National History Day Contest Deepens Understanding and Appreciation of History

My colleague, Mia Howerton, and I were invited to serve as judges for the National History Day (NHD) competition finals in College Park, Md., on June 17, 2014. History is an area of special interest for us, as we both serve as program officers for the Teaching American History program. Mia also taught social studies at the middle school level for six years in Richmond, Va. It was refreshing to have the opportunity to leave our Washington, D.C. office for a day and interact with students. Being able to see the exemplary projects students have created in pursuit of their quest for historical knowledge and understanding helped us to better appreciate the impact that national education programs can have on individual students.

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the group documentary “The Mark of McCarthy.” (Photo by  Route 1 Multimedia, courtesy of National History Day)

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the group documentary The Mark of McCarthy. (Photo by Route 1 Multimedia, courtesy of National History Day)

NHD offers middle and high school students the opportunity to create a history project of their choosing based on an annual theme — Rights and Responsibilities in History for 2014. The project categories are exhibit, performance, documentary, paper, and website. All project types can be done by individuals or groups, except for papers, which must be individual. Projects are judged on three evaluation criteria: historical quality (60 percent), relation to the theme (20 percent), and clarity of presentation (20 percent). Prizes are also awarded to projects that focus on particular themes in history, such as the Civil War History prize sponsored by the Civil War Trust, the Outstanding Entry on an International Theme prize sponsored by The History Channel, and the Native American History prize sponsored by the National Park Service.

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NWP Report Contributes to National Dialogue and Action

nwp teacher voicesThe National Writing Project (NWP) released the third installment in its Teacher Voices series, Teaching Young Men of Color. The report is a welcome addition to the national conversation about expanding opportunities for minority males, the focus of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Resulting from a collaboration of the NWP and the College Board, Teaching Young Men of Color delivers the insights of 12 extraordinary classroom teachers, who reflect on their students’ experiences in the academic world and society at large.

These educators, from diverse geographic and racial backgrounds as well as academic disciplines, offer powerful insights about young men of color that could only be derived from years of successful classroom teaching. The insights fall roughly into two broad themes:

  • Gender: Along with factors such as race, language, and socioeconomic status, gender plays a critical role in the teaching and learning process.
  • Effective classroom practices: There is an abundance of classroom practices that teachers surveyed for this report identified as effective for minority males. Some are tied to the fundamentals that undergird all good teaching, and others are specific to particular populations.

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i3 Grant Increases Success of Under-Represented Advanced Placement Students

Arvada High School Principal Kathy Norton (fourth from left) and students accept a check from the Colorado Education Initiative for outstanding A.P. course completion scores. Pictured, left to right, are: Greg Hessee (director of initiatives, Colorado Education Initiative), Cindy Stevenson, former Jefferson County Schools superintendent; Tony Giurado, executive director of school effectiveness, Jefferson County Schools; Arvada High Principal Norton; Leroy Williams, Ball Corporation; Herman Musimbi, senior at Arvada High; Robert Hammond, Colorado Commissioner of Education; Desmas Archuleta, junior at Arvada High; Matt Walsh, achievement director, Jefferson County Schools; and  Helayne Jones, president & CEO, Colorado Education Initiative.

Arvada High School Principal Kathy Norton (fourth from left) and students accept a check from the Colorado Education Initiative for outstanding A.P. course completion scores. Pictured, left to right, are: Greg Hessee, director of initiatives, Colorado Education Initiative; Cindy Stevenson, former Jefferson County Schools superintendent; Tony Giurado, executive director of school effectiveness, Jefferson County Schools; Arvada High Principal Norton; Leroy Williams, Ball Corporation; Herman Musimbi, senior at Arvada High; Robert Hammond, Colorado Commissioner of Education; Desmas Archuleta, junior at Arvada High; Matt Walsh, achievement director, Jefferson County Schools; and Helayne Jones, president & CEO, Colorado Education Initiative. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Education Initiative)

Across Colorado, students who don’t normally attend Advanced Placement (A.P.)* classes are not only attending, but also are earning passing scores in those classes. This is thanks to the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative (CLSI) and its outreach to 23 high schools throughout the state. The Initiative’s purpose is to dramatically increase the number and diversity of students succeeding in math, science, and English A.P. courses.

A 2013 report by the Education Trust, Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students, notes that while 91 percent of American public school students in 2010 attended high schools that offered A.P courses, only about 12 percent of those students participated in the courses. Moreover, that participation disproportionally favored middle- and high-income students, who were three times more likely to enroll in A.P. courses as low-income students. Similar advanced course participation disparities were found between racial and ethnic student groups. White students participated at the 12-percent national average for A.P. enrollment and Asian students at more than twice that rate. By contrast, the A.P. participation rates for black, American Indian, and Hispanic students ranged from six to nine percent. The “real advanced-course opportunity gap lies … not between schools, but within them,” the report noted, estimating that “if all groups of students attending AP schools were served equally, more than 640,000 additional low-income students and students of color would benefit.”

Other research supports CLSI’s commitment to seeing that students not just take A.P. courses but pass their rigorous exams, increasing the students’ competitiveness for college admissions and advance course credits, as well as their eligibility for scholarships, potential to double major or study abroad, and the likelihood of graduating in four years.

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Washington State Teachers Bring Real-World Problems to the Classroom

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Teachers at Sammamish High School meet for collaborative PBL curriculum planning. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Miller/Edutopia)

Changing a high school curriculum — such as moving it from traditional pedagogy and assessment to problem-based learning (PBL) — is a huge challenge, and one that the faculty and students at Sammamish High School in Washington state’s Bellevue School District know well. They’re three years into a five-year transition to PBL with support from an Investing in Innovation (i3) Development grant.

Since the inception of i3 project in 2010, teachers and administrators at Sammamish High School have collaborated and redesigned 30 courses to incorporate PBL. They believe it will better prepare their students for college and careers by making content across the curriculum more engaging and relevant to the world students will encounter after high school. “Turning the school inside out,” is how Suzanne Reeve, a Sammamish High teacher leader, describes it.

Sammamish High teachers describe the process of integrating problem-based learning into a traditional curriculum through thoughtful planning and implementation.

Collaboration has been key for teachers and students as they make the transition from Sammamish’s traditional curriculum to problem-based learning. Seventy-five teachers so far have worked in subject-area teams to create rigorous coursework that engages all students. It’s a “really challenging mental shift” for the teachers, according to Adrienne Curtis Dickinson, another of the PBL teacher leaders, but the course redesign process is giving teachers a voice and the ability to decide where best to integrate problems or projects into the curriculum.

Dickinson, who is social studies teacher at Sammamish, is reporting on her school’s journey in Edutopia™, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, that is collaborating with the Bellevue schools on the implementation of its i3 project. Click here to read her latest report and watch a companion video in “Case Study: Reinventing a Public High School with Problem-Based Learning.”

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KIPP Study Results Show Achievement Advantages for Middle School Students

Last March, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released its review of the portion of a Mathematica study showing that students attending KIPP middle schools scored higher than matched non-KIPP students. The study involved use of a quasi-experimental, matched-student research design, and WWC found that it meets WWC evidence standards with reservations (see definitions below)

ies wwcIn its recently released final report on the KIPP study, the WWC determined that the research described in the lottery-based, randomized-control trial (RCT) portion of the same study meets WWC evidence standards without reservations for the one-year follow-up and meets standards with reservations for the later-year follow-ups because of high sample attrition in those years. In the RCT portion of the study, students who entered the lottery and won were compared with those students who entered the lottery but did not win. While the WWC has conducted reviews of other studies focused on the charter sector, the only charter model that the WWC has reviewed, both in this review and in previous reviews, is the KIPP model.

Specifically, the experimental portion of the study found that students who were offered admission to 13 KIPP middle schools scored significantly higher on mathematics assessments in the first and second years after the lottery as well as in the fall of the third year after the lottery than students who entered the lottery but did not win admission to KIPP charters. For the comparisons of reading assessments between the KIPP and non-KIPP students, however, there were not statistically significant differences in any of the years.

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Time-Tested Routines at Heart of Common Core Transition

As states, districts, and schools implement the Common Core State Standards, a new resource to help them with the change process is available from The Achievement Network (ANet), an OII Investing in Innovation (i3) grantee. Focusing on the How: Guidance for School and District Leaders on Supporting Teachers Through the Transition to the Common Core addresses the uncertainty that educators may have about the transition to the Common Core.

Educators’ traditional sources of stability and direction are undergoing change as they implement the content changes associated with Common Core. It is “time-tested routines,” according to ANet, that can provide an infrastructure for implementing the new standards. These include “consistent, collaborative routines for planning from standards, evaluating student progress, and adapting instruction based on student needs.”

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Young Artists Are Shining Examples of Quality Arts Education

On Friday, Sept. 13, the Department was honored to host some of the nation’s most creatively accomplished middle and high school students at the Student Art Exhibit Program’s opening ceremony of the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners in Barnard Auditorium. These bright, young visual artists and writers — some of whom made the trek from as far away as Hawaii and Oregon — were celebrated by their families, their teachers, Department staff, and outside arts educators as shining examples of the importance of a strong arts education.

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners cut the ribbon to open the exhibit. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners cut the ribbon to open the exhibit. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

There are two award-winning Scholastic visual art exhibits of more than 85 original pieces on display in the LBJ headquarters lobby. A year-long, national exhibit is mounted all around the lobby walls and a special exhibit of Scholastic’s Massachusetts affiliate’s award-winning works are on display in the rotating gallery through September.

The artists and their guests arrived as early as 8 a.m. to enjoy a continental breakfast and preview the exhibits. Later, the students and their teachers broke off into separate groups and the students attended a storytelling workshop, led by Writopia Lab, while their teachers attended a professional development workshop. At this time, other guests were treated to a screening of the 2013 Scholastic National Medalists’ award-winning film and animation works.

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Common Core and Arts Integration in Philadelphia

Adapting teaching methods to learning standards is not always an easy task. Teachers and school administrators working with new or updated standards, like the Common Core State Standards, are faced with developing and recalibrating methods to ensure alignment. So imagine the challenge of redesigning a $1.1 million federal program right in the middle of a four-year grant cycle. That was the daunting task that faced the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) as it worked alongside the School District of Philadelphia to integrate the arts into the curriculum in four Philadelphia schools.

PAEP was awarded a four-year grant through the Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Program (AEMDD) in 2010. Entitled Arts Link: Building Mathematics and Science Competencies through an Arts Integration Model, the grant aims to integrate the arts into the math and science curriculum in grades two through five. The end goal is to increase student achievement in these subjects by presenting the material through lessons and in ways not done previously.

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Research Suggests Positive Impact of Music Education

Can studying music help students to achieve college- and career-ready goals?  That was the case for Fatima Salcido, a student at Tulane University, and Christian Martinez, a high school junior who is earning college credits from Los Angeles City College. For both Fatima and Christian, the Harmony Project, a nonprofit instrumental music program in Los Angeles, provided them not only music instruction, but skills that helped them succeed in academic areas like reading.

Researchers at Northwestern University are conducting studies of the impact of music education on child and adolescent brain development, focusing on students participating in both the Harmony Project and public charter schools in Chicago. They are looking at how music education affects learning and communication skills, and exploring the possibility that music can positively affect the academic achievement gap between groups of students.

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Meeting the Challenges of Military-Connected Children

On July 9, 2013, Secretary Arne Duncan addressed participants at the Military Child Education Coalition’s (MCEC) 15th-Annual Training Seminar, “For the Sake of the Child,” in National Harbor, Md. The Secretary expressed appreciation for our service members and their families and acknowledged the personal sacrifices made by military-connected children. Organizations like the MCEC are focused on ensuring quality educational opportunities for all military children affected by mobility, family separation, and transition.

The Secretary noted that military-connected students face unique education challenges as the result of frequent moves and multiple deployments. Of the 1.2 million school-age children of military service members, nearly 80 percent attend public schools. Thus public schools are distinctively positioned to address the needs of these students at a pivotal point in their lives. The Common Core Standards, according the Secretary, can help to ensure that all students, regardless of where they attend schools, will receive a high-quality education. And they can particularly benefit the children of active-duty military members who move three times more often than their civilian counterparts.

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