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NSBA and CDE name 2013-2014 top 10 digital school districts

The tenth annual Digital School Districts Survey

The tenth annual Digital School Districts Survey were by CDE and NSBA

Top-ranked school districts have been announced in the tenth annual Digital School Districts Survey by the Center for Digital Education (CDE) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA). The survey showcases exemplary school boards’ and districts’ use of technology to govern the district, communicate with students, parents and the community, and improve district operations.

This year’s recognition goes to school districts for their expanding use of innovative technologies district-wide as well as in the classroom.

The first-place winners in each classification are:

Here are a few of the examples of the technology and information used in the school districts who placed first in each classification, based on student enrollment.

Prince William County Public Schools’ school board meetings in Virginia are televised and streamed live, and available via podcast and on-demand, connecting the public digitally without having to attend Board meetings in person. They have embraced social networking from email, blogs, and discussion boards to forums and more. They use Twitter as part of communications with parents, students and the community. They teach students proper techniques and standards for participation, and explain issues of privacy, tool use and network etiquette. Plus, they expanded their virtual high school (VHS) to include 22 courses for over 9,000 students.

Henry County Public Schools has the largest digital textbook initiative in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Currently sixth graders have their science book installed as an e-text, with plans to add more textbooks as they become available digitally. Plus, the new Parent Connect mobile application not only links parents and students to the same apps, it also extends the curriculum to all mobile devices.

Springfield Public Schools in New Jersey has continued their one-to-one laptop initiative creating a virtually paperless environment with almost no textbooks in the classroom. Teachers use web-based curriculum and students and teachers have e-lockers and e-portfolios.

“Schools and school districts are embracing technology and it is really exciting not only to see the innovative ways they implement technology, but how they are using technology effectively to teach and advance education,” said Alan Cox, Senior Vice President for the Center for Digital Education. “These education leaders serve as an inspiration to other school districts nationwide for their creative efforts to provide an outstanding education for today’s students. Congratulations to this year’s winners!”

“Technology innovations enable local school boards to connect with their communities and support students and teachers in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago,” said NSBA’s Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “The 2014 Digital School Districts Survey offers powerful examples of technology’s role in the transformation of public education.”

The top ten rankings are awarded to those school boards/districts that most fully implement technology benchmarks in the evolution of digital education, as represented in the survey questions.

All U.S. public school districts are eligible to participate in the survey within the three classifications based on size of enrollment.

There will be a reception honoring the school districts at NSBA’s Annual Conference next month in New Orleans.

Full list of 2013-2014 Digital School Districts Survey – Top Ten-Ranking Winners:

Large Student Population District Category (student population 12,000 or more):

1st Prince William County Public Schools, Va.

2nd Colorado Springs School District 11, Colo.

3rd Hampton City Schools, Va.

3rd Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, Ga.

3rd Township High School District 214, Ill.

4th Houston County School System, Ga.

4th Richmond County School System, Ga.

5th Houston Independent School District, Texas

5th Kent School District, Wash.

6th Fayette County Schools, Ga.

6th Katy Independent School District, Texas

7th Klein Independent School District, Texas

7th Northwest ISD, Texas

8th Forsyth County Schools, Ga.

9th Cherokee County School District, Ga.

9th Hall County School District, Ga.

10th Blue Valley Unified School District #229, Kan.

Mid-sized Student Population District Category (student population 3,000 – 12,000):

1st Henry County Public Schools, Va.

2nd Monroe County Schools, Ga.

2nd School District of Janesville, Wis.

3rd Decatur City Schools, Ala.

3rd Jefferson City Schools, Ga.

4th Oconomowoc Area School District, Wis.

4th Center Grove Community School Corporation School District, Ind.

5th Harrisburg School District 41-2, S.D.

5th Mt. Lebanon School District, Pa.

6th Fayetteville Public Schools, Ark.

7th Colquitt County Schools, Ark.

8th Bergenfield Public Schools, N.J.

9th St. Charles Parish Public Schools, La.

10th City Schools of Decatur, Ga.

Small Student Population District Category (student population 3,000 or less):

1st Springfield Public Schools, N.J.

2nd Hanson School District 30-1, S.D.

3rd Maine Regional School Unit 21, Maine

3rd Lindop School District 92, Ill.

4th Lower Moreland Township School District, Pa.

4th Carroll County School District, Ky.

5th Allendale Public Schools, Mich.

6th Chickamauga City School System, Ga.

7th Cedar Bluffs Public Schools, Neb.

7th Goochland County Public Schools, Va.

8th Charlton County School System, Ga.

9th Taylor County School District, Ky.

10th McIntosh County Schools, Ga.

Selected Survey Findings and Trends:

School Board Meeting Availability:

  • Board meeting agenda and docs e-displayed on screen – 80 percent
  • Televised – 31 percent
  • Streamed and Archived – 32 percent
  • Via Podcast – 22 percent
  • Fifty-two percent of states allow Board members to participate/vote in school board meetings remotely.

The district allows alternatives to core content instruction in classrooms:

  • Students can take fully online classes for core content credit – 79 percent
  • Blended classes are offered and meet core content requirements through a combination of face-to-face and online instruction – 67 percent
  • Core content is currently delivered online – 61 percent
  • The “flipped classroom” concept is utilized- 61 percent
  • Video conferencing for instruction is utilized as part of core content – 47 percent
  • The district has developed plans to deliver core content online – 33 percent
  • No alternatives to core content face-to-face instruction are being explored – 3 percent
  • Describe the district’s strategy regarding mobility:
  • District offers professional development for teachers on how to use mobile devices and apps for instruction – 88 percent
  • Student-owned mobile devices can be used in the classroom – 83 percent
  • District encourages the use of mobile apps for instruction – 81 percent
  • District provides mobile apps for students to use for instruction – 67 percent
  • District has successful actions in place regarding physical protection of district-owned devices – 65 percent
  • District provides 1:1 mobile devices for students to use in the classroom – 46 percent

Status of BYOD:

  • Implemented – 56 percent (up 22 percent from last year)
  • Of the 56 percent that have implemented, in which grades?
  • 9th – 12th – 84 percent
  • 6th – 8th – 74 percent
  • 4th and 5th – 62 percent
  • Pre-K – 3rd – 51 percent
Alexis Rice|March 27th, 2014|Categories: Announcements, Educational Technology, Leadership, School Boards, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, T+L, Teachers, Technology Leadership Network|Tags: , , , , , |

National School Boards Association announces “20 to Watch” education technology leaders

The National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Technology Leadership Network (TLN) announces its “20 to Watch” honorees for 2013-2014. These distinctive education leaders from across the country are being recognized for their ability to inspire colleagues to incorporate innovative technology solutions that contribute to high-quality learning environments and more efficient school district operations.

“The ’20 to Watch’ honorees offer real-world examples of how new technologies are being used to impact learning and how these new tools may influence or inform policy,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s Executive Director. “From ‘BYOD’ and the Maker Movement to virtual schools and the increased use of the cloud, these inspirational pioneers are paving the way.”

Ann Flynn, NSBA’s Director of Education Technology, shared that common characteristics across honorees include their willingness to take risks, share learnings with colleagues, and inspire others to believe that they, too, can effectively use technology. “Their voices and experience will inform local, district, and state approaches to education technology decisions for years to come,” Flynn said.

This is the eighth year of the NSBA “20 to Watch” program, created in 2006. This year’s honorees are being recognized at the 2014 Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Conference on March 19 in Washington, DC, along with a TLN-hosted luncheon at NSBA’s 2014 Annual Conference in New Orleans this April. TechSmith Corporation is sponsoring the “20 to Watch” celebration events and is providing software scholarships to the honorees.

The 2013-2014 NSBA “20 to Watch” honorees are (listed by state/territory):

Arizona:
John Andrews, Chief Information Officer, Dysart Unified School District, Az.
John Andrews facilitated “BYOD” as a solution for integrating technology at a time of hyper–growth when the district had limited funds for sufficient technology purchases. He led development of iPAL (iPlan, iAssess, iLearn), an assessment and resource software providing teachers with live and historical student data, instructional resources, and professional development opportunities. Andrews provides a combination of technical and pedagogical support for each of the district’s schools.

Connecticut:
Matt Meyers, Teacher, Greenwich Public Schools & CEO, Slate & Tablets, Conn.
In addition to writing his school’s new computer science course, Matt Meyers “changed the high school forever” through his creation of a world-class, mobile app that replaced the traditional paper plan book used by teachers and students. Hailed as beautiful and functional, this popular Planner app was developed by Slate & Tablets, the company Matt started with his brother and where he serves as CEO.

Illinois:
John Connolly, Director of Technology, Consolidated High School District 230, Ill.
John Connolly has transformed District 230 with his ideas, collaborative leadership style, and technology improvements. Setting a vision which includes directing a 1:1 and “BYOD” program, leveraging social media, digital citizenship, Google migration, and website overhaul, Connolly’s energy and passion inspire colleagues.

Indiana:
Brad Hagg, Chief Technology Officer, Warsaw Community Schools, Ind.
As a Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL), Brad Hagg has become an invaluable resource in his district with the introduction of an online data dashboard and tools that enhance student safety. Hagg serves on the Indiana Department of Education’s 2014 eLearning Leadership Cadre to help the state focus on strategic components of 21st century teaching and learning that directly impact student achievement and instructional practice.

Kansas:
Rob Dickson, Director of Technology, Andover Public Schools, Kan.
Rob Dickson’s technical understanding of how technology should support student learning contributed to his district’s ranking among the “top ten” digital districts in the nation four of the past five years. Key among Dickson’s accomplishments are leading the first VBlock cloud data center installation in K-12 education and serving as an advisor of the BLEgroup helping schools across the country with their technology planning and integration.

Dr. Beth Hudson, Associate Superintendent, Geary County USD 475, Kan.
Beth Hudson’s work focuses on understanding the relationship between technology and learning and creating professional development opportunities, including the district’s K-12 Technology Learning Fair, in which teachers acquire the skills essential to effectively use their tools to support authentic learning experiences. Hudson wants teachers to view their devices as a portal to the world.

Kentucky:
Roger D. Cook, Superintendent, Taylor County School District, Ky.
Roger Cook continually pushes the boundaries of how education is delivered, from providing iPads to all high school students to challenging teachers to embrace a Flipped Classroom concept. The district assists students with “24/7” learning opportunities and allows adults who previously dropped out of school to enroll in the Virtual Academy to receive their high school diplomas.

Maryland:
Timonious Downing, Teacher & Technology Liaison, Prince George’s County Public Schools/Walker Mill Middle School, Md.
Timonious Downing pioneered a flipped and gamified English/Language Arts class at his school where Gifted and Talented 7th graders are placed in guilds that engage in academic competitiveness with a leader board to foster comradery and teamwork. He shares his success stories from his paperless classroom with other colleagues through blogging, conferences, and Google Hangouts and provides after school support for the Minecraft Club.

Michigan:
Brad Waid, Teacher, Eastover Elementary, Bloomfield Hills Schools District, Mich.
Brad Waid goes beyond showing his students technology, he lets them explore it and more importantly, have a voice in deciding how they think it could be used in their classroom. His students are using and creating their own Augmented Reality to enhance their learning and deepen their engagement, while utilizing their iPads for various projects. Waid’s contagious passion for teaching and learning has made him a game-changing educator.

New Jersey:
Dr. Barry Bachenheimer, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, Pascack Valley Regional High School District, N.J.
Improving instruction, while appropriately promoting the use of technology, drives the work of Barry Bachenheimer. District educators are successfully creating “Virtual Days” to take the place of snow days; creating a hybrid master schedule to maximize student choice that supports individual learning opportunities; flipping classrooms, embracing social media to provide authentic global learning experiences; and focusing on digital citizenship as a result of his leadership.

Laura Fleming, Media Specialist, New Milford High School, New Milford School District, N.J.
Laura Fleming’s blog, Worlds of Learning, shares many of her initiatives including the development of a digital badge program to acknowledge teachers’ informal learning. Her media center, now packed with students every period, has become a makerspace with a 3-D printer, Raspberry Pi and Makey Makey Kits to unleash students’ creativity to construct new knowledge.

New York:
Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of Schools, Ithaca City School District, N.Y.
Luvelle Brown’s vision is to create a student body of 6000+ Thinkers, encompassing every student in the district. The district’s mission to engage, educate, and empower is supported by ubiquitous wireless coverage and contemporary learning spaces, designed to be responsive to pedagogical shifts influenced by technology tools.

Ohio:
Tracey Dunn, Teacher, Hopkins Elementary, Mentor Public Schools, Ohio
Tracey Dunn pioneered a kindergarten blended learning model in her district’s research and development classroom, Catalyst, focused on small-group instruction. With the support of QR codes and a 1:1 iPad program, students rotate through stations to engage with the teacher, digital content, and digital storytelling. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her humble approach has made it easy for others to want to share in the magic of her success.

Pennsylvania:
Rich Kiker, Director of Online Learning, Palisades School District, Penn.
Rich Kiker designed and built the K-12 blended and online learning program at Palisades School District that established a new relevance for learners and saves the district hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. When his home district needed to replace a school board director, Kiker was unanimously appointed to serve on the Pennridge School Board.

Bradley Wilson, Curriculum Leader of Customization & Instructional Technology, Upper St. Clair School District, Penn.
Bradley Wilson is an innovative 7th grade teacher who leverages technology to customize instruction for his students through flipped learning and “The Explain Everything” app, among other strategies. He demonstrates leadership in both formal and informal settings as he continues to champion district wide initiatives and capacity building activities.

Tennessee:
Dr. Kecia Ray, Executive Director of Learning Technology, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Tenn.
Kecia Ray has been instrumental in lobbying for state laws and policies that facilitate and eliminate barriers to virtual learning after the success of the district’s first virtual school launched under her leadership. In her role as President of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the contributions Ray has made to learning technology extend well beyond Nashville borders.

Texas:
Joli Barker, Elementary Educator, Slaughter Elementary, McKinney Independent School District, Texas
Joli Barker is leading the way in game-based, project-based learning in her Fearless Classroom where lessons include real-world, global-minded empathy games. The Fearless Classroom movement she started is inspiring educators world-wide to change the way they approach lesson design, pedagogy, and the art of teaching.

Elaine Plybon, Instructional Resource Trainer, Keller Independent School District, Texas
Elaine Plybon’s motto of “relevant and meaningful” is reflected across all aspects of her work as an Instructional Resource Trainer whether she is delivering professional development, serving on the Leadership Council of the Discovery Education Network, or exploring ways to address gender issues. As co-founder of Girls of Technology (GOT), she has inspired girls interested in STEM to pursue career opportunities in that field.

Virginia:
Dr. Barbara Gruber, Technology Resource Specialist, Loudoun County Public Schools, Va.
As a true champion of 21st Century Learning, Barbara Gruber’s schools are thriving environments where students become excited about STEM through collaborative projects with peers, both locally and overseas, as they work on solutions for relevant projects. Students are supported through videoconferencing with field experts; NASA-guided simulations, and the opportunity to create 3-D objects through Makerspace Centers (or innovation labs).

Jennifer Maddux, Assistant Principal, Byrd Middle School, Henrico County Public Schools, Va.
As an assistant principal, Jennifer Maddux has brought life and energy into her school’s culture using skills she honed as an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher to facilitate process change and coach teachers in student-centered, engaged instruction. The suite of resources and training portals she developed support the delivery of high-quality, 21st century instruction.

Alexis Rice|March 7th, 2014|Categories: Educational Technology, STEM Education, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, T+L, Teachers, Technology Leadership Network|Tags: , , |

NSBA, education groups collaborate at national Labor-Management Conference

Local, state and national education leaders from across the country are  partnering to plan together for effectively  implementing college- and career-ready (CCR) standards  as they meet at  a third major conference on labor-management collaboration, Feb. 27-28, in St. Louis, Mo.

The conference, which is co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education; AASA, The School Superintendents Association; American Federation of Teachers (AFT); the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO); Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS); National Education Association (NEA); the National School Boards Association (NSBA); and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, will focus on the development of effective implementation plans by labor and management teams working at the district and state levels. Teams from 32 districts and four states will identify and prioritize critical next steps at the conference.

This year’s event will examine how school leaders, teachers and other staff can work together to ensure college- and career-ready standards are successfully integrated into classrooms across the country. The conference will work to support effective implementation of CCR standards by providing examples of collaboration and supporting teams as they create plans that reflect shared priorities.

The six national membership organizations will release a new joint tool at the conference that can be used by administrators, teacher’s union leaders and board members across the country to develop a plan for implementation together.

Virginia B. Edwards, President of Editorial Projects in Education (EPE), the publisher of Education Week, will moderate the opening session that features leaders from the partnering organizations including CGCS Executive Director Michael Casserly, AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech, NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel,  CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, and AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“This conference is an excellent opportunity for school leaders and educators to collaborate and engage with their peers and subject-matter experts who will help them find ways to fully implement college and career-ready standards,” said Edwards. “The participants will gain a deeper understanding of the standards, support to help build professional development, and tools to assess their district’s implementation.”

Past Labor-Management Collaboration Conferences have highlighted successful and effective partnerships and their impact on student outcomes.

The co-sponsoring organizations will also release a series of solution-based guides resulting from a smaller labor-management collaboration convening in 2013 addressing some of the most significant and prevalent challenges in standards implementation.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 27th, 2014|Categories: Conferences and Events, Educational Research, Federal Advocacy, Policy Formation, Professional Development, School Reform, Teachers|

School boards urge the U.S. Senate to act on the Bipartisan Budget Act

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel urged the U.S. Senate to pass the plan known as the Bipartisan Budget Act that would restore many of the cuts to prek-12 education in this statement:

We are at a critical juncture. House passage last week of the bipartisan budget deal is a step in the right direction. NSBA urges the Senate to take the steps necessary to avoid a government shut down in January and prioritize education.

Approval of the Bipartisan Budget Act is essential if we are to help mitigate the impact of the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration and restore programs to public schools across the nation. This budget is particularly critical for America’s public schools to continue to improve and educate a growing and diverse population of students. Our economy is dependent on our abilities to prepare our next generation of students for career and college readiness in today’s complex global economy. That foundation begins at prek-12 levels.

NSBA urges members of the U.S. Senate to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act this week, and continue the bipartisan groundwork laid by the U.S. House of Representatives. We especially thank Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray for their vision and leadership, and applaud their sustained focus toward developing a long-term solution and balanced budget that will sustain investments in prek-12 education and put America’s students first.

Alexis Rice|December 17th, 2013|Categories: Budgeting, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , |

NSBA, NEA, and AASA issue FAQs to help schools and their employees understand same-sex marriage benefits

The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) impacted more than a thousand federal laws providing benefits to spouses. To help school districts across the nation better understand this important ruling and the changes they will need to make, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) has led an effort to develop a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) in partnership with the National Education Association (NEA) and the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, on school district employers’ and employees’ issues related to the DOMA ruling.

The new document, “The Dos and Don’ts of DOMA: FAQs for school systems and employees on the United States Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage” reviews how employee benefits and plan and policy administration are affected by the ruling, including every policy and benefit that defines or refers to marriage or spouses in the application of a federal benefit. As U.S. school districts employ nearly 6.2 million individuals, the ruling has extensive reach.

“School districts are collectively the largest employers in the U.S. and they need to be aware of how this pivotal ruling changes employee benefits and benefit administration,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “This is a major breakthrough in federal employment law, and this document will help clarify the many questions school systems and employees will have as the Court’s ruling is implemented.”

Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages, and the ruling will impact certain federal benefits and rights in all states and could impact collective bargaining agreements. Federal agencies are currently reviewing the ruling under direction from President Obama to implement the Court’s decision “as quickly as possible.”

“The Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor was a major milestone in American history—a monumental decision and a huge step forward for civil rights,” said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. “The National Education Association in partnership with other national labor organizations filed an amicus in the case to document the need for the Court to end the substantial economic discrimination DOMA inflicted on lawfully married same-sex couples. In the wake of the Windsor decision, NEA is pleased to collaborate with the National School Boards Association and the School Superintendents Association on the DOMA Do and Don’ts publication to make sure that school districts and their employees understand how the Windsor decision affects their benefits.”
Key to the DOMA ruling is that employees in a same-sex marriage must receive the same benefits provisions as employees in an opposite-sex marriage, regardless of the state in which they live.

“Married couples should have access to fundamental benefits such as health care and social security,” said Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. “We were pleased to collaborate with the National School Boards Association and the National Education Association on this document because it provides important information for school system leaders and their employees about an important issue that affects many individuals and their families.”

Alexis Rice|October 30th, 2013|Categories: School Boards, School Law, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

Teacher evaluation is broader than test scores, NSBA’s Center for Public Education finds

K-12 teacher evaluation systems today are more refined and useful for improving teachers’ skills and connecting teachers to student achievement than past models, a new national report that examines states’ teacher evaluation policies by the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Center for Public Education (CPE) finds.

Trends in Teacher Evaluation: How States are Measuring Teacher Performance,” offers an overview of changes in teacher evaluation systems by state. The report also describes states’ use of evaluation data for personnel decisions and continuous improvement.

Though more states are using student test scores to evaluate teachers, state standardized test scores make up only a small part of a teacher’s evaluation, the report finds.

Similarly, while many lawmakers and educators still question the use of student performance as a measure of instructional effectiveness, misconceptions abound that student performance receives more weight than report findings show—currently, no state uses individual student achievement data as more than 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Nearly all states that do rely on scores from state standardized tests do so as just one of multiple measures of student achievement.

“In the past five years, 38 states have altered their teacher evaluation systems to include some measure of student performance,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “With variations across teaching and learning models, school boards and district officials need state support and the ability to adapt teacher evaluation models to meet the needs of local schools.”

Highlights of newer systems in place across states include: the use of multiple stakeholders to design and implement evaluation tools; multiple measures to show teacher effectiveness; and data that link teacher and student achievement.

“New models of teacher evaluation can help improve instructional quality and provide teachers with added support and additional resources,” said CPE’s Senior Policy Analyst Jim Hull, author of the report. “Most states have done a good job of vastly improving teacher evaluation systems by listening to the experts and relying on a wider range of criteria, such as classroom observation and student performance data. Interestingly, these evaluations are often used to help all teachers improve their skills, not just as a tool to identify and replace ineffective teachers.”

The report follows CPE’s 2011 report, “Building A Better Evaluation System,” that examines best practices in teacher evaluations. Federal programs, including the No Child Left Behind law and Race to the Top grants, have recently provided incentives to states to revamp their evaluation systems. Historically, teacher evaluations have simply labeled teachers as satisfactory or not, giving no feedback on how to improve their skills.

Alexis Rice|October 9th, 2013|Categories: Center for Public Education, Center for Public Education Update, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

More classrooms see return to “ability grouping,” NYSSBA reports

The following story was originally published by the New York State School Boards Association in On Board Online.

Ability grouping – a controversial approach in which teachers sort students into small groups based on their level of comfort with curriculum material – is back in classrooms.

Ability grouping became unfashionable in the late 1980s and 1990s, when critics said it was an unnecessary technique that sends negative messages to some students and highlights racial disparities.

“It was PC to criticize ability grouping,” Tom Loveless, a prominent education analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington told On Board. But now ability grouping has resurfaced as way to differentiate instruction.

Seventy-one percent of fourth-grade teachers used ability grouping for reading in 2009, compared to 28 percent in 1998, according to a survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For fourth grade math, 61 percent used ability grouping in 2011, compared to 40 percent in 1996.

Ability grouping is not the same as “tracking,” which Loveless said has been persistently popular in the crucial subject of eighth-grade mathematics. While ability grouping refers to the practice that teachers use to separate students within a classroom into smaller groups, depending on their proficiency with a subject, tracking is usually district-driven and focuses on making choices and placing middle and high school students into programs in which they study different curriculums.

In a recent paper published by Brooking’s Brown Center Report on American Education, Loveless suggested that the return of ability grouping was linked to the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind, as well as the increased use of technology in the classroom, which enables teachers to personalize instruction more readily.

The debate about ability grouping – when, whether, and how to use it – involves disagreement about the best way to deal with one of public education’s perennial problems – the “achievement gap.” Middle- and upper-income students, who are usually white or Asian, consistently outscore low-income, usually African-American or Hispanic students, on standardized tests.

In New York, only 16.1 percent of African-American students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard in 2013, compared to 39.9 percent for white students. Racial and economic gaps widen as students get older; 94 percent of students from low-need districts graduate from high school, compared to 65 percent of students from high-need districts.

Educators say they are taking a second look at ability grouping as they strive to make all students college- and career-ready. “We are seeing more of a trend to go back to specifically working with students in ability groups,” said Ken Eastwood, superintendent of the Middletown school district, who added that he is uncomfortable with the term “ability” and would rather say “proficiency groups.” Starting this fall, Middletown will offer a two-year kindergarten class “for kids who are not cognitively ready for kindergarten,” which represents about a quarter to a third of the class.

Ability grouping isn’t limited to less proficient students, Eastwood added. “There’s a push around rigor, where kids can accelerate,” he said. “Your best readers and writers have to be challenged. I like the concept of personalized learning, when we push kids individually.”

This fall Middletown is also adding two mastery classes in third grade. “We’re taking the highest learners and building a curriculum around their capabilities,” said Susan Short, principal of Presidential Park elementary school. “The sky is the limit. There will be a lot of project-based learning, with the teacher as facilitator.”

For many teachers, ability grouping reflects classroom realities. “When there’s a heterogeneous classroom, you’re still grouping students based on their ability level,” said Nicholas Sgroi, who taught fifth grade at Carter Elementary School in Middletown. “As lessons start going on, you see what they know, and see where they need support or push them further. It goes on all year long. The groups are pretty fluid.” Even students who stay in the lower group are “still growing at their own pace.”

In a lesson on fractions, for example, Sgroi has students who need more practice with the material adding like denominators. To challenge others, he’d offer a problem of adding fractions with different denominators or ask them to develop word problems on their own. “They’re not just doing work sheets,” said Sgroi.

But what happens when the kids in different groups are predominantly of different races? That’s something many districts with diverse populations want to avoid.

“We’re wrestling with big issues of equity,” said Laurence T. Spring, Schenectady superintendent. “Race, economics and disability cannot be predictors of students’ achievement. We need to think of lots of other things to do in the classroom. Most educational services should have a heterogeneous environment, especially in elementary school.”

He pointed to the district’s inclusive admissions process for the high school’s IB (International Baccalaureate) program as reflecting the goals of the district. As Spring said, “We want more kids in IB, to take the challenge.”

While ability grouping raises few eyebrows in the early grades, some worry that it might lead to tracking later on. These critics say that creating different groups for younger students to learn a given curriculum can create a culture that leads to older students being assigned to entirely different curriculums.

As Cathleen Chamberlain, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Oswego, said, “Some of the problems with tracking is that we can actually be determining a student’s future when we are making tracking decisions. Some tracks point to a future in college while others send students directly to a career path and we may be inadvertently closing doors that are options for students. Again, we have to be mindful that we are not typecasting students.”

“I’m horrified that tracking is coming back,” said Carol Burris, a principal at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, Long Island, who was named principal of the year by the School Administrators Association of New York State. Her district has “accelerated all kids in math, including special needs kids, completely de-tracked ninth and 10th grade, and offered IB English to everybody in 11th grade,” she said.

With 15-16 percent of the district’s students eligible for free or reduced lunch, and a minority population of 21 percent, the district has 100 percent of graduating students receiving a Regents diploma and 80 percent having a Regents degree with advanced designation.

“We level the field,” said Burris, who has a book coming out on de-tracking in math. “We closed the achievement gap in terms of earning a Regents diploma. “We’re in the process of leveling up, to give the best curriculum we can. The tone of the building improves when you’re not isolating lower performing students.”

“For me, the problem really lies in not stepping back and saying ‘what is ability?’” said Amy Stuart Wells, professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “With accountability and high stakes testing, the definition of ability has gotten more and more narrow. The return to ability grouping is so hierarchical because it’s competitive about very narrow measures. The perception of kids factors into the tracking process. We need to question what’s happening.”

For all the focus on data driven results, it’s unclear that ability grouping ultimately achieves its stated goals. “We don’t have good evidence that it helps or hurts kids, except for the highly advanced, high achiever, by giving them different curriculum,” said Loveless.

Despite questions about the value of ability grouping, Loveless expects to see more of it in elementary and middle schools as districts strive to improve results.

“It’s not going to go away,” he said. “It comes back under a different name.”

Joetta Sack-Min|September 13th, 2013|Categories: Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, Policy Formation, School District Reorganization, School Reform, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA’s Center for Public Education discusses professional development and teacher evaluation on Education Talk Radio

The National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education (CPE) was featured on Education Talk Radio today. CPE’s Senior Policy Analyst Jim Hull was a guest on the show discussing CPE’s research on professional development and teacher evaluation.

Listen to the show:

Listen To Education Internet Radio Stations with EduTalk on BlogTalkRadio

 

CPE is a national resource for credible and practical information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation. CPE  provides up-to-date research, data, and analysis on current education issues and explores ways to improve student achievement and engage public support for public schools.

Alexis Rice|August 28th, 2013|Categories: Center for Public Education, Center for Public Education Update, Professional Development, School Boards, Teachers|Tags: , , , |

NSBA pleased with Obama administration’s decision to delay Affordable Care Act employer mandate

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) today applauded the federal government’s decision to delay the implementation of IRS rules for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) until January 2015, based upon the “complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively.”

On March 18, 2013, NSBA filed a comprehensive response  to the IRS’s proposed rules implementing  ACA to apprise the agency of the “unanticipated impact certain provisions of the proposed rule may have as public school districts across the country wrestle with questions” ranging from calculation of service hours to the so-called “large employer” determinations.

NSBA Executive Director, Thomas J. Gentzel said, “We are pleased that the IRS has heard our concerns about the need for clarification on the Affordable Care Act before the rules become final to minimize any adverse impact on the nation’s schools and students’ educational outcomes.”

In its comments to the IRS, NSBA raised concerns about the challenges the proposed rules would have on school employment arrangements such as long vs. short term teaching substitutes with consecutive assignment, independent contractors, additional extra-curricular duty providers, re-hired retired employees, and even pay for school board members.

NSBA General Counsel, Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. added, “We believe the IRS has made a prudent choice with regard to implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  School districts are in particularly challenging situation as employers, because of the unique part-time and full-time employment configurations they utilize.  We look forward to further clarification from the IRS that will help school districts effectively navigate this new legal framework.”

Governing highlighted NSBA in their story today Obamacare-Mandate Delay to Have Little Impact on Public Employers. The article noted:

Some groups, however, said they were pleased with the White House’s action. The National School Boards Association (NSBA), which represents school districts that collectively employ more than 6 million people nationwide, had submitted lengthy comments to the Treasury Department, asking for clarifications on issues specific to the public school sector. For example, substitute teachers who teach at different schools or part-time employees who perform additional duties, such as coaching, raise some unanswered questions about the initial guidance for calculating full-time employment, says Francisco Negron, general counsel for NSBA.

Tuesday’s announcement should allow the federal government, the school boards and other employers to continue the dialogue about these issues, he says, without the health reform law’s penalties looming in 2014.

“We were glad to see they have taken what we think for the time being is a prudent approach, to slow things down in response to our concerns,” Negron says. “This seems to suggest that they heard those concerns, and we can continue to work to make sure we are in compliance with the law.”

Education Week’s District Dossier also covered the delay announcement and what it means to school district in, Affordable Care Act Delay Means Reprieve for Districts, and cited NSBA.

Alexis Rice|July 3rd, 2013|Categories: School Boards, School Law, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

CPE discusses resurgence of “Ability Grouping” in video chat

The Center for Public Education’s (CPE) Director Patte Barth joined the Huffington Post today for a video chat on “’Ability Grouping’ in Schools.”

The segment discussed the classroom practice of “ability grouping,” often known as clustering, of students by their strengths and abilities. The practice declined in the 1980s and 1990s because of concerns over inequalities, according to a recent article in Salon magazine, “The Return of Ability Grouping,” that inspired the video chat. The online chat asked, “Why are we revisiting a teaching method that we abandoned back in the 1990′s?”

Barth noted that two decades ago, students usually stayed in the same “track” that they started from first grade through high school, and the track became “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” However, the standards-based reform movement and mindset that all children need to achieve at high levels changed the landscape, she said, adding that teachers now know that they cannot let struggling students falls behind.

“All of these children are able, but the grouping needs to be dynamic” so that the structure does not become too rigid, Barth said.

 

Watch the archived chat at HUFFPOST Live.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|June 12th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, Mathematics Education, Policy Formation, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , , |
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