Massachusetts’ Rejection of Common Core

Recent steps taken by the State and statements stemming from Mitchell Chester (the Commissioner of Education), show that Massachusetts will be stepping away from Common Core testing and standards. At his recommendation, the Board of Education has decided to drop the nationalized testing and develop one specifically for the State. As the leader in public education for the United States, Massachusetts’ leaving Common Core may set some precedent for others that have expressed interest in leaving the national education standards.

Union President, Randi Weingarten, Defends Hillary Clinton on Charter Schools

Original NYT Article

Ideally, the charter system should not have to be serving the role that it has unfortunately taken in education: as competition to wholly-public schools. Each and every school should be driven to provide quality education to all, especially to underserved and underperforming students; typically public schools have fallen short of performing this essential service though.

The acts of corruption witnessed in certain charter schools are unforgiveable for the individuals who were involved. However, those actions and some of the undesirable effects the charter system hosts shouldn’t define charters as a whole. It’s easier to place blame on the system, rather than taking the time to analyze the problem schools and executives. The charter system is undeserving of such blanketed statements; and it’s shortsighted to fail acknowledging the valuable role that they play in reaching out to those students who would typically be left behind in public education (particularly true in large cities). Charter schools provide opportunities to leave the education-opportunity by the economically-disenfranchised of this country.

A more viable, and sustainable approach would be to look towards implementing measures that force greater transparency.

Teaching Mindfulness

As educators and policy makers are questioning traditional education models as being effective, a number of teachers and administrators are taking initiative to implement new concepts in their schools and classrooms. A number of these approaches have been outlined or mentioned in other blog posts; in continuing with this scope of new approaches, I’d like to shine light on one of these particular method: teaching mindfulness.

Highly unconventional by traditional K-12 models, mindfulness education absolutely holds promise in improving education. Practices range from meditation, to yoga, to teaching students to understand and correctly label their emotions, to exercises such as having children tighten and relax fists, arms, etc. The philosophy underlying the practicality is in the common complaint that children (particularly in younger years) fidget, and have a hard time paying attention. Backing the argument for mindfulness implementation is that attention is a skill; as opposed to merely an inherent ability. If we teach students how to utilize, develop and sharpen their attention, the benefits are sure to carry over into their overall academic performance.

Sure enough, the results alone speak for the efficiency of these practices and incorporating them into classrooms.

For more reading on this topic:

A Notable Nonprofit: Minnesota Early Learning Academy

“The mission of the Minnesota Early Learning Academy is to serve children and their families in urban communities by providing a high quality learning environment that accelerates achievement, performance and college preparedness through careful analysis of student needs and effective use of data to personalize and monitor student learning. We are managed by Distinctive Schools, a non-profit that consistently produces a year and a half of student grown for a year of instruction in all the schools they manage. We opened our doors in August and have 150 eager and excited learners in K-2 grades. We will add a grade each year until we are a K-5 campus. Our diverse student population is representative of the changing demographics in the cities. We are not only focused on setting a high bar for academic achievement, we believe that instruction should be both challenging and respectful of where each child. We employ 21st century tools, a blended learning environment and individualize and personalize instruction. As a public charter school, we are financially supported by the dollars that are assigned to each student that attends our school. However, we have a longer instructional day and year, requiring additional support. We also contract with high quality external resources to bring our students a rich experience. The MacPhail School of Music is one wonderful example. Those special services make a huge impact on our leaners but require additional financial support.”

If you would like to contribute towards their growth: the link for donations is here.

How Teaching Self-Restraint May Provide Answers to Improving Education

Self-restraint underlies traits like perseverance and determination: which are directly linked to higher achievements in school, as well as in the workplace.

It has been published throughout various studies (for the past few decades) that a particularly malleable point for brain development is in early childhood. Because of these findings, society and education have renewed interest in early childhood learning. Newer research demonstrates that there is another period where the brain has similar elasticity: adolescence.

Laurence Steinberg wrote a convincing article about this topic in October’s Educational Leadership (ASCD); he argued that given this period for potential development, it’s an ideal time to introduce mindfulness and SEL programs. The goal being to teach students self-restraint, thereby improving overall educational performance and setting children up for success outside of the classroom. It is one thing to teach students academia, it’s another to instill in them the spirit and drive to apply that knowledge.

Crash Course

Brothers John and Hank Green have teamed up to develop a series of online videos (hosted on YouTube) to cover a multitude of educational topics. The videos, usually about 10 minutes in length, are rich in animations, visual aids and pop-culture references. Very entertaining and full of educational content, their work is impressive.

The Green brothers work with content experts to provide series on everything from American and world history to anatomy, psychology and astronomy. With great potential for adjunct supplement to lessons, I encourage you to visit their page to see if this may provide any value to your teaching.

Is SEL Worth the Investment?

Educators that have had exposure with social and emotional learning programs (SEL) tend to become strong advocates for the potentially life-altering value it provides to students. Implementing these programs comes with a significant cost; and an argument has spurred from it of whether it is cost-effective, a sound investment. Columbia University’s Center for Cost-Benefit Analysis had picked up on this snafu, and decided to do the math.

The results of the analysis conducted were astounding. They weighed the price of faculty, materials, facilities and other expenses. These findings were then weighed against the documented benefits of such programs in decreasing cost to society, by improving individual’s incomes. Columbia estimated the cost of implementing one particular program (The 4Rs) at $68,000 for 100 students. Economic benefit was found to fall around $832,000.

With such a significant return on investment, one can only hope that these numbers will help to sway those who are skeptical of investing funds in SEL projects. Financials, aside: let’s not neglect the value of enriching these children’s lives and setting them up to succeed in the world.

Reimagining Education, Across Political Leanings

This noteworthy article from the New York Times explores how leaders are reaching across party-lines to reimagine education; to bridge gaps in the interest of making genuine changes to enrich the lives of all students.

Quality Education, Regardless of Zip Code

It is unfortunately common, particularly in urban and suburban districts, for education quality to vary dependent upon neighborhood. I recently met with an administrator in Maryland facing that struggle.

Lack of funding is commonly cited as the source for failure to keep up with other schools. This administrator, however, has answered these gaps with ingenuity. By forming partnerships with corporate and university sponsors, the school now hosts an abundance of extra-curricular activities and a dynamic support team. To address gaps in guidance counselling, the school has sought help from local psychiatric professionals to donate time and help these kids with whatever issues they may be facing.

The admin brimmed over with joy as this was explained to me; and deservedly so. All children deserve quality education. Making that a reality takes a lot of hard work, dedication and sometimes simply asking for help from the community. Any educators or admins who have faced such issues are more than welcome to share their comments here. We’d love your feedback and to hear answers you, your school, or your district have come up with to ensure that no child feels they’re not getting the best available to them. What have your experiences been?

Utilizing Peer Networks for Student Retention

Educators are recognizing the values of peer pressure, when manipulated to keep kids in school. One of the most effective retention measures for at-risk students, is the power of fellow classmates encouraging them to continue along in education.

Some teachers have taken to using a “pull-up” system, in which students anonymously submit praise and recognition of academic achievement of their peers. The “pull-ups” are then read aloud by the teacher at the end of the week.

Other efforts involve a morning moment of reflection or contemplation, in the attempts to provoke students to talk openly about their dreams or aspirations. It can also be used to open up about issues they may be facing. By utilizing the existing peer networks, educators and administrative staff have found ways to overcome barriers in reaching troubled students. If you’ve had any experience with these approaches or have tried different peer-related ones than the above mentioned, please comment and share them with us!


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