"People are spending a lot of money to go to college," says Leah Jewell, who is Managing Director of Career Development and Employability at Pearson.
"It's possible," Leah says, "that some students go through a college experience and, at graduation, aren't properly equipped to acquire or even find a job."
"How are they then going to pay off all their school debt?"
Understanding All the Choices
Leah says the number one reason students choose to pursue higher education is to put themselves in a better position to get a job.
"It's not about pushing one pathway over another in higher education to direct students to particular jobs," Leah says. "It's about giving these students a better understanding about the pathways—and the jobs—that are available."
You want to be an English major? No problem. Leah says you should know your options as a college graduate with an English degree.
"The more you understand these pathways," she says, "the smarter decisions you'll make about your own professional future," she says.
'The Mix' of Employability
Leah and her colleagues have been working over the last two years to compile a list of the best research about preparing students for the job market after school.
"It's not new, necessarily," Leah says. "But we've drawn it all together in broad buckets that are easy to digest."
"It's a combination of these buckets that makes it work," Leah says. "And these buckets are pretty applicable across the globe."
From Baseball to the Science of Classroom Management
Chris Huzinec traces his interest in researching classroom dynamics back to high school sports in Ewing, New Jersey.
"I joke that sports always kept me from being a real 'problem student,'" Chris says.
"When I played baseball and I wasn't very good," Chris says. "But a good friend was one of the team's star pitchers. He felt most comfortable with me behind the plate, so I ended up catching all his games."
"He had learning disabilities and took some special classes separate from the rest of us," Chris says.
"I guess that friendship opened my eyes to the challenge of creating a classroom environment where all learners learn, regardless of academic and social challenges."
Tools for Teachers That Make Sense, Can Be Used Right Now
Today, Chris is a Director of Research for Pearson's Review 360 with graduate degrees in clinical and educational psychology. He also worked for a time in Houston's public schools.
"It's a tool for teachers to be proactive in setting up a classroom to better manage disruptive behavior before it starts," Chris says.
"Disruptive behavior takes away from instructional time for all learners," Chris says. "But it's also true that constant removal of a behavioral challenge is not necessarily the best approach, either."
"We're trying to help teachers both manage their classrooms and facilitate healthy instruction at the same time."
6 Indicators of a Well Managed Classroom
This help comes in the form of six areas of attention—organized in a way that's "simple and straightforward," according to Chris.
High expectations for student behavior must be defined and communicated. Appropriate and acceptable behaviors must be taught, modeled, practiced, and reinforced on a daily basis. Setting behavioral expectations is the foundation for proactive classroom management.
Classroom procedures must be defined to provide guidance to students in how things work in the classroom. Common procedures and routines should be so methodically taught and so consistently enforced that they become internalized by all students within a short amount of time.
A well run classroom is arranged and organized for optimal learning regardless of the activity. A structured classroom greatly improves the educational outcomes for students and reduces the occurrence of problem behaviors. Teachers are well prepared with the lesson’s required materials and supplies readily accessible. Little instructional time is lost during transitional activities.
A teacher of a well run classroom recognizes the importance of reinforcing and rewarding positive behaviors. They understand that behaviors that are reinforced grow stronger over time. Praise, comments, and constructive feedback let students know they are being successful. There is a greater ratio of positive vs. negative interactions.
A well run classroom includes a good balance of structure and nurture. Students have a positive relationship with the teacher and the other student. Students feel safe and comfortable to learn. There is a climate of respect and caring. A sense of community of learners is present.
In a well run classroom, problems will still occur. The difference is that the teacher has developed a systematic plan for correcting behavior that has been taught and reinforced. Both positive and negative consequences have been initiated. Desirable replacement behaviors are identified.
"Research has shown us that schools of Education which prepare teachers often require minimal coursework on addressing disruptive student behavior," Chris says.
"Teachers tell us that our method gives them skills they never had, that they can use right now in the classroom," Chris says.
Success with a New Approach, Skills 'I Can Use Right Now'
Most training in managing classroom behavior takes a top-down approach—starting with principals and school-wide initiatives.
"We're keeping things simple, working with teachers on skills they can use with their students every day—then moving up to school-wide activities," Chris says.
Research conducted by Chris and his colleagues shows that this effort can work. By providing teachers what they want and need to address disruptive student behavior through easy-to-access and easy-to-use lessons can not only improve the practices of teachers but also improve the discipline outcomes for students.
Pearson started working with teachers and schools in Brownsville, Texas. It's a district of about 55,000 students. They are predominantly Hispanic and many are economically disadvantaged.
"In three years," Chris says, "in-school suspensions were reduced by 36-percent. Out-of-school suspensions came down 40-percent."
The impact on students served in Special Education was even more notable.
Prior to review—these students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, were suspended twice as much as their peers.
Eventually, these suspensions came down—by 49-percent for in-school suspensions and by 46-percent for out-of-school suspensions.
We recently asked 1,500 K-12 teachers across the country:
What thank you gifts are most useful and most meaningful?
Turns out, these teachers told us that "most useful" and "most meaningful" are the same thing.
Some Things are Useful and Meaningful, Some Things Are Not
One teacher told us:
"Teachers never expect to receive gifts of any kind from students. That said, gift cards to establishments students know their teachers frequent are greatly appreciated."
This could mean gift cards to Target or Amazon or a community grocery store.
We found that some gift ideas are less useful and meaningful to teachers, like trinkets, soap or lotion or candles, flowers or a plant, and food.
Something else teachers DO appreciate? Classroom supplies.
We heard from a lot of elementary school teachers that they need help with classroom resources. From stickers to tissues, teachers spend a lot of their own money on supplies. Ask them what they might need to help keep the classroom engaging.
This could be the biggest gift for teachers in a variety of ways.
One teacher told us:
"If a parent is pleased with my work, I wish they would also let my superiors know."
A personal note from your child might also put a smile on your teacher's face. You or your budding young artist could use craft supplies to demonstrate your appreciation.
Last fall, NPR broadcast a story about a retiring teacher who received 75 letters of appreciation from students she'd had in her classroom over a 40-year career.
One of the teachers surveyed told us:
"Gifts that are sent from the heart are the best."
LearnED spoke with five of them—Erika Webb-Hughes, Walter Peters, Aly Stark, Luis Oros, and Lee Noto—to hear about their passion for learning.
"Students Need Every One of These Voices"
Erika Webb-Hughes was 26 when she stood at the door of Room 611 for her first day as a teacher in a California high school.
Her English class students were tenth graders in a special education program. Most read on a third- to fourth-grade level.
Several of those students commuted for hours just to get to school. Some had difficult foster care situations, Erika says. Others barely spoke English at all.
"I told them how nervous I was," Erika recalls, "then I said: 'You all are starting my class with an A—and, if that A is important to you to keep, here are the little things you'll need to do each day.'"
"Their academic success was their goal to have and mine to support," Erika says. "And giving them that kind of ownership opened up a whole new world of learning to come."
Erika says she's still in touch with many of those early students.
"They're successful, they're working, they're living on their own, they have families," she says. "It's amazing."
From the Classroom to Helping Make Classroom Policy
Erika quickly realized she had a knack for the intricacies of education policy in special education.
In the classroom, she saw first-hand how school systems were hampered by confusing policies and poor communication about those policies.
So Erika went to work for the California Department of Education, first in assessments then in special education then as a liason with the U.S. Department of Education.
All the while, she remembered her classroom experience.
"I knew the impact of policies in the classroom," Erika says. "I was able to make sure that policymakers heard the voice of people actually doing the education work."
'All of us working together.'
Today, Erika works with Pearson and its government relationships in 13 western states.
"I've had a seat at the table from many perspectives," she says. "As a student, as a teacher, as a parent, as a policymaker, and now with a company that does work to support learners."
"Students need every one of these voices," Erika says. "It takes all of us to work together to craft an education system that works for all learners."
'Your Dreams are My Dreams'
Walter Peters didn't know where he was headed after graduating the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in public policy.
A job in healthcare? A job in education?
Walter ultimately decided to enter the classroom as a teacher—and was placed in a school in Washington, D.C.
He taught bilingual classes in Kindergarten, first, and second grades.
"I had no idea how profoundly it would affect the rest of my career trajectory," he says.
An Introduction to Teaching
"My first year was difficult," Walter says. "I was struggling with my classroom and how to teach. I was dealing with different cultural and social dynamics."
"I was always thinking about my problems with students—and how I might use the experience to get the next great job. I couldn't see how the goal of teaching every child could ever be reachable."
The Call to Teaching
One year later, Walter participated in a family engagement program through D.C. public schools. He met all his student's families. Many of them were from El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Vietnam.
"The one thread through all their stories," Walter says, "was their profound desire for their children to succeed."
And Walter had an epiphany:
"I thought if teaching every child was not possible as I'd been thinking, then it was the same as saying to these parents 'Your dreams aren't worth having.'"
"I was wrong—and I realized that I wanted to be involved with education for the rest of my life," Walter says.
Walter went on to teach for a time in a charter school in New York. Today, he works for Pearson in New York.
"I want to work for a company that can attract the best and the brightest," Walter says. "We're doing right by students by working for Pearson."
'Everyone Believes in the Power of Learning'
Aly Stark's fifth grade teacher was a "game changer."
"I was unsure of myself at the time," she says. "I kept my opinions to myself and didn't really ever speak up."
"But Ms. Amaya nurtured her students," Aly says. "She built relationships in the classroom, she built a community of learners. In the end, I found a whole new confidence and a love of learning."
Building Communities to Innovate Learning
Aly taught for three years in inner city New Orleans.
"I started teaching middle school history," Aly says. "And my last year was with second and fifth graders."
Today, Aly's students are her Pearson colleagues. She's helping the company with leadership development, from new hires all the way up to Pearson executives.
"We're building community here, too," Aly says. "Through various training programs—like Ms. Amaya in fifth grade—I'm trying to help my colleagues with their confidence, to become mini experts in their role with Pearson."
"Pearson is not perfect and it doesn't always get everything right," Aly says. "But we all want students to be successful, we all want students to have access to high-quality education."
"We striving for the same goal as parents and teachers," Aly says. "Everyone believes in the power of learning."
'I Watched Them Start to Love Learning'
Luis Oros studied neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University. He thought he was headed to medical school—or a career in "neuromarketing," an industry that applies brain science to marketing and advertising campaigns.
Eventually, Luis' expertise in brain science led him to a career in learning with Pearson.
He's now researching artificial intelligence technology and progressive educational models.
Students Who Suddenly Started to Love Learning
Five years ago, Luis was teaching math and science to middle school students.
Many of the students had behavioral problems. They were struggling in school, Luis says.
"They hated everything about school," Luis says. "And they didn't see themselves as being capable of learning."
"Plus, the curriculum didn't seem well-matched with what I knew about brain science and learning," Luis says. "So, with a research grant, I put together a new student-centered classroom model for my students. Suddenly, the kids were doing a lot of the teaching, taking ownership of much of their own curriculum."
"And our classes became some of the top performing classes in the state," Luis says.
"Most importantly," he says, "I watched my students start to love learning."
Luis says we are seeing "the death of education and the birth of learning." He's written about what he means in this blog post:
It’s crazy when you think about it. We take kids and force them to adapt to this really complex bureaucracy instead of adopting the system to them. This is especially crazy in a world full of surprises. Surprises of the economy, of society, of invention and technology. Everyday is going to be a surprise. Education prepares you to cope with certainty. There is no certainty. Learning, however, prepares you to cope with the surprises of the world.
I want to see environments where kids are restless until their need for learning is satisfied. Where kids are allowed to pursue their curiosities and taught to solve interesting problems, not to memorize answers.
"I'm a tinkerer, a scientist trying to build better relationships between teachers and students," says Luis.
"At Pearson, we have the resources to explore the newest, best, most effective educational models to help students everywhere."
'We Are Helping to Close the Gaps in Education"
When Lee Noto was teaching fourth graders in Hawaii, she saw first-hand "all the gaps in the education system."
"I'd had a pretty solid learning experience growing up," Lee says. ""It was the first time I came face to face with poverty and inequity in education. I was seeing education from a broader perspective."
Business Acumen in Learning Innovation
Prior to her time in the classroom, Lee graduated the University of Central Florida with a degree in business.
Today, she helps her Pearson colleagues evaluate whether the company's products are helping learners.
"I'm so excited to be part of a company that empowers people around the world," Lee says. "We are helping to close the gaps in education."
Don Kilburn's father came home from World War II a disabled veteran. Through the GI Bill, he was able to earn a degree at the University of Georgia by taking classes at night.
"Education—and education changing lives," Don says, "was big in my family."
The 'Reality Check' of Working Alongside Educators
Don is President of Pearson North America.
"I feel like my work with Pearson is more following than it is leading," he says. "So many educators enter our business who once made a difference in the classroom, and now want to make a bigger difference at scale."
"These colleagues care deeply about education," Don says, "and I draw energy off that every day."
The Learning Struggles of Don's Own Son
One of Don's two children has tested on the dyslexia spectrum and, before it was diagnosed, said things like 'I'm dumb and I'm stupid.'
"He's not," Don says. "It happened to be a Pearson test that helped us assess, then remediate, his struggles in school. Now he's thriving."
"When Pearson can help with changes like that," Don says, "that's why working for this company is such a great thing to be involved in."
Doing Well By Doing Good
After a recent visit to Boston International High School and a tour of its innovative curriculum, Don sat down to talk about Pearson's ongoing mission to help change many more lives.
Edgar Lozano once hosted a podcast episode for the blind community that featured his friend, Jose, who had recently traveled through an airport and recorded his experience from the perspective of a man who is blind.
Mathematics, however, has always been his passion.
"Ever since elementary, math has always been a subject I enjoyed," Edgar says. "I like doing calculations in my mind. I like playing with numbers."
Fooling His Teachers
"I took math like anybody else would," Edgar says. "I had the skills to master things like algebra, but, over time, there were lots of concepts—especially when they were written on the board—that I found very confusing."
"But my teachers just passed me on to the next grade level," he says.
"When 8th grade came along," Edgar says, "that's when I really started to struggle." For the first time, he encountered Algebra II with linear equations and the quadratic formula.
With the help of specialist educators, Edgar went back through Algebra, then tackled Geometry and Algebra II—then moved on to Calculus.
"Now I'm in college taking really high-level math classes," Edgar says by phone where he's a sophomore at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
There are no other blind or visually impaired students in his classes.
"My professors are amazed at how I keep up with class," Edgar says. "I just seem to have a good memory for all that kind of stuff."
Math on the Next Level
Edgar was brought in by Pearson last summer to collaborate as an intern on a special hardware and software project that was trying to make math learning easier for blind and visually impaired students. It's called the Accessible Equation Editor, and we described the project in an earlier LearnED post.
Early on, the team asked Edgar to code in early math problems and wrangle with various bugs in the system.
"To be honest, I had my suspicions when we started about whether the project would work at all," Edgar says.
Over time, the project got better—and Edgar's view of it changed: "It was really showing some promise."
A Mentor and Coach
Edgar's closest collaborator was Sam Dooley, a senior developer at Pearson.
"Sam taught me so much," Edgar says. "He showed me how to organize my code like a professional. He introduced me to a lot of the computer science and math subjects that I wasn't able to understand."
"He willingly answered all of my questions."
"The most important thing Sam taught me," Edgar says, "is, if you have a problem or an issue in front of you, break things down in to steps and manageable tasks."
Graduation and Beyond
Edgar is majoring in computer science at Texas State University.
"People always ask me how I manage it," he says. "I've just always enjoyed coding and math."
As for his future, Edgar says it's "unpredictable."
"I want to go anywhere to help people with my computer science knowledge," he says. "Or develop applications on my own that continue to push the limits of technology."
"Math was very painful for me as a student," says Su Park, a high school student who is blind.
Until her sophomore year, general education teachers would convert math lessons in to Braille. Su would use those converted lessons to learn concepts and complete classwork. Then her work would be converted by hand back into forms that sighted teachers could understand.
"I struggled to learn Braille, my teachers didn't always know Braille," she says. "And feedback was always delayed."
"I figured if I stuck with it long enough," Su says, "something would come along that would make the whole process a lot easier."
Understanding the Barriers
In February of last year, a team from Pearson showed up at Su's school in Texas. They wanted to talk with blind and visually impaired students about the barriers they faced in math class.
"It was more than anybody else in education was doing to smooth out struggles with math class," Su says. "But I remember thinking, 'What are they going to do about it?'"
"I honestly didn't expect anything out of it," she says.
Her First Challenge: 948 Math Problems
Su's contributions during those brainstorming sessions at school led the Pearson team to hire her as an intern last summer.
The team was developing the Accessible Equation Editor, new software and hardware that allows students using Braille to interact with math on a computer the same way that sighted students interact with math on a computer. (We describe the innovative hardware and software in this LearnED story.)
"We needed someone to read the Braille from the perspective of the student and tell us whether we were getting it right," says Sam Dooley, a senior developer at Pearson who helped lead the project.
"It was very surreal," Su says. "I went through 948 math problems and, because it seemed so seamless, I was too caught up in the moment to realize what was actually happening."
A Long Summer
Eventually, the Pearson team asked Su to write an instruction manual for the Accessible Equation Editor from the perspective of a blind user.
"I thought it would be easy," Su says. "But I'd never written an instruction manual before and I'd never thought about guiding a blind person through a visually-oriented task with words."
"Sam and Dan Brown were the people who kept me on track and taught me how to do everything," Su says. Dan Brown is Pearson's senior engineer for blindness technologies who is also blind. "When things got tough, they helped me take a break."
'I Think Math Will Be My New Passion'
"For years, I told myself I'd never work in a math-related field," says Su. "Now, with a couple more years of learning and exposure to concepts, I think math will be my new passion."
"This makes history for everyone involved," Su says. "For blind students and general education teachers who are working with these students in advanced math."
"What's important to understand is that 'accessibility' is not about technology," Su says. "'Accessibility' is made by people like Sam who tackle challenges and endeavor to fix them in ways no one has ever tried before."
Su, now a junior in high school, still can't really believe the Accessible Equation Editor works so well.
"It's our first chance to see eye to eye with sighted students in the classroom."
Sean Keefer was once deputy chief of staff for the governor of Indiana. Because of close ties with state agencies related to workforce, labor, and economic development, he had unique insight in to what Indiana's employers were looking for in job applicants.
"Employers are expecting skills beyond those that the education system provides students and future workers in high school and college," Sean says.
"Parts of the education process need to teach workforce skill sets that are not currently in the system," he says.
"It's causing problems," Sean says, now a regional director with Pearson. "Public policy experts and governors and associations are saying we need to fill the skills gap so the U.S. is competitive globally."
A Better Way
"State governments have tried to train the workforce in better ways," Sean says.
"But, so far, few solutions have been effective or sustainable."
The Direct-to-Work Initiative
Sean and his colleagues are collaborating on a new project with training company 180 Skills to identify students or graduates who can be trained well, trained quickly, placed in to jobs with skills that businesses need—then measure how the whole thing is working.
It's called a direct-to-work initiative and a pilot program is already underway in Indiana.
"If you don't have a high school diploma or equivalent," Sean says, "we'll help with your GED."
"We're proving that employees who don't have that diploma can still have rewarding careers and thrive in the modern economy."
Several hundred students are participating in the pilot. Many of their training classes will focus on manufacturing or computer science.
"There is some very sophisticated software involved," Sean says. One class about welding uses that software to study complicated pieces of technical equipment.
"It's like a flight simulator," he says. "In the software, you can pull out every piece, every nut, every bolt, and study the innards of that piece of equipment."
Among the students in the pilot who already have a high school degree, Sean says the project expects 90-percent of them will graduate from the course and that 90-percent of them will get jobs.
Those numbers drop—slightly—to 75-percent when Sean's team sets expectations for students who are not high school graduates.
"This kind of approach is proven out," Sean says. "When some students have the option for alternative, vocational areas of study, they will stay in school—and graduate at a higher level."