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.
I 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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By: Guest Blogger
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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By: Guest Blogger
“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.
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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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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By: Paolo DeMaria
I 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 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.
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
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
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