Six steps to effective teacher development and evaluation

‘Both of us have become increasingly concerned that states and districts are doing evaluation quickly instead of doing it right, which could have serious adverse effects,’ the authors write.

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The New Republic. It’s reprinted here with permission from the American Federation of Teachers.)

Some see us as education’s odd couple—one, the president of a democratic teachers’ union; the other, a director at the world’s largest philanthropy.

While we don’t agree on everything, we firmly believe that students have a right to effective instruction and that teachers want to do their very best. We believe that one of the most effective ways to strengthen both teaching and learning is to put in place evaluation systems that are not just a stamp of approval or disapproval but a means of improvement. We also agree that in too many places, teacher evaluation procedures are broken—unconstructive, superficial, or otherwise inadequate. And so, for the past four years, we have worked together to help states and districts implement effective teacher development and evaluation systems carefully designed to improve teacher practice and, ultimately, student learning.

While many factors outside school affect children’s achievement, research shows that teaching matters more than anything else schools can do. Effective teaching is a complex alchemy—requiring command of subject matter, knowledge of how different children learn, and the ability to maintain order and spark students’ interest. Evaluation procedures must address this complexity—they should not only assess individual teachers but also help them continuously improve.

Yet both of us have become increasingly concerned that states and districts are doing evaluation quickly instead of doing it right, which could have serious adverse effects.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study in 2009 to identify effective teaching using multiple measures of performance. The foundation also invested in a set of partnership sites that are redesigning how they evaluate and support teaching talent.

And the AFT has developed a continuous improvement model for teacher development and evaluation that is being adapted in scores of districts to help recruit, prepare, support, and retain a strong teaching force.

From our research, and the experiences of our state and district partners, we’ve learned what works in implementing high-quality teacher development and evaluation systems.

(Next page: The six keys to effective systems)

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Lumosity offers free accounts for students to ‘train their brains’

Lumosity has turned breakthroughs in neuroscience research into fun, effective games for stimulating your brain and improving skills such as attention, memory, and problem solving. Now, through the Lumosity Education Access Program (LEAP), the company provides free Lumosity accounts for educators to use with their students.

Educators can apply for free memberships for their students in exchange for providing feedback on the use and effectiveness of Lumosity among their students. Depending on the length of time and number of students that are participating, this grant can be worth up to $3,000, Lumosity says.

In a study involving 93 middle school students from an Oregon public school, students who completed Lumosity training improved twice as much as the control group average in measures of math and reading achievement, according to the company.

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The five best android tablets

Tablets are everywhere, and while Apple’s iPad commands the most media attention, there’s no shortage of excellent Android alternatives to choose from, ZDNet reports. Here are the top 5 Android tablets for February 2013. All of the tablets features here are very capable, powerful workhorses, and are ideal not only for home users, but also for enterprise users or those looking for a BYOD tablet…

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Do school reformers use threats to drive agenda?

Education reformers haven’t been able to persuade everybody to their point of view, so increasingly, they use threats, the Washington Post reports. Here’s a piece about why that approach won’t work. It was written by Eric Shieh is a founding teacher of the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, “A School for a Sustainable City,” in New York City, where he teaches music and leads curriculum development. This appeared on The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, non-partisan education-news outlet affiliated with the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media

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With little resources for Arts in schools, theatres bring performances to the classroom

Last summer, just after the National Corporate Theatre Fund launched the Impact Creativity campaign to sustain and grow theatre education programs serving mostly disadvantaged kids across the country, we started hearing from theatres about the challenges of getting kids into their traditional student matinee programs, and the challenges in funding them, says Bruce Whitacre, executive director if the National Corporate Theatre Fund (NCTF). This is critical to the future of the art form, as reported by the National Endowment for the Arts:
“Arts education was the strongest predictor of almost all types of arts participation. 70 percent of all adults who had participated in arts education as an adult attended a benchmark arts event, while only 30 percent of Americans who had an arts education attend a benchmark arts event.” (Beyond attendance: a multi-modal understanding of arts participation, by Jennifer Novak-Leonard and Alan Brown.)

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100 million ‘offline’ Americans to get cheap broadband, digital literacy skills

The campaign will offer consumers access to programs providing discounted high-speed internet service and low-cost computers.

Three in 10 Americans are offline, citing both cost and digital skill barriers—but thanks to Everyone On, a new nonprofit initiative, more than 100 million offline Americans, including homes with children, will have cheap broadband access and training in digital literacy skills.

According to a new national survey on the current state of home broadband adoption released by the national nonprofit Connected Nation, broadband adoption is on the rise—increasing from 65 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in 2012, but that still leaves almost 70 million Americans (30 percent) offline at home.

Out of that 30 percent, almost 8 million households with children do not subscribe to home broadband service, representing almost 15 million children living in those homes.

“The digital literacy barrier is impacting children’s ability to do homework, as 1.8 million children without broadband at home don’t have it because their parents don’t have digital skills,” according to Connected Nation.

“Virtually every person who subscribes to broadband at home contributes to the economy by pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities, teleworking, online shopping, increasing job and educational skills, and in many more ways,” said Connected Nation President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Ferree. “The fact that three in 10 Americans do not subscribe to broadband shows that work still needs to be done to raise awareness and help those who remain offline.”

(Next page: What the campaign will offer)

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12 reasons why public clouds are better than private clouds

To see many of the advantages of cloud computing without its risks, many enterprises are turning to private clouds, which are service layers contained within their firewalls that look and feel like public clouds, ZDNet reports. But these private clouds may actually be less secure and reliable than the public services. That’s the view of Jason Bloomberg, who said private clouds often add up to more trouble than they’re worth. In his latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution: How Cloud Computing, REST-Based SOA, and Mobile Computing Are Changing Enterprise IT, Jason outlined the reasons why public cloud may ultimately be a better choice for enterprises. You may not agree with Jason’s premise about on-premises — in fact, I expect violent disagreement. And this is more of an either/or argument, rather than raising the possibility of blended strategies, such as employing public clouds as test beds, but keeping applications in production within private clouds. That said, here are Jason’s arguments for public cloud and against private cloud…

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Could Indiana’s school voucher ruling influence other states?

The Indiana voucher program, passed by the state Legislature in 2011, is the most sweeping in the nation.

The Indiana Supreme Court on March 26 upheld the nation’s broadest school voucher program in a ruling that supporters say could set a national precedent as other states look to build or expand programs that use public money to allow students to attend private schools.

Critics of the controversial ruling were quick to point out that it applies only to Indiana schools, however, and that the question is far from decided in other states.

Indiana’s highest court unanimously upheld a 2011 law providing vouchers for low- and middle-income families and cleared the way for an expansion being debated in the Indiana Statehouse. But more importantly, it could settle the case law for other states where school voucher programs face legal challenges, supporters contend.

“I think it will be incredibly influential,” said Bert Gall, senior attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, a libertarian organization. Gall helped defend the Indiana law.

The Indiana school voucher program, passed by the state Legislature in 2011, is the most sweeping in the nation and the biggest test yet of the controversial, conservative Republican idea that giving families choice creates a greater incentive for public schools to improve.

Unlike school voucher programs in other states, which are limited to poor families and failing school districts, the Indiana program is open to a much broader range of people, including parents with household incomes of up to nearly $64,000 for a family of four.

Jeff Reed, a spokesman for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, said 530,000 Indiana students qualify for vouchers, although only 9,000 currently receive them. Public school officials fear the eventual loss of thousands of students, especially those from the middle class—along with the state money that comes with them.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is the nation’s largest in terms of actual enrollment. That program, enacted in 1990, had 24,027 participants this school year, Reed said.

But there is evidence to suggest that vouchers have not led to improved student achievement in Milwaukee’s schools.

(Next page: What a large-scale study of the effects of vouchers in Milwaukee found)

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British teenage whiz strikes deal with Yahoo

One of Britain’s youngest internet entrepreneurs has hit the jackpot after selling his top-selling mobile application Summly to search giant Yahoo, the Associated Press reports. Seventeen-year-old Nick d’Aloisio, who dreamed up the idea for the content-shortening program when he was studying for his exams, said he was surprised by the deal. As with its other recent acquisitions, Yahoo didn’t disclose how much it is paying for Summly, although British newspapers suggested the deal’s value at several million dollars.

“I would have never imagined being in this position so suddenly,” he wrote on his website, before thanking his family, his school — and his venture capitalist backer Li Ka-Shing — for supporting him.

Summly works by condensing content so readers can scroll through more information more quickly — useful for the small screens of smartphones…

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CPS students protest school closings as fears over violence grow

Just days after the Chicago Public School district revealed its list of 54 school closings — plus six turnaround schools and 11 consolidations — students have taken to the streets in protest, the Huffington Post reports. Making good on anti-school closing advocates’ vow to fight the shutterings, the group “Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools” protested in front of the district’s South Clark Street headquarters just before noon Monday, reports Fox Chicago. An NBC Chicago broadcast from the Monday protest showed plenty of ire was specifically set aside for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, too: Students held signs that read “Rahm, Stop Stealing Our Education” and “Rahm: Bathing In Public’s Tears & Money.”  One-time U.S. Department of Education Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow and Chicago high school teacher Xiann Barrett blasted the mayor as well during a HuffPost Live segment Monday…

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