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Top Stories for Thursday 9/25

Students Coding for a Purpose

HFOSS project creates “software for humanity”. HechReport

Nashville Parents Fight School Closings

PAC pushes back on Dir. of Schools. EdNews

Teaching with Banned Books

Teachers demonstrate the value of banned books. HuffPost

Lessen Standardized Testing?

US Rep and supts. drive to reduce standardized testing. PBS

Clinton Voices Opinion on Charter Schools

Former Pres. Bill Clinton advises charter schools to step up. HuffPost

Broad prize pulse

Broad Prize: Two for One

A pair of finalists take home foundation’s top prize.
By Wayne D'Orio

When the finalists were announced for this year’s Broad Prize, it was somewhat of a letdown. Instead of the typical four or five districts battling for the unofficial title of best urban district, there were only two: Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and Orange County Public Schools in Florida.

That mood shifted when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made the announcement in New York Monday, saying, “I feel like Santa Claus. We have two winners.”

The tie was a first in the foundation’s 13-year history; the two districts will split the $1 million award. And it was Gwinnett’s second victory, newly eligible again after winning the prize in 2010.

Interestingly, while the districts have similar profiles, they took different paths to success.

Gwinnett has some of the most stable leadership in the country. Not only has superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks led the district for 18 years, but the most junior member on the district’s five-person board has nine years experience. The tenure of the longest-serving board member even predates Wilbanks, stretching back to the 1970s. The district’s steady progress netted it the highest SAT participation rate among the 75 Broad Prize-eligible districts, and its students had one of the top AP participation rates.

Orange County’s progress has been more dramatic. The district’s low-income middle school students showed improvement in reaching the highest achievement levels in state tests. In reading, student scores rose 6 percentage points at the highest levels, compared to 1 percentage point of growth for the rest of the state. The district also narrowed the achievement gap between Hispanic students and white students in elementary, middle, and high schools in both math and science.

“We wrestled with performance versus improvement,” said former Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell, a member of the prize’s selection jury. “We were impressed with Gwinnett County’s steady, sustainable gains and with Orange County’s urgency and commitment to improve student achievement quickly.”

Gwinnett has about 170,000 students and spends $7,548 per pupil. The district has 55 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 16 percent English language learners. Orange County has 187,000 students and spends $7,965 per student. Sixty percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, while 13 percent are designated as English language learners.

Advice from Tony Blair, Arne Duncan

Held at Time Warner in New York’s Columbus Circle, the Broad Prize event drew a large crowd of top education leaders, including former education secretary Rod Paige, Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Philadelphia superintendent William Hite, and Teach For America’s Wendy Kopp.

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair kicked off the event by remembering the struggles he faced when he started to reform Britain’s worst-performing schools. “I think the toughest thing you can do in life is to take a system in the public sector and make the changes and improve it.”

“When you first propose change, people resist it,” he said. “When you are doing it, it's hell, and when you are through doing it, you wish you did more of it.”

Blair joked that Britain and the United States had “a disagreement a couple of hundred of years ago,” but added that both countries “learn best when we learn from each other.”

Duncan spoke next, and he recounted vignettes from his recent three-day bus tour through the South. The secretary marveled at the hardships some children overcome to continue their education. He spoke of children fighting to be the first in their family to graduate high school. “They have amazing potential to do well if we meet them halfway,” Duncan said, praising the teachers, principals, and counselors he has met.

“I’m hopeful about where we are going. Graduation rates are at an all-time high, half a million more African-Americans are in college—we’ve made huge amounts of progress. Yet we come to work every single day because we are not getting good enough fast enough.”

Publicly available data from 2009 to 2013 was used to screen districts this year. Districts can’t apply or be nominated for the award; the 75 largest districts that serve significant percentages of low-income students are automatically considered.

Photos (from left): Invision for The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation/AP Images; John Raoux/AP Photo

Top Stories for Wednesday 9/24

Denver Students Walkout to Protest Curriculum Changes
Resistance builds to reviewing AP History course. Chalkbeat

Hillary Backs Girls Ed Worldwide
New initiative will earmark $600M for 14M girls in next 5 years. Time

Did AYP Actually Improve Results?
Study attributes better scores to NCLB accountability. EdWeek

Beating Back Poverty
New book highlights Cristo Rey Network's success. Forbes

Wealthy Kids Smarter Web Surfers?
New report says so, but finds all students lack online literacy. NYTimes

Top_PD mistakes

PD Mistakes to Avoid in the New School Year

By Alvin Crawford

This summer at the NEA Representative Assembly in Denver, we met a lot of teachers—representing the 3 million educators nationwide. We asked them, “How many hours of professional development does it take to change your practice?” Staying true to the rampant culture of testing we live in, we offered multiple-choice answers:

a. 1 hour
b. 8 hours
c. 50 hours

Among the responses: “If it’s good PD, one hour.” Or, “I’m guessing eight hours.” 

Quite a few of the more experienced teachers nodded and said, “Of course, 50 hours.” They’re right; according to the research it takes 50 hours of PD to change practice. And, according to Teaching the Teachers from the Center for Public Education, it takes, on average, “twenty…separate instances of practice for a teacher to master a new skill, and this number may increase if a skill is exceptionally complex.”

College- and career-ready standards, like the Common Core, are challenging the status quo in the U.S. We hear the frustration of parents who struggle to help their second graders with math homework. We hear from teachers about the lack of training they’ve received on implementing these standards. Now more than ever, professional development is critical to achieve a transformation in teaching and learning.

How do we make the seismic shift needed for change when teachers feel the intense pressure in this era of accountability and testing? 

To start, there are a few PD mistakes we can avoid going into this school year:

  1. Reconsider the One- to Two-Day Workshop: These workshops are easy to plan and great for filling seats during in-service days, but PD experts suggest they have little to no impact on teacher practice. Think about ways to engage teachers in more active, collegial learning that goes deeper than traditional butts-in-seats practice.

    Solution: Think about approaches like lesson study or intensive PD initiatives supported by ongoing coaching.

  2. Reset Your PD Approach and Go Deep: As referenced in Elizabeth Green’s New York Times Magazine article “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?,” we have a habit of not prioritizing PD time. Research says it takes 50 hours or more on a specific content or pedagogy to change teacher practice, so we actually need to plan to respect and value time for ongoing PD. This is critical if we are to see students succeed.

    Solution: Allocate time each week for ongoing professional learning for your teachers. Get creative with how you do it—lesson study meets virtual community of practice meets online courses; 1:1 coaching over extended periods of time.

  3. Scale Your Initiatives for Impact: Districts struggle with scaling professional development for big initiatives. If you do only face-to-face PD, think about how long it will take to establish a common language and understanding for all the teachers in your district. This poses a challenge for ensuring every child is getting the same quality of education.

    Solution: Consider online and blended PD and virtual communities of practice to scale PD district-wide. If other industries can do it, so can we.

  4. Create Real PLCs: If you have professional learning communities in your district—congratulations! This is a major step toward a change in practice. Unfortunately, many districts don’t, or they have a PLC in name only. Train your principals and coaches how to lead PLCs and get started immediately. It’s important that teachers engage in ongoing, collaborative professional learning that creates meaningful approaches to solving the needs of each school.

    Solution: Empower your teachers to learn from one another. They are your greatest resource, your most valued asset.

  5. Avoid Test Prep: We focus too much on evaluation and accountability in the U.S. with very little actual support for teachers. In our culture of testing, we tend to put an emphasis on test prep, rather than on developing teachers for teaching more effectively.

    Solution: Rethink the goal of this year’s assessment results. In light of transition to college and career standards, like the Common Core, use this year’s results as a benchmark for your PD efforts, rather than as solely an evaluative measure of your teachers. This will take the pressure off teachers when it comes to test results and will allow them to focus on how to more effectively support student learning—and that’s something we can all get behind.

Alvin Crawford is president and CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS), a leading provider of blended and online professional learning solutions for K–12 school districts and educators. With more than 20 years of experience in education and media, he is dedicated to building innovative, transformative professional development solutions that support teachers and districts.

Creating On Demand PD

One of the biggest trends in education the last few years has been the push to differentiate learning for the various students in each classroom. With technology’s help, teachers are now able to more easily assign tasks that challenge each student to do his or her best, no matter the student’s level of proficiency. School Improvement Network thought so much of this trend that it is trying to bring it to teachers’ professional learning.

SIN’s new service, Edivation, includes videos, courses, and lesson plans that teachers or administrators can review on their own, creating personal learning plans that cater to specific skills. Educators can access content from any computer or mobile device.

“Since launching on-demand video resources in 2007, our offerings have expanded to include management tools, online groups and communities, lesson plans and comprehensive implementation support,” says Chet D. Linton, CEO and president of School Improvement Network. “Edivation was created as a new technology platform to support these resources and to help educators become as effective as possible.”

The service is available for $4,995 for one year, or for $3,995 per year with a five-year contract.

 

-Kim Greene

Top Stories for Tuesday 2/25

Is Your Data Protected?
Group works to establish best practices for student data. Hechinger Report

Why One Mother Took the SAT 7 Times
What does it take to get a perfect score—and is it worth it? The Atlantic

Should Elementary School Teachers Specialize?
Departmentalization on the rise in younger grades. Education Week

Minnesota Takes on the Achievement Gap
The surprising ways the state is using their NCLB waiver. Education Week

 

Top Stories for Tuesday 1/14

Congress to Lose Major Education Reform Advocate
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to retire. Education Week

School Violence Lands More Than 90,000 a Year in the ER
Study unveils continued school safety issues. NBC News

Judge Approves End of Arkansas Desegregation Funds
Payments will continue through the 2017-18 school year. The New York Times

What Will Universal PreK Look Like in New York?
Ambitious—but ambiguous—plans from de Blasio and Cuomo. Hechinger Report

Jay Mathews Takes on Diane Ravitch
Disagree, maybe. Listen? Absolutely. The Washington Post

Top Stories for Friday 11/22

A Third of Schools Saw Scores Fall After Getting Federal Grants
But is it too soon to draw conclusions from the numbers? The Huffington Post

Say Goodbye to Algebra II
Why Texas is dropping the graduation requirement. Education Week

Competition in the Classroom May Not Be a Good Thing
How Japan’s school system could serve as a cautionary tale. The Atlantic

Who Controls U.S. Textbooks?
Why special interest groups are being accused of interference. The Huffington Post

California Concedes to Education Department
Agrees to move forward with new standardized tests. SCPR

Top Stories for Friday 11/8

D.C. and Tennessee Rise to the Top
States post huge gains in math and reading. Hechinger Report

Get Your GED Before January
Rush is on for test-takers to finish before new tests takeover. The Huffington Post

The Most Misunderstood Person in Education
A look at the large and complex roles of school principals. The Atlantic

How Do You Define Grit?
Teachers weigh in on identifying grit. Hechinger Report

Playground Fight
Why some schools are pushing back against move to trim recess. NPR

Top Stories for Tuesday 10/29

Are America’s Copyright Laws Holding Students Back?
Why reading textbooks are so out-of-date. The Atlantic

LA Wants Deasy to Stay
LA Unified Board says Deasy’s upcoming evaluation will be positive. LA School Report

Teaching in Memphis: Is Memphis the Best City in America to Teach In?
That depends on who you talk to. Hechinger Report

New Jersey Exams Leaked
District cancels testing after anonymous  online leak. The New York Times

What Color Is a Great School?
States experiment with new school grading systems. The Washington Post 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.