Monthly Archives: February 2012

Education Funding Isn’t Fun Anymore

By Stevan J. Kukic

When funding is large and flexible, we can try things that are exciting, self-fulfilling and, often, are not part of a broader system. Many times, these things are colorful, easy to use, and not very effective with our students.

Imagine any other profession allowing what we allow educators to do. Basals, textbooks, interventions, technology, and instructional practices are viewed as sets of options to be used creatively by each teacher. Further, these resources are often purchased based on how much free stuff we will get rather than on the data that prove the resources actually work to improve outcomes when used with fidelity.

Atul Gawande wrote an important book, The Checklist Manifesto. In it, he proves that in all professions there are routines that must be repeated with proficiency and fidelity. Yet, in education we too often allow teachers to do whatever they want to do with whatever they want to use.

This model does not work. And it cannot be supported anymore given the tremendous constraints on education funding. The mandates remain; funding is being constricted because of political bickering, this Great Recession, lack of public will, etc.

Take a look at this excerpt from a blog post titled “There Is a Hole in the Bucket” by John Kuhn, a superintendent from Texas.

“North of Dallas there is a well-to-do suburb called Highland Park. According to the last census ‘per capita money income in the past 12 months’ for Highland Park was $116,772, and ‘median household income 2005-2009’ was $176,375. The median value of a home is $982,600 in Highland Park.

“South of Fort Worth, there is a blue collar neighborhood called Everman. According to the same census ‘per capita money income in the past 12 months’ for Everman was $16,685, and ‘median household income 2005-2009’ was $39,508. The median value of a home is $80,700 in Everman.

“I’ll ask two rhetorical questions here: (1) should these two school districts be funded at the same level? and (2) if not, which district should get funded at a higher clip, and why?

“If you answered that Highland Park should be funded higher because rich white kids are used to nice things, you are a winner! (And on a side note, I’d like to thank you for reading the blog, Congressman.)

“Now, here are some relevant educational funding facts taken from the Texas Education Agency’s ‘Academic Excellence Indicator System.’ (You’ll notice that it doesn’t say a word about ‘funding excellence’ anywhere.) The hyperlink will take you to the TEA’s AEIS search engine so you can verify that I’m not just making junk up. (Please be aware that there are two Highland Park school districts in Texas. This Highland Park is usually denoted as Highland Park-Dallas. Also note that the state of Texas accidentally forgets to acknowledge the existence of the Target Revenue System on the AEIS report it releases as public information regarding each school district; that being the case, I have taken the target revenue information for these two schools from the link previously shared above, which contains information appropriated from the Equity Center.)

Comparing Two Districts: Everman vs. Highland Park


Target Revenue: Everman: $4973… Highland Park: $6013
WADA: Everman:
6184… Highland Park: 6697
Allotment for first 6184 kids: Everman: $30,753,032 … Highland Park: $37,184,392

Teaching Quality

Avg. actual teacher pay: Everman: $50,491… Highland Park: $55,894
Teachers w/adv. degrees: Everman: 14.6%… Highland Park: 67.1%
Students per teacher: Everman: 15.5 … Highland Park: 15.6
Turnover Rate: Everman: 18.0%… Highland Park: 9.2%


4-year completion rate: Everman: 85.2%… Highland Park: 98.1%
Met standard, sum of all tests: Everman: 67%… Highland Park: 98%
College-ready (TSI)-English: Everman: 50% … Highland Park: 93%
College-ready (TSI)-Math: Everman: 58% … Highland Park: 96%


% of student body is white: Everman: 6.3%… Highland Park: 90.4%

“The one conclusion we can all agree on here is that students in Highland Park are turning out better than the students in Everman, academically speaking. But now I have to knock the wheels off our happy consensus and ask the question: ‘Why?’

“The way I see it, there are a few possible answers.

1. White people are intellectually superior. (The KKK prefers this answer.)

2. Higher-income parents have smarter kids. (Higher-income parents prefer this answer.)

3. Inequitable school funding stunts academic achievement. (I prefer this answer.)

4. Everman has crappy teachers, and Highland Park has awesome teachers. (School reformers prefer this answer.)

5. Everman has crappy parents, and Highland Park has awesome parents. (Republicans and burnt-out teachers prefer this answer.)

6. Social factors outside-of-school in Everman are more toxic to education than factors outside-of-school in Highland Park. (Democrats prefer this answer.)

In my next posting, I’ll delve deeper into causality and explain why I titled this posting as I did. I know you can’t wait.

John Kuhn is Superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in Texas. Last year he spoke out on the steps of the Capitol in Austin, and was featured in this interview here.

Is Kuhn’s blog radical? Perhaps. Thought-provoking? Obviously.

How can we respond to this contradiction of constrained funding and continued, outcome-based accountability?

Here are some ideas:

  • Purchase only evidence-based practice that promises to improve outcomes.
  • Implement it with fidelity to get maximum return on investment.
  • Commit to never again buy materials primarily based on which company gives you the most free stuff.
  • Demand to see independent validation for any company’s claim of effectiveness.
  • Stop making decisions based on ideology or tradition; make decisions based on data.
  • Let the data speak. If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, stop doing it.

A superintendent in Arizona recently told me that he was not sure we needed more money in public education. When I challenged him with great righteous indignation on that account, he told me this: Until we stop buying and using practices that have proven track records of not working, we have no idea how much well-targeted funding we need.

Isn’t it funny that implementing evidence-based practice with fidelity is a sure way to improve outcomes and a sure way to get the most out of our constrained resources?

Actually, it is not funny; it is obvious.

Stevan J. Kukic, Ph.D., is vice president of Strategic Education Initiatives for Cambium Learning Group. Previously, he was a consultant for Franklin Covey® and state director of At-Risk and Special Education Services for Utah. Kukic is a past president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE).

Categories: Funding | Leave a comment

Coteaching Isn’t Taking Turns; It’s Teaching Together

By Anne M. Beninghof

Coteaching (or collaborative teaching) is defined as a coordinated instructional practice in which two or more educators simultaneously work with a heterogeneous group of students in a general education classroom. A key word in this definition is coordinated. Coteaching partners spend time planning together, smoothly share instructional responsibilities, and collaboratively reflect on their practices. Effective coteaching can be compared to synchronized swimming: teammates must carefully coordinate, not only to win, but to avoid drowning!

Coteaching can look many different ways to the casual observer. Within one period, we may see both teachers take a lead in lecturing, giving directions, monitoring student behavior, or taking responsibility for a small group. We may see one teacher quietly collecting observational data while the other facilitates whole-group instruction, or one teacher problem solving with an individual student while the other continues the lesson. No matter what it looks like, effective coteaching always requires the active engagement of both educators for the entire period.

I have the opportunity to visit many schools around the country that wish to implement effective coteaching. As I observe in classrooms that are labeled “cotaught,” I see a wide range of implementation. In many cases I observe two educators fully engaged during the lesson, contributing their unique expertise to meet the needs of the students. But just as often I see one educator, usually the specialist, greatly underutilized. Evidence of this may include:

  • Hearing the specialist’s voice rarely or not at all
  • Seeing the specialist leaning against a wall for a significant portion of time, waiting for the general education teacher to finish lecturing
  • Watching the specialist wander the aisles, offering minimal cues or supports to individual students who may be struggling
  • Failing to note anything that could be called “specially designed instruction”
  • Observing little or no interaction between teachers

While debriefing my observations with teachers and administrators, I frequently learn that the coteaching partners have no common planning time. For coteaching to be most effective, partners must have time to coordinate their instructional efforts. Administrators must make common planning a priority when designing the schedules. Teachers must also create time-efficient ways to enhance their coteaching.

For example, a short brainstorming session with coteachers yielded 30 different tasks that Teacher A could be doing while Teacher B is lecturing, including:

  • Writing color-coded notes on the board or laptop
  • Echoing key words from Teacher B
  • Pulling up an online site (thesaurus, encyclopedia, media) to support instruction
  • Providing kinesthetic tools, manipulatives, aids, and props
  • Counting down, giving time clues, or managing a visual timer
  • Prompting engagement with directions such as: “Stand up if you …, Turn and talk about …,  Stomp your feet if …”
  • Going on-the-spot to websites to show visual images

Another reason teachers cite for underutilizing the specialist is that they are in their first year of coteaching together and will “step it up” after they become more comfortable with each other. Students cannot afford for teachers to spend a year or more getting used to each other. For the sake of our students, we must “step it up” right away. This often means that the specialist must advocate more strongly for a significant role in the classroom. This may also mean that the general education teacher must welcome and, even more, expect the specialist to share ideas and expertise.

When both parties are willing and committed to effective coteaching, these conversations can be dynamic springboards for excellent instruction. When one party is less willing, these conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable. For the sake of our students, teachers need to have these conversations, no matter how uncomfortable. Luckily, resources are abundant! Checklists, discussion guides, and problem-solving processes can help partners clarify their roles and responsibilities so that both sets of skills and expertise are fully utilized. These tools and additional ideas can be found at


Anne M. Beninghof, M.S., an internationally recognized consultant and trainer, has more than 30 years of experience working with students and teachers in a variety of public and private settings. She has been a special education teacher and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Hartford and the University of Colorado. She has published several books and videos, and has provided staff development in 49 states. Beninghof recently returned to the classroom, where she works part time with teachers and students who are struggling with the learning process. Follow her blog at, or visit her on Facebook or Twitter.

About Anne M. Beninghof

Books by Anne M. Beninghof: SenseAble StrategiesMeeting StandardsIdeas For Inclusion

Categories: General Education, Professional Developement | 1 Comment

“SEMple” Teaching Practices That Create Meaningful Literacy Instruction

By Pat Sekel, Ph.D.

Much research has been published recently focusing on best teaching practices, in particular those supporting literacy. What is the underlying theme in all this rigorous investigation on thousands of different kinds of learners? Research has found three key elements that, when combined, will engage 100 percent of learners, with zero downtime, achieving better than a 98 percent success rate. How can this be accomplished? It’s “SEMple.” Let me explain …

Studies have found that teachers who teach in a Structured, Explicit, Multisensory manner—or teach “SEMply”—will produce these types of results with students (Archer & Hughes, 2011; McIntyre & Pickering, 1995). But, what does this actually look like in the classroom? For this high level of success to take place, the teacher must take responsibility for student learning, not make excuses if students fail to master new material.

The S in SEMply represents Structured. Structured teaching involves presenting material methodically and teaching information in a sequential manner. Students practice applying procedures  and routines until they can be used unconsciously when reading or spelling an unknown word.  For example, if students are taught to identify syllable types or to quickly ‘scoop’ words into syllables when they encounter an unfamiliar word, working memory can be spent on decoding the word rather than   panicking over how to first attack it.

English is a highly structured language, with spelling at least 86 percent regular when one knows the rules and patterns (Cox & Waites, 1986). Teaching students the most regularly used sounds and spelling patterns in a systematic manner, rather than relying on  “teachable moments,” will enable students to read more words more quickly. Teachers who study the English language understand the importance of teaching the six syllable types as well as how etymology plays a role in reading. Instruction should be delivered “in order” from easier to more complex skills: single sounds to digraphs, short vowels to vowel teams, single-syllable to multisyllabic words.

In the primary grades, students begin reading single-syllable words whose etymology are primarily Anglo-Saxon (e.g., cow, green, milk, arm, me, sit, why). By the time students transition to the intermediate grades, the words are longer and more abstract, reflecting their Latin and French heritage (e.g., ingredient, fascinate, magazine, critique, direct). Additional Greek combining forms (e.g., television, chemistry, theme, gymnastics) can further tax intermediate readers’ decoding and comprehension ability, if they didn’t secure their decoding skills in the primary grades. These words are not only longer, but also more abstract in nature.

E is for Explicit instruction, which is absolutely necessary in teaching content that students could not otherwise discover (Archer & Hughes, 2011).Students are guided through the new learning that is broken down into incremental steps; they are provided with clear explanations and scaffolds  to support their learning. As a new concept is presented, the teacher builds on previous learning and knowledge, taking students from the known to the unknown. “Teach, don’t test,” must be teachers’ call to action for more active learning to occur.

One technique is to incorporate “pregnant pauses” in presentations, allowing time for students to fill in answers in teachers’ statements, rather than expecting students to know the answer after a single presentation of information. An example could be, “Yesterday, we discovered the alphabet had how many letters? It has (pregnant pause) 26!” As the teacher reminds students of their previous learning and students are encouraged to fill in the answer with her, she is simultaneously writing “26” on the board.

During the direct teaching phase, the teacher provides demonstrations and explanations, with enough independent practice for students to achieve mastery. When students demonstrate success, less teacher guidance is required, and task difficulty can increase. Teachers must use precise terms in explaining a concept to students. Demonstrations for students that include examples as well as nonexamples help to sharpen the parameters of concepts (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1986).

Distributed practice over time cements learning rather than cramming in a concept within a short window of time and not resurfacing the learning again for another semester or so. Tie points together and remind students of what they know to “warm up their brains” before presenting new learning. This resurfacing of information helps remind students of what they have learned, and helps them feel secure that the teacher will organize and connect the new information coming in for them.

M is the final letter in the acronym. Multisensory instruction by definition involves engaging at least two senses simultaneously. The key word is simultaneously. Teachers may think that rotating senses during a presentation of new information is multisensory, when in fact this is directing instruction toward one sense. To more fully engage students for longer periods and to create more successful learners, students must see and do, hear and see—or multiple combinations thereof—to deepen understanding of new learning. Some examples in the classroom could be teachers who value writing on the board simultaneously while providing directions, naming letters of words as they write them on the board, displaying a completed project while discussing the parts necessary for completion, or explaining how to work a math problem on the board while the students complete the same problem at their desks. When students have a weaker learning modality, teaching in a multisensory fashion ensures that at least one of the student’s learning senses will be targeted.

Teaching in a Systematic, Explicit, and Multisensory manner will ensure 100 percent student engagement with zero downtime and, most importantly, 98 percent student success in learning. It’s really that SEMple.

Pat Sekel, Ph.D., CALT, QI, has more than 30 years of experience in public and private schools. She has worked as a qualified instructor, certified academic language therapist, special educator, and speech pathologist. Sekel is twice past president of the Austin branch of The International Dyslexia Association and has served in other capacities at the national level of IDA. She is a national LETRS trainer and coauthor of The New Herman Method, an Orton-Gillingham-based, multisensory intervention for reading, handwriting, and spelling.

About Pat Sekel

Books by Pat Sekel: The New Herman Method

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

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