5 ways to get the U.S. to a 90 percent high school graduation rate

The latest annual report in a series tracking the U.S. high school graduation rate reveals that, while the national graduation rate is 83.2 percent, the nation could miss its goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020 due to persistent equity gaps.

The 2017 Building a Grad Nation report, the eighth annual update on progress and challenges in boosting high school graduation rates, reveals that only half of U.S. states are on track to reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020.

A close look at the data shows disparities in graduation rates in five key areas.

Low-income students: Nearly half of the country’s 2015 graduating cohort–48.2 percent, a slight increase from 2014–came from low-income families. Nationally, the gap between low-income students and their middle- and upper-income peers now stands at 13.7 percentage points.

Black and Hispanic/Latino students: Graduation rates for black students have increased 7.6 percentage points and 6.8 percentage points for Hispanic/Latino students since 2011–some of the highest gains of any student subgroup. However, black and Hispanic/Latino students make up 54 percent of all students who did not graduate on time.

(Next page: 5 policy recommendations to improve the high school graduation rate)


In my classroom, students are the teachers—here’s why it works

We have all heard the words, “don’t give up!” It is a constant reminder to keep going, to persevere in tough situations and when things aren’t working well, try again.  Frequently, students in my programming class get frustrated when working on a project and debugging code. As a teacher, how do you keep them inspired to work through their challenges?

I struggle with this thought when I see expressions of defeat on some of their faces after working on code that keeps producing errors. Some students will dig deeper and truly use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to find an answer, but others may give up, convinced that they just can’t do it.

As part of the new MA Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards, teachers are required to use lessons that allow students to use their “critical thinking and problem solving skills.” These skills are usually embedded in their daily teaching environment, but there is no guarantee that students use them effectively to attain their goals.

How do we motivate learners to use these skills and not give up when they are challenged with a difficult task?

Motivating learners is a key element in teaching and we are well versed on all the methods to introduce topics and start lessons with attention-grabbing techniques. But after we wow them with our “essential questions,” eye-catching videos, and icebreaker games, how do we keep them focused to use those critical thinking skills to solve a problem?

(Next page: An assignment that turns students into teachers–with success!)


How to make the upcoming eclipse an incredible STEM lesson

Later this summer, science and STEM teachers will have the opportunity to engage students in a truly unique—and rare—learning opportunity as a total solar eclipse will span portions of the United States for the first time in 38 years. There are many ways that teachers across the country can incorporate various hands-on, technology-enabled lessons before and during the viewing experience to help students make the most of this phenomenon, known as the Great American Eclipse. The eclipse takes place on August 21, 2017.

About the Eclipse

The difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial eclipse is literally “night and day,” and it is an experience that shouldn’t be missed, if possible. I was fortunate enough to witness the United States’ last total solar eclipse in 1979, and it was so incredible that I traveled to the Australian Outback in 2002 to witness another one. After this year, the next total solar eclipse happening stateside will be in 2024 and then again in 2045. The first will be in the middle of the country and the latter can be viewed from California to Florida.

To view the Great American Eclipse, it is advised to travel to a spot in the path of totality—an approximately 70-mile-wide band spanning from Oregon to South Carolina—and to dedicate a couple of hours to witness the various phases of the eclipse.

At “First Contact” a little dent in the sun will appear as the moon just starts to block the sun’s rays. After First Contact, there will be a period of about an hour as the moon gradually blocks more and more of the sun. During this time, it is important to only look at the sun through approved solar viewing glasses or in a sun projection device.  As the moon comes close to blocking all of the sun, watch the ground to the west as the shadow of the moon will approach very rapidly.

At “Second Contact” the sun will completely disappear and things will seem very strange—it’ll become dark in the middle of the day. First, the Diamond Ring will be visible. This is the last bit of light from the sun that can be seen, and it lasts only a second or two. This is the signal that it is safe to take off your eye protection.

During this time, the ring of Bailey’s Beads, which is caused by the sun’s light making it through the low lying canyons all around the moon’s surface, will be visible, and the corona of the sun will glow. Watch for solar prominences or red flares of light shooting out from the sun, and look around and experience an all-encompassing sunset, not just one positioned in the west. Look around the sky and you should be able to see planets. Totality will last for up to two minutes before the sky begins to get brighter again starting in the west.

At “Third Contact,” the Diamond Ring appears again signaling it is time to put back on the solar eclipse protective glasses. The sun will gradually become more and more visible, and then, in about an hour, there will be “Fourth Contact” when the moon no longer blocks the sun at all. Most people will have stopped watching the eclipse well before Fourth Contact.

(Next page: How to turn the Eclipse into an incredible STEM lesson)


23 amazing STEM and digital learning tools

Technology changes at a rapid pace, and educators have to keep up.

Check below for the latest marketplace news to keep you up-to-date on product developments, teaching and learning initiatives, and new trends in education.

College and Career Readiness

To address the challenges of ensuring all students are college ready, career ready and life ready, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, has launched a national initiative designed to create successful pathways for America’s high school students. The Redefining Ready! program introduces new research-based metrics to more appropriately assess that students are ready to pursue their lifelong goals and dreams following post-secondary education.

Digital Curriculum and Tools

Early learning brand Teaching Strategies announced the launch of its new The Creative Curriculum for Kindergarten. Developed in response to educator demand for resources that support hands-on, project-based learning in early elementary classrooms, the new curriculum builds on decades of Teaching Strategies’ research and experience in early childhood education.

(Next page: More digital technologies and STEM resources)


Nope! Why adaptive software is not the same as personalized learning

Sorry, adaptive software is not the same as personalized learning.

We all know that changes in public education move slowly, but there’s one specific educational dilemma we’ve been mired in for decades, with varying levels of rhetoric and hand-wringing: How can we maximize individual student achievement with group instruction?

This is what Education Secretary Arne Duncan was talking about in 2010 when he called for “transformational productivity reforms that can also boost student outcomes.” Over the last century, we’ve put a lot of effort into solving this problem with varying degrees of success.

Today we see it in the hyperbole around personalization, individualization, standards-based grading, differentiation, etc. It seems as if no conference schedule or edtech brochure is complete without some “New and Improved!” way to increase educational return on investment, the latest of which is “adaptive” learning.

This trend promises to deliver differentiated instruction, personalized to each student, at the optimal time, place and pace. The claims seem almost unbelievable. Not that there isn’t truth to the need for closer-to-individual instruction. On the contrary, this is, in fact, where our focus should lie.

However, the sheer volume of buzz overwhelms, so let’s remember where the personalization-revolution began.

Starting with Personalization Basics

Benjamin Bloom (of Bloom’s Taxonomy fame) had an elegant summary of the problem. He found that the most effective model of instruction is, by definition, individualized. Bloom examined conventional, mastery and 1:1 instruction and discovered that not only is 1:1 vastly superior in improving student achievement, but also that the best performance of students elicited by conventional classroom instruction is on par with the worst performance of students in the 1:1 model.

Notice where the Conventional and Tutorial curves intersect below:

Additionally, the average performance in the tutorial condition exceeds the highest performance in the conventional classroom. Bloom proposed that since most students are able to attain this high level of achievement, the mission of educators is to figure out how to provide 1:1-level results with group instruction. Hence the decades-long “how to scale” personalization dilemma.

(Next page: Where adaptive software plays into personalized learning)


App of the Week: Using video for reflection

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

Recap is a video response and reflection app that allows students to record short videos (or typed text) in response to teacher prompts. Recap is designed for formative assessment, but it feels very informal and conversational — which is an asset. Video reflections offer teachers a new way to check for understanding, personalizing questions for students and assessing their reflections, and give students a perhaps more engaging mode for demonstrating learning.

Price: Free

Grades: 2-12

Rating: 5/5

Pros: Create personalized, reflective videos to showcase progress.

Cons: Videos are only to be shared with the teacher, but it would be a neat option to be able to share with peers.

Bottom line: By facilitating regular video self-reflection through Recap, teachers can support more authentic learning and self-assessment among their students.


These 10 TED-Ed videos will hold your students’ attention

Given students’ easy access to videos and digital resources via mobile devices and computers, it makes sense that educators would incorporate such tools into their instruction.

With a wealth of resources online, educators can find content that meets students where they’re comfortable learning, with interactive and engaging presentation.

TED-Ed lessons are among these resources that help students learn while engaging them in the subject matter.

Educators can build lessons around any TED-Ed Original, TED Talk or YouTube video through Ted-Ed. Once they locate the video they wish to use, they next use the TED-Ed Lesson editor to add questions, discussion prompts and additional resources. When the lesson is published, educators can monitor their progress and submitted work.

TED-Ed’s public lessons library offers customizable existing lessons for educators to use, as well.

(Next page: 10 TED-Ed lessons for students)


9 fast facts about teachers’ classroom challenges

No matter how you spin it, digital tools and technology won’t do a thing for students unless a highly-qualified teacher is at the helm.

Yes, educational technology has the potential to boost student achievement and engagement–but not on its own. Add an effective teacher to the mix, and you’ve got an education expert who can incorporate technologies into teaching and learning in seamless ways.

Keep in mind, however, that teachers deal with much, much more than teaching and the instructional challenges that come with it. They teach in schools that are short-staffed, they comfort children with emotional challenges, they use their own money to fund much of, if not most of, their classroom expenses.

It’s important to be cognizant of these challenges as we cast a critical eye on school initiatives and make plans to incorporate technology into the classroom, because some of these barriers will persist.

(Next page: 9 classroom challenges teachers face)


Is teacher buy-in worth the effort?

Thinking back to what teachers hated to use in the classroom when I was a young student, the only tools that really come to mind are colored chalk and overhead projectors. But in today’s technology-dense culture, when no classroom is spared from the onslaught of new technology and instructional innovations, how much attention should be paid to what teachers prefer and what they loathe?

This may sound like a callous question, but it’s one that’s been cropping up in wild abundance this year on eSchool News.

Experts make the case for and against teacher buy-in

Recently, Alan November, the founder of edtech consulting firm November Learning, wrote a piece for eSchool News explaining that the use of technology in the classroom is critical for student achievement, and that teachers must buy-in to ensure that the technology—and pedagogical practices using this technology—is harnessed to its full potential.

Attending the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) conference in Chicago this year, one of the most pushed points during a panel on what makes a successful “future-ready” school was to acquire teacher buy-in.

“It’s critical to remember that you can’t leave teachers behind in all of this,” emphasized presenter LaShona Dickerson, director of technology for the Lafayette Parish School System, LA. “To get the best expected returns on tech and innovation implementation, you have to involve the teachers.”

However, a former long-time teacher (now the vice president of Learning and Development for Discovery Education), recently wrote a piece on why teacher buy-in is sometimes overrated and can actually “paralyze innovation” within the school or district. She writes:

“Understanding the balance between growing buy-in and launching innovation has never been more important than in today’s era… as new ideas about teaching and learning go in and out of style, teachers have a right to feel some initiative fatigue. However, the fact remains that today’s world is a digital world, and in order for our students to be successful beyond graduation, they need an education that prepares them to operate productively in our society as it is. This reality makes the digital transition not a fad or something we might be able to get to, but rather, an immediate necessity that cannot always wait for optimum levels of teacher buy-in.”

This was a sentiment echoed in part by one of the CoSN panel’s attendees, the superintendent of one of Virginia’s largest school districts, who explained that securing buy-in from everyone in order to launch a new campaign was almost an impossibility — both in terms of number of staff and time constraints.

Going on the gut

As someone who doesn’t have hard data in front of her concerning teacher buy-in, I can’t say for certain how directly student achievement correlates to educator buy-in.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t speculate — based purely on memory and common sense — that buy-in does have an effect on student learning. I may have used that colored chalk in rebellious sprees after school despite the teacher not liking it, but my opinion of my teacher was influenced.

Outside the colored chalk years to more mature ones filled with learning software and computer labs, I continued to see the teachers who didn’t take joy in trying new things, or experimenting with the possibilities of what could be, as relics.

And why does a student’s personal opinion matter? Because when a student begins to view his or her learning mentor as irrelevant, the information imparted by that mentor is shaded in irrelevancy as well. And nothing says ‘don’t bother to learn this’ than the feeling that it doesn’t matter.

(Next page: If teacher buy-in matters, how can schools get it more quickly?)