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  • How Do We Give Learners Better Access to Opportunity?

    by LearnEd

    Graduation ceremony


    Urgent Questions

    This is an opinion piece from the chief executive of Pearson, John Fallon.

    Pearson CEO John Fallon observes students during the Pearson Hour of Code session last spring at Frank Tejeda Middle School in San Antonio. (Darren Abate/AP Images for Pearson)

    The Critical Questions

    As I travel the world talking to students and educators, the most urgent questions I hear are variations on the same themes: How do I create a better life for myself and my children? What is the social compact that gets us all there, and who is responsible for creating it?

    These questions are fundamental to achieving the American dream—a dream that resonates worldwide.

    These critical questions are also at the core of many Americans’ concerns that economic progress is out of reach and that the dream is fleeting now more than ever. These concerns have surfaced more urgently within the context of the Presidential campaign, and have been foundational to candidates’ views on both sides of the aisle.

    Do we have a chance to succeed?

    To understand the dynamics that underlie these concerns, Pearson conducted a poll with the Atlantic Media as part of their “Next America” series, seeking to examine Americans’ views on these issues. (See some of our findings at the end of this post.)

    The results were revealing: More people than ever believe they don’t have a reasonable shot at creating opportunity in this country. Shockingly, and in contrast to the basic tenets core to the United States, fewer than half of all Americans—just 44%—believe that anyone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed.

    When you start to break this down along demographic lines, faith in the promise of American opportunity becomes even more strained. Fewer than 40% of African Americans believe that someone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed. The research shows that Asian and Hispanic Americans are still hanging on to the American dream, but are only marginally more confident that they have a real shot at success.


    The Promise of Education

    While this data is discouraging, there is hope.

    The poll results evidenced a shared view in the promise of education and the belief that if people have access to education designed specifically to improve their skills, their views of the opportunity would improve.

    Almost three-quarters of Americans –72%– believe they would be able to get a better job or a higher paying job with more education or training. Two-thirds of Americans believe the economy would improve by increasing the number of well-trained workers and people see investment in education as the best way to improve the economy.

    It’s clear that people of all backgrounds see education as the gateway to a better life.

    Access to Jobs, Better Opportunity

    While educators, policymakers and employers are key in helping people prepare for the workforce, companies who are focused on education, like Pearson, have an important role to play.

    Building the tools to lead people to better jobs and a better life is fundamental to Pearson’s mission. We’re especially focused on closing the skills gap to give people more access to jobs and better opportunity.

    At schools like Texas Southmost College in the Rio Grande Valley, we are providing digital curriculum that prepares graduates for high tech and health care jobs in their local communities.

    Across the nation, we are working with colleges and universities to move degree programs online, often putting up the capital to get these programs off the ground.

    And, we are supporting adult learners with the GED and our professional testing services.

    The Dream Is In Reach

    There are urgent educational and economic needs across this country. That is never more evident than when people feel opportunity is out of reach, and the American Dream is out of sight.

    Together we can meet these challenges and make sure that everyone has the opportunity to create a better life for themselves.

    John Fallon is chief executive of Pearson, the world’s leading learning company. 

    Some findings from the Pearson poll with the Atlantic Media as part of their “Next America” series:

    Next America Poll - San Antonio (16)
    Next America Poll - San Antonio (15)
    Next America Poll - San Antonio (7)
    Next America Poll - San Antonio (22)
  • What a 'Bag of Stuff' Can Tell Us About the Future of Assessments

    by LearnEd

    Kids in craft class
    co icon 1

    A Different Kind of Question

    "I knew something had clicked when the groups just jumped right in," says Lisa Maurer.

    Lisa helps run Kids CoLab at Pearson with design centers in Chandler, Arizona and Hoboken, New Jersey. Kids and adults collaborate together each week to field test existing learning tools, learning concepts, and learning research—and brainstorm new ones.

    "This time, their ideas started sprouting instantaneously."

    Lisa is referring to a recent series of sessions at the two centers when designers were asked to think and dream about the future of assessments.

    co icon 2

    Today Before Tomorrow

    "At first, kids had trouble thinking about the concept of assessments in ways that went beyond school and tests and homework assignments and quizzes,"says Elizabeth Bercovitz, a Usability and Participatory Design Research Associate at Pearson.

    "So we started writing out ideas on a big piece of paper," Elizabeth says. "We talked about assessments, what they are, and what they look like."

    Kids and adults collaborate together at the Kids CoLab in Hoboken, New Jersey.
    Kids and adults collaborate together at the Kids CoLab in Hoboken, New Jersey.

    "We asked, 'How is a piano recital a kind of assessment?' And, 'How do you demonstrate to someone you know how to play basketball in the same way you demonstrate to a teacher you know how to add numbers?'"

    Elizabeth and Lisa and the rest of their colleagues used those conversations to understand what kids were thinking about assessments now—before turning to what kids think assessments should be.

    co icon 3

    'Bags of Stuff'

    Once kids at the design centers were primed about assessments in a broad sense, facilitators broke out the 'bags of stuff.'

    These were bags full of art supplies like pipe cleaners, beads, paper clips, styrofoam balls, fabric string—everything was without a specific label or function.


    The bags also contained recyclable materials like lids from milk containers or old produce containers—any three-dimensional object that could inspire the building process.

    "It’s all about the kids and adults working together and we intentionally remove all the regular power dynamics to smooth the process," Lisa says. "They build on each other’s ideas and, in the end, it’s impossible to know who started with the idea in the first place."

    "This kind of approach helps the groups generate ideas that break the mold," she says.

    co icon 4

    dumped out

    Seeing Patterns

    Out of the 'bags of stuff,' kids and adults in groups of five or six started to assemble what the CoLab calls 'artifacts,' the make-believe future assessment design concepts they would eventually share with the other groups. (See some of their artifacts lower in this story.)

    "As the kids and adults dumped out their bags, that's when the ideas started," Lisa says. "Something in your hand could suddenly be anything. A styrofoam ball isn't a styrofoam ball anymore, it's a mind reader."

    This kind of cooperative inquiry has roots among learning scientists in the 1970s, and Lisa's group grounds much of its CoLab process in decades of research generated at the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

    "Right away, we started seeing patterns," says Elizabeth Bercovitz. "One group started coming up with an idea while a different group came up with a similar idea on their own."

    "There were powerful themes that came out of the session," she says.

    Assessments of the Future

  • Training and Rewards for Great Teachers

    by LearnEd

    Students in class

    Today in Washington, D.C., the National Network for State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), releases a new study called "Teacher Advancement Initiatives: Lessons Learned from Eight Case Studies." It's a review of what's working to train teachers, keep teachers—and improve student outcomes. Kathy McKnight who appears in this LearnED article is a presenter at today's event.


    What Teachers 'Care About Most'

    "Teaching is the hardest job in the world to do well," says Ph.D. Kathy McKnight who leads Pearson's Center for Educator Learning and Effectiveness.

    "I find it frustrating that we expect so much out of teachers," she says, "but we don't pay them very well and we just keep piling on what they're supposed to do."

    Kathy has just collaborated with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and others to highlight programs around the country that reward teachers for gaining expertise in the profession—while ensuring they're able to stay in the classroom.

    "That's what teachers tell us they care most about," Kathy says. "They want to continue teaching while learning more and contributing to the field."

    Career Ladder Programs That Work

    "Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways: A 21st Century Imperative" is the name of the report co-authored by Kathy and others. It explores national and statewide efforts to make room for career ladder programs for classroom teachers that both recognize good talent and reward expertise at the same time.

    The most successful programs include multi-tiered certification systems, leadership training and opportunities, as well as licensing programs that are linked to teacher effectiveness. In these programs, teachers help train each other, building each other up.

    In the end, says Kathy, better teaching means better learning.

    "The number one influence on any student's learning that's within the control of the school is the quality of teaching," Kathy says.

    "Traditionally, teachers who wanted to grow in their profession or move up the career ladder had to leave the classroom and become a principal or school administrator."

    Staying in the Profession

    The focus on building up the quality of the teacher workforce comes with challenges.

    "Any career ladder program has to align with district and state policies, even the culture within a school," Kathy says.

    Kathy says money has to be involved in the process, too. "You have to find a way to reward expertise financially," she says.

    "Some of the teachers we interviewed told us they were thinking about leaving the profession," Kathy says. "But they've stayed in the classroom because of these new opportunities to learn and be recognized and rewarded for what they're already doing so well."

    The "Teacher Career Pathways" report says this about the future of the teaching profession:

    "Largely due to anticipated teacher retirements, Generation Y (defined as those individuals born between 1977 and 1995) teachers are projected to make up nearly half of the educator workforce by 2020. ... Without structural changes to the teaching profession—including better working conditions, competitive compensation, flexibility and career staging—it will be increasingly difficult to attract and retain enough highly motivated and qualified teachers into the profession."

    It follows that good teachers create positive learning environments, and positive learning environments promote better learning and student outcomes.

    "This is really important to me personally," Kathy says. "I care about learners in the education system—and we need to invest carefully in what our teachers do."

    teacher feedback

  • How Blind Students Are Learning at the Speed of Math

    by LearnEd

    Braille answer sheet

    A graphic that shows "math the old way" and "math the new way," highlighting how students who are blind and visually impaired are now closer than ever before to receiving just-in-time feedback from teachers during math class.


    A quote from Dr. Abraham Nemeth, Developer of The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation: "I wanted to take math courses. My counselors said it was not a viable option for a blind person. There is not way to write mathematics, there is no way to read mathematics, and you'd better pick a different field."

    The Dawn of Teaching Math to Blind Students

    In 1952, Abraham Nemeth was instrumental in publishing The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation. It eventually caught on across the country as a standard—and straightforward—method of teaching mathematics to blind and visually impaired students using braille.

    For the first time, every mathematical notation—numbers, symbols, operators, functions, modifiers, fractions, and other signs—had a corresponding code, using braille's six fundamental dots.

    "The process of translating instructional materials into braille, then translating a student's classwork from braille back to print is an inefficient process that often takes a few days."

    "The Nemeth code was a huge breakthrough," says Jan McSorley, who is the Head of Accessibility for the Pearson Assessment Center. "But there was still a challenge: students who are blind or visually impaired were never able to get just-in-time feedback during classroom math lessons."

    Sam Dooley, Senior Development Manager for Pearson, explains it this way:

    "In a normal math class setting, your teacher writes on the chalkboard or the white board and explains concepts with visual cues and instructions. Students who are blind can't see the content on the board unless it's translated into Nemeth code. Not all teachers are fully fluent in braille. So the process of translating instructional materials into braille, then translating a student's classwork from braille back to print is an inefficient process that often takes a few days."

    'Not the Norm'

    "To be successful in math as a totally blind student," says Dan Brown, a Senior Quality Assurance Engineer for Blindness Technologies at Pearson, "you must have a phenomenal working memory."

    "You'd have to be able to hold large parts of equations in your mind without writing it down," Dan says. "But that's not the norm, not everybody can do complex math without reading and writing it. This reality means that whole groups of students are often excluded from science, technology, engineering, and math courses."

    "It's technology that allows students using braille to interact with math on a computer the same way that sighted students interact with math on a computer."For the First Time: Learning at the Speed of Math

    Sam Dooley, Dan Brown, and a group of Pearson colleagues are now developing software and hardware that jumps over all these challenges.

    It's called the Accessible Equation Editor, and, for now, it's helping make assessment tests more accessible to students who are blind and visually impaired.

    Math problems that are presented to students on a computer screen through a web browser are quickly translated into corresponding braille codes on the keys of a "refreshable braille device." This device is a specialized keyboard built with braille pins that are raised and lowered as directed by the system's software. This allows teachers and the other learners in class to work on math problems with students who are blind without the barrier of translating Nemeth code to print math and vice versa—virtually in real time.

    Sam Dooley says: "It's technology that allows students using braille to interact with math on a computer the same way that sighted students interact with math on a computer."


    Solutions for the Blind, from the Blind

    User testing of the Accessible Equation Editor was conducted at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Kentucky School for the Blind.

    Pearson hired two students who are blind to help with the product's development. High school student Su Park ran the system through hundreds and hundreds of math problems to check the accuracy of the Nemeth code translations. Edgar Lozano, who is studying computer science at Texas State University, served as a JavaScript programmer and was instrumental in working out how computers communicated with the refreshable braille device.

    A quote: "We hope to open up STEM fields to whole groups of learners who never had access to these kinds of classes before."

    "The devil is in the details for any project like this," says Dan Brown. "We needed a group of people to get this done, all with a variety of expertise and personalities."

    "Our hope," Dan says, "is our collective effort can now open up STEM fields to whole groups of learners who never had access to these kinds of classes before."


  • An Imaginative Journey for Read Across America Day

    by LearnEd

    Kids reading in line

    The Royal Mint's Peter Rabbit coin. Photograph: Royal Mint/PA

    A New Honor for an Old Friend

    We're celebrating Read Across America Day.

    A beloved American author—born this month in 1904—helps us mark this special day in a moment.

    First—a one-of-a-kind symbol of the work of another author loved by readers and learners across the globe: Beatrix Potter.

    The United Kingdom's Royal Mint has decided to put the unforgettable face of Peter Rabbit on the front of a special 50 pence coin.

    Beatrix Potter first published "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" in the early 1900s. She'd written it originally as a story for the five-year-old boy of a close friend and former governess.

    The Royal Mint is offering a whole variety of collectibles in tandem with the printed Peter Rabbit coin.

    Read Across America Day

    50 pence in the U.K. is about 70 cents here in the U.S.

    And on behalf of Read Across America Day, we offer these priceless bits of imagination to read for pleasure from Dr. Seuss!


    Dr. Seuss 1 Editorial-Insta
    Dr. Seuss 2 Editorial-Insta
    Dr. Seuss 3 Editorial-Insta
  • Future-Focused Learning and the Workforce Pipeline

    by LearnEd

    Mother and daughter

    A tease graphic for a diagram later in the document titled "Middle school indicators that can help measure college readiness."
    SEE BELOW for full diagram.

    Learning and Career

    "If Pearson puts learning at the center of everything we do," says Leah Jewell, Managing Director of Workforce Readiness at Pearson. "Then we can't ignore why people go to college."

    For many, college is a means to getting a job.

    So Leah and her colleagues are asking two questions in an effort to align learning with a constructive path to a student's career:

    'A Lot More Than Just An Assessment'

    Leah and her Pearson colleagues have developed a Career Success Program with coaching to help start answering the first question.

    Early on, the program introduces students to learning pathways that match their interests and aptitudes.

    "The project helps students gain self knowledge," Leah says. "Students explore careers, learn how to network, and build various skills with the help of career coaches."

    "It could be done in class, over one or two years," Leah says. "It's a lot more than just an assessment."

    The Career Success Program launched this year. In most cases, students are going through the program in their first year of college.

    Measuring College Readiness

    A recent paper was published "to clarify the readiness landscape," because "popular conceptions of college and career readiness are broadening beyond strictly academic competencies like literacy and numeracy.

    "On Track: Redefining Readiness in Education and the Workplace" was authored by Matthew Gaertner, David Conley, and Paul Stoltz. (You can download a PDF copy here.)

    "Educators and employers," writes lead author Matthew Gaertner, "may find it difficult to separate signal from noise and focus on the readiness paradigms that suit their needs."

    Filling in Gaps and the Workforce Pipeline

    The "On Track" paper is an effort to help teachers and parents speak the same language about students and their readiness for college and beyond.

    "The college-readiness index was created to address gaps in research," according to the report. This broad index, used as a tool by Pearson, is intended to "provide students, parents, and teachers earlier, more actionable readiness diagnoses across a diversity of academic and non-academic domains."

    Pearson has identified a list of "middle school indicators," six factors that ladder up to an overall score for college readiness.

    Translating the Scores

    Aggregating scores in these areas, then combining that data with high school standardized test scores, offers a fairly accurate picture of how a student may or may not be ready for college—and beyond.

    Katie McClarty, who heads Pearson's Center for College & Career Success, says "conventional ways of assessing academic achievement don't do much more than that: measure academic achievement. It likely misses out on key insights about the whole student."

    The "On Track" report goes on to claim: "School systems and the labor market are beginning to care a bit less about what students know at a fixed point in time, and a bit more about how they are able to continue to learn and to apply knowledge in novel and non-routine ways in real-world settings."

  • A Place for the Private Sector in Global Education

    by LearnEd

    Students looking at a tablet device

    Better Learning, Serving Communities

    "In recent years, the debate around how to fix global education has shifted," writes Pearson CEO John Fallon in this LinkedIn post. "It is no longer enough just to talk about getting every child into school (though, alas, not because that has been solved.)"

    "Just as important is what happens when they're there," he writes.

    John calls out "brave innovators" around the world who are "exploring how new teaching and learning approaches can serve their communities."

    "Where governments are sometimes unable to take on risks, entrepreneurs and startups can focus on the most difficult challenges in education—job readiness, early childhood education, or teacher training—and make a big difference in a short space of time, from which the public sector can eventually benefit."

    Affordable Learning

    In 2012, Pearson launched the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, also called PALF.

    "We believed we were uniquely placed to combine the knowledge of which learning models worked with the investment needed to succeed," writes PALF Managing Director Katelyn Donnelly in her recent report for 2015.

    "The Pearson Affordable Education Fund would have a laser focus on education companies in the developing world demonstrating high learning gains for low cost," she writes—across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

    "With our partners," John Fallon writes, "we have helped educate 350,000 people, many of whom would not have had an education, let alone a good one."

    "And importantly," he writes, "they are all solutions that are based on sound business plans, so are sustainable, scalable, and replicable."

    The Avanti Program in India

    One of the first recipients of support from the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund was Avanti, a test prep company in Mumbai, India that supports low-income high-school students with college entrance exams, focusing on science and mathematics.

    This video explains how the program is working through the story of student Sanjeev Meena in Raghogarh, India:

  • Why Minorities Can't Be Left Out of Gifted and Talented Programs

    by LearnEd

    Abstract illustration

    Expanding Horizons

    "There are sometimes appropriate criticisms about gifted and talented programs," says Dr. Katie McClarty, who directs Pearson's Center for College and Career Success. "For example, some systems are accused of being elitist because they are primarily comprised of children from affluent families. But you shouldn't throw out entire programs."

    "Every gifted child—whatever her background or experience—deserves a gifted learning education. All children deserve to have their horizons expanded."

    Barriers and Challenges to Diversity in Gifted Programs

    A recent study from Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding at Vanderbilt University tries to unpack the reasons behind "substantial race disparities" that exist in America's gifted and talented education systems.

    Katie suggests at least two reasons for these disparities. They are summarized below.

    "Research shows that some students from impoverished backgrounds show up in kindergarten already behind academically," Katie says. "So if schools rely entirely on test scores for placement in programs, more affluent students might benefit disproportionately."

    School systems have addressed this challenge in different ways.

    "Some schools adjust identification cut-off scores for students depending on their background," Katie says. "Other schools look for assessments with less reliance on prior knowledge such as non-verbal ability tests."

    "For many, the gold standard for identifying gifted and talented students is the use of multiple measures and looking at a portfolio of the whole child," Katie says. "Using this approach, there are multiple ways for a student to get in to be identified and receive services."

    "Still, this approach is time consuming for schools who want to do it right."

    Katie also points out that, for school systems like the one in Broward County, Florida, a "universal screening" approach—that is, administering an ability test to every student in the school, rathan than a preselected few—has actually improved diversity in their gifted education program. She's referring to reporting presented in this article in The Atlantic.

    limited training

    In many gifted programs, teacher nomination or teacher ratings are part of the identification process. "The Grissom and Reading article suggests that teacher race may play an important role in identifying students for gifted and talented programs, perhaps through implicit biases" Katie says.

    "For example," she says, "after controlling for academic achievement as well as student, teacher, and school characteristics, Asian students were more likely to be identified for gifted math programs—reflecting a stereotype of their better performance in mathematics."

    "In addition," Katie says, "Black students taught by Black teachers were three times more likely to be identified for gifted reading programs than Black students taught by non-Black teachers."

    This may be related to biases, but Katie also says a lot of teachers don't have experience identifying gifted and talented students, particularly from different backgrounds. "Many teachers have no real training," she says.

     Why Minorities Can't Be Left Out

    “By not identifying students in low-income and minority groups," Katie says, "you’re effectively overlooking half the student population.”

    “Studies show that students with high potential who are challenged early in their education go on to be future leaders and make significant contributions in companies and universities,” she says.

    Katie says: "Diversity benefits everyone.”

    "It’s important that these future leaders have the opportunity to learn what they learn alongside people from different backgrounds."


  • Helping Your Student With Their Stress

    by LearnEd

    Tree illustration

    Challenges That Are Good For Learning

    We've covered something called the "productive struggle" in a previous LearnED story.

    It's a concept in learning, according to Brad Ermeling at Pearson's Center for Educator Learning and Effectiveness, that's

    based on "a large body of research in psychology and math education" that indicates "some forms of struggle are actually productive for student learning.”

    Often, there are positive benefits as students grapple with tough concepts. And as parents and teachers help their children find the right balance between productive struggle and academic-related anxiety, there are a number of tactics they can use to keep their students on the right path.

    Deal With Stress

    stress1Be mindful of your own stress.

    Parents can pass on stress.

    Kids often say the biggest cause of stress is their parents, notes educational psychologist Michele Borba. Be sure to manage your expectations when you communicate with children and make sure they know you love them no matter the grades they get.


    Stress2Listen to what your child is saying.

    When listening to your child about stress, be sure you’re really listening, writes Christine French Cully, editor in chief of Highlights for Children, Inc.

    Sixty-two percent of kids in a "Highlights" survey reported their parents are sometimes distracted when they talk to them. Cell phones ranked as the number one distraction.


    stress3Teach healthy habits.

    Research has shown that a healthy breakfast positively impacts academic performance, according to the NBC Parent Toolkit, supported by Pearson. A breakfast rich in nutrients will help your child stay alert during periods of high focus.

    It’s also important to make sure they are getting enough sleep the night before.


    Article Spotlight

    Parents who have math anxiety are likely passing that stress along to their kids when they attempt to help with homework.

    That’s according to recent recent published in Psychological Science and reported in The New York Times that shows children whose parents had math anxiety learned less math and were more anxious the more their parents provided help on their math homework.

    “The parents are not out to sabotage their kids,” Sian L. Beilock, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Chicago, tells the Times. “But we have to ensure their input is productive. They need to have an awareness of their own math anxiety and that what you say is important.”


    You can find additional resources for parents at ParentToolkit.com. Please visit our Facebook page to share tips and information about what’s most relevant to parents and caregivers when it comes to kids and learning.

  • 4 Ways to Prepare Students for Their Future Career

    by LearnEd

    Illustration of kids playing

    A Looming Jobs Problem

    Only 11 percent of business leaders say graduating college students are "well prepared for success at work." That's according to a recent Gallup survey.

    Another survey of parents for NBC News, State of Parenting: A Snapshot of Today's Families, found a little over 40 percent of parents who say the education provided for children in their neighborhood "at the elementary, middle, and high school level is preparing them to enter the job market if they choose not to go to college."

    Future PotentialFinding Balance

    While Millennials and the generations to follow face a different job market than the one of their predecessors, there are steps parents and teachers can take to develop students' future potential.

    "At Pearson, we're helping people take meaningful, measurable steps in their lives through access to better learning," says Leah Jewell, the company's managing director of Workforce Readiness.

    This includes equipping learners with the 21st century skills they need—including critical thinking, problem solving, and interpersonal skills—to succeed in the global workforce of tomorrow.

    Prepared for a Career

    Two sets of skills will help students on this path to a career: technical skills and social skills. Technical skills include working knowledge of practical applications such as coding or robotics. Social skills, also known as soft skills described previously in LearnED, include traits such as adaptability, resilience, and optimism.

    Here are four major areas that parents and teachers can use to help students to be more career ready:

    You can find more resources for parents at ParentToolkit.com. Please visit our Facebook page to share tips and information on what’s most relevant to parents and families when it comes to kids and learning.