Poll: Americans oppose linking teacher evaluations with student performance

Latest Gallup Poll reveals that many public school parents are not in favor of using student performance in teacher evaluations

teacher-evaluationsMany Americans, especially public-school parents, give low marks to rating a teacher based partly on how students perform on standardized tests, according to a survey.

The Gallup Poll released Sunday found 55 percent opposed linking teacher evaluations to their students’ test scores. Among those with children in public schools opposition was stronger, at 63 percent.

Standardized tests are necessary, but there’s an overreliance on them, said Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, an association for educators, and a former schools superintendent. PDK, which supports teachers and educational research, paid for the poll conducted by Gallup.

“Parents see the work their kids bring home every night,” Starr said in an interview. “They go to teacher conferences, and they’re more likely to judge the school and the quality of the teacher based on that, than solely using test scores.”

As many schools prepare for a return to the classroom in the coming weeks, more than 40 states are moving forward with plans to evaluate teachers and principals in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests. It’s something the Education Department has supported and encouraged through its Race to the Top grants to schools and other programs. While the department says other factors should be considered, such as student work and parent feedback, teachers, unions and others worry there’s too much emphasis on test scores.

Standardized tests in general were not popular with many in the survey, which included a telephone poll of 1,000 American adults supplemented with an online survey of nearly 3,500 more. The online survey included people initially selected at random, but only those with access to the internet.

Nearly two-thirds of those in the online survey said too much emphasis is placed on standardized testing in public schools. Nineteen percent said they were comfortable with the tests, 7 percent said there was too little emphasis and 10 percent didn’t know.

Of public-school parents questioned in the online poll, nearly half – 47 percent – said parents should be allowed to excuse their children from taking one or more standardized tests, 40 percent disagreed and 13 percent didn’t know. More whites supported the idea of opting out of tests. Some 44 percent of whites agreed, compared to 35 percent of Hispanics and only 28 percent of African-Americans. A majority of blacks, 57 percent, said parents should not excuse their children from the tests.

In recent years, there’s been a small but growing number of parents deciding to keep their kids home or otherwise out of the classroom during state standardized tests.

New York is believed to have the largest rate of opt-outs so far. About 20 percent of the state’s third- through eighth-graders refused to take the tests this spring, up from 5 percent a year earlier. Other states have reported resistance to the tests, including Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

People in the online poll were mostly split on the intensely debated Common Core education standards. They have been adopted in much of the country and spell out what English and math standards students should master at each grade level. Fifty-four percent of public school parents oppose teachers in their communities using the Common Core standards to guide what they teach, while 25 percent favored them.

More blacks favored Common Core – 41 percent, compared to 29 percent of Hispanics and only 21 percent of whites.

The standards were drafted by the states with the support of the Obama administration, but have become a rallying point for conservatives who want a smaller federal role in education. In Congress, the House and Senate passed separate bills last month to update the No Child Left Behind education law. The bills, among other things, would prevent the Education Department from mandating or giving states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as Common Core.

The online survey found resounding agreement on vaccinations. Eighty-four percent said all children should be vaccinated before they attend a public school; 9 percent disagreed.

The PDK/Gallup poll was conducted in May. The margin of sampling error in the telephone poll is plus or minus 4.7 percentage points, and plus or minus 3 percentage points for the online poll.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


App of the Week: 3D human anatomy app

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from Graphite by Common Sense Media. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? Arloon Anatomy | The Human Body is one of a growing list of interactive 3D human anatomy tools. This app’s simulations are paired with informational slides that walk you through the body as they describe how it works. Users can manipulate and learn the parts of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, excretory, nervous, skeletal, muscular, and reproductive systems. Arloon has also included an augmented-reality component that uses built-in device cameras to map body images onto students’ actual world.

Price: $2

Grades: 5-12

Pros: Kids are given a guided tour through the systems of the body with engaging opportunities to manipulate 3-D images.

Cons: More interactive features would help: it’s missing teacher tracking, creation opportunities, and sharing capabilities.

Bottom line: An interactive 3-D simulation that lets kids dive into the human body and learn about how it works along the way.



A helpline for schools tackling cyberbullying

Pilot program lets schools tap into a helpline with close ties to Twitter and Facebook

cyberbullying-socialWith a reported 55 percent of all teens on social media witnessing outright bullying via that medium, and with 95 percent of those youngsters who witnessed bullying on social media choosing to simply ignore the behavior, K-12 districts are growing increasingly concerned about the impact that such activities can have on their students.

This concern is warranted according to the advocacy site NoBullying.com, which reports that just one of out of every six parents are even aware of the scope and intensity involved with cyber bullying and that the victims are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and to consider suicide as a result.

Anne Collier, founder and president of nonprofit Net Family News, wants to get K-12 districts in California — and eventually nationwide — involved with the anti-bullying movement as it pertains to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Collier, who is co-creator of the recently-launched iCanHelpline.org, teamed up with #iCANHELP to develop a social media helpline for schools.

Currently being piloted in California, the helpline provides administrators, teachers, and school staff with help managing cyberbullying, sexting, or reputation-related problems that may surface at their schools. Available via email or a toll-free phone number, the helpline has gained in-kind and financial support from Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Ask.fm. The pilot’s largest chunk of financial support was provided by the Digital Trust Foundation, which funds projects that promote online privacy, safety, and security.

A tool for schools

According to Collier, the helpline is designed specifically for schools or districts (as opposed to individual students or parents) that, upon calling, are connected with either #iCANHELP’s Matt Soeth (who is currently managing the helpline) or Collier herself. “We know from the early volume levels of the U.K.-based helpline, which iCanHelpline was modeled after, that this will be enough [manpower] to manage the call volume,” she explains, noting that the phone number is not meant to be a replacement for emergency service.

“We help schools and districts resolve cases by talking to them within a 24-hour period or less, but these cases are meant to be worked thoughtfully.” That means reviewing the evidence across one or more social media platforms and deciding whether the activity violates the firm’s terms of service. If it does, then Collier and Soeth will request that the abusive content be removed from the site.

Collier, who serves on several safety advisory boards for household-name social media sites, says the premise behind the helpline is straightforward: schools call or email for help dealing with negative situations that happen in the social media realm, and whether the problem involves students, staff, educators, or district officials. She said the idea for the helpline came after 15 years of writing and research showed that if “we aren’t going to pay close attention to the research and policy-making, then maybe we’ll pay attention to the actual experience.”

“Policy making in this country around social media and youth has been driven more by fear than by research,” Collier points out. “It’s really time to ground policy making — be it at the school, community, state, or national level, in actual experience.” As part of the iCanHelpline.org initiative, Collier plans to post peer-reviewed research and anonymous case studies in an online database that institutions can use to learn more about the cyberbullying issue and what they can do about it.

Positive Feedback

Calling the California helpline rollout “unprecedented” in the U.S. (other countries, she says, have had similar helplines operating for years), Collier said the initiative focuses on schools, law enforcement, social services, and other related organizations. “Just to start somewhere, we decided that the missing piece was in the school experience,” said Collier. “And since we’re based in California, which represents about 10 percent of the nation’s schools, we decided to start here.”

To get the word out to the state’s schools about this anti-bullying tool, Collier says the organization has been contacting institutions directly and leveraging its state DOE and law enforcement contacts. “We’re really working hard on the awareness piece right now, and reaching out to the 5,000 or so school administrators statewide,” said Collier. “I’m also working with the California PTA and talking to school resource officers and activity directors about our new initiative.”

So far, Collier says reception to the new idea has been positive. One proponent of the helpline is Patricia Agatston, Ph.D., a risk prevention specialist and co-author of “Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age.” Agatston said the helpline will be useful for educators who may not know where to turn for help when students come to them with social media-related issues. “Educators have so much on their plates already, so when these challenging social media issues pop up, it can be pretty overwhelming,” says Agatston. “And even though teachers get technology training, having a trusted, accessible source to turn to for cyberbullying and related problems can really make a difference.”

Agatston sees the helpline as a major improvement over the typical district stance on cyberbullying, which is basically to tell students or parents to report the problem to law enforcement and/or the social media platform itself. “Parents don’t always know how to do this, so giving the school a simple way to reach out and bring the problem to someone’s attention is a very good idea,” she said. “It will expedite the process.”

Going forward, Collier sees the helpline to be replicated across the U.S. as even more schools step up to the plate and play a role in resolving their students’ social media-related bullying challenges. Agatston also sees iCanHelpline.org as being replicable across different states and useful for a wide swatch of both public and private K-12 schools. “Every state needs a resource like this,” she said. “I’d love to see it replicated and accessible to schools nationwide.”

Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.


Adobe debuts learning management system

Releases Adobe Captivate 9 with enhanced mobile authoring and more that 25,000 eLearning assets

learning-lmsA new self-service learning management system (LMS) from Adobe is intended to enable learning professionals to easily and efficiently setup, deliver and track any form of learning.

This new cloud-based offering, Captivate Prime, enables specialists in learning and development, training and corporate human resources departments to take charge of the learning environments they manage and boost impact by developing skill-based learning programs.

According to Frost & Sullivan customer surveys, over half of organizations that have already deployed LMS solutions intend to replace their existing systems, as technology and business needs evolve. Additionally, unsatisfied customers are looking to switch vendors rather than upgrade their existing solution.

“We are aware of the challenges that organizations face today in rolling out learning programs and keeping employees engaged,” said Matt Thompson, executive vice president, Worldwide Field Operations at Adobe. “Captivate Prime is designed to make the learning management process intuitive, quick and easy to roll out, so users no longer feel IT dependent. The learner-first approach helps build a culture where employees don’t dodge learning, but embrace it.”

New: How Captiva Prime helps organizations with learning


5 ways to expand federal educational OER

Ed-tech groups rally in support of federally-funded, open educational resources

open-educationalIn a letter sent earlier this month, a group of ed-tech stakeholders urged the Obama administration to make federally-funded educational materials available as Open Educational Resources (OER).

Creating OER, which are free to use, share, and edit, would help increase educators’ access to educational, training, and instructional materials, according to the more than 85 stakeholder organizations that signed the letter.

The letter was a response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s request for suggestions around how to strengthen the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan.

Next page: Five core principles for OER policies


Matching funds pair robots, underserved classrooms

Dollar-for-dollar match brings robots to classrooms teaching computational thinking

robot-robotsIn the coming years, computer science education will be critical for social mobility of underprivileged communities. However, access to tools and opportunities for schools in these communities is a matter of the right financial support.

Wonder Workshop aims to bridge this gap with its dollar-for-dollar match program for Dash & Dot projects through DonorsChoose.org.

Wonder Workshop will match one dollar for every dollar donated towards funding projects that bring the Dash & Dot robots to schools in need.

“This is one small attempt on our behalf to narrow the opportunity gap for underserved communities,” said Vikas Gupta, CEO of Wonder Workshop. “We want to enable teachers who are passionate about giving their students opportunities in a rapidly changing world.”

Dash & Dot are robots with personality and capability. Over 600 elementary schools have purchased the robots for use in their curricula since Dash & Dot started shipping in January 2015. Students use touch applications to program the robots to detect the environment around them using sensors and respond with motion, sound and expressions. Pre-assembled and designed for ease of use, Dash & Dot, their apps, and step-by-step lesson plans help educators seamlessly add coding into curriculum.

“Dash & Dot were a great addition to our Innovations Curriculum,” said Janelle Groehler, a teacher from Rochester, Minnesota who successfully funded a DonorsChoose.org project. “The first and second graders were immediately engaged. Dash & Dot brought out the creativity, ingenuity and problem-solving in my students, all while teaching them how to code.”

There are currently 42 requests on DonorsChoose.org for Dash & Dot robots, and there have already been more than 50 projects successfully funded through DonorsChoose.org. Applicants must choose Wonder Workshop as a special request vendor to qualify for the matching program. Because Wonder Workshop seeks to support schools in underserved communities, the company will prioritize funding projects that are in high-poverty schools.

Wonder Workshop is also working with Pencils of Promise, an organization founded in 2008 with the goal of increasing access to quality education for children in the developing world. Pencils of Promise works with communities across the globe to build schools and create programs that provide educational opportunities for children, no matter where they were born or what resources they have. For every purchase of a Dash robot, Wonder Workshop will donate one dollar to Pencils of Promise.

“We seek ways to have an impact on children’s lives that goes beyond coding,” Gupta said. “We arrived at our partnership with Pencils of Promise as an answer to that quest, and we are excited to bring this to fruition.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


LeapFrog’s $140 tablet includes some adaptive learning features

New tablet adjusts learning to young learners’ needs

leapfrog-tabletLeapFrog has released a new Android-based tablet for young learners designed to scale learning activities as students grow, meaning it is capable of remembering curricular progress across games, automatically adjusting learning levels, and providing tutorials on demand for students when they struggle.
The tablet, called Epic, is meant for students from pre-K to about nine years old. It uses a special browser only allowing access to pre-selected, kid-safe web content. According to the company, this includes more than 5,000 videos, images, websites and games “reviewed and approved by LeapFrog learning experts.” Adults can unlock an unrestricted browser for kids when they want, and can also adjust the amount of time their child spends on the tablet by total time, hours of the day, and by app category for up to three different kids.
Retailing at $140, the tablet features a quad-core processor, seven-inch multi-touch capacitive LCD screen, front and back camera, video recorder, 16 GB of memory, and about six hours of battery life. It includes a removable “kid-safe” bumper and tethered stylus.
“The LeapFrog Epic tablet is age-appropriate right out of the box, but grows with a child. Children expect technology that’s more like their parents’ – sleeker and faster, whereas parents want technology that has been designed with kids in mind and safely delivers educational and development benefits, not just another TV screen,” said John Barbour, LeapFrog CEO.
Like most other tablets, it is being offered commercially at popular retail outlets.
Material from a press release was used in this report.



8 little-known video resources popular with teachers

OpenEd compiled this list of resources after reviewing teacher video use

video-resourcesThe use of video in education is growing by leaps and bounds. Videos are used in classrooms to support student learning, they play a critical role in flipped learning, and they also figure prominently in teacher professional development.

One of the best parts about educational videos? Educators can usually find a free high-quality video to suit any number of needs.

OpenEd, creator of an online library of free and open K-12 resources, recently analyzed the use of videos in its resource library. Eight video publishers appeared as lesser-known — that is to say, you’re probably not on a first-name basis with them — but still popular among teachers.

The eight video publishers emerged as resources that teachers frequently assign. Those publishers include:

1. Have Fun Teaching: Need a video on the alphabet, characters, counting, grammar, math, science, and more? The Have Fun Teaching site offers videos in a variety of learning categories.

Next page: Seven more video resources, along with an infographic illustrating the resources


More than half of students struggle with reading, report says

New report examines literacy development and urges Congress to do the same as NCLB rewrites progress

reading-literacyNearly half of minority students and students from low-income families enter the fifth grade without basic reading skills, according to a new report urging Congress to focus on students’ literacy development beginning in early childhood.

Noting that 60 percent of both fourth and eighth graders currently struggle with reading, the report from the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) notes that Congress should put an emphasis on students’ literacy development from the early years and up through grade twelve as it works to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The report, The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA, is based on the 2013 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. According to the report, 50 percent of African Americans, 47 percent of Latinos, and 47 percent of students from low-income families read below NAEP’s basic level.

Next page: More details from the report