All posts by McREL.org

What skills do students really need to compete in a global economy?

The alarm bell has been sounding for a while now about a shortage of skilled STEM workers in the U.S., with business leaders often calling on schools to do a better job of preparing students for a hypercompetitive global economy. As a result, we’ve seen a dramatic, nationwide rise in STEM initiatives—from large federal programs like Educate to Innovate to your local elementary school’s afterschool robotics program.

Others, however, say there is no evidence of such a shortage and that other factors are at play, such as businesses not being willing to pay higher wages that would attract more skilled workers. Some critics have even suggested that focusing too much on math, particularly algebra, is taking away from other, more critical skills students need to be learning.

So what’s an educator to do? In the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Educational Leadership, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Heather Hein try to get some answers by taking a look at what the research says about the skills gap and how to best fill it.

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Research spotlights an invisible barrier to student success: Fate control

Half a century ago, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University set out to determine if and how schools could counteract the effects of poverty on student success. Hopeful that the findings would provide evidence to support War on Poverty education policies, policy makers and even President Lyndon Johnson were shocked when the study found that the effect of non-school factors outweighed school characteristics, leading researcher James Coleman to conclude that schools provide “no opportunity at all” to even the playing field for impoverished and minority students.

However, as McREL’s Bryan Goodwin explains in the latest Research Matters column in Educational Leadership, many people overlooked one powerful finding that still has implications today: A single “student attitude factor” (or lack thereof) showed a stronger relationship to achievement than all of the school factors combined.

In the decades since, Goodwin adds, researchers have built on this finding, showing that academic success is largely based on how much control students think they have over their ability to succeed—or their “fate control.” Internals, or those who believe they can shape their futures by their actions, are more likely to succeed academically than externals, who see their circumstances as shaped by forces out of their control.

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Inquiry-based learning session draws educators at Michigan high school on Election Day

McREL STEM/GreenSTEM consultant Laura Arndt spent Election Day at Marian High School, a private Catholic school for young women in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, delivering an interactive workshop on inquiry-based learning to faculty and administrators. The session, highlighted in an article in the local news outlet Hometown Life, focused on teaching strategies that promote reasoning and evidence-based problem solving across content areas. Arndt modeled these strategies as participants worked together to analyze text, synthesize data, and participate in learning scenarios that promote reasoning and the use of evidence to make decisions.

Read the article here.

 

From cornfields to classrooms: Why am I doing this?

For five summers as a teenager growing up in Iowa, I worked as a corn detasseler, walking up and down rows and rows of corn, finding each tassel, grabbing it, pulling it off, and throwing it to the ground. When I applied for the job, I didn’t know why the corn needed to be detasseled, I only knew that I would earn $3.35 per hour. After I was hired and given good direction, I learned that it was extremely important for me to do my job correctly or the plants would not cross-pollinate and the crop would fail. While this might seem like a simple objective, it made my job more meaningful and provided me with both the information and motivation I needed to help the crops flourish.

Similarly, our students need to have clear objectives in the classroom so that they understand what they should be learning and why it is important.

It’s crucial that teachers communicate clearly with students about learning objectives. In the Framework for Instructional Planning found in the second edition of Classroom Instruction that Works (CITW) (2012), Setting Objectives is one of the non-negotiables within the first component, Creating the Environment for Learning. CITW offers four recommendations for setting objectives.

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McREL training in Guam helps teachers and students “reach for the stars”

To spark student interest in STEM, the Guam Department of Education and McREL are working together to train teachers on astronomy and planetary science, including how to build rovers that can travel to different worlds throughout the universe. The CosmoQuest Project, which is supported by NASA, offers teachers first-hand experiences in order to get them engaged in STEM and “take that energy and excitement back into the classroom and be truly inspiring to their students,” said McREL consultant Whitney Cobb.

Read the article here.

 

Model lesson plans offer a lifeline to new teachers

The learning curve for first-year teachers is notoriously steep: Not only are they having to keep up with the content they’re teaching, but they’re also figuring out how to deliver it well, assess it right, manage the classroom and their students’ behavior, and design effective lesson plans. Striking just one of these things from their list, research shows, can go a long way toward supporting and retaining novice teachers.

In the latest Research Matters column in Educational Leadership, McREL’s president and CEO Bryan Goodwin shows how providing well-designed lesson plans is a simple yet powerful way to improve teacher performance—among both new and struggling teachers.

A 2016 study of middle school math teachers, for example, found that when one group was given model lesson plans along with webinars and opportunities to network with other teachers and the plans’ developers, their students showed higher achievement—a 0.08 effect size, or the equivalent of moving students from a classroom with an average teacher to one at the 80th percentile of quality. Moreover, these effects were doubly beneficial for weaker teachers.

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Article highlights Balanced Leadership work in the Bahamas

An article in the Abaconian highlighted McREL’s Balanced Leadership work with school leaders throughout the Bahamas, including the Abaco Islands. The article focuses on how Balanced Leadership supports the Abaco district’s theme for the current school year, “Educate Students to Create Long Time Learners,” by providing training sessions that will help school leaders adjust to the shifting, more demanding expectations placed on them. According to Superintendent Dr. Lenora Black, principals cannot meet all of these expectations alone, and the district’s goal is effective leadership at all levels, from teachers and teacher leaders to district administrators and national education leaders.

Read the article here.

McREL study finds link between school climate and literacy achievement

October 3, 2016

A study taking a closer look at the relationship between staff survey results and student performance at elementary schools across the state of Victoria, Australia, found a statistically significant link between school climate and achievement in literacy at the 5th grade level.

The predictive validity study, conducted by McREL researcher Tedra Clark and Roger Goddard of Ohio State University, focused on the effects on student achievement of five vital areas of school functioning: school climate; school leadership; professional learning; staff safety and well-being; and teaching and learning.

Teachers at 82 elementary and secondary schools across Victoria were asked about these five areas on a school staff opinion survey that McREL developed for the state’s Department of Education and Training. Further investigation showed that, though all five areas were highly interrelated and positively connected to student outcomes in literacy and numeracy, the most significant finding was that staff perceptions of school climate were predictive of 5th grade literacy achievement.

Using various statistical models, the researchers were able to “unpack” this relationship and found that the link occurs on a mediated path: Strong leadership at the school level led to better teacher collaboration and academic optimism, which led to literacy achievement. In other words, school leadership predicts student literacy scores through greater teacher collaboration and academic optimism.

This connection explained over 75 percent of the school-to-school variance in literacy achievement, said Clark. “This model is not only statistically strong,” she said, “but also holds up in different contexts and with different student populations.”

According to McREL Chief Program Officer Robin Jarvis, these findings also support the value of using multiple measures, such as climate surveys, not only to understand the factors affecting student achievement but also “to measure changes in those leading achievement indicators in order to intervene, when necessary, to ultimately improve student achievement.”

For more information on the school climate survey and results analysis, please visit www.mcrel.org/success-stories.

About McREL International

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that helps educators flourish by turning research into solutions that transform teaching, learning, and leading. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado and with regional offices in Honolulu, Hawaii and Charleston, West Virginia, McREL provides research, evaluation, consulting, and training services to school districts, education agencies, and higher education institutions across the U.S. and around the world. Learn more at www.mcrel.org.

Contact: Roger Fiedler, sr. director of communications and marketing, 303.632.5579 or rfiedler@mcrel.org.

Career Readiness: What does it really mean and how do we get there?

School systems across the country are being pushed to re-think their approach to Career Technical Education (CTE) and what it means to be “career-ready.” Job markets are continually changing, and it’s become more critical than ever that secondary students are prepared for college and career upon graduation. While many educators have equated career readiness to college readiness, others have begun to take a more nuanced approach, understanding that not all careers—like students—fit the same mold (Conley & McGaughy, 2012; DeWitt, 2012).

In 2015, ACT refined its definitions of the types of academic skills required for work: Work readiness skills are the academic skills required of all students to be prepared for the workplace; career readiness skills are those particular academic skills needed to work in a given industry; and job readiness skills are the particular academic skills needed for a specific job.

At McREL, our review of CTE-related certifications, standards, curriculum documents, and textbooks in nearly a dozen industries and career pathways has confirmed that the academic content required by various industries and jobs can differ greatly.

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