School Savings Time: Lessons Learned About Adding Minutes to the Day

Last week, the Center on Education Policy released a report summarizing findings from expanded learning time in low-performing schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Oregon, and Virginia. After reading through the report, I see a few clear themes (see EdWeek’s take for more):

  1. There is no single “right way” to do expanded learning time. We’ve written before about the important opportunities expanded learning time provides. Schools sometimes rely on external providers or community organizations to support additional time during the day, on weekends, or tacked on to the school year. Others use expanded learning time for teacher collaboration or activities to supplement student instruction.
  1. Expanded learning time is costly both financially and as a time investment. Adding time to a day or school year does carry a significant financial burden – and that increased time for students will only be effective if it is a structured opportunity for remediation or additional time with high-quality teachers. Successful implementation also requires teachers to embrace a change in working conditions. Leveraging additional time (and money) to improve teaching skills can yield a high return on investment for a school using expanded learning time.
  1. Expanded learning time is not a silver bullet. The schools using expanded learning time that are having better outcomes for students (e.g. increased proficiency, higher graduation rates) see these results as a result of simultaneous, high-impact interventions. As highlighted in the point above, simply tacking hours on to a day is not enough to improve student outcomes.

In general, the report repeats a theme that many studies on expanded learning time find: sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it seems the positive outcomes outweigh the negative, and maybe it’s only a matter of time before someone really gets it right.

Edu-trends to watch in 2015

Happy New Year! To kick off 2015, In the Zone blog writers Charis Anderson and Alison Segal are back with our predictions for the big education topics and trends for the upcoming year! Did we miss anything you predict could hit the front pages of education news? Let us know in the comments section.


Higher education: Shifting the baseline

President Obama’s proposal last week to make community college free for all students puts a spotlight on a critical element of our higher education system. While the future of the proposal remains unknown, the announcement has spurred an important dialogue about community college’s role in preparing students for career success. It’s also the first step in shifting the baseline educational standard from a high school diploma to an Associate’s degree. We also hope if this proposal comes to fruition that it would increase and improve communication and links between two-year and four-year educational institutions.

Common Core: Less “if,” more “how”

The Common Core debates are winding down, and while clearly there are still pockets of dissent, the focus seems to have shifted toward implementation, which is where we think it should be. Fewer reports are hitting our inboxes around the “dangers of Common Core,” and more discussion is appearing online and at the water cooler focusing on how teachers, with the support of their school and district leadership, can begin shifting their classroom routines and structures to reflect the Common Core Standards.

NCLB: Standardized testing to remain, but perhaps more balanced application

It’s pretty clear standardized testing isn’t going—and shouldn’t go—anywhere. But could 2015 be the year schools cut down on the testing-obsessed atmosphere and through the Common Core State Standards reclaim the classroom for learning? We see this is a classroom that is still imparting knowledge students need for Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments, but perhaps steps away from the rhetoric of “teaching to the test.”

School Improvement: More complicated, or more autonomy?

In September, the U.S. Department of Education released draft guidance updates to the School Improvement Grant. Hundreds (including us) responded with comments for edits, but the Department will not release the updated guidance for a few more weeks. The big ticket items were expanding the grant’s cycle from three to five years to include planning time, focusing on early education, and identifying a state-determined model. While we have yet to see how many changes the federal government makes, the new guidance is sure to change the way states use and view their School Improvement Grant allocations.

Can changing instruction help solve the STEM shortage?

Happy 2015! Due to some scheduling changes, our post on the edu-trends to watch out for in the coming year has been postponed a week. In the meantime, however, I wanted to highlight an interesting article that I came across in the NY Times on teaching trends in higher education science courses.

As we’ve written about on the blog before, there is a looming STEM shortage in this country: more jobs requiring STEM skills and knowledge, and not enough highly skilled STEM graduates in the pipeline. There are many factors playing into this shortage, but one issue is that many of the students who start college on a path to a STEM major don’t stay the course. According to the NY Times article, 28 percent of students at four-year colleges start out in a science, engineering or math major, but only 16 percent of bachelor’s degrees are granted in those areas.

The article highlights colleges and universities that are trying to do something about that attrition rate by changing the way introductory science classes are taught, shifting from a traditional “chalk and talk” approach to a style that emphasizes student engagement and small groups. While it sounds like it is still early days for this new style, there is some evidence that it could have a positive effect on student learning: the University of Colorado reported in 2008 that, among students in an introductory physics course, those that participated in the “transformed” classes improved their scores by 50 percent more than those in traditional classes, according to the NY Times article.

A change in teaching style at the post-secondary level isn’t likely to solve the STEM shortage all by itself, but it’s certainly an interesting approach to ponder.

Happy New Year from Mass Insight Education

We struggled over whether to post this week, as most other blogs are dormant and our readers might not be checking email.

Instead, we decided to take this week off. Stay tuned for next week’s post on edu-trends we’re hoping for in 2015! If there are any trends you’d like to see on our list, please leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading, and best wishes for 2015!

-Charis, Alison, and Mass Insight’s guest bloggers

Staying productive over winter break: Readings, videos, exercises, and happiness

This week Matt Bachand, one of Mass Insight Education’s Engagement Directors, takes the Mass Insight blog reins to suggest some very productive ways to stay busy over your winter break. Enjoy!


What we’ll do (some of) over our winter break. 

Winter break is just around the corner, and we’re guessing you’re just as busy as we are right now. However, once the planning and preparations are done, we are able to sit back and just take in all of the travel, feasting, celebrations, and visiting of friends and family. After a few moments of peace and quiet, some of you might find yourself thinking, “now how do I fill this free time?”

MIE is here to help. Should you find yourself unnerved by a lack of constant commotion at any point in the winter break, we humbly submit the following as a list of possible ways to occupy your time. We’re sure we won’t get to all of these. We also welcome further suggestions!

Catch up on some reading. 

Are you caught up on all of those professional journals? If so, we’re jealous. If not, here are a few things in our pile that we’d love to talk to you about in early January:

The current issue of Principal, the National Association of Elementary School Principals magazine, is full of articles about supporting teachers this month. One we’re particularly intrigued by is “Better Together,” which talks about working with teacher leaders. The AFT magazine, American Educator, is getting into the nuts and bolts of CTE education in its fall issue. The NEA profiles their new officers—who all women of color—in NEAtoday’s cover story.

If you’re looking for something a little more removed, the new policy book “Moneyball for Government” looks at the use of program evaluation principles in government programs at all levels of government. It’s not just educators who are being encouraged to focus on outcomes. If you’re looking for something a little-less associated with a Brad Pitt film, we’re intrigued by “Show me the Evidence,” which talks about small high schools, among other areas of interest.

No one would fault you for curling up with a hot beverage and a good book that has nothing to do with your work. There are lists of the best books of 2014 available from many places. We’re looking at Goodreads, the American Library Association’s 2014 notable children’s books, and the ALA’s 2014 notable books list. If you only have a little bit of free time and want to read a poem, we’ve got you covered.

Surf the internet for some videos!

Of course there are any number of TED talks that education minded folks would find interesting. We’re particularly intrigued by the Fordham Institute’s December 2nd event on Education for Upward Mobility. With four panels and a keynote, we’ll probably be snacking on this conference all break long.

Commit to some new years resolution steps.  

Few places can disrupt your resolution to get healthy in the new year faster than the break room at work. Here are some easy at-work strategies to help burn some of the calories that await when you can’t avoid your colleagues’ leftover snickerdoodles next month. You can stand up at meetings more and improve collaboration and creativity. You can consider using a standing desk to avoid the potential health hazards of sitting. You might also think about having more walking meetings (bonus TED talk!).

Express gratitude. 

Finally, there is an emerging body of knowledge that says gratitude can improve happiness. We at MIE are grateful for our colleagues, our families, our clients, and our partners for the work they do for students every day. We wish all of you well as you enter 2015 refreshed and ready to get back to work.



Ready to work: Computer science programs take education by storm

Yesterday, the White House announced new commitments to supporting computer science education that are giving more students access to technology education across the country. This follows President Obama’s call to action last winter for students, businesses, nonprofit organizations, students, and foundations to come together to support K-12 computer science education.

Yesterday’s announcement covered funding, partnerships, outreach, and a successful campaign to increase the number of computer science courses offered to students.

For the sake of increasing STEM opportunities, let’s talk numbers:

  • The philanthropic community committed over $20 million to the cause.
  • More than 60 districts, including some big names such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and others, committed to offering computer science courses to their students. That’s over four million students in more than 1,000 middle and high schools across the country!
  • The College Board will add to its repertoire of more than 30 AP courses with an AP Computer Science course and exam.
  • These commitments also aim to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in computer science. Today, women only represent 12 percent of all computer science graduates.

This is all good news for STEM education, especially in terms of preparing youth for the skills the workforce will require when they reach graduation. If the education world can keep up the momentum, we’re one step closer to graduating college and career ready students from all schools.

News You Should Know: Election News Round-Up

This month, we continue our news round-up feature with a recap of election results and their potential impact on education.


Last month, Americans turned out to vote in the 2014 midterm elections. As the results rolled in, we learned that at the federal level, Republicans maintained control of the House and won control of the Senate. At the state level, a handful of historically blue states (including Illinois and Massachusetts) elected Republican governors. And in states with elected state education chiefs, the majority of elections resulted in wins for Common Core opponents (see EdWeek’s coverage of the chiefs’ races state-by-state here).

What does this mean? In terms of the U.S. House and Senate, it could end gridlock, though depending on your political stance that could be good or bad. Most notably for the education world, with the Republicans claiming a majority in the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is poised to become the next chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

We rounded up a few video and written forecasts on what the elections will mean for education come January:

  • Barely one week after the elections, EdWeek hosted a day of panels and speakers, sharing expert opinions on the potential impact of the elections over the next few years. Click here for an archive of panel videos.
  • Similarly, the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a panel the week of the elections, with a spin that policy wonks may find especially interesting. Click here for a transcript and video of the panel.
  • Meanwhile, at U.S. News, Rick Hess and Mike McShane summed up the potential impact on education as a loss for unions (with the exception of California), and ponder the meaning of the silence on the Common Core in many candidates’ campaign platforms. Click here for the full post.


Debunking education myths over turkey dinner

Thanksgiving could be the time of year where family members hook onto one or two education news headlines they’ve seen over the course of the past few months and begin spitting out what is so often misinformation about a trend, policy, or event in the education sphere. If this sounds like a familiar situation to you, fear not: This year, In the Zone blog writers Charis Anderson and Alison Segal have some talking points for you to set your relatives straight:

“This whole Common Core thing is ridiculous! Since when is the federal government allowed to tell teachers what to teach?”

  • The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were put together by experts and state leaders with input from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders.
  • The goal of the standards is to ensure that all students in the U.S. will be taught with the same rigor and under the same high expectations, meaning that when a child moves from Mississippi to Massachusetts, that child has mastered the same skills as students in Massachusetts and is ready to dive in.
  • The Common Core is not a curriculum; teachers, principals, and superintendents can still make local decision about how to teach.
  • What the Common Core is is a set of “consistent education standards [that] provide a clear set of shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills that will help our students succeed.”
  • Finally, while the Common Core State Standards are a critical first step, we also need a common assessment (such as PARCC) in order to close the expectations gap between states. If states are able to set their own performance standards (i.e. what is tested), they will still be able to post artificially high proficiency rates while graduating students who are not adequately prepared to be successful in college or career.
  • Click here for additional CCSS talking points from ASCD.


“Why all this talk about college readiness? A high school diploma was good enough for me!”


“These teacher salaries are too damn high!”

  • There is a great deal of evidence showing that teacher quality is one of the most important variables in driving student success in the classroom. But guess what: for something so important, the salary is not competitive enough to drive field experts into classrooms. That means that, specifically in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classrooms, most talented STEM college graduates are choosing lucrative private sector careers over the classroom.
  • Even of the people who do initially choose the classroom, many leave within five years, citing low salaries as one reason. For example, the median starting salary for chemical engineering majors is $67,500 compared to $37,200 for education majors.


Happy Thanksgiving!

An overabundance of A’s

Last summer, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report on teacher preparation programs, finding that very few rate high on a five-star scale.  Now, the organization is out with a new report, entitled Easy A’s and What’s Behind Them, that finds the rigor we expect to find in children’s classrooms across the country is missing from the programs that train the teachers who will stand in the front of those classrooms every day. Specifically, the types of assignments – typically opinion-based rather than founded in critical thinking – that lead to higher grades are far more common in teacher preparation courses than in courses for any other major across more than 500 colleges and universities studied. In fact, the report notes that in almost 300 (58%) of the institutions studied, grading standards for teacher preparation programs are far more lenient than for other majors on the same campus. As a result, many students in teacher preparation programs are leaving college and going into the classroom unprepared.

The report offers recommendations that sound very similar to what a school partner might recommend to the principal of a struggling school: identify common standards so children are being graded fairly; listen to teachers to ensure coursework is strong and criterion-referenced as opposed to solely opinion-based.

Standards” is becoming an increasingly prevalent word in the education world. Let’s make sure it applies not only to the classrooms in which teachers teach, but also to the programs that prepare our future teachers.

Will the highly qualified STEM graduates please stand up?

The economy is expected to add about 1 million new STEM jobs by 2022, yet the U.S. has one of the lowest ratios of STEM to non-STEM bachelor’s degrees in the world.  That’s a serious STEM shortage, according to an issue brief released last week by Public Impact. The report mirrors a point we’ve written about before: that it’s widely argued that the U.S. educational system is simply not churning out enough highly qualified STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates to meet the needs of U.S. employers.

Why is this? Students aren’t being adequately prepared by our K-12 systems to pursue STEM degrees once they land in college, according to Public Impact.

Again, why? Public Impact posits that one big reason is a serious lack of skilled STEM teachers – and the numbers it cites are pretty compelling:

  • Twenty-five thousand new STEM teachers are needed every year – and yet fewer than 9,000 highly qualified high school students say they have any interest in going into teaching.
  • Only 10 percent of education majors in the bottom 25 percent of university education schools are taking the courses they need to teach middle school math – and yet that same pool of education schools produces 60 percent of middle school math teachers.
  • In 2013, only 30 percent of eighth graders had math teachers who had majored in math.
  • More than 40 percent of high school STEM teachers leave the profession within their first five years.

Lots of people and groups recognize these troubling statistics and are trying to do something about them, including the 100Kin10 collaborative (of which Mass Insight Education is a partner), which aims to get 100,000 STEM teachers into U.S. classrooms within a decade.

Public Impact’s proposed solution is the creation of what they call an Opportunity Culture – developing new models that redesign jobs or use technology to attract more highly qualified candidates into STEM teaching jobs and then to place those teachers into high-leverage situations where they interact with a large number of students.

We’re excited to see where Opportunity Culture has proven success and then how replicable the approach is. The success of our AP/STEM program stems in part from exposing more students to a rigorous AP curriculum – but also from allowing high-quality AP teachers to reach more students. It’s encouraging to learn about other initiatives that, coupled with our own, could put more students on a path to postsecondary success and increase the number of qualified STEM graduates.


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