Afternoon Announcements: Kid President is Back with Another Pep Talk

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November 27, 2013 02:24 pm


Twelve states have applied for additional flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education on the teacher evaluation requirement of the No Child Left Behind act. Dubbed “waiver-waivers,” the flexibility would allow states to have until 2016-17 to implement the evaluation systems. Politics K-12

Michigan is one of 19 states mentioned by Achieve as developing and implementing high school graduation requirements that align with college- and career-ready standards. Michigan Live

There is positive news out of Arizona this week. High school graduation rates in some of the state’s lowest-income cities improved at “more than twice the rate of ht erest of the state during the last five years.” Providence Journal

Kid President is back and he has another pep talk for us all. He gives us 20 things that we should all say more often. As usual, he’s right on the money. Mind Body Green

Arizona, Michigan, Uncategorized

PISA 101 with Robert Rothman

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November 27, 2013 01:13 pm


The following is a Q&A on PISA with Robert Rothman, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Rothman is nationally known education writer, editor, and expert on the Common Core State Standards, deeper learning, and assessments. Read more of his work on these topics on the blog for Harvard Education Publishing. Read our last Q&A with Rothman on deeper learning on the High School Soup blog. For more information on PISA and to register to watch the first ever national digital PISA Day, visit

What is PISA?
The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, is a test given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science. In 2012, it was administered to students in sixty-five countries and economies, as well as three U.S. states. The test was developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group of the leading industrialized countries. It was first administered in 2000.

Unlike other tests, PISA was designed to measure not so much what students have learned, but how well they can apply what they have learned to real-world problems. These abilities are important in an increasingly complex world.

In addition to a test, PISA also includes extensive surveys of students and principals, which provide important clues about why some nations have performed well. The PISA results have led to substantial changes in education policy and practice in a number of countries.

How has the United States performed on PISA?
In 2009, the last time PISA was administered, U.S. fifteen-year-olds performed fourteenth among the thirty-four OECD countries in reading, seventeenth in science, and twenty-fifth in mathematics. The reading and science scores were about at the international average, while the mathematics score was below average.

Shanghai-China was at the top of the international rankings in all three subjects, followed by Korea and Finland in reading and mathematics. In science, Finland, Hong Kong-China, and Singapore outperformed Korea.

How can countries that are so different be compared in educational performance?
The samples of students who take PISA in each country are drawn carefully to represent the diversity of each country, with additional weight given to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. But contrary to what some in the United States believe, the U.S. is not uniquely diverse. Many countries have large populations of immigrants and non-native speakers, and the population of socioeconomically disadvantaged students in the United States is at about the OECD average. In addition, it is not true that the U.S. educates all students while other countries educate an elite; in 2009, 82 percent of fifteen-year-olds were in school in the United States, the third lowest figure among OECD nations.

What is PISA’s relation to the Common Core State Standards?
The Common Core State Standards call for students to demonstrate many of the abilities measured by PISA. For example, the English language arts standards place a strong emphasis on students’ ability to use evidence to support conclusions in writing. This is a clear call for critical thinking. Similarly, the mathematics standards ask students to use their knowledge to solve problems, and to communicate mathematically.

What should parents know about PISA?
PISA provides results at the national level, and in 2012, three states—Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts—participated to provide results at the state level. So there are no results for individual students or schools.

However, America Achieves, an organization based in New York, has developed a version of PISA that is being administered in individual schools. The OECD Test for Schools, as it is known, was administered on a pilot basis in 105 high schools in 2012, and this year it is open to any high school that wants to participate. The test is administered to a sample of students, so it provides results at the school level. But schools that have participated say it provides important information about students’ abilities to use their knowledge to think critically and solve problems, information that might not be available from state tests.

What about policymakers?
PISA provides important clues about the factors that lead to high performance. We have learned from other research that the countries that perform well on PISA have well-developed instructional systems that include strong standards that expect students to use their knowledge to think critically and solve problems; assessments that measure these abilities; and well-qualified teachers. The United States has made a strong start toward such a system with the adoption by forty-six states of the Common Core State Standards and is moving toward a new generation of assessments that measure complex abilities. These must be implemented effectively so that teachers are capable of teaching to the standards and preparing students to do well on the assessments.

For more information on PISA and to register to watch the first ever national digital PISA Day, visit

Robert Rothman is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Common Core State Standards, Deeper Learning

Afternoon Announcements: DC Council Approves Bill for Additional Funds to Aid Low-Income Students

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November 26, 2013 04:20 pm


A new study – the Talent Transfer Initiative – funded by the federal government, placed high-quality teachers in low-performing schools with an incentive of $20,000. The schools saw performance improvements for their students, showing that merit pay can work. Slate

The Washington, DC Council’s education committee voted this week to provide the city’s public schools with additional funds to help low-income students and at-risk students academically. The Washington Post

The Common Core State Standards and assessments aligned to them are moving forward in New Jersey, but many policymakers are concerned over the costs of the tests. “The main concern has to do with resources,” said state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey. “They don’t have the resources to upgrade technology, to teach how to use that technology.” NJ Spotlight

Some praise and thoughts on President Obama’s recently announced competitive grant program to help strengthen the connection between high schools and the workforce. Eduwonk

District of Columbia, New Jersey, Uncategorized

Afternoon Announcements: Graduation Rate Remains Stagnant

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November 25, 2013 04:19 pm


Controversy mounted today over Maryland’s reporting of the performance of its students on a national reading test. Critics point out that the state prevented more than half of its English language learners and students with learning disabilities from taking the test, inflating its scores. The Washington Post

GoldieBlox, the toy company that has garnered media attention after a media campaign encouraging girls to get interested in STEM fields, went viral, continues to promote smart toys for girls who will “build the spaceship.” High School Notes

Graduation rates remain stagnant in the United states, according to a new study by the National Student Clearinghouse. The study found that graduation rates improved only two-tenths of 1 percent from last year. The Hechinger Report

Novelist Wallace Stegner called America’s national parks “America’s best idea” for authentic learning. The national parks teach about US history, geology, and more. Homeroom

Maryland, Uncategorized

Afternoon Announcements: Maryland Proposes Guidelines to Reduce Suspensions

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November 22, 2013 04:01 pm


Comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K. read and talk about the Gettysburg Address. It’s a unique perspective and a fun watch for this Friday afternoon. YouTube

The University of Wyoming is looking for ways to keep students in school and from dropping out, especially after their freshman year. The Vice President of Student Affairs presented a plan that aims to retain 80 percent of first-year full-time students by 2016. Wyoming Star Tribune

According to a new study, 94 percent of first-generation college students want to earn college degrees. Huffington Post

Maryland is republishing discipline proposals that aim to reduce suspensions and keep students in the classroom. Education officials noted that they need to clarify some of the proposals. The Washington Post

Maryland, Uncategorized, Wyoming

Everyone’s Getting Straight A’s: National Digital PISA Day Announced

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November 22, 2013 11:23 am

straight a

Every other week, the Alliance for Excellent Education posts a new edition of Straight A’s: Public Education Policy and Progress, an online newsletter. Here are excerpts from this issue. You can read the full articles in this volume online here. If you would like to receive Straight A’s in your inbox, send an email to

On December 3, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will release the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test of reading literacy, mathematics, and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in the United States and more than sixty-five countries worldwide. In conjunction with the release of the PISA scores and the U.S. Department of Education’s announcement of the U.S. results, the Alliance for Excellent Education, along with nine national education organizations, will host an extensive digital event that examines the results and their lessons for U.S. education policy. PISA Day

The reading and math results released on November 7 from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, were cause for celebration and concern. On the bright side, the average reading and math scores posted by the nation’s fourth- and eighth-grade students were at an all-time high. At the same time, however, only 36 percent of the nation’s eighth-grade students scored at a “proficient” level in both reading and math. Nation’s Report Card

With less than three months until Digital Learning Day 2014, the Alliance for Excellent Education today announced a collaboration with the Library of Congress on the hosting, promotion, and content development for the Washington, DC–based national celebration on Wednesday, February 5, 2014. Digital Learning Day 2014

On August 29, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released guidance outlining how states could request a two-year renewal to extend their ED-granted waivers from certain requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In a November 14 letter to chief state school officers, however, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah S. Delisle backed away from some of those requirements in favor of a more “streamlined” process that raised concern among civil rights organizations. A Time for Renewal

Two consortia of states, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, are developing assessments that are intended to measure student performance against the Common Core State Standards. On November 6, PARCC released new sample test items, making public exemplar test items across the grades in both mathematics and English language arts. PUBLIC PARCC

On November 8, the U.S. Department of Education announced the twenty-five highest-rated applications received as part of the fourth round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition, which will award more than $135 million to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement. To receive federal funding under the program, these potential grantees must secure private sector matching funds by December 11, 2013. Stellar i3 Applications Announced


Afternoon Announcements: Obama Champions Technology in Education

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November 21, 2013 04:24 pm


“At Jobs for the Future, we believe all high schools can benefit from partnering with employers, colleges, and the workforce system to build seamless pathways through college and into technical careers. And thanks to funding from Youth CareerConnect, 25 to 40 school districts will soon join this growing movement.” Homeroom

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is re-launching a campaign to attract more college students to the teaching profession. The campaign uses public service announcements that call for the nation’s best and brightest students to become teachers. US News & World Report

President Obama spent the majority of his day today championing technology in education. He met with a group of ConnectED Champions of Change, educators being honored for their use of technology in the classroom, among other activities. USA Today

Sequestration, or across-the-board cuts, has impacted some school districts and states more than others. The states more affected rely on federal funding more than the others. Politics K-12


Afternoon Announcements: 31 Race to the Top-District Competition Finalists Named

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November 20, 2013 04:14 pm


The U.S. Department of Education recently named the 31 finalists for the second Race to the Top district-level competition. The winners include a mix of large urban districts and rural ones. The winners will share a prize of $120 million. Politics K-12

A new ad promotes toys designed to encourage children to think and learn, particularly girls. The viral ad is a 2-minute video showing three girls using stereotypical gender-related toys to show off their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. Upworthy

A new website – launched this week – provides extensive resources for teachers to help them prepare for teaching to the Common Core State Standards. The resources include lesson plans, activities, and videos. NJ Spotlight

A satellite developed by high school students is believed to be orbiting the Earth after being sent into space by aboard a US Military rocket earlier this week. NPR


Afternoon Announcements: Arne Duncan Emphasizes Need to Focus on Higher Standards for All Schools

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November 19, 2013 04:13 pm

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A comment by US Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the Common Core State Standards has sparked controversy, and the Secretary is working to quell the fires. The Washington Post

In an effort to put national education conversations back on what matters, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan writes about moving on from controversial comments he made and focusing on higher standards for all schools and students. Homeroom

Arlington public schools is looking to data analysts to help solve the problem of keeping students from dropping out of high school. The district will select up to 10 data teams to analyze data for trends that could be reversed to keep students in school. The Washington Post

Teachers – and, broadly, adults – often remark that student writing has taken a nosedive in the age of social media, where they resort to abbreviations and acronyms to meet character limits. One teacher is speaking out about how social media has improved her students’ abilities to reflect and write honestly. The Atlantic

Uncategorized, Virginia

Obama Announces New $100 Million Youth CareerConnect Grants Program for High Schools

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November 19, 2013 04:06 pm

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk with students while visiting a classroom at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, NY, Oct. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) Today, President Barack Obama announced a new collaboration between the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education to make $100 million available for Youth CareerConnect grants to provide high school students with industry-relevant education and skills necessary for a successful future.

Funding for the program will come from revenues from the H-1B visa program and will fund approximately 25 to 40 grants for individual or multi-site projects. Grants will be awarded to local education agencies, public or non-profit local workforce entities, or non-profits with education reform experience. At a minimum, applicants will also be required to provide a match of 25 percent of the grant award.  Awards are anticipated to be made in early 2014 for program implementation to align with the 2014-15 school year.

In a statement, Alliance President Bob Wise said the program has “great potential” to reduce the high school dropout rate and revitalize students’ interest in their education by pairing rigorous academic and career-focused curriculum with relevant work-based learning opportunities.

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Career & Technical Education, Federal Education Reform, Linked Learning