Cooking Up Curricula: Not Always Best From Scratch

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 12:04pm

Perhaps it's fair to expect that the best and most experienced gourmet chefs will write their own cookbooks and never use a prepared mix for any part of their recipes. But that particular preference for creative uniqueness has its limits. In New York City, there seems to be a prevailing notion that all teachers must develop curricula from scratch. That's neither practical nor wise.

When teachers join together, spend the time, and do the hard work of creating novel curricula and assessments, the results can be extraordinarily good. We've seen it - and participated in it. Professional learning communities can generate beautifully crafted solutions to their own schools' and students' needs, while honoring the rigor represented by new Common Core standards. But unfortunately, many urban schools face challenges that cause this organic curriculum development strategy to fail. The failure causes many new teachers unnecessary stress, and even worse, harms students.

We have found that a well-designed, rigorous curriculum developed externally but adopted and adapted by teachers to meet their students' needs best serves some urban schools. How does a principal decide whether to buy or to build? And now that we are moving to Common Core standards...


Great Principals Know Teaching Matters - and We Recognize Them

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 - 2:05pm

Great Principals come in a wide variety of personalities and styles - there is no single template. We celebrate them and their schools each year when we award our Elizabeth Rohatyn Prize, for which nominations will be accepted starting March 1.

Even with great variation among type, we see one especially important commonality among the finest principals. They understand to their core that teaching matters. Great principals are not always the building's classic instructional leader. But if they're not, they have one or more great instructional leaders at and on their side.

The most effective principals almost always set up systems to ensure that teachers are working in collaborative ways. Sometimes the collaboration is subtle, and sometimes, as we saw in our last two Rohatyn Prize Winners, teacher collaboration and continuous improvement are built into the school's DNA.

Collaboration is not an end in and of itself. It's about developing trust. Trust in schools makes it possible for people to grow. How?...


Moving Forward After a Deal’s Demise

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 6:08pm

There is every reason to bemoan the lost chance of a teacher evaluation deal last Thursday night, not the least of which is the hundreds of millions of dollars now derailed from educating children. Even more dollars may be at stake. Equally important, New York City has stalled in adopting a new evaluation system that can and should benefit teachers and students alike.

A strong, meaningful process for teacher feedback is critical to teacher development and retention. A great number of teachers, especially in their early years, suffer from the sinking sense that they are flying the plane alone with no support. I can attest to the feeling from my own personal experiences as a rookie teacher years ago.

The evaluation and feedback system that the teachers' union and New York State had apparently agreed to could have offered a strong starting point. While many teachers rightly fear value added analysis, which has been shown to be unreliable when used alone, this evaluation system offered multiple measures, including the use of local measures which could be designed to capture gains that may not show in state tests.

Just in the past month, the Gates Foundation issued a report that promoted a three-part methodology in evaluations, consisting of student performance, student evaluations of teachers, and observations of teachers in the classroom. The Gates...


Are you a smart consumer of data?

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - 5:08pm

by Evan O'Donnell, Director of Information and Technology

Teachers are often told to be careful consumers of data and to look at more than one source when identifying student learning problems.  This is good advice.  But while a one-stop shopping experience might be preferable, in practice these multiple sources are rarely found in the same place.  In most schools, when a student takes an assessment, the type of assessment determines where the data will go.

State testing data can be found in ARIS, while local assessments go into the teacher’s grade book.  Predictive assessments can be in Acuity, or in the assessment provider’s proprietary system.  This can make it difficult to look at different data sources together.  So, the challenge becomes how to take diverse products from many different aisles and put them in the same shopping cart.

As with any complex problem, sometimes simpler is better.  And there are some simple strategies for schools to use when incorporating student-level data in their instructional decision making.  Just follow the same strategies you use when buying groceries:

  1. Make a List & Budget
  2. Grow Organic
  3. Shop Local

First, make a list...


How 60 Kids, 3 Teachers, and 1 Innovative Principal are Improving Teacher Effectiveness

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 9:53am

2012 WinnerTeaching Matters is pleased to announce that Rose Kerr, principal of the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership (R861) is the recipient of the second annual Elizabeth Rohatyn Prize for Schools Where Teaching Matters. The $15,000 prize was presented to Ms. Kerr at the Fifth Annual Teaching Matters’ Forum for Principals based on the school’s innovative “Triad Model.”

The Triad Model is a teacher effectiveness initiative that puts three teachers in charge of comprehensive instruction for two classrooms.  This allows the team of teachers to own responsibility for everything from analyzing student performance data and developing interventions, to scheduling.  The initiative elevates teacher teaming  to a whole new level.  During her acceptance speech, principal Kerr explained the powerful effects of the Triad Model.  She emphasized that it didn’t necessitate additional funding to implement but simply required reorganizing...


Five Principals of Schools Where Teaching Matters

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Sunday, March 10, 2013 - 11:38am

Public voting has closed for the 2012 Elizabeth Rohatyn Prize for Schools Where Teaching Matters and the following five Finalists have been determined!

Evelyn Finn, Lavelle Preparatory Charter School, Staten Island, NY
Extensive and intensive training program for newly hired teachers emphasizing behavioral strategies, core content, pedagogy and more.

Cynthia Fowlkes, Academy of InnovativeTechnology HS, Brooklyn, NY
Peer observation process whereby teachers collaborate in content and grade level teams to improve student outcomes using Danielson Rubric (teacher evalmetric).  Teachers regularly observe peers and make recommendations related to practice. 

Rose Kerr, Staten Island School of Civic Leadership, Staten Island, NY
"Triad Model," a teacher effectiveness initiative puts three teachers in charge of comprehensive instruction of two classes, allowing them to share responsibility to analyze student performance, develop interventions and create learning opportunities.

Christopher Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia, PA
Inquiry-driven and project-based approach, using tech tools to allow all members of the school community to learn - students, teachers, parents.

Shimon Waronker, New American Academy, Brooklyn, NY
Unique human capital model...


Is Every Teacher a Literacy Teacher?: Reading and Writing in the Content Areas

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 5:18pm

by Dr. William L. Heller, Using Data Program Director
Cross-posted on the TERC Using Data blog

There is a growing philosophy that every teacher is a literacy teacher, a view that is becoming increasingly important as states prepare for the Common Core State Standards, which place an emphasis on content literacy.

But what does “every teacher is a literacy teacher” actually mean? Will science teachers be expected to put away the BunsenABC letters standing next to an abacus burners and take out the Balzac? Will social studies teachers be responsible for teaching contractions alongside the Constitution? If we misunderstand the idea, we may misapply it, and it may even lead to resentment among teachers who feel they are being asked to take on another’s responsibility.

Part of the confusion may stem from the tendency to refer to the English Language Arts (ELA) class as Literacy class. I’ve done it myself. After all, that is the class where students...


Rohatyn Prize for Schools Where Teaching Matters

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 4:57pm

Teacher effectiveness is a hot topic these days, but lately the conversation and investment has focused on teacher evaluation.  While measuring teachers’ effectiveness is a significant first step, more important will be to use this information effectively and strategically to develop, retain and reward effective teachers.

There is no question that teaching matters. Accordingly, this year’s $15,000 Elizabeth Rohatyn Prize will highlight innovations in the area of teacher capacity-building and effectiveness. Teaching Matters is seeking nominations to highlight replicable, school-based strategies that education leaders implement in this area.    

Teaching Matters urges you to nominate a school principal whose leadership results in an academically rigorous and innovative learning environment. This year’s submissions will be accepted from all publicly-funded K-12 schools in the New York metropolitan area (within a 100 mile...


Even Nothing Can Be Something

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Friday, November 4, 2011 - 9:43am

by Dr. William L. Heller, Using Data Program Director
Cross-posted on the TERC Using Data blog

There are often revelatory moments in the data inquiry process, where your analysis will lead to great insight and discovery in a way that challenges your assumptions and changes the way you think about teaching and learning in your school. There are other times when the data shows exactly what you werePen pointing to detail of bar graph showing flat results expecting, confirming your predictions and giving you valuable evidence in making your case to others. Many times, however, the data doesn’t show anything at all.

This can be somewhat dispiriting to an enthusiastic data team, but it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes the data may show nothing, but that’s still valuable information that puts you ahead of where you were before you looked. We don’t complain when our dentist finds no cavities, when the mechanic finds nothing wrong with our car, or when a medical test comes back negative. Similarly, in data inquiry...


A Conversation with Linda Darling-Hammond

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 11:32pm

Linda Darling-Hammond Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Linda Darling-Hammond. She is being honored by Teaching Matters as our 2011 Champion of Education and Innovation.  Below is an abridged transcript of our conversation on key issues in today's education landscape -- Common Core, Assessment, Teacher Quality and America's commitment to real education reform.  

Guastaferro: In a recent speech, you mention several high performing school systems in other countries organizing their curriculum around problem solving and critical thinking skills.  Would you say the US is moving in that direction with the adoption of Common Core standards? 

Darling-Hammond: I think that there is certainly a lot of good language in the common core about good critical thinking skills and problem solving and so on, but the end result is going to depend on many other factors. It's going to depend on what we do around building curriculum materials, it depends on whether we transform assessments in very important ways. It depends on what we do about professional development for teachers and for school leaders, because you can implement...