Education News

This is a collection of noteworthy educational news. We share these news items in order to raise awareness and pose questions for discussion. Your comments and perspective are encouraged and appreciated.


  1. Positive Support Structure Guidelines

    Stanford University released a report that includes a framework for an integrated system that evaluates teachers and provides professional support throughout a teaching-career. The report acknowledges the values of both personal qualities (creativity, skills, understanding...) and professional qualities (methods, activities, discipline...).

    Their teacher evaluation plan encompasses 5 elements:
    1. common statewide standards.
    2. performance assessments based on statewide standards
    3. local evaluation systems aligned to the same standards.
    4. support structures to ensure trained evaluators, mentoring for teachers, and fair personnel action.
    5. and aligned professional learning opportunities.

    How are we doing in the state of Maine?
    1. Common Standards. Maine has spent decades working towards this and currently is shifting towards the Common Core. Lets call this one an "almost there" even though there is some more work being done every year to get there.

    2. Performance Assessments: This is definitely on our "to do" list. There are individuals and even some systems pushing this element, but as a state movement, this item has yet to be really supported by action.

    3. Local Assessment based on Standards: A ton of work at local levels has us with a fairly fleshed out system of assessments all aligned (at least on paper) to standards.

    4. Support Structures: Sadly, this is one of our more lacking areas. With so much emphasis on attacking poor teachers, one would think there would be more support to help those teachers improve with mentoring models and other proven support strategies. This one item may be provide our greatest return on our time/financial investments in education!

    5. Aligned professional development: I feel that many administrators try their best to make their PD time as current, connected, and useful as possible. The success of those efforts are highly dependent on the individual administrators exposure to current options, flexibility, and communication with staff. We might benefit from more support to help our administrators better utilize PD opportunities.

    In all, we have 3 of the 5 items progressing at some level of success. The performance assessment and support system for struggling teachers are both key areas we can invest in to better the quality of our educational offerings.

    The state has tried some limited mentoring systems that proved very effective, but the cost was prohibitive. Individuals continue to grow in terms of offering performance assessments, but the stresses of high stakes, non performance based, tests take away much energy. In what ways would you suggest we can offer better mentoring type support networks for teachers struggling and how can we encourage and improve the introduction of performance based assessments in all of our disciplines?

  2. Homeschooling picking up steam:

    More parents around the country are becoming frustrated with school systems and deciding to have their children educated at home with the family. Homeschooling has increased by 75% since 1999, but there are still only 4% of our students participating in homeschooling. Current trends at the elementary level point to increased growth in the number of parents choosing to pull their children out of traditional education.

    Many have criticized the "quality control" over home school practice. Certainly, arguments can be made that the annual accountability for home school progress can be much less than the constant data that needs to be collected for traditional students each year. Yet, home school students consistently score in the 65th to 89th percentile on standardized tests and have a much narrower fluctuation between lowest performing students and highest performing. In contrast to traditional schooling, race, income, and gender do not statistically play a part in the success of home schooled students.

    It sounds like we should just ditch traditional schooling and keep the kids at home until we look at the special situations home schoolers are in. By it's very nature the choice to home school includes heavy parental involvement in the child's education. When we look at our top traditional students, we find that heavy parental involvement is prevalent while our most struggling students often have almost no parental involvement in their educational support. This factor highlights one of the main reasons one could argue that home schooled kids would still be successful in traditional school and it is not the home schooling that is assisting the student's learning.

    Time is a factor that is heavily on the home schooler's side. Students that are home schooled often have very structured times for their day, but the flexibility in setting that schedule around the student and family needs is a huge asset in student learning. Many reports indicate that our traditional 8am start time is much too early for adolescents to process well. For home schoolers, the times when each student is more productive can be utilized. Individualized pacing and content tailored to where the student's skills are at (as opposed to social promotion in traditional school) is another huge factor in home school success.

    With the technology increases available and the increasing prevalence of learning resources that are high quality and free, will we see more families turning to homeschooling? If those 4% grows to 10 or more percent, what happens to our traditional school funding formulas? Is it possible, that parental choice to home school their children forces educational reform in many of our states?