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10/26/2017

GUEST BLOG: Getting Off to the Right Start: Preventing Bullying in Your School — Jill Jackson, Ohio Department of Education

By: Guest Blogger

GettyImages-483374624.jpgOff to a great start is the theme the Ohio Department of Education is promoting for schools and students throughout Ohio. To prevent and address bullying behavior, we are promoting four strategies that create a positive school climate and a safe and supportive teaching and learning environment in Ohio schools. Promoting a positive school climate, along with implementing bullying prevention practices will help staff members, students and families be off to a great start this school year.

The first strategy is for every district and school to have an Anti-Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying policy that outlines how schools identify bullying behavior. An active anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying policy ensures all staff members, students and parents know how bullying behavior is defined and addressed in your school. School staff members should be trained to respond to bullying behavior when it occurs.

Second, school staff members should be trained to recognize and respond to bullying behavior. The Department requires educators to take Safety and Violence Prevention training every five years. This training gives school staff members skills to recognize, reach out and refer potential problems before they escalate. The Safety and Violence Prevention Curriculum reminds school professionals of the important role they play in the early identification of critical issues affecting students. It also attempts to raise school staff members’ awareness of the warning signs for mental, emotional and behavioral problems among students and advises educators on ways to reach out to these students and refer them to appropriate assistance. Through identifying student needs and providing appropriate interventions, educators can ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed at school.

The third strategy to support your school community is to implement a schoolwide safety plan. Using the PBIS framework and schoolwide safety strategies, all school employees, social workers and mental health partners can create a culture of respect to prevent bullying behavior. Positive school climate and bullying prevention practices are the product of a school’s attention to fostering trust and safety; promoting a supportive academic, disciplinary, and physical environment; and encouraging and maintaining respectful and caring relationships throughout the school. Feeling safe and supported at school is fundamental to success for staff and students.

Finally, to address the individual needs of students, we recommend the development and implementation of a Student Action Plan. Bullying behavior undermines a student’s sense of security and distracts from a student’s ability to be successful in school. A Student Action Plan provides students involved in bullying behavior (either the target or perpetrator) with supports before, during and after the school day, as well as interventions for identified behavior needs.

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, prepare to be off to a great start by promoting a positive school climate and bullying prevention practices this school year. This will promote healthy relationships, school safety, increased school attendance and greater academic achievement. October is a good time for administrators and staff to discuss how they can update their anti-bullying policies and practices to make them even more effective. Explore the tools available here, including a nine-minute video, the Department’s Model Anti-Bullying Policy and a guidance document that outlines everyone’s role in addressing student incidents and strategies for developing individual Student Action Plans.

Jill Jackson is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education where she leads the Department's anti-bullying efforts. She can be reached at Jill.Jackson@education.ohio.gov.

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10/20/2017

Let’s Stop with the Labels

By: Steve Gratz

GettyImages-124680662.jpgI’ve been involved with education on multiple levels for 35 years. I started teaching in 1983 as a teacher of agriculture. If you recall, in 1983, a presidential commission released the report Nation at Risk calling for significant changes to the educational system. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, we saw a steady decline in the number of students enrolling in vocational education as there was a greater emphasis placed on academics and college for all. At the time, schools considered students either in a vocational track, college prep track or general studies track. This was the first time I remember the adults showing great concern over what column we put the tally in as we “tracked” students.

As a beginning teacher, I worked hard to recruit students to enroll in our vocational agriculture program. At the time, to receive funding from the state, districts could serve only 48 to 60 students. This was to ensure that our vocational agricultural teachers had the capacity to manage their laboratories and to conduct the required number of home visitations throughout the calendar year.

When I started teaching, many of my students were “placed” into my program as guidance counselors determined that certain students were not college bound. I invested a lot of time during my first few years of teaching to increase the rigor of my program by emphasizing the embedded academics in the competencies that were part of my course of study. I did this as I had to change the perception of the program so ALL students were welcome, including those planning to attend college.

Paralleling this work was a movement across the country called AgriScience. With support from the agricultural industry, AgriScience became the rage as it demonstrated how schools could teach and reinforce academic content through technical education. My good friend, Brad Moffitt, and I were both AgriScience Teachers of the Year in the mid-1980s because of our early adoption of the initiative. I remember students earned science credit because of the embedded science standards throughout the program. Brad and I quickly tried to separate ourselves from traditional vocational agriculture programs by capitalizing on the ground swell of support for AgriScience. Looking back, I was adding yet another column in which to place the student tally. I fought hard to separate our program from traditional programs as I perceived we were different.

This wasn’t the first-time education experienced the merging of academic and technical education. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, which in turn led to our first STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) crisis. Sputnik triggered a federal response, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), since many said that our public schools and colleges were doing an inadequate job teaching math and science.

"This Act, which is an emergency undertaking to be terminated after four years, will in that time do much to strengthen our American system of education so that it can meet the broad and increasing demands imposed upon it by considerations of basic national security…Much remains to be done to bring American education to levels consistent with the needs of our society. The federal government having done its share, the people of the country, working through their local and State governments and through private agencies, must now redouble their efforts toward this end." -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Education and educators continue to fight over which column to record the student tally. Today many of those columns are labeled with CTE, STEM, STEAM, Career Pathways, etc. and schools play the tally game with programs like High Schools That Work, FutureReady, etc. Again, I share this because I believe those of us in education spend too much time concerning ourselves with which column we place the tally. At times it seems we argue amongst ourselves which column (read initiative) is best for schools and students.

In education, we have numerous initiatives in motion at any one time. We can integrate some of these programs into current educational practices while layering others on top of current work. I think it is great that schools have options and that school leaders can choose the best options based upon the wishes of their community, but we need to coordinate.

Because of my education at Apollo Career Center, I was a trained as a certified mechanic. I built quite the inventory of tools to ensure I had the correct tool for the job. When I began a new repair, I rarely used the same set of tools as the previous one because each was unique and required a personalized approach. The same holds true for education. All educators need a toolbox that they can use to help personalize the education for ALL students. That might mean mixing up the tools and combining curriculum from various tracks. We need to limit our desire to narrowly label an initiative as appropriate for one track or another, because we need to personalize education for each student. Too much effort is spent on getting the tally in the right column. We need to redirect that effort into blurring the lines and doing what’s best for ALL students.

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10/12/2017

Forgetting About Friendship: Making the Best of Your Teacher Teams

By: Virginia Ressa

GettyImages-504875442.jpgImprovement efforts, like the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP), have advocated for a move away from teachers working autonomously toward participating in teacher-based teams. The goal of teaming is to provide a forum for teachers to share ideas, collaborate, learn from each other and, ultimately, better meet the needs of students and improve student achievement. However, just like putting four middle school students in a group does not necessarily result in collaborative learning, assigning teachers to a team does not always result in effective collaboration.

I worked on a team of five dedicated middle school teachers. We met once a week during a common planning period. What did we do with all that time? It’s hard to say. Some days we focused on one student, inviting a parent or guardian to join us. We talked a bit about students’ work. For instance, who was and wasn’t doing homework, who was falling behind, who needed a phone call home or to see the guidance counselor. We planned field trips, dances and other special events. We shared stories and laughed about the crazy things students do in middle school.

More important is what we didn’t do. We didn’t bring our lesson plans to the table for feedback. We didn’t plan collaborative, interdisciplinary lessons. We didn’t share assessment data to determine student needs. We didn’t talk about instruction or about trying to improve our instructional practices.

Since my tenure in middle school, I have learned a lot about the value of working in teams to analyze practice and collaborate on finding solutions. As teachers, we know that using evidence of student learning can help us plan instruction that meets the needs of students. However, we often shy away from, even avoid, discussing assessment data and instruction with our colleagues. I know this isn’t true of every team of teachers, but it is a barrier for many.

Why is it so hard for us to share our data and solicit feedback from colleagues? During my research on teacher-based teams, I read quite a few reports that suggested some very thoughtful factors contributing to this barrier. I think you’ll quickly recognize some of these:

  1. Lack of trust: “What if a team member tells my principal about a mistake I made?”
  2. Fear of criticism: “What if the team thinks my lesson plan is really bad?”
  3. Fear of failing: “My students might not score as well on the assessment as students in other teachers’ classes.”
  4. Desire to work autonomously: “I’d rather just work by myself — I have my own style.” 

These are all valid concerns and could undoubtedly get in the way of collaboration. Experts suggest many solutions. School leaders could conduct trust-building activities and provide more training, or teams could utilize discussion protocols to keep conversations positive. There are a plethora of team-building solutions. Go ahead and do a Google search for “building collaborative teams.” I got more than 3 million results. In other words, we are not at a loss for solutions. Though it is hard to find a solution before you’ve clearly defined the root causes of the “problem.” Why do we distrust each other? Why do we fear criticism and critique? Does it really matter whose students perform better?

Through my research, I found that one of the reasons we struggle with collaboration actually is very simple: We want to retain their relationships and friendships and fear that having critical discussions about instructional practices will be too contentious and possibly endanger those relationships. We don’t all teach the same, and when we discuss instruction, especially lessons plans we have personally created, critical dialog is likely to offend someone. I might offend the department chairperson who makes key decisions about scheduling and distributes resources. I might offend my friend who teaches next door to me. Then there is the first-year teacher who I want to encourage and not discourage. Part of working in schools is creating and maintaining relationships, but we often avoid critical discussions of pedagogy, assessment and student achievement to preserve those relationships.

The glitch is, when teams avoid conflict, they miss out on the benefits of cognitive conflict and the learning it produces. Researchers have found that in their efforts to maintain harmony and “get along,” teams avoid any real discussion of differing opinions or divergent thinking (De Lima, 2001). Unfortunately, without dissent and divergent thinking, we suppress creativity and innovation.

Let’s go back to Google. This time try Google Scholar and search for “forgetting about friendship” (use the quotation marks). As you will see, researchers have been looking at the role of friendship in professional learning communities and teacher-based teams. It turns out, I think a little ironically, that our efforts to maintain harmony and create friendships are actually getting in the way of collaboration and learning. In order for practice to change and reforms to take hold, we need to go beyond comfortable conversations and get used to difficult conversations that challenge practice. Conflict and debate are inherent to social interaction and promote change; teacher teams are no different (De Lima, 2001). 

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The Teaching Channel provides video resources for teachers including this one showing an effective teacher team in action.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.


References

De Lima, J. A. (2001). Forgetting about friendship: Using conflict in teacher communities as a catalyst for school change. Journal of Educational Change, 2(2), 97-122. 

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10/5/2017

ENCORE: There’s More than One Way to Scramble an Egg

By: Virginia Ressa

Editor's note: This blog was originally published on June 14, 2017, but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post so everyone gets a chance to read this staff favorite.

ThinkstockPhotos-466406260.jpgI like to think of myself as a “lifelong learner,” but my husband keeps finding ways to challenge this notion. Do I really want to learn about classic '70s rock music? I’m fairly sure I could have lived without learning how to tile a foyer — though it did turn out pretty well. A while ago, he was watching cooking shows, finding recipes for “us” to try out. I was game for trying new recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but my repertoire is definitely limited.

In the course of our mini adventure through cooking shows and new recipes, my husband told me about a video of Gordon Ramsay demonstrating how to make the perfect scrambled egg. Wait. I know how to scramble eggs. I’ve been scrambling eggs since I was a teenager. It’s simple, and there really is just one way to make scrambled eggs…right?

As adults, there are some things we’ve been doing for such a long time or so often that we have come to believe there is just one way to do that task, and we already know how. Teachers often think about their classrooms and instructional practices this way. We know what works, so we keep using the same methods over and over. Once we have found a practice that works well, we recreate it with each group of students with the underlying notion, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But is your method for teaching addition using buttons as manipulatives the only way to do it? Is it the most effective? What if you talked to other elementary teachers and asked what their best practices are? Maybe there’s another method that might also work well?

I eventually acquiesced and agreed to watch the video on scrambling eggs. I found out that there are, indeed, other ways to scramble eggs. There was Chef Ramsay using a pot instead of a nonstick frying pan. He had a spatula but not the flat kind I use to make eggs; he used the rubber kind that I mix things with. The most surprising part of his technique was the addition of crème fraiche. I was incredulous — I had never heard of anyone making eggs this way. I immediately got out the eggs, butter, a small pot, the spatula that Ramsay said to use and a container of sour cream (turned out I was all out of crème fraiche). I don’t know if I had set out to prove Ramsay wrong or if I was really intrigued about a new way of scrambling eggs. Of course, the eggs were really good. Light and fluffy, with a bit of a rich flavor added by the sour cream. Not only was Ramsay right, so was my husband. I had to swallow my pride and admit that there is more than one way to scramble an egg. Now, almost every Sunday, I make really good scrambled eggs for our brunch. I’ve experimented with some variations, like sour cream, and have found some small changes that work for me. I’m just confident enough to think I can improve on what Ramsay does.

When we think about our personal and professional lives, there are probably dozens of these types of everyday things we do that we would never consider doing differently. We have routines that we build into our classroom expectations because we think they work well. How do you help students get ready to leave the classroom? Do they wait at their desks for the bell? Do you have them line up along the tape on the floor? Here is a video from a teacher who uses music to focus her students on lining up for lunch. This is probably much more effective than the rush of middle schoolers I had waiting to push the door open and run to the lunchroom. Beyond classroom management, we also become comfortable with how we teach content. How do you teach the basic concepts of your subject area? Do you use a set of graphic organizers every year? Could you integrate technology to make the use of graphic organizers more effective? My point is simply that there are always other techniques to consider. Find out what your colleagues are doing. Check out the Teaching Channel for videos of all types of classroom practices. Take time to think about the teaching and learning happening in your classroom and how you might experiment with new ways of doing things that have become accepted practice.

If we are going to profess the benefits of being lifelong learners to our students, we need to be willing to be lifelong learners as well. I rewatched Ramsay’s video this morning and saw that it has more than 22 million views. Maybe we have more lifelong learners in our midst than I thought. In case you are feeling the need to learn how to do something differently, here’s an article from The New York Times with a series of videos about how to wash your hair. Yes, there is more than one way to wash your hair.  

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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9/28/2017

GUEST BLOG: Using Virtual Backpacks to Help Students Explore Their Futures — Andrea Richison, Zanesville City Schools

By: Guest Blogger

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As an Ohio school counselor, one of my favorite roles is the promotion of college and career readiness. Currently, I serve a high school population where college and career awareness is on the forefront of many of my students’ minds. However, I previously served a kindergarten through sixth grade population. There was nothing more exciting than watching third- or fourth-graders explore their strengths for the first time and talk about what kinds of schooling could be in their future—whether that be a four-year college or a career-technical program. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m passionate about planting the seeds of career planning in our students. Witnessing a student light up with excitement when she tells you about her plans to be an engineer, a cosmetologist or a physician is one of the reasons I chose my own career as a school counselor.

However, there are always those students who are harder to reach. The ones that you ask, “What are your plans?” and they just look at you and shrug their shoulders. This used to frustrate me to no end. Surely, they must have some idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives? But the reality that I have found is that some students have no idea where to start when it comes to college and career planning. That’s when, as a counselor, it’s time to step in and help them explore their interests and what may be a good fit for their skill sets. Last year, as the freshman and sophomore counselor at Zanesville High School, I got the opportunity to use the OhioMeansJobs backpack tool in ninth and 10th grade English classes.

Once my students set up their accounts with OhioMeansJobs, they quickly got started on the first step of building their backpacks, the “career cluster inventory.” Students indicated how well they enjoyed certain activities, such as fishing and drawing. At first, there were some complaints about the number of questions, but after a while, the once bustling room was hushed except for the sound of clicking from their computers. It was interesting to watch students’ faces as they read over activities and decided their levels of interests. And, as they began to finish their inventories, they started chattering about the “career clusters” that showed up on top of their lists.

A large number of students in one ninth grade English class received “Agricultural and Environmental Systems” as their top cluster. The term agriculture was new to some students. When one student asked questions, I directed him to click on the cluster. The nice thing about the inventory is that each cluster contains a hyperlink to different explanations and occupations within that category. In this case, when the student clicked on the agriculture cluster, it pulled up the field of “mining, oil, and gas.” The student was actually very familiar with oil work because many of the parents in our school are employed by the oil industry. The student was introduced to new vocabulary and able to make a real-life connection to the career cluster.

For me, the backpack is refreshing because of the interactive, real-life application that students have the opportunity to explore. What’s even more convenient is the ability to save their results to refer back to and further engage in activities. In the span of one class period, we were only really able to fully explore the career cluster tool. However, once this result is saved, a student can log in to the account and complete other activities that stem from the cluster of interest. For example, a student can later go back and see the saved top career cluster and then pick a career to build a career plan from.

The backpack is an excellent tool for a student who needs a starting point. While it’s exciting when a freshman already has a career path in mind, it’s not always a reality. Also, even those who do have plans may discover career clusters that are better in line with their interests and strengths. While the backpack may not lead to a concrete career choice, it gets the wheels turning and allows students to have hands-on experience with career assessments, which are valuable for both the counselor and the student to spark conversations for future college and career planning. I feel like I’m just getting my feet wet with the backpack tool because there are so many different aspects to explore. But, I’m excited to keep learning and hope to spark my passion for college and career planning in my students.

Andrea Richison is a high school counselor for Zanesville City Schools. Currently she works with grades 9-12 as a student success counselor.

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9/25/2017

GUEST BLOG: Reflections on Straight A Innovation — Spiraling Forward — Dr. Peggy Sorensen and Dr. Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio Department of Education

By: Guest Blogger

ThinkstockPhotos-179288743.jpg“It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!” This is what we say when some new thing — an innovation — is likely to make a difference in the way we do things. In fact, selling bread as a collection of single slices made many things different. Sliced bread made sandwiches a standard size. Sliced bread meant an evenly toasted result popping up from toasters. Sliced bread was easier for children too young to use sharp knives.

And yet, we know one grandmother who sent her son back to the store when he brought home the first sliced loaf. She argued that it would get stale too quickly. Over time, bakers learned to make sliced bread last longer by adding preservatives (and subtracting some nutrition and fiber-containing bran). Generations came to accept that bread comes in plastic bags filled with soft white slices and stays soft for days. Between 1900 and 1970, sales of flour shifted from being 95 percent for use by home bakers to 15 percent, as the factory-made sliced version became accepted. Henry Ward Beecher described this change saying, “What had been the staff of life for countless ages had become a weak crutch” (Flamming, 2009, pp. 109-110).

But this is not the end of the story. As middle class Americans traveled the world, they experienced other foods and cultures. By 1973, James Beard noted new interest in a more wholesome and less standardized bread product. Some Americans were drawn to the yeasty aroma and better nutrition (Flamming, 2009, p. 110). This example shows that innovation does not travel a straight line. Change tends to be more of a spiral. While change takes us “forward” across time, innovations also go back and forth, like a pendulum. Our forward path looks more like a coiled spring or spiral.

Change in education is similar. Our forward path also moves back and forth in response to changing concerns. This pendulum movement turns our forward motion into a spiral. The Ohio Department of Education has just finished four years of funding innovative projects through the Straight A Fund. This is a good time to look at how we have spiraled forward.

As we look at the results of Straight A innovation, we see two sets of opposite forces. One set moves back and forth between making things standard and making them more personal. The other set teeters between academic learning and vocational education. Neither of these tensions is new, but today, we have a new context. Today’s school context is one of leaving behind a world of assembly lines and preparing students for a world of information.

Industrial-age learning moved students from classroom to classroom in an assembly line fashion. Schools were organized as if every 8-year-old had roughly the same needs and abilities. Teachers understood that not every student was the same, but if they aimed for the middle, most students could learn something. This has never been the entire picture of American education (Schneider, 2015). Even though many see public schools as being factory-like, they also were influenced by educators like Piaget and Dewey and theorists like Vygotsky and Montessori, who urged more consideration for individual student needs (Educational Broadcasting System, 2004).

Today, our Straight A projects can use technology to better meet the needs of each child. Montessori proposed classrooms with organized learning activities and a teacher trained to observe student behavior and provide the right lesson at the right time. Some of our Straight A projects have used technology to evaluate students’ needs and provide the right lessons at the right time. This includes individualized programs in early reading and mathematics (Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District’s DigiLit, Beaver Creek City School District’s e-Spark, Painesville City Local School District’s Early Literacy Initiative) and technology-rich “learning zones” or labs (Canal Winchester Local School District, Beaver Creek City School District’s School Labs).

In some cases, technology prompted major building renovations. For example, Mentor Exempted Village School District has worked every year since its 2015 grant to update more classrooms. This includes current technology. But, it also includes flexible spaces for individual student work, whole-class teaching or small, student-led groups. As teachers have learned to use technology, they have started writing their own online courses. This means students don’t have to choose between two courses scheduled at the same time. North Canton City School District moved from desks and tables to “flexible furniture” that can easily be moved into different groupings.

Putting students first also has inspired innovation in education for groups with special needs. Cincinnati City School District and Princeton City School District trained more teachers to teach students learning English as their second language. Their project also translated forms and notices into other languages. These have been shared online with schools across the state.

Two projects use computers to help students with disabilities. The Autism Model School is using special online comic books to help students understand what they read. The Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County is helping parents and teachers work together to support student behavior. Its online system lets it share videos of the students. Then, professionals can suggest ways to help that work at home and at school.

The second set of tensions is between academic and vocational focus. When public education for all children was developing, John Dewey was promoting manual education. Dewey saw manual training as important to social and intellectual development. He suggested this would enhance other learning. Others ran with the notion of students attaining employment skills for trades. This led to the development of industrial arts and vocational education for some students and more academic education for others.

Many people today believe we need more vocational education. Some talk about children who do poorly in academics but “know how to work with their hands,” or “are really good at tinkering with cars.” What this misses is that cars today are tuned by computers. Many things that used to be handmade are now digitized. If we want to get students ready to go to work, we must know what jobs look like today.

What we learned through our Straight A innovation schools is that job skills and certifications have changed. Trumbull County Career Center replaced a carpentry program with a program in personal training. It added aspects that focused on building a healthy working environment for staff and students. Tri-Rivers Career Center developed new programs in FANUC robotics — based on the hiring needs of local industry. Tri-Rivers also is showing other career centers how to meet their own local industry needs. Butler County Educational Service Center and Mentor Exempted Village have added courses in gaming, coding and story booking.

We see that business doesn’t need skills in transcription, key punch or shorthand. It does value management skills, like the Six Sigma program. Noble Local School District used GPS tracking and computer analysis to merge transportation systems with other districts. Their efficiencies and cost savings were evaluated for them through Lean Ohio’s Six Sigma program, which demonstrates the value of this new certification program in schools across the state.

Moving forward, many of those who implemented Straight A projects will be watching for changes in test scores and graduation rates but also expect to see other changes for students after they graduate. They tell us that they hear from other districts interested in what they are doing. Innovation takes time to take root and bring change. We anticipate a deeper understanding of results over time. 

Dr. Susan Tave Zelman is an executive director at the Ohio Department of Education. You can reach her at Susan.Zelman@education.ohio.gov. Dr. Peggy Sorensen is a social sciences research specialist at the Department. She can be reached at Peggy.Sorensen@education.ohio.gov.


References

Educational Broadcasting System. (2004). Concept to Classroom. Retrieved from WNET Education: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/index_sub4.html

Flamming, J. A. (2009). The taste for civilization: Food, politics and civil society. University of Illinois Press.

Schneider, J. (2015, October 10). American schools are modeled after factories and treat students like widgets. Right? Wrong. The Washington Post.

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9/19/2017

How Stakeholders Impacted Ohio’s ESSA Application

By: Chris Woolard

Recently, the State Board of Education unanimously approved Ohio’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) consolidated plan application and the Ohio Department of Education submitted it to the U.S. Department of Education. It will have four months to review, comment and possibly ask for additional information. Many observers had thought that the feds would take a hands-off approach to state applications, but early indications suggest that is not the case. Based on feedback that other states have received, the federal peer review process has been technical and critical, and reviewers have been stringently interpreting the ESSA law.

It is important to point out that the ESSA application is a technical document, with several prescriptive and complicated technical requirements. The ESSA “state consolidated plan” is the application that all states must complete in order to receive hundreds of millions of federal dollars in education support. The vast majority of this money is then sent to schools and districts, with a focus on supporting disadvantaged students, activities such as English language arts and math supports, after-school programs, teacher professional development, additional resources for homeless students and a host of other programs. At its heart, ESSA is a bill about equity that truly embraces ensuring success for “every student.” Once approved by the U.S. Department of Education, Ohio is tasked with implementing the technical requirements of the federal law.

It has been more than 18 months since Congress passed the law, and now that Ohio submitted our plan, it is a good time to reflect on how stakeholders played a major role in contributing to Ohio’s ESSA submission.

Ohio originally planned to submit our application for the first deadline in April 2017 and hosted a plethora of statewide stakeholder opportunities. After 10 regional meetings with 1,500 participants, 11 webinars with 3,100 participants, an online survey that received 11,200 responses and the initial posting of the draft, stakeholders asked for more time to dig into discussion on the draft. In response to this request, Ohio delayed its submission and conducted a thorough review of the draft with the State Board of Education and major education associations.

After the first draft of the application was published, stakeholders expressed concerns about many issues that were not addressed in the draft template. Many of the high-level concerns that were expressed were issues that are not specifically required to be addressed in the ESSA template. For example, stakeholders were very clear that testing concerns were on the mind of educators. Since then, the state superintendent convened an advisory group to make recommendations, and the General Assembly has removed the requirement for the fourth and sixth grade social studies tests. Likewise, many educators expressed concerns about the educator evaluation system. ESSA removed the requirement for teacher evaluations linked to student growth, so it is now a state decision on how to define effective teaching. The Educator Standards Board was convened and made a series of recommendations to improve the evaluation system. Both the testing and evaluation system concerns were brought to the Department’s attention — however, neither were directly related to the ESSA application. Stakeholders have since provided, and will continue to provide, major input on these issues that are Ohio policies — not ESSA policies. The work continues, even though it is not directly reflected in the ESSA application.

Outside of these larger issues, stakeholders played a major role in developing the technical details of the ESSA plan. Stakeholders don’t agree on all issues, and on many topics, the Department received competing feedback on all sides of a related issue. The Department’s role was to synthesize the feedback received, align it with Ohio-built policies that are already in law and build a plan that meets the federal requirements.

There were several ESSA flexibilities that stakeholders strongly supported. For example, ESSA provides flexibility for advanced eighth grade students who are taking algebra I in middle school to take the corresponding algebra I test rather than also taking the eighth grade test — thus double testing. Ohio has been a national leader in this based on a previous waiver, and nearly one-third of eighth graders are enrolled in algebra I. Not only that, Ohio previously received an expanded waiver to allow this same flexibility with other end-of-course exams (English language arts I, biology, etc.). This represents a major reduction in the number of tests taken, and Ohio is proposing to continue with this policy.

Many stakeholders have expressed concerns that school report cards are too focused only on state test results. While ESSA continues to have rigid requirements on using information from state tests to ensure that all students are succeeding, it does provide additional flexibilities that paint a larger picture about what is happening in schools. Ohio is proposing using chronic absenteeism (some districts already are doing great work) as the ESSA-required measure of school quality and student success, while piloting school climate surveys and other measures that may be included on future report cards when technically feasible and data are available. Many school administrators asked for the opportunity to share more about the good things happening across their districts in a structured way through the report cards. Several districts have quality profiles that describe accomplishments and other important details (see example). Ohio is addressing this feedback and, in fact, will include links on the upcoming report cards for district profiles and narratives.

Another major change in ESSA is the federal government walking away from prescriptive models on how to improve our most struggling schools. Instead, districts and schools will have much more discretion in designing local, evidence-based improvement plans based on the needs of their students. During the feedback process, stakeholders asked for more information and details on this process to ensure their ability to have local plans and produce locally driven evidence of strategies. Additionally, the Department has committed to developing a local engagement toolkit to assist schools and districts in collaborating with their communities to determine priorities for Title funds and setting goals for continuous improvement.

These are just a few examples, but throughout the ESSA template, there are areas where stakeholders directly impacted the application, including phasing in the N-size adjustment, using parent surveys to improve the report cards, focusing on connecting 21st century grants to local school improvement processes, exempting English learners from accountability measures during their first two years, exploring military readiness as a college and career readiness measure, updating and refining several report card measures (Value-Added, Gap Closing, high school indicators), and providing support for disadvantaged students to participate in advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement courses.

The Department is encouraged by the thousands of Ohioans who dedicated their time and expertise to improving our plan for supporting districts, schools and students across the Buckeye state. So…a giant THANK YOU to all the educators and stakeholders who have provided feedback in this process. The process doesn’t end here though. The main work of ESSA occurs with the development and implementation of local improvement plans. Stakeholder engagement also will be a crucial element of those local plans.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

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9/13/2017

Superintendent's Blog: Busting the Myth - Toward Educational Success for Low-income Students

By: Paolo DeMaria

ThinkstockPhotos-587513796.jpgI still run into people who buy in to the myth that low-income students can’t achieve academically at the same level as other students. I’m so discouraged and sad when this happens — because it is fundamentally wrong. What’s worse is that this myth gets a boost every time someone runs a correlation between levels of poverty and academic achievement and doesn’t take the time to explain what it means.

This week, the state will issue school and district report cards reflecting the 2016-2017 school year. The release of report cards is an important annual occurrence that gives Ohioans an opportunity to gauge how well schools are doing relative to academic standards established by the state as measured through the state’s system of standardized tests. Ohioans should understand that the report cards are only one gauge of the quality of our schools and that many aspects of the outcomes achieved by students are not reflected on the report cards. A more complete picture of what happens in schools can be gained by visiting them and talking with teachers, administrators, parents and students. (On this year’s report cards, for districts that have chosen to do so, we are including links to district profiles that allow users to see more information about accomplishments and achievements that go beyond report card measures.)

Each year, at the time the report cards are released, the misleading and incorrect assertion is made that the only thing that state tests measure is students’ socio-economic circumstances. Number crunchers will engage in the annual ritual of running a correlation between district performance and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and boldly pronounce, with a sweeping statement, that schools with higher concentrations of economically disadvantaged students do worse on state tests.

For example, one report[1] released after last year’s report cards contained a graph (shown at the end of this post) that took data for 1.6 million students being educated by about 100,000 teachers in more than 3,000 buildings in more than 600 districts and reduced them to seven data points. These seven data points plot the average performance of districts within an average of district percentages of low-income students within seven specified ranges of the state’s Performance Index measure. The report then concluded that “the graph clearly shows the strong negative relationship between PI score and economic disadvantagement.”

There is no doubt that poverty impacts children’s knowledge acquisition and skill development in profound and significant ways. Poverty is related to housing instability, homelessness, food insecurity, adverse health issues, traumatic event experiences, brain development and much more. All these issues create challenges to students’ success in school. Many high-poverty students start kindergarten not ready to learn and often stay behind as they advance from grade to grade. The persistent achievement gaps have implications for these children’s lives, as well as their communities, our state and our nation.

If, rather than looking at seven data points, we look at every school, and even every student, we see reasons for hope. We can find schools that have a better handle on how to help students overcome the challenges of poverty and reach success. We see low-income students who achieve at the advanced and accelerated levels. We see the possibilities of what could be rather than being confined by what is.

Consider the graph below developed using 2015-2016 school year data. It has more than 3,200 data points. Each one represents one school building. Why is it different from the previously discussed graph? Because it shows details. It shows that what is going on in Ohio’s schools shouldn’t be reduced to seven data points. Clearly, there are school buildings that have high percentages of economically disadvantaged students that, in fact, have higher performance indices (see the red circled area). This graph gives us the evidence to believe that, in fact, it is possible to help low-income students achieve success and that possibility exists to bust any correlation that might exist.

9-13-17-Scatterplot.PNG

Click graph to enlarge.

Are there enough of these successful schools? Of course not. But by knowing they exist, believing that others can achieve the same outcomes and applying our skills at understanding the dynamics of schools and transformation, we can make progress. Solid research and analysis (see my favorites listed below) shed some light on what it takes. It’s about excellent leadership; high standards and expectations; quality curriculum and instructional practices; a culture of collaboration and excellence among staff; school climate that is focused on learning; supports for students; parent and community engagement and partnerships; and a commitment to continuous improvement. Notably, it isn’t about top-down mandates or significant additional financial resources. The right combination of reform strategies for each school has to emerge from the collective work of the staff in the school with input from the local community in order to ensure the necessary buy-in and increase the likelihood of success.

This kind of customized school improvement is hard work. No two schools are alike, and the specific mix of strategies will be different for every school. Fortunately, there is renewed energy around taking on the challenge of improving educational outcomes for low-income students. The Ohio Department of Education and the State Board of Education are committed to this work. By all of us joining together with the shared belief that we can make a difference, and with the knowledge that committed school teams can identify and implement evidence-based solutions that will work, we can make a real difference for thousands of students and for our future. 

Ohio Education Policy Institute, FY16 Local Report Card Initial Analysis

9-13-17-Line-graph.png

Click graph to enlarge.

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.


List of Favorite Resources:

Baroody, Karen, Rho, Lois and Huberlie, Ali. Back from the Brink: How a Bold Vision and a Focus on Resources Can Drive System Improvement. Education Resource Strategies. April 2015. https://www.erstrategies.org/cms/files/2862--lawrence-case-study-back-from-the-brink.pdf

Berger, Ron. An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH. 2003.

Bryk, Anthony S. et. al. Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2015.

Elmore, Richard. School Reform from the Inside Out: Policy, Practice, and Performance. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2004.

Hagelskamp, Carolin and DiStasi, Christopher. Failure is Not an Option: How Principals, Teachers, Students and Parents from Ohio’s High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools Explain Their Success. Public Agenda. 2012. https://www.publicagenda.org/files/FailureIsNotAnOption_PublicAgenda_2012.pdf

Levin, Ben. How to Change 5000 Schools: A Practical and Positive Approach for Leading Change at Every Level. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2008.

Meyer, Peter. Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s high-performing urban high schools. Thomas Fordham Institute. December 2012. http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/NeedlesHighSchoolEdition_6_0.pdf

Suffren, Quentin and Wallace, Theodore. Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s high performing, high-need urban schools. Thomas Fordham Institute. May 2010. http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/Needles_Full_Report_10.pdf


[1] Fleeter, Howard. FY16 Local Report Card Initial Analysis. Ohio Education Policy Institute (OEPI). Sept. 20, 2016.

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9/7/2017

Are You Asking the Right Questions to Drive Continuous Improvement?

By: Jo Hannah Ward

9-7-17-Purple-Rings.pngHumans have an innate desire to learn and improve. We work to improve our health through nutrition and exercise. We also might set a schedule or use tools and apps to collect data and track our progress on our smart phones. We focus on changing our behavior (exercise and nutrition) to impact our data (the number of steps to help improve our cardiovascular system and our weight). Sometimes we join a gym, engage in group activities or obtain a coach. Along the way, we also ask ourselves and others in our lives questions that might lead to greater improvement: “What did I do to lose a pound this week?” or “How can I find time to walk in the evenings?” As we work toward our goals, we are continuously evaluating our personal data and engaging with others in ways that help us reach our goals. Continuous improvement in schools is very similar.

Just as we each have personal goals for which we continuously strive, Ohio’s education system has goals. Our focus for education is that all students begin school ready for kindergarten, actively engage in learning and graduate prepared for college and careers. Each district and school is working toward those goals and toward ensuring all student groups have equal access to high-quality instruction. Schools and districts that want higher achievement for all students should continuously plan for improvement.

The Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) is the process by which Ohio’s schools and districts examine their data and continually respond to it with plans for improvement. Although Ohio’s most challenged schools use the Ohio Improvement Process, all schools and districts can use the process as a means of continuous improvement. The following items are seven key elements of the Ohio Improvement Process:

  1. Aligns vision, mission and philosophy. Every step of the continuous improvement planning process should always consider the vision, mission and philosophy or beliefs of the district and community school. The questions should be, “Do the strategies, actions and resource allocations support our vision, mission, beliefs and goals?” and “Are our behaviors and decisions congruent with our vision, mission, beliefs and goals?”
  2. Is continuous and recursive. Districts fully committed to high performance do not view continuous improvement as a process that occurs in addition to what they do. Continuous improvement is the core work at every level of the organization and, by nature, repeats itself.
  3. Relies on quality data interpretation. An effective planning process is based on the ability of the district, schools and classrooms to use data to name critical problems, develop a focused plan, check progress of the plan and evaluate the plan’s impact.
  4. Is collaborative and collegial. Every plan gets its strength from the people who are committed to it. Engaging the community in understanding the plan will make it stronger and help others become invested in making it work. Make sure the plan reflects the joint thinking and planning of collaborative teams that include businesses, community members, students and families who support plan development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
  5. Ensures communication with those who are affected by the success of the district or community school at each stage. Districts and community schools may have the same needs that their communities or school buildings have. Gathering their feedback may help the planning team better understand the situation. Multiple opportunities for communication and feedback should be included throughout the process.
  6. Produces one focused, integrated plan that directs all district or community school work and resources. Districts and community schools have had many plans (for example, technology, professional development, Title 1, Title 2, special education, career and technical education) for many reasons (basis of funding applications or federal or state requirements). Multiple plans diminish the district’s or community school’s ability to respond to the most critical needs. By developing a single, focused plan that responds to the most critical needs, the district or community school will prioritize resources to achieve lasting success.
  7. Sets high expectations for changes to student performance and adult practices. The purpose of having a thoughtful planning process is to produce a plan that will change student and adult behaviors. This leads to improved instructional practice and student performance.

More than 400 districts and thousands of schools across Ohio engage in the Ohio Improvement Process. The Ohio Improvement Process is now 10 years old (Happy Birthday OIP). The Department has improved and updated the process through a continuous feedback loop, illustrated in the graphic at the beginning of this article.

For the 10-year anniversary, we have the biggest update coming your way soon! We have simplified the four stages and five steps in our current model into a single model. In the model, we move between steps in a not-so-linear fashion. Here is a sneak peek at the new look of the upgraded model:

OIP-New-Model-1.png

For comparison, here is the current model:

Old OIP Model

You will notice in the new model that supporting implementation is key along every turn. Please stay tuned — in the near future, we will release updated Ohio Improvement Process resources, tools and visuals. 

Jo Hannah Ward is director of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps Ohio’s most challenged schools and districts improve outcomes for their students.

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8/23/2017

GUEST BLOG: Remember Who You Are - Dustin Weaver, 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year

By: Guest Blogger

ThinkstockPhotos-825216570.jpgOne of my favorite pastimes — both personally and professionally — is reflecting on my experiences. In many ways, the 2016-2017 school year was like all the others throughout my teaching career — incredibly fulfilling and extremely challenging.

But last year also was quite different. Serving as Ohio’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, I experienced opportunities that I had never dreamed of. I traveled to Dallas; Washington, D.C.; Coronado, California; and Huntsville, Alabama for amazing professional development seminars. I stood in the Oval Office and met the president of the United States. I also met 55 other Teachers of the Year who are just like you and me: they love teaching and, above all, they love serving young people and making a difference in their lives. 

Throughout my time with these educators, I have learned — over and over again — the value of educators; an understanding that takes me all the way back to my student teaching internship. A little more than a decade ago, my mentor teacher asked me, “Do you value what you do?” I have no idea what prompted her inquiry. I do know that my answer was, and is, overwhelmingly yes!

I value teachers because educator quality matters. A formidable amount of research has conclusively determined that teacher effectiveness is the number one variable that influences student learning outcomes. Because of this, we must continually increase the intentionality of our instructional practices, striving to become better teachers every period of every day. In other words, we must be the growth mindset we wish to see in the world.

I value teachers because of the ways in which they can and do impact the whole child. Almost without exception, our students are hurting. Many have encountered poverty, drugs, homelessness and abuse, and even our best and brightest often lack self-confidence. Thus, teachers must be extremely intentional not only in terms of their instructional practices but also in building strong relationships with their students.

While in Huntsville, I attended a dinner event at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. A few of the town’s residents had graciously prepared some delectable desserts for the Teachers of the Year. To be honest, I was exhausted from a long day of activities, and I hoped to mingle for just a couple minutes and then return to the dorm promptly to rest. However, after hearing I was from Ohio, one woman told me that I simply had to meet her husband. So, I did.

Mr. Saunders was from Ironton, not far from my hometown of Chillicothe. Like virtually everyone else in the room of several hundred people, he had served as an engineer for NASA. His travels had taken him from southern Ohio to New Orleans to Huntsville. I enjoyed listening to the stories of his engineering career, which he retired from at the age of 55. On a whim, I asked him what he had done since his retirement.

It turns out that, after a few years, he was offered a job as an engineering instructor at a local college. I asked him if he had any teacher stories. He proceeded to tell me of the time one of his students brought his father to meet him after graduation. The student proudly held out his degree and said, “Dad, you told me I couldn’t achieve this, but Mr. Saunders? He told me I could.” Throughout his story, he could not help but cry — and he was not alone. Mr. Saunders went on to tell me that, through all his incredible life events and accomplishments, he never experienced fulfillment that surpassed that which he felt as a teacher.

This event resonated deeply with me, and I struggled to understand why. Then, during a moment of reflection, it hit me. A few days earlier, I had watched “Moana” with my daughter. One of the recurring topics in “Moana” is the search for identity and the desire to know who you are and your place in the world.

As you begin the 2017-2018 school year, whether it’s your first or your 30th year in the classroom, do not lose sight of who YOU are. YOU are a teacher. YOU matter. YOU make a difference in students’ lives. Through your efforts, YOU can change your students’ life trajectories.

Best wishes for an outstanding school year! 

Dustin Weaver was an English teacher at Chillicothe High School when he was named the 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year. In the 2017-2018 school year, he stepped out of the classroom to become the principal of Chillicothe High School. To contact him, click here.

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