Fifty Years in the Making


By Stuart A. Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

At first glance it seemed like an unlikely place for an extended philosophical discussion of education. Then again perhaps it was the perfect setting for teachers, young and old, to gain an appreciation for the potential lifelong impact of their classrooms and consequently the heavy responsibility that possible outcome brings with it.

And to think it was supposed to be simply a 50-year high school reunion.

Oldies but goodies

For the sake of full disclosure I must explain that recently I was dragged by my best friend thousands of miles, kicking and screaming most of the journey, to a gathering of my high school class of 1964. For my buddy this event was just another in a long series of these get-togethers. Of course he had good reasons to relish these meetings—fifty years ago he had been the star of the state championship football team, steady date of the captain of the cheerleading squad and on his way to a scholarship to the University of Virginia. I, the owner of a significantly lower social profile during those same years, was far less motivated to revisit a world in which I perceived I had made scant impact.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was not a total outcast among the 200 in attendance and that my experiences in the classroom both as a student and teacher would somehow become center stage.

Time does not dull all memories

It was at breakfast on the Sunday after the final gathering and a group of six alums were gathered around a large round table. Richard, now a dentist in Lake Tahoe, posed an interesting question to the assembled group: “Which of your teachers was the most influential in your life?” Without hesitation I answered “My Junior English teacher John Harocopus,” then added, “he was my model in my career especially in terms of classroom management. He was young and not physically imposing but he was passionate about his subject and ran a wonderfully disciplined and demanding class.” I went on to explain that I later adapted many of his methods in my own classroom.

My friend, who in addition to his athletic talents was highly successful academically, quickly joined the conversation. “For me it was Col. Brose. He brought history alive for me and to this day he gave me a strong interest in the subject. He was a great teacher who brought the curriculum alive for everyone in the class.” A former star basketball player seated across the table nodded in agreement with this choice.

And so it went for fifteen minutes, six men all hovering around the age of 68 and five decades removed from public education vividly discussing the profound influence wielded by educators they had encountered when John Kennedy was President. In the midst of the conversation my wife, a retired Biology teacher, leaned over to me and whispered, “More than a little scary what a difference teachers can make. Every person in education should have to listen to something like this.” The proof of this assertion was clearly on display.

And on the flip side

During the course of the reunion not all of the memories were so positive. At the second reception a man approached me and introduced himself by saying, “I don’t know if you remember me but I’m Steve Alsop. We were in eleventh-grade U.S. History together.” Surprisingly once he had given me his name I did, indeed, remember him. “When I saw your name on the list of attendees,” he continued, “I couldn’t wait to ask you if you remembered the time you were asked the question about the British and Colonists in the Revolutionary War.”

My blank look indicated a total lack of recall of an event that occurred in 1962. “I’m afraid I don’t,” I said somewhat sheepishly.

A smile crossed his face. It was apparent that this incident was still an amazingly fresh memory. “So that crazy teacher of ours says to the class, ‘Given all of the circumstances entering into the war, which side had the advantage, the British or the Colonists?’” The grin widened. “Well, everyone was terrified that she would call on them and then she looked at you and said, ‘Stu Singer, what do you think?’ I’ll never forget how you gave a wonderful answer explaining all of the numerous factors favoring the British. It was a compelling argument, an extremely powerful argument. So after you had finished and most of the class was nodding in agreement she says, ‘Now that was very logical, but it just wasn’t the answer I was looking for.’ Steve shook his head and put his hand on my shoulder. “At that point you just looked back at me a few rows away and rolled your eyes. I will never forget that moment.”

While I had no such recollection the implication was clear—this hypocritical and bizarre response by a teacher had left a permanent and obviously negative impression on this individual. The question that went through my mind was “how many other people at this reunion have similar stories?”

During the course of the three days other teachers, some good others not so much, were placed under a similar half-century old microscope. The take-home message for this retired educator was clear. Fifty or more years after the classroom instruction had been completed the palpable impact on many of the students, positive and negative, remained.

It is as important lesson for educators in 2014 as it was in 1964.

Attendance is to school what rebounding is to basketball!


Author’s Note: September is Attendance Awareness Month

Attendance is to school what rebounding is to basketball—it is hard work, requires effort and persistence, and it often goes unrewarded and unrecognized, but schools cannot be successful without it. Improving school attendance is a matter of will. It requires a multi-pronged effort over several years to break the culturally supported cycle. Even the best schools have a significant number of students who are chronically absent.

Good school attendance, particularly in high-needs schools is more about attracting students than about promoting attendance. While having the right attendance laws and procedures in place are important in the short-run. In the long-run, a school must create a safe, orderly, and student-centered school culture that attracted students.

  • Our school had to become a place where students felt wanted and where they wanted to be.
  • We had to be a school in which every student expected to succeed every day.
  • We had to be the kind of school in which each and every student was both known and valued.
  • We had to be the kind of school that students wanted to attend and hated to leave.
  • We had to be a school that had to work to get students to leave the building at the end of the day, not one that had to work to get students to attend.

To be that school, we had to provide a safe, clean, orderly, warm and inviting school environment built on quality relationships. In addition, we had to create a culture of success in which students came to school expecting to succeed while knowing that their teachers would not stand bye and allow them to fail.

We learned from experience that when kids miss school they miss out, and when kids miss out, we all suffer. In our school, attendance, along with school wide literacy, was a priority. We served large numbers of under-resourced students who needed extra support and encouragement in order to attend school on a regular basis.

USA Today reports that research suggests that as many as 7.5 million students miss a month of school each year, raising the likelihood that they’ll fail academically and eventually

Preferred Activity Time (PAT) Bank of Strategies for Teachers

What if we could build willpower and self-control in our students? As Roy Baumeister discusses in Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, one strategy to use in building willpower and self-control is to provide students with options, choices, or in this case contingencies also referred to as if x then y options.

  • If I run two miles then I can do ___ later today.
  • If I diet all week, then I can have one “cheat day.” 

Teachers can build willpower and self-control by using Preferred Activity Time (PAT) or contingencies with students. If we finish this activity, then we can do ____.

They key point is that the students are always learning. This is not about games for the sake of games. Learning is fun!

Our teachers got a lot of mileage from Learn Star, which uses a direct response system which allows students to answer teacher-designed or a predesigned set of questions. Our hardest to reach students loved PAT.

This is a link to the Tools for Teaching PAT Bank, which features an ever growing bank of games and activities to be used in Responsibility Training’s Preferred Activity Time (PAT). 

Any lesson/curriculum can quickly become a PAT by making it a team game. In addition to the activities below, any game show format used on TV will work.

Teachers commonly use Jeopardy, Family Feud, Twenty-One, Concentration, What’s My Line?, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, To Tell the Truth, and College Bowl. Also, see our PAT Tips page for some more ways to use PATs.

“Our sixth graders favorite PAT is jeopardy played with their world history vocabulary words. They complained when their PAT time was postponed because of a field trip! ‘Can’t we take the field trip another day, today is PAT time.'”

- Lynn Layman of Greathouse Elementary, Midland, TX


What New York can teach us about implementation of the Common Core

New York has become the poster child for poor implementation of the Common Core State Standards. A Race-to-the-Top state, New York officials bragged several years ago about how they were ready for the new standards.

The state could not wait for PARCC to develop an assessment system. So, New York developed it’s own “Common Core-Aligned” set of state tests and tied the results to teacher evaluations and to graduation requirements. Common sense dictates that new, higher standards, new, more rigorous assessments coupled with a short window for implementation would result in lower scores on the tests. But as Will Rogers once said, “Common sense ain’t so common.”

The train wreck occurred when officials, knowing that scores would drop, tied those scores (fifty percent) to teacher evaluations and graduation requirements. This initially outraged teachers who saw the handwriting on the wall. After all, if you have been in education for more than a few years, you are all too familiar with botched implementations. Next came parent outrage because their students were failing the required state tests in huge numbers and they would not graduate.

If one wished to devise a plan to sabotage the Common Core State Standards, this plan was virtually foolproof.

As early as three years ago, New York principals, with tears in their eyes pleaded that tying the expected falling test scores to teacher evaluations was eroding the trust they had worked so hard to build and was destroying the culture of their schools. Their pleas went unnoticed–Ready, Fire, Aim.

Implementation of the Common Core State Standards is a necessary, but ‘monumental undertaking.’ Changing the way teachers teach and how students are assessed, moving the target from high school completion to college and career-readiness, integrating literacy into all content areas, changing teacher evaluation systems, changing state accountability systems are individually multi-year undertakings. Together these and other local and state initiatives–all occurring simultaneously–represent the “perfect storm” for public education–a storm with no end in sight.


Higher standards, more challenging tests mean lower test scores

Another state, Mississippi, experiences an expected dip in test scores as schools transition to new college- and career-ready standards.


Test scores will predictably drop in every state except MA, which already had rigorous standards–and a select few other states.

  1. The target–college and career ready instead of high school graduation–is much more challenging. The measure has changed, and, therefore, the scores are not comparable.
  2. New standards mean a change in instruction, which will take years to achieve. No one really knows how long it will take to build teacher capacity and revamp new teacher preparation programs.
  3. The assessments are new, which will normally cause a temporary dip in test scores until students and teachers acclimate themselves to the online, constructed response format.
  4. The real improvement process will not begin until teachers get meaningful feedback from the assessments, which is a year or more away.

Who should decide what is taught in schools? – Poll

A pair of wide-ranging polls by PDK/Gallup and Education Next gauge sentiment on the common standards, testing, school funding, and other hot-button issues.


Overwhelming support for local control.

100 Search Engines For Academic Research

100 Search Engines For Academic Research


“It’s the third week of school and we haven’t learned anything.”

Hundreds of students walked out of class at Jefferson High School on Monday morning, holding a sit-in to protest a host of issues at the South Los Angeles campus — among them a scheduling snafu that has extended into the third week of school.


Teacher Evaluation: Are “principals reluctant to issue low ratings?”

Education Week reports on the continuing trend in teacher ratings across the country. Both Hawaii and Delaware data show an overwhelming majority of teachers meeting standards. “As in many other states, among them Michigan, Florida, and Indiana, only a small fraction of teachers are getting low ratings.”

Questions posed by the author”

  1. To what extent is the evaluation process shaped by the norms at work in each school?
  2. In other words, are principals reluctant to issue low ratings because of the likelihood that it could affect morale and working relationships”
  3. Does the shortage of teachers in fields like special education impact the ratings?


New, higher college and career-ready standards have significantly raised expectations regarding what all students should know and be able to do. Heightened expectations for student achievement raises the bar for teachers. Principals in the know understand that we must build the capacity of teachers to deliver these new standards. For example, few secondary teachers have been trained to effectively integrate literacy–purposeful reading, writing, and discussion–into their content areas. Yet, under the new standards, literacy is a “shared responsibility” across all content areas.

It is unethical to rate teachers on skills that we know they don’t have…yet. Until the new standards and expectations are firmly entrenched in the culture of schools, principals must be builders of capacity, not inspectors of processes.

New York’s Implementation of Common Core “Fails Kids”

‘Why would policymakers create tests that are designed to mark as failures two out of every three children?” ….and tie the expected falling scores to teacher evaluations and graduation requirements.


Let’s be clear. This article describes New York’s choice of how to implement the Common Core. The approach New York has taken ties more rigorous tests and expected drop in scores to both graduation requirements and teacher evaluations. Instead of being an example, New York represents a warning to all states.

This has happened in non-Common Core states like Virginia!

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