Institute for Education Policy Barnstorming the State

Jim Campbell
Senior Writer and Government and Community Relations

For the past two months, David Steiner, executive director of the Institute for Education Policy, his deputy Ashley Berner and I have been meeting with legislators from across the state to introduce them to the work of the institute. Steiner sees the institute as offering state policy-makers the best available information on proven programs to help students achieve academic success. He plans to accomplish this by providing access to high-quality research, commissioning research that responds to real-world needs, advising on interventions to narrow the achievement gap and providing a forum for interested parties to dialogue on students’ educational outcomes.

On December 1, we traveled to Annapolis for a series of meetings with legislative leaders and members of the policy committees that included an afternoon briefing on reforming teacher-preparation programs. Steiner was first on the agenda, followed by Jack Smith, state superintendent of education, and representatives of the University System of Maryland who presented the results of a year-long effort to develop an action plan for the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers.

Steiner didn’t hold back when he told committee members “The nation’s teacher-preparation programs are falling short of preparing teachers to be the effective instructors that every child needs regardless of the child’s background or readiness to learn.

“Survey after survey shows fewer than half of new teachers believe they are ready for the realities of the classroom, such as teaching students of diverse backgrounds, analyzing performance data and setting goals or planning instruction. The 1,400 schools of education have a lot of work to do,” he added.

His presentation included a review of what’s working in other states and his recommendations on ways to strengthen programs. When a legislator asked what would be on his wish list for reform, Steiner said he would like to see schools of education:
• involve high-performing teachers in the redesign of teacher-preparation programs,
• adopt a residency-based model similar to what is done in medical schools, and
• work with school districts to extend training programs through the first year of actual classroom teaching.

“Teacher-preparation programs stop when students begin actual teaching, but we know that the first year is the most critical for all new teachers. It’s the worst of their entire career.”

We ended the day by meeting with Sheila Hixson, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Steiner discussed how the Institute for Education Policy is intended to serve the interests of policy-makers. Delegate Hixson invited us back to brief the full committee when the General Assembly begins next January.

Click here to see Steiner’s presentation followed by the full briefing.

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Letter on common core from Laurence Peters – Associate Faculty, School of Education

A recent Wall Street Journal article provides some the most comprehensive reporting yet of the various ways Common Core (CCSS) is being reshaped as the initiative begins to rolled out in the states. The article reconfirms the inescapable fact that most reform efforts in education are “works in progress.” Sixty years after the Brown decision for example many school districts are still struggling to accommodate themselves to that decision.

As McLendon and others have pointed out, “scholarly understanding of the forces shaping educational policy change in the American states remains woefully underdeveloped.” We find it difficult to answer such simple questions as,

“What factors propel states to undertake the policy reforms they do, when they do? Is it variation in the sociodemographic or economic development patterns of the states that accounts for across-state differences in state education policies? Or does “politics,” in the sense of institutional political actors, such as interest groups, legislative leadership and design, partisanship, and election cycles, more fully explain patterns in state policy change for education? ” ( McClendon, “Education Policy Making and Policy Change,” 2015, p. 87).

A review of the WSJ article would allow for a whole variety of explanations as to why we have such patchwork adoption of CCSS.

Why does John Engler the former Michigan Governor and Head of the Business Roundtable) who agreed that 50 different state standards did not make much sense now want to distance himself from Common Core and call it by the anodyne label “higher standards”? Why did so many states in the south in particular buckle to right wing pressure groups opposition to the Common Core. Why did a state like Tennessee for example spent $18 million of the grant training teachers. “Then, besieged by complaints from parents and other CCSS opponents, the governor and state lawmakers..(agree to) replace the standards with a more state-specific version in 2017?

Why did so few states set aside so little funds for professional development and better tests when most informed people could have told them these were crucial investments if you wanted CCSS to raise student achievement ? Surely these fractional amounts cannot all be explained by the states fiscal crisis? Why did the voice of the business community become so muffled during the debates that went on across state capitals last year? Why did their best argument that the states standards and tests are lower than our global competitors, somehow also get lost in the ether?

Is there a single unifying theory to explain the rapid adoption by 45 states and and then the climb down by seven who have either repealed or amended them ? Clearly no but there are themes –one is that elites cannot expect that large scale reform plans made in the hallways of Washington DC away from TV’s klieg lights will have any kind of smooth sailing in a turbulent electoral season in which one of the key issues is the role and size of the federal government in people’s lives. Without a more robust defense from the groups most responsible for putting CCSS in place it is no wonder that some will perpetuate the counter narrative that Common Core represents some sinister federal takeover of schools. A more hopeful sign is that so far the collapse of support has not been total, but the initiative is still without doubt, still a work in progress.

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What Type of Homework is Actually Beneficial?

By Sarah Bugay

Homework is a staple within the school system built in place in order to reinforce strategies and concepts students learn within school when they go back home. However, not all homes for students are created equally, which begs the question: is homework supporting our students who do not have supports in place when they leave the school grounds? Or is this simply one more stresser in their lives?

Home and family mean different things to different people and while as educators, we understand that our students have different backgrounds, are we doing our students who have chaotic home lives an injustice by not catering our teaching practices to the students we are serving?

If we are assigning a book report or a project, aren’t we, as teachers, assuming students either have the technology at home or they have the time and ability to travel somewhere where there is technology to provide the ability to effectively complete the project.

Robert Pondiscio, Director of CitizenshipFirst, stated in Poor Students Need Homework Too that his former students in the South Bronx benefited from “…thoughtful, well-crafted homework, especially in reading” and that it remains an “…essential gap-closing tool.”

While I agree that homework is an important and vital reinforcement tool for students in ensuring they are practicing the skills which they are learning during the day, at home. However, I think it is also a disservice to fail to consider students’ home lives in the assignment and grading of homework.

The Center for Public Education cited research which debunked the myths that homework increases academic achievement, without excessive homework students will not have internationally competitive test scores, and that those who question homework want to weaken curriculum and pander to students’ laziness.

Within my own classroom, I have attempted to balance high expectations with understanding my students’ home lives, I take more into consideration effort rather than accuracy within our homework system. This system seems to work well within my class as my students are working to attempt the work at home. Beyond this, on the back of their homework, students can write to me about what types of supplies they may require at home to complete the homework, like a pencil and scrap paper.

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Reflections on my first year teaching

by Jasmine Williams

JasmineWilliamsJasmine Williams began her teaching career last year at Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School. This 2014 Teach for America corps member is also pursuing her Master’s degree in Educational Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Education. In this Q and A, she shares her first year experiences.

What was your greatest challenge as a first year teacher?

Navigating the curriculum – I was teaching first grade math and science. As new teacher we received the curriculum a week before school started. I worked hard those first months trying to stay on pace while also addressing the needs of my students. I was able to get support from the more veteran teachers and I would encourage new teachers to reach out when they need help.

What was the first day like in your new school?

Weird – I wasn’t sure what to expect and when I got to class that first day. The students were there with their parents. I was new to the school, new to teaching, and had no idea what the expectations would be.

What was your biggest disappointment the first year?

Handling behavioral problems – There was one student in particular that I wanted to help but I didn’t feel I met his needs. Through collaboration with his family I was able to manage his behavior, but I would have like to see more growth in the student’s behavior. Dealing with challenging behaviors really strengthen my teaching practices and classroom management.

I did use a mobile application called, Class Dojo. This application is a communicating platform that helps improve your classroom management. Class Dojo encourages positive behavior and keeps parents informed about student progress.

Were there any surprises the first year?

Definitely – There were additional responsibilities outside of classroom teaching that were important to the success of the school. Bulletin boards, administrative duties, and a number of meetings – internal to the school and external. When I started I thought I would be mostly responsible for teaching my students.

What areas did you wish you had better preparation?

Content preparation – I wish I had been better prepared in the content areas – science and math. Again, this is another subject where the veteran teachers and my instructors at Johns Hopkins School of Education were very helpful.

What would you do differently?

Culture and Climate – I would devote more time to the culture and climate of the classroom. I want to create an environment where students are excited to learn. I want to create a culture where my student value learning and see themselves in the curriculum. This year, I plan to putt heavy emphasis on community through holding each other accountable for classroom learning. Baltimore has really heighten its awareness to the social injustices that have plagued the city for years. The recent riots and death of Freddie Gray have really pushed me to look at my classroom as an intentional space to prepare my student to be their own advocates and encourage leadership.

What are you most proud of?

Relationships with parents – I quickly learned the importance of keeping parents informed. Parents are vital to the learning process. Their engagement is crucial to the success of their students. I would call parents every week not just for disciplinary issues but for academic successes. I noticed that as my relationship with my students parents grew close, students responded to my management style. I must say, every bit of my success in my first year had much to do with my active parent involvement. I adopted the mindset that, no parent on this earth doesn’t want their child to succeed regardless of their own personal circumstances.

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