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.

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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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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Tennessee Improves Teacher Preparation Programs Through Report Cards

A teacher writing on a blackboard while two teaching students listen.

A class at Lipscomb University on teaching geometry. Photo credit: Kristi Jones, Lipscomb University

Last year, the teacher preparation program at Nashville’s Lipscomb University was named one of the nation’s best by the National Council on Teacher Quality. In November, the State’s 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs also lauded Lipscomb, saying the overall performance of those that completed the program made the school one of the most effective in Tennessee as measured by the Tennessee Value Added-Assessment System (TVAAS).

Lipscomb’s overall effectiveness had previously been recognized on Tennessee’s 2012 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs. But that year’s numbers also revealed a weakness: recent graduates of the private institution were, on average, less effective than those of other programs in teaching social studies to grades four through eight.

These insights into the relative performance of Lipscomb’s graduates were made possible by the State’s revamped teacher preparation programs report card, a key element of Tennessee’s many Race to the Top-inspired reforms.

Senior Vice President and College of Education Dean Candice McQueen said the relative weakness of the school’s social studies teachers confirmed what she had been hearing anecdotally and seeing in surveys of graduates during those years. Many felt they did not have full command of good teaching strategies and did not know how to plan strong lessons. Armed with the data, she was able to work alongside the university’s provost to alter their advising and social studies methods course and bring in two grade K–12 experts.

This year’s report showed that Lipscomb’s graduates were, on average, more effective social studies teachers than veterans statewide, as well as other beginners. “The report card was helpful in pushing the conversation,” McQueen said.

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Delaware’s Teacher Preparation is Setting a Higher Bar

A teacher helps a student read.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

When Frederika Jenner began teaching elementary school mathematics 42 years ago, she realized that she wasn’t fully prepared. “I didn’t have opportunities to learn innovative ways to teach mathematics,” she said. “There were some important skills and strategies that were missing.”

Jenner is now president of the Delaware State Education Association and her experience at the beginning of her career is just one reason she strongly supported legislation signed in June 2013 by Delaware Governor Jack Markell to increase the rigor of the process of recruiting and preparing teachers and principals. “Strengthening teacher preparation is very, very important,” she said. “Educators need more meaningful, real world training.”

She is acutely aware of the challenges her members face and the need for better preparation to deal with them. “We have a greater diversity of students than I had when I first started teaching, and a higher concentration of high need students,” Jenner said. She explained that new teachers “need training in integrating technologies in the classroom, and how to judge student work.” Working with parents, classroom management and transition times are other areas where she believes educators need preparation.

Headshot of Frederika Jenner.

Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association. Photo credit: Frederika Jenner

Senate Bill 51, the legislation signed by Governor Markell, addresses a number of weaknesses in Delaware’s policies identified by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a non-profit education policy organization, as well as a report on teacher prep issued by the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in 2012 on transforming education preparation. The legislation, which goes into effect in the summer of 2014, raises the bar for teacher preparation programs by:

  • Requiring candidates to have either a 3.0 grade point average, be in the top half of their most recent graduating class, or pass a test of their academic skills.
  • After they complete their classes, teacher candidates will have to pass a test of their knowledge of the subjects they plan to teach, demonstrate their teaching skills and complete a 10 week classroom residency (at minimum) supervised by a mentor.
  • The Delaware Department of Education and the teacher preparation programs themselves will monitor the performance of their graduates in the classroom and data on the programs will be reported to the public.

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Race to the Top Boosts STEM in Maryland Early Grades

Three teachers scoop material from a bucket to put into a small cup.

Teachers Jennifer Mazza (bottom left), Breanne Edmonds, and Rebecca Russell explore macro invertebrates from a stream ecosystem. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

On a recent Tuesday evening, about a dozen elementary school teachers huddled together in a classroom at a Towson University satellite campus in Aberdeen, Maryland, north of Baltimore, debating the best ways to conserve water and how long a faucet leaking a drop at a time would take to fill a bathtub. Mathematics Professor Honi Bamberger then led the group through a series of related mathematics and science problems they could use with their students.

Bamberger also asked the teachers to reflect on an experiment from the previous week in which they poured water at different rates on piles of sand and dirt to see what would happen. While the lesson created a mess, it touched on measurement, the use of ratios and percentages, and involved scientific inquiry –all components of good STEM instruction.

Teachers Matthew Myer and Veronica Szabo identify submerged aquatic vegetation and macro invertebrates they found on a canoe trip with a Notre Dame of Maryland program to improve STEM instruction. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

Teachers Matthew Myer and Veronica Szabo identify what they found during a STEM instruction canoe trip. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

“It was a math-based lesson, but there was engineering involved in it, technology, and, of course, the science piece,” said Lori Pitcock, a fourth-grade teacher in Bel Air, Maryland, who has used the lessons she’s learned from the Towson program in her classroom.

These teachers are among more than 200 current and aspiring teachers learning to integrate lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) into their elementary school classrooms. This effort is part of the State’s comprehensive strategy to make Maryland a leader in STEM education. The strategy was developed as part of the State’s successful application for a Federal grant under the Race to the Top program, which was designed to increase college and career readiness by improving instruction.

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Ohio’s New School Models Spur Innovation

Five students crowd around two laptops to prepare a presentation.

Students prepare to make presentations about endangered species. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Aunay, a junior at Winton Woods High School outside of Cincinnati, is figuring out what she can do to combat the problem of child labor around the world for a school project.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Yasmine, who is a junior at Lincoln West High School, is arguing on behalf of Sierra Leone, the African country her group chose to represent in Model United Nations debates.

In a suburb outside of Cleveland, students at Brooklyn Middle School are learning skills for college success in study groups and juniors at Brooklyn High School are taking honors classes and visiting prospective colleges.

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work together on a math project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work on a mathematics project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

The schools that these students attend all have won State grants over the past two years, enabling them to remake themselves by adopting one of five innovative school redesign models endorsed by the State.  These transformations were set in motion by the State’s Race to the Top program. One of Race to the Top’s primary goals is to increase college- and career-readiness, and all of these models have track records in that regard.

This graphic displays the unique elements and national results of five models implemented in Ohio to increase achievement and graduation rates: AVID, Asia Society, New Tech Network, Ohio STEM Learning Network, and Early College High School Initiative. The unique elements of AVID are: rigorous course-taking (at least one AP or other advance course each year); required college-level AVID course to boost reading, writing and inquiry skills; and academic and social support (tutoring by college student role models). The national results of AVID are: Latino and African American graduates enroll in postsecondary education at higher rates than national average, Latino students take AP exams at five times the national rate for all students, and 89 percent of AVID students who go on to post-secondary education are still enrolled two years later. The unique elements of Asia Society are: international content integrated with all subjects, technology to support instruction and connect students to schools around the world, and international travel and exchanges. The national results of Asia Society are: schools in Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network outperform their peers in all core subject areas and across all grade levels in 85 percent of all cases, according to a study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. The unique elements of New Tech Network are: project-based learning (students collaborate on projects requiring critical thinking, creativity and communication); authentic assessment (students are assessed on ability to solve real-world problems using content knowledge); and technology to foster collaborative learning. The national results of New Tech Network are: high school graduation rate of 6 percent above the national average, college enrollment rate of 9 percent above the national average, college persistence in 4-year colleges 17 percent above the national average, and college persistence in 2-year colleges 46 percent above the national average. The unique elements of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: subjects integrated to emphasize connections across disciplines; investigation and problem solving tasks emphasize analysis and creativity; and classroom learning connected to real world through internships, mentoring, and other opportunities. The national results of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: graduates of selective schools (defined as those that enroll small numbers of highly motivated students with demonstrated talent and interest in STEM areas) are nearly 50 percent more likely to major in STEM, and graduates of selective schools are 20 percent more likely to earn a STEM-related postsecondary degree. The unique elements of Early College High School Initiative are: students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree; small learning environments that demand rigorous, college preparatory work; and extensive academic and social support provided. The national results of the Early College High School Initiative are: 77 percent of graduates pursue some form of postsecondary education, more than half earn two or more years of college credit, and graduation rate of 80 percent of schools is equal to or greater than the rate for the district as a whole.

Click for descriptions of the models. Image credit: U.S. Department of Education

That’s evident at the Academy of Global Studies, which is now part of the International Studies School Network operated by the Asia Society, a New York-based nonprofit organization. “When you go in and see the kids, they’re looking at things from different angles, they’re using technology, they know how to manage their time,” said Kevin Jones, a counselor at the school. “They’re engaged in real-world tasks; they’re pushed to think critically. We ask kids: ‘What is the global impact?’ We want them to think more deeply about these issues and become self-directed learners.”

The redesigned schools are having a broader impact on he State because they’re demonstrating what’s possible for students, said Pamela VanHorn, director of the Ohio Network for Innovation and Improvement. “Race to the Top allowed us to have many working models across the State that will give other schools an impetus to redesign their schools.”

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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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