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.
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.
Mandy Tang teaches first graders a math lesson in Chinese. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod
Cumberland, Maryland – In this quiet mountain town in western Maryland, a classroom of first-graders at West Side Elementary School sings a cheerful song in Mandarin and then seamlessly transitions into a lesson on subtraction—also taught entirely in Chinese.
West Side, in rural Allegany County, is one of about 19 schools throughout Maryland that are part of the State’s innovative World Languages Pipeline program, which helps elementary-school students gain vital skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as a solid foundation in key foreign languages. Although the students are only in elementary school, the lessons represent an early start on preparing them for success in college and careers later on.
The program was spurred by the Federal Race to the Top program, which encouraged States to come up with innovative ways to prepare more students for success after high school as a way to boost the nation’s economic competitiveness. In its application for the Race to the Top grant, State officials made the case that “Maryland’s competitive edge in an increasingly flat world depends on the preparation of graduates who are highly skilled in STEM.”
The Race to the Top grant gave the State a chance to convene stakeholders who have collaborated to plan how best to combine STEM and foreign language instruction. It also allowed the State to work with STEM teachers on curricula that could be translated into Chinese, Arabic and Spanish. Those materials help the foreign language teachers deliver lessons on topics such as the diversity of life in the rainforest, the science of sound and the three states of matter.
Phidell (far left) and fellow rural Florida high school students work on a STEM project.
Photo credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars
Phidell Lewis, a 17-year-old senior at a 450-student high school in a thinly populated area of the Florida Panhandle, had two big adventures this past summer.
He spent four days alongside some of the nation’s top scientists as part of a group analyzing nanomaterials, tiny particles with special characteristics. He also attended a forum of engineers representing various industries, where he learned that mechanical engineers have skills that can be useful in the field of animation, which Phidell has been considering as a career.
Photo Credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars
Both opportunities came about because Phidell is one of hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida who are STEM Scholars—part of a new State initiative to expose students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through its Race to the Top grant.
STEM education is critical in preparing the State’s labor force to be competitive in the increasingly high-tech global economy. Many new and existing jobs require expertise in STEM fields, as well as post-secondary credentials. In Florida, estimates indicate that nearly 9 out of 10 new jobs that become available over the next decade will be in STEM fields according to a 2010 report issued by the Council of 100, a group of Florida business leaders who advise the governor, called Closing the Talent Gap.
An instructional coach gives a thumbs up during a TN Core English Language Arts training session held this past July. Photo credit: Tennessee Department of Education
In an ambitious and comprehensive effort, the state of Tennessee provided 30,000 teachers with intensive training this past summer as part of its transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—more rigorous academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics.
The sessions were led by 700 teacher coaches, known as “Core Coaches,” who were selected from 1,250 applicants based on their record of classroom success and a round of interviews. Prior to leading the statewide training for their peers, the teacher-coaches received two weeks of intensive training from the State and experts in the Common Core State Standards.
The standards, adopted by 45 States and the District of Columbia, are aimed at preparing students for college and today’s competitive global economy. Although the standards cover only ELA and mathematics, they require instructional shifts for teaching all subjects, which is why Tennessee included teachers of science, social studies, special education and other subjects in its training sessions.
But standards alone can’t get the job done. Teachers need high-quality training and support to help students reach these expectations.
The sessions and coaching were made possible by its Federal Race to the Top grant Tennessee received in 2010, but the effects of the training will last long after the grant money runs out because teachers will have learned more about the content of their subject areas and new ways to challenge their students.
Tennessee science teacher and instructional coach Christopher Bowen.
Photo credit: Christopher Bowen
Read our full feature story on the TNCore training here.
Christopher Bowen, a Johnson City, Tennessee middle school science teacher and instructional coach
Q. What was different about Tennessee’s approach to Common Core training?
A. “One thing that set it apart… is that they had teachers apply to be trainers. They used us instead of having a group come in and do the professional development. That probably helped with buy-in more than anything else.”
Q. What advice would you give to other States that want to do something similar?
A. “There’s no way to have this big of a change, to have so much buy-in, unless it’s done by teachers who have used it, modified it and seen it work.”
Q. Are you in touch with other coaches?
A. “Yes, we started this online community. All of us are a close-knit group. We’re talking about things other than the Common Core now. We’ve become this vast collaborative network, which has been amazing.”
Image credit: U.S. Department of Education
A Kentucky partnership working to boost career and college readiness by increasing access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses is producing nothing short of phenomenal results at participating schools. During its first five years of implementation, AdvanceKentucky has been a driving force in Kentucky’s statewide 100 percent increase in total AP qualifying scores, among the largest gains of any state in the country.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education
“We’ve seen a wild increase in enrollment and qualifying scores every single year,” said Joanne Lang, who heads the AdvanceKentucky partnership. “Our goal is to give every child access to challenging coursework, not just those who traditionally are eligible.”
Students who pass an AP exam complete college at three times the rate of those who do not. African-American and Hispanic students who pass an exam graduate at four times the rate of those who do not. Increasing low-income African-American and Hispanic students’ access and success with AP classes is a focus of AdvanceKentucky.
The program began in 2008 with 12 schools. Kentucky’s partnership in Race to the Top, which focuses on college- and career-readiness, allowed the State to scale this AP initiative, growing to 88 schools around the state. AdvanceKentucky reached 43 percent of public schools in the state by 2013-14.
“With our Race to the Top funding, we’ve been able expand the AdvanceKentucky initiative so that more students, especially those who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in Advanced Placement, are exposed to rigorous, college-level courses,” said Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. “With the proper supports provided, they learn they can be successful and more kids graduate ready for college, with college credit and an option for continuing their education they might otherwise have never considered.”