Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ooops...better late than never!

We knew there was something we were forgetting!
Neal Moore, Dauphne Trenholm and Julie Johnson Holt

We haven't updated our blog since, well, everything's changed. And we mean everything.

Our look, for one -- you may have noticed our new logo and colors.

And, most exciting, we've added a new partner and creative director, Neal Moore.

So now First Class is able to take on an even broader range of projects. In fact, we already are! We'll fill you in on some of those next time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Debate sparks Common Core discussion

Last night's debate between senatorial candidates generated a spirited discussion about the Common Core on on my Facebook page. It clearly illustrates the amount of confusion and misinformation that's out there. With names removed, here's what was said:

MY ORIGINAL POST: Just one more thing..the Common Core is not a federal curriculum. And it's needed 

FRIEND ONE: Why is the common core needed or necessary?  

FRIEND TWO: Someone is going to have to convince me that the Common Core is more effective than math techniques used in the past. From what I've experienced, it requires kids to use all of these different approaches and to show their work when, really, just as we did, they know how to get the answer through memorization or simple reasoning. I LOATHE the common core.  

FRIEND THREE: My understanding from my teacher friends is that CC is a set of standards. It is not a curriculum or a teaching technique. It does promote critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning skills. It is up to the individual school districts to use a curriculum that help students meet CC Standards. Some companies market their curriculum as being "aligned with CC standards" and although this increases book sales, it may or may not be the case. Herein lies some of the confusion and some of the crazy things we've all seen in the media and on the internet.

ME: (Friend Three) is exactly right. It's a set of standards that was adopted while I was at the Department of Ed, so I got the good fortune of watching the process up close. It came from the realization among state level folks -- in the association of state education directors or commissioners and in the association of governors -- that students in the US were not keeping up with students in other countries and students in some states were not being taught to the same level of standards as students in other states. 

We were lucky in Arkansas because we already had a high set of standards thanks to some strong educational leaders at the state department. That made it easy for us to sign on to the Common Core effort. All we had to do was readjust where some of our key concepts were taught. For example, I remember that some of the big concern involved introducing algebraic concepts at lower grade levels than we had previously.  

The other big focus, as (Friend Three) said, was to to teach at a deeper level of understanding to make sure students really understand the most basic concepts. In Arkansas, the one criticism I often heard from teachers with our standards (or curriculum frameworks) was that they were so broad that they were tough to cover in a year's time. The Common Core should help with that issue. 

School personnel determine how the Common Core is to be taught in their classes, so it really gives teachers more freedom. 

Common Core is suffering a lot of the same plight as Obamacare in that it gives government-fearing folks a stick to use -- except they haven't done their homework. This did not stem from Obama but from the states themselves.

I doubt that will be the end of the discussion...feel free to join in with your comments here!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Compelling Education Quote of the Week: More than labels

"Our ultimate goal is to get to a point where we are not about putting a label on a teacher but about collecting data and using that data to empower educators to make good decisions about their practices. That will make better opportunities for our students." Ivy Pfeffer, Arkansas Department of Education, quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Context: Arkansas is rolling out a data management system, BloomBoard, for use with the state's public school teacher and administrator evaluation systems. BloomBoard is meant to make data collection and analysis easier for a more streamlined evaluation process.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Compelling Education Quote of the Week: Research or Advocacy?

"I think the charter idea is a brilliant idea, but we need to handle it responsibly. ... Trying to make sweeping statements about charter schools or district schools does not advance the overall cause of improving American public education." Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change in Minneapolis, quoted on NPR.

Context: Nathan was responding to a just issued report by the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Researchers analyzed finances and NAEP test scores to determine that students in charter and regular schools perform about the same. But, the report goes on to say, charter schools have less funding so are more efficient.

Some called the report another instance of advocacy research and say it needs to be taken with a few grains of salt.

Patrick Wolf, author of the study, said, “Public policy in education can't ignore cost. Money is scarce, so it's a service to policymakers for them to know which education sectors are most productive."

What's your take?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Compelling Education Quote of the Week: Carrot or Stick?

"This law is working directly against us. The students who are going to help us get the high school out of academic distress are the kids who are probably going to try to leave, and then we'll never get out. If they
leave...that will make the challenge even greater for us," Dollarway Superintendent Bobby Acklin quoted July 16, 2014, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Context: Mr. Acklin was responding to the dilemma faced by the 26 schools designated as "academic distress schools" in Arkansas. Schools receive the label when more than half of their students over a three-year period score below proficient on the state Benchmark and End-of-Course exams.

It points to the truly tough conundrum the state faces in dealing with such schools. As Mr. Acklin said, helping the students (they now have the option to transfer to other schools) has the potential of further harming the schools, despite schools' and districts' efforts to improve student performance.

Surely there's a better way to serve both the student and the school. Any ideas?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Get back to nature with PD

Here's a great opportunity for an Arkansas teacher shared with us by Arkansas Parks and Tourism...

Buffalo National River is offering an opportunity for one, local teacher to become a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher (TRT) this summer. The TRT program is a professional development opportunity for grades 5 -12 teachers to spend the summer acquiring new skills in experiential learning through a program provided by a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS) and the University of Colorado – Denver. The participants spend between four and 6 – 8 weeks at Buffalo National River developing a major educational project and participating in an online graduate course from CU Denver.

The goal of the TRT program is to train teachers in the resources and themes of the NPS so that they can return to their schools in the fall and incorporate their new skills into their classroom activities. NPS aims to reach students from under-served schools and districts by recruiting teachers from Title 1, urban, rural, and tribal schools to participate in the TRT program.

For more information and to apply, please go to

Monday, June 16, 2014

Can't we create a virtual win-win?

As a small business owner, I am more than somewhat sympathetic to the desire local internet providers have to sell services to the school districts in their areas.

BUT  (and, just as I typed it, it's a big "but") by putting the needs of the schools and, more importantly, the students first, we're also putting all of Arkansas first.
We can't teach students in a barely digital, 20th-century environment and adequately prepared them to be productive in a highly digital, 21st-century world.

Truly, we're hindering our state's progress, if we do. And, let's face it, Arkansas has a history of doing that.

School officials have been voicing the need for more broadband access for years. It's not a new problem. But it has been a money problem and one that private providers have been too slow in trying to help solve. Instead, and this is a natural tendency, of course, they've viewed it as a source of revenue for themselves.

Wouldn't it be nice if the industry and the state could join together to find a solution that helped everyone. After all, just as Arkansas needs smart students who grow up to be productive citizens (hopefully who stay here to make a better Arkansas) we also need to support our small businesses.

We work with a client who has a great model for doing that. Arkansas Preschool Plus wants to improve early childhood education in the state. While some states are pursuing this goal by funding preschool, Arkansas Preschool Plus is partnering with communities to support private day cares and early childhood centers in their area. They are boosting education for young children AND helping small businesses serve their clients better. It's a win-win.

FASTER Arkansas, a group of private industry representatives appointed by Gov. Beebe, back the state's proposal to change the law so school districts can join ARE-ON. (FASTER stands for Fast Access for Students, Teachers and Economic Results and ARE-On stands for Arkansas Research Education Optical Network.)
FASTER Arkansas believes this will provide a cost-savings to the state and to school districts.

As they testified at the legislature last week, ARE-ON is also a public-private partnership. We hope that means the organization, which currently serves higher education, will create that symbiotic relationship that will benefit everyone -- private providers, school districts and students.
Wouldn't that be best?

Gov. Beebe and two education organizations -- Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators and Arkansas Rural Education Association -- think so. Here's an exerpt from an email AREA sent to its membership:

"Out of 42 states using this network, or a similar network,  Arkansas is the only state that has made it unlawful for K-12 students to access ARE-ON. These other states also have more and less expensive broadband for their students. ADE surveyed schools in 2013 and found that schools were paying from $1.20 per MB to $2.80 per MB and 80% of schools said their broadband connections were inadequate.

"Both Quality Digital Learning Study Committees recommended that ARE-ON be the backbone service provider to schools and let the private providers connect from ARE-ON to a central location at the school. The study also recommends professional development for teachers and network technical support to help districts create, maintain and effectively utilize local area networks.

"For this plan to be implemented, Act 1050 must be changed to allow K-12 to have access to ARE-ON."