Friday, November 25, 2011

US Secretary of Education Duncan Visits Wilde Lake High

I had the opportunity on Tuesday to meet Secretary Duncan and Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, on a visit to Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md. During the visit, Duncan and Posny observed classrooms and joined in a discussion with students, parents and community members about the importance of inclusion and closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities. The discussion was facilitated by Patty Daley, director of special education from the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) and James LeMon, principal at Wilde Lake.

During the discussion, Duncan and Posny probed students with a variety of questions aimed at drilling down to the reasons why students at the high school have been so successful, with a particular focus on the tremendous gains that Wilde Lake has made in the achievement measures of its special education students. Secretary Duncan observed that the faculty here is “absolutely committed to making sure that every student fulfills their academic and social potential.” When Alexa asked the students on the panel what makes special education students so successful at Wilde Lake, one student shared that the cultural stigma of being a special ed student had been eliminated and declared that it had been taken over by the notion that, “I am a student!” We know that Wilde Lake takes this belief very seriously, as more than 90 percent of their students spend more than 80 percent of the school day in a general education setting. 

Through the discussion, we learned that the staff at Wilde Lake, led by Principal LeMon and supported by Patty Daley, has taken extraordinary measures to establish and promote a culture of acceptance and individualized instruction within their school programming. They have taken purposeful steps to engage families in a meaningful way, even including them as stakeholders in professional development activities. The school community has a strong belief that each individual is a stakeholder. They routinely analyze student data, make instructional decisions based upon this data, and identify targeted interventions aimed both at supporting students who are falling behind and enriching those who need an extra push. They use research-based instructional practices to maximize the learning for all of their students, citing the use of Classroom Focused Improvement Process ( as one example. This targeted, “laser” focus of both Wilde Lake and HCPSS, led by the district’s superintendent, Dr. Sydney Cousin, has enabled an effective mainstreaming environment for all students with disabilities, recognizing that they can and should succeed. They have developed an expectation that all students are self-advocates.

Assistant Secretary Posny noted in her opening remarks that, “There is a greater tragedy than being labeled as a slow learner, and that is being treated like one.” Students with disabilities at Wilde Lake are not treated like slow learners, but are treated as equal partners in education with the same expectations for success as their peers. Truly, the mantra “I am a student!” is a pervasive part of the culture, and in that regard Wilde Lake should be a model for all schools across the country. (Source: Greg Mullenholz, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I am Thankful: A Principal's Top 10 List!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays!  I love its simple premise that we gather with the ones we love to give thanks for our many blessings. There’s no need to exchange gifts and few expectations beyond a properly cooked turkey, stuffing and a large enough TV to watch the football games. It is a day where we can focus on the people we love as we sit across from them and enjoy good conversation, laughter and a deliciously cooked meal. It is a wonderful opportunity for each of us to express how thankful we are for family, friends, and those we work with.

With this in mind, I wanted to thank the staff of Wilde Lake Middle School, the central office staff of the HCPSS, my McDaniel friends, my amazing wife, my incredible kids, my mom and dad and all of the wonderful people who read this blog whom I don't know. I am thankful for each of you and I am wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

Here is my Principal TOP 10 List of what I am thankful for as 
I head into the 2011 Thanksgiving Break. 
I am thankful for:

11. High fives and pounds from students, the daily laughs in the front office, working out solutions to problems, and seeing growth in faculty while initiatives move forward.

10. WLMS parents who are overwhelmingly positive about what we do here and when they are critical, they do it kindly.

9. A staff full of professionals who not only work hard but are still hungry to learn more.

8. Our custodial crew for keeping our school looking so beautiful!

7. The new teachers who have entered our WLMS community and have brought new ideas and fresh energy.

6. The students who are generally responsible, respectful, ready, safe and eager to learn.

5. The WLMS Leadership Team who are able to give me advice and counsel with a perspective unlike any one else’s.

4. The front office staff here at WLMS. Need I say more?

3. The talented content team leaders (Lindsay, Brett, Emily, Laura and Lauren!)

2. The hard working and amazing grade level team leaders (Joanna, Jeanette and Damisha!)

1. Lisa, Ann and Michele for helping me each and everyday!

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and, it is more than 10!

What would be on your top 10 list this year?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another Great Project: The Life of Leaf

How About Better Parents

NY Times OpEd
By Thomas L. Friedman

IN recent years, we’ve been treated to reams of op-ed articles about how we need better teachers in our public schools and, if only the teachers’ unions would go away, our kids would score like Singapore’s on the big international tests. There’s no question that a great teacher can make a huge difference in a student’s achievement, and we need to recruit, train and reward more such teachers. But here’s what some new studies are also showing: We need better parents. Parents more focused on their children’s education can also make a huge difference in a student’s achievement.

How do we know? Every three years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., conducts exams as part of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems — the most important skills for succeeding in college and life. America’s 15-year-olds have not been distinguishing themselves in the PISA exams compared with students in Singapore, Finland and Shanghai.

To better understand why some students thrive taking the PISA tests and others do not, Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the exams for the O.E.C.D., was encouraged by the O.E.C.D. countries to look beyond the classrooms. So starting with four countries in 2006, and then adding 14 more in 2009, the PISA team went to the parents of 5,000 students and interviewed them “about how they raised their kids and then compared that with the test results” for each of those years, Schleicher explained to me. Two weeks ago, the PISA team published the three main findings of its study: “Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.”
Schleicher explained to me that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.”

For instance, the PISA study revealed that “students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child ‘every day or almost every day’ or ‘once or twice a week’ during the first year of primary school have markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child ‘never or almost never’ or only ‘once or twice a month.’ On average, the score difference is 25 points, the equivalent of well over half a school year.”

Yes, students from more well-to-do households are more likely to have more involved parents. “However,” the PISA team found, “even when comparing students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, those students whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score 14 points higher, on average, than students whose parents did not.”
The kind of parental involvement matters, as well. “For example,” the PISA study noted, “on average, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day, and when they tell stories to their children.” The score point difference is smallest when parental involvement takes the form of simply playing with their children.

These PISA findings were echoed in a recent study by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, and written up by the center’s director, Patte Barth, in the latest issue of The American School Board Journal.

The study, called “Back to School: How parent involvement affects student achievement,” found something “somewhat surprising,” wrote Barth: “Parent involvement can take many forms, but only a few of them relate to higher student performance. Of those that work, parental actions that support children’s learning at home are most likely to have an impact on academic achievement at school.
“Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college,” Barth wrote. “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.”

To be sure, there is no substitute for a good teacher. There is nothing more valuable than great classroom instruction. But let’s stop putting the whole burden on teachers. We also need better parents. Better parents can make every teacher more effective.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Howard officials propose changes in middle school schedule

The Howard County school system is considering major changes to its middle school class schedule that include discontinuing reading as a stand-alone subject for most students, school officials said.
In addition, the school day might be reduced from eight instruction periods to seven 50-minute periods, with physical education classes held every other day.

The proposed changes are part of the system's efforts to implement the common core curriculum, adopted by the Maryland State Board of Education last year for math and English language arts. The common core is a nationwide set of shared goals and expectations for students at each grade level.

To read more of this article, click here:
Howard officials propose changes in middle school schedule

A Great Project!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Congratulations to our newest NJHS Inductees!

This past Wednesday evening, we conducted our annual National Junior Honor Society Induction Ceremony. It was really a wonderful event. It is great to have an opportunity to celebrate the many talented young scholars we have here at WLMS. In addition, attendees had the opportunity to hear about all the great acts of service each inductee is doing to improve our community. 

I want to thanks Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Merrills for organizing this event for our school and serving as the advisers for this amazing group of students.

Amazing Art Work at the Lake!

What amazing artists we have here at WLMS! 
A special thanks to Ms. Simpson for being such a great teacher and inspiring such wonderful artistic expressions from our students!

Teacher Pay Study Asks the Wrong Question, Ignores Facts, Insults Teachers

As millions of Americans search for work, and millions more scrape by to make ends meet, researchers affiliated with two Washington think tanks -- the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation -- have recently announced a "finding" that defies common-sense: America's teachers are overpaid by more than 50 percent.

The new paper from Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs fails on several levels. First, it asks the wrong question. Second, it ignores facts that conflict with its conclusions. Lastly, it insults teachers and demeans the profession.

Instead of asking whether teachers are overpaid, Richwine and Biggs should have asked what it would take to recruit and retain highly effective teachers for all students. Surveys show that many talented and committed young people are reluctant to enter teaching for the long haul because they think the profession is low-paying and not prestigious enough.

McKinsey & Co. did a study (PDF) last year comparing the U.S. to other countries and found that America's average current teacher salaries -- starting around $35,000 and topping out at an average of $65,000 -- were set far too low to attract and retain top talent.

The McKinsey report found that starting teacher salaries have not kept pace with other fields. In 1970, beginning New York City lawyers earned $2,000 more than first-year teachers. Today, a starting lawyer there can earn three or four times as much as a beginning teacher.

Money is not the reason that people enter teaching. But it is a reason why some talented people avoid teaching--or quit the profession when starting a family or buying a home. Other high-performing nations recruit teachers from the top third of college graduates. That must be our goal as well, and compensation is one critical factor. To encourage more top-caliber students to choose teaching, teachers should be paid a lot more, with starting salaries more in the range of $60,000 and potential earnings of as much as $150,000.

Great teachers stand at the summit of one of the hardest, most challenging, and most consequential professions for our children and the country's future economic prosperity. They deserve our respect and should be well-remunerated. Nevertheless, through tortured analysis, and in some instances a disregard of their own data, the authors of this new study reach a predictably contrary conclusion.

Traditionally, economists have analyzed teacher pay the same way they analyze pay in other professions--they have compared the pay of teachers to workers with similar education and work experience. Like many before them, Richwine and Biggs found that teachers did indeed receive lower pay than similarly educated workers -- almost 20 percent lower.

I agree that educational credentials are not the best measures of teacher effectiveness -- but the researchers go on to assert that teachers should not be compared to workers with similar educational credentials because teachers do not score as well on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test. Setting aside the fact that the AFQT does not measure teacher effectiveness, it is insulting and demeaning to argue that teachers are not smart enough to receive market compensation comparable to their peers based on the results of a test that most of them took as teenagers.

The researchers also ignored a chart in their own paper showing that teachers have similar overall benefit packages to private employees. Unhappy with those findings, they then exaggerated the value of teacher compensation by comparing the retirement benefits of the small minority of teachers who stay in the classroom for 30 years, rather than comparing the pension benefits for the typical teacher to their peers in other professions. 

Finally, they appeared to create out of thin air an 8.6 percent "job security" salary premium for teachers -- despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of education jobs were lost in the recession and teachers continue to face layoffs. 

By the end of this decade, more than half of America's 3.2 million teachers are expected to retire. That demographic shift presents a stiff challenge and a special opportunity. States, districts, and schools have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to modernize the teaching profession and expand the talent pool. But doing so will require dramatic change in the way we recruit, train, support, evaluate, and compensate teachers.

I agree with Richwine and Biggs on one point. If teachers are to be recognized and compensated as professionals, states and school districts must shift away from a blue-collar assembly line model of compensation--and do more to reward effectiveness and performance in the classroom. A performance-based compensation model will enable great teachers to earn more, justify higher salaries, and raise the stature of the profession.

Americans need and deserve an honest, open debate about the teaching profession, framed by evidence, not ideologically-tilted studies like this one. The debate in Washington today should be about how to judiciously invest in education. How can we best modernize schools with crumbling infrastructure so they can teach 21st century skills? How can we keep teachers in classrooms, instead of on unemployment lines? And yes--even when budgets are tight--how can we make teaching a more attractive career and elevate the profession?

The answer to these questions cannot be to cut teacher pay and put tens of thousands of teachers out of work. Even in a time of fiscal austerity, education is more than just an expense. It's an investment in the future.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

This post was updated on November 10, to more accurately reflect the authors of the study.

Secretary Duncan will be coming to Wilde Lake High School this week. I have been invited to attend a briefing that he will conduct this coming week. I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet him and hear the message he will deliver.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Teacher Is an App!

For more information about this subject, read the article by the Wall Street Journal reporters STEPHANIE BANCHERO and STEPHANIE SIMON. Click here:

What do you think about this approach?