Teachers Helping Teachers (and Students)

Ruler and math text book

A new study shows that one good teacher can positively influence both other teachers and other students.
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Good teachers don’t just teach their material well; they elevate the benefits their students will take from education from all of their other teachers, and for years to come, by teaching them more effective ways to learn and retain. And now new research from the University of Washington College of Education implies that they’ll also improve the performance of their fellow teachers.

“Student learning is not a function of just one teacher but of the combined effort of many teachers,” said Min Sun, leader of the study presented to the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

In other word, one A+ teacher in a pool of B- teachers can elevate them all to a solid A. This highlights the importance of oversight to make sure that even the worst-performing schools get their choice of teachers, not just the inexperienced, ill-adapted, or burnt-out.

Sun’s research was about putting this effect down into hard numbers. She and her colleagues looked at decades of data for math teachers in grades 3-8, mostly from standardized test scores. The calculation is complicated, but the finding is that every student in a school with a single high-performing teacher benefits, not only the students in their class. And those benefits don’t stop at grades – the likelihood of college attendance and the predictable future lifetime earnings both increase.

In 2014, the Department of Education put a call out for Teacher Equity Strategies in all 50 states to help fight the tendency of schools with a majority population of minority or low-income families to have low-performing teachers. This study’s specific intent is to provide data for a foundation for those strategies and to impress their importance on skeptics. When asked for a strategy herself, Sun proposed pairing ineffective teachers with better colleagues on a long-term basis.

Sun’s research is continuing, but the results are already pretty clear: Even one better teacher can elevate a school.

Florida Instructor Teaches Kindness

Books and chalk on a classroom desk

A Florida teacher has come up with a revolutionary way of encouraging his students: compliments.
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A Florida teacher is making headlines for his unique, lovely classroom style: he begins each school day with 10 minutes of compliments for his special-needs students. Chris Ulmer begins each day boosting the confidence of his students, whose special needs range from autism to traumatic brain injuries, letting each child know that they are special, capable, and worthy.

Ulmer has been posting videos of his classes to Facebook with the parents’ permission every day, and one posted this past week went viral. Ulmer began the compliment routine after noticing that compliments made his eight students “motivated, happier, and better behaved.”

“[The students] all came from a segregated environment…Now they’re participating in school activities, dancing in front of hundreds of other kids and in the debate club,” Ulmer says. It was important to him that his classroom be a place for students to recover when they felt like they were being treated like outcasts from the rest of the school.

Ulmer hopes to publish a book on his students which focuses on each one’s story and will be told in parts by the kids, their families, and Ulmer himself. He has a Facebook page dedicated to the effort.

Ulmer chooses to focus on talents rather than deficits, he says, adding, “Simple reminders of their positive attributes shifts their focus from what they can’t do to what they can do.” He notes that the children in his classroom have become more helpful and supportive of one another after adding the morning compliments to the school day. “They praise each other for accomplishments as if it were their own,” he says. “They never insult one another and actively work towards helping each other.”

“If a teacher displays love, harmony, and peace, that will become [the students’] norm,” says a caption to the video.

Texas Rejects Plan to Fact-Check Textbooks

Pile of textbooks next to pencils

Texas has rejected a plan to fact-check textbooks.
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Members of the Texas Board of Education have rejected a push to create a group to fact-check textbooks used in student classrooms. The vote passed 8-7 against the measure, even though the Texas textbook industry has faced controversy in the past, most recently for referring to American slaves as “workers” in a history textbook.

Currently, checking for factual inaccuracies falls in the hands only of the publisher and the public as they catch such errors. In the case of the “workers” incident, the mother of a Texas school student called the publisher and the book out on social media; her post went viral, and McGraw Hill decided to publish a corrected version of the book as well as to offer free textbooks to teachers and training in cultural competency.

However, conservative board members did not see any need for a group of professors to comb through textbooks, as nothing stops them from calling out errors now. The board preferred an alternative proposal that would make sure current textbook panelists had a “majority of members” with more expertise and knowledge.

Texas is one of the largest users of textbooks in the country, with an average of 4.8 million students, and because of its market size, Texas books have the power to influence the books of other states. Other states could be taking their cues from Texas textbooks, despite the fact that the state has been embroiled in a number of different controversies over inaccurate content being taught in schools. In 2009, the department’s chair claimed that “evolution is hooey;” the following year, teachers working on course guidelines were supposed to be working with supposed “experts,” one of whom believed that the income tax is contrary to the word of God.

“The public opinion of our process, unfortunately, is not positive,” says Erika Beltran, a Democratic member of Texas’s Board of Education. She’s not wrong. Few other states have had as many problems with their textbooks as Texas, whose books have “been a target for the religious right” since the 1960s.

The larger problem is that because Texas purchases so many textbooks, publishers like Pearson and McGraw Hill depend in many ways on pleasing the state to make any profit at all. Whatever is published in Texas school books is likely to be found in the books of other states, compounding the state’s problem of inaccuracies into a national one.

Seattle Public Schools Approve Later Start Times

Boy asleep on school desk

Seattle schools will officially move to later start times starting next year.
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Seattle Public Schools have pushed start times for students until after 8:30 A.M. for the 2016-2017 school year, per recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. High schools, most middle schools, and elementary schools will be starting classes at 8:45 A.M., though some schools will start at 7:55 and others at 9:35 in the morning.

“This is a great win for our students,” says Sharon Peaslee, Vice President of the Seattle School Board. “We will unleash a torrent of public schools shifting to bell times that make sense for students.” The change follows years of petitioning from parents, teachers, and scientists who advocate for more sleep for the young and growing, especially for teenagers, who biologically tend to be night owls.

Teachers notice a difference in their students between first period and third period classes, when students are more awake and engaged in the material. But a problem with starting schools at different times is that it puts pressure on parents to find alternative methods of transportation for their little ones, and the later times might make all of this happen in rush-hour traffic, exacerbating the state’s already-awful traffic problems.

However, traffic patterns were considered in the board’s decision. “They looked at [the patterns], they looked at how that would change, what time would the buses be arriving and leaving, looking at standard city traffic, and showing that there will be some changes in traffic. But it would not have any major impact,” says Sam Markert, senior project manager for Seattle Public Schools.

The American Academy of Pediatrics report that young students who don’t get enough sleep are subject to physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance. The organization specifically recommends that school start times be delayed until after 8:30 to allow the recommendation of 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep to be met.

Successful Business People Who Don’t Have an MBA

Young woman thinking about business school

Do you need an MBA to be successful in business? Not according to these business leaders!
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According to the most recent data published by the U.S. Department of Education, about a quarter of all Master’s degrees earned in the United States are related to business. So is an MBA a requirement for a lucrative career in business?

To some people, an MBA can provide limitless opportunities – you’ll be prepared to work in a variety of environments in business, government, nonprofit, technology industries, and more. Studying in an MBA program can be a way for individuals to gain both the critical thinking and the business skills that make it easier to obtain a successful job.

However, an MBA is hardly the only path to professional success; many leaders of top companies around the world chose not to continue their education after their undergraduate careers. Despite common belief, a number of non-MBA professionals go on to have successful careers in a variety of industries, including business, tech, law, and politics.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com

After graduating from Princeton University with an electrical engineering degree, Albuquerque native Jeff Bezos gained professional experience at Wall Street, Bankers Trust, and D.E. Shaw & Co. He later founded Amazon.com in 1994 (in his garage) after making a cross-country road trip from New York to Seattle. Amazon.com became the largest retailer on the Internet, and, as of November 2015, Bezos’s personal wealth was estimated to be $55 billion, ranking him 15th on the Forbes list of billionaires.

Dan Loeb, hedge fund manager and founder of Third Point LLC

Hedge fund manager Dan Loeb attended the University of California at Berkeley for two years and later graduated from Columbia University with an economics degree. Before approaching the end of his senior year at Columbia, he had made $120,000 in stock market. Today, he’s the founder and chief executive of Third Point LLC, a New York-based hedge fund with a portfolio worth $14 billion.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks

Majoring in communication, Brooklyn native Howard Schultz attended Northern Michigan University on a football scholarship. After becoming the director of sales for Hammarplast (a drip coffee manufacturer), he discovered a small Seattle chain known as Starbucks today. As of May 2015, Starbucks employs over 190,000 employees worldwide and has made $17 billion in sales.

Andrea Jung, non-profit leader and former CEO of Avon

Andrea Jung is a Canadian-American executive, prominent women’s rights supporter, and non-profit leader. She studied English literature at Princeton University and joined an executive training program for Bloomingdale’s in New York after graduating. In addition to being the former CEO and Chairwoman of Avon, she was also President and CEO of Grameen America, a nonprofit microfinance organization established by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

STEAM Mobile

Kids in uniform using lab equipment

The STEAM Mobile will offer Scranton area elementary students a chance to experiment with STEM subjects and equipment.
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Once a math lab (No, that’s not a typo!), then a broadcasting studio for football games, the big RV owned by Scranton School District has been renovated again.

Now it’s called the S.T.E.A.M. Mobile (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math), and its new goal is to park outside of a different elementary school each day, bringing a new level of interactive education to the district’s 11 elementary schools.

Erin Keating, the district’s Supervisor of Elementary Education, is especially excited about it. “If we can catch them young, we want to get that interest going so we can build that through their academic career. It’s so hands on.”

And the RV is certainly designed to be inspiring. Brightly painted in a way that may remind us of Ms. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus, it’s filled with stations where students can work alone or in teams with microscopes, 3D printers, robotics, or alternative energy methods. There are plans to mount a weather monitoring station outside, and what used to be the luggage compartment below the floor now has a big magnetic train set.

Teachers from the school district have begun designing lesson plans to utilize the RV’s many opportunities during the rest of the school year. So far, only third- through fifth-graders will be using it, but teachers at the district’s middle and high schools are itching to get their hands on it as well.

“It’s just the beginning,” says Joe Brazil, science teacher, the district’s information technology director, and the instigator behind the S.T.E.A.M. Mobile. “This will be a great foundation.”

The total cost for the project is between $15,000 and $20,000, coming out of the district’s information tech budget. So far, there are no doubts that it has been a sound investment.

Accrediting Organizations Under the Microscope

Seal that says "accredited"

The DOE has released new rules regarding accreditation for colleges and universities.
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The US Department of Education announced today that it will be enacting new transparency measures for accreditation organizations. While they don’t currently have the legal right to actually determine how the accreditation process work, they are concerned with the large variety of methods for accrediting schools—especially since data shows that many accredited schools are actually the poorest performing schools in the country.

For-profit colleges in particular care a lot about becoming accredited because that’s how they become eligible to receive government funding. However, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that accreditation doesn’t necessarily mean quality when it comes to schools.

“Accreditation is the key to the castle for accessing the spigot of federal financial aid. It’s supposed to signify that a program provides a quality education for its students,” explained Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. However, he adds, “too often the accreditation means nothing.”

The new rules from the Department of Education will require accreditors to submit the letters they send to colleges and universities when the schools are put on probation. This will allow more transparency in the accreditation process, which is extremely fragmented right now. There are 52 separate accreditation agencies recognized by the DOE—so “accreditation” can mean a lot of different things depending on which organization is providing it. Without more oversight from the DOE, it will remain impossible for prospective students to determine just what the “accreditation” of potential schools actually means in terms of performance and student support.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is of particular note, since it’s the body that accredited the now-bankrupt for-profit Corinthian schools, which received full accreditation despite the evidence that they weren’t up to par when it came to the quality of their education. Half of the Corinthian schools rank in the bottom third of the nation in terms of students’ future earnings, and ¾ are in the bottom third in terms of repaying student loans.