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Education Lab Blog

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

Topic: teaching

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May 6, 2014 at 9:45 AM

Is teacher diversity a problem in Washington?

New studies from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association give credence to what many education officials already know anecdotally: American teachers are nowhere as diverse as their students.

Across the U.S., half of public-school students are nonwhite, but fewer than 1 in 5 teachers are people of color. In Washington state, 63 percent of students are white, compared with 87 percent of teachers.

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Comments | More in News, Your voices | Topics: diversity, teaching

May 6, 2014 at 5:00 AM

What tour taught our top teacher: Schools are better than we think

Jeff Charbonneau teaching a class of high-school students in Beijing. Courtesy photo.

Jeff Charbonneau teaching a class of high-school students in Beijing. Courtesy photo.

A year and 300,000 frequent flyer miles ago, Jeff Charbonneau, a science and engineering teacher from the small town of Zillah in Eastern Washington, started his journey as the 2013 National Teacher of the Year.

His travels took him to 32 states as well as China and Japan. He gave roughly 175 speeches to crowds as big as 9,000 people and as few as 40. He’s met with future teachers as well as governors, state education chiefs, and members of Congress.

As he finishes up his term as the nation’s top teacher, we caught up with him between trips, to see what he’s been thinking and doing.

Q: What have you learned in the past year?

A: I’ve learned there is a lot more going right in education than makes it into the national media. I have seen STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in high schools that rival that of universities.

I was shocked at how much better it is than I had realized. In the beginning, I kind of felt that maybe we in the Yakima Valley were doing things way better than anybody else, and I found out that wow, everybody is doing just as well as we are.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Jeff Charbonneau, National Teacher of the Year, teaching

March 25, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Talk less, listen more: Five lessons for teachers from global educator

Kimberly Mitchell

Kimberly Mitchell

Everyone has a moment when past experiences tumble together and point the way forward. For Kimberly Mitchell, that happened in 2005, as she stood in front of a crowd of suburban schoolteachers who folded their arms across their chests in disgust, as Mitchell tried to explain her concept of “inquiry-based” classroom instruction.

“You’re giving us nothing,” one said.

Mitchell, a former teacher and assistant principal at Chief Sealth High School, had traveled to California to preach her belief in the transformative power of an approach to education that features less teacher-talking and a lot more listening. But she was an outsider, a mouthpiece, more noise in the clatter of education reform.

“People like you come here all the time and talk to us about ‘inquiry,’ and we never know what you’re talking about,” the same teacher griped. So Mitchell had to act out what she meant — in a classroom, with kids, as the teachers watched. It terrified her. And it changed everything.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: education reform, Kimberly Mitchell, teaching

February 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Customized Skittles? Award honors teachers who break the mold

12th man Skittles. Courtesy Michael Wierusz.

12th man Skittles. Courtesy Michael Wierusz.

Amid a steady drumbeat of anti-union sentiment and the rise of charter schools, it’s not surprising that teacher morale in some states is at a 25-year low.

But the seven men and women selected as particularly innovative educators by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen are not in this camp. Most work in public schools. All are pioneering new ways to teach tech-based education, and each received $25,000 from one of the best-known entrepreneurs in the world to bolster those efforts.

“We look to support the creative and the untapped,” said Jody Allen, co-founder and president of The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Each of the honored teachers has “the entrepreneurial mindset to rethink education,” she added.

Regan Drew, for example, began her career in marketing with the Seattle Storm, wound up teaching business in the Mead School District near Spokane, and then created an entirely new school – Riverpoint Academy – focused on turning standard Science, Technology, Engineering and Math lessons (commonly known as STEM) into actual inventions.

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December 24, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Powerful chemistry: ‘rock-star scientists’ teaching teachers

Every district wants to improve student performance as efficiently as possible. Scientists and educators at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle say they’ve found a way — at least in chemistry and biology: Bring scientists to middle schools and have them teach the teachers.

“There’s tons of data out there about the number of science and math teachers who don’t have a science or math degree,” said Dana Riley Black, director of the institute’s Center for Inquiry Science. “But now they have these rock-star scientists at the table, and teachers learn all kinds of new content.”

State test scores suggest that student performance improved after the institute’s training, which takes place in two-day sessions three times per year. In the last 10 years, districts from Seattle to Tacoma to Snoqualmie Valley have signed on. But the biggest difference, the one that got researchers truly excited, was the jump in test scores among low-income students.

A study by the National Science Foundation found that Seattle’s s high-poverty schools improved their science scores by more than 36 percent.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: science, STEM, teaching