3 Things High School Students Should Know about College

As the stakes rise regarding the necessity of a high school diploma for lifelong success, so do the standards to earn one. High school students and graduates today must know more than the generations that came before them, both in academic and real-world applications. College, which was once considered an option for some students, is now viewed as a necessity. All of the lesson planning from Kindergarten forward funnels student information into the end goal of high school and college graduation.

While rigorous academics can certainly prepare students for college, which is just one facet of what I believe they should know. There is no way to totally prepare a young adult for the realities of the college experience and what it will mean for his or her long-term success, but there are some things that high school educators should emphasize, including:

1. The cost of a college education. We are so quick to push our students towards a college education that we often forget the practicalities. While in most cases a college degree will pay off in the end, it is expensive upfront and can have an impact on the early years of adulthood. It is flawed thinking to assume that young people with very limited experience with their personal finances will truly be able to comprehend the cost and sacrifice of a college education. Any efforts to better inform students about the responsibility and reality of a college education should not be undertaken as a discouragement but rather as a way to inform them of what those things will mean in real-life settings. Things like estimated college loan repayments, and for how long, should be discussed and put in terms of how many hours of work that money will end up equaling.

2. The importance of a college degree. While it does come at a cost, a college degree is well worth it over the course of a lifetime. People with bachelor degrees earn nearly $1 million more over their lifetimes than their peers who receive high school diplomas. People with master’s degrees earn closer to $1.3 million more. So even the most expensive colleges, if paid out of pocket and through loans, still do not tally up to the lifetime earnings potential of a college graduate versus a high school one. A college degree holds more than financial value though. There is the issue of job stability and security too. By 2018, over 60 percent of jobs will require a college degree and that number is sure to rise. This next generation of K-12 students simply cannot afford to bypass college learning and this should be emphasized to high school students whenever higher education is discussed.

3. The outlook in the industry of interest. From a young age, children are asked the inevitable “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question. With stars in their eyes, they talk about the jobs that seem the most glamorous – firefighters, movie stars, doctors and maybe even teachers. While all of these are noble career choices, high school students should have a firm grasp on the field they want to pursue in terms of job opportunities and earning potential. Again, this is not to discourage students from following what they believe to be their calling – but it is a way to guide them into their field of interest with eyes wide open.

Before high school graduates are shipped off to college with dreams of jobs and big paychecks on the other side, they need a reality check. A college degree is a valuable asset but does not come without a cost.

What else should high school students know before they enroll in college?

The Impact of Educational Entrepreneurship on Traditional Public Education

What if there were total free markets in education in the United States, and traditional public education systems as we know them today did not exist? Education would be a product for sale, just like any other product on the U.S. market. The idea may be mindboggling, but many education entrepreneurs would likely see an opportunity that fits with their vision of how education systems ought to work. With such an opportunity unavailable, they must be content to effect change in education by working within the current system.

Education entrepreneurs are driven by the belief that public education organizations are agricultural- and industrialization-era bureaucratic entities, far too enmeshed in familiar operational customs and habits to lead the innovation and transformation needed for schools today. They see themselves as change agents who are able to visualize possibilities. They want to serve as catalysts for change that will deliver current public educational systems from a status quo that results in unacceptable educational outcomes for too many children. Social entrepreneurs have focused on transforming education for the underserved, to include children from low socioeconomic backgrounds and children of color – groups that have not been well served by the traditional public education system. It is important to note that education entrepreneurs do not see themselves as merely improving education – for them; improvement would be a byproduct of the larger goal of transforming the system of public education in the U.S.

The question then becomes: how do visionaries propose to influence a system that has seen no significant large-scale change for decades? The efforts of education entrepreneurs are evident in ventures such as charter schools, Teach for America teacher preparation efforts, and the preparation of principals through the New Leaders for New Schools project. On the surface, based on these projects, it may appear that traditional school systems and education entrepreneurs are engaged in the same kind of work. In fact, education entrepreneurs and traditional educators view the world of education from two radically different perspectives. Aspects of the public education system are severely resistant to change. Our schools’ dependency on other organizations for resources and other types of support has caused them to be a reflection of these organizations, rather than units able to maintain discernible levels of independence. Existing resources do not restrict thinking among education entrepreneurs, nor are they beholden to any particular organization for support. This status ostensibly frees them to consider unlimited possibilities for K-12 education.

Another interesting difference between education entrepreneurs and traditional educators is the manner in which accountability is perceived. Education entrepreneurs likely view accountability from a customer-provider perspective, while educators, given the fact that they exist in bureaucratic structures, likely view accountability from a superior-subordinate perspective. Education entrepreneurs may speak of having an impact on the lives of children as a result of individual actions, and that the actions of a critical mass of entrepreneurial organizations will result in systemic change. Educators may speak of accountability in terms of meeting expected outcomes handed down from another organization.

Education entrepreneurs propose that educators are too entrenched in the day-to-day business of school operations to be forward thinking about possibilities for K-12 education, and most education researchers appear disinterested in investigating practical solutions to problems within the system. In fact the education entrepreneurial opinion of traditional education seems to fall somewhere between frustration and disdain. There is a sense of urgency among education entrepreneurs for radical transformation that results in improved performance outcomes, particularly when it comes to children who have not been served well by public education systems. The lack of ongoing and prompt action by public education systems leads some entrepreneurs to conclude that public education systems either do not feel the same urgency, or, if they do, that the very nature of the system renders them incapable of putting effective changes in action.

Perhaps the larger question is whether or not two systems (i.e., public education systems and education entrepreneurship) with different approaches to accomplishing an end, a fair amount of mistrust (and perhaps a lack of mutual respect), and different visions of how organizations ought to work, can come together to work toward the improvement of the educational system. Partnerships that have been formed by public school systems and education entrepreneurs are evidence of a brand of customized education that appears to be acceptable to both. As long as public schools systems believe they won’t be totally enveloped by education entrepreneurs, a workable and innovative model for public education may evolve.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 

Important Concepts of Instructional Leadership

In instructional leadership, the principal’s role is deeply involved with setting the school’s direction. The “mission” dimension focuses on the principal’s role in cooperating with staff, ensuring the school continuously runs on clear, measurable, and time-based goals that result is the academic progress of students. Principals are responsible for communicating goals, which should be widely known and supported throughout the school.

The process of goal development is not considered; its importance is less critical than meeting performance outcomes. This is a weakness in the model. The research simply accepts that goals should be set by the principal, in collaboration with staff, to achieve effectiveness.

Ensuring that the staff incorporates performance goals into their daily routines is crucial in instructional leadership. Vague, ill-defined goals must be put aside, in favor of clear a dividing line between academically focused efforts and “teaching to the test.”

A great example of the problems standardized testing can cause in a school was recorded in a study by Hallinger & Murphy in 2005. Teachers in “effective” California elementary schools were observed while teaching. One teacher had a unique activity center located at the back of the class, but researchers observed that students were not working at the center during the class period.

When questioned, the teacher stated that, although she genuinely liked the activity center, she had no time to use it, since the class hadn’t made the required ] progress in basic subjects. She then reported that her principal expected teachers to spend more time on reading, spelling, writing, and math than were necessary to achieve the expected progress in basic subjects. The principal restated this expectation almost verbatim when asked.

The following bullet points delineate best practices for using instructional leadership to define a school’s mission:

• The administrators’ objectives are clearly expressed and modeled, in writing, all around the school. Teachers and administrators all use the same language to discuss academic priorities.
• Teachers give priority status to the schools mission in their lesson planning and implementation.
• The goal are well-articulated, actively backed, and modeled by the school’s administrators.

Instructional leaders can apply this research to their mission-building strategies. The questions that this principal asked themselves while defining the school’s goals were:

• Are the goals clear and easily understandable?
• Are they written down and known by everyone in the school?
• Do the goals apply in the day-to-day activities at the school?
• Do I constantly and actively reinforce and explain these goals?
• Do the goals have the support of the rest of the school?

Managing the Instructional Program

This second dimension focuses on coordination and control of the school’s curriculum, and all instructional elements. Three leadership functions: supervising and evaluating instruction, coordinating the curriculum, and monitoring student progress are incorporated here. Managing the instructional program requires the principal’s active participation in stimulating, supervising, guiding, and monitoring teaching and learning in the school. The principal must possess expertise as well as commitment, getting “neck-deep” in the school’s instruction and curriculum.

In the California school example noted above, teachers were questioned on how they monitored student progress. Several teachers said the principal knew the reading level and academic progress of almost all students in the elementary school. This kind of personal engagement is not possible in every school, but reflects the degree of the principal’s involvement in observing and managing the school’s instruction and curriculum.

Promoting a Positive School Learning Climate

The third dimension of instructional leadership supports several academic strategies for success:

• Protecting instructional time
• Promoting professional development
• Maintaining high visibility of administrators
• Incentives for teacher success
• Developing high standards
• Providing incentives for learning to students

The broadest in scope and purpose, promoting a positive school learning climate brings alive the widely held belief that effective schools create an “academic press,” by developing high standards of learning, as well as greater expectations from both students and teachers. These schools pursue a culture of continued improvement, where rewards complement the aims and practices of the school. The principal should model the values and practices that create continuous development and improvement of teaching and learning.


10 Essential Skills for the Education Leader of Tomorrow

What will the schools of tomorrow be like?

No one can say for certain. But one thing we do know: schools are under pressure to keep up with the ceaselessly rapidfire changes occurring in our culture. It is difficult to prepare students for the future when we have no way of knowing exactly what that future will be like.

In this context, educational leaders need a unique skill set to make sure that students get what they need. The prevalence of technology inside and outside the classroom, as well as the increased accountability for student achievement, have drastically changed the educational landscape.

Here are the skills that tomorrow’s educational leaders will need to keep up.

  1. An understanding of student outcomes. Curriculum must evolve to reflect the skills that students will need in the future. The educational leader of the future will understand the practices and environment necessary for student achievement.
  2. The ability to implement large-scale turnarounds. The bar is set increasingly high for student achievement in numeracy and literacy. Educational leaders must institute programs that lead to deep and lasting learning.
  3. An understanding of the variety of tools available to educators. Educational leaders must have knowledge of the array of available tools and the precise ways in which they can support teaching and learning.
  4. The ability and the desire to reform school culture. The leaders of the future must have a compelling vision and a commitment to high standards, so that they can implement deep and lasting reform.
  5. A commitment to quality professional development. The leaders and educators of tomorrow know that they must learn something new every day to keep their methods fresh in changing times.
  6. Knowledge of the best ways to support staff. Tomorrow’s leaders will understand what staff needs to carry out school and district goals effectively.
  7. An unwavering moral compass. The school leaders of the future have a strong social conscience and always keep the best interests of students in the forefront of decision-making.
  8. The ability to measure progress and success. As new tools are introduced, it’s important to evaluate their effectiveness and their impact on student learning.
  9. Personal use and exploration of new tools. The school leaders of tomorrow will model learning for others by adding new tools to their own repertoire.
  10. Emotional intelligence. When guiding their schools through disruptive changes, school leaders will need to maintain strong relationships with students, teachers, parents and the community.

The future is a moving target, but one thing is clear: effective school leaders demonstrate courage, care and determination. These qualities will serve our schools well in any culture or time period.

The Edvocate’s Definitive Guide to Creating a Culturally Responsive Classroom

Becoming a culturally responsive classroom is hard. To help you along your journey, here is your guide to exploring and respecting the cultural backgrounds of your students while also using diversity as an asset. If you take our advice, you will have a culturally responsive classroom in no time.

Gather a wide base of knowledge about other cultures. This is one of the most critical steps that you as a teacher must take in order to educate students in a culturally responsive way. If you’re an educator, or you’re aspiring to become one, you’d better become familiar with the cultural values, traditions, communication styles, learning preferences, contributions to society, and relationship patterns of their future students.

Don’t just limit yourself to book learning. Granted, you can get some of the education you need by simply reading about cultural diversity. But there is something to be said for genuine interaction and discourse with members of students’ cultures.

Use your knowledge to understand your students better. Yes, it’s true that book knowledge about diverse cultural groups can come in handy when you’re designing lesson plans and educational materials. But taking it one step further, you can often interpret your students’ attitudes and behaviors a lot better if you know more about the cultures they belong to.

Traditional teaching environments force students from those and other groups to modify their thought and behavior patterns to fit standard European-American norms or else face academic and behavioral consequences. However, in a culturally responsive classroom, the onus is instead placed on the instructor to learn about and adapt to the cultural intricacies of the students that they teach.

Avoid stereotyping. This is a big problem that often comes when you are beginning to learn about other cultures. And at first glance, it does seem difficult to apply knowledge about culturally-influenced thoughts and behaviors to the classroom without falling into the traps of over-generalization and stereotyping.

But in order to avoid these problems, your next step is to engage in a rigorous examination of the general cultural practices of their students. This is the beginning of the personal dimension of culturally responsive pedagogy: learning about the specifics of students’ cultural backgrounds and how those cultural patterns and beliefs can be most positively expressed in a real classroom setting.

View each student’s culture as a dynamic and individualized concept. Remember this: a person’s culture represents the sum of many spheres of influence, including context within history, gender, age, religion, family relationships, group memberships, cultural beliefs and practices, historical context, and level of education. Therefore, to avoid stereotyping, the educator must view each student as possessing a personalized culture instead of as a member of a homogenous group.

A bit intimidating? It may seem so at first. However, in practice, there are a variety of methods that can be employed to learn more about a student’s cultural heritage and identity. Read on to Step 6 for some tips on this.

Use classroom assignments as a primary window into your students’ beliefs. Writing assignments can play a significant role in gathering information about student thought patterns and tendencies.  Interviews with family members, assignments asking students to write about learning experiences that occur outside of school, and assignments involving family stories and traditions all can play a significant role in discovering information about a students’ cultural heritage.  Students’ parents can often be solicited as sources of useful personal information and visiting the neighborhoods where diverse students live can help give educators an idea about the level of social support present and the types of challenges that the student might face outside of the classroom.

Get your students’ names right. It may sound simple enough, but a teacher who does not take the time to even know the names of his or her students, exactly as they should be pronounced, shows a basic lack of respect for those students. Teachers should learn the proper pronunciation of student names and express interest in the etymology of interesting and diverse names.

Encourage students to learn about each other. Teachers should have their students research and share information about their ethnic background as a means of fostering a trusting relationship with both fellow classmates.  Students are encouraged to analyze and celebrate differences in traditions, beliefs, and social behaviors.  It is of note that this task helps European-American students realize that their beliefs and traditions constitute a culture as well, which is a necessary breakthrough in the development of a truly culturally responsive classroom.

Give students a voice. Another important requirement for creating a nurturing environment for students is reducing the power differential between the instructor and students.  Students in an authoritarian classroom may sometimes display negative behaviors as a result of a perceived sense of social injustice; in the culturally diverse classroom, the teacher thus acts more like a facilitator than an instructor.  Providing students with questionnaires about what they find to be interesting or important provides them with a measure of power over what they get to learn and provides them with greater intrinsic motivation and connectedness to the material.  Allowing students to bring in their own reading material and present it to the class provides them with an opportunity to both interact with and share stories, thoughts, and ideas that are important to their cultural and social perspective.

Be aware of language constraints. In traditional classrooms, students who are not native English speakers often feel marginalized, lost, and pressured into discarding their original language in favor of English.  In a culturally responsive classroom, diversity of language is celebrated and the level of instructional materials provided to non-native speakers is tailored to their level of English fluency.  Accompanying materials should be provided in the student’s primary language and the student should be encouraged to master English.

Hand out praise accordingly. High expectations for student performance form the core of the motivational techniques used in culturally responsive instruction.  Given that culturally responsive instruction is a student-centered philosophy, it should come as no surprise that expectations for achievement are determined and assigned individually for each student.  Students don’t receive lavish praise for simple tasks but do receive praise in proportion to their accomplishments.  When expectations are not met then encouragement is the primary emotional currency used by the educator.  If a student is not completing her work, then one should engage the student positively and help guide the student toward explaining how to complete the initial steps that need to be done to complete a given assignment or task.  Once the student has successfully performed the initial steps for successful learning it will boost his sense of efficacy and help facilitate future learning attempts.

While popular among educators in traditional classrooms, reward systems should be considered with caution in a culturally responsive setting.  Reward systems can sometimes be useful for convincing unmotivated students to perform tasks in order to get a reward (and hopefully learn something in the process) but they have the undesirable long-term side effect of diminishing intrinsic motivation for learning.  This effect is particularly strong for students who were already intrinsically motivated to learn before shifting their focus toward earning rewards.  Given that one of the prime goals of culturally responsive instruction is to motivate students to become active participants in their learning, caution and forethought should be used before deciding to introduce a reward system into the equation.

A culturally response, student-centered classroom should never alienate any one student, but should bring all the different backgrounds together in a blended format. Teachers should develop their own strategies, as well as take cues from their students to make a culturally responsive classroom succeed.

Teachers: knock down your own biases first. For many teachers, who hail from a middle-class European-American background, a common side effect of being raised in that dominant Euro-American culture is the self-perception that “I’m an American; I don’t have a culture.” This is actually untrue—European-American culture simply dominates social and behavioral norms and policies to such an extent that those who grow up immersed in it can be entirely unaware of the realities of other cultures.

Fortunately, initial cultural biases can be overcome via hard work and reflection.  The necessary element for discarding pre-existing biases is a willingness to go through a process of rigorous self-appraisal in order to learn what needs to be changed to teach in a culturally responsive fashion.  A good way to start this process is by writing down reflections about family history, upbringing, and interpersonal relationship styles and how one’s experience may differ from the experience of a person raised in a different culture.

Eventually the focus of this reflection must turn toward one’s ideas about and racism and bias.  The culturally responsive educator should reflect on the fears, stereotypes, and biases that they have about individuals that are different from them. Once the educator can recognize that their own personal tastes are not objectively better than those favored by other cultures, they can begin to investigate and appreciate the traditions and values of those cultures.

Now take a deeper look into the cultures of your students. It’s easy to be superficial and fall into the twin traps of over generalization and stereotyping when learning about the different cultures of your students. What is important to keep in mind is that each student’s culture is dynamic and individualized.

A person’s culture represents the sum of many spheres of influence, including context within history, gender, age, religion, family relationships, group memberships, cultural beliefs and practices, historical context, and level of education. To avoid stereotyping, the educator must view each student as possessing a personalized culture instead of as a member of a homogenous group. At first blush this may appear to be a daunting task, but in practice there are a variety of methods that can be employed to learn more about a student’s cultural heritage and identity.

For example, classroom assignments can provide a primary window into a student’s cultural beliefs.  Writing assignments can play a significant role in gathering information about student thought patterns and tendencies.  Interviews with family members, assignments asking students to write about learning experiences that occur outside of school, and assignments involving family stories and traditions all can play a significant role in unearthing information about a students’ cultural heritage.  Students’ parents can often be solicited as sources of useful personal information and visiting the neighborhoods where diverse students live can help give educators an idea about the level of social support present and the types of challenges that the student might face outside of the classroom.

Consider how cultural differences might affect academic performance. A person’s culture and upbringing has a profound effect on how they see the world and how they process information. This fact was discussed by Richard Nisbett in his work, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently. Nisbett worked with psychologists in Japan and China and determined that the holistic way of viewing the world typical of many students from those countries differed from that of their American counterparts, who tended to view the world in parts or distinct classes of objects that could each be defined by a set of rules.

Did we miss any?


Culturally responsive teaching is a theory of instruction that was developed by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and has been written about by many other scholars since then. To read more of her work on culturally responsive teaching and other topics, click here to visit her Amazon.com page.


Cyberbullying: Top Six Ways to Prevent Threats

By: Victoria Zambito, SVP of Content and Communications, Vector Solutions

Keeping kids safe while in school is becoming increasingly difficult as we see the proliferation of technology among youth. One of the newest threats is Cyberbullying, which has quickly become a serious problem among kids in elementary school through high school.

According to Pew Research, more than half of all students in 5th grade and above report either being a victim of Cyberbullying or know someone who has been Cyberbullied. And, furthermore, Cyberbullying has been linked to depression, school violence and suicide.

Older forms of bullying were bad enough, but Cyberbullying can be particularly devastating for students since messages can be transmitted to and accessed by anyone in seconds — and traditional school safeguards are often ineffective. In fact, 95% of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior on social networking sites say they have seen others ignoring the mean behavior and 55% witness this frequently (Pew Research).

So how can schools work to prevent Cyberbullying or restrict access to some technological features that put kids at risk?  We reached out to our friends over at Vector Solutions, a leader in online education and parent company of SafeSchools, and they provided us with six key elements to help in the prevention of Cyberbullying in K-12 schools:

Understand Cyberbullying

First you have to know what it is. Cyberbullying occurs when a bully or group of bullies uses communication technologies, such as cell phones and computers, in a way that meets the definition of bullying.

Bullying, by definition, occurs when one or more students exhibit behavior toward one or more other students that meet three criteria:

  1. Harm – the bully intends physical or emotional harm for the victim.
  2. Unfair Match – the victim(s) cannot fairly defend themselves. (and the bully’s harassment is)
  3. Repeated – the harassment occurs more than once.

Once you clearly understand what it is, you can detect it and prevent it.

Be Aware

Be aware that cell phones can do much more than just place phone calls. Cyberbullies use voice messages, text messages, e-mail, instant messages, images, videos and/or social networking websites in a deliberate attempt to repeatedly harass, intimidate or embarrass another person or group of people. Be aware of capabilities and students’ preferred communication methods. This will allow you to closely monitor more commonly accessed technology platforms. And most importantly, don’t allow phones to be out at all during classes.

Stay Informed

Technology is changing faster than ever before. And for parents and teachers it can be tricky to know what is the latest social media or app kids are using. Ask IT professionals at school to help with this. Often, they are much more informed. With regular updates, they can help staff know what “bad apps” to look out for. Also, go direct to the source. Talk to kids openly about what is going on. If you create an open dialogue, you can gain invaluable insight.

Restrict Access   

School staff and parents should be aware that most tools and apps have a minimum age requirement for users, which is typically 18 years old or 13 years old with parental permission. As a school, you can require “Acceptable Use Policies,” or AUP. This is a contract among the school, the student and the student’s parents. AUPs are increasingly popular and necessary. In exchange for permission to use the school’s computer hardware, software and network, the student and his/her parents agree that the student will exhibit responsible online behavior. If students violate the AUP, they can be disciplined.

Enforce Policies

All school staff members are responsible for knowing the anti-bullying policies of their school as well as carefully following the procedures detailed in those policies. If you are not familiar with your responsibilities regarding Bullying and Cyberbullying behavior in your school, ask your supervisor or principal. Failure to follow your school’s policies may result in harm to the students involved. Some threats, such as violence, may even potentially result in legal action against the school and against you individually.

Track & Monitor Incidents

Many schools are leveraging technology like SafeSchools to monitor bullying incidents as well as train staff in prevention methods. Through a custom alert system parents, teachers and students can anonymously report incident 24/7, 365. Districts are notified immediately and can take the necessary course of action to prevent or resolve problems. Systems like this unify all fronts on the fight against bullying.

At the end of the day, prevention is the safest, most effective strategy to reduce Cyberbullying and Bullying behavior. Effective anti-bullying efforts promote a culture of respect and an atmosphere in which bullying behavior is unacceptable. A school-wide approach to Cyberbullying prevention and intervention, with buy-in from all staff and parents, is key to its effectiveness. Be sure your students and their parents are fully informed about your school’s prevention program as well as understand what it means and their individual responsibilities.

Victoria Zambito, SVP of Content & Communications 

As a member of the Vector Solutions executive team, Victoria Zambito is responsible for, and has been successful in, growing the highly profitable online education business since she joined the company 17 years ago. As Senior Vice President of Content and Communication, she is responsible for aligning and rationalizing Vector’s extensive library of over 5,000 courses across its multiple brands, enhancing, standardizing and modernizing content, and driving creative, agile solutions to deliver products. She also focuses on centralizing strategic communications and public relations as the company seeks to develop its brand globally.

Prior to this, Zambito led the Business to Professional (B2P) business unit, where she provided strategic leadership by collaborating with the CEO and core management team to establish long-term goals, strategies, plans and policies for growing the company’s direct-to-consumer business. From 2009 to 2012, she served as Vice President of Marketing for the Vector Solutions family of brands, supporting sales pipeline development, brand awareness and demand generation for both B2B and B2C efforts.





What is the Importance of a Personal Learning Network?

As discussed in a previous post, a personal learning network (PLN) is a customized social media platform for educators. But instead of sharing pictures, status updates, and liking each other’s filtered profile pictures, educators can learn from people and resources around the globe to improve their teaching methods, stay up-to-date on the latest edtech trends, and receive endless outside support.

Today we’re listing a few key reasons why you should invest in a personal learning network, for the good of yourself and the students you’re responsible for.

So, why PLNs?

Control Everything

No one knows which areas you struggle with as an educator more than you do. Nothing can tell you exactly what’s going on inside your classroom aside from the memories you relive every day. So, it’s your job to seek out a select number of experts and fellow teachers who specialize in or have experienced the same difficulties.

The great thing about a PLN is that it doesn’t limit you. Combine in-person and online resources, wade through several websites, speak with educators and tech professionals and cognitive psychologists. Chat online or skype or meet for coffee. The resources are endless and there are endless ways to customize your experience.

A lot of educators shape their PLNs with a question. How does the classroom adapt to a tech-driven world? How can we personalize education for every student? How do we keep girls interested in STEM courses?

A PLN means people from all around the world with a variety of different specialties are collaborating to answer one question. With that equation, it’s almost impossible for a solution not to arise. If you’re experiencing a problem, the PLN you build is your personalized team combining their knowledge to help solve that particular issue.

A solution to your educational struggle is on the horizon.

Get Challenged

A PLN is not necessarily a group of like-minded individuals. If that were the case, you wouldn’t be seeking out other opinions in the first place because it’s likely you already have a group of people in your life who feel and think exactly the same way as you.

PLNs provide you with people who have different viewpoints on hot topic issues and, if they’ve been vetted beforehand, have a wealth of knowledge, credentials, and research to back up their arguments.

As educators, sometimes we haven’t fixed the problem because we keep using the same method to solve it. A student is struggling with math and we send them to the same tutor, or explain it the same way, or use the same software. Sometimes we need someone to come in and point us in the opposite direction before a solution is found.

Get Out of Your Own Head

In the same vein, the solution to our problem is often right in front of us. We just need someone with fresh eyes to stand before us and point it out.

How do you know you’re in the dark about the latest edtech tool if you’ve never heard of the software to begin with?

If your lesson strategy feels stale or something isn’t clicking between you and your students, get out of your rut and ask the outside community for advice. It’s guaranteed that someone in the education community has experienced the same problem and found a solution they’re desperate to share.

Share What You Know

PLNs aren’t just about taking, they’re about giving back to your network by sharing your own knowledge, ideas, and reflections.

If you have a groundbreaking idea about preparing your classroom for a tech-centered, universally connected world, share it with others and receive feedback, research partners, and ways to develop and execute the concept.

Your unique ideas help others in the education community grow, and if you’re in the development stage, having a sounding board to bounce ideas off of is invaluable to the growth of any project. 

Find a Support System

Being a teacher is an emotionally grueling job that people outside of the education world can’t always understand.

Having an online or in-person group of teachers to share stories with helps you cope with and release emotions building within. Is your classroom underfunded? Vent to fellow teachers sharing the same struggle. Are you feeling exhausted by your profession rather than inspired? Talk it through with educators who’ve been exactly where you’ve been.

Don’t just think of PLNs as a professional resource; think of it as a form of virtual therapy. 

Support Your Students

Don’t limit the kids in your classroom to your own educational preferences and methods of teaching. Interacting with other educators allows you to bring different opinions and ideas directly to your students, so they can also be exposed to a variety of opinions and new ways of thinking.

Education is moving away from the institution and towards the individual. Presenting students with other resources helps them personalize their own educational experience.

In short,

Every website, journal, Twitter feed, and individual person is a resource. With an infinite number of resources in the universe, now widely available through social platforms and internet access, you have the power to hand-pick which ones will contribute to your personal and professional growth.

Create your own personal learning network, if not for yourself, for the people you make daily decisions for – your students.





Why global education rankings don’t reveal the whole picture

Daniel Caro, University of Oxford and Jenny Lenkeit, University of Oxford

Country rankings in international education tests – such as PISA and TIMSS – are often used to compare and contrast education systems across a range of countries. But it isn’t always an even playing field.

This is because countries with very different social and economic realities participate, so countries such as Norway, Russia, Chile, Lebanon and Thailand are all being compared against each other. And this is without the difference in socio-economic backgrounds of these different countries being taken into account.

If the latest world education rankings are anything to go by, Turkey and Thailand perform poorly when it comes to their students’ achievement in science. But our analysis shows that if you look at the rankings differently (from an even starting point), both Thailand and Turkey may in fact be just as good as some of the high performing Asian countries.

Our analysis is a much fairer comparison, as it allows for the differences in wealth and social development in which students learn and teachers teach. It builds upon our previous work, where we produced and analysed an indicator of “effectiveness”. The effectiveness indicator ranks performance of countries as if they all had similar socio-economic conditions – thus levelling the playing field.

This makes it easier to see which countries are actually the most effective at educating their students, with social economic factors like wealth taken into account.

New style rankings

The graph below shows how countries are ranked in their effectiveness. At the top of the effectiveness ranking, we find education systems such as Singapore and Japan, which are also generally high performing in PISA and TIMSS.

TIMSS-PISA 2015. Values higher than zero (towards the right-hand side) indicate that students in those education systems perform above expectations, meaning the education system is effective. Those values below zero, to the left, indicate ineffective education systems.
Author provided

But our analysis also revealed that countries such as Turkey and Thailand are actually highly effective and perform above expectations in terms of education. This is despite both countries having an overall lower performance score in the global education rankings.

As the graph shows, the performance of education systems in Turkey and Thailand is underestimated if guided by country rankings alone. This is because although these countries perform below average and rather poorly in PISA, they are as effective as high performing Asian countries.

This means that Turkey and Thailand would be ranked among the highest performing countries in the world – if there was no socio-economic differences between countries.

TIMSS-PISA 2015. Effectiveness vs performance according to rankings. The horizontal line at 0 separates effective from ineffective systems and the vertical line at 500 indicates average performance for TIMSS and OECD education systems.
Author provided

Our analysis also shows education systems in Norway are ineffective, and the same was found to be true of Australia. So while these countries are ranked highest in human development in the world, they are not among the highest performing in these international tests when we level the playing field.

On the lower end of the effectiveness ranking, we find Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. These countries are also among the lowest performing in PISA rankings and could be doing much better for their high income per capita levels.

Fair comparison

It is clear then that overall performance rankings alone do not make a fair comparison when it comes to judging the quality of education in different countries. And our analysis shows how the socioeconomic conditions of a country are vitally important when comparing global performance in education rankings.

The ConversationUsing our data, there would certainly be a case for countries like Chile, Malta, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to look to Turkey and Thailand to work out how to improve their education systems. And as our analysis shows, global education rankings are probably not the best measure of educational performance after all.

Daniel Caro, Research Fellow, Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, University of Oxford and Jenny Lenkeit, Research Fellow, Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tax credits, school choice and ‘neovouchers’: What you need to know

Kevin Welner, University of Colorado

As Republican lawmakers craft a tax reform bill, there’s speculation on the import taxes, value-added taxes and tax cuts it may usher in. Meanwhile, it’s likely that the bill will also include a major education policy initiative from the Trump administration: a tax credit designed to fund private school vouchers.

A decade ago I started researching this new kind of voucher – funded through a somewhat convoluted tax credit mechanism – that appears to have particular appeal to President Trump and other Republicans.

These new vouchers (or “neovouchers”) are similar to conventional vouchers in many ways, but there are some important differences. It’s those differences that neovoucher advocates most care about and that everyone should understand.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tour Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Conventional vouchers

What exactly is a school voucher? Typically, a voucher is direct financial support that helps families pay for the cost of private K-12 schooling. Proponents see vouchers as a way to help children attend nonpublic schools. Detractors see vouchers as undermining funding and support needed by public education.

All vouchers subsidize tuition with tax dollars. This can be accomplished in many ways, and the nuances matter.

Conventional voucher policies use the relatively straightforward method of allocating state money to give vouchers directly to eligible parents. The parents, in turn, give the vouchers to a private school of their choice. These schools are sometimes secular, but are usually religious.

The private schools then redeem these vouchers to obtain money from the state. In the 16 states where conventional voucher policies exist, they produce about 175,000 vouchers annually. This amounts to 3.3 percent of the nation’s private school population.

Yet, these direct vouchering programs present four major problems for school choice advocates.

First, they’re typically available only to lower-income families; wealthier families are usually not eligible.

Second, when governments directly provide voucher money, participating schools are generally required to comply with a variety of guidelines, such as accreditation requirements, anti-discrimination regulation, minimum teacher qualifications, financial reporting and/or the administration of a standardized test to students receiving the voucher.

Third, vouchers are simply not politically popular – which is why the more palatable term “opportunity scholarships” (courtesy of messaging guru Frank Luntz) has become increasingly popular.

Finally – and importantly – state constitutions often prohibit the channeling of state money to religious institutions. In many states, this means that conventional voucher programs cannot exist if the program includes religious schools. Although the Supreme Court has ruled that vouchers don’t violate federal law, state constitutions can create legal obstacles that are more formidable than those under the U.S. Constitution.

St. Joseph Academy, a Catholic school in Cleveland, is one of the top three schools to benefit from Ohio voucher dollars. Ohio’s conventional vouchers can be applied to secular and nonsecular schools alike, but 97 percent go to religious schools.
Oarbogast / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Vouchers on steroids

To sidestep these issues, many state lawmakers have embraced a new kind of voucher policy that gets essentially the same result but changes the state’s role from paying for vouchers to issuing tax credits.

This approach was first adopted in Arizona, in 1997, where the legislature passed a law setting up a system in which any taxpayer could “donate” money to a special, private nonprofit corporation. That corporation then issues vouchers to parents, who use them to pay for private school tuition. The taxpayers then get the money back from the state in the form of a tax credit.

Arizona’s constitution – typical of language in state constitutions – requires that “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.” But Arizona’s elaborate mechanism keeps the specific dollars out of state coffers. Consequently, state funding only indirectly supports religious institutions. The Arizona Supreme Court found this distinction sufficient, ruling that the tax credits did not violate the state’s constitutional prohibition against spending public money for religious support.

Beyond this legal advantage, advocates favor this sort of tax-credit-voucher method because it appears less likely to be regulated. It’s also likely to be open to a wider range of parents – not just lower-income or special needs families. And the complexity of the neovoucher approach obscures the fact that it’s really a voucher program, making it less of a political lightning rod.

Some wealthy taxpayers can even receive tax benefits exceeding the value of their donations. This baffling outcome is because of a loophole tied to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), an extra tax imposed on some wealthier taxpayers to ensure that they pay their fair share. The AMT limits certain tax breaks, such as the ability to deduct state tax payments from federal taxes. However – and here’s the twist – these AMT taxpayers can deduct charitable contributions. And so, these wealthier taxpayers can shift their state tax payment into a “charitable” contribution and instantly transform the payment into a federal deduction. In the six states that give a full tax credit for voucher donations, those taxpayers can get back the full value of their voucher plus a deduction for the donation.

A decade ago when I wrote a book explaining these tax credit policies and labeling them “neovouchers,” they existed in only six states and generated about 100,000 vouchers. Today, 17 states have tax-credit policies similar to Arizona’s on their books, generating a quarter-million vouchers and growing every year.

Students at The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. Florida is one of the states that issues tax-credit-style vouchers.
Randal Martin / Wikipedia, CC BY

These new vouchers aren’t likely to help kids

Do these vouchers improve student achievement? The research suggests that we shouldn’t expect children’s learning to be affected.

An evaluation of Florida’s neovoucher law – which the Trump administration appears to be using as its model – found that students receiving these neovouchers had a nonsignificant (-0.7 percentile points) loss in math and nonsignificant (+0.1 percentile points) gain in reading on standardized test scores.

Similarly, research focused on conventional vouchers has tended to reach this same conclusion, finding no significant change in student test scores. More recent studies, looking at conventional vouchers in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana actually find that test scores have declined – in some cases, by surprisingly large margins.

What to expect

While, thus far, neovoucher policies have existed only on the state level, proposals are now appearing at a federal level.

In February of 2017, Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana and three Republican colleagues introduced a bill (H.B. 895) that sets forth the basic structure for a federal neovoucher policy.

But the particulars of the neovoucher policy that ultimately emerges in the Republicans’ tax reform bill are up for grabs. Based on the wide variety of existing state neovoucher policies, it is possible that the federal proposal will provide a full 100 percent credit (as does H.B. 895) or a credit of only 50 or 65 percent. It might limit eligibility to children in families at the poverty level, or it might have expanded or even universal eligibility.

It also remains to be seen whether federal neovouchers would be allocated only in states with existing programs or might be distributed in all states, including those with no such laws.

Interestingly, some of the staunchest advocates of state-level neovouchers have expressed concern and even opposition to a federal initiative. Beyond general conservative resistance to federal overreach in education policy, they voice familiar concerns about the likelihood of regulations following money, particularly from future Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C.

And, of course, a federal neovoucher program would face significant fiscal obstacles as well. Absent large cuts elsewhere, these policies would strain the federal budget, requiring some creative work on the part of lawmakers – particularly since the tax reform bill will have to be revenue neutral. The cost of vouchers for even a fraction of the nation’s 57 million K-12 students could easily cost tens of billions.

This daunting price tag, however, probably won’t deter President Trump or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who have stated their opposition to the “public” part of public schools, with Trump even denigrating them as socialistic “government schools” that are part of the “American carnage” that “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

The ConversationIt seems unlikely that they will forego their chance to give tax dollars to private education.

Kevin Welner, Professor, Education Policy & Law; Director, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is charter school fraud the next Enron?

Preston Green III, University of Connecticut

In 2001, Texas-based energy giant Enron shocked the world by declaring bankruptcy. Thousands of employees lost their jobs, and investors lost billions.

As a scholar who studies the legal and policy issues pertaining to school choice, I’ve observed that the same type of fraud that occurred at Enron has been cropping up in the charter school sector. A handful of school officials have been caught using the Enron playbook to divert funding slated for these schools into their own pockets.

As school choice champions like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos push to make charter schools a larger part of the educational landscape, it’s important to understand the Enron scandal and how charter schools are vulnerable to similar schemes.

What is a related-party transaction?

Enron’s downfall was caused largely by something called “related-party transactions.” Understanding this concept is crucial for grasping how charter schools may also be in danger.

Related-party transactions are business arrangements between companies with close associations: It could be between two companies owned or managed by the same group or it could be between one large company and a smaller company that it owns. Although related-party transactions are legal, they can create severe conflicts of interest, allowing those in power to profit from employees, investors and even taxpayers.

This is what happened at Enron. Because Enron wanted to look good to investors, the company created thousands of “special purpose entities” to hide its debt. Because of these off-the-books partnerships, Enron was able to artificially boost its profits, thus tricking investors.

Enron’s Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow managed several of these special purpose entities, benefiting from his position of power at the expense of the company’s shareholders. For instance, these companies paid him US$30 million in management fees – far more than his Enron salary.

Fastow also conspired with other Enron employees to pocket another $30 million from one of these entities, and he moved $4.5 million from this scheme into his family foundation.

Enron’s collapse revealed the weaknesses of the gatekeepers – including boards of directors and the Securities and Exchange Commission – that are responsible for protecting the markets. Because of lax accountability and federal deregulation, these watchdogs failed to detect the dangers posed by Fastow’s conflict of interest until it was too late. Congress responded by passing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which tightened the requirements for oversight.

Enron employees lost their jobs and billions of dollars in pension benefits.
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

How do related-party transactions occur in charter schools?

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have legislation that allows for charter schools. Just like public schools, charter schools receive public funding. However, unlike public schools, charter schools are exempt from many laws governing financial transparency.

Without strict regulation, some bad actors have been able to take advantage of charter schools as an opportunity for private investment. In the worst cases, individuals have been able to use related-party transactions to fraudulently funnel public money intended for charter schools into other business ventures that they control.

Such was the case with Ivy Academia, a Los Angeles-area charter school. The co-founders, Yevgeny Selivanov and Tatayana Berkovich, also owned a private preschool that shared facilities with the charter school. The preschool entered into a sublease for the facilities at a monthly rent of $18,390 – the fair-market value. The preschool then assigned the sublease to the charter school at a monthly rent of $43,870.

The Los Angeles district attorney’s office charged the husband-and-wife team with multiple counts of fraud. Selivanov was sentenced to nearly five years in jail in 2013.

Fraudulent related-party transactions can also occur between education management organizations (EMOs) and their affiliates. EMOs are for-profit or nonprofit entities that sometimes manage charter schools, and might also own smaller companies that could provide services to those schools.

For example, Imagine Schools is a nonprofit EMO that runs 63 charter schools enrolling 33,000 students across the country. It also owns SchoolHouse Finance, a for-profit company that, among other things, handles real estate for many of Imagine’s charter schools. Though charter schools typically spend around 14 percent of their funding on rent, some of the Imagine Schools were paying SchoolHouse Finance up to 40 percent of their funding for rent.

One of the charter schools operated by Imagine Schools, Renaissance Academy in Kansas City, sued the company for charging it excessive rent. In 2015, a federal judge agreed, ordering Imagine Schools to pay almost $1 million in damages to Renaissance. The court’s ruling suggested that Imagine Schools was essentially taking advantage of the charter school: The EMO profited from the excessive rent and failed to tell the school’s board of directors how the cost might disrupt the school’s ability to pay for textbooks and teacher salaries.

Students at Renaissance Academy charter school work on a paper recycling project. Renaissance Academy shut down in 2012 and was later ordered to receive $1 million in damages from its EMO, Imagine Schools.
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

The problem could get worse

Because of insufficient oversight, Fastow’s fraudulent use of related-party transactions at Enron was not stopped until it was too late. Similarly, the Ivy Academia and Renaissance Academy examples reveal insufficient checks and balances in the charter school sector. In both cases, the monitors responsible for protecting charter schools found nothing wrong with the rental agreements.

It might be tempting to conclude that Ivy Academia and Renaissance Academy stories are anecdotal – that fear of widespread abuse of related-party transactions is overblown. However, there have been dozens of allegations of similar transgressions, including against industry giants such as K12 Inc. and Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. Though only a handful of these allegations have resulted in the removal of the charter school operators, related-party fraud in the charter school sector is an emerging issue.

In September 2016, the Education Department’s inspector general released the findings of an audit of several dozen charter schools detailing significant problems with related-party transactions.

The report also made several recommendations for additional oversight. Such protection could come at the state level (e.g., providing guidance to states regarding charter school contractual agreements with EMOs) or at the federal level (e.g., improving the Department’s own monitoring of charter school-EMO relationships).

However, Trump has generally expressed a dislike of federal regulations, and DeVos, who played a major role in the development of Michigan’s charter school law, has successfully fought attempts to increase oversight of Michigan’s charter school sector. With such anti-regulatory stances, it seems unlikely that Trump or DeVos will support the kind of oversight that’s needed to protect charter schools.

The ConversationThis aversion to regulation at the federal level could cost taxpayers millions of dollars and could result in the closing or disruption of schools – potentially damaging the education of students they serve. Since charter schools are growing fastest in low-income and minority communities, these children stand to be hurt the most.

Preston Green III, John and Carla Klein Professor of Urban Education, Professor of Educational Leadership and Law, University of Connecticut

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.