put kids first

Wasted Data: Student Information Should be Shared

It’s no secret that technology implementation in P-12 schools comes with some serious red tape. While American colleges and universities tend to be at the forefront of innovative ways of learning, childhood education lags seriously behind. A recent PBS study found that while 90 percent of P-12 classrooms have at least one computer, only 35 percent have tablets or electronic readers. The amount of policy writing that goes into allowing “new” technology like tablets, let alone the budget for them, makes it prohibitive for most schools to implement the equipment in reasonable time frames.

But what about technology that already exists in P-12 classrooms, but in less-flashy ways? Consider the database technology behind virtually every school system in the country. Schools have electronic storage of everything from basic address information of students to their in-class progress in an array of subjects. Schools often track other factors too like socioeconomic status and other defining features like racial background and family circumstances. This private data collection on students starts long before the traditional start of school. Early childhood programs in every state keep track of student information and progress too.

The problem with all of this data keeping is that the numbers are usually kept in isolation. Beginning with early childhood education, individual schools do not reach out to each other or across state lines when it comes to student progress and innovative teaching methods. In fact, a recent study released by The Early Childhood Collaboration found that Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with a system for linking student data across all education programs, from early childhood learning through grade 12. Progressive California has absolutely no data linking programs in place and no plans to start one. As the report points out:

“Comprehensive and connected data on children, programs, and the workforce are used to track progress over time, pinpoint problems, identify underserved groups, and allocate limited resources.”

Despite such a treasure trove of data, student information seems to be recorded simply for posterity. It’s clearly not impossible to share the information (Pennsylvania does it) but states do not seem to be rushing to do it. Such an undertaking would certainly require an upfront cost which could be behind the hesitancy – but I wonder how much of the delay is simply the convenience of the status quo. Student data has always been collected for internal use, or to satisfy specific state requirements, so going above and beyond that is scary territory. How will schools find the manpower for the extra steps of sharing, and analyzing? Who will be in charge of storing the data? What about student privacy?

I understand the logic behind these questions but to me, these are all minor impositions. It has never been easier to connect all of the nation’s student data sets in order to build a better picture of what America’s P-12 student body looks like today, and set goals for improvement based on actual statistics. Like these databases, many education policies are created in isolation. What if the people who wrote those policies had a complete data set to inform their choices? How quickly would education legislation transform from theory to actionable plans based on fact?

The ECDC report recommends that states strengthen their abilities to securely link to student data amongst their schools, and to expand the information that is screened and collected. Some less tangible advice would be for educators and policymakers to realize the value of interconnected student information and begin to consider the true possibilities of combining that knowledge.

Would you support greater sharing of student data across schools, systems and states?

9 Tips for Preventing the Summer Slide

When the school year ends, teachers are happy to have a break from the drudgery of the school year, but they also want students to avoid the summer slide. The summer slide occurs when children lose some of the academic skills and dispositions that they gained during the school year due to the absence and scarcity of quality learning activities during summer vacation. As the old saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

To succeed academically, children need continuous opportunities to acquire new skills and practice existing ones. This need is especially heightened during the summer months, because children do not have the privilege of being educated by certified teachers. When we think of the summer months, we think of a happy carefree time when children can have fun and unwind. But we forget about the potential learning opportunities that we can engage our children in. To make sure that your students do not experience the summer slide, here are some suggestions that you can give to their parents:

1. Summer Programs

Many public and private schools run summer programs for their students. Take advantage of them. They are usually for only half a day and allow flexibility for summer vacations. Contact your child’s school to find out if they offer summer programs.

2. Family Reading Program

Set up a summer reading program with your child in which they choose an agreed upon number of grade-level books to read per month. Make sure that you consult the child’s teacher or a librarian for advice. To show solidarity, the entire family should participate.

3. Specialized Summer Camps

Enroll your child in a specialized summer camp. These camps are fun and incorporate hands-on activities into their curriculum as well. Some of the more popular ones include computer, science, and math camps.

4. Pick the Teacher’s Brain

Consult your child’s current or next teacher, and ask for suggestions for summer workbooks, science activities, essay topics, and interesting summer activities for your child. You may even be able to elicit their help in assessing your child’s performance.

5. Summer Enrichment

Summer is also a good time to fill in learning gaps. If you know that your child is weak in a particular subject, you may want to set up an enrichment program. Of course, as always, consult with your child’s teacher.

6. Learning While Vacationing

If you are planning on taking a vacation this summer, you can turn it into a social studies activity. Ask your child to research the destination’s history, cuisine, popular attractions, and so on. Also, once you reach your vacation destination, you can schedule tours of famous landmarks and locations, which will increase their social studies knowledge.

7. Summer Journaling

Ask your children to write a daily journal of all of the things that they learn each day. Remember, you will need to orchestrate learning activities for your children, because you can’t trust that they will be able to do it on their own.

8. Turn Daily Activities into Learning Opportunities

If you’re at the grocery store with your kids, challenge them to add up the total cost of your purchase. Driving to grandmother’s house? Ask them to find certain colors, shapes, or patterns along the way. For older kids, think of appropriate variations.

9. Learning Locally

Don’t forget about the local park, museum, zoo, aquarium, and other interesting places. Your local community is full of learning opportunities that you’ve probably never thought of.

Preventing summer slide can seem like a daunting task, but thankfully it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pull it off. All parents need is to be organized and have the right plan. With this list, you can provide them with some simple strategies that they can use to prevent summer learning loss, without taking the fun out of summer. When the new school year begins, your students will be armed with the skills that they retained from the previous year and hopefully some brand new ones. This will make your job as a teacher a whole lot better. Good luck!

Top 5 Techniques for Culturally Responsive Teaching

The growing popularity of culturally responsive instruction is slowly causing traditional trends to be reversed. Teachers are increasingly being expected to adapt to the demands of a multicultural classroom. Given the wealth of diversity in our nation’s public schools, it is no wonder that instructional theory is advocating a shift toward a pedagogy that emphasizes a comfortable and academically enriching environment for students of all ethnicities, races, beliefs, and creeds.

Culturally responsive pedagogy is a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students’ unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student’s cultural place in the world.

Given that a majority of teachers hail from a middle class European-American background, the biggest obstacle to successful culturally responsive instruction for most educators is disposing of their own cultural biases and learning about the backgrounds of the students that they will be teaching. A common side effect of being raised in the dominant European-American culture is the self-perception that “I’m an American; I don’t have a culture.”

Of course this is view is inaccurate; 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.  A related misconception that many teachers labor under is that they act in a race-blind fashion. However, most teachers greatly overestimate their knowledge about other cultures, which manifests itself in a lack of cultural sensitivity in classroom management and pedagogical techniques.

Here are a few practical techniques to avoid those common pitfalls and become a culturally responsive teacher in an era where this is a necessity:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

References

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.

5 Facts Everyone Needs to Know About the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Our nation’s public schools play an integral role in fostering talents. They also play a role in building our children’s internal worth. It is therefore not surprising that our schools can assist in reducing our nation’s prison population as well. Here are five facts everyone should know about the school-to-prison pipeline, and how to end it:

  1. An increased prison population costs us all money. Those of us who fall outside the group of perceived misfits who make our nation’s prison population may wonder why the school-to-prison pipeline should matter. Aside from caring about the quality of life for other individuals, there are more tangible issues that arise from this. Each federal prisoner costs taxpayers $28,284 per year, which is about $77 per day.

And that’s just the measurable cost. What isn’t measurable is the indirect impact those incarcerations have on the economy in terms of those prisoners not contributing to the work force.

  1. There is a link between dropping out of high school and going to prison. Sadly, over half of black young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. Of the dropouts, nearly 60 percent will go to prison at some point. There are also some eerily similar statistics for young Latino men.

In his piece “A Broken Windows Approach to Education Reform,” Forbes writer James Marshall Crotty makes a direct connection between drop-out and crime rates. He argues that if educators will simply take a highly organized approach to keeping kids in school, it will make a difference in the crime statistics of the future. He says:

“Most importantly, instead of merely insisting on Common Core Standards of excellence, we must provide serious sticks for non-compliance. And not just docking teacher and administrative pay. The real change needs to happen on the student and parent level. ”

He cites the effectiveness of states not extending driving privileges to high school dropouts or not allowing athletic activities for students who fail a class. With higher stakes associated with academic success, students will have more to lose if they walk away from their K-12 education. And the higher the education level, the lower the risk of criminal activity, statistically speaking.

  1. Black and Latino men get the short end of the stick as far as this phenomenon is concerned. Aside from the dropout statistics mentioned before, an estimated 40 percent of all students that are expelled from U.S. schools are black. This leaves black students over three times more likely to face suspension than their white peers. When you add in Latino numbers, 70 percent of all in-school arrests are black or Latino students.

If you want to see the correlation between these school-age statistics and lifetime numbers, consider this: 61 percent of the incarcerated population are black or Latino – despite the fact that these groups only represent 30 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 68 percent of all men in federal prison never earned a high school diploma. The fact that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world is no surprise and the road to lockup starts in the school systems.

  1. Expectations influence student achievement and behavior. Though all people have genetic predispositions, it is ultimately the environment that encompasses the formative years that shapes lives.

In a blog post by Sally Powalski, a 10-year employee of juvenile facility in the State of Indiana, she addresses what she sees every day: young men with no expectations of improvement and therefore no motivation.

Sally says this of the young men who come through her counselor’s office:

“They have been given the message for several years that they are not allowed in regular school programs, are not considered appropriate for sports teams, and have had their backs turned on them because everyone is just tired of their behavior… Why should they strive for more than a life of crime?”

Sally hits the nail on the head with her observations. Children are just as much a product of their environments as the expectations placed on them. Parents on a first-name basis with law enforcement officials certainly influence the behavior of their children, but school authorities with preconceived negative associations create an expectation of failure too. Increasingly, educators are learning how to recognize the signs of textbook learning disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia. But what about the indirect impact that factors like poverty, abuse, neglect or simply living in the wrong neighborhood have on a student’s ability to learn? Where are the intervention programs that keep these students on academic track without removing them from the school setting?

  1. The current way of dealing with “problem” students is not working. When one student is causing a classroom disruption, the traditional way to address the issue has been removal – whether the removal is for five minutes, five days or permanently. Separating the “good” students and the “bad” ones has always seemed the fair, judicious approach. On an individual level this form of discipline may seem necessary to preserve the educational experience for others.

If all children came from homes that implemented a cause-and-effect approach to discipline, this might be the right answer. Unfortunately, an increasing number of students come from broken homes, or ones where parents have not the desire or time to discipline. For these students, removal from education is simply another form of abandonment and leads to the phenomenon called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

So what’s the solution? Keeping close tabs on drop-out risks is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to closing the school to prison pipeline. Better academic tracking, in order to notice areas of potential problems early on, and more mentorship intervention when it comes to discipline issues are also important.

Students who are at risk of dropping out of high school or turning to crime need more than a good report card.  They need alternative suggestions on living a life that rises above their current circumstances. For a young person to truly have a shot at an honest life, he or she has to believe in the value of an education and its impact on good citizenship. That belief system has to come from direct conversations about making smart choices with trusted adults and peers.

What do you think K-12 schools can put in place to increase academic success and close the school to prison pipeline?

All Day Preschool Better Prepares Children for Kindergarten

A recent study has found that children who attend all-day preschool are much better prepared for Kindergarten than children who go to half-day programs.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs studied 1,000 3-and 4-year-olds enrolled in 11 Chicago schools. Students who attended preschool seven hours a day were compared to those who attended three hour programs, then tested at the commencement of preschool to see if they were socially and academically prepared to begin kindergarten.

The study found 59 percent of the students enrolled in the half-day program to be ready compared to 81 percent of the all-day preschool attendees.

In the fall of 2012, 78 percent of white students were prepared to enter kindergarten compared to 74 percent of black children and 62 percent of Native American and Hispanic students.

Early childhood education advocates say the results how Minnesota should invest in more preschool programs, and believe this move could help minimize the achievement gap between white students and minority students.

The study’s lead author Arthur Reynolds feels that the state should consider funding all-day preschool programs so all students are ready to learn when they enter school.

Last year, $40 million in funding for pre-K scholarships was approved for low- income families. Thanks to those dollars 5,800 students were able to attend preschool, but as many as 15,000 more students still need access to pre-K scholarships.

The importance of early childhood education cannot be stressed enough. This study goes to prove how important classroom hours are to best prepare students for kindergarten and the school years to follow. I am glad to see Minnesota contributed $40 million to pre-K last year, and hope the state can find ways to add even more dollars to help additional low-income families send their children to preschool.

 

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Why Education Reformers Shouldn’t Dismiss the Idea of Year-Round Schooling

When it comes to propositions for educational reform, the suggestion that the U.S. adopt a year-round schooling model is one of the most drastic – at least within the eyes of the American public. Summer vacation has a long, nostalgia-draped history among American school children. Still, the idea of year-round schooling isn’t one that came out of nowhere.

Our education system began at a time when most students were expected to have primary schooling and then work in the family business or manufacturing, or work in other ways to contribute to the family’s economic well-being. During this time, only about 20% of children were actually being groomed to attend college. Today, however, things are very different. The family is no longer a cohesive economic unit that requires the work of children to help with the family’s income. We have also moved beyond the point where in a majority of homes, one parent (most often the mother) was home to attend to children. The traditional family unit of a working father and stay-at-home mother is no longer the norm. Rather, 32% of children are raised in single-family households where the parent presumably has to work full time. Similarly, over 60% of school-aged children in two-parent families live in a home where both parents work outside the home.

Changes are also apparent in our economy; our information-age society will result in a reduction of jobs requiring minimal levels of education. Many jobs today require a college education and/or the ability to acquire and adapt skills for high-performance workplaces of the 21st century. We must make changes in our education system to better prepare our children for the jobs of today and the jobs of the future. To increase the reach of and improve the public education system, it is necessary to increase the amount of time used for schooling, as well as to improve the efficiency with which we use the time allotted for educational endeavors.

Proponents of a year-round school year suggest that a shift in the time designated for teaching and learning will help students achieve more by minimizing summer learning loss, allowing for innovation and implementation of creative programs, and providing the time needed to assist children who need extra help. Many school districts around the country are in fact working toward increasing both the hours in each school day and the number of days schools are in session. Many education leaders are open to the idea of increasing the number of days per school year by up to an additional month, and some go so far as to support year-round school programming. Some leaders have suggested an extended school day and/or school year for schools that are failing to perform well. This suggestion seems to have some foundation in research, because data show that certain groups (including students from low socioeconomic backgrounds) seem to be negatively impacted by the traditional summer hiatus. The proponents of year-round schooling claim that with extended time to teach, teachers will be able to help all students attain better performance results.

It’s easy to understand why education reformers put so much emphasis on time spent teaching and learning. Research shows that time may be the most essential resource of the education system. But it’s important to recognize that merely increasing the amount of time students are in school is not a panacea for improving student performance. It’s necessary to use the available time in the best possible manner. If teachers fail to convert the available time to quality teaching and learning time, the increased school hours will not improve student performance.

Parents often have a stake in school hours as well. Some parents are already highly concerned with their child’s academic progress. Many parents prefer to employ additional educational services for their children that may offer better afterschool educational opportunities, and others may prefer to spend some of their own time educating their children after school. Those parents, and parents of students from affluent backgrounds, may not support increasing school day hours, and for those students, it may not be necessary. Nonetheless, by increasing high-quality education time, schools can certainly provide help for students who can’t afford learning opportunities outside of school.

Although a longer school day or year has many positives, there are also a number of concerns, including cost. Increasing the number of hours and days in school can prove expensive, making it necessary to put more emphasis on increasing the utility of available school time. Some education leaders suggest that instead of increasing the hours and days in a school calendar year, it would be better to spread out the available number of school days in such a manner that the school services may remain available for the students throughout the year. This might mean offering three short breaks rather than one long summer vacation, or simply offering various classes or tutoring programs during the summer downtime. Either approach would increase costs in facility usage and likely increase staff costs as well.

Is it time to turn the U.S. K-12 school calendar completely on its head by abolishing summers-off schedules and adding time in the classroom? Would such actions make a significant positive impact on student performance, particularly in STEM topics?

Ask An Expert: What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Year Round Schools?

Question: I am considering taking an accounting job with a district that has year round schools. Since I am unfamiliar with the concept, I would like to know what the benefits and drawbacks are. Me and my husband have 3 school aged children, and we want to do what’s best for them. Virginia S.

Answer: Virginia, first of all, congratulations on the job offer. I know that it must be difficult for you and your husband to consider exposing your children to something that is unfamiliar. In this column, I will explain the benefits and drawbacks of year round schools, which will help you make a more informed decision concerning your job offer.

Many school districts around the country are in fact working toward extending the school year. As far as the benefits of year round schools, the shift in the time designated for teaching and learning helps students achieve more by minimizing summer learning loss, allowing for innovation and implementation of creative programs, and providing the time needed to assist children who need extra help.

Research seems to back up these claims, as it shows that time may be the most essential resource of the education system. However, it is important to recognize that merely  extending the school year is not a panacea for improving student performance. It is necessary to utilize the available time in the best possible manner. If educators fail to convert the available time to quality teaching and learning time, the increased school year will not improve student performance.

While I have pointed out the many benefits of a longer school year, there are also some drawbacks. The major drawback is the assumed detriment to family structure. American families have become accustomed to the traditional long summer vacation. Parents may find it difficult to schedule vacations and family reunions. This concern is not to be dismissed, as it is important to children’s development to spend quality time with their families.

Childcare could also become a concern, particularly if multiple, shorter school vacations were scheduled throughout the year, at times when parents are working. Extracurricular activities are another dimension of schooling that can be negatively influenced by year-round schooling. Teachers managing extracurricular activities have observed difficulties adapting these activities into a year-round schooling schedule.

Another area of concern when adapting to year-round schooling schedules is its effect on the administration. School administrators have sometimes found it difficult to deal with licensure and contractual issues of the teachers when working out schedules for year-round schools. It can also be difficult to plan the optimal use of school buildings. Of course, a serious issue is finding ways to best leverage this new, extended school year to increase quality instruction time. In short, year-round schools require the administrative blocks of schools to keep working throughout the year, which increases the administrative burden.

At the end of the day, you have to compare and contrast the benefits and drawbacks of year round schools with your families situation. Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks or vice versa? I hope my column will assist you and your husband in making an informed decision. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

Why High School Graduation Is the Key to Improving At-Risk Communities: Part II

A guest post by Frank Britt, CEO of Penn Foster

When an at-risk student graduates high school, it creates a significant and positive trickle-down effect: it de-risks a family unit and the power of example encourages friends to also become contributing members as high school finishers, and can be a catalyst for galvanizing a community, and even a single building or street.

At scale, it can help build work forces with higher productivity, leading to lower poverty and reduced crime rates.

What Drives (and Improves) Crime Rates in a Community?

Crime rates are linked to educational attainment, according to a 2013 report by the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report, entitled “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” asserts that if male high school graduation rates increased by just 5 percent, the nation could save about $18.5 billion in annual crime expenses. The lower the education attainment levels, the higher the rates of arrest and incarceration.

Reforming school climates and increasing student engagement can help move vulnerable young people away from crime and prison and toward college and a career path, says President of the Alliance for Excellent Education Bob Wise. “The school-to-prison pipeline starts and ends with schools,” Wise said.

Why Should Businesses Care?

It seems like a given—the business community needs to be far more invested in high school–level engagement. To ignore this imperative is to tacitly endorse a model that results in “imperfect” candidates, or simply not enough supply for employers’ growing demand for skilled workers. In fact, this is a root cause of the front line labor shortages we’re seeing today.

Additionally, they are looking at a future generation of consumers with lowered employment and salary expectations—so that’s a real bottom-line consideration.

What can businesses be doing? Starbucks’ recent initiative to help mitigate college costs is one example of a major corporation taking an interest in educating employees. It is a great start, but assumes a steady supply of high school graduates. The time has arrived that the employers such as leading retailer’s shift from supporting high school completion for purposes of philanthropy to instead invest for business productivity reasons. This will become a mega-trend in next five-ten years as there will simply not be sufficient quantities of students to support the next generation of blue and grey color jobs.

Where Do We Start?
Experts affirm that a local-level change agenda is about reestablishing the character of an area. As Charles C. Haynes writes, “Schools are typically the conscience of a neighborhood.” Employers and even colleges are all likely to become even more active players in helping to address the local level completion gaps, and in second-chance adult learners will begin to have allies in their efforts to find on-ramps to higher education.

It starts with a school’s system-wide educational reform initiative that includes creating more diverse academic alternatives for students, such as blended learning and flipped classrooms. Education ultimately improves and strengthens a community, including bolstering the economic infrastructure and increases wages. It empowers people to take better control of their own destinies.

The byproduct is a greater social consciousness with positive consequences and a more prospering community.

Are you ready?

Frank Britt is the CEO of Penn Foster, a leading career-focused online and hybrid education institution that annually supports over 100,000 active students and 1,000 institutions nationwide. His mission is to create a national movement to better connect education, career pathways and job creation, and to promote debt-free and affordable learning. By utilizing the power of practical education, career training and hands-on mentoring, he has helped improve the lives of everyone from underprivileged children and families, to front-line workers and recent college graduates. His efforts recognize the challenges faced by the 7,000 people that regrettably drop out of high school each day, the 4 million middle-skilled workers seeking employment, 50-70 year olds transitioning careers, and the thousands of veterans focused on establishing new career pathways.

 

Why Teaching Jobs Should be Preserved during School Reform

 By Matthew Lynch

School reform is never easy. When sweeping changes are decided upon and implemented, everyone must fully participate in order for students to benefit from the changes and certainly not to suffer during the transition. Part of providing that stability for students is through a strong front of teachers that remain at the school during the sometimes turbulent reform process.

Reform is truly not possible without a united front of educators and administrators. A shared vision is challenging to create and maintain without stable leadership, and a supportive culture from the staff.  It is a simple fact of life that high staff turnover can create instability and have a negative impact on efforts to establish a consistent learning environment for students. High staff turnover is also quite costly, particularly when the recruitment of teachers, and then the training of new teachers in the intricacies of the reform effort are considered.

More effort and support needs to be given to the recruitment process for teachers at the outset as schools and districts initiate reform efforts. Hiring teachers who “fit” reform goals will likely reduce teacher attrition.  Still, more support needs to be available for new teachers. Even teachers who ostensibly have the skills and attitudes that align with reform goals will need mentoring and other supports as they begin their jobs. Every attempt must be made to reduce the debilitating rate of turnover.

Doesn’t reform result in loss of teaching jobs though?

Inevitably, a major factor for sustaining reform is having the money to do so. Most efforts now are centered on how to make the most of current funding and utilizing money effectively in order to maximize the positive impact of reforms, rather than how to access untapped resources. Despite the dearth of new money, it is possible to free up cash through alternative means of spending.

An extreme proposal to accomplish this is to reduce staffing to the absolute minimum. For example, a school with 500 students would have 20 teachers and 1 principal. Approximately $1 million could become available, depending on how many education specialists (regular and categorical) and instructional aides worked within the school. This is radical option, and there are other, less extreme ways to change the way money is spent, to include increasing class sizes, spending less on upgrading technology, and eliminating some programs.

The key however is to look in detail at all financial outlays, measure them according to the extent to which they contribute to the goals of the school reform, and rank them according to how well they do this. This will enable schools to break down spending into its core components and work out what is necessary and what can be cut during the process of change in order to better implement their improvement strategy. This is particularly important in times of austerity, when elements that are not essential may have to be reduced or cut in order to help drive reform, no matter how popular or long-standing they may be.

Spending money on non-essential areas does support school reform efforts. Prioritizing what money is spent on does not automatically mean cutting all non-academic projects. What gets cut will depend on the goals of individual schools. This should be a workable situation, as long as the school is still accountable to the state and the district for shifts in expenditures. An understanding that cutting teaching jobs can actually be detrimental to reform is important though, instead of just looking at the numbers on a piece of paper.

photo credit: R Joanne via photopin cc

I’m an Educator, What Should I Tweet about?

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest post by Craig Kemp

As an educator that is addicted to using social media for professional learning, I wish I had a list of things to tweet about when I first started out.

This week I was inspired by @shiftparadigm and his list of Personal Rules for Twitter and a list of what a teacher should tweet about (anonymous, but first seen tweeted by @justintarte).

So in an effort to help those Educators on Twitter, here is my list of 9 things that educators should tweet about:

  1. Be yourself and show people that you are real! Tweet about what inspires you and what happens in your day to day life as an educator
  2. Create don’t consume by sharing images – people love to see what your classroom, school, project, activity etc. looks like so they can get inspiration
  3. Create don’t consume by sharing links to articles that you write or articles that you have read. Nearly every educator I know loves a good nighttime read
  4. Quotes and thoughts related to education (always remember to link to the author)
  5. Ask questions and give answers – tweet responses directly to people and ask questions if you are unsure
  6. Get involved in Twitter Chats – tweet your answers to questions and your thoughts to other educators tweets
  7. Support other educators by giving a ‘favourite’ or a ‘retweet’ to their posts. This shows that you appreciate and enjoy what they have tweeted
  8. Be positive – tell people how much you love their work, demonstrate positivity in everything you tweet. You can still be constructive and be passionate but always be respectful – like we tell our students “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it!”
  9. Suggest other educators to follow – you can do this at any stage but I like to make use of #FF (Follow Friday) where people share their favourite connections

I hope this list goes someway to help other educators get involved in Twitter. It has changed my life as an educator and as a leader and I hope that you get involved and utilise the power of a PLN.

Here are some other links to my other Twitter related posts that may be of interest:

 

This post originally appeared on Mr. Kemp’s blog, and was republished with permission.

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Craig is a New Zealand born educator with over 10 years experience both in the classroom and in leadership. He is an enthusiastic, 21st century change agent that is passionate about every aspect of education and making a difference.