Posts filed under ‘Data’

A Blogger’s Reflection

Five years ago, I started the SchoolsRetooled blog and began to gather my thoughts on the US PreK-12 Education Delivery System and, more specifically, urban education. Periodic stints back in the classroom have put the blog on hiatus, and it flagged quite a bit after a family tragedy a couple of years ago. But I stand by my initial vision for education reform, not as a call for competition but, rather, a renewal of the system itself to create the capacity to fully integrate 21st Century innovations and continue to evolve toward excellence.

In December 2011, near the end of my first year of blogging on SchoolsRetooled.com, I published Seven Keys to Education Reform. In this 10-page summary of my approach to system reform, I identified seven levers of change that could improve the system’s functioning by getting more information from data systems, taking a broader view of pedagogy, streamlining organizations around the mission of educating the children, and providing incentives for common ground among educators and between educators and the communities they serve. Beyond organizational dynamics, my thesis presumed an absence of fault on behalf of any of the participants in the education system and, in particular, an end to ageist scapegoating.

In the years since then, policy conflicts defined by political affiliation have shaped the conversations among educators, much to my dismay. My biggest disappointment has been the extent to which the goals of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were allowed to slip away and the 2014 deadline passed unnoticed. The Obama Administration relaxed the accountabilities, pushing for the Common Core State Standards and advancement of teacher evaluations. Conservatives renewed their support for competition for public schools, choosing incubation of ideas in charter schools, often with private bankrolling.

By the time ESEA was renewed late in 2015 bipartisan support was achieved in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) with very little prescription for how this would be ensured. The clearest policy directive was the prohibition on any further Federal intervention in accountabilities that the legislation defined as states’ rights. The legislature was ruled by Republicans in both houses; the Obama activism in lieu of overdue ESEA renewal was over.

I continue to believe in system reform. The quiet period after the passage of ESSA allows me to reflect here on progress made with my own agenda as well as initiatives needed in the future.

On no-fault education reform

Education reform has evolved such that rhetoric is less about frenzied reactions to missed targets for student achievement on high-stakes tests and more about opportunities for concrete system improvements and real school transformations. However, the worst performing districts often remain trapped in blame-based failure cycles. They will not be able to get out of their own way until they become more inclusive in their solutions, recognizing their allies and working in concert rather than with antagonism and derision.

On a student-centered data system

Data systems have shown great strides within education, but they are not student-centered. ESSA authorizes a limited number of districts to experiment with student-centered accounting, but they focus only on the revenue stream, not really addressing matching of revenues to expenses at the student level. I continue to believe that we will not be able to manage student outcomes effectively until both sides of the equation are in synch. Once the money is at stake, school systems that are reluctant to embrace the challenge of student-centered accounting will realize its necessity. Data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness will follow logically.

On broad-based pedagogy

Software is beginning to catch up with the structural changes in hardware and data. This bodes well for implementation of blended learning, which balances digital resources with tradition methods. In addition, personalized and competency-based learning can be realized with greater potential for educators and students to share management of the learning process.

Educators are accepting technology that combines attendance, assignment completion, and grading in databases that can also support student portfolio development. In addition, these same platforms support collaborative projects that can be pursued and documented on shared platforms. Textual content is available digitally, and learning is becoming an interactive, multi-media experience. Student support is routinely enhanced with multisensory digital options and close-reading strategies.

On alignment to mission and benchmarks

There have been many experiments in school transformation; however, reorganizing the actual schools has not been a priority yet. I believe this will happen organically as data systems provide better information on student outcomes.

On performance incentives for Special Education

New Special Education guidelines from Federal regulators have shifted emphasis toward student outcomes. This promising development should help to accelerate progress toward grade-level proficiency. I continue to recommend earlier student involvement as members of their education planning teams, but there has not been much movement in that direction. For now, younger students tend to be present more so if they have disciplinary hearings than for prospective planning sessions.

On school leadership and general management

A couple of years ago, the time seemed ripe for two trends to deepen. The first was the emergence of empowered parents demanding a voice in troubled schools. The second was the trend toward education schools entering joint ventures with their management school counterparts within major universities.

Threats of parent trigger interventions have given way to mayors and school district leaders joining to speak with one voice, a more politically savvy voice that recognizes the importance of community members proactively. The university-based collaborations have gotten caught up in concerns about educators finding a back door to access to highly competitive MBA programs. I suspect the long-term solution will be dual degree programs that require admission to graduate programs in both the business and education schools.

On portable pensions

The issues around underfunding of pension plans continue to dominate the conversation, and most actions are currently being focused around solvency. Unfortunately, the recommendations are more likely to be made by those who have mismanaged the programs historically. The pension beneficiaries have continued to be called out for reasons that baffle me – they are the only people who have given up their pay to the fund without fail through the whole fiasco – and ways to eliminate funding shortfalls that reduce obligations to the pensioners get more traction than ways for the government employers to pay back their missing contributions to their employees. This is particularly troublesome when government entities got holidays from making their contributions in lieu of Social Security, something that would never be allowed in the smallest of entrepreneurial businesses.

On financial incentives linking educators to performance

As I stated originally, validated educator effectiveness reports need to precede merit-based pay. There has been significant progress in teacher evaluations and leadership performance assessment. However, there is more work to be done, which necessitates postponing this objective for a while longer. The recent developments in technology cited above should offer greater options for multiple measures of educator performance, a key to getting beyond controversial value-added test scores as the proxy for overall effectiveness in schools.

On valuing people of all ages

The fervor has died down over targeting veteran teachers as the source of all evil in education, and the conversations around accountability for test scores alone have softened. That said, charters schools continue to be organized with an unwritten rule against hiring teachers beyond a fairly young age. Teach for America and other similar programs continue to be granted exemption from teacher prep rules, giving an edge to youth-oriented private organizations that funnel a revolving door of teachers into public systems. As these groups mature, they are demanding a greater role in leadership at the risk of stifling the voices of educators with a deeper commitment to schools and important insight into the issues.

January 22, 2016 at 12:44 PM Leave a comment

Using the IEP to Ensure Access to Grade-Level Curriculum

Several years ago, a US Department of Education memorandum announced a planned shift in Special Education policy to emphasize academic outcomes and progress toward grade level performance. This past November, a significant step toward such a benchmark was announced. Now that school is back in session after the holidays the reality is sinking in…this is kind of a big deal.

Late last year, the US Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services issued new guidelines focusing on access to grade-level curricular content for students with disabilities. These new guidelines suggest that IEP goals for students who, for example, are below grade level in Math or ELA should clearly address interventions at two levels:

  • Accommodations that would ensure access to the curriculum in relevant content areas with alignment with State standards at the grade level of the student’s enrollment, and
  • Interventions that should lead to accelerated progress, i.e., greater than one grade year of progress per education plan year, towards grade level competency in the primary Math or ELA disability.

This is good news for students with disabilities. The best intentions in Special Education often have been undermined by regulatory procedures emphasizing a student’s eligibility for services. For more progressive schools, this latest memorandum will reinforce existing commitment to inclusive practices for Students with Special Needs across the curriculum. However, other schools will need to rethink their programs and make adjustments in their…

  • Goal-setting process for IEP teams,
  • Instructional strategies for students,
  • Professional development for teachers, and
  • Ongoing assessment of students’ academic progress against IEP goals.

The Office of Special Education urged educators to continue to pursue high expectations for achievement for Students with Disabilities. Perhaps most significant is the Education Department’s effort to address some of the process that was missing from the strictly results-oriented NCLB. As such, it represents a strong step forward for educational equity.

January 8, 2016 at 9:19 AM Leave a comment

An Open Letter to Senator Franken…on ESEA Renewal and testing

Dear Senator Franken,

I appreciated your question during a recent hearing on ESEA Renewal and competitive grants when you asked how we could redesign our tests to better measure what we want our children to develop…critical thinking, creativity, etc. While this is a noble goal, I believe it is not the role of the Federal government to regulate the heights to which our children could soar. That is what the partnership between educators and families in their school communities must pursue relentlessly.

From a regulatory standpoint, I believe the primary role of government is to establish the minimum acceptable standard for PreK-12 education. Much of the discussion about testing in the government arena has been misplaced. Essentially, critics of existing standardized tests are concerned that we should look for optimal levels of cognitive development in our assessments. In the former case, we are ensuring that all students reach the floor at each level of education, a necessary prerequisite for initiating work toward the next higher set of objectives. In the latter case, we are trying to define the ceiling for the children, something that should never be constrained by any artificial limits, especially not through government regulation.

That said, educators across the nation should be accountable periodically for minimum standards of achievement, or benchmarks, for the children. In addition, local managers of education should always have multiple measures of achievement that show evidence of academic progress for each child over time against his or her own previous accomplishments. Such discretionary evidence could include student portfolios, performance tasks, and both informal assessments and standardized tests. Indeed, technology is enabling more sophisticated ways of capturing well-rounded snapshots of students (and teachers) and tracking progress over time. I only mention this non-standard data set because it will require vigilant privacy protection at the Federal level.

As we look at standardized assessments, test items must address the building blocks of cognition as well as the Gestalt of learning. It takes a solid toolkit of knowledge and skills used with accuracy, fluency and some degree of automaticity to think really big thoughts. Flaws in critical thinking alone do not inform us about the missing links in education. And we are assessing children across a range of abilities, many struggling to move beyond concrete skills to higher order thinking. When they miss the mark on applied problems, we still need some simpler problems to identify their strengths and build new learning on comfortable solid ground. As with any minimum standard, the test ultimately gives more information about those functioning on the lower margins than at the top.

As for high stakes, well-educated children simply take each standardized test and ace it. When that is not the case, we educators should reflect on the needs of the children and consider how we might be delivering a service gap in their educations. It is up to the grown-ups to fix the problem…not export it to the children in the form of high anxiety. Unfortunately, this has not yet become a matter of pride for us professionally.

I will cherish the day when our under-served children are ready to face real high-stakes challenges in life, hopefully ones of their choosing, as they excel academically in ways indistinguishable from their more privileged peers. In the meantime, we are left with the remnants of low expectations in too many schools, whether they are persistently failing or simply failing to be inclusive enough with some populations in a superficially successful school. The cause of lifting the trap door to the basement and allowing all children access to the ground floor must be pursued relentlessly in the public sector. Then we can and should talk about raising the bar.

I appreciate your commitment to a high quality education delivery system, and I wish you much success your work with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Very truly yours,

Kathleen T. Wright

SchoolsRetooled.com

February 5, 2015 at 12:35 PM Leave a comment

ESEA Renewal…beyond the Pit and the Pendulum

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 Media – State Vs Federal role in education if needed.

 Federal role

 State role

Education content Guarantee Interstate portability of education property with common core of minimum standardsGuarantee 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 formulasManaging 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 outcomesFederal regulatory compliance data

· Special grants, food, transportation, special student services

· Summary-level spending and student outcomes data

Customization of discretionary data setData 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.

January 18, 2015 at 12:49 PM Leave a comment

Hamstringing as Just Desserts?

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.

January 9, 2015 at 9:31 AM Leave a comment

New Year’s Dream #AllGrade3by2016

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.

 

January 2, 2015 at 11:17 AM Leave a comment

The Cart before the Horse… or How Not to Develop a Mission-Driven Education Service Delivery System

Education leaders and policy-makers are presuming knowledge they do not have yet when they address issues of weighted student funding, teacher effectiveness, and pedagogical best practices. Blunt instruments that capture the proverbial lightning rods on the education landscape have driven decision-making for so long that too many simply accept the truisms that “everybody knows…” Nowhere is there any evidence of information to build and fine-tune a mission-driven service delivery.

Education policy has followed a mythology around the uniqueness of the industry, its usual suspects, the established budget-busters, and good and bad pedagogical practices. Regulatory accounting and data reports do not yield the kind of information that is instructive or truly actionable. Rather, overworking of aggregate data implies precision in cost analyses and funding; test scores, attendance, and graduation rates become proxies for effectiveness in student outcomes. Absent standard data gathering on instruction, actual classroom practices defy validation.

Education is a service-delivery system that would benefit from the insight allowed in the case management model for information management. Taking a lesson from the healthcare delivery system, education should convert from a cost-plus system to student-centered accounting and data, which matches funding with expenses and narrative information about resource allocation as well as student outcomes. This approach would allow for a better understanding of relevant student cohorts, actual services delivered, appropriateness of resource allocation, and quality review of educational effectiveness. It could also be directly linked to educator practice analysis and effectiveness reports.

Student-linked data on instruction would allow for real research on pedagogy, which currently falls prey to whimsy despite the best of intentions. Pedagogical best practices tend to begin with reasonable ideas, often from scholarly hypotheses, and rapidly become diffused throughout the more progressive schools, begging the question of their authenticity. Professional development follows to ensure that everyone adopts these practices, and dissenters are cautioned to acquiesce or risk demerits on their evaluations. Collaboration turns into a verbal agreement that goes something like, “If we all do the same thing…the students will have to get the message.” Ironically, the latest best practice fad always seems to carry the claim that it is student-centric and personalizes instruction. In reality, it only guarantees that there will be no competing practices to dispute its superlative label when the data is collected on its effectiveness.

Student-centered pedagogy cannot be driven by educator beliefs or biases. Rather, a robust model calls for offering the full array of possible learning activities, at least within the limits of available human capacity and technology. Lessons that are not working for a student should be set aside while he or she pursues a variety of alternatives, such as different approaches to the current concept, outside explorations, searching for missing information to fill knowledge gaps, or getting the perspective of a peer tutor. Data should be collected throughout the process to support professional practice analysis. Ultimately, every student must have good educational outcomes for the system to declare victory.

The development of a student-centered database will not be easy. But the first step might be to acknowledge the degree to which educators are hamstrung by the current system. Every state has begun with Federal data requirements for the last 10% of education funding, and then cobbled a system for the other 90% around it. So, while state and local education authorities are autonomous in most of their decisions about their education delivery systems, the federal standards make data-driven decisions more difficult.

What is likely to remain true is that data standards should be driven by federal policy for consistency across all states. However, these standards should be developed to serve the needs of educators at the service delivery level, not just addressing the federal exigencies. This would suggest that the Department of Education collaborate with some number of states to build possible models for student-centered databases and fund demonstration projects in local school districts.

And, of course, the demonstration models must be persuasive of filling a need. This cannot be just another alleged best practice among administrators that is more trouble than it is worth.

November 10, 2014 at 1:17 PM Leave a comment

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