A Teacher We Met: Maria Palopoli Prepares Students to Take on Science and Law

Science Strategy at Work:   How we teach affects whether our students are ready for tomorrow

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Imagine this:  You decide to have a child and you visit a health clinic.  The clinician asks, “Do you want a boy or girl?  Which hair color do you prefer? Do you have a preference for curly or straight hair?”  The ability to design a human may seem like science fiction, but today’s students may face these decisions as adults.

Our students need to be prepared for a future with these kinds of choices.  This is the primary reason I teach with an emphasis on project-based learning and independent thinking. Each year that I teach genetics to seventh graders, the students become immersed in a genetics court case of the not-so-distant future:

It is the year 2035.  Jenn Ettics, age fifteen, is suing her parents, Carmella and Tony Ettics, for genetically modifying her at birth.  Jenn’s parents hired Chromo Labs to have her genetically modified so she would have more favorable “athletic genes.”  Jenn claims that this manipulation had a deleterious effect on her “artistic genes,” so she is suing for emancipation and $1million in damages.

Here are the players:  Jenn, her lawyers and Guardian Ad Litem (court assigned guardian), the P.A.G.E. Foundation (People Against Genetic Engineering) to support Jenn, Chromo Lab Director, scientists and lawyers to support their company and the  defendants, Jenn’s parents with their lawyers.  Reporters and photographers also play a role.

Using their knowledge of genetics, students create all of the evidence in the court case.  Each group must work together to gather enough evidence to demonstrate to the jury (former students) that they should win the case.

Not only must the students have a strong genetics background, they must also understand what kind of evidence will support their claim.  Each year, I am overwhelmed with the evidence created and the students’ abilities to defend their position in the court setting.  I have collected dozens of student strategies.  Here is a sample:

Punnett squares demonstrate that Jenn should have been artistic.  The location of “artistic” and “athletic” genes imply a low probability that the manipulation of one would affect the other.  Data show that Chromo Labs had more errors during the year Jenn was manipulated.  The defendants’ (parents) lawyers reveal other relatives with medical problems that led to the alteration of Jenn’s athletic genes to make her more healthy.

As you can see, the potential for evidence is endless on both sides.  The beauty of this experience is that it really gets students to think, to use their knowledge to defend a position and to consider real science issues they may face as adults.  Based on the professional dress and serious demeanor I see during the court case, the students are completely engaged and learn from each other.  The emotions are high; sometimes students have shed tears when the verdict is read.

This kind of project-based learning is important.  Students need to be engaged in a way that is meaningful, draws on their ability to apply knowledge and think independently.  What other learning situation will better prepare them for the future?

Maria Palopoli

Maria Palopoli teaches in Brunswick, Maine. She earned a 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence Teaching Math and Science (PAEMST).

Secretary Duncan on Evaluating Students with Special Needs and What We Learned from the International Summit on Teaching

On March 25, Secretary Duncan answered questions about evaluating students with special needs and what we learned from the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

About the latter, he said that in other countries…

“Teachers are revered.  They are compensated very differently. There’s a huge premium on success.  [Other] countries do a great job of putting the most committed teachers, the hardest working, with the students and communities that need the most help.  And there’s a great spirit of collaboration, not around the status quo but on continuous improvement amongst education ministers and the union leadership.”



Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Invitation to April 15 Public Meeting on Online Assessments

On Friday, April 15, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Education (Department) will host the first in a series of public meetings related to the Race to the Top Assessment (RTTA) grants. This first meeting will bring together representatives from the two RTTA consortia and a panel of experts to discuss the state and local technology infrastructure needed to support the new assessment systems being developed by the grantees.

The RTTA program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, awarded grants to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which together include 45 states and the District of Columbia. The consortia are developing comprehensive assessment systems in English language arts and mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and high school aligned to the Common Core State Standards to measure whether students have the knowledge and skills necessary to graduate from high school ready for success in college and careers. For more information on the assessment systems design, please see the approved RTTA applications at http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/applicant.html

Both consortia’s assessment designs depend on the use of technology to develop, administer, and score assessments and report assessment results.  The purpose of the meeting will be for PARCC, SBAC, and the Department to better understand the challenges posed by their assessment system design in building the necessary infrastructure and how to create the necessary supports at the state and local level.

The meeting is open to the public, and an opportunity will be provided for members of the public to provide input.  Space is limited, however, so registration is required.  We encourage each organization interested in attending to limit itself to no more than two representatives.  The meeting will be held on Friday, April 15, 2011, from 8 AM to 3 PM at the U.S. Department of Education’s Potomac Center Plaza Auditorium, 550 12th St SW, 10th floor, Washington, D.C.

Registrants should be aware that this is a high-security federal facility and, upon registration, you will be asked to provide citizenship information if you are not a U.S. citizen.  Meeting participants will be required to present a valid form of identification such as driver’s license, passport, or government ID card to enter the building.

To register, go to http://www.mikogroup.com/login.aspx.  You will first be asked to create a quick profile, after which you will be able to register for the meeting.  If you have problems with accessing the registration site, contact Kathie.Nicoletti@MikoGroup.com, (877) 645-6477.  The registration deadline is Friday, April 8.

Future meetings on the RTTA program will include such topics as the use of artificial intelligence scoring of assessments; selection of a uniform growth model consistent with test purpose, structure, and intended uses; innovation in item types and how to leverage technology; and the inclusion of students with disabilities and English language learners.  Funding to support these meetings is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. More information on future meetings will be provided when it is available.

What Is the Value of Art Education?

Linda Pauley of the United States Department of Education accepts artwork from Holly Simonsen, of Cedar Wood Elementary in Bothell, WA. The painting will hang in the Department’s Seattle regional offices. In the background are winning works from Crayola’s Visual Voices program. These pieces will hang on walls throughout the Department’s regional offices and at the LBJ building in Washington, D.C.

Student Art Inspires Department of Education

Last week while  attending the National Art Education Association conference in Seattle, Wash., in my capacity as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I was a little bit surprised when some art teachers asked, “Why are you guys here?”

My answer was that, consistent with the President’s call for a well-rounded education in his plan to reauthorize ESEA and fix No Child Left Behind, I felt it was important to be present for art teachers.

One example of how art functions at the U.S. Department of Education was illustrated at the conference by two officials, Doug Herbert and Jacquelyn Zimmermann.  They presented on overview of  The Headquarters Art Exhibit Program that  fills the lobby of the LBJ building in Washington, D.C ., and described the significance of having student art on display at the Department.

The Department has two exhibit spaces in the lobby.  One accommodates about 60 winners of the 87 year old Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.   Student artwork honored by this program is exhibited for an entire year.  A second gallery holds a rotating exhibit of exemplary student art from schools and districts across America.  This museum quality display rotates every 2-3 months.

The Headquarters Art Exhibit Program places artifacts of student achievement in a space through which every headquarters employee and official must pass each day.  The students of America have painted pictures that teach us what student learning looks like and those images animate the department with a constant reminder of why we do this work.

My questions for teachers are these:  What do young artists teach us through their accomplishments?  How can we include art in our instruction so that every student becomes well-rounded and fully prepared for college and careers?

Steve Owens
Stephen Owens is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Calais, Vermont.

Uncommon Wisdom on Teaching

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

Much of the conventional wisdom today about the difficulty of elevating the teaching profession is mistaken or exaggerated. Many people believe that the challenges facing the teaching profession are largely unique to each nation. Others contend that the status of the teaching profession in America and other countries is largely immutable, fixed by economic and social tradition. Or they believe that teachers unions are inevitable roadblocks to reform, rather than potential sources of knowledge and expertise.

We disagree with all three of these popular assumptions — which is one reason why we have convened the first-ever international summit on the teaching profession for high-performing nations and rapidly-improving countries on March 16 and 17 in New York City. The stakes for strengthening the teaching profession could not be higher: The quality of the teacher in the classroom is the single biggest in-school influence on student learning. And in the knowledge economy, the quality of student learning is one of the biggest drivers of national growth, economic competitiveness, and social responsibility.

It’s true that every nation has unique characteristics of its teaching profession. Few countries can simply adopt wholesale another nation’s system for recruiting, training, and compensating teachers. Yet many high-performing nations share a surprising number of common challenges to securing a high-quality teaching force. Many top-performing education systems face looming teacher shortages — and similar stumbling blocks to preparing, rewarding, and retaining top-notch teachers.

For example, the United States is not alone in seeking to update its policies on the teaching profession to better prepare students for the twenty-first century. For most of the last century, schools and the teaching profession in the U.S. have been organized like an assembly line, with teachers largely treated as interchangeable widgets. Children were expected to learn routine cognitive skills and content that would last a lifetime, rather than learning higher-order thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills that would help them be lifelong learners.

Teachers in the U.S. have typically been compensated based solely on their longevity in the job and their educational credentials — not for their impact on student learning, or for teaching in high-poverty and high-needs schools. In contrast to the U.S. and some other countries, top-performing education systems encourage excellent teachers to teach the students who most need their help. And they provide teachers with more autonomy to help students’ master higher-order skills, like adaptability, communication, and critical thinking, all of which are keys to success in the information age.

In every nation, the nature of the teaching profession inevitably reflects local economic and cultural tradition. Yet that does not mean that the teaching profession can only undergo glacial change. Government policy can significantly strengthen the teaching profession if that policy is based on an understanding of teachers and teaching and takes account of lessons learned in high-performing countries.

Singapore now has one of the world’s highest-performing education systems — but it was not always so. In the early 1970s, less than half of Singapore’s students reached fourth grade. Teachers were hired en masse, with little attention to quality.

Singapore soon identified teacher quality as key to improving educational outcomes — and government policy has been instrumental in identifying and nurturing teaching talent. Today, Singapore offers teaching internships for top-performing students starting in high school. It carefully selects promising adolescents from the top third of high school seniors and offers them a competitive monthly stipend while still in school.

In exchange, these teacher candidates must commit to teaching for at least three years and serving diverse students. After these bright, committed students undergo a rigorous teacher education program and become teachers, they receive 100 hours of professional development per year to keep up with changes in classroom instruction and to improve their practice.

Some believe that teachers unions are immovable stumbling blocks to reform, but the international picture tells a different story. Many of the world’s top-performing nations have strong teacher unions that work in tandem with local and national authorities to boost student achievement. In top-performing education systems like Finland, Singapore, and Ontario, Canada, teachers unions engage in reforms as partners in a joint quest to advance and accelerate learning.

These high-performing nations illustrate how tough-minded collaboration more often leads to educational progress than tough-minded confrontation. Education leaders can better accelerate achievement by working together and sharing best practices than by working alone.

Across the globe, education is the great equalizer, the one force that can consistently overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege. Increasing teacher autonomy and participation in reform is vital not just to improving student outcomes but to elevating the teaching profession. We reject the prevailing wisdom that it can’t be done.

Arne Duncan, Angel Gurría and Fred van Leeuwen

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education; Angel Gurría is the Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development; Fred van Leeuwen is General Secretary of Education International, which represents 30 million teachers in 171 countries and territories.

Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Coates Discusses Weathering the Special Education Storm

Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Coates Discusses Weathering the Special Education StormMy desire to become a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow was driven by my professional commitment to the equitable treatment and outcomes for students who have emotional disabilities. On a rainy Thursday last week, I was able to bring my voice to the table and sit down with Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and staff from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in a March 10 roundtable discussion.

“Where should the department place its focus for students with emotional disabilities?” asked Assistant Secretary Posny.

The power of that question was pivotal. In the moment that it was asked, my purpose as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow became clear. Policymakers and leaders in the federal government were listening to me.

I did not hesitate to share my concerns for stronger teacher preparation programs and professional development that centers on the leadership for learning and equity and accountability for students with emotional disabilities. Nor did I hesitate to discuss teachers’ needs for time and space to collaborate with a positive perspective for students with emotional disabilities.

Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Coates Discusses Weathering the Special Education Storm Special education teachers faced with increasing complexity, rapid change, and global objectives find themselves weathering a storm of issues that have caused some to leave the profession. State, local, and federal regulations–which should be providing a life raft–instead all to often add to the problem.

One issue I raised in the discussion was value-added performance evaluation systems. Research on value-added models has focused almost exclusively on general education students, but it hasn’t addressed the needs and abilities of other populations. We discussed the need for greater thinking about special education students when using value-added measures of teaching effectiveness.

“Working with such a diverse group of learners, has made me become a firm believer that one-size does not fit all,” I told the group.  In addition, I gave examples and insights into what groups with unique needs endure personally, socially, and academically to meet NCLB’s standards and how such facts need to be put into consideration when determining teachers’ contributions to student growth.

Of course, we did not solve all of the problems of NCLB in one day, but we were able to address many of the special education issues I face every day. We talked at length about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which authorizes formula grants to states and discretionary grants to institutions of higher education and other nonprofit organizations to support research, demonstrations, technical assistance and dissemination, technology and personnel development and parent-training and information centers.

Most important, in the midst of the storm, I felt listened to.

Lisa Coates
Lisa Coates is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches in Ashland, Virginia.

Read about Secretary Arne Duncan’s 3/15 visit with students with disabilities at Beers Elementary School in Washington, DC.

Read 3/15 speech to the American Association of People with Disabilities Secretary Duncan Vows to ‘Move Away’ from the 2 Percent Proxy Rule in Assessing Students with Disabilities.

Sunshine Week

The U.S. Department of Education, along with other agencies in the federal government, recognizes Sunshine Week.

The Department’s work on its open government plan began almost a year ago.  During that time, several projects have been released to the public.  We’d like to take the opportunity to highlight a few here, to recognize the hard work that went into them, both from staff at the Department as well as input and participation that we’ve received from the public.

Of these projects, the U.S. Education Dashboard is of particular interest to the general public. It reports the best available data on student performance and other indicators of progress toward meeting the President’s goal that America once again will lead the world in college completion by the end of the decade.

Student Leaders Voice Their Opinions and Ideas at ED’s First National Youth Summit

“A lot of us think we don’t have a voice, but if we all come together and think about what we can do, things CAN get done,” said Jasean Gilmore, a 7th grader at Reavis Middle School in Chicago.  This statement represents the energy and hope conveyed by hundreds of youth at U.S. Department of Education’s first ever national youth summit.

On February 26, 2011, nearly 400 youth leaders from across the country made their way to “Voices in Action: National Youth Summit.”  The purpose of the event was simple:  listen to youth and ask them to join the President’s effort to lead the world in college completion.

The National Youth Summit was more than just a two-way dialogue between policy makers and youth.  It also featured “edutainment,” youth sharing their best ideas with each other, and action plans to ensure this is more than a one-time event.

Alison Beth Waldman, a student blogger describes the event.  “I’m standing, bleary-eyed, in Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium watching what seems an unlikely group at work: rappers warm up on stage, graffiti artists set up their work, slam poets pace and practice—while White House representatives and the man in charge of U.S. public education take one last run through their event checklists.”

A major highlight was the sharing of youth-led work that is happening in local communities.   Here are just two of the dozens of examples that were shared.

  • Students in Denver are working with the school leaders to provide student feedback on teacher evaluations; and
  • Student leaders in Chicago have successfully created a 9th grade outreach effort targeting students who are not on track to graduate and involve them in youth leadership and peer mentoring.

What is most important is what comes next.  The department is keenly aware that creating fundamental changes in education is driven locally.  With this in mind, ED has issued a 2020 Youth Challenge to students asking them to organize their own local summit to promote youth-led efforts to drive education reform, raise expectations, and increase the number of students who and apply to post-secondary schools.

Please keep an eye out for a summit coming to a community near you!

For more information, please visit the Voices in Action: National Youth Summit website.

Kentucky Teacher of the Year Reflects on Project PASS Kick-Off

Kentucky TOY Butch Hamm Reflects on Project Pass Kick-OffAn air of excitement resounded inside the North Hardin Middle School gym in Radcliff, Kentucky last week as the 113th Army Band finished playing one of their classic military marches.  The crowd hushed and the master of ceremonies announced the arrival of the dignitaries, led by General George W. Casey, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.  They were there to celebrate Project PASS (Partnership for All Students’ Success), a new initiative to extend JROTC to the middle schools in five school systems across the country.

The PASS enterprise is new to education, and certainly a first for two cooperating federal governmental services.  With the cooperation of the Kentucky Department of Education the U.S. Army, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) can now offer an extension of JROTC to middle school students. Through the Junior Leadership Corps (JLC), Project Pass offers elective courses and after-school activities that are designed to develop the character and leadership abilities of secondary school students.  For the first time, middle school students have an opportunity to develop and maintain skills in leadership, self-management, teamwork, goal setting, health, problem solving, and wise decision-making.

Kentucky TOY Butch Hamm Reflects on Project Pass Kick-Off According to NASBE Executive Director Brenda Welburn, more than 1,200 students across the country are involved in the program.  “With a student dropping out of school every 26 seconds and over 1.2 million students quitting school every year, this program will provide every child an opportunity” to develop those skills.

The principal of North Hardin Middle School, Laura McGray, said students need avenues and direction even at the middle school level, and this program provides them.  Amy Anderson, an eighth grader at North Hardin, testified before the crowded gymnasium, “I would not have the courage to speak to you today, if it were not for JOC.”  She went on to say, “My father is a retired military man and my brother is in the Marines.  I know that I will get the skills from this program that will make me successful in life too.”

Austin Davis, a student at James T. Alton Middle School, said that being a member of JOC helped improve his attendance, grades, and attitude. He ended his testimony to a standing ovation when he said, “The future of my country depends on me, so I have to step up to the challenge.”

Kentucky TOY Butch Hamm Reflects on Project Pass Kick-OffSecretary Duncan spoke to the crowd’s good will and efforts.  He said we must continue this holistic approach to education “for a child’s education does not stop after a six-hour day.” He went on to say, “We all must partner with our communities for education of all children.

General Casey was inspired to create Project PASS while watching all of the ROTC programs parade by him while he was grand marshal for the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade a few years ago.  He said he knew that many young men and women did not have the career readiness skills to be in the military, yet he recognized the potential of all of these wonderful young people in the Chicago Public Schools Programs.

Representatives from the other sites selected for this pilot program and were also present, and they include Gwinnett County, Georgia; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Garden City, Kansas; and Christian County, Kentucky.

The event served as a wonderful kickoff to a program that will benefit so many students throughout the U.S.  When one engages an active military community like Ft. Knox with a dynamic school system like Hardin County Schools, the outcome can only be incredible for all of those students who choose to get involved!

Durell Butch Hamm
“Butch” Hamm is the 2010 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.  He teaches at Larry A. Ryle High School.

President Focuses on Education

Last week President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan visited innovative classrooms in Miami and Boston.  They dropped in on a U.S. history class in Arlington, Virginia, with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Watch these and other highlights from the week (March 4-11, 2011).  Read the President’s speeches on education:

Community College Regional Summit in Houston

ED will host the second in a series of four Community College Regional Summits on March 9, 2011, at Lone Star College-University Park in Houston, Texas.

The Regional Community College Summit will:

  • Bring federal, labor and industry, and philanthropic partners to your region to discuss how each entity can support local community college efforts to meet the  President’s 2020  goal for the U.S. to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world;
  • Provide a forum to share institution-level barriers, solutions and promising practices in college completion; developmental education; industry-education partnerships; services to military service-members and veterans; transitioning adults to community colleges; and successful transfer programs to four year colleges and universities; and
  • Provide a forum to identify local, state and national recommendations for increasing community college completion to meet the 2020 goal.

The morning plenary session begins at 10:00 a.m. EST.  The afternoon closing session will begin at 4:15 p.m. EST.  Both sessions will be broadcast live at:  http://hosted.mediasite.com/mediasite/Catalog/catalogs/Lonestar.aspx

Arne Duncan Carves Out Regular Time to Listen to Students

Arne Duncan Carves Out Regular Time to Listen to StudentsAbout a week ago, a group of students walked proudly down the halls of the US Department of Education to represent their schools, communities, and the countless youth across this nation who want more of a voice in the national education conversation.

In the February 25 meeting, participants discussed how to best engage students like themselves in education policy, what it means to have a quality education, and how to bridge resource gaps.

One leader—Stephanie—described why she almost dropped out of school:  because she didn’t feel as though anyone was looking out for her.  When Arne asked why she stayed in school, she described wanting to push herself to graduate despite her obstacles.  The following day, Stephanie spoke at the National Youth Summit and provided her peers with an example of one who could have fallen through the cracks but who wouldn’t let it happen.

These ten students did far more than have a discussion at the Department; they widened a space for students to have a voice in education. Each month now, different student populations will engage with Arne Duncan on issues facing them. After the February discussion and the National Youth Summit, many of the adults attending commented on the power of the students’ words and experiences, acknowledging that it is important to create spaces for them in our national conversation about their need to have opportunities for a world-class education.

Read a blog post about the Voices in Action National Youth Summit.