The Education Innovator
Volume IX, No. 9
Archived Information

The Education Innovator
 December 7, 2010 • Number 9
    PDF version (382K)  Share this page Share this page
  Past issues
Editor's Note:
This is the final edition of The Education Innovator for 2010.

What's inside...
Transforming Education with Web-based Curricular and Instructional Resources
  • Special Report: Unleashing Technology's Full Potential to Transform Education

What's New
Innovations in the News

Transforming Education with Web-based Curricular and Instructional Resources
Most students are told to leave their cell phones and gaming devices at the schoolhouse door, but some schools are handing them out as students enter the classroom. Clearly, technology can motivate students, and it can deliver huge amounts of content as well as interact with students to assess what they know and what they need to learn. Technology can connect learners within a classroom or around the world. With it, teachers share their expertise and skills and reach out to experts. And technology can bridge information gaps between parents and community stakeholders with schools.

Schools that use technology effectively to support teacher collaboration, to facilitate personalized learning, and to nurture a community of learners have been found to improve student learning, especially among traditionally disadvantaged groups, according to Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. The office compared such schools with others that were also using technology (97 percent of schools reported being connected to the Internet in 2008), just not effectively. A recent survey download files PDF [2.56MB] of teachers by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that more than half of them thought that they had not received the training necessary to use technology effectively.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, addressing the State Directors of Education Technology programs at their conference this past month, succinctly assessed the challenge: "We're at an important transition point ... getting ready to move from a predominately print-based classroom to a digital learning environment." The Secretary expressed optimism that America's education system can make the critical transition because he has observed states and districts beginning to act.

Success nationwide can be supported by a solid plan of action, which Secretary Duncan used the occasion of the State Education Technology Directors' forum to announce. The National Education Technology Plan lays out a comprehensive vision for how teachers working with technology can transform student learning in classrooms across America.

The plan focuses on how to ensure that every student has the opportunity to graduate from high school ready for college and a career by transforming education's core learning, teaching, and assessment processes. New and emerging technologies support student success by engaging students' imagination, accelerating their work, and assuring that they have access to the most up-to-date information and instructional tools. Teachers have access to a range of tools that allow them to collaborate with their fellow teachers and experts, to better track the full range of information about their students and subject matter, and to communicate more efficiently with students and parents. Teachers and students are finding that new technology-driven assessments are more timely, more accurate, and more useful in personalizing instruction to students' needs. All of these advances are being supported by new technology infrastructures and productivity improvements.

This plan represents a five-year strategy and incorporates the research and insights of thousands of experts, leaders, practitioners, and others. The panel of experts who helped the department draft the National Education Technology Plandrew on their extensive domain experience observing how new technologies are changing the ways schools operate and students learn. The plan resulted from this advice combined with a broad, one-and-a-half-year effort to listen to the voices of thousands of teachers, students, and others at conferences, in small group meetings, and on the Web. The plan provides a model with goals in five strategic areas, with the overarching aim of achieving all of the goals by 2015.

Goal 1: Support Student Success by Ensuring Relevance and Rigor

Games and simulations are what get a lot of devices confiscated at the classroom door, but they are also one of the most exciting ways of insuring engagement and personalization. One example is SimScientists, developed by WestEd with support from the National Science Foundation. It features science simulations on topics such as plate tectonics, cells, body systems, and climate. For example, students can interactively explore the relationships among different members of an ecosystem over time. If they change the starting value of algae up or down by over 20 percent, their shrimp and alewife will be unlikely to survive the first five years. If they start with too many alewife, there won't be any shrimp left and then the algae will take over and smother the alewife. Students can assess their understanding of these relationships to improve their knowledge of how ecosystems work, learning just like scientists do.

The Internet is filled with supplemental materials that teachers and students can use to expand horizons for students who have mastered a topic or to zero in on a concept or skill for those students who are struggling. More importantly, because of the innovation and leadership of nonprofit organizations such as National Geographic and the National Council of Teachers of English and federal agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, expertly curated, user-friendly websites offer highly effective virtual learning encounters with standards-based content in all core subjects for classrooms and students. Thinkfinity, a consortium of free education websites sponsored by the Verizon Foundation, offers teachers and students a one-stop virtual destination for content in math, the sciences, the arts, and the humanities.

The Internet also gives students access to significant American institutions and their educational resources that most students are not be able to take advantage of in person. ARTSEDGE, the National K-12 Arts and Education Network that is part of Thinkfinity, provides a full range of multimedia and digital resources of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. With its recent relaunch, ARTSEDGE now offers an option for teachers and students to personalize online experiences by saving and organizing their favorite site resources. Funding for ARTSEDGE is provided by the Office of Innovation and Improvement as part of its annual support for the Kennedy's Center's Education Department.

Online courses are increasingly available for students at all levels. Research indicates that "blended learning," where online courses are supplemented or cotaught with in-room teachers, are more successful than either stand-alone online courses or solo-taught classroom courses. Online courses are particularly helpful for students in rural schools where there are not enough teachers to cover the full range of the curriculum and for students in need of remediation or enough courses to graduate. The Florida Virtual High School was the first to offer an online curriculum statewide. Thirty-nine states and many districts now offer online classes, with a combined 450,000 course enrollments in state-led online programs in 2009-2010, according to the latest edition of "Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning," an annual review of the status of online instruction in the U.S.

Goal 2: Improve Teacher Effectiveness

Online courses and resources are increasingly available for teachers to augment their instruction. Many universities now offer course lectures, syllabi, and handouts online. Carnegie Mellon, with support from Hewlett Packard, has taken this a step further with courseware, materials, and assessments adapted for the secondary level and college students, as well as for adult learners. The Open Learning Initiative offers teachers resources to brush up on – or learn from scratch – material they need to be able to pass on to their students; or they can connect an advanced student to the online resources directly. Most of the offerings from Carnegie Mellon and other universities were initially developed for postsecondary students. Some of them, however, are appropriate for many secondary students, especially remedial or introductory modules. Advanced students can also get a head start on postsecondary studies.

For teachers who are gaining the use of new technologies in their classrooms, the challenge often is knowing how to use them effectively. Research indicates that merely exchanging a high-tech device for a low-tech one – using a whiteboard, for example, as merely a backdrop for a lecture – does not improve instruction or learning. The power of new technologies is in using the whiteboard (or other devices) to connect to the wealth of content on the Internet, to interact with other learners, and to collaborate on mutually beneficial solutions. And, in addition to more effective learning encounters with critical content, today's learning technologies can instill the attitudes and behaviors students will need to be successful in the 21st century economy.

The Internet also provides an avenue for teachers to collaborate. Many sites have attempted to provide online resources for teachers. Since the quality of these sites varies considerably, several states and regional support centers have attempted to fill the gap. One of the most promising ideas, now possible with improved interactivity standards, is online collaboration with peers. The Department of Education is supporting design research on online communities of practice for educators.

Goal 3: Support Good Teaching and Learning by Measuring What Matters

The Internet has ushered in a new era of online assessments that include simulations, such as the SimScientists example above, as well as opportunities for students to show their work, write short essays, and engage in other types of performance assessments. Moreover, new algorithms make it possible to evaluate how a student arrived at an answer as well as whether the answer is correct. In an application similar to SimScientists, the Concord Consortium developed and evaluated a fourth-grade evolution curriculum, titled the Evolution Readiness project. Students in the three states where it was implemented showed significant gains in understanding of the curriculum content over those students who did not engage in the technology-based instruction. The speed and power of the new online assessments make it possible to use their results immediately to improve instruction or to tailor lessons and supplemental materials to the learning needs of individual students. The Department of Education recently announced the award of $330 million in Race to the Top Funds to two state consortia that will develop state-of- the-art assessments of the common core standards developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

Technology will play a significant role in the new assessments, including plans to test students using computer adaptive technology that will ask students tailored questions based on their previous answers. New technology also makes electronic portfolios highly effective learning tools. Videos, recordings, pictures, text, formulas, conversations, and diagrams can be stored and organized with a wide variety of digital tools available today. Students can use their electronic portfolios to track their progress, including assessments, teacher feedback, and personal reflections. Teachers can also use them to reflect on student progress and to support their own professional growth and development.

Goal 4: Ensure Adequate Infrastructure for Teaching, Learning and Assessment

To capture the promises of new technologies and their many applications for students, schools and extended-learning environments must be designed to meet the educational needs of all learners on a 24/7 basis. Many schools now have student information and learning management systems that can be used to tailor the learning environment to the needs of each student and to provide up-to-date information for parents, students, and teachers about assignments, attendance, schedules, and reports, as well as ways for students, parents, and teachers to interact online. Increasingly, schools and districts are integrating these systems with their transportation, library, athletics, support services, and maintenance systems in order to make information about the entire school system available to those who need it, when they need it. To speed up the progress of such cyber-systems integration, the department is working to strengthen voluntary interoperability standards so that different systems and software can connect with each other to provide that whole-school view.

At a broader scale, the department is working with other agencies and organizations to develop a learning registry that would tag educational content to core learning standards (initially on government websites) so that it could be easily accessed by teachers and curriculum developers. This linking of content to standards and ultimately to assessments will help teachers connect each student with the resources they need to continue their learning progression.

Goal 5: Focus on Key Levers of Productivity to Drive Systemic Redesign and Realignment

Technology makes possible many of the good ideas for moving education beyond the seat-time industrial model of education towards a standards-driven, highly interactive model that prepares students for life and careers in the 21st century.

Chugach School District in Alaska won the Malcolm Baldridge Award for the quality for its total redesign based on student performance against state standards. The district's curriculum is no longer defined by seat time, but by learning results. From just one college graduate in 20 prior to the reforms, the Chugach district, which has a high-minority and high-poverty student population, now sends more than 70 percent of its high school graduates on to college. Hundreds of other districts have adopted results-based models similar to Chugach.

For an increasing number of schools and districts, the expanded school day and year (see the October 2010 Innovator feature download files PDF (281KB)) provides another opportunity to use technology to rethink how schools can work. Online courses or modules targeted to individual students' learning needs can greatly accelerate the rate of learning and the efficiency of schooling. Add to that the opportunity for secondary-level students to take college courses online and the structure of a school becomes physically as well as temporally virtual – a space encompassing much more than its classrooms.

Onward to 2020

The National Education Technology Plan recognizes that with technology at the core of virtually every aspect of our daily lives and work, it must also be leveraged to improve student learning, accelerate and scale up the adoption of effective practices, and use data and information for continuous improvement. The process has begun, but only in some places and only to limited extents in America's pre-K to 16 education systems. President Obama has challenged the country to achieve the national goal of once again being a leader among nations in our college graduation rate by 2020. The National Education Technology Plan holds the promise for not only harnessing the power of technology for the benefit of achieving that goal, but doing so in a way that will ensure that success by exercising an unprecedented level of cooperation among the national, state, and local levels of our public education enterprise.

Special Report: Unleashing Technology's Full Potential to Transform Education

Societal changes that significantly affect our way of life – how and where we work, relate to one another, think and solve problems – need to be part of how we learn. Technology, particularly the sphere of it that stated a generation ago with the Internet, burgeoned into the World Wide Web in the 1990s, and has gone from institutional to personal in its applications, is a critical part of an "unprecedented opportunity to reform our schools." That was Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's message to the State Educational Technology Directors Association members this past month.

“With this ... plan, we have laid out a comprehensive vision for how we can empower teachers with technology and there by transform student learning in classrooms across America.”

—  Secretary of Education ArneDuncan
"We must dramatically improve teaching and learning," Secretary Duncan told the audience of state leaders, as well as "personalize instruction and ensure that the educational environments we offer to all students keep pace with the 21st century." (See this month's feature for an in-depth look at how Web-based curricular and instructional resources are transforming learning.) To accomplish this challenge, he outlined the tenets of the National Education Technology Plan 2010 (NETP), which advances a comprehensive vision for how teachers working with technology can transform learning in classrooms.

Titled "Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology," the plan evolved over the past 18 months, resulting from the input of a broad range of stakeholders – leading education researchers, thousands of educators and students, industry leaders, and the public. Under the direction of the Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology, the NETP's development involved the most rigorous and inclusive process ever undertaken for a national education technology plan. The plan, as Secretary Duncan noted in his opening letter in the document, is a crucial component of administration's efforts to have America lead the world in college completion by 2020 and help close the achievement gap so that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and careers.

The NETP presents a model for 21st century teaching and learning that is fully supported by technology, with goals in five key areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. At its core, the plan responds to a central question: What should learning in the new century look like? And other follow-up questions, such as: Why can't American schools be incubators of exploration and innovation and not just information factories?

The essential question of what education can be like was pursued in the development of the plan with several key acknowledgements. First, advances in the learning sciences – what we know today and will increasingly learn in the future about how learning occurs – should be powered by technology in order to hasten the pace of new knowledge being brought to bear on teaching and learning.

Another is that contemporary technology offers the qualities of unprecedented performance, adaptability, and cost-effectiveness that can combine to drive the needed transformation of pre-K-12 education. And, given the challenges facing American public education presently, the plan voices a strong sense of urgency, asserting " ... we must accept that we do not have the luxury of time." To seize the moment, it recommends adopting the principles of process design to guide actions that can be improved through fine-tuning.

In implementing the plan, a final acknowledgement: It will take an unprecedented level of leadership at all levels, from the U.S. Department of Education to local schools, coupled with collaboration to allow the encouragement and support of innovation that the department can provide to result in the best ideas going to scale.

"Our nation's schools have yet to unleash technology's full potential to transform learning," Secretary Duncan told the educational technology leaders. He urged them and all involved in education reform to recognize the historic transition point the nation is at, and to use the new national plan to "leverage technology's promise to improve learning."


What's New
From the Department

American education is dealing with a "New Normal," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told an American Enterprise Institute forum. "For the next several years, preschool, K-12, and postsecondary educators are likely to face the great challenge of doing more with less," he said. What to do about it? Embrace it as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements, the secretary asserted. By being "smart, innovative, and courageous in rethinking the status quo," he observed that enormous opportunities for improving the productivity of the education system could lie ahead. To illustrate the vastly different ways to view the challenge, the secretary suggested an analogy of two buckets of opportunity: The first is reducing waste throughout the system.  "The second ... is doing more of what works, and less of what doesn't." While a simple sounding idea, he admitted, " ... as experience shows, that simple mantra is often not followed." Among the transformational productivity reforms that can also boost student outcomes, Secretary Duncan suggests rethinking policies around seat time requirements, class size, compensating teachers based on their educational credentials, the use of technology within the classroom, inequitable school financing, and the over-placement of students in special education. (November 2010)

Results of the 2009 Nation's Report Card for Reading and Math indicate improvement in both subjects by America's 12th graders, but also evidence of a lower average score in reading compared to 1992. In addition, significant achievement gaps among major racial/ethnic groups remain in both subjects. Commenting on the report, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said it "suggests that high school seniors' achievement in reading and math isn't rising fast enough to prepare them to succeed in college and careers." The 2009 NAEP assessments were administered for the first time in 11 states in order to gain state-specific scores at grade 12. (November 2010)

Also this past month, Secretary Duncan named six members of the National Assessment Governing Board. These leaders, representing fields ranging from education to business to policymaking, will serve four-year terms for the Governing Board, which works with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as The Nation's Report Card. The Governing Board — a group of governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators and researchers, business representatives, and other citizens — determines the content to be tested and sets achievement levels for scores, and it works to inform the public about the results. (November 2010)

Outstanding teachers and principals from the 2010 Blue Ribbon Schools gathered in Washington this week for a two-day celebration in their honor. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other officials offered their congratulations to representatives from the 250 public and 64 private schools named in this year's competition. "I thank all of you for the example you set for me, and I thank all of you for the example you set for the country," Duncan said. The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle, and high schools whose students achieve at very high levels or have made significant progress and helped close gaps in achievement, especially among disadvantaged and minority students. During the ceremony, 10 of the principals also received the Bell Award, an additional distinction recognizing their outstanding leadership in fostering successful teaching and learning. (November 2010)

From the Institute of Education Sciences

The National Board for Education Sciences approved new research priorities for the Department's Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Proposed by IES Director John Easton and submitted for public comment this summer, these new priorities are intended to make education studies more relevant to educators and help practitioners become more involved in developing and using research. The new priorities place greater emphasis on putting research findings into context, "to identify education policies, programs, and practices that improve education outcomes, and to determine how, why, for whom, and under what conditions they are effective."  IES has also set as a priority identifying new and rigorous methods to measure outcomes in education research and building partnerships with educators and the community to develop greater "analytic capacity" at the local level. (November 2010)

Arts Education

Fifteen after-school and out-of-school programs across the country received the 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award (formerly known as the Coming Up Taller Award), the highest honor awarded to such programs in the United States. First Lady Michelle Obama recognized these programs for their effectiveness in developing creativity and fostering academic success for young people at a White House ceremony. The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the signature program of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and is presented in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. (October 2010)

The Big Read, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, is accepting applications from nonprofit organizations seeking funding to conduct month-long, community-wide reads between September 2011 and June 2012. The Big Read is a national program designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture. Organizations selected to participate in The Big Read will receive a grant ranging from $2,500 to $20,000, access to online training resources, educational and promotional materials, inclusion of local activities on The Big Read Web site, and the prestige of participating in a highly visible national program. Approximately 75 organizations from across the country will be selected by a panel of experts. For this cycle, communities will choose from 31 titles, including the work of several poets. The application deadline is February 1, 2011. (November 2010)

Charter Schools

Charter schools in New Orleans topped the list of districts served by charter schools in a new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Citing New Orleans as the most prominent example of cities faced with the challenge of significantly improving public education and using charter schools as a solution, Peter C. Groff, president and CEO of the National Alliance, noted that the top four recognized districts shared the fact that one student in three attends a charter school. The other three districts were Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Kansas City. The recognition of these four cities is part of the annual report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools of school districts with the highest percentage and highest number of public school students in public charter schools. (November 2010)

The program guide for the "Best Cooperative Practices: Charter and Traditional Public Schools" conference, sponsored by the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, provides summaries of the 26 collaborative projects that were presented. The projects were identified through a nationwide search to find the most promising and innovative cooperative practices between charter and traditional public schools that evidenced strong collaboration, originality, inventiveness, and the ability to replicate. [See the Nov. 9 Education Week article in the "Innovations in the News" section of this issue for more information on charter-traditional school collaborations.] (November 2010)

College Readiness and Completion

The Southern Regional Education Board, in a new report, urges states to place a major focus on increasing the numbers of students who complete college degrees and career certificates toward the goal of having 60 percent of working-age adults earning some type of high-quality credential by the year 2025. "No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Improving College Completion" contains 10 major policy recommendations for states to pursue, including, among others: setting specific and ambitious goals for raising the numbers of each degree type and graduation rates at each institution, system, and statewide; using better measures of progress to show education attainment levels and how various groups of students are faring; and paying more attention to college costs and targeted financial aid, high school students' readiness for college-level work, and institutional practices that can help more students succeed. (October 2010)

Dual enrollment programs is the subject of a new report from the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships that documents the strategies that six states employ to ensure that college courses offered to high school students are of the same high quality and rigor as courses offered to matriculated college students. The report, "Promoting Quality: State Strategies for Overseeing Dual Enrollment Programs," also highlights the main approaches used by these states to encourage colleges and universities to align their dual enrollment programs with state and national quality standards. While 29 states have adopted quality standards for post-secondary providers of dual enrollment, few have developed systems to encourage and monitor colleges' progress toward meeting those standards. (October 2010)

North Carolina has a new student and school accountability model that focuses on college and career readiness that will be in place with the 2013-14 school year. As part of the new Career & College: Ready, Set, Go! plan approved by the state board of education this fall, the new model has five accountability indicators: student performance, measures of college readiness, student academic growth, the five-year cohort graduation rate, and the rigor of students' high school mathematics course selections. Also included will be a requirement that all students take a college admissions exam in the 11th grade and preliminary college readiness exams in grades 8 and 10. For students not prepared for college at the 11th grade, there will be provisions for extra help, such as an academic camp preceding their senior year. (October 2010)

The new Florida Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT) has gone live to the 28 colleges in the state system. The rollout signifies completion of the first phase of PERT implementation, the development of the placement test. The test is the first of its kind to be customized to align with the new Common Core College and Career Readiness Standards. In phase two of the PERT's implementation, diagnostic tests will be created to accurately identify a student's specific areas of weakness in reading, writing, and math skills, thus enabling faculty to customize coursework to address those needs. In the final phase of the project, developmental education courses will be redesigned to address specific areas of weakness in a given subject. This will result in students being able to build their understanding of specific knowledge areas without the need to take entire courses over again. (October 2010)

Raising Student Achievement

The Education Trust honored four public schools with the 2010 "Dispelling the Myth" Awards: Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in New Orleans; Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina; Griegos Elementary School in Albuquerque; and Morningside Elementary School in Brownsville, Texas. "Each of these schools demonstrates that when tough and smart educators fully commit themselves to high achievement, students perform at high levels," said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. (November 2010)

The achievement gap between black and white male students is a result of more than poverty, according to a new report from the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS). When federal testing data for fourth- and eighth-grade NAEP assessments in reading and math were analyzed, CGCS researchers found that white males who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches outperformed black males from large urban districts who did not qualify for the assistance. Michael Casserly, CGCS's executive director, hopes that the report is "a louder and more jolting wake-up call" to the nation about the causes of the continuing black-white achievement gap. The report offers a number of recommendations to speed up progress, from actions by the White House and Congress to increased mentoring and counseling at the school building level. (November 2010)

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) is offering educators a convenient web page with which to keep updated on the latest developments with the common-core standards. The site includes a map that helps to track states' adoptions of the standards, and there are links to related information, including ASCD resources on instruction, curriculum, and assessment. (November 2010)

In another study of NAEP reading and math results, the Center on Education Policy analyzed whether trends in NAEP contradict or confirm trends in state test scores. The study examined results in 23 states with comparable data for the NAEP assessments between 2005 and 2009 at grades 4 and 8, and generally determined that the majority of states with sufficient data evidenced gains on both their NAEP and state tests; the size of gains in scores, however, tended to be greater on state tests than on NAEP assessments. (October 2010)

School Improvement

The American Architectural Foundation (AAF) launched a new publication this fall to share the power of architecture and design as a tool for school leaders. Long known for its nationwide series of design institutes for educational leaders, as well as programs and resources for students to gain an understanding of architecture and design, the inaugural issue of Catalyst features a number of AAF initiatives, such as Voice of the Teacher, an effort to learn from teachers in schools such as High Tech High Chula Vista and New York City's School of One about the effects of innovative school design on teaching and learning. (November 2010)


Innovations in the News

Standards and Assessments
Math and science teachers in Maryland will soon be able to share lessons and collaborate with scientists from NASA, the Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland, thanks to a public-private partnership involving the state education agency and the Maryland Business Roundtable on Education. STEMnet Teachers Hub, which was designed by 29 Maryland science teachers at the invitation of state education officials and business leaders, will debut next spring in either Baltimore City or Baltimore County. Funding for the initiative will come from $2 million in federal Race to the Top funds and more than $300,000 in donations from a number of technology-based corporations. [More—The Baltimore Sun] (Nov. 11)

Students in Utah are reportedly excited about school testing because of the computer-adaptive testing in place in some schools and districts. The technology behind the new generation of tests allows for questions to be adapted to each student's ability level, while also giving teachers immediate results that allow them to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. The tests, according to local school leaders using them, also provide parents with such helpful information as graphs that depict their child's progress compared to other students in both the local district and the nation. "It's the direction the whole country is moving," noted state Superintendent Larry Shumway. Utah is part of a consortium of 31 states that was recently awarded $176 million in Race to the Top funds to develop and implement computer adaptive tests by 2014-2015. [More—The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)] (Nov. 1)

High school students in two California communities don't just study DNA in their text books; they also conduct experiments such as extracting DNA from vegetables in a state-of-the-art lab. The $1.5 Center for Advanced Research and Technology in Clovis, which opened this school year, is operated by the Fresno and Clovis Unified School Districts and serves more than one thousand high school juniors and seniors who are getting a head start on college studies and possibly careers in the sciences. Behind the scenes, teachers and school leaders are challenged to find the annual funding needed to operate such sophisticated equipment as a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, which costs $10,000 a year to maintain. [More—The Fresno Bee (Calif.)] (Nov. 1) (free registration)

Education Data Systems
While the amount of student data related to schools' progress as a result of recent accountability policies has increased substantially, with it comes questions of federal and state laws governing privacy of personal information on students. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the Department of Education is helping school officials to be able to share information without running afoul of privacy statutes such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which the Department plans to amend in the near future to address new longitudinal databases and interagency data sharing. The Privacy Technical Assistance Center, now housed within NCES, will offer training materials for educators and researchers who use student data and guidance for information officers charged with establishing new databases. [More—Education Week] (Nov. 15) (premium article access compliments of

Indiana released data for the first time under its new ISTEP+ growth model for tracking student achievement based on performance on multiple years of proficiency testing. Called "Academic Growth," the new system measures how much students learn in a year in math and language arts in grades three to eight. Students are grouped based on their beginning scores and then their relative growth is tracked over time, with students ending up in three student-growth percentiles – low, typical, and high growth, which are divided into even thirds (e.g., high growth is from the 66th to the 99th percentile). The new system is awaiting review by the state legislature, which will decide if it will become the new accountability tool statewide. [More—The Fort Wayne (IN) Journal-Gazette] (Nov. 9)

Teachers and Leaders
Next year, Minnesota will be the first state to assess the real-life performance and abilities of prospective teachers, using video tapes of them executing curriculum and engaging with students. As part of an overhaul of its teacher certification process, the new program, Teacher Performance Assessment, is receiving a positive reception from the state's teacher union, Education Minnesota. The program will apply to prospective teachers for the areas of early childhood, special education, elementary literacy, or high school math, English, science, and social studies. The video tapes will be viewed and scored by a panel of independent evaluators. [More—The Minneapolis Star-Tribune] (Nov.12)

Professional development, a term in education today that is "both ubiquitous and all but meaningless," is the subject of a special report in "Education Week" that explores new developments in education policy, including the idea of "teacher effectiveness," that portend a time for a re-examination of what professional development is and does for in-service teachers. In a series of nine articles, three general areas are addressed: policy and practice, business and finance, and curriculum. Throughout the report, teachers are profiled, offering many firsthand observations on the state of professional development and prospects for it in the future. [More—Education Week] (Nov.10) (premium article access compliments of

An increasing number of school districts are shifting the focus of their teacher compensation plans to achieve two goals: better alignment of compensation with local student achievement objectives and help for teachers to reach those objectives. But whether the plans are long standing (such as in Eagle County, Colo., where teachers' pay is linked partially to both their annual evaluations and to an index of student-achievement growth), or very newly devised (as in Pittsburgh, where teachers will continue to receive small annual increases, but will receive major salary increases only through periodic teaching-practice reviews), there is "no reason to believe that that one size fits all," according to Michael Podgursky, a professor of economics at the University of Missouri. Plans of individual districts will necessarily adapt to local labor markets, the "circumstances of the places they're operating in, and the kinds of people they're attracting." [More—Education Week] (Nov. 9) (premium article access compliments of

The nationwide efforts to make the teacher-student relationship a "more powerful force for achievement" is also explored in the latest "Hechinger Report." Fueling the attention to the role of the teacher and the locally based systems that determine how they are hired, evaluated, and paid are several factors, including research pointing to the fact that "students who have the most effective teachers make gains three times as large as those with less effective teachers," according to researchers at Stanford University. There is a clear momentum throughout the country, according to education leaders such as Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. "Ultimately, it's all going to change," he notes, "and this is the period before we pick out what it is going to look like." [More—The Hechinger Report] (Nov.8)

The need for change in teacher evaluation is a major problem in Minneapolis, according to human resources officials of the Minneapolis School District, where the district's administrators and local union representatives are working together to redesign the process. The effort will be helped along by the New Teachers Project, which will use resources from a $200,000 grant to the district over the next year to help "devise a development and assessment system that both sides can support." [More—The Minneapolis Star-Tribune] (Nov. 4)

Interventions in Low-Performing Schools
African American and Hispanic students in Montgomery County, Md., are enrolled in record numbers in Advanced Placement courses, and credit goes to the school district's concerted efforts to close the achievement gaps through a school-level focus on issues of race. A significant component of that effort is Study Circles – conversations among parents who meet two hours a week for six weeks. The point of the discussions, according to John Landesman, whom district leaders brought in to help facilitate the discussions, is to help parents understand the role of race in American society. Twenty study circles are currently underway, following more than 50 that occurred last year. In one recent circle, the discussions ended in a plan to increase parental involvement, have more school-wide events to bring the entire school population together, and improve relations between parents and teachers. [More—The Washington Post] (Nov. 9)

Collaborations between charter and traditional schools, while not yet widespread, are part of the original purpose of charters – to "be a source of innovation and be a benefit not only for the children attending charter schools, but [for] all public schools," according to Scott D. Pearson, acting director of the Charter School Programs Office at the U.S. Department of Education. In Houston, for example, plans are underway to bring five tenets identified in the district's high-performing charter schools into the Houston Independent Schools (HISD), starting with nine schools this year and expanding to 20 next year. Among the five tenets are investing in human capital, providing extended learning time, and creating a high-expectations school culture. [More—Education Week] (Nov. 9) (premium article access compliments of

The New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy, known locally as Sci Academy, may have some lessons to share based on its status of having the highest test scores of nearly all of the high schools in the city, save two that benefit from selective admissions. While the city has made significant strides to boost achievement in the lower grades in the district's post-Katrina era, such successes have not been replicated at the high school level. At the Sci Academy, a combination of factors contribute to the charter's success, boiling down to an "all-consuming culture" of high expectations that is fueled by rigorous coursework, dedicated teachers who field calls from students until 9:30 p.m. on school nights, and a major emphasis on teamwork among the faculty and administrators. [More—The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)] (Nov. 7)

This is the tale of two high school turnarounds – one in Cincinnati that went from a 21-percent graduation rate to a nearly 100-percent rate in eight years; the other the much-publicized Central Falls High School in Rhode Island that is off to a rocky start in its first year of turnaround. Taft High School in Cincinnati was described by one of its former teachers as "an insane asylum," lacking not just solid academics, but such extracurricular staples as a football team. With the partnership of community stakeholders, particularly Cincinnati Bell, Taft used technology as the focal point of its turnaround, even renaming itself the Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School and garnering both state and national recognition, including the prestigious National Blue Ribbon School Award. At Central Falls High School, absenteeism – of both students and teachers – is at 15 percent, a new discipline program is running into implementation problems, and a low level of trust between some Central Falls teachers and school leaders is making a major change in the school's culture difficult to get off the ground. Despite the challenges, positive developments – increased tutoring by teachers, start up of a drop-out prevention program, and a nascent parent organization – give hope to many in and around the troubled school that the long process of changing culture may be getting underway. [More—The Providence (RI) Journal & The Cincinnati Enquirer] (Nov. 5 & 7, respectively)



Office of Innovation and Improvement
James H. Shelton III, Assistant Deputy Secretary

Doug Herbert

Cynthia Cabell
Senior Production Editor

Dramon Turner
Production Editor

Emily Archer
Copy Editor

Karen Cator
Adam Honeysett
Hugh Walkup
Article Contributions


Print this page Printable view Bookmark  and Share
Last Modified: 12/08/2010