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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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.

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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California Training Partnership Helps New Teachers Bring Innovative Practices to Home Communities

With the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Lupita Prado Machuca has returned to her home community to teach language arts at her former middle school. Once an English language learner, she now teaches students in the community where she grew up and helps them to see the importance of an education that prepares them for college and careers.

Lupita Prado Machuca teaching her 8th Grade Language Arts class in Kern County, California

Machuca is the product of efforts in the central region of California to change the face of teacher preparation by equipping future teachers from local schools with high-quality training. California State University Bakersfield (CSUB), with funding support from a federal Teacher Quality Partnership grant, brings mentor teachers into classrooms of first-year teachers and provides teacher candidates with field experience from day one, increasing their confidence and abilities to take on their own classrooms.

The five year, $10.5 million grant, which began in 2009, supports a partnership among CSUB, California State University Monterey Bay, and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, along with K-12 school districts in Kern and Tulare counties. Known as Edvention Partners, their combined efforts address the diverse needs of schools, teachers, and students within a large geographical, primarily rural, area.

The training program emphasizes solutions to individual and community challenges with professional development tools for educators such as differentiated instruction, positive behavioral intervention, and the culturally responsive teaching (CRT) model. By facilitating teaching aspirations in central California communities, Edvention Partners is empowering teachers to integrate personal experience with research-based teaching practices to promote student achievement.

Local school leaders are very excited to have a talented former student return to teach. “She really has some innovative practices and ways to connect to the students,” said Language Arts Department Chair Stacie Rubinol, who taught Machuca in junior high school. “She really inspires them to learn beyond what is just in the textbook.”

Superintendent Ricardo Robles recognizes how important the Edvention Partners program has been to Machuca and his district. By keeping talented teachers in the community, students can witness an example of the importance of an education that prepares them for college and the workforce. “We’ve been very lucky to get her… Cal State has been a huge asset to our school district,” Robles said.

To learn more about Machuca’s experience, watch this video.

 

Cross-posted from the May 22, 2014, edition of The Teacher’s Edition, a weekly e-newsletter of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Georgia’s Performance Learning Centers Help Students Get Back on Track

A teacher helps a student with an online program.

Students at the Performance Learning Center in Augusta, Georgia, work at their own pace with the help of online programs and their classroom teachers. Photo credit: Natalie Robinson

Last February, 16-year-old Megan enrolled at the Richmond County Performance Learning Center in Augusta, Georgia, with just one high school credit to her name. She had lost ground academically while caring for her ill father and then was thrust into the unstable world of foster care after he died.

This spring, only a year after coming to the alternative high school, Megan is just a little shy of hitting the halfway mark toward graduation. She enjoys writing and literature, and is feeling hopeful about her future. She also thinks her father would have been proud. “What keeps me going is I want to be successful when I grow up,” she said. “If he were here, he would push me to do what was right.”

Performance Learning Centers (PLCs) are designed to help students such as Megan who are far behind accumulate credits quickly so they can graduate. The first one opened in Georgia in 2003 and since then they have been established in a dozen communities in the State. They also operate in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other States.

“They’re doing amazing work with the kids all of the time,” said Cayanna Good, Georgia’s Innovative Programs director. Critical to the centers’ success, Good said, is the flexibility they offer students, who can get extra help before or after school, work at their own pace, and even graduate at any time during the year. For example, the center in Augusta has had about 120 students of various ages enrolled this year, and 20 already have graduated. Another 20 are expected to graduate this spring, according to the school’s principal, Natalie Robinson.

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Colorado Teachers Leading New Standards Adoption

Nine teachers work around a table on model unit.

Pre-service elementary teachers enrolled in the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder work on a third grade social studies unit entitled “State your Claim.” From left to right: Jody Hunt, Lyubov Panchenko, Lauren Finn, Michael Lund, Whitney Johansson, Clare Eisinger, Ellie Roberts, Grace Im, and Katie Molnar. Photo credit: Jenny Arzberger, Colorado Department of Higher Education

Teachers create tools to help peers develop rigorous lessons focused on college- and career-readiness.

Pam Gibble is a veteran teacher with 25 years of classroom experience. She teaches health and physical education at Mountain Range High School in Colorado’s Adams 12 school district—a large suburban district outside of Denver—and serves as the district’s health education coordinator. Over the past two years, Gibble also was among a group of teachers that worked together to prepare curriculum materials that will help their colleagues across the state to smoothly navigate the transition to Colorado’s new standards for health education.

In the process, Gibble developed a deeper understanding of the new standards and how to teach in a more engaging way, one that pushes her students’ thinking. “This project has gotten me so much more familiar with the standards and understanding what needs to be taught,” she said. “It helped me focus on [the question] ‘Are my students actually learning the standards?’… and has taken me away from just teaching the factual to the conceptual.”

Karl Remsen, a high school mathematics teacher in Lake County—a tiny, rural district in the mountains south of Vail—worked with other teachers on sample curriculum for first-year algebra. In framing educators’ thinking about these new standards, Remsen asked, “What are the key questions teachers should ask of their students? [And] how could you organize a year with the standards so you [are] really focusing on the big ideas you want your students to walk away with?”

Gibble and Remsen were among about 500 teachers from 61 school districts who, in fall 2012, worked on the District Sample Curriculum Project, which produced 670 curriculum samples based on the Colorado Academic Standards in 10 subjects. The materials are not meant to impose a state curriculum on Colorado’s 178 school districts. Instead, they offer a starting point for teachers to design their own curricula.

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Roundup: Strategies for Increasing College-going and Success

Students graduating from high school.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Dual Enrollment Now in 47 States

A strategy for increasing high school graduation and college-going is dual enrollment, where high school students are allowed to simultaneously enroll in college classes. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) reported recently that 47 States have laws covering dual enrollment. A list of all States’ dual enrollment policies can be found on the ECS site.

Mapping the Transition to College

For many students and families, the pathway from high school to college can be challenging to navigate. To make it easier, the Citi Foundation created the Postsecondary Success Collaborative to help communities identify and provide the tools students need to succeed in college. In 2008, the collaborative partnered with local partners in three cities and five years’ later, the collaborative is sharing what it learned.

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Washington D.C. Charters, District Schools Collaborate Around College- and Career-Ready Standards

An elementary school educator leads a group of teachers in a discussion.

Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a group of second-grade teachers in a discussion about literary analysis and poetry as part of the DC Common Core Collaborative. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

Two hundred teachers from diverse schools inspire and learn from one another to increase student engagement and achievement.

The rhythmic sound of poetry could be heard coming from the second-grade classroom at Ross Elementary School in Washington, D.C., one recent afternoon, though the students already had left for the day. Inside, teachers from several schools in the city were trying to find a poem that would captivate second graders, teach them about figurative language, and serve as the basis for a writing assignment.

The teachers are part of the DC Common Core Collaborative, which has about 200 participants from 22 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools in the city. They get together regularly to discuss how to align their instruction with new college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were voluntarily adopted by the District of Columbia and 45 States to prepare students for college and careers. The teachers work in small teams of about six educators, all of whom teach the same grade, but at different schools in the city.

Kelly Worland Piantedosi teaches at Ross Elementary School and serves as the coach for the group of second-grade teachers that met in her classroom that afternoon. She said the teachers get inspired by hearing about strategies other educators use. “The exchange of ideas is great—nine times out of 10 you hear, ‘Oh we hadn’t thought about that yet,’” she said. “I know for myself, collaboration makes me a better teacher.”

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Teachers Leading Transformative Changes in Ohio School Districts

Three teachers discuss strategies.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Teachers are taking the lead in increasing college and career readiness and improving instruction in several school districts in Southeastern Ohio, according to the Ohio Race to the Top newsletter. High school teachers in the Franklin Local School District near Zanesville developed a Peer Assisted Review process that gives teachers time to plan together and support one another in the classroom. This and other teacher-led initiatives in the district created a “culture of collaboration” and “just-in-time” support for teachers striving to prepare their students for college and career success. Teams of teachers in nearby Coshocton City Schools are working together to assess students and analyze data to improve instruction.

Read more about these teacher-led initiatives here.

Massachusetts Districts Adopt Rigorous MassCore Course Requirements for High School Graduates

A teacher helps two students in a school science lab.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Twenty years ago, Massachusetts was one of the first States to raise expectations for what all students should know and be able to do by implementing higher standards and greater accountability for schools and districts.  Today, the State’s students consistently perform at the top on national assessments. Even with that enviable track record, Massachusetts continues to see gaps in achievement and college- and career-readiness based on students’ race, ethnicity, native language, and family poverty level.

So, in 2007, after the State Department of Education reported that too many students were leaving high school unprepared for the rigors of college and the workplace, Massachusetts established what it called the “MassCore” course of study: more instruction in mathematics, English, science, social studies and a foreign language. Massachusetts recommended that all high school students meet the MassCore course of study, and left it up to individual school districts to determine whether to require it.

A student does a math worksheet with a graphing calculator nearby.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

The Melrose Public School district just north of Boston was among the first to make the MassCore course of study a requirement.  “We’re asking more of students,” said Margaret Adams, the district’s chief academic officer. “If we help and support them and give them the tools to be successful, they rise to the occasion every time.”

In 2009, the Federal Race to the Top program invited States to submit aggressive, comprehensive plans for improving curriculum and instruction, enhancing educator effectiveness, and ensuring that more students are well prepared for success in college and careers. In their response to the invitation, Massachusetts State officials highlighted the potential of MassCore to increase student success in higher education and the 21st century global economy. That led to efforts to provide districts with incentives and support to encourage more of them to make the MassCore course of study a requirement.

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