Testing: Can We Find the Rational Middle?

Recently I visited Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama to meet with a group of teachers and their principal. I was in Birmingham as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and it was highly recommend by local educators that I visit Glen Iris while in Birmingham to see the incredible work going on at the school. During my visit I learned about the school’s focus on project-based learning, how it energizes teachers and promotes cross-curriculum connections and implementation of college and career ready standards in a way that has significant meaning for students and the surrounding community. I learned how this type of learning relies on several factors including the internal capacity among teachers to lead and bring others along in this work and a supportive principal who will work to make sure the resources needed are provided (even grow a beard and sleep on the school roof to fundraise if necessary!). I also learned about their school garden, which was a sight to behold and a powerful a lesson for how to keep learning focused on developing the whole child.

The assessment culture was also very different at Glen Iris Elementary. It was clear that every teacher in the room agreed that we can and should measure learning, but, also, that current “tests” were measuring learning. When I asked Principal Wilson to share his views on testing he looked at me very calmly said, “There is more than one way to measure the standards. We have to be ever-growing.”

Since returning from Birmingham, much has happened in the “testing” world.

Recently, the Foundation for Excellence in Education came out with an analysis of district testing calendars from the 2013-14 school year. The foundation looked at 44 districts and found huge variation; some required as few as eight tests on top of required state assessments – and one required 198 additional exams. In addition, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Secretary Duncan have shined a spotlight on testing and are asking states and districts to have difficult conversations about the quantity and quality of tests administered to students. Also in recent weeks, several school districts in Florida have moved to cut down on testing. Miami-Dade County cut 24 interim assessments, adding 260 minutes of instruction back into the schedule, while Palm Beach County cut 11 diagnostic tests and made all district-level performance assessments optional. Moreover, Hillsborough County school district leaders are calling on the state to reduce the amount of testing in schools while several school officials have already eliminated final exams at middle and high school levels, as well as reduced the number of assessments for elementary grades in math, science and language arts.

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to hear his perspective on the current state of testing and accountability. While the testing pendulum has swung from one side to the other, my hope is that we will land somewhere in the rational middle. And as I continue in my education journey, I will forever keep those timely words of Dr. Wilson at the forefront of my mind and will challenge all of us to be “ever-growing.”

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

#AskArne: Teaching and Leading

At this year’s National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Teaching and Learning Conference, over 5,000 educators from all 50 states shared in two days of teacher paradise, which included some of the most influential and knowledgeable trailblazers in education. I felt proud to be part of the event and even more proud to witness history in the making.

Watching Secretary Duncan unveil a new initiative titled “Teach to Lead,” I saw heads nodding and smiling. Even though I work at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), hearing that ED is partnering with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to focus on advancing teacher leadership is music to my ears.

But is it really? As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow I have had the opportunity to listen to hundreds of educators the past few months talk about what it means to be a teacher leader. Their responses range from self-initiated teacher leaders, who reach out to help colleagues on a daily basis, to teachers who are excited to take on new roles, but don’t know where to start. Others want to join in but feel they already have too much on their plates.

When I think about the size and scale of an undertaking such as Teach to Lead, it is easy to become cautious, if not skeptical. How we will be able to highlight all of the different types of teacher leadership that occur in schools throughout this country already? How will we even define teacher leadership, given the many forms it may take? How will we involve principals and state and district leaders in a vision of teacher leadership that truly improves education? Will they be willing to share power and rethink structures to create systems for teacher leadership to thrive?

What I am not skeptical about is whether or not teachers will embrace leadership. I have seen firsthand that teacher leadership is alive and well. Monika Johannesen a veteran teacher from Dan Mills Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn., explained that in her 20 years of teaching, not a day has gone by that she hasn’t helped teachers foster their craft. Her ability to collaborate and build relationships within her school has directly impacted the school’s success, and she is viewed by all as a teacher leader.

As the Teach to Lead initiative takes off, I am encouraged that teachers are the ones being called on to help shape it. As Teaching Ambassador Fellows continue to engage with teachers from the field and work with the National Board to engage educators via survey, I am reassured to hear Arne Duncan voice sentiments like these, “Teachers have spoken eloquently about how important it is to have a voice in what happens in their schools and their profession — without leaving the classroom.”

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to ask him how @TeachToLead will work, but more importantly how we will maintain the integrity of teacher leadership, without it being just more thing on our plate. Ultimately, creating an initiative by teachers for teachers can and will lead to historic transformative change that will boost student learning and provide a critical next step for the teaching profession as envisioned in the RESPECT blueprint.

I look forward to next year’s National Board conference to see how far we have come and the milestones we “teacher leaders” have accomplished. The road ahead is not an easy one, but it is one worth taking.

Tweet us your ideas @TeachtoLead using the hashtag #TeachToLead.

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

#ThankATeacher and Share on Teacher Appreciation Day

ThankATeacher

Peter Markes (@PeterMarkes) the 2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, and Edmond North High School Orchestra Director, tweeted his #ThankATeacher sign during a visit to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters.

Tuesday, May 6, is National Teacher Appreciation Day, and we want your help in thanking a teacher that has inspired you. Click below to download our “#ThankATeacher” sign, fill it out, and on Tuesday, May 6, post your picture on social media using the hashtag #ThankATeacher.

There’s no doubt that teachers deserve a special week and day, but our appreciation and support for teachers needs to be a year-round effort. At the U.S. Department of Education, one of our top priorities is to continue to strengthen the teaching profession. Read more about the Obama Administration’s plan to improve teacher preparation, leading from the classroom through Teach to Lead, and the RESPECT proposal to elevate teaching and leading so that all of our students are prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Download your #ThankATeacher sign!

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education.

 

Taking Action to Improve Teacher Preparation

Recruiting, preparing, developing and supporting great teachers has a direct impact on the learning and success of America’s students. Research confirms that the most important in-school factor in a student’s success is a strong teacher, and excellent teachers are especially important for our neediest students. However, the vast majority of new teachers – almost two-thirds – report that their teacher preparation program left them unprepared for the realities of the classroom.

President Obama believes that we need to give schools the resources to keep good teachers on the job and reward the best ones, and give teachers the flexibility to teach with creativity and passion. Earlier today, the President directed the U.S. Department of Education to lay out a plan to strengthen America’s teacher preparation programs for public discussion by this summer, and to move forward on schedule to publish a final rule within the next year.

Teacher Prep StatsThe Administration’s plans will:

  • Build on state systems and efforts and the progress in the field to encourage all states to develop their own meaningful systems to identify high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs across all kinds of programs, not just those based in colleges and universities.
  • Ask states to move away from current input-focused reporting requirements, streamline the current data requirements, incorporate more meaningful outcomes, and improve the availability of relevant information on teacher preparation.
  • Rely on state-developed program ratings of preparation programs – in part – to determine program eligibility for TEACH grants, which are available to students who are planning to become teachers in a high-need field in a low-income school, to ensure that these limited federal dollars support high-quality teacher education and preparation.

These critical changes will help to increase recognition for high-performing teacher preparation programs, and create a much-needed feedback loop to provide information to prospective teachers, schools and districts, and the general public, and drive improvement across programs.

Read more about the Obama Administration’s proposal, get a pdf copy of our teacher prep infographic, and visit ed.gov/teaching to learn about additional ways the administration is ensuring that teachers and leaders have the support they need from preparation and through their careers.

Listening and Learning at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

ISTP 2014

Delegations from high-performing education systems across the globe gathered for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New Zealand.

At the end of March, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and I joined delegations from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems across the globe for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Whether large or small, highly decentralized or not, countries share a common desire to create a high-quality education system that prepares all children for success in their personal and professional lives. The summits provide a unique opportunity for education ministers and teacher leaders to come together to learn from each other, share best practices, and look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well.

New Zealand welcomed us with a powhiri, the traditional Maori ceremony, which is something most of the international guests and I had never seen. It was a beautiful and moving welcome and I was honored, as the host of the first summit in 2011, to accept the New Zealand challenge for a successful 4th summit on behalf of the international community. Many thanks to New Zealand Minister of Education Hekia Parata and her team for being gracious hosts during the summit.

This year’s summit focused on Excellence, Equity and Inclusiveness. There was complete agreement that where you live or what your parents do for a living should not determine your access to a quality education. We need to invest in education to close opportunity gaps that exist for too many children and create learning environments that allow all children to thrive. Using PISA 2012 data, OECD showed that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Korea and Canada can, and do, achieve both.

Maori Welcome

The International delegations began the summit in New Zealand with an official Maori welcome ceremony.

The countries represented at the summit stressed strong support for early interventions to help children start school healthy and ready to learn—one minister even suggested early learning as the focus of the next summit. Many of the countries around the table, including our New Zealand hosts, have a stronger commitment to early childhood education than we do in the U.S. Young children in New Zealand can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week. Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.  

During the summit, we also talked a lot about teacher leadership and collaboration. For example, Canada involves teachers in making and implementing policy. Representatives from Singapore talked about the importance of consultation and feedback, as well as the country’s three career tracks, which provide different options for teachers’ career progression. New Zealand discussed its proposed program to create new roles and pathways, while Hong Kong mentioned a new school leadership program. These interventions and many others confirmed to me that our new Teach to Lead (T2L) initiative and our ongoing labor-management collaboration mirror what high-performing systems are doing.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to early learning teacher leadership and collaboration, and to continuing the challenging work of education improvement. The U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Continue to work to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities,
  • Increase opportunities for teacher leadership,
  • And, support labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

Dennis, Randi, Chris and I are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 5th summit in Alberta, Canada.  Little did we know three years ago, when we hosted the first international summit, that it would become an international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession to improve learning for all students. Now, let’s get to work.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Q-and-A: Back to School with Arne Duncan

With back-to-school season in full swing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently sat down to respond to some pressing education questions from SmartBlog on Education. Below is the full Q&A:

What is the biggest challenge that teachers face as they go back to school this fall? What guidance would you give them to help them meet the challenge?

Back to school stampThe large majority of states are now making the shift to the Common Core State Standards, a state-led effort to raise standards for which the U.S. Department of Education has provided some support. Educators across the country have embraced the enormous, urgent challenge that goes with this transition to more rigorous academic standards, new assessments, and updated teacher evaluation systems. Teachers are faced with a level of change and reform in schools and districts that is unprecedented.

Overwhelmingly, I’ve heard teachers say that it’s the professional challenge of a lifetime to raise standards so every American student can compete and succeed in the global economy. In discussions with more than 4,000 educators, my team at the U.S. Department of Education and I also have heard teachers say that it’s imperative that we, as a nation, get this right for our kids.

The  Common Core State Standards focus on college- and career readiness and have been adopted voluntarily by a majority of states. The new standards set the bar for student performance high. But they also give teachers the opportunity to go deep into content and innovate. In surveys, three out of four teachers say these standards will help them teach better.

Read More

Cities Announced! 2013 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Bus Tour MapIt’s back-to-school time, which means that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior ED officials are hitting the road once again for the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run September 9-13 and includes visits to states throughout the Southwest with stops in the following cities:

  • Santa, Fe, N.M.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Tempe, Ariz.
  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Yuma, Ariz.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.

Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for Allcollege affordabilityConnectEDfirst-term education efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.

This is the fourth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the Department’s tour took us coast to coast, in 2011, the tour rolled through the Midwest, and in 2010, Duncan and his team visited the South and the Northeast.

Check back soon for additional information on the tour, or simply sign up to receive Strong Start, Bright Future tour updates in your email inbox.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Duncan Discusses Influence of Teacher Voice on New Flexibility Decision

Today, Secretary Duncan announced that ED is offering states flexibility around high stakes personnel decisions and double testing—a decision greatly influenced by educators’ voices.

His decision addresses two areas. First, states will be able to ask for an extra year beyond current plans for teacher evaluation systems before data from new assessments impacts personnel decisions for educators.

Second, during next school year (2013-2014), some schools will field test new assessments. ED will work with states to avoid double-testing students. Over-testing is a very real concern, and schools participating in the field test will receive the option to administer only one assessment in 2013-2014 to any given student— either the current statewide assessment or the field test.

Dan Brown, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF), interviewed Secretary Duncan on his decision.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan’s decision doesn’t come out of the blue. In fact, it was significantly influenced by discussions with teachers around the country. As full-time TAFs, teachers on temporary release from our schools to bring teacher perspective to federal policy-makers, we were literally at the table— and consistently asked to provide educator voice to the high level discussions being held.

In the interest of hearing and elevating teachers’ voices, the 12 members of our TAF team (six full-time Fellows and six part-time Classroom Fellows) traveled to 34 states over the past year and held discussions with well over 4,000 teachers. Teachers, who are the actual implementers for these reforms, are uniquely positioned to offer candid, authentic advice about how to make these urgently needed reforms work best for students.

As Arne describes in the video, we heard from teachers over and over about the unprecedented level of change and reform going on throughout the country as states transition to new standards, new assessments, and new teacher evaluation systems.

Overwhelmingly, we heard support from teachers around the country for raising standards that will ensure students can compete in the global economy. At the same time however, we also heard widespread concern that teachers need time, models, and quality professional development to teach to the new standards effectively. In states where there is a strong commitment to collaboration, teachers feel more empowered, supported, and positive about the current state of reform efforts.

From our vantage point, we believe that the Department and Secretary Duncan are committed to learning from educators. This offer of flexibility reflects the Department’s responsiveness to teachers’ voices. Whether states request the flexibility or not, we hope that we all hear the needs expressed by teachers across the country to make this significant transition sustainably, with room and support for innovation and cycles of professional learning.

Cynthia Apalinski, Jennifer Bado-Aleman, Dan Brown, Kareen Borders, Lisa Clarke, and Marciano Gutierrez are the 2012-2013 Full-Time Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education.

Ask Arne: Elevating the Teaching Profession

As a teacher, I have an axe to grind with how teachers are perceived by many folks outside the education system. Too often we are caricatured as either saviors or deadbeats, and both outsized images impoverish the discourse on how to improve education for all students.

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education— a teacher on release from my school for a year to help bring educator voice to the policy world— I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Secretary Duncan to pick his brain on perceptions of teachers and how he thinks we can improve them.

His answers, seen in the video below, touch in part on the recently released RESPECT Blueprint, a framework for elevating the teaching profession, developed over the past two years through discussions with thousands of educators.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Your comments and questions for future segments of #AskArne are most welcome. Feel free to add them in the comments section here, on Facebook, or on Twitter at #AskArne.

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C

With RESPECT, Educators Lead the Transformation of the Teaching Profession

America’s teachers earn our respect every day, doing some of this country’s toughest and most important work. Over the years, the demands on teachers have grown as standards rose and student needs multiplied. However, the teaching profession has not evolved to meet those growing demands.

RESPECT LogoTwo years ago, active classroom teachers working temporarily at the U.S. Department of Education launched a national dialogue with their classroom colleagues to talk openly and honestly about the challenges and aspirations of America’s teachers.

Nearly 6,000 teachers from across the country weighed in through more than 360 roundtable discussions, online feedback and even social media. They talked about training, mentoring, evaluation, support and how they use time both in and out of the classroom. They discussed technology, school leadership and culture, the role of testing and the importance of a well-rounded curriculum. And they talked about the critical need to provide teachers with autonomy and the trust to do their job.

Today, the Department of Education released the result of this unprecedented national dialogue in a bold and visionary blueprint for reforming the teaching profession. Among other things, it calls for salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law, more support for novice teachers and more career opportunities for veterans.

The blueprint is called RESPECT – an acronym that stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching, and in conjunction with the launch the Department has re-launched our educator homepage to include new information about the RESPECT initiative, including:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

In a decentralized educational system like ours, transforming the teaching profession will only succeed if it is led by educators at the local level and fully embraced by parents, students and community leaders. The RESPECT vision challenges all Americans to honor and value the men and women at the front of the classroom doing the hard work every day to ensure that our future is secure.

Visit www.ed.gov/teaching for more information, and sign up to receive “Teaching Matters,” the official Department of Education newsletter for teachers, by teachers.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Finally a Touch of RESPECT

Teachers in this great country have long yearned for the opportunity to shape their own profession. Our forces have, as of late, been too often divided and unable to conquer. Now, for the first time in recent memory . . . a movement has emerged that offers precisely what is needed—teacher voice.

As a committed elementary PE teacher and concerned parent of school-aged children, a three-time National Board Certified Teacher, and a 2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education, my involvement with this movement has become a near obsession.

RESPECT LOGOThis week, the Obama Administration released the Blueprint for RESPECT, a plan for transforming teaching and leading. Specifically, it includes information about the process used to craft the vision, the research reviewed, and about a description of specific policies and programs that the Department intends to use to support educators. It also includes President Obama’s budget request for $5 billion to support RESPECT. Now that the RESPECT Blueprint is being released, there is much for teachers to be excited about.

For one, teachers love the possibility that they may be paid what they are worth. Despite public perceptions that teaching is a cushy job with summers off, I can personally assure you that the “many-teachers-work-two-jobs” rhetoric is grounded in reality. Another exciting improvement that RESPECT addresses is establishing career ladders that allow people to stay in the classroom without necessarily migrating to an administrative office. Perhaps now that ambitious teacher down the hall who’s been inspiring kids for years can be given the hybrid leadership role that allows her classroom gifts to remain on display while aspirations toward advancement are simultaneously satisfied. Some forward-thinking school districts are already doing this. Why doesn’t everyone?

As a physical education instructor, I can tell you that bringing teacher preparation programs into focus is equally as exciting. For too long the ranks of my coworkers have been populated with professional coaches looking for something to do in between games and practices. A serious effort toward cleaning up teacher prep programs, as discussed in the Blueprint for RESPECT, could mean more disciples of “The New PE” with roots in Naperville, Ill. And maybe more schools like Red Hawk Elementary, in Erie, Colo., would pop up, where movement has been seamlessly woven into the very fabric of this high-achieving school.

But perhaps more significant than all of these factors, the creation of the Blueprint for RESPECT has shown that teacher voice can and should be given a seat at the table.

As the document states–and to which I can personally attest–this entire project has come from engaging over 5,700 educators in 360 different discussions across the country. My own experiences vary as widely as a small roundtable in a humid Richmond high school library, to facilitating a conversation with a couple of hundred representatives from National Blue Ribbon Schools.

This document has taken on many forms prior to its most current status. It has been rewritten, revamped, retooled and refashioned, with each new iteration grounded heavily in teacher sentiment.

It is still unknown whether Congress will fund RESPECT, or even some part of it, but the fact that this movement, led by teachers, has made its way to the Oval Office, underscores the fact that much like doctors, lawyers, architects and other highly respected professionals, we teachers have been given a chance to help shape our own profession. Let’s seize it!

Visit www.ed.gov/teaching for more information on RESPECT.

Mike Humphreys is a 2012-2013 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches physical education in Arlington, Va.

President Obama Honors the 2013 National Teacher of the Year

President Barack Obama, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, honors 2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau

President Barack Obama, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, honors 2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau, State Teachers of the Year, and Principals of the Year, in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Twelve years ago, Zillah High School in Washington state had no engineering classes. The science curriculum was lagging behind, and students had to go off campus to take technology classes.

Jeff Charbonneau, who returned to his hometown 11 years ago to teach at Zillah High, was determined to change that. And he did. Science enrollment is way up. Kids are graduating with college-level science credits. The school expects to have to hire more teachers now to meet the demand.

And today, President Obama honored Jeff as the 2013 National Teacher of the Year.

Jeff teaches chemistry, physics, and engineering, and works to create accessible, interactive lessons that help convince kids that the science classes most students consider hardest are worth diving in to, not running away from. But President Obama said that it’s not just his work in the classroom that distinguishes Jeff.

“He started an outdoors club,” President Obama said. “He brought his passion to the drama program. He’s even helping out other schools.” Because of Jeff, hundreds of students all over Washington are now participating in high-skills robotics competitions and gaining valuable engineering experience.

“There’s nothing that Jeff will not try to give his students the best education in every respect,” President Obama said.

President Obama said that what’s true for Jeff is also true for the other state Teachers of the Year, who stood behind President Obama at today’s event.

They understand that their job is more than teaching subjects like reading or chemistry. They’re not just filling blackboards with numbers and diagrams. In classrooms across America, they’re teaching things like character and compassion and resilience and imagination. They’re filling young minds with virtues and values, and teaching our kids how to cooperate and overcome obstacles.

President Obama thanked Jeff and his fellow educators for their hard work and commitment to America’s young people.

What you do matters. It’s critical to our success as a country, but most importantly, it’s critical to those kids themselves. I cannot think of something more important than reaching that child who maybe came in uninspired, and suddenly, you’ve inspired them.

“Teaching is a profession and it should be treated like one,” President Obama said.

Educators like Jeff and everyone up here today, they represent the very best of America — committed professionals who give themselves fully to the growth and development of our kids. And with them at the front of the classroom and leading our schools, I am absolutely confident that our children are going to be prepared to meet the tests of our time and the tests of the future.

Megan Slack is deputy director of digital content for the White House Office of Digital Strategy