This major city knows the secret to improving student performance

A focus on high-quality principals in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) could serve as a best-practice model for districts across the nation, according to data indicating improved student performance and principal retention.

Over the past four years, as the number of strong principals in Chicago’s public schools has increased, so have student outcomes. District leaders have identified increases in both reading and math scores for elementary school students and have seen significant improvements in freshman on-track and graduation rates at the high school level.

“Principals are truly the instructional leaders of our schools and one of the key factors behind the improvements we’re seeing for all of Chicago’s public school students–improvements that are outpacing national averages,” said Dr. Janice Jackson, acting CEO of CPS, during a panel discussion on the district’s positive results. “We know that cultivating and retaining strong leaders is essential to our progress.”

Dr. LeViis Haney, currently in his sixth year as principal of Joseph Lovett Elementary in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, is an example of the difference a strong school leader can make.

(Next page: How one school dramatically improved its math and reading performance)


3 often overlooked, but completely logical, ways to effectively engage parents

Research clearly shows that students perform better academically when schools build positive relationships with their families. That’s why parent engagement is a key part of our strategic plan in Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools. Although building a strong connection with a group that isn’t present in school every day can be a challenge, there are strategies to make it easier for both teachers and parents.

A large part of strengthening parent engagement is meeting families where they are, which is increasingly online. Students, and their parents, spend a great deal of time on social media websites checking for updates and sharing information, and we wanted to create the same type of highly engaged online community for our schools—like a Facebook for academics.

When our team went through the process of identifying an online parent engagement platform in 2013, we had unique needs to meet the demands of a 215,000-student district. For us, the Edsby learning management system (LMS) was a strong fit to meet privacy and equity concerns, while supporting a wide range of functionalities.

For any district, getting teachers—and parents—to use an LMS can be challenging. However, with the right strategies in place, you can get your community closer to all being on the same page. Each year, we have seen increase in use; we now see active use from 80 percent of our staff, 45 percent of students, and 23 percent of parents.

(Next page: 3 ways to engage your community)


Study: Here’s what makes parents turn to charter schools

Public school parents who are “very dissatisfied” with their child’s school are 2.5 times more likely to switch to a charter school than parents who are “very satisfied,” according to a new study by scholars at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

Specifically, among parents who are “very dissatisfied,” 57 percent were “very/somewhat” likely to switch to a charter school, compared with 22 percent of the parents who are “very satisfied.”

The inaugural 2017 Collaborative for Customer-Based Execution and Strategy (C-CUBES) Benchmark K-12 School Study is based on a nationally representative online survey of 7,259 parents conducted during October through November.

The goal of the ongoing study is to provide an evidence-based approach to incorporate the stakeholder input in strategic planning and execution for public schools. The margin of error was plus or minus 1 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence.

(Next page: How do parents view the education their children will receive in charter schools?)


3 teacher-vetted edtech resources for cross-curricular lessons

When I was teaching social studies in elementary school, I often found that while my ideas were endless, my planning time was limited. Despite my best efforts, I struggled to adequately prepare for all of my social studies lessons in a given week. It wasn’t until after several years in the classroom that I learned how to craft compelling activities featuring social studies content that were engaging and meaningful for students. The key? Cross-curricular learning.

“Cross-subject studies enhance critical thinking skills,” says Karen Smith, a 30-year ELA veteran and instructional coach for Maryland Public Schools. “Educators who teach and promote literacy skills in social studies classrooms enhance skills in all classes–not just for social studies and ELA.” Dynamic, multidisciplinary curriculum saves teachers time overall because it actually enhances the learning time spent in the classroom.

Beyond giving educators the chance to teach more than one discipline during a lesson, cross-curricular lessons also help students recognize the real-world application of their learned skills. According to Smith, social studies does not have to be separate from other subjects, but rather an essential and complementary medium through which educators can teach reading, writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

(Next page: 3 tools to deliver cross-curricular lessons)


Weak cell service? How schools can solve this still-pervasive problem

Today’s students are more connected to their devices than ever before, whether they’re using their tablets or cellular devices to take notes in class, conduct research, or write a report. As such, strong cellular connectivity has become a must for schools and universities. Faculty and students rely upon secure wireless data and mobile coverage in order to teach, learn, and grow together. Having good cellular service also enhances safety on school grounds, keeping staff connected in emergency scenarios in which an instructor or staff member is not near a landline telephone and must instead place a cellular call for immediate assistance.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of cellular signals, schools can’t always provide consistently strong cellular signal for students, faculty, and staff. Accessing a strong indoor signal can be difficult depending on campus size and location, the distance to the nearest cell tower, or natural obstructions such as mountains and district budgets.

Construction materials can also cause issues with cellular signal. Modern schools and universities are usually a combination of older buildings and newer, environmentally friendly construction. Both styles can interfere with radio frequency waves coming from the nearest cell tower. What’s more, the many hundreds of students and teachers in the buildings can easily overload a weak network.

(Next page: How to improve your cellular signal)


The biggest changes to school security in 2018

The complexity of ensuring our schools and education facilities are both safe and secure has grown tremendously. Brass key systems are increasingly supplemented with secure credentials as access management has become more critical. The continued development of mass notification systems and video surveillance has made them critical components of a holistic security solution. And now, a major next step is upon us in the evolution of physical security as we look to more effectively manage lock-down procedures.

In the past five years, the biggest change in school security has been to transition from the idea of the big red button–where a single action locks all openings–to a more sectored approach. The new way of thinking is that the big red button locks down perimeter and exterior doors, but interior doors are locked locally based on location, situation, and teacher and faculty decision.

When discussing why this change is appropriate, it is important to look at the specific needs of education campuses today. Physical school security can be broken down to subsections, including perimeter fencing and gates, the building exterior, visitor-access management, and interior spaces. In previous iterations of lockdowns, systems were developed that allowed one system to lock every door: the centrally controlled, universal-lockdown concept.

So why make the change toward the locally controlled/situational-awareness strategy? Why move to universally shuttering exterior openings while allowing faculty and staff to determine what interior doors and openings are locked during an emergency?

(Next page: How to switch to a situational-awareness solution)


Using technology to nurture special ed parent-teacher connections

That it “takes a village” is commonly accepted when it comes to educating children, and the axiom rings especially true when a child has special needs. Students with special needs often learn in non-traditional ways. The adults responsible for their development face unique challenges, as well as successes–they’re constantly pursuing novel ways to make things click. And when they do, those aha! moments are what make the extra effort worthwhile.

To help students in special education settings, it is imperative for educators and parents to collaborate. Two minds are better than one, and in order to stay in tune with the child’s needs and overcome barriers to learning, all parties are critical. Nobody knows their child’s unique strengths, challenges, and needs better than a parent does. Paired with an educational team that has training in various interventions and methodologies to ensure all children learn, all children can reach their full potential.

To be effective, this collaboration has to extend well beyond the Individualized Education Program (IEP) table. This is daily practice to ensure that everyone is working together for the benefit of the learner. Thanks to technology, staying in touch and working together is easier than ever.

(Next page: Tech provides new tools for IEP teams)


How to craft useful, student-centered social media policies

Whether your school or district has officially adopted social media or not, conversations are happening in and around your school on everything from Facebook to Snapchat. Schools must reckon with this reality and commit to supporting thoughtful and critical social media use among students, teachers, and administrators. If not, schools and classrooms risk everything from digital distraction to privacy violations.

The go-to method for guiding this practice is setting up district social media guidelines or policies. There are a bunch of examples to browse, but the big thing to remember is that there’s no perfect, off-the-shelf policy. Every school and student and teacher population will require its own unique set of guidelines; these guidelines can vary significantly if you’re a one-to-one or BYOD school, or if you’re a public or private institution, for instance. Use policy creation as an opportunity to take inventory of your students’ needs, how social media is already being used by your teachers, and how policy can support both responsibly.

Next page: What to include in a social media policy

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Video of the Week: 9 great movies for middle school classrooms

Ed. note: Video of the Week picks are supplied 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 watch the video at Common Sense Education.

Video Description: If you want to get your students’ attention, show them how an issue affects real people. Ranging from bullying to STEM to autism, the topics tackled in these documentary movies can open kids’ eyes and encourage discussion. And when they’re shown as part of a lesson, you can better help students understand and analyze what they’ve seen. For more tips and strategies, visit this collection of movies for middle school classrooms.



App of the Week: Link art to historical events

Ed. noteApp 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? 

Google Arts & Culture is both a website and an iOS or Android app that provides free access to art collections from around the world. The site is well-organized and easy to navigate. The search tool allows users to explore by museums’ collections or themes and to filter by movement, artist, historical event, historical figure, medium, and more. In addition to basic searches, you can find the latest news related to museums, collections, and events as well as locate nearby places to visit in person (with media of their collections). There are layers and layers of resources, from visual media of artifacts to virtual tours (familiar to users of the now defunct Google Art Project) to “stories,” which provide written context to a series of artifacts. When students dig into a historical event, for instance, they’ll find curated stories, images, artifacts, and timelines from a wide range of collections. The site also includes links to interactive experiments that demonstrate the interplay between technology, art, and science. Beyond just exploring, users can “favorite” what they find and create their own collection, which could align with a specific classroom activity or assignment.

Price: Free

Grades: 6-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Easy to search for and find art related to historical events, sites, movements, and media.

Cons: Teachers may be confused about the different types of resources at first; no lesson plans provided.

Bottom line: A one-stop shop for a vast amount of compellingly curated and contextualized art, but it’s lacking educator supports.