In 2001, No Child Left Behind legislation included a provision for firing up to half of the teaching staff in any school that was considered to be persistently failing. A wink of the eye defined the target to be tenured veteran teachers, the older the better. However, the US Constitution promises citizens due process to protect them from, among other things, discrimination in the work place. Regardless of the intent of legislators, due process need not be a burden to employers. Rather, it can be transformed into a robust model to sustain all teachers in the mission of educational excellence.
ESEA/NCLB legislation is under consideration for renewal, and the teacher evaluation process has had its hearing. The Obama Administration actively supported states and school districts as they shored up their teacher evaluation processes to reflect student outcomes data through a series of Race to the Top competitive grant awards. Now, the new leadership in the Senate Education Committee has declined to include guidelines for teacher evaluations in the Federal education law as an inappropriate intrusion into the affairs of the states. This is not necessarily a problem, with a caveat.
“Nobody told me not to…” is a perennial claim of children as they test limits and bump up against implicit rules of conduct in the natural growth and development process. This self-serving loophole finds new life in adulthood in the dysfunction of a regulation mentality. Heavily regulated government services and public utilities are not like free-market enterprises. Their entrepreneurship stifled by onerous rules, these agencies find their liberty in the conventional wisdom that, if it is not in the rule books, then we can do as we please. This is not necessarily so, but the need for clarification can be expected.
With or without a Federal mandate, an effective and constitutionally sound teacher evaluation process is a critical success factor within any school. School districts employ teachers as their most vital resource. They need to recruit the best, retain them through effective induction processes, and sustain them through effective quality assurance programs. Regular goal setting, review, and motivation keep employees whole over the long haul. Further, any attempt to run roughshod over the rights of employees or neglect to be inclusive in professional opportunities is illegal and undermines the school community.
Human capital management is evolving in education, and fledgling innovations in the teacher evaluation process require active nurturing. Districts need to continue their leadership with the help of technology partners to ensure a robust system emerges using multiple measures of professionalism and effective practice. A teacher portfolio approach is now within reach that can facilitate the transfer from a punitive, fault-finding procedure to a continuous professional development model consistent with student success.
A few years ago, I posted a First Glace at Teacher Effectiveness Data, which outlined sources and uses of data from the human resource files to student portfolios and peer review. The explosion in education applications from the technology sector since then will allow us to compile a wide range of information with ease. In addition, with privacy issues being resolved, there can be greater confidence in data integrity between classroom tools and employment records.
ESEA Renewal is not expected address teacher evaluations, but these evaluations have always been a local issue at the discretion of school districts. What has changed is that the perfunctory and ineffective processes of yore have been rendered obsolete. Fortunately, the demand for dynamic models of teacher effectiveness measurement and promotion can be met with tools to seamlessly consolidate multiple forms of evidence on a teacher’s practice. We need to make this happen and get back to the ongoing dialogue between a mentoring manager and a highly motivated professional with educational excellence as the shared goal.
Before the PARCC tests were, well, tested many educators began to predict a dip in test scores as an inevitable outcome. And another good excuse for missing NCLB goals was born. When in doubt, or under the watchful eye of accountability, blame the test. A dissenting opinion from the Special Ed corner and a plea for a no-fault world…
Do PARCC tests require that the children leap to higher level thinking without a net, or did too many of us forget our scaffolding in new curricula designed for the Common Core? Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that it is a problem when assessments change and students are held to a higher standard for critical thinking and applied knowledge. That may be true, but many of us thought we were working on building better thinkers already. And that the PARCC tests would assess the effectiveness of our work. Instead, these assessments may help to underscore the manner in which the students got caught in the crossfire of a pedagogical battle waged by the adults.
Special Education can be a wonderful incubator for new ideas for reaching diverse learners. Often we would find helpful forms of scaffolding that offered benefits across the curriculum as well as the fully inclusive classroom. Unfortunately, it is within this microcosm for learning that a new obstacle for success for Students with Special Needs has emerged from a knee-jerk reaction to the Common Core…the rush to the generic skills mandate.
A new vision for Special Ed support for inclusive classes seems to have emerged over the past 18 months or so. New school leaders in charter schools and more progressive traditional schools have begun to redesign these skills classes around a curriculum on generic skills. A sort of how-to-be-a-good-student guide that would formalize strategies in the abstract for completing assignments and studying for tests…BEFORE they were explored in the concrete through content class support. Further, this vision included a plan for its own homework, rather than helping students complete their existing assignments.
It is true that all students, not just those in Special Ed, need to internalize the strategies that allow them cope with learning challenges in order to be successful lifelong learners. But the vast majority of students need to demonstrate their ability to use these skills in specific ways first. In the meantime, the premature jump to generic skills is likely to frustrate many students. Never mind their disbelief when formerly trusted liaisons try to add homework assignments to the stack of work they are already struggling to complete.
Under conditions of change in education, a kind of fuzzy logic seems to emerge that carries its own mandate. Decisive leadership seems to call for urgent action, which sorts people into those who embrace change and those who don’t. And when student outcomes deteriorate, we all know who is to blame, right?
But suppose we were to function in a no-fault world that rendered the reflexive need to get on the winning team obsolete? There is so much that we do not know. And we would benefit as educators if we were to strive to improve our practices through daily reflection and be informed by the new tests after they happened. Then we could make adjustments in response to real knowledge, which often helps us to arrive at counter-intuitive insight into our problem-solving efforts…like seeing where the children needed different scaffolding, rather than making a pre-emptive strike that gave them less.
ESEA/NCLB renewal may be at hand, but polarization along party lines in both houses of Congress is already threatening the process. Perhaps this is just the natural starting point for debate and negotiations; however, a quick look at the State and Federal functions in education could help light the way to solid middle ground in lieu of a power play.
There is a very real need for Federal involvement in education. Global markets challenge the US to compete effectively beyond its borders even as States retain their rights within the US. We are a mobile society and interstate portability of education property is essential to ensure that students from one state do not become “more equal” than those from another, and that all are well-educated. Further, as a capitalist society, we cannot forsake citizens who fall into the chasm of “market imperfections,” the poor, the disabled, or the gifted agents of change who need to be empowered to lead through innovation. That said, the US Department of Education could do some good by getting out of the way of States by refocusing their data requirements on the mission of educating the children.
Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post entitled Updating Decision Architecture for Student Success in which I outlined the roles of different levels of government to highlight the mismatch between State and Federal functions and data standards. Essentially, the core management of education lies within the States while the data is organized around Federal exigencies to the point of becoming obtuse rather than informative for all other education authorities. As a result, LEAs and SEAs are managing costs and compliance for ancillary functions with more detail than their mission of excellence in student outcomes.
Instead of unraveling the data mess, new Federal regulations were added. NCLB and waivers thereof that had Common Core strings attached created at least the appearance of an uneasy extension of the Federal role in education. More recent involvement in regulatory oversight of teacher evaluations and teacher prep got the long arm of the Feds closer to the hot plate of Big Government. However, this constitutional conflict is not as difficult to resolve once all the pieces of the puzzle are laid out.
Link to table in alternate view if needed.
|Education content||Guarantee Interstate portability of education property with common core of minimum standards
Guarantee equal access to content
|District oversight· Customization of standards for curriculum development· Quality assurance (baseline Fed’l compliance, pursuit of local goals for excellence)
· Assessment of student achievement
· Rules of engagement for schools and districts as deemed necessary
|Education finance||Establishing student funding formulas
Managing market imperfections
· Disability benefits
· Food and transportation for the poor
· Other inequities among individuals or institutions
· Incubation of innovation
|Distribution of Federal funds
· Matching resources to eligible students & districts
· Monitoring compliance with Federal regulations
Rationalizing local funding
· Subsidies for students and/or facilities in under-funded communities
State education initiatives
|Education data||Establishment of national data standard (for state/local analysis and oversight)
· Student-centered finance, education service delivery, educator effectiveness, and student outcomes
Federal regulatory compliance data
· Special grants, food, transportation, special student services
· Summary-level spending and student outcomes data
|Customization of discretionary data set
Data analysis and reporting
· Resource allocation
· Regulatory compliance
· Education effectiveness and equity
· Programmatic investments and results
|Educator professionalism||Definition of minimum standard for educator qualification||Manage professional licensure, educator quality programs|
The goals set forth in No Child Left Behind legislation remain viable for the most part, including goals for near-universal proficiency in math and literacy, a sense of urgency in achieving those goals, and the expectation that every child should have qualified teachers. The exception would be the return to greater autonomy in State management of school transformations where needed.
Rather than question Common Core State Standards or make them discretionary, I consider them essential to interstate portability for education. Likewise, disaggregated data to verify equal access to civil rights should continue. And any otherwise successful school that gets caught marginalizing certain populations of children and under-serving them must be driven to correct that inequity in earnest.
As for the conundrum of funding formulas, educator effectiveness, and student outcomes…student-centered data must happen. And the standards must be national yet designed for micro-economic analysis of investments and outcomes of schools at the state and local levels. We cannot validate our methods behind a blind. Nor can we judge our peers with blunt instruments or achieve greatness based on best guesses instead of good information.
And, finally, testing must continue. Perhaps the one area of flexibility would come with greater achievement of 3rd grade benchmarks. If we reliably met our 3rd grade goals, we could probably worry a little less about every step going forward. So, let’s not leave any children behind in early elementary school…then test every other year after that, or even just 5th, 8th, and 10th grades.
I want to hit the reset button in education, the one that creates a new set point based on objectivity, reason, equity, and excellence. Not to worry…not going to go all Ayn Rand on anybody. And I am not a crazed privatizer looking for subsidies for my friends with kids in private schools. Or an elitist who is trying to develop a pipeline of charter school alums who will give the next generation at my golf club greater diversity without challenging the real status quo. I just want fellow educators to get real about results without feeling they have betrayed their souls. No wonder fate dealt me an ironic blow.
Anyone who tells you not to be afraid to fall on your butt…has never had hamstring surgery. Yea, it’s supposed to be a metaphor, and one that has just become inextricably mixed with another of my favorites. I’m always saying, “Educators are hamstrung by…” For example,
- Financials that do not align with the mission of education.
- Traditions that are based on trust, loyalty, and caring…values that have an uneasy place in the new paradigm.
- Charitable motives that have always been exempt from metrics.
- Binary arguments that allow people to choose sides but not consider all the possibilities.
- Bunker mentality if feeling isolated with the children in a classroom.
- Excuses predicated on the exodus of “good children” to alternative schools as a current event, not a forty-year flight of all who could manage to get away choosing to flee bad systems
- And so on…
My thesis has always been that good information, streamlined processes, rational incentive systems, and measurable results will yield better performance across the education system. An infrastructure cannot teach, but, if done right, it can have an enabling effect to sustain good teachers and a surprisingly beneficial impact on culture.
Slouching of late – no sitting upright for a month – I have been trying to re-envision an education system that is more than just out of reach of my crutches. And I found myself hamstrung by how complicated trust, loyalty, and caring have become in the face of faulty data and misguided good intentions on behalf of the children.
Then something happened. In the midst of the series of inept moves that have characterized my awkward adjustment to disability, I wanted something, and I just got up and walked over to get it. I froze at the threshold of the dining room, and my husband looked up from a conference call in his make-shift office with a what-the… look on his face. No crutches. Now what? I quickly shuffled back to get them.
The thing is…I could walk, but a million tiny new cells are supposed to be a rest so they can reinvent my hamstring attachment to its new anchor in my ilium. And soft tissue needs a long time to heal. I hoped that I hadn’t busted a suture.
I guess the point to all this is that we have a lot of soft tissue damage among educators. The blame game has taken a sorry toll in every corner, and we cannot move forward into the next phase of education reform without the scaffolding of healers. Leaders whose vision can transcend all the damages and reconnect with the core values in the system, beginning with good information derived from validated data. Such is the process of change that endures.
NCLB is not the culprit, but a lot of damage has been done in its name. We cannot ever accept inequity in something as basic as elementary and secondary education. Aggressive yearly progress targets are not a bad idea when lives are slipping away. Hope for more and more children dwindles as we dawdle. And highly qualified educators must form the backbone of any education system.
Our progress has stalled in recent years. NCLB waivers have removed the urgency for change. Skirmishes that focus on standards, pedagogy, and assessments have become smoke screens for maintenance of the status quo. And forays into regulation of teacher prep and performance evaluations have distracted us from creating the more robust data set that is student-centered and truly actionable.
The people-bashing approach to education reform has institutionalized age discrimination, which has proven irresistibly to politicians. It kills two birds with one stone – giving a time-ravaged face to the culprit and a reprieve to themselves for pilfering pension funds to balance budgets…often money that was mandated for employers who made no contributions to Social Security.
This is all so wrong on so many levels. But I still believe we can get it right…just need a little help getting off my butt.
Suppose we could promise parents across the country that we have a plan to eliminate any service gaps* that allow children to finish 3rd grade while missing their benchmarks for math and literacy? Could there be any single effort that would have a greater educational benefit than that?
Last night I had allowed my cynical side to choke on news items dropping buzzwords like Big Data and Moneyball in the context of the new teacher hiring process. Already the charlatans were crawling out of the woodwork to offer consulting services that gave school districts the jump on new regs for teacher prep…using data that doesn’t exist yet. And I was ready to challenge any one of them to identify that key parameter in their education vaporware that would be analogous to Moneyball’s on-base percentage…if they had thought that far ahead. Then I caught a nasty glimpse of myself in the mirror…could I?
What IS the best predictor of success for school children? None came to mind. Only the many indicators of future failure. Who will be over age in grade? Who will drop out? Who will end up in the prison pipeline? Or at best emerge from school as SPED-for-life despite higher potential? The child who is out of synch by Grade 3 seems to be the answer for all of the above.
So…what would it take to gather every parent, every volunteer, every philanthropist, and every available elementary educator or academic for the sole purpose of demonstrating that we could collectively put a stop to 3rd grade failures. Say, “This ends here. We will never let another 3rd grade class finish the year with a child unprepared for the rest of his or her schooling.”
If ever there were a single change that would enable so many future objectives to fall into place, I would put my money on that one. Any takers? #AllGrade3by2016
* The “achievement gap” in student outcomes has been challenged for citing the victim and not the cause of the problem. Lest we lose sight of that underlying problem, “service gap” seemed more relevant here. Many children are clearly under-served.
We are in hard times. Our economy is stagnant and beholden to offshore producers. Our money is in the hands of thugs in starched white shirts. Our Constitution is in the hands of angry men and corrupt judges. Our children are not being served with equity, and we can only promise them less than we inherited on this earth. Now we have to face injustice that does not value the lives of children of color. How can we de-escalate our struggles and find ourselves as Americans again, perhaps for the first time?
We have returned to the land of the zero-sum society. Everything I get must be taken from someone else, and everything you get has been taken from me or mine. The only business at hand is sorting “We The People” into the “Us” or “Them” columns. Then, armed to the teeth with weapons of war and misinformation, we protect ourselves and undermine them with impunity. This is NOT America.
We do not need anyone trying to take back America. It does not belong to just some of us. We need to find America in hard times and make it work for all of us. We have a constitution – giving life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness to all of our people. It is not a weapon, it is a covenant.
The flashpoint has been struck with the death of a third person of color at the hands of a white man who got away with it. We have exposed the dark underbelly of racism at the heart of our justice system. And we cannot turn away from it. Apparently we have not fully eradicated the most crucial flaw of our founding fathers…the valuing of a human being at some percentage less than 100 based on the color of his skin.
We are not at rest, and we cannot be at rest until this issue is resolved. However, we can use our humanity to set things right by coming together as people who believe in our common rights of man, or we can allow a conflict to escalate and be decided in a battle of Americans against one another.
The road to finding America lies ahead of us, and we can only come together by setting all else aside for a moment. Turn off Fox News, and that iPhone. Stop worrying about that pension fund. Put down that gun, and tell your lawyer he or she is off duty…because each of us must be stripped bare of who and what we think we are. Only then can we find our places in a fair and just society that is inclusive of all of mankind.
We can take a trip up Maslow’s hierarchy. Are we all warm, and safe, and dry? Have we all been fed? Do we have access to good work, good health, and safe travels? Can we exercise our minds, develop our talents, and take leisure with gusto? And, then, can we achieve the vision to save our world and create the constructs to realize the dreams of others as with our own.
#Ferguson: Mother and child view of love, bedtime, helicopters, peace, and justice..thank you, Erica.
Borrowed from a Mom in Brooklyn…
“So tonight the child would NOT sleep. He wanted his toy train. He wanted water. He wanted to flip and flop, flop and flip. When I lay down with him to cuddle he would settle for about a minute, and commence to flop/flip all over again and recount the events of the day in a string of delirious free associations: “zipper! . . . applesauce! . . . bye-bye, bus!” He bashed his toy Poorcee into my nose. Then he leaned in to kiss the boo-boo and gave my nose a huge lick instead, grinning. I started laughing, so he licked more.
“As this was happening we heard chanting outside. The protestors were getting louder and louder coming down our street. Suddenly, all the windows in the apartment were flooded with light from a helicopter.
“In the movies, when a helicopter shines a light into your home, it’s never good. either you are a high-rolling drug dealer about to be captured, or the Mothership is coming to whisk you away.
“But I can barely watch movies anymore. Having the kid has eradicated my final, frayed strains of tolerance for any cinematic themes involving violence and separation. Recently I re-watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and during the scene when the little boy gets taken, I had to look away and fast-forward. Fast.
“The reality of why people are marching outside our window is so painful it is starkly unfathomable to me.
“Wishing justice where justice is needed, and peace and comfort to all who crave it.