Archive for July, 2012

More effort needed retain high-performing teachers, study finds

A new study from TNTP finds that urban schools are systematically neglecting their best teachers, and documents a national failure to retain enough of the best teachers

The report, titled The Irreplaceables (PDF), focuses on the experiences teachers so successful at advancing student learning that they are nearly impossible to replace. Schools rarely make a strong effort to keep these teachers despite their success.

Because of this, the best and worst teachers leave urban schools at strikingly similar rates. The nation’s 50 largest districts lose approximately 10,000 of these high-performing teachers each year. Meanwhile, about 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years of experience are less effective at advancing academic progress than the average first-year teacher.

The study attributes negligent retention patterns to three major causes:

1. Inaction by school principals. The study shows that less than 30 percent of high-performing teachers plan to leave for reasons beyond their school’s control. Simple strategies, like public recognition for a job well done, boost their plans to stay by as many as six years. Yet two-thirds indicated that no one had encouraged them to return for another year.

2. Poor school cultures and working conditions. Schools that retain more high-performing teachers have strong cultures where teachers work in an atmosphere of mutual respect, leaders respond to poor performance, and great teaching is the priority. Turnover rates among the best teachers were 50 percent higher in schools lacking these traits.

3. Policies that impede smarter retention practices. A number of policy barriers hamper principals from making smarter retention decisions. Because of inflexible, seniority-dominated compensation systems, for example, 55 percent of these high-performing teachers earn a lower salary than the average low-performing teacher.

The report offers two major recommendations to policymakers and school leaders to help change these barriers to keeping high-performing teachers. The authors suggest making retention of the best teachers a top priority by monitoring and improving working conditions, paying teachers what they’re worth and creating new pathways for advancing their careers. They also suggest expecting high levels of performance from teachers and reconsidering hiring and firing practices to encourage high-performers and counsel out low-performers.

Read the full report here (PDF).

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Teacher improvement is possible

In a comprehensive article titled “Building a Better Teacher”, Slate writer Ray Fisman lays out the benefits of helping teachers improve, rather than firing them, when they are underperforming.

Ways to measure and improve teacher performance have been controversial, but proof shows that neither training credentials and certifications, a degree in education, nor higher salaries contribute to a teacher’s “value-added” score. However, a study of Cincinnati Public Schools Teacher Evaluation System, shows that consistent, detailed peer reviews by master teachers can dramatically improve teacher performance–even in teachers whose value-added is much lower than their peers’. Despite its success, this type of evaluation is not being used to its full potential, according to researchers who studied the system, because it is mostly used in remediation or dismissals instead of as part of an arsenal of teaching improvement tools.

Implementing some social psychology has been shown to help motivate both teachers and students. For teachers, a field study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found using a technique called loss-aversion helped increase student scores across the board. In the study, teachers were given a bonus at the beginning of the school year and told that if their students don’t meet expected scores by the end of the year teachers may be required to give some of the bonus back. Most of the teachers in the study improved their students’ scores that year. For motivating students, studies suggest providing “wise feedback”. This is feedback that tells a student the teacher is giving criticism because she expects the student is capable of improving, not because the student’s work is bad.

Read the full article on Slate.

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Obama to issue executive order creating African American education initiative [Updated]

President Obama is set to announce a new African American education initiative aimed at increasing academic achievement for Black students.

In a statement to the press, White House officials say that the initiative will work  “to identify evidence-based practices to improve African American students’ achievement in school and college. It will also work “to develop a national network of individuals, organizations, and communities that will share and implement these practices.”

Presidents George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have all used their executive power to extend the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.  The President will sign the order in to law on Thursday.

Read more on the story here.


Video of the speech where President Obama announced the initiative has been released. Start at the 16 minute and 10 second mark.

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Learning through blogging – one teacher's writing experiment

On a quest to have his students improve their writing skills, a British educator is having his students blog. In an editorial for The Guardian Michael Drennan writes that his students focus on two styles of writing. The first style Drennan describes as “…dense but dry, full of declarative sentences and most useful when writing an exam essay or finishing up a term paper” and the other as “… more fluid, emotional, and expressive, to be used for communicating ideas to others.” In the classroom, Drennan’s students focus on the first style by taking quizzes etc. From home, the students blog on a myriad of topics ranging from politics to the weather.

Drennan says that blogging opens many possibilities for student to student, parent to student, and parent to teacher interaction. Students comment on their peers blogs and parents are able to look at their child’s online writing and compare it to other students in the class.

When it comes to the possibility of online harassment, Drennan states, “Inappropriate posts are a behavioral problem and should be handled in a way a teacher handles a misbehaving student: which is not to punish all for the sins of the few or even the one.”

Read more about this teacher’s blogging experiment here.

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Can education be improved by technology?

When it comes to the issue of improving education in the U.S., there is never a shortage of ideas. At a panel discussion hosted by Forbes Brainstorm Tech, several educational leaders shared their ideas for how technology can even out and improve the educational play field. Here’s what they said:

Founder of Coursera and Stanford University Professor Daphne Koller said that many colleges are under-utilizing technology. Coursera offers college classes for free and uses online tools like social networking to help students understand the material.

Another idea came from Ntiedo Etuk, the founder and CEO of DimensionU, an educational video game company. Etuk, citing the recent Center for American Progress study that found that a substantial number of students think school is too easy, believes education should be based on the demands of the student.

Founder and CEO of, Charles Best, agreed that while technology can be a great tool in the classroom, the most important aspect when it comes to student achievement is their teacher.

More ideas can be found here.

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House panel votes to remove funding from key Obama education programs

House Appropriations Committee panel approved a measure that would get rid of funding for major pieces of the Obama administration’s education agenda, including Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation grants, School Improvement Grants, and smaller programs like Advanced Placement, School Leadership, and Arts in Education.

According to the Committee for Education Funding, the bill would cut $1.1 billion from the Department of Education’s $68 billion budget. The House bill would renew or give funding boosts to programs like the Teacher Incentive Fund, Head Start, the Promise Neighborhoods grants (which LEV covered here) and abstinence education.

The Senate Appropriations Committee keeps funding for Race to the Top,  Investing in Innovation grants, and School Improvement Grants in their funding bill.

Read the whole story here and here.

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New online tool helps college students be more efficient

Comparable to companies like eHarmony and Netflix, universities like Arizona state are offering a new tool for college students. Arizona state University offers what they refer to as  “eAdvising”, a system which uses data from a variety of sources, including Facebook, to help students stay on track with their major and suggest classes. According to the New York Times,  only 31 percent of college students graduate with their B.A. in four years, compared to 56 percent who graduate within 6 years. These statistics combined with consistently rising tuition make the need for efficiency clear.

Here’s how the eAdvisor system works to help students efficiently complete their degrees at Arizona State University:

  • College freshmen must pick a major (or five broad “exploratory” majors if they have yet to make a decision) and course recommendations are generated.
  • They must complete 45 credits in their chosen field.
  • If the student fails to complete the needed credits, the eAdvisor marks them as “off track” and if the problem worsens, the student may have to change their major.

In an interview with the New York Times, Provost of Arizona state University Elizabeth D. Capaldi uses the example of students majoring in psychology and putting off the more difficult courses to explain the eAdvisor. She says: “Kids who major in psych put that off, because they don’t want to take statistics. They want to know: Does their boyfriend love them? Are they nuts? They take all those courses, then they hit statistics and they say: ‘Oh, God, I can’t do this. I can’t do experimental design.’ And so they’re in the wrong major. By putting those courses first, you can see if a student is going to succeed in that major early.” According to the provost, since using the eAdvisor system, the university’s retention rate has increased from 77 percent to 84 percent.

Other colleges that offer similar programs include Austin Peay University, the University of Florida, and Rio Salado College. The University of Nevada-Las Vegas is also developing a similar program.

Read the whole New York Times article here.

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Seattle ranks 9th in H-1B visa requests, 64th in training grant dollars

Reporting on the findings from the Brookings Institute, the Seattle Times notes that, because of companies like Microsoft and Amazon, Seattle is one of the top ten cities in the U.S. when it comes to requesting foreign workers, especially for jobs in the STEM field. However, when it comes to the accompanying grants that the area is supposed to receive to train and educate local workers, Seattle ranks 64th.

In the report titled The Search for Skills: Demand for H-1B Immigrant Workers in U.S. Metropolitan Areas, the Brookings Institute found that the cities with the most foreign worker requests received the lowest amount of training grants while the cities with the lowest amount of foreign worker requests received the highest amount of training grants. The Seattle Times writes, “Of 106 metro areas with a high demand for H-1Bs — at least 250 H-1B visa requests a year — 36 have received no training funds since 2001, the study found. The Seattle metro area received $2 million over the 10-year period.” The fees from the H-IB visa program ($1,500 to $5,500  per applicant) are supposed to go towards funding  grants from the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

According to the report, Washington based Microsoft has topped the national list for the past two years when it comes H-IB visa request. For their part, Microsoft often says that the U.S. is not producing enough STEM graduates to fill the jobs needed.

As LEV has reported before, the state of STEM education in Washington could definitely use some improvements when it comes to achievement accessibility.

Read the Seattle Times story here. The Brookings Institute report can be found here.

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News study shows how Americans pay for college

A new study from Sallie Mae digs in to find out how American families pay for college and how that has changed over the years. Researchers conducted interviews with 1,600 dependent college students and their parents and came to some interesting conclusions, including:

  • Both students and parents rate the income benefits of attending college higher  (70 percent for students and 71 percent for parents) than idealism, such as achieving the American Dream (40 percent for students and 46 percent for parents).
  • The number of students attending low cost two year colleges has increased from  23 percent in 2010 to 29 percent in 2012.
  • 13 percent of the families surveyed did not file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid ) because they were not aware of it.
  • 39 percent of families surveyed said that they had a plan for paying for their student’s college education before they were enrolled.  Breaking it down by income level, we see that 57 percent of high income families said they had a plan compared to 37 percent of middle income families and 30 percent of low income families.

Check out the infographic below for more results. Click on the image to enlarge.


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