrators.  Leave politicians off to the side until there is a request to fund initiatives designed to promote successful adoption of the standards.  Get the politics out of the conversation for the good of ALL students and teachers.


This 3 minute video gives a good introduction to why the Common Core Standards are a valuable initiative.



Myths versus facts of the Common Core Standards (click here)

About the standards (click here)

Edutopia has compiled a set of resources on the Common Core Standards (click here)

Achieve the Core is an official website with good resources on CCS (click here)

Article by Kenneth Chang in New York Times, With Common Core, Fewer Topics but Covered More Rigorously

Caution and the Common Core, a NY Times editorial

Whose Minding the Schools?  NY Times article, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, June 8, 2013

Why States are backing out on common standards and tests? The Hechinger Report, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, August 15, 2013

Common Core Standards: Are we on the right track? Center for Teaching Blog post, Robert Ryshke, August 12, 2013

Ed Secretary Defends Common Core: Feds didn’t write, approve or mandate them, Get Schooled, Maureen Downey, June 26, 2013

Cobb sets back Common Core and possibly state, Get Schooled, Maureen Downey, May 14, 2013

Common Core Standards Already Being Taught Despite Political Controversy, Survey Shows, Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits, August 7, 2013

States Rollout of the Common Core Goes Under the Microscope, Education Week, April 15, 2014


Get to know a #teacher for an #evaluation to be meaningful!

April 17, 2014

In a recent Education Week, Stephen Sawchuk wrote a piece, Tenn Teachers Union Takes Evaluation Fight Into the Courtroom, about the lawsuit that is challenging the legality of the value-added formula used in Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system.  After reading the article, I was left with the question: will our fixation on teacher accountability through the use of students’ achievement test scores on high-stakes standardized tests backfire?  In our haste to evaluate teachers I believe we have truly lost our way.  We seem to be like a ship without a rudder or a captain without a compass.  We have lost touch with the human side of teaching.  Are our principals and school leaders taking time to think whether they know their teachers well or whether they understand how to give effective, targeted, and growth-oriented feedback to teachers?  Would there be a need for value-added measures (VAM) of effectiveness if school leaders knew their school’s curricula well and understood how each of his or her teachers were going about designing an engaging and effective learning experience for all students?  I believe the answer to this question is that VAM would be unnecessary!

Think about this passage (click here) from the Ohio Department of Education regarding value-added measurements (VAM).

Value-added analysis is a statistical method that helps educators measure the impact schools and teachers have on students’ academic progress rates from year to year.  All Value-Added measures are not the same. In fact, Value-Added measures differ from state to state. Ohio has been careful to select a Value-Added measure that provides educators with information on how they can use data to focus instruction.

“All Value-Added measures are not the same,” how arbitrary does that make VAM if states take the liberty of defining value-added differently.  Shouldn’t good teaching in Ohio be measured similarly to good-teaching in any other state?  I mean if we believe it is important to have a common set of standards for learning that are the same across all states (Common Core), why not use criteria for measuring teacher effectiveness that are the same across all states.  The research on what it takes to be a good teacher is reasonably compelling and rich with suggestions.  Most importantly, we don’t need long checklists to define and evaluate good teaching.  See a previous post from the Center for Teaching on VAM (click here).

Should student feedback be a part of a comprehensive and effective evaluation/feedback system?  I certainly think so and in my conversations with other educators I find most people agree with that.  However, we have to include the voices of teachers in the conversation, as well as in their own evaluation.  The Center for Teaching posted a piece entitled, How do you measure good teaching?

We can do this work well if our vision is not clouded over by state or federal politics.  One thing is for certain, if the evaluation and feedback systems we design are not “human-centered” at their core, they will fail to change our profession.  Our goal should be how we guarantee a good teacher in every child’s classroom.  It can be done!

Other resources on supervision and evaluation:

Faculty Evaluation and Supervision, a Personal Story: Opus 1

A View from the Experts on Teacher Evaluation: Opus 2

Effective Supervision and Evaluation: The Self-Reflective Process

Teachers Crave Meaningful Feedback and Want to Learn!

Teaching: Is it Art or Not?


Are children born to be taught or born to learn?

April 12, 2014

Is this be a fundamental question that should guide our approach to designing 21st Century schools?  If the answer to the question is students are born to be taught, then we will design school, curriculum, space and schedules, according to the needs of educators.  Being taught implies that students are “passive bystanders” who pass through the system and get filled with knowledge.  Of course, students come to school to “learn” but how and what they learn is determined by teachers and outside curriculum development experts.  Consequently, what we determine students need to learn may not be relevant or connected to their experience, interests, or learning profiles.  Curriculum, space and schedules align to teachers’ needs not those of students.

On the other hand, if students are born to learn, then presumably we would put them at the center of the action.  Instead of being passive participators, students would be partners in the creation of a learning experience.  Curriculum would be designed with their experience, interests, and learning profiles in mind.  Schedules would be designed according to their developmental needs.  Learning spaces would be created that were engaging, flexible, and matched the type of learning experience in which they found themselves.  We wouldn’t design fixed learning spaces because each learning event, adapted to student interests and needs, would be unique requiring flexible spaces that could adjust to meet the demands of the learning.

Some would read this and suggest that the vision is soft and playful, rather than hard and rigorous.  Not so!  In creating learning experiences where students are required to think critically and creatively, problem find and problem solve in developmentally challenging situations, and demonstrate the understanding and skills they acquired, students would have to grapple with relevant and interesting content.  Exciting and relevant curriculum delivered in interesting and flexible learning spaces does not have to be anything less than rigorous.

In a study conducted by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, they surveyed thousands of high school students regarding their engagement in school and found that 66% of students were bored with school on a regular basis.  Researchers were careful to select a student population that was representative.  So if two-thirds of students find school boring on a regular basis should we expect to graduate children who are creative, innovative, and ready to engage in the 21st Century economy and workplace?  I doubt it.  We need to rethink schooling by envisioning students as “born to learn,” not “born to be taught.”  A simple shift in mindset might result in the creation of more interesting schools that strive to meet the needs of ALL students.


Where does #dance come into this story of #innovation? A surprising ending!

April 8, 2014

Hugh Herr, an MIT professor and avid rock climber, lost his legs in 1982 as a result of frostbite from a rock climbing accident.  He is leading the effort to revolutionize bionic limb prototypes so that we no longer think about people who have lost limbs as being disabled.  His goal is to eradicate the idea that people who face challenging physical issues should be labelled as “disabled.”  Disabled is a result of technology that has yet to catch up to the needs humans have to realize their full potential.  In the first few minutes of his talk, I quickly realized that someone without the use of both “natural” legs could go places and do things that I could only dream of doing.  Amazing is the only word that comes to mind as I watched his innovative vision unfold.

While the first part of Dr. Herr’s talk is captivating and inspiring, I wondered where does the “dance” part of his talk’s title come into play.  Well, it’s the ending that tells the whole story.  If you are easily brought to tears then wait until the ending.  I am not easily brought to tears, but yesterday afternoon I was.  Enjoy his story, no doubt you will love the ending.


Making #mistakes can be healthy for #learning in school

April 1, 2014
The importance of getting that A+!

The importance of getting that A+!


On Edutopia’s Social and Emotional Blog, a recent piece, Teaching Students to Embrace Mistakes, was written by Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien. Thinking of some of our Design Teams in Atlanta K12 Design Challenge (@AK12DC), exploring the idea of how to change school culture so that parents, students and teachers think differently about the value of making mistakes on the learning journey.  Other Design Teams are working on challenges that involve student learning, their motivation and engagement. Engaging a student is about helping him or her first feel safe in their learning space, freeing him or her up from the pressure of being right, having the right answer, or pleasing parents, teachers and schools with good grades. If we want them to embrace mistakes we have to do two things: (1) remodel for them that mistakes are part of learning; and (2) create structures that do not penalize students for making mistakes. This will be a tall order for schools built on a feedback system that is about organizing students on a scale from failing to succeeding.  If any of us are put on a scale from failing to succeeding and reminded daily of our position, then we too would struggle embracing mistakes as part of learning.  Let’s put ourselves into our “students shoes,” experience what they experience when it comes to constantly being graded and put on a scale.  Who likes that?  We shouldn’t be surprised by the results of our actions.  But we can change the culture in our schools if we rethink our assessment and grading policies and practices.  Are you ready?


What do teachers think about the value of #designthinking #ak12dc

March 29, 2014

Here is what 85 teachers valued most about the design thinking process they learned over the course of five months @AK12DC.  With the help of a facilitator from Stanford’s we took them through the entire design thinking process.  They engaged in empathy, they developed point-of-view statements, they ideated their POVs, they prototyped their ideas and tested them with some users.  The Wordle below illustrates how they responded to the question: which 2-3 skills or activities from the January 14 Design Challenge Workshop or the March 21-22 Design Summit have been of most value or benefit to you?  Teachers learned so much by gaining empathy with the users they interviewed at their schools.  The eleven schools in Atlanta K12 Design Challenge selected different users to interview.  Some interviewed students, teachers, parents, or outside community members.  Regardless of who they interviewed, a great deal was learned about the challenge a school’s design team wanted to address by gaining empathy with their user.  In schools, to solve our most challenging problems, we need to go directly to our “users” and learn about their experience at our school.

Results of teacher responses to what they valued most.

Results of teacher responses to what they valued most.


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