Handing student residency verfication with K-12 Online

Residency verification seems to be a growing concern for school districts and rightly so.  Schools spend countless resources and hours babysitting this process. On the other hand, parents dread this manual process of filling out proof of identity and proof of residency forms, not to mention faxing or returning the forms back to the school.  K-12 Online to the rescue!

Besides some built-in features that alerts school staff of a change of physical residency when parents update their students’ information, K-12 Online has also incorporated new technologies that may assist schools in this area.

1. School Districts just wants to make sure that students attending really do belong to the district.
2. Some parents don’t have scanners to upload documents to K-12 Online.
3. Schools want to make this process as painless as possible for parents.


1. Include the Proof of Residency in the K-12 Online registration forms.
2. Instruct parents that Proof of Residency will be verified at Check-in.
3. List the Residency form on the Completed Registration PDF
4. Proof of Residency form should have verbiage such as ‘I am uploading proof of residency documents “Yes” / “No”‘ (radio buttons). Don’t make uploading documents mandatory.
5. During check-in, if ‘I am uploading proof of residency documents  shows “Yes”‘, the person checking the student in, goes to the student’s individual Residency form in K-12 Online’s Individual form manager, looks at whether the documents are acceptable and if so, checks them in; otherwise don’t.
6. If ‘I am uploading proof of residency documents shows “No”‘, the person checking the student in, receives their photocopied documents and then attaches it to the PDF.  If they don’t bring in the documents, they cannot get “checked-in”.

So once students are checked in, this means that their residency has been verified. Thousands of hours saved by the school and a painless process for  parents.  Hope this helps!


Trends and Issues in Educational Technology

Let’s face it: the rest of the world’s organizations and institutions are taking advantage of new technology and leveraging it to maximize operational efficiency. So why should educational technology for schools be any different?

While much progress in education technology has been made, there is so much more to be done. The rapid and constant pace of change in technology is creating both opportunities and challenges for schools.

The use of technology allows schools to have greater access to online courses, blended learning, educational resources, hands-on multimedia content, the use of social networking, and other rich content for personalized learning and professional development. At the same time, the rapid change in technology creates significant challenges for schools. Many schools are unable to keep up with digital innovations because they don’t have the proper infrastructure. Some spend their time playing catch-up, while others just don’t have the funds to update their systems, creating a digital divide among schools and districts.

Private schools, independent schools, charter schools, and even entire school districts can all benefit from taking an online approach to managing school operations. But the rapid evolution of educational technology makes it increasingly challenging to determine what works best.

Below is a look at some of the hottest issues and trends in educational technology, as published by Education Week (September 2011), and how they are creating opportunities and challenges for K-12 schools.


Technology Infrastructure

Schools and districts battle to keep up with the ever-increasing demands to upgrade their technological infrastructure. But the demands themselves have changed during the past decade, from a focus on simply gaining connectivity to finding enough bandwidth to running more complex applications in classrooms, such as streaming audio and video.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 97 percent of schools across the country had Internet connectivity as of 2010.  Far fewer, however, were able to successfully meet the need for higher speed access, the FCC said, citing that demand as one reason it unveiled its National Broadband Plan in March 2010. In October of the same year, it also revised E-Rate, the federal program that subsidizes school purchases for Internet connectivity and allows schools to use E-Rate dollars to gain connectivity.

Because technology infrastructure needs vary widely between districts, and indeed between schools within the same districts, the federal government’s perceived desire to focus its efforts as a facilitator of infrastructure access has become somewhat controversial among education technology advocates. And while chief technology officers generally say that school infrastructure is improving, many openly doubt that capability will catch up with demand, since new digital tools used in education are requiring ever-increasing amounts of bandwidth.

In building an infrastructure, many schools are also trying to streamline their processes. Schools and districts are turning to outside vendors and undergoing widespread adoption of online solutions that offer programs from Common Core preparation and online courses to online registration, SIS systems, managing student data, reporting, and more.


E-Learning/Blended Learning

Online learning is on the rise in schools all across the country. Students now have a long list of choices when it comes to e-learning. The menu of options often includes full-time, for-profit virtual schools; state-sponsored virtual schools; supplemental online learning courses offered by brick-and-mortar schools; and charter schools presenting a hybrid option of digital material coupled with face-to-face instruction.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, estimates that more than 1.5 million K-12 students were engaged in some form of online or blended learning in the 2009-10 school year. At the end of 2010, supplemental or full-time online learning opportunities were available in at least 48 of 50 states (iNACOL, 2010).

Options for full-time virtual schools are growing. Students from kindergarten through high school can seek out online schooling opportunities, which usually include virtual teachers and a combination of synchronous and asynchronous online learning (Education Week, June 15, 2011). These schools are starting to focus more on the issue of socialization for their students, and some are incorporating more face-to-face instruction into their array of services to allow for student interaction both online and in person. They are forming clubs, holding proms, and creating school newspapers.

But full-time virtual schools also face the reality that for many students with two parents working outside the home, such a scenario is not an option. Such students often cannot attend full-time online schools for that reason, and virtual school providers acknowledge that their version of education works best, particularly in the lower grades, when an adult is present to assist.

In addition to courses that offer an online instructor, some researchers suggest that students have the most success with hybrid or blended education. A growing number of brick-and-mortar schools are now tapping into e-learning for a variety of reasons. Some schools say it saves money and allows them to offer a wider variety of courses, including Advanced Placement classes. Others say it can help with scheduling conflicts when a face-to-face class is only provided at a time when a student already has another obligation. In addition, online courses can provide highly qualified teachers for classes otherwise not offered by a school.

So where are traditional schools getting these online courses? Some are developing their own, others are purchasing them from for-profit vendors, and a growing number are able to utilize state virtual schools or state-led online learning initiatives. Some schools find it easier to use courses developed by a state-run virtual school, since it is already aligned with their state standards.


Mobile Computing

Increasing access, growing acceptance, and decreasing cost are all helping to make the use of mobile devices a popular and increasing trend within the world of educational technology. While the digital divide between the affluent and disadvantaged still exists, mobile devices have the potential to close it, at least in terms of access.

According to the “Horizon” report, game-based learning will be widely adopted by mainstream classrooms within two to three years (New Media Consortium, 2011). Instead of educational software, e.g. Math Blaster or Reader Rabbit, students and teachers are much more likely to incorporate Web-based educational games into classrooms, which are often available for free.

Some educators hope that games and simulations will provide a way for students to picture themselves in career paths they may otherwise would not have chosen, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, and some argue that games and simulations offer students a way to connect what they are learning in class with (simulated) real-world situations in a safe and low-cost environment (Education Week, March 17, 2011).

Researchers have also found that games and simulations may help students learn by helping them visualize processes they otherwise could not see, such as the flow of an electron or the construction of a city. Games can also promote higher-order thinking skills, such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork (MIT, 2009; National Academies Press 2011).

However, creating a healthy marriage of an engaging and entertaining game with educational objectives and goals is a challenging process that has yet to be perfected. And finding the time and resources to train teachers who may not be familiar with game-based learning is a challenge for most schools.  Despite these challenges, many educators and researchers are committed to developing educational games and incorporating game-based learning into classrooms across the United States.


Social Networking

Many schools are no longer debating whether social networking should play a role in education. Instead, that debate has shifted to which social networking tools work best and how to deploy them (Digital Directions, June 16, 2010). Some schools are using mainstream social networking tools like Facebook for everything from promoting school events to organizing school clubs as well as for more academic purposes related to assignments and class projects.

But educators wary about security, advertising, information-sharing, and social interaction in such an environment often seek out social networks designed specifically for learning instead. These sites, like ePals and eChalk, are more restrictive, allowing teachers and school officials to limit not only who can join, but who students can talk to and interact with. Some educators also say students seem to take these sites more seriously and treat them with a more academic focus and tone than they would a site they routinely use for socialization with their peers. These sites also often provide safety features that can detect foul language or bullying phrases and alert a teacher (Education Week, June 15, 2011).

Many educators say the academic benefits of social networking are real. They allow students to work cooperatively on projects in an online environment that feels familiar to students. Teachers often report that a student who does not speak up in class will be more engaged on a social networking site and that these sites allow instructors to extend the school day.

Technology tools are also making it quicker and easier than ever to create digital portfolios of student work—a method of showcasing student progress that experts say increases student engagement; promotes a continuing conversation about learning between teachers, parents, and students; and extends academic lessons beyond school walls (Education Week, March 17, 2011). New social networking tools to aid this are being developed and updated regularly.

All in all, effective technology integration is achieved when its use supports curricular goals. It must support four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts. For more information on the issues and trends in educational technology, visit Education Week.


Let us know what types of technology your school or district uses to enhance curricular goals.

Teaching a Healthy Lifestyle

World Health Day is April 7th! What better way to remind students of the importance of good health than on World Health Day? Practicing a healthy lifestyle from an early age can help lead to a long and productive life.

There are many online tools and lesson plans that raise awareness of the need for good personal hygiene.


You can start with something as simple as proper hand washing.

Hand Washing Lesson Plan
Hand Washing with Soapy
Covering Coughs and Sneezes


A healthy diet focuses on the importance of eating the right foods.
Good for Kids
Nourish Interactive


Exercise encourages students to keep moving.
Fitness Lesson Plans
Teacher Lesson Plan

Brain Pop


For high school age students, you may even incorporate the effects that smoking and drinking have on the body.

Smoking Prevention Resources
Smoking Danger Demonstration
Myths and Facts about Tobacco


It is an ideal opportunity to remind students of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and of the damage that can be caused by harmful activities.

Top 5 Education Trends in 2013

One thing we know about education is that it is subject to trends. This may be positive or negative, but it’s all in an effort to figure out what works best in achieving student engagement and success. Here are some recent trends in the K-12 education system.


1. Social media used as a teaching tool

Social media has gained increasing popularity over the past year or two. All students these days know how to use a computer and the internet, and most of them are using social media networks to share their thoughts and ideas. From student-created YouTube videos to professors creating classroom focused blogs and Facebook pages, both teachers and students will continue to benefit from social media inside the classroom.


2. Game-based learning gaining popularity

Who doesn’t love a good game? Game-based learning (GBL) and simulations exist as a learning tool by helping students visualize processes they otherwise could not see, such as the flow of an electron or the construction of a city. GBL is becoming increasingly popular inside the classroom as they can promote higher-order thinking skills, such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork.


3. The marriage of BYOD and the flipped classroom

With more districts interested in saving money and more teachers interested in saving time, the concepts of flipping your classroom and BYOD (bring your own device) seem to pair up nicely. Because a key requirement to flipping a classroom is access to technology outside of the school, the marriage of the two maximizes the potential of both concepts.


4. Increase in homeschooling

Like charter schools, home schools have enrolled more than 2 million students. The decision by so many parents to remove their children from local schools and teach them at home raises many issues. Scholars say parents are more likely to switch to home-schooling if they see the academic quality of local schools decline or low-income students in those schools increase. Through home-schooling, parents are able to have more control over what their child learns. Although there is little data on home-schooling, it seems to be growing at the same surprising speed and volume as charter schools.


5. Integration of Education companies

More and more, teachers and administrators are trying to streamline processes. From software companies that offer solutions to Common Core preparation and online courses to online registration, SIS systems, managing student data, reporting, etc. schools and districts are experiencing widespread adoption to these types of solutions.

A Disparity in Schools, But Not in GREAT Teachers

In a recent Facebook contest, hosted by K-12 Online, two teachers emerged GREAT as voted on by their students, peers, family and friends. The unlikely paradox is that the winning teachers are from schools of despairing backgrounds.  One of our GREAT teachers is from a high school in Irvine, CA, which is most notably known for being featured as one of the Best Places to Live year-after year and where the median family income is over $107,000 per year[i].  Our other GREAT teacher hails from a Dallas, TX inner-city elementary school where nearly 40% of their population are limited English proficient students and 98% of its student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch, much the contrary from our CA school where only 7% of its students are eligible. [ii]

Although on opposite ends of the spectrum demographically, the missions of these two schools are not as varying.  Both schools strive to provide the highest quality educational experience in an environment that is conducive to learning so that students graduate with the knowledge, skills, and values necessary to become productive and responsible members of society.

And as aligned as the missions are, so are the GREAT teachers representing these schools. Here is what others had to say about these GREAT teachers:


LaShocka Thompson, Roger Q. Mills Elementary, Dallas, TX

“LaShocka is truly a phenomenal, dynamic, and wonderful educator…She’s dedicated and devoted to her job and she motivates her students to do their best and lets them know that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE and there is no limit to education…EDUCATION IS FREEDOM!!! She teaches her students various learning strategies to help them understand their assignments, keeps the parents updated on any event or the student’s progress, and makes sure that the students have fun while learning. Additionally, she has been awarded with numerous school awards because of her DEDICATION & HARD WORK in helping the students succeed in their education and goals in life. LaShocka is what I call ‘A TRUE AND DEVOTED TEACHER’ who is on the road to MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN OUR YOUNG STUDENTS’ LIVES.”

“LaShocka is extremely dedicated and adamant in reaching her pupils. She always gives 110 percent and never lets any obstacles stop her in reaching her goals.”

“Hard work and dedication are what schools are lacking and what LaShocka exemplifies day in and day out. Anything that can improve the learning process for her children she is doing it and more. To see how she loves and cares for her children is to know she loves them as if they are her own… She’s beyond a great teacher, she’s a phenomenal teacher…”

“LaShocka Thompson is dedicated to her students and goes above and beyond to give her students the tools that they will need to be successful in school and in their lives!”

“LaShocka Thompson is one of the few teachers that I can say loves what she does. When you find a teacher who’s caring, understanding, thoughtful and builds relationships with families, then you’ve found yourself a special teacher. Ms. Thompson is a winner in our book.”

“LaShocka Thompson is a phenomenal educator and exemplifies the qualities of an exceptional teacher. Her dedication to her students is unparalleled and is evident in her dedication to ensuring that all of her students are successful learners!”


Valerie Thompson, University High School, Irvine, CA

“Being a senior in high school, I have met a lot of teachers. I can honestly say none can compare to Valerie Thompson. She is a teacher of chemistry, which can be a very confusing subject to most. She makes every student eager to learn, and I can’ t think of a day I was ever bored in her class. She strives to be her best each day no matter what kind of day she is having. She is an amazing teacher that every kid feels blessed to have. She is more than a teacher though she is a mentor to her students and makes each one feel special in their own way. She gives kids hope for their futures. This teacher has immeasurable compassion, and a complete heart of gold. Valerie Thompson is the best of the best and I have never met a kinder person.”

“When it comes to being a great teacher, Ms. Thompson goes above and beyond this word… No matter what kind of day she is having, she gives it her all… Every office hours, Ms. Thompson’s room is packed as it always is because kids enjoy being in her atmosphere. Also, she helps kids the whole time and even during snack and lunch… Also, when it comes to kids stressing out about high school and getting straight A’s, I truly believe she is the best person to talk to. She teaches kids that getting good grades is a good thing, but it is not the only thing in life… one grade in a high school course does not define who we are as people and what our worth is. I have never met such a compassionate, loving person in my life. She made learning fun for me and many others… she taught me that everyone is special and important, including myself. If any student was having a problem at school or home, she was always there for them when they needed her… She has a complete heart of gold and puts her students before herself. I don’t think greatness as a teacher can truly be measured, but I know that Ms. Thompson has touched the hearts of all her students and I think that is greatness that not many acquire. When I think of Ms. Thompson, this quote describes her to me and others: Most of us have at least one person in our life that inspires us to achieve more than we thought possible. This person encourages us, gives us tools or just plain loves us unconditionally. This person becomes the ‘wind beneath our wings’ in a sense. Everyone needs others to bolster them, especially young people just learning who they are. These people, heroes to many, usually have no idea the hope they inspire in our hearts. They inspire because of who they are, not because they seek the title. -Anonymous.”

“Mrs. Thompson is the reason I go to school every day. Rarely does a teacher care as genuinely for her students as she. I know that without Mrs. Thompson’s love and support, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She resonates strength and beauty, and she has this wonderful way of making everyone feel special. As a teacher, she makes chemistry fun and accessible to all students, many of whom go on to AP Chemistry or college chemistry classes with ease thanks to her class. I’ve learned a lot from Mrs. Thompson both academically and emotionally. She’s an incredibly smart, loving, and beautiful person, and she’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.”

[i] CNN Money September 2011 Issue

[ii] Greatschools.com/NCES 2008-09

First Impressions Are Lasting Impressions

First impressions are lasting impressions.  It takes just one-tenth of a second for an individual to make a judgment about someone or something and most likely, that first impression will never change.  Making good first impressions is incredibly important because in most cases, you’ll only get one shot at it.

In the case of a school, how can you ensure that you are being judged accurately?  How can you make good first impressions on parents? Successful schools do it all the time. They make themselves distinctive and memorable.

More and more, school choice is becoming a powerful element for parents, students, and teachers.  It is the reason that a parent will travel across town, to a different neighborhood daily, for their child to attend a school outside of their immediate school zone.

So what do successful schools do to create good first impressions and make travel across town compelling enough for parents? Here are a few tips:

Your website is your school’s welcoming center

A school’s website is usually the first thing a visitor sees. A good website is cohesive, informative and easy to navigate. Keep it simple and appealing with a logical flow of information and messaging.  And most importantly, make sure your website is providing timely, up-to-date information.  A schools’ website should reflect the schools strength and character and speak to its audience appropriately.  It must be reliable and load quickly.  Here are some examples of school websites that have an eye-catching homepage and are fun to explore.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Durham County Public Schools

Westwood Charter School

Larchmont Charter School

Mt. Carmel High School

Adlai E. Stevenson High School

Your frontline should be a pleasure

There is nothing more frustrating to a potential parent than to call a school for information and hear an unfriendly, unenthusiastic, unknowledgeable voice on the other end. On the phone or in person, your front line staff should be courteous, helpful and if needed, empathetic.  Make an anonymous call to your school’s Admissions Office and see how you are treated. Email the Admissions Office and see how promptly you are answered. Note the quality of the response and if it represents the atmosphere and feel you wish the school to portray?

School tours and visits weigh more than you think

Nothing sways a prospective parent more than a school tour. Your best people should be put on this important part of the public relations process. Make sure your tour guide is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the school.  Parents like to see students in action.  Plan tours during the time of day that most closely portrays “a day in the life??? of a typical student.  Have examples on hand that show accomplishments, events, or activities that set you apart from other schools.  First impressions ARE important and often lasting. The effort a school puts into the campus tour really does pay off.

Rehearse the entire experience so that you get it right. Take a tour with your designated tour guide with the eye of a parent. When inspecting a school, parents don’t miss a thing and are easily impressed by enthusiasm, knowledge, and courtesy. Ask questions as if you were looking for a school for your own child.

Below are a few parent resources that educate parents on things to look for when visiting a school. Take a look at the list to see if you address these questions during your school tours.

The school visit: What to look for, What to ask

Ask the right questions, Find the right school

Questions to ask before enrolling your child in a new school

Making good first impressions with parents is key 

First impressions count in marketing your school just as much as they do in any endeavor. Are parents spending hours waiting in long lines to register?  Are they required to fill out stacks of paperwork before ever setting foot on your campus?  These types of activities set a negative first impression. No wonder parents aren’t excited about signing up for the PTA, volunteering as room mom, or contributing to your annual fundraiser.   You’ve given them a bad first impressionso for the rest of the school year, they do whatever it takes to stay away.

Not only does an online registration system help increase enrollment and streamline the application and registration process, but it also can portray a stress-free, open, inviting environment for your parents. Are you thinking about online enrollment, applications and registration? Don’t reinvent the wheel!  Learn how others are benefitting from K-12 Online’s secure system.  They’ve worked with many districts, charter, private and independent schools to provide an affordable alternative to paper pushing.

An Open House with welcoming arms

Good first impressions make a big difference! Your first open house or Back-to-School night gives teachers an opportunity to create a personal connection with parents, gain parents’ support, and establish ways for continued communication throughout the school year.

Before deciding what to do for your school’s open house, walk through your school building and classrooms with the eyes of a parent. Pretend you are walking in for the very first time and think about what would make great first impressions.  Do your hallways offer a welcoming presence?  Are your restrooms clean?  Are your classrooms colorful and reflective of students work?

Most parents want to see an organized building/classroom with friendly and welcoming teachers and staff.  They are not typically concerned about how many science tests are given, or what materials you use to teach math.  Parents generally want a good understanding of what their child’s school year will be like, how issues will be communicated and handled by teachers/staff, and what they can do to help ensure their child has a successful school year. Here are some ideas to incorporate into your next open house.

Open house School Ideas

Five Ideas for Open House

Tips for Open House and Back to School Night

60 Ideas for Open House


When it comes to schools, choice is a powerful element that can help create the conditions for a successful school. Families make relocating and home purchasing decisions around which school they want or don’t want their children to attend.  Don’t pass up an opportunity to show your best side.  Put your best foot forward in the beginning so that parents receive authentic first impressions.   What are you doing to make positive first impressions and portray a stress-free, open, inviting environment to your parents?

Successful Schools: Great teachers – hero or model for change (Part 2 of 2)

Measuring Great Teachers

What makes greats teachers? Does holding a master’s degree make one a better teacher? Do the best teachers hail from elite universities? Did they earn high GPAs in college? Did they major in the subject they are teaching? How much does experience matter? Do traditional, university-based teacher-preparation programs produce the best teachers, or are alternatively certified teachers just as good?

The difficulty from a policy perspective is that the relationship between readily quantifiable attributes–such as a teacher’s highest degree attained or level of experience–and student outcomes is unsubstantial. Many policy makers advocate increasing the quality of teaching, but there is considerable debate over the best way to measure and improve teacher quality. In other words, it is very clear that good teachers make a difference, but what’s unclear is how to truly measure a good teacher.

Teachers and teachers’ unions have widely criticized the value-added approach, arguing that test scores are not good indicators of teacher quality. However, many reformers argue that value-added ratings are some of the most accurate indicators for evaluating teachers and improving student performance.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Times released a searchable database of over 11,000 Los Angeles Unified School teachers, ranked by their VA ratings. The newspaper got access to the data through California’s Public Records Act — and hired a seasoned education analyst to crunch the numbers.

The response started out predictably. The local teachers’ union called for a boycott of the paper. But more than 1,100 teachers answered the paper’s invitation to see their data before it came out. Arguably, a newspaper is not the most ideal forum for teachers to receive performance feedback, however, the more important question is: Why did it take a newspaper to do what the school district should have done years ago?

Research dating back to the 1966 release of Equality of Educational Opportunity (the “Coleman Report???) shows that student performance is not directly related to school quality, but more so teacher quality, which was found to account for the largest portion of the variation in student test scores than all other characteristics of a school.
Much of the research published since the Coleman Report has confirmed the findings that high-quality teachers raise student performance, suggesting that the most important thing a school can do to increase student performance is provide its students with good teachers.

Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children. Teacher quality tends to vary more within schools—even supposedly good schools—than among them.

But it’s difficult to identify excellent teachers in a reliable, objective way. The Coleman Report’s finding was based on the influence of a set of quantifiable teacher characteristics, such as years of experience, education levels, and performance on a vocabulary test. Since then, due in large part to the availability of new data sources that link and track teachers and students over a number of years, researchers have been able to estimate the overall contribution of teachers to student learning. This includes not only the effect of easily measurable attributes, such as experience and degrees obtained, but also the effect of harder to measure intangible attributes, such as a teacher’s enthusiasm and skill in conveying knowledge.

An excerpt from Atlantic Magazine, What Makes a Great Teacher
Teach for America, a nonprofit that recruits college graduates to spend two years teaching in low-income schools, began outside the educational establishment and has largely remained there. For years, it has been whittling away at its own assumptions, testing its hypotheses, and refining its hiring and training. Over time, it has built an unusual laboratory: almost half a million American children are being taught by Teach for America, and the organization tracks test-score data, linked to each teacher, for 85 – 90 percent of those kids. Teach for America keeps an unusual amount of data on its 7,300 teachers—a pool almost twice the size of the D.C. system’s teacher corps, and until now, has kept its investigation largely to itself.

Steven Farr is Teach for America’s in-house professor, so to speak. His job is to find and study excellent teachers, and train others to get similar results. Starting in 2002, Teach for America began using student test-score progress data to put teachers into one of three categories: those who move their students one and a half or more years ahead in one year; those who achieve one to one and a half years of growth; and those who yield less than one year of gains.

As Teach for America began to identify exceptional teachers using this data, Farr began to watch them. He observed their classes, read their lesson plans, and talked to them about their teaching methods and beliefs. He and his colleagues surveyed Teach for America teachers at least four times a year to find out what they were doing and what kinds of training had helped them the most.

Right away, certain patterns emerged. First, great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness. For example, when Farr called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he’d get a similar response from all of them: “They’d say, ‘You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you—I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.’ When you hear that over and over, and you don’t hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis.??? Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing.

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.

But when Farr took his findings to teachers, they wanted more. “They’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah. Give me the concrete actions. What does this mean for a lesson plan?’??? So Farr and his colleagues made lists of specific teacher actions that fell under the high-level principles they had identified. For example, one way that great teachers ensure that kids are learning is to frequently check for understanding: Are the kids—all of the kids—following what you are saying? Asking “Does anyone have any questions???? does not work, and it’s a classic rookie mistake. Students are not always the best judges of their own learning. They might understand a line read aloud from a Shakespeare play, but have no idea what happened in the last act. “Strong teachers insist that effective teaching is neither mysterious nor magical. It is neither a function of dynamic personality nor dramatic performance,??? Farr writes in Teaching as Leadership, a book coming out in February from Farr and his colleagues.

In 2007, 24 percent of Teach for America teachers moved their students one and a half or more years ahead, according to the organization’s internal reports. In 2009, that number was up to 44 percent. That data relies largely on school tests, which vary in quality from state to state. When tests aren’t available or sufficiently rigorous, Teach for America helps teachers find or design other reliable diagnostics.

Once teachers have been in the classroom for a year or two, who is very good—and very bad—becomes much clearer. But teachers are almost never dismissed. Principals almost never give teachers poor performance evaluations—even when they know the teachers are failing.

Ideally, schools would hire better teachers to begin with. But this is notoriously difficult. How do you screen for a relentless mind-set?

When Teach for America began, applicants were evaluated on 12 criteria (such as persistence and communication skills), chosen based on conversations with educators. Starting in 2000, the organization began to retroactively critique its own judgments. What did the best teachers have in common when they applied for the job?

Once a model for outcomes-based hiring was built, it started churning out some humbling results. “I came into this with a bunch of theories,??? says Monique Ayotte-Hoeltzel, who was then head of admissions. “I was proven wrong at least as many times as I was validated.???

For years, Teach for America also selected for something called “constant learning.??? As Farr and others had noticed, great teachers tended to reflect on their performance and adapt accordingly. So people who tend to be self-aware might be a good bet. “It’s a perfectly reasonable hypothesis,??? Ayotte-Hoeltzel says.

What did predict success, interestingly, was a history of perseverance—not just an attitude, but a track record. In the interview process, Teach for America now asks applicants to talk about overcoming challenges in their lives—and ranks their perseverance based on their answers. Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and her colleagues have actually quantified the value of perseverance. In a study published in TheJournal of Positive Psychology in November 2009, they evaluated 390 Teach for America instructors before and after a year of teaching. Those who initially scored high for “grit???—defined as perseverance and a passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple-choice test—were 31 percent more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students. Gritty people, the theory goes, work harder and stay committed to their goals longer. (Grit also predicts retention of cadets at West Point, Duckworth has found.)

But another trait seemed to matter even more. Teachers who scored high in “life satisfaction???—reporting that they were very content with their lives—were 43 percent more likely to perform well in the classroom than their less satisfied colleagues. These teachers “may be more adept at engaging their pupils, and their zest and enthusiasm may spread to their students,??? the study suggested.

In general, though, Teach for America’s staffers have discovered that past performance—especially the kind you can measure—is the best predictor of future performance. Recruits who have achieved big, measurable goals in college tend to do so as teachers. And the two best metrics of previous success tend to be grade-point average and “leadership achievement???—a record of running something and showing tangible results. If you not only led a tutoring program but doubled its size, that’s promising.

Knowledge matters, but not in every case. In studies of high-school math teachers, majoring in the subject seems to predict better results in the classroom. And more generally, people who attended a selective college are more likely to excel as teachers (although graduating from an Ivy League school does not unto itself predict significant gains in a Teach for America classroom). Meanwhile, a master’s degree in education seems to have no impact on classroom effectiveness.

The most valuable educational credentials may be the ones that circle back to squishier traits like perseverance. Last summer, an internal Teach for America analysis found that an applicant’s college GPA alone is not as good a predictor as the GPA in the final two years of college. If an applicant starts out with mediocre grades and improves, in other words, that curve appears to be more revealing than getting straight A’s all along.

Last year, Teach for America churned through 35,000 candidates to choose 4,100 new teachers. Staff members select new hires by deferring almost entirely to the model: they enter more than 30 data points about a given candidate (about twice the number of inputs they considered a decade ago), and then the model spits out a hiring recommendation. Every year, the model changes, depending on what the new batch of student data shows. Farr is more hopeful each year. “When I see not a handful, not dozens, but hundreds of people being successful in a world where most people think success is not possible, I know it can be done,??? he told me.

If school systems hired, trained, and rewarded teachers according to the principles Teach for America has identified, then teachers would not need to work so hard. They would be operating in a system designed in a radically different way—designed, that is, for success.

Read the entire article at What Makes a Great Teacher?

Overall Impact
The effect of a good teacher on a child’s life is monumental. The influence of teacher quality was found to persist for years after a student had a particular teacher.

Economists Eric Hanushek, John Kain, and Steven Rivkin estimated that, at a minimum, variations in teacher quality account for 7.5 percent of the total variation in student achievement–a much larger share than any other school characteristic.

In financial terms, replacing a teacher whose true VA is in the bottom 5% with a teacher of average quality would generate lifetime earnings gains worth more than $250,000 for the average classroom. On the other hand, “If you leave a low value-added teacher in your school for 10 years, rather than replacing him with an average teacher, you are hypothetically talking about $2.5 million in lost income,” said Friedman. (Chetty, et all. 2011)

More recently, policy makers have sought to isolate teachers’ contributions to student performance and assess how much of their overall contribution can be associated with measurable teacher characteristics.

Race to the Top, a contest created to spur innovation and reform in K-12 education at the state and local level is one example. To qualify, states must first remove any legal barriers to linking student test scores to teachers. To win money, states must also begin distinguishing between effective and ineffective teachers—and consider that information when deciding whether to grant tenure, give raises, or fire a teacher or principal. States are awarded points for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance-based standards for teachers and principals, complying with nationwide standards, promoting charter schools and privatization of education, and computerization.

For teachers, Race to the Top means increased access to professional development opportunities and an equitable evaluation and compensation system that will reward teachers for their ability to positively shape the lives their students.
Given the enormous contribution of good teachers to the lives of students, one would think the organizations that represent teachers would welcome a program that praises great teachers and pushes under performing ones out. This is not necessarily the case. Acknowledging reality would require teacher groups to make distinctions between good and bad teachers and hold them accountable for their performance, something they seem unwilling to practice, much less institutionalize.

Great teachers make a great difference; poor teachers hurt a child’s life chances. Isn’t that all we need to know to embark upon a serious effort to reward good teachers and encourage poor teachers out of the profession? Instead, we tend to attribute the gifts of great teachers to some mystical quality that we can recognize and admire—but not replicate. The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a model for change.

Successful Schools: Great teachers – hero or model for change (Part 1 of 2)

A good teacher improves a child’s test scores in the classroom, enhances his or her chances to attend college, increases his or her potential to earn more money and decreases the likelihood of teen pregnancy, according to a 2011 study.

The study, conducted by economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years from a large urban school district from fourth grade to adulthood, making it one of the largest and most consequential educational studies in recent years.

Their findings focus on the long-term impact of teachers based on “value-added??? (VA) ratings, the average test-score gain for his or her students, adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics such as prior scores. Simply put, the difference between a student’s expected growth and actual performance is the “value??? a teacher added or subtracted during the year.

The study measured both short-term and long-term impact, from the classroom to a student’s collegiate, career and family success. The authors found that when a high VA teacher joins a school, test scores rise immediately in the grade taught by that teacher; when a high VA teacher leaves, test scores fall.[i]

Study after study shows that the single most important factor in determining the quality of education a child receives is the quality of his or her teacher.

Last month, K-12 Online took a look at how leadership factored into the success of a school. Research revealed that leadership was essential for quality education, but was second only to teaching among all school-related factors that contribute to student performance.

So what makes for a quality teacher? This question is particularly relevant given that researchers have raised concerns about the overall quality of today’s teaching workforce. Teaching is one of the most complicated jobs today! It demands a broad knowledge of subject matters, curriculum, and standards. Teachers must show enthusiasm, a caring attitude, and a love of learning. And they must have knowledge of discipline and classroom management techniques. Most importantly, a quality teacher MUST have the desire to make a difference in the lives of young people.

Think about your best teachers. Their techniques may have been different, but more than likely, they all had some sort of connective capacity. They were able to connect themselves to their students, their students to each other, and everyone to the subject being studied.

Characteristics of Great Teachers

Here are some characteristics of great teachers. It is not meant to be an all encompassing or definitive list. Many excellent teachers may possess only some of these traits, and consider others not mentioned to be just as valuable. The characteristics detailed below are just a guideline to help teachers create and sustain connectivity in their classrooms – a universal characteristic of great teachers.

Great teachers set expectations of success for all students. Since the famous Rosenthal experiment in the late 1960s, the Pygmalion effect—the observation that teachers’ expectations for their students affect how well students learn—has been well documented.[ii] Great teachers expect that all students can and will achieve in their classroom, and they don’t give up on underachievers. There are so many factors in a students’ life, that it’s impossible for a teacher to guarantee success to all, however, if you give up on your students, adopting a fatalistic, “it’s out of my hands??? attitude, students will sense your lack of commitment and tune out. The main objective for a teacher is to create a climate for success in your classroom to meet the needs of all students. As long as you can unequivocally say that you’ve done that for the day, each and every day, you’ve upheld the expectation for success.

Great teachers have clear, written objectives. Effective teachers have lesson plans that give students a clear idea of what they will be learning, what the assignments are and what the grading policy is. Assignments have learning goals and give students ample opportunity to practice new skills. The teacher is consistent in grading and returns work in a timely manner. The lesson plan serves as a road map and may be altered depending on classroom needs.

Great teachers have a sense of purpose. 
 A RAND study conducted more than 30 years ago[iii] found links between student achievement and teachers’ sense of value—their belief in their students’ ability to succeed, as well as their own ability as teachers to help those students succeed. You can’t be good in a generic sense; you have to be good for something. As a teacher, this means that you know what your students expect, and you make plans to meet those expectations. You, too, have expectations about what happens in your classroom, based on the goals you’re trying to achieve. If you want to prepare your students for employment, you expect punctuality and good attendance. If you want your students to become better readers, you allow time for reading and provide access to books.

Great teachers are prepared and organized. They are in their classrooms early and ready to teach. They present lessons in a clear and structured way. Their classrooms are organized in such a way as to minimize distractions.

Great teachers engage students and get them to look at issues in a variety of ways. Effective teachers use facts as a starting point, not an end point; they ask “why??? questions, look at all sides and encourage students to predict what will happen next. They ask questions frequently to make sure students are following along. They try to engage the whole class, and they don’t allow a few students to dominate the class. They keep students motivated with varied, lively approaches.

Great teachers are comfortable with not knowing. 
There are going to be dilemmas you cannot immediately resolve, and questions you cannot immediately answer. It’s okay to not know, to be open to letting your students tell you the answer, and to understand that learning never stops, even for the teacher. If you can live with an unanswered question, think and observe, the answer may develop in an unexpected, unconventional way.

Great teachers adapt and change to meet student needs. Can you really claim to have taught a class if no one learned any of the concepts in the lesson from your presentation? If none of your students ever pick up a book outside of the classroom, have you really taught them to be better readers? A great lesson plan and a great lesson are two entirely different things. It’s nice when one follows the other, but it doesn’t always work that way. Teachers teach so that students may learn. When learning doesn’t happen, you need to be willing to devise new strategies, think in new ways, and generally do anything possible to revive the learning process.

Great teachers form strong relationships with their students and show that they care about them as people. Great teachers are warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring. Teachers with these qualities are known to stay after school and make themselves available to students and parents who need them. They are involved in school-wide committees and activities, and they demonstrate a commitment to the school.

Great teachers are masters of their subject matter. They exhibit expertise in the subjects they are teaching and spend time continuing to gain new knowledge in their field. They present material in an enthusiastic manner and instill a hunger in their students to learn more on their own.

Great teachers communicate frequently with parents. They reach parents through conferences and frequent written reports home. They don’t hesitate to pick up the telephone to call a parent if they are concerned about a student.

Great teachers know how to live with ambiguity. 
One of the greatest challenges of teaching is the lack of immediate, accurate feedback. There is no way to predict what the long-term results of your work will be. But if you have a sense of purpose and try to cultivate expectations of success for all students, you will be less likely to dwell on that unpredictability, and focus on how you can impact them today.

Great teachers enjoy their work and their students.
This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of its importance. Teachers who enjoy their work and their students are motivated, energized, and creative. The opposite of enjoyment is burnout-the state where no one and nothing can spark any interest. Notice, too, that enjoying your work and enjoying your students may be two different things. Focusing too much on content may make students feel misunderstood or left out. Focusing exclusively on students, without an eye to content, may make students feel understood and appreciated, but may not help them to achieve their educational goals as quickly as they’d like. Achieving a balance between the two extremes takes time and attention; it demands that you observe closely, evaluate carefully, and act on your findings.

Great teachers are reflective. 
Outside of a teacher having the desire to make a difference in the lives of their students, this may be the only infallible, absolute characteristic of all great teachers, because without it, none of the other traits can fully mature. Good teachers routinely think about and reflect on their classes, their students, their methods, and their materials. They compare and contrast, draw parallels and distinctions, review, remove and restore. Failing to observe your class on a regular basis disconnects you from the teaching and learning process and it’s impossible to create connectivity if you’re disconnected.

Great teachers have the ability to connect with students. Cornelius-White conducted a meta-analysis of research on teacher-student relationships and found that teachers’ warmth, empathy, and “nondirectivity??? strongly correlated to higher levels of student participation, motivation, and achievement.[iv] Great teachers understand that teaching is not a static state, but a constant process. Great teachers are imaginative and expect their students to be, too. They meet students where they are, but ask them to reach higher. They love their subject, and find ways to draw their students in.

No one can comprise all of the above attributes but every teacher has a new opportunity each day to become a better teacher. Great teachers are the ones who seize more opportunities than they miss!

Do you know a Great Teacher? Nominate them to win $500! Deadline for nominations and voting is December 31. Click here for details.



[i] Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Jonah Rockoff. “The Long-term Impacts of Teaching,??? NBR Working Paper Series (No. 17699),??? National Bureau of Economic Research. (December 2011)

[ii] Hattie, J, Visible learning. London: Routledge. (2009).

[iii] Armor, D., Conroy-Oseguera, P., Cox, M., King, N., McDonnell, L., Pascal, A., et al., “Analysis of the school preferred reading programs in selected Los Angeles minority schools (Report No. R-2007-LAUSD),??? RAND. (1976).

[iv] Cornelius-White, J. “Learner-centered teacher-student relationships are effective: A meta-analysis,??? Review of Educational Research. (2007).

13 Free Election Resources you can use in the Classroom

Election 2012 is just a few days away. Have your students been watching the debates? Are they talking about the electoral process? Do they understand the history and importance of voting?

Check out these great web resources about voting, the candidates, and the Electoral College that you can use in the classroom or pass along to your parents.

1. A History of Voting YouTube Video

This 3.5-minute video provides a concise and easy-to-understand history of voting and voting rights. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, Grammy Award winning artist John Legend, “Glee??? star Darren Criss and R&B singer Bridget Kelly speak directly to the audience to educate them about the importance of exercising their right to vote.

2. Eight Steps to the White House

This animated look at the major stops on the road to the white house is a useful tool offered by CNN. They also offer other useful tools like “Ask a President??? and “Campaign Trail Jargonbuster.???

3. Candidate Match Game

With USA Today’s Candidate Match Game, your students can learn more about their positions and find out which candidate they agree with most on key issues as the face of President Obama or Mitt Romney shifts across the screen depending on the answers they choose.

4. Political Party Quiz

Students can take a twelve question national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center to see where they fit on the partisan political spectrum.

5. Following the U.S. Presidential Election

The Choices Program offers a free lesson that builds students’ media literacy skills by having them compare sources as they analyze the news.

6. Election Dashboard

Similar to the New York Times’ Electoral College Map, the Huffington Post’s Election Dashboard gives information about which states are likely to vote for each candidate. It goes one step further in that it provides a little bit more history on the voting record of each state. It’s interesting to see the trends over the years!

7. ProCon.org

The most comprehensive tool for researching the candidate’s stance on issues is this nonpartisan nonprofit. The site provides quotations from President Obama, Mr. Romney and the major third party candidates on more than 60 issues.

8. Electoral College Map

This New York Times’ Electoral College Map shows which states are likely to vote for each candidate, and highlights the “toss ups,??? while providing information on why they’re so tightly contested.

9. MTV’s Fantasy Election

An online game styled after the ultra-popular fantasy football leagues. Participants draft a team of presidential and Congressional candidates and rack up points based on how well the candidates perform in various categories such as transparency and honesty.

10. iSideWith

Have your students take iSideWith’s short quiz on important political topics to find out which candidate most closely holds their political views.

 Scholastic’s Election 2012 Classroom Magazine

This collection of kid-friendly resources is home to breaking election news, a “what you need to know??? section, lesson plans and even several useful videos.

12. BrainPOP

Animated videos, games and lesson plans that teach lessons about the electoral process. The site also features a special section for K-3 election resources.

13. PBS Learning Media

A collection of classroom-ready content and material about the election. The election-focused digital resources are available to K-12 classrooms and educators nationwide. Features include a student-aimed Elections 2012 newscast, a multimedia glossary, interactive digital games, and lesson plans geared toward high school students and teachers.

How do you teach your kids about voting and the upcoming election? Let us know.


  • October 25, 2012
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