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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Category: Guest opinion
July 14, 2014 at 6:06 PM

Guest: Getting students to talk out ideas works in science, too

Jessica Thompson

Jessica Thompson

As educational researchers at the University of Washington, myself and many other colleagues in the College of Education are excited to re-define the role of research in improving systems of K-12 instruction. We have built partnerships with schools and believe that improvement comes from working in classrooms, elbow-to-elbow with students, teachers, coaches, principals and district leadership.

Along with successful efforts in improving math instruction at Lakeridge Elementary, UW researchers have also seen impressive results from a similar approach in science education.

These collaborations mean that we think differently about our role as professors at a university and about the purposes of data in educational reform. We see our new role as sharing research about how students and teachers learn best, building teacher development models that support learning, and generating evidence that can be used for continuous improvement. At Lakeridge, for example, researcher Elham Kazemi and the school’s teachers, coaches and leaders work in teams to collect and analyze data about how students are learning.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Math and science, Opinion | Topics: Jessica Thompson, Lakeridge, science instruction

July 10, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Guest: STEM education relies on innovation from all disciplines

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Mike Wierusz

As a former engineer and current high-school teacher, STEM is a frequent buzzword in my lexicon. But, like many others, I have found myself thinking that the STEM acronym is somehow incomplete. What about art? What about English? Many other disciplines play a vital role in developing our next generation of innovators. Outside of the education world, STEM does not exist in a vacuum.

Like a true engineer, I couldn’t shake the riddle. So I approached it as an engineering problem, taking a systems approach: looking at all the inputs and outputs. At that point I realized the source of confusion. Your definition of STEM depends on whether you are talking about the input or the output of the system. When looking at STEM as the output, to ensure economic development and global competitiveness, everything makes complete sense, and science, technology, engineering and math are the key disciplines of concern.

However, when looking at STEM from the input perspective, things get messy; the acronym breaks down and actually creates undue tension. And this is where I begin to worry.

The Northshore School District has worked hard to create a variety of courses, from composites engineering to biomedicine, that are at the nexus of theory and application. The design and engineering courses I teach are cross-credited and count as math and science credits for high school graduation. They also earn the students college credit. My students work alongside industry partners on real-world sustainability-focused projects ranging from off-the-grid vaccine storage for developing countries to supporting the design of a new high school for the district. People visit and like the STEM they see.

This is all exciting and important, but I’ve found it critical to keep in mind that the core STEM skills utilized in my classroom are developed and honed in all the other classrooms around the school. The students develop creativity and critiquing skills in art class. They learn research skills in English class. They learn teamwork and leadership in PE, clubs and sports.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Mike Wierusz, Northshore, STEM

July 1, 2014 at 11:38 AM

Guest: In pursuit of a stronger model for parent engagement

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Ann Ishimaru

As a parent, it’s hard to know how best to support your child’s education. While Oprah shares tips for getting involved in the classroom on her website, a host of other commentators send competing messages to parents who want to ensure their child’s academic success.

Indeed, sociologists Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris recently have argued that parents can actually harm their child’s academic achievement by being involved in the wrong ways. Their arguments have prompted heated discussion about whether we’d be better off if parents stopped helping their children with their homework, attended fewer school events and so forth.

Unfortunately, this argument oversimplifies the story. It confuses causality with correlation and focuses on an outmoded approach to parent involvement. That’s not only poor social science, it can have negative consequences for children and families if policymakers reduce investments in parent engagement.

Robinson and Harris imply parent involvement causes academic achievement. We know shoe size and measures of intelligence are positively related to each other — but it makes no sense to argue that larger feet cause greater intelligence (hint: age has more to do with it!). In the context of parent engagement, jumping to causality would mean parent help with homework harms academic achievement. Some scholars suggest parents step up their homework involvement when children are struggling — so poor achievement might cause homework involvement.

Beyond methodological considerations, there is another way to view Robinson and Harris’ findings.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Ann Ishimaru, parent engagement, parent involvement

June 19, 2014 at 5:32 PM

Guest: Fightin’ words from the state Supreme Court on education

“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…” — Article IX, Section I, Washington State Constitution

Chris Korsmo is CEO of the League of Education Voters, a statewide nonprofit.

Chris Korsmo is CEO of the League of Education Voters, a statewide nonprofit.

Last week the state Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to appear before the court in early September and explain its reasons for failing to make adequate progress in the McCleary v. State of Washington funding case.

Two years ago, the justices found that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic education in the McCleary case. Lawmakers were given a 2018 deadline to fix how we fund K-12 schools.

With last week’s ruling, it appears that the court and the Legislature are headed for a legal and political showdown.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: education funding, McCleary decision, Washington state legislature

June 14, 2014 at 5:11 PM

Guest: How Toppenish turned cow parts into a STEM partnership

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Trevor Greene

“What do you do with the eyeballs?” I asked, as dozens of them looked back at me from the plastic container. I was halfway though a student tour of AB Foods, a state-of-the-art processing plant and largest employer in Toppenish, when the potential for a partnership with Toppenish High School came to mind.

The tour guide had already shared that, aside from producing more than 200 million pounds of boxed beef annually, almost every part of the animal was utilized: hides for leather, meat and bone meal for organic fertilizers, dried blood for fish food, and tallow for bio-fuel production, to name a few.

An hour later, an informal conversation with CEO Brad McDowell secured a commitment to support the high school with eyeballs, beef hearts, and occasional joints for the newly established biomedical program. McDowell appreciated the chance to help community students in a sustainable manner that didn’t include repeated fiscal donations.

Within a year, McDowell and many other business people were serving on advisory boards for many of Toppenish High’s STEM courses, which were cross-credited and designated “Career and Technical Education” (CTE) classes. Cross-crediting the STEM courses meant that each class could meet a graduation requirement in more than one area, affording students flexibility in scheduling and allowing them to take more electives. Student enrollment numbers have continued to increase, and more than 20 district staff members completed their CTE certification just this year.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: STEM, Toppenish High School, Trevor Greene

June 6, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Guests: How gaps in teacher quality widen the gaps in student achievement

Dan Goldhaber

Dan Goldhaber

Lesley Lavery

Lesley Lavery

Roddy Theobald For an op-ed

Roddy Theobald

In the summer of 2013, Seattle Public Schools adopted a five-year strategic plan that includes the laudable goal of ensuring educational excellence and equity for every student. The plan cites the “significant demographic achievement gap” in the district, and seeks to address this gap by calling for “an equitable distribution of resources that prioritizes the needs of students.”

Recognition of achievement gaps and calls to address them are not new. What is new is our capacity to identify the resources that contribute to or ameliorate these gaps. Compelling research over the last decade has shown that when it comes to in-school resources, teacher quality is what matters most. Unfortunately, Seattle has a long way to go toward ensuring that this crucial schooling resource is equitably distributed across students.

Teacher quality is hard to define and may mean different things to different people, but we don’t need to agree on a particular measure of quality to come to the conclusion that it is inequitably distributed across students. In fact, a variety of different measures show that disadvantaged students in Seattle Public Schools are less likely than their more advantaged peers to have access to a high-quality teacher.

As one example, students receiving free or reduced price lunch in Seattle’s seventh-grade math classrooms are more than twice as likely as their higher-income peers to be taught by a teacher with fewer than two years of experience (about 12 percent versus 5 percent of students).

This teacher-quality gap is not unique to middle-school math, or to this particular measure of teacher quality or student disadvantage. It shows up at the elementary- and high-school levels, when teacher quality is based on a value-added measure of teacher performance or credential exam scores, and when the comparisons are made between white students and historically disadvantaged minority students.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, teacher evaluations, teacher quality

May 29, 2014 at 3:16 PM

Guest: Waiver loss shines light on absurdity of No Child Left Behind

Dan Magill

Dan Magill

I am not bothered about losing our state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. In fact, this may be one of the best things to happen to education in Washington since standardized testing wrapped its shackles around us last decade.

Losing this waiver is good because it finally exposes No Child Left Behind for the utter foolishness that it is.

Here’s the letter I would send to parents if I worked in the state superintendent’s office:

Dear Mr. And Mrs. Colbert:

We must inform you that your child currently attends a school that has been labeled “failing” or “needs improvement” according to the No Child Left Behind Act.

According to the law, you now have the option of switching your child into a school that is not failing. Unfortunately, because 99 percent of schools in the state have received this label, you’ll have to move out of state to find one.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Dan Magill, No Child Left Behind, waiver

May 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Guest: How to land a high demand job with a low cost degree

cindy

Cindy Zehnder

With the end of the school year just around the corner, thousands of Washington high school students are focused on what is next in their lives once they’ve tossed their tasseled caps into the air.

Fortunately, the educational pathways to a living-wage job may be shorter and less expensive than they realize. The challenge is making sure students know about and connect to these abundant education options within our community and technical college system and licensed private career schools.

Turns out, it’s not how long you’ve studied but what you’ve studied that counts in the job market. Those who pursue short-term degrees in high-demand areas are being rewarded with living-wage jobs in our state. And they can reach those well-paying jobs faster and more efficiently (and often with less debt) than longer, less-focused educational paths.

For example, students in a two-year aviation maintenance technician program at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood earned $37,000 on average their first year out of school. Those who completed a nine-month bookkeeping program at North Seattle College earned $33,000 that first year.

These middle-skill jobs are growing throughout our state. But they have sometimes been overlooked by young people charting their next educational step. It’s only now in the aftermath of a shifting economy that these critical mid-level occupations in manufacturing, healthcare, IT and other growth areas are gaining the exposure they’re due.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Cindy Zehnder, community college, higher ed

May 15, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Guest: Here’s what quality pre-K looks — and sounds — like

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Matthew O’Connor

People in Seattle like to make noise — and the most recent NFL season proved it. The record-setting decibels produced by fans at CenturyLink Field are a point of pride in our city.

When opening the door to my pre-kindergarten classroom, a visitor is met with a similar wall of sound. A group of children in the classroom library is performing readers’ theatre, generating the “next chapter” of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

“Maybe Goldilocks writes a letter to the bears saying ‘I’m sorry for eating your food!’” says Sydnie. A separate group is constructing what the students have decided is a food-stirring machine out of wooden blocks. “Make sure the button says ‘start’ on it!” shouts Emile, calling across the classroom to Mekhi at the writing desk, who furrows his brow and places pencil to a scrap of purple paper, saying the word start to himself slowly to parse the sounds he hears. Mekhi later tapes this scrap to the food-stirring machine, and the group declares it complete and fully functional, although its purpose and product is still up for heated debate.

It is a frenetic scene to witness — some might even call it chaos. But it is a carefully orchestrated chaos, a barely restrained madness that, when all parts are moving just right, can result in powerful change for these students. This change is rooted in something so simple: words.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: early education, early learning, Matthew O'Connor

May 13, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Guest: Direct instruction offers clearest path for student success

marcy stein

Marcy Stein

How best should we educate our children? With direct instruction.

For more than 50 years, the best way to educate children has been heatedly debated by those who favor teacher-directed instruction (also known as explicit instruction) and their opponents who favor student-centered instruction — to the point where the debates have become “wars,” e.g., the reading wars, the math wars.

Those who promote student-centered approaches falsely assume that children learn better when direct instruction is minimal, when the teacher is not a teacher at all but a coach who facilitates each child’s individual rate of learning and personal creation of knowledge.

As a matter of fact, schools where teachers use direct instruction almost always measurably outperform similar schools where teachers do not. The superiority of direct instruction for students at risk for academic failure was recently recognized in a Seattle Times editorial about Auburn’s Gildo Rey Elementary, a highly successful school in an impoverished community.

Despite all odds, this school has “become one of the top-scoring public elementary schools in Washington state.” Focusing on the students’ excellent results there, the Times’ editorial board rightly recognized that the success is due largely to this school’s use of direct instruction. The students in this school performed remarkably well on state tests that measure both basic skills and higher-order thinking.

If direct instruction has been so successful, why hasn’t it been more widely adopted? One crucial reason, I believe, is because influential critics confuse direct instruction with rote instruction and associate rote instruction with the derogatory phrase “drill and kill.”

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: direct instruction, Marcy Stein

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