New Jersey Teachers Lead the Way in Expecting More from Students

Teacher Laura Sandy is at the front of her room learning over a table of three male students who are working on a hands-on geometry project. Two other students work in the background, and a Smart Board at the front of the room presents the problem for the students to solve.

Teacher Laura Sandy working with her sixth grade students at West Deptford Middle School. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Laura Sandy.

Teachers helped develop model curriculum aligned to college- and career-ready standards.

When beginning a lesson on area and perimeter earlier this year with her students, third-grade teacher Michele Elliott turned to New Jersey’s model curriculum for guidance on how to teach what students should know and be able to do under new, more-rigorous college- and career-ready standards. Then she set about having some fun.

Elliott, who teaches at Green-Fields Elementary School in West Deptford, New Jersey, and her students, applied masking tape to the tiled floor of their classroom to make rectangles of various sizes. The children then used the rectangles as the starting point for discussions about perimeter and its relationship to area.

This is just one example of how New Jersey teachers are using the State’s model curriculum, which the State’s teachers helped develop.

“The model curriculum guides you by expanding on the standards, but you have a lot of freedom with it in how you teach,” Elliott said. “It gives you a goal, but how you get there is based on whatever you think will work best for your students.”

The State’s Race to the Top grant helped support the development of the model curriculum, which covers English language arts and mathematics. The image is a quote box with text, it quotes teacher Michele Elliott and reads: "The model curriculum guides you by expanding on the standards, but you have a lot of freedom with it in how you teach. It gives you a goal, but how you get there is based on whatever you think will work best or your students." An estimated 300 teachers volunteered to work with the State to create the model curriculum in 2012.

“They were very excited about putting something together that was coherent and made sense, that reflected what they wanted good instruction to look like,” said Meghan Snow, who helped lead the effort in mathematics for the New Jersey Department of Education.

Elliott’s district, which is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, opted to use the mathematics model curriculum in all five of its schools because of its high quality.

New Jersey’s 75 Priority Schools, which have student outcomes that put them in the bottom five percent of the schools in the State, are required by the State to use the curricula unless they can show they have other alternatives that are also aligned to the new standards.

The State’s Regional Achievement Centers provide teachers at Priority Schools with coaching and professional development opportunities. The Priority Schools also benefit from a technology system provided to them by the State that allows teachers to view and analyze student performance data in real time throughout the school year using formative assessments embedded in the model curriculum.

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Boston Public Schools Engage Families to Help Turn Schools Around

Strengthening the bond between parents and schools increases learning.

Three students are seated on the floor of their classroom. Two of the students work together on a project, and the third is looking up towards the not pictured teacher.

Photo Credit: US Department of Education

When family and community outreach coordinator Ana Contreras walked into John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Boston’s Jamaica Plains neighborhood in fall 2010, she knew she had her work cut out for her. The school was low-performing, and Massachusetts had provided it with a Federal School Improvement Grant to raise student achievement.

One of the main strategies for improving performance at John F. Kennedy and other low-performing schools in Boston, such as William Blackstone Elementary in the South End and Orchard Gardens K–8 Pilot School in Roxbury, was to involve parents and the community in students’ learning and the daily life of the school.

“We view parents as partners and a necessary piece of the puzzle for improving student achievement,” said Meghan Welch, director of operations at Orchard Gardens. “We want parents to be involved, so our school is open to families. Parents see teachers and know them. They see staff in action. It helps avoid misunderstandings. And if something is not going well, parents know it is okay to come in and talk because they have been here before for positive events.”

It is widely recognized by educators that parents who support their children’s learning both in school and at home, communicate regularly with teachers, and have high expectations make a big contribution to student learning. In Massachusetts, policymakers believe the potential of parent and community engagement is so great that the State insists that engagement is included as an indicator in evaluating the performance of teachers and principals.

In Boston Public Schools, educators are betting that parent and community engagement can help put entire schools that have had a history of low student achievement on the road to improvement. The district’s Office of Family and Student Engagement launched a Parent University in 2009 to support parents’ involvement in their children’s education. The district also has placed an outreach coordinator at each school to help faculty and staff build productive relationships with families and community members. Five years later, this investment is paying dividends, with schools across Boston seeing increases in proficiency rates for English language arts and mathematics.

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Bracken Academy Runs on STEAM Power

A Bracken STEAM Academy teacher, Michelle Wheatfill, stands at the front of her class. presenting a lesson to students seated at tables around the room.

Teacher Michelle Wheatfill introduces a lesson to her 5th grade class. (Photo Credit: Clark County School District)

The Bracken STEAM Academy of Las Vegas is helping students reach higher standards. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — an extension of what is commonly known as STEM.  Through the integration of new STEAM technology and opportunities for hands-on learning, the school is enhancing instruction to place a renewed focus on holding all students to rigorous, college and career ready standards.

With the help of an Any Given Child grant from the US Department of Education and federal Title I money, students are being exposed to a wide variety of STEAM opportunities. They had the opportunity to attend out of school events like the Las Vegas Philharmonic and The Science Guy performances, and are now able to access computer labs before and after school. Experiences like these are helping teachers provide students with hands-on learning experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to provide.

“We are re-engineering the way that we teach,” said Principal Kathleen Decker, who has been in her position for 13 years. “I do see the teachers using a lot more hands-on, a lot more project based learning, and a lot more differentiated and individualized instruction than in the past.”

The expanded opportunities and the move to higher standards has led to a change in culture in her school. “Our expectations are much, much higher than they were before [the current standards],” Decker observed. “And the children are accomplishing way more than what we had expected of them five or six years ago.”

Teachers are seeing firsthand the difference teaching with heightened standards makes.

“The students are learning exponentially,” said fifth-grade teacher Michelle Wheatfill, who has been at Bracken for nine years. She notes that with changes happening in her school, her role as a teacher is changing. “Because of the technology we have, [the students] take charge of a lot of their learning. We’re there just to help guide them, instead of teaching every lesson with direct instruction.”

With teachers and leaders raising the bar, students are feeling more engaged and challenged by the new standards. Wynn, a third grade student, said that “Bracken is so good because the teachers don’t stop you at certain levels. They keep pushing you so you can keep going higher and get better.”

To read more about how Bracken STEAM is transitioning to more rigorous, college and career ready standards see the full post on our Homeroom Blog.

Colorado Teachers Helping Build State’s Educator Effectiveness System

System focuses on continuous improvement to better prepare students for success in college and careers.

Lisa Rossi is a fifth grade teacher at Bethke Elementary in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado. She has taught elementary school in the same district for 25 years and, for 20 of those years, has served as a mentor for her colleagues, helping them hone their craft.

This image is a “Race to the Top Snapshot” titled “Colorado State Model Evaluation System.” The subtitle is “Annual Performance Evaluation for Teachers.” The graphic is divided into two sections. The first section provides an overview of the model. The section shows that the model is divided in half. 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations are based on Statewide Quality Standards for professional practice. Components of the Statewide Quality Standards are content knowledge, classroom environment, instruction, reflection and leadership. The other 50 percent of teachers evaluations is based on multiple measures of student growth including end-of-course exams, State assessment (CMAS) results, teacher developed measures and benchmark assessments. Based on the teacher evaluations, teachers receive one of four effectiveness ratings: (1) ineffective, (2) partially effective, (3) effective, and (4) highly effective. The second section is about the observations and feedback, and there are four statements about the observations and feedback. First, probationary teachers receive at least two documented observations per year. Second, beyond the requirement of two observations per year, districts determine the frequency and scope of observations and feedback. Third, evaluations focus on meaningful feedback and continuous professional growth. Finally, data supplies critical information but human judgment is also important to ensure the process is fair and accurate.

The Colorado State Model Evaluation System is used to provide annual performance evaluations for teachers.

Three years ago, as a member of Bethke’s School Improvement Team, she took on a larger challenge: leading an effort to help her school district develop a new system for evaluating and supporting teachers. Her work has focused on implementing a framework for teaching and learning that provides a shared definition of what it means to be an effective teacher as well as the tools to measure this. The framework, which was developed by the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington, is being used to help all teachers in the district analyze and improve their practices. Among the framework’s elements are student engagement, classroom culture and assessing student learning. “We all have areas we’re really strong in and areas we need to grow in,” Rossi said. “Now, we can be much more specific about what our growth areas are.”

Hundreds of teachers like Rossi across Colorado have been similarly engaged, working with their local districts on the details of new evaluation and support systems designed to give teachers better feedback on how to help prepare their students for success in college and careers. Thousands more have participated in surveys, feedback sessions and focus groups, or served on a statewide advisory council.  By listening closely to feedback and proactively enlisting key stakeholders in the design process, Colorado has created an evaluation system by educators for educators.

A 2010 State law, Senate Bill 10-191, required districts to develop new systems for strengthening the connection between teachers’ performance and student learning. Like other States, Colorado used part of its Federal Race to the Top grant to develop and implement its new system and conduct extensive stakeholder outreach.

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Educator Portal Plus is Go-To Source for District of Columbia Teachers

Photo Credit: US Department of Education.

Teachers are getting support they need to improve their practices and deepen students’ knowledge and skills.

When geometry teacher Robert Athmer started working in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) four years ago, he was disappointed with the way the school district communicated and shared resources with educators. At the time, DCPS’s online portal provided only basic information and was difficult to navigate.  He found it “lacked inspiration.”

But today, after a major overhaul in response to teacher input, the portal gets frequent use.  Athmer now considers the revamped version of the portal an essential way of connecting with school district officials and fellow teachers, accessing meaningful professional development materials, viewing high-quality lesson plans and staying up-to-date on key professional learning opportunities.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” Athmer said. “I tend to use the resource tab all the time for things like pacing guides, unit plans, lesson ideas and formative assessment ideas. The resources for secondary mathematics are great. Everything is up there.”

The site is called Educator Portal Plus and it was redesigned with support from grants that included the district’s Race to the Top grant. It is being used by 90 percent of DCPS teachers and is also open to teachers at charter schools in the district who can see lessons aligned to the Common Core State Standards or tap into other professional learning resources on the site.

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Engaging Educators to Design and Improve New Systems of Evaluation and Support: 5 to Watch

This graphic highlights five initiatives of States and districts to engage educators. At the top of the graphic with the title is a map of the United States with five States highlighted: Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, Florida, and Connecticut. In the body of the graphic, there are five images with text next to them. The first image is two people talking. The text next to the image is “Denver Public Schools: Union leaders and teachers from pilot schools helped secure 92% support for the new system.” The second image is comment bubbles with a question mark. The text next to the image is “Tennessee use an online rapid response system to answer educators’ questions about the new system within 48 hours.” The third image is a picture of a survey. The text next to the image is “Hillsborough County (FL) is using feedback from teachers to adjust communications and solve technical problems with its system.” The fourth image is a person speaking to an audience. The text next to the image is “Illinois proactively involved the two statewide teachers’ unions and the nonprofit Teach Plus to get input from teachers at the front end.” The fifth and final image is two hands in a handshake. The text next to the image is “New Haven (CT) teachers are helping to craft the educator evaluation and support system, which is seen as a model of labor-management collaboration.” Under the body of the graphic is the sentence: “More online in Engaging Educators: A Reform Support Network Guide for States and Districts.” 	 The link to the publication: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/implementation-support-unit/tech-assist/engaging-educators.pdf

Many States and school districts are proactively engaging educators in helping to shape key reforms, including evaluation, feedback and support systems. Five to watch are:

Denver Public Schools (CO) avoided the “happy talk” that often undermines credibility with its “keep-it-real” communications campaign, focused on successes and challenges. Union leaders and teachers from evaluation pilot programs traveled to nonpilot schools to articulate first-hand experiences, an effort that led to 92 percent of schools joining the pilot evaluation program.

Hillsborough County (FL) created educator advisory panels and surveyed teachers (“pulse checks”) to assess their understanding of and attitudes toward the evaluation and support system. The district is using this feedback to adjust communications with teachers via e-magazines and podcasts, publish updates to address confusion and efficiently solve technical problems with the system.

Illinois proactively engaged two statewide teachers’ unions through early discussion and advisory roles to co-create its teacher evaluation, feedback and support system. And the State worked with the nonprofit Teach Plus to organize several feedback forums across the State.

New Haven Public Schools (CT) teachers are helping to craft the educator evaluation and support system, which has been held up as a model of labor-management collaboration. A teacher’s overall evaluation is based on classroom observations (conducted by peers or administrators) and student learning goals (including student assessment data) that teachers set with their supervisors.

Tennessee set up an online rapid response system to answer questions about the new teacher evaluation and support system. The department fielded up to 75 questions a day and responded within 48 hours.

Details in Engaging Educators: A Reform Support Network Guide for States and DistrictsTo view a more detailed version of this graphic, click here.

Leader Spotlight with Florida Principal Tauri Eligon

Tauri Eligon, a member of the first Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Education Leadership (PROPEL) class, in front of a PROPEL ad on a wall

Tauri Eligon was the first member of the inaugural class of the Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Education Leadership (PROPEL) program at Florida Atlantic University to be hired as an assistant principal. Participants in the selective program are effective teachers who are nominated by their principals and who are selected after several rounds of interviews. During the first half of the 16-month program, participants continue teaching four days a week in their own school, take classes part-time and do administrative tasks under the supervision of the principal. During the second half, participants complete a four-week apprenticeship at a high-needs school, learning from the principal about leadership and how to give teachers helpful feedback. Eligon started his job at Challenger Elementary in Tamarac in September 2013, 20 months after he entered the training program

Q. What inspired you to become a teacher?
A. My mother, who was a high school teacher in Brooklyn. She had some of the toughest students you could possibly have. But she treated all of her students as if they were her kids. That left a lasting mark on me.

Q. You were an elementary school teacher for 14 years and had also served as a mentor teacher and mathematics specialist. Did you always want to be a principal?
A. No. But I had a principal who saw some leadership qualities in me. He opened my eyes to the possibilities of the impact I could have in a leadership position.

Q. What was the most beneficial part of the PROPEL program?
A. The professors were not typical professors. They were area superintendents, principals and directors. They were able to provide real-life examples of leadership.

Q. What else was helpful to you?
A.  We learned to have difficult conversations with parents—telling parents that their children are having trouble academically or socially; telling parents that their children may be having thoughts that might be violent. These are conversations that need to happen, that do happen, and they’re not easy. The training absolutely helped. We spent a lot of time talking through different scenarios, different problems and having practice conversations.

Q. Was there anything in particular you felt you needed to learn?
A. I needed to learn quickly to be a better manager of time, a better leader and a better collaborator. It’s a different skill set, and these are skills that need to be learned and honed.

 

To learn more about PROPEL and Florida’s principal preparation programs, visit the full post here.

New York Puts Spotlight on Teachers Engaging Parents

Teacher leads a workshop for parents during "Parent University" on May 1

With 47 workshops offered at the May 1 “Parent University,” teachers engaged parents in their children’s education. Credit: Steve Bartholomew

South Huntington schools invite parents back to school to learn about new college and career standards

When parents at the Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center in South Huntington, New York, began asking questions about the unfamiliar assignments their children were bringing home last fall, teachers thought they deserved answers. So, the teachers with the support of teacher leaders put together an evening demonstration of how the State’s new college and career ready standards had changed both how they were teaching and what students were expected to do.

On January 8, the night of the demonstration, the notorious polar vortex of the winter of 2014 slammed into Long Island, and the temperature plunged into the single digits. Undeterred, the teachers went ahead with the event and hundreds of parents braved the cold and sat through sample lessons in mathematics and English language arts to learn how to ask their children questions like those they hear in school.

“Instead of just asking their kids how their day went, they might say ‘I’m noticing that your homework is different. I wonder what you can teach me about that,’” said Stephanie Brown, a sixth grade English language arts teacher and “parent academy” organizer. “We taught them how to do a close read of text. So, when they’re home and a child has to read something, they can ask, ‘What’s the gist of the first three paragraphs?’”  

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Hawaii Zones of School Innovation Committed to Improvement

Four students pose for a photo, holding vegetables they have picked as part of an agriculture project with Makaha Farms.

Hawaii created two Zones of School Innovation to support regions with many of the state’s lowest performing schools. Schools in these zones benefit from greater flexibility and from state investments in curriculum, professional development, technology, teacher recruitment, and wraparound services such as medical care and nutrition education. Photo credit: Hawaii Department of Education

Investing in teachers, time, services and technology to close achievement gaps

Bem is a ninth-grade student who lives with his parents, cousins and grandparents, migrants from the Marshall Islands, in a sparsely populated area of the island of Hawaii, 25 miles away from Kau High School. There are many obstacles Bem faces on a daily basis to receive an education. Just getting to school regularly is a challenge, as it is for many other students in this largely rural part of the State.

But, lately, Bem has been attending school more regularly and has become more engaged in his school work. He even says he wants to get involved in student government. “He’s been coming to school every day, he’s more serious about his studies and he knows that learning is going to take hard work,” said Kau High and Pahala Elementary Principal Sharon Beck.

A comprehensive set of policies and services put in place over the past few years across the sprawling Kau–Keaau–Pahoa Complex Area of schools is starting to make a difference. Unlike every other State, Hawaii has a single, statewide school system. Complex areas function like school districts in other States. In its successful application for a Federal Race to the Top grant, Hawaii said it would make two complexes—Kau–Keaau–Pahoa on the island of Hawaii and Nanakuli–Waianae on the island of Oahu—Zones of School Innovation (ZSIs) because they each had several schools that were among the lowest performing in the State.

That meant additional flexibilities and investments for ZSI schools including:  more instructional time during the school year as well as in the summer; financial incentives to attract effective teachers and leaders to remote schools; a common curriculum; intensive support for early-career as well as experienced teachers; an infusion of technology to expand students’ understanding of the world; giving principals more control over hiring decisions; and arranging for medical care, mental health counseling, nutrition education and other services.

These enormous changes have led to evidence of progress. Eight of the 18 schools in the zones identified as low-performing four years ago have now met performance targets and, in more than half, student growth is outpacing State averages in both reading and mathematics. Statewide, Hawaii public schools have narrowed the achievement gap by 12 percent, and on-time graduation has increased by seven percent.

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Parent and Community Engagement is Key Driver of School Transformation in Baltimore

A teacher leans over a students desk, helping him with an assignment.

As part of its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, Baltimore City Public Schools has employed a holistic parent engagement strategy to turn around struggling schools. One principal built relationships with parents and students by shaking hands before and after school each day. Teachers sent out flyers, knocked on doors, and made phone calls to parents to discuss their children’s performance. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

School turnarounds require changes in school culture and strong relationships with parents

Commodore John Rogers Elementary/Middle School is located in an impoverished neighborhood of East Baltimore that struggles with high rates of gang violence and teen pregnancy. Ninety-five percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and many are three or more grade levels behind in reading when they enter. The school floundered academically for years. In 2010, based on its test scores, Commodore ranked 872 out of 875 schools in Maryland. It enrolled only 225 students, half of the building’s capacity. Four principals had come and gone during the previous five years.

In the past four years, however, the school’s results have improved measurably. Enrollment more than doubled, chronic absences dropped significantly, and the percentage of students proficient in reading and mathematics rose 20 percent. In 2012, the school’s mathematics performance exceeded the districtwide average.

Creating More High Quality School Options

How did this happen?

In 2010, Baltimore City Public Schools chose Commodore to participate in its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, an effort launched by former Superintendent Andrés Alonso to increase the number of high quality schools in the district. The city opened new schools, expanded the capacity of high-performing ones, closed the lowest performers, and began working to turn around struggling schools. During the first full year of the program, the Baltimore City school board approved eight new schools and moved to close nine low-performing ones. In addition, all high schools became schools of choice.

Commodore was among a group of persistently low-performing schools selected to be part of a districtwide turnaround initiative, which brought intensive support underwritten by the State’s Federal Race to the Top award and School Improvement Grant. The goal: transform school culture and dramatically accelerate learning outcomes. Interventions varied by school, but included new leadership, extra support staff, a longer learning day, new technology, more staff mentoring, and professional development for teachers.

Parent Engagement a Top Priority

Marc Martin, a seasoned school leader with a strong track record of success, became Commodore’s new principal. In addition to hiring new staff and renovating the building, Martin made parent engagement a top priority. He set out to get to know each parent personally, to build trust and hope. “I literally slept here during the summer before the school opened,” he said. “We sent out flyers, made phone calls and knocked on doors to let families know we were here.”

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