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Showing posts from 2014

Top Five Posts of 2014

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As I complete my first full year of blogging, here is a look at the top five posts of 2014.
#5) This is our finest hour
       This was published on November 21st.  This post recalled the Apollo 13 moving scene when the Ed Harris character said, "This is our finest hour".  I compared this to educators today that view the exciting things happening in the world of education today.  I said that today's educators do amazing things in (sometimes) difficult situations.
       I do believe that is our finest hour and we are fortunate to be teaching in this exciting time!
#4) Everyone has value
       I was inspired to write this post after seeing a middle school student in my district give a speech titled, "Everyone has value."  She told a story of a one-hundred dollar bill.  She said, if she asked anyone of they would like to have a one-hundred dollar bill, people would say, "Yes" because everyone recognizes its value.  And if she were to take that one…

Everything

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What's so good about public education in America?  Everything!


       I guess this is my post of platitudes.  
       Years ago I taught in a middle school that was located in an area where people were struggling to make ends meet.  I met with a lot of parents during my time at this school; and spoke with a lot of parents on the telephone if they weren't able to come to the school.  At the time, I was not a parent.  And, so, I did not have the perspective of a parent.
       We know that schools are challenged to raise the achievement of children from poor families.  We had a lot of these children at this school.  I would hear teachers say that the parents don't care about education and that is why the children did so poorly.  But when I met with the parents, I would hear a very different message.
       The parents told me that they wanted their children to do better then they did.  They wanted their children to get a good education and a good job.  One parent told…

Good Teaching is Still More Important Than Technology

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Lately, we've been spending a lot of time thinking about bringing more technology into our schools.  We say, "This is how students think."  "This is how we teach in the 21st century."  "Our students will be at a disadvantage if they don't use technology in the classroom."

       All of this may be true, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that newer and better technology is going to make our students smarter or better able to learn.  The single most effective tool that schools have to raise student achievement is the ability of teacher.  Good instruction trumps good technology every time.  The more we learn about educational technology; the more we come to understand that the technology is just a tool for learning--no different from the tools we've had in the past.

     Yesterday we had a meeting with mathematics supervisors in my state and during the meeting we had a Google Hangout discussion panel with three Educational Techn…

We're Never Satisfied

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I was going to title this post, "We're Never Happy", but I didn't think that that would be a good title for a post about a blog that is supposed to talk about the good things about education.  (I guess I haven't caught on to the idea of catching-the-reader's-interest-with-a-provocative-title.  Slow learner [!].)

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       A few years ago public schools had a rating system called Adequate Yearly Progress.  The idea was that we would measure the progress of schools by the percentage of students who were learning at or above grade level.  Each year the target (called the Annual Measurable Objective) for what was to be considered "Good" or "Making good progress" was raised a little bit.  The idea was that after 12 years, everyone would have a target of 100%--that is, 100% of the students in your school would be learning at or above grade level.

       People would say, "1…

Digital Learning

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This is an exciting time to be in education!
       Educators today grew up before the computer age (or as the computer age was beginning) and we  are witnessing the transformation to the digital learning environment in our schools.  We will forever be able to say, "We were there when... ...when our schools first got wireless internet...when our students were allowed to use digital devices for the first time...when we stopped using paper textbooks...when we first used "blended" resources and then went totally online...when we first allowed students to use cell phone as their "device" in school
       As with most major transitions, we are struggling with developing new rules and preparing for new unknowns.  Some of us are kicking and screaming our way to this new world of education; as other's of us can't run fast enough away from the past.
       And (I think) the public is struggling with what they expect from us (the public schools) as well.  P…

Students with Learning Disabilities Learn

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There was a time when students with learning disabilities were labeled dumb or weak or unmotivated or any one of a multitude of other names from people who didn't understand anything about learning disabilities.  Over my lifetime (I'm 51 years old), that has dramatically changed.


       I'm not a Special Educator, but today every educator knows something about students with disabilities.  This is because every single teacher in our public schools receives some training in working with students who have learning disabilities.  Over the past decade, schools have made an extra special effort to improve the achievement of students with learning disabilities because (under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001) schools were partially "graded" on their ability to educate students with learning disabilities.
       Today most schools have teachers who are specially trained to work with students who have learning disabilities.  These students are gi…

Clubs, Plays, and Sports

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The purpose of school is to educate.  The old saying of "Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic" still holds today.  Textbooks and grades and homework and studying and writing reports; school is about academics and learning and growing intellectually.

       Still, every teacher and every researcher will tell you that students who are involved in extracurricular activities at their school will tend to do better on the academic side of schooling than students who are not involved.

       From elementary to middle (and certainly in high school), schools offer a wide array of groups for students to join from sports to clubs to music groups and even academic teams (!).  Joining a group in school gives students a chance to see and play with different students who share a common interest.  Sometimes students who struggle with the academics and who would otherwise avoid coming to school will have great attendance because they want to be involved in their club or team--and they lik…

Invitation to Guest Blog

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My blog talks about the good things that our happening in our public schools.  Teachers and parents and students and administrators who spend a lot of time in public schools always have a lot of stories of successful students and hard-working people and teary-eyed, special moments.
       I want to invite you to share these positive stories on my blog.  It can be a couple of paragraphs, or it can be one thousand words.  Please feel free to add pictures and videos.  If you are interested, contact me via cincottapeter@gmail.com.  Write "Positive Stories" in the subject line.  Or send me a tweet @cincottapeter.        We know there is lots of great things happening in our public schools.  Let's hear what you have to say!



This is our finest hour

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Do you remember the scene in the movie Apollo 13 when guy said "It would be the worst disaster NASA's ever experienced." and the Ed Harris character said, "With all due respect sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour."?

       After all of the problems that had taken place over the past few days, he believed in his team at NASA and he believed that the astronauts would return safely to earth.  He knew that it would be the hearts and minds of the dedicated professionals at NASA that would ensure this outcome.

       Have you ever looked at your school or school district and said "This is our time to shine.", "We could be the best school district in the country.", "This is our finest hour."?

       Dedicated professional educators working together can do amazing things in the most difficult of situations.  We live in a world with answers to the most difficult educational questions.  Where we don't have clear answe…

We Must Do Better - Part 3

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This post is part three of a three-part series titled We Must Do Better.

       I love public schools; and there is a lot to cheer about when it comes to the ability of public schools to prepare students for their futures.  But there are three major areas in which public schools must improve if we want to see ourselves as providing a world-class education to our nation's children.

       1) We must raise the achievement of poor children.

       2) We must increase graduation rates.

       3) We must provide continuous, high-quality professional development to our teachers.

       It isn't that there aren't other areas that can and should improve in our public schools.  But improvement in these three areas are absolutely critical if we truly want our school system to be exceptional and of the highest quality for all of our students.

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We Must Do Better Part …

We Must Do Better - Part 2

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This post is part two of a three-part series titled We Must Do Better.

       I love public schools; and there is a lot to cheer about when it comes to the ability of public schools to prepare students for their futures.  But there are three major areas in which public schools must improve if we want to see ourselves as providing a world-class education to our nation's children.

       1) We must raise the achievement of poor children.

       2) We must increase graduation rates.

       3) We must provide continuous, high-quality professional development to our teachers.

       It isn't that there aren't other areas that can and should improve in our public schools.  But improvement in these three areas are absolutely critical if we truly want our school system to be exceptional and of the highest quality for all of our students.

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We Must Do Better Part 2…

We Must Do Better - Part 1

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This post starts a three-part series titled We Must Do Better.  I love public schools; and there is a lot to cheer about when it comes to the ability of public schools to prepare students for their futures.  But there are three major areas in which public schools must improve if we want to see ourselves as providing a world-class education to our nation's children.

       1) We must raise the achievement of poor children.

       2) We must increase graduation rates.

       3) We must provide continuous, high-quality professional development to our teachers.

       It isn't that there aren't other areas that can and should improve in our public schools.  But improvement in these three areas are absolutely critical if we truly want our school system to be exceptional and of the highest quality for all of our students.

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We Must Do Better Part 1 - Ac…

Should we abolish Grades in our schools?

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Why do schools assign grades?

       Grades and grading are such natural parts of our educational system, it seems almost silly to ask this question.  It's like asking, Why do people walk?, or Why do have eyes?  Still, if we think about the meaning and purpose of grades, I would say that most people have an answer to this question.

Grades provide a measure of success in a student's learning.

       Grades tell us our ability in a particular academic area.

Well...maybe that is what grades are supposed to do, but (in reality) do grades serve other purposes?  If you are a teacher, have you ever given a student a bad grade because the assignment was handed in late?  Have you ever taken points off of a test because a student was talking during the test?  In these instances, the grade was determined (at least partially) based on a student's behavior and not on the student's ability.

       As a student, have you ever received a good grade and learned nothing about the th…

Great Learners make Great Teachers

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In education, collaboration is powerful.  Teachers who seek out advice and ideas from multiple sources--within their school, within their school district, on twitter, via journal articles, etc.--probably have the most engaging classrooms.  Teaching is not a profession that expects perfection in the first year.  Indeed, it takes three to five years to develop the skills necessary to become a truly effective teacher.

       Hence, schools that allow for and encourage time for teachers to meet, are really encouraging teachers to constantly improve.  Our best teachers are always looking to improve and always searching for better ways to reach their students.  That's why teachers who love learning become great teachers.  They study how students develop ideas and they help students to build on what they know.

       The TEACH100 website has recently developed the Teach100Mentors.  They have honored me by allowing me to be part of this special group.  I am always glad to impart w…

Common Standards

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Well, I've held out this long.  I've tried to stay away from politics in this blog.  But I've talked about grades and grading; I've talked about national testing; and I've actually talked about Common Core before.  However, this time I want to share my thoughts about Common Core and address some of the counter-arguments that (in my opinion) are not sufficient to justify a school district or a state to refuse to use them.


      I support the use of the Common Core standards for English/Language Arts and for Mathematics.  I also support the common standards for Science that are coming to our public schools.  I support these standards because they were created by experts; they were vetted by experts; and they give all 50 million U.S. students a fair and equitable education.  We all know that education throughout the U.S. is not uniform because individual state standards vary widely.  Common Core sets a level playing field for all.  Additionally, these common stan…

Improved and Improving Students Abilities in Mathematics

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Over the past generation (or two), the mathematics abilities of students in the United States has improved.

     Take a minute and let that opening sentence sink in a little bit.  We are constantly hearing about how poor our nation's students do in mathematics compared to other nations; sometimes we hear the same comments compared to previous generations in the United States.  But the truth is, we are improving when in comes to mathematics abilities of our students.


        The graph (above) depicts the average NAEP mathematics scores for 4th and 8th grade students since 1990.  NAEP stands for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  It is sometimes referred to as the Nations Report Card.  Among many other subject areas, NAEP periodically tests the math abilities of 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students throughout the United States.  This test is given to a representative sample of students in every state.  It is a "low-stakes" test and only aggregate results a…

Caring Adults in Every School

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I always hear about the value of relationships in education.  When a teacher builds a strong relationship with her students, her students tend to have better achievement.  I've also (often) been reminded that some students do not have the positive influence of a responsible adult in their home life (or their outside-of-school-life) and YOU may be that only such person in that student's life.

     I think that teachers who take these point to heart are able to make a difference in the lives of their students.  I also think that they help to create a learning environment in which students are comfortable and more able to do their best all of the time.  And it makes sense...Wouldn't you rather have a teacher who cares about you as a person than having a teacher that barely knows your name?      I am a mathematics supervisor.  So often I see students who have always struggled in math class and they begin each school year thinking that they won't do well.  Some teachers…

Lower Dropout Rates

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According to a recent article from the Pew Research Center (see article here), the U.S. high school dropout rate dropped to 7% last year.  It has been going down since 2000 when the national dropout rate was 12%.  Educators know that earning a high school diploma may not be a ticket to live-long success.  But without one, you are pretty much guaranteed to experience many struggles in your life--not the least of which would be trying to build a middle-class life for you and your family.


     Hispanic and Black dropout rates have significantly declined since 1993.  Hispanic student (today) comprise 25% of our nation's public school students.  In 1993 their dropout rate was 33%.  Today it is down to 14%--and it has been steadily declining since 1998 despite a 50% rise in the population of young Hispanics in our country.  The dropout rate for Blacks has declined from 16% in 1993 to 8% today.  Black youth represent 16% of our public school students.

     Public schools do everythi…

Change What You Do (or else improvement will never happen)

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It seems we are constantly hearing and reading statistics that say American students are not achieving very well.  We rank low in reading and mathematics compared to other industrialized countries.  A quarter of our children never graduate from high school and the graduation numbers are even worse in college.  Our poor children and learning disabled children and minority children have lower rates of achievement than our white and economically advantaged children.

     All of this is true.  And we don't like it; and we want it to change.  We want all students to be successful; we want all students to graduate from high school; we want all students to be grow to be capable, responsible adults.  But this is a difficult problem--as is evidenced from the years and years of data with very little improvement on these fronts.

     Something has to change.  We cannot keep teaching the same way we have always taught and expect different results.  Teachers give their best everyday.  It …

Faculty Lounge of the 21st Century

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I am taking a MOOC (That is a: Massive Open Online Course) on Coaching Digital Learning (check it out here).  Recently they held a twitter chat and I said that the PLN's--Personal Learning Networks--are like the faculty lounge for the 21st century (see tweet here).  This tweet got a lot of retweets and favorites; a lot of people seemed to agree with this comment.



     I know that a lot of educators are on Twitter and I've heard (read) many say that they learn a lot from others on Twitter.  But, it is not just Twitter.  I believe that professional learning today and in the future will come from sources outside of our schools and school districts.  And many of these sources will be regular teachers with full class loads who also happen to be very well connected.  These are the teachers who tweet and blog and write books and speak at conferences and are always very willing to share their experiences.

     Back in August (2014) I planned a Professional Development session on d…

Three Wishes for Education

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As I begin my 27th year in education, I would like to look ahead and think about the three biggest things that I would like to see in education in the United States.  These things may happen before I retire (still a long way off), they may happen before I die (hopefully a longer way off [!] ); but I hope they happen.  So rub the lamp; here are my three wishes.

#1) Poor students learn just as much and just as well as rich students

     We are constantly bombarded with data that shows poor students having lower achievement than their richer peers.  We (in education) know why this happens.  It's not just that they lack money for adequate, nourishing food.  Students from poor families come to school in kindergarten already behind their richer peers.  They have less books in their home.  They have a higher percentage of parents who didn't finish high school and/or never went to college.  They live in more dangerous neighborhoods compared to rich kids.  They don't always hav…