Wednesday, October 30, 2013

STEM in Education

Occupations in STEM fields are the second fastest growing in the nation, just behind health care, according to a Georgetown University study.  A report to President Barack Obama from his science advisers back in 2010 urged the federal government to improve science and math education in U.S. schools by both leading the way and rooting from the sidelines (Mervis, 2010).  Speaking on behalf of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), co-chair Eric Lander said that the country needs many more specialized schools that focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).   Lander called for a program that would give special recognition to master STEM teachers – “not the rare award, but maybe 5% of the teacher corps” – so that they could help improve the performance of their colleagues.  In addition, he said that the effective use of technology means a lot more than giving schools computers.  The fact that the federal government provides only about 8% of total funding for elementary and secondary education, however, means that it must work closely with states to achieve these and other goals, Lander added.  

Despite spending nearly $3 billion annually on STEM education, America ranks 25th in math and 17th in science when compared to other countries on international assessments.  Out-smarting our global competitors in the near future will prove difficult.  According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, just 16 percent of high school seniors are “proficient” in mathematics and say that they are interested in STEM careers.  Of those who do choose to major in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in college, less than half go on to work in those fields.  The most current international assessment test administered by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and development, American 15 year olds were ranked 17th in the world in science and 25th in math (Beach, 2013).  

A 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office found that 83 percent of federally funded STEM education efforts had duplicative elements.  Today, 13 federal agencies run 226 different STEM programs, most of them not being accountable for results.  President George W. Bush started work through the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America Competes Act, which targeted funding to critical areas like increasing the number of college graduates with STEM expertise (Shea, 2013).  President Obama has continued to build off what Bush started.  Obama’s latest budget proposal takes the key step of proposing to consolidate more than 100 STEM programs into larger initiatives that are geared toward specific, critical goals.  Stem programs will operate in a framework that emphasizes evaluation—so that government can build on what works and change or stop what doesn’t (Gordon, 2013).   

The STEM gap is costing us Americans jobs and money.  U.S. students fall behind 31 countries in math proficiency, according to a 2011 Harvard study that concluded the U.S. could increase GDP growth per capita by enhancing its students’ math skills.  Over an 80-year period, economic gains from increasing the percentage of math proficient students to Canadian or Korean levels would increase the annual U.S. growth rate by 0.9 percentage points and 1.3 percentage points, respectively.  That increase could yield $75 trillion.

Frank Mettee


Mervis, Jeffery. "Greater Emphasis on STEM Education." Obama Advisers Call for Greater Emphasis on STEM Education | Science/AAAS | News. Science Insider, 02 Sept. 2010. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.

Gordon, Robert Shea; Robert. "No Time to Waste in Making STEM Education Work."US News. U.S.News & World Report, 28 June 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.

Beach, Gary J. "Collectively, Not a Bargain for America." US News. U.S.News & World Report, 29 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.

Cardona, Maria. "Why The National STEM Education Fund Is So Important." The Huffington Post., 28 May 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

PARCC- Peaks and Valleys

Our government is cracking down on educational achievement in order to compete with other world leading countries. America’s achievement gaps with countries such as China, Japan, are abysmal. Our nation’s leaders have been trying to find a way to intervene effectively for quite some time (ex. No Child Left Behind). The newest attempt is the implementation of the Common Core Standards. These will serve as a blanket of curriculum mapping across states in hopes to close achievement gaps amongst states, even the playing field, and give the government some control over what is taught in our nation’s schools, when, and how well. All new ideas, experiments, and plans need progress monitoring. For the Common Core Standards, the PARCC Assessment will serve as a gauge of student achievement and school success.

PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The states currently participating include: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. These new K-12 assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year. The hope is that PARCC will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school. The test will mark students’ progress toward this goal from grade 3 through 12. Teachers, school, and families will receive timely information to inform instruction and provide student support. In addition PARCC strives to create high-quality assessments measuring the full range of the Common Core State Standards, support educators in the classroom, make better use of technology in assessments, and advance accountability at all levels.

A teacher friend I have voiced her personal concerns with the new testing. She tells me that to her “PARCC is seriously scary. For me, the NJ ASK was difficult for my students as far as the reading passages go. These new assessments are upping the reading levels, but my 3rd graders are not mature enough readers to comprehend the passage. Our school is preparing for the test by have all the students K-6 take the MAP assessment (another computer-based progress monitoring test) three times throughout the school year. I don’t know how some schools will be able to keep up with having enough computers for the kids, especially with all the budget cuts you hear about. Overall, the unknown of where all of this will lead seems daunting.”

Accountability            of states, schools, districts, teachers, and administrators
Top down policy. Is it all about money and big business or really about the kids?
Tracks progress
One size fits all? What about special education?
Ensures common core is being followed
Are the standards developmentally appropriate
Allows for students across country to learn at the same rate
What happens when a school doesn’t have the necessary technology to perform these tests
Teachers will have regular results available to guide learning and instruction
Expensive. People will need to be paid people to score open ended, and well as the cost of new computers and networking issues
Parents will have clear and timely information about the progress of their children.
Empirically based?
States will have valid results that are comparable across districts
Educators not included in development
The nation will have data based on college- and career-ready, internationally benchmarked Common Core State Standards.
Fear of educators “teaching to the test”
Tests meant to inform curriculum planning
Difficulty in representing the full range of knowledge, skills and understanding encompassed in test objectives
Students will know if they are on track to graduate and ready for college/careers
Globally competitive

While there are plenty of benefits and drawbacks, I feel that testing is inevitable. With that said, a test that measures the same thing across the board and progress monitors, will enable teachers, districts, states, and education policy makers to continue their important work of improving the overall education of our children. This will guide students toward successful, gainfully employed, competitive careers leaving them recognized globally as desirable employees.


Heather Lizza, Third grade teacher

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Curriculum Mapping

Curriculum Mapping
By:  Melissa Hancock

           In the era of a whole new type of accountability for teachers, the last thing that many educators want to hear about is revising the curriculum.  However, if we, as educators, are going to have our status within a school district calculated based on the degree to which our students are showing growth in relation to curriculum standards, it is vital for us to have a curriculum that gives us the tools we need to help our students grow and change.  This is where the concept of curriculum mapping comes to the forefront.  In order to effectively teach the core curriculum standards that are being tested, we must have a well-crafted document to guide our actions.  Today’s guru of curriculum mapping is Heidi Hayes Jacobs, the director of the Center for Curriculum Mapping.  Jacobs (2004) suggests that if schools are successful in mapping the curriculum, there will be two positive results:  “measurable improvement in student performance in the targeted areas, and the institutionalization of mapping as a process for ongoing curriculum and assessment review.” (p. 2) 
The idea of getting staff to buy-in to the curriculum mapping process should not be overlooked because curriculum mapping should be a collaborative process.  Since curriculum mapping involves all teachers documenting their own curriculum and examining the curriculum of others for gaps, redundancies, and consistent alignment and articulation of standards, it is vital that schools be learning communities, not just for the students, but also for the staff (Udelhofen, 2005).  Therefore, as the curriculum mapping process gets underway, educational leaders need to be sure their staff members feel they are a valuable part of the process.  This can be done by providing proper professional development, exploring ideas together, discussing what needs to be changed, and updating the staff on the process (Jacobs, 2004).
         Once the initial pre-planning process of choosing a mapping template is complete, the true mapping process can get underway.  First, individual teachers should complete their individual maps using the agreed upon template.  This means that each and every teacher records their curriculum data independently, so that the document is based in reality.  The maps should include content, skills, and assessments on a month-by-month basis.  Materials that are used should be referenced in the map.   After the individual maps are complete, teachers meet to look at various maps across content areas and at varying grade levels.  They should look for clear connections between the content, skills, and assessments as well as gaps and redundancies.  The third step is sharing their reviews with other colleagues in a small group setting of about seven to eight teachers.  This is followed by small groups reporting their findings to the entire staff; and at this point individuals will be able to see the district’s true curriculum.  This means that teachers will be able to see what changes need to occur, without an administrator having to tell them.  The fifth step is to develop an action plan.  This may include deciding who will address what issues and the timetable to address them.  This is followed by implementing the action plan.  Teachers working on the action plan are most likely trying to:  align content, skills, and assessments to standards; develop essential questions; explore opportunities for curriculum integration; create benchmark assessments; and work to integrate literacy in other content areas (Udelhofen, 2005).
           Overall, the curriculum mapping process has many positive benefits for schools.  It encourages reflective practice and truly gets teachers thinking about the teaching and learning in their classrooms and other classrooms in their district.  Additionally, it allows gaps and redundancies to be identified and promotes better alignment to standards.  Finally, it allows an improved learning experience for students, one that includes better linkage of standards, learning activities, materials, and assessments.  Even though curriculum mapping may sound overwhelming, it is truly a needed step in helping teachers meet the demands of the new accountability system.

Hayes Jacobs, H. (2004).  Getting results with curriculum mapping.  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Udelhofen, S. (2005).  Keys to curriculum mapping:  Strategies and tools to make it work.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin Press

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NJ Tenure Reform Bill

On August 6, 2012, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act into affect after being passed by Senate and assembly three months prior. TEACHNJ, S-1455, was a bipartisan decision and created with input from all relevant stakeholders – legislation, principals and supervisors, school boards, the New Jersey Department of Education, and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). This marked the first change to NJ education tenure laws in over 100 years. It is the combination of proposals by Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan, other stakeholders, and the provisions suggested by the NJEA. The aim of TEACHNJ is to make sure that each teacher is effective. This marks the first time that tenure is measured by effectiveness rather than the time spent in a position or within a district. The goal is to have every student in New Jersey graduate high school ready for college or a career, regardless of where they grew up and which school they attended. (Office of the Governor, 2012)
            The new tenure law was put into effect for all new-hires starting in the 2012-2013 school year. Teachers hired prior to that school year will operate under the previous tenure laws. TEACHNJ extended the time period to achieve tenure from three years to four. In order to receive tenure, teachers are required to complete a mentorship during their first year of teaching and be rated “effective” or “highly effective” in two of the three summative yearly evaluations. Teachers who have already acquired tenure are not required to earn it again, unless they move to another school district. Educational services staff members do not need to complete the first-year mentorship and are not held subject to the evaluation rating categories of TEACHNJ. However, many districts are creating new evaluations for these positions. Secretaries and clerks still receive tenure after three years. Their tenure cases will no be settled by arbitrators, not in the courts as they were previously. If a tenured teacher moves to a new position within the district that requires a different type of certificate, tenure can be obtained after two years in that position. An example of which is a teacher who becomes a school counselor would receive tenure after two years in his/her new position. Principals are required to receive “effective” or “highly effective” ratings in two annual evaluations in first three years to receive tenure. In these cases, the person still has tenure in the previous position. (The New Tenure Law: How It Will Affect you, 2012)
In the 2012-2013 school year, 30 school districts were part of the pilot teacher evaluation system (Office of the Governor, 2012). The 2013-2014 school year was the beginning of the statewide implementation (Office of the Governor, 2012). The new evaluation system comprises of four ratings: highly effective, effective, partially effective, and ineffective. The law specifies that the evaluations should be compiled from several objective measures of student growth. These evaluations are to completed by in-district administrators and supervisors (The Evolution of Tenure Reform in New Jersey, 2012). Evaluations will now be linked to professional development. The idea is to tailor professional development to the needs of teachers to help them become more effective. TEACHNJ also provides support for teachers to improve their effectiveness. First-year parents are required to be a part of a mentorship program. The goal of the mentorship program is to work with administrators and colleagues to help them succeed with the proper skills and supports. If ineffective evaluations are given to tenured teachers, some circumstances allow for an additional year to receive effective evaluation if modest improvements were made. (The New Tenure Law: How It Will Affect you, 2012)
Tenure charges must be brought about if a rating of “ineffective” or “partially effective” is followed by a rating of “ineffective.” However, if the teacher receives an evaluation of “partially effective” after a rating of “ineffective” or “partially effective,” the teacher may be allowed to have a third year to earn a rating of “effective” or “highly effective.” The tenure law works to decrease the amount of time and money spent to remove a teacher that is evaluated repeatedly as ineffective. (The New Tenure Law: How It Will Affect you, 2012) Under the old tenure law, a removal of a tenured teacher could take several years and cost more than $100,000.  The new teacher dismissal proceedings were proposed by the NJEA and modeled after the successful Massachusetts law regarding teacher dismissal appeals. This includes the change from appeals occurring with arbitrators as opposed to the courts. Under this law, there is a 105 day limit from when the tenure charges are received by the commission and a cap of $7,500 which would be paid by the state. All teachers are still entitled to due process. (Office of the Governor, 2012)
Districts will have School Improvement Panels to help the implementation of TEACHNJ. Their role is to oversee the mentoring program, conduct certain evaluations, and identify professional development opportunities. The panel consists of a principal (or a person that he/she designates), the assistant or vice principal, and a teacher. (The New Tenure Law: How It Will Affect you, 2012).
Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. summarizes the law by saying it “is meaningful tenure reform that does what’s best for our children while balancing the protection of due process for our principals and teachers” (Office of the Governor, 2012). NJEA president Barbara Keshishian states that they new tenure reform law is “a win-win for our students, their teachers, and the public” (A ‘win-win’ for students, teachers, and the public, 2012). Just over a year after being signed, Senator Teresa Ruiz, the law’s prime sponsor, remarks that it is still an “unfinished job” (Mooney, 2013). She says that New Jersey should be proud of what the law has accomplished thus far and that it is one step in process in ensuring the best education for New Jersey’s students (Mooney, 2013). Christie acknowledges that it is a continuous process as well (Mooney, 2013).
A ‘win-win’ for students, teachers, and the public. (2013, August 06). NJEA. Retrieved from
Mooney, J. (2013, August 12). Tenure law still a work in progress. Retrieved from
Talking points on the new tenure law. (2012, August). Retrieved from 
The evolution of tenure reform in new jersey. (2012, June 20). NJEA. Retrieved from
The new tenure law: how it will affect you. (2012, September 28). Retrieved from 

Office of the Governor. (2012, August 06). Governor chris christie signs revolutionary bipartisan tenure reform legislation into law. Office of the Governor Newsroom. Retrieved from