Posts filed under ‘ESEA-NCLB’

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

Adding the Education Delivery System to the Lexicon – Without Dualistic Tendencies

Addressing Education as a Delivery System is not new, but its potential cannot be expressed within the lexicon until we acknowledge it beyond the binary. The current attempts to reinvent the US PreK-12 Education Delivery System generally bundle everything old as bad and introduce a single idea or entity as its sole competitor. To be successful, however, the system must be allowed to exist in fluid form. The schoolhouse walls have been tumbling down for a while with innovative ideas arising from necessity, creativity, or some combination of the two in concert with a vision for truly strategic planning. It is not time to sort the winners or losers; the solution is inclusive.

The tradition public education system has become the straw man against challengers such as private for-profit systems, charter school chains, online programs, and other delivery modalities. Unfortunately, many delivery system innovators have adopted the binary approach – The Good (us) versus The Bad (them) – one of the saddest artifacts of weak management in education. Indeed, almost every argument has become mired in the mud of a rope pulling contest between the best bullies from either side of the fray. This attitude is not going to nurture truly ground-breaking developments. Similarly, this adversarial approach keeps us caught up in the spat among the adults, with the students being barely essential to the dialogue aside from the requisite reference to the children by both sides as their sole concern.

A renewed US PreK-12 Education Delivery System (no “s”, not plural) must be student-centered and universally relevant in order to be sustainable. All information – finance, educational outcomes, teacher effectiveness – must be linked at the most basic level directly to the student. Education can no longer be defined by what happens within the schoolhouse walls. It can be delivered anywhere: at home, in the community, online, or within a central education complex. And the facilitator can be a person, a written source, a transmitter, or an interactive digital or interpersonal experience. The process can be personalized for each student with learning experiences designed for students individually or within optimized cohorts.

I am not usually one for getting hung up on semantics, but this one matters. We need a new approach to the Education Delivery System as a whole. The existing system does not work, and power brokers hanging onto their turf will never build a better system. Everyone has a stake in the solution. The children are the future of our world, but they depend on the education delivery system for effectiveness, health and safety for their survival, and a political economy within which they can become thriving adult citizens. Their villages need to get busy and learn to speak as one.

January 6, 2016 at 10:36 AM Leave a comment

ESEA Compromise Bill Misses Mark on Student-Centered Accounting

Student-centered education cannot naturally transcend its current regulatory environment. The best intentions of educators will always give way to funding imperatives and enforcement of the rules. That is, unless the rules are changed. Today’s ESEA Compromise Bill does not do that.

The point of student-centered accounting for PreK-12 Education is the matching of weighted funding with the spending for the student as an individual. It is intended to be the driver for centering all information – financial, academic services, and outcomes – on the student in a case management model. What it is not supposed to be is a way to siphon off public school funds to private alternatives.

We currently fund districts, NOT students, and we manage district outcomes, NOT student outcomes. Unfortunately, the current ESEA compromise bill does not seem interested in a more rational approach that enables analyses concerning to whom and how we deliver education services. Rather than give districts an incentive to become better informed about mission-driven spending, the leadership in both Houses of Congress have used popular jargon inappropriately as a smoke screen for keeping districts flying blind on actual student services AND helping conservatives to get public money for private schools.

Commitment to bettering the schools would suggest new money guidelines for the public schools to help them revise their spending and service mix to improve outcomes. At some point, once the financial models are in place and validated, it would seem logical to have the money follow the student under extraordinary cases of private placements. But that is not the intent of student-centered accounting, nor is it in any way a top priority.

Further, the conservative approach to funding is to expand block grants, presumably allowing the states to manage their own money. This does not seem a bad idea in a naive world, but one only needs to examine the actual practices to see the flaw. Most states lack internal standards for charts of accounts, and the exceptions still miss the point. Perusing hundreds of pages of detail for education accounting in a given state never yields more than a handful of line items on Instruction. If you give them money in a block grant, they will spend it without giving themselves more than block grant details for resource allocation. It is not an informed approach.

Federal ESEA law must either (A) tell the states that they will get weighted student funding and must justify future funding requests based on how they spent the the money to teach each student, or (B) create a financial and cost accounting standard that guides states on how they can better help themselves. School districts will attend to the details in the data…and that definitely has nothing to do with actual teaching.

November 18, 2015 at 4:34 PM Leave a comment

8 Essential Elements of Education Delivery System Reform

Just added a quick 1-minute PowerPoint outlining my continuing commitment to No-Fault Education Reform and rearranging my 7 Keys +1 to system reform…

Carving a System to Reveal the Beautiful Minds Within

February 26, 2015 at 7:09 PM 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/NCLB Renewal and Teacher Evaluations

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.

January 28, 2015 at 4:40 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

Duncan Dilutes Obama Legacy with Words that Trump Actions in Education

Arne Duncan is willing to betray a generation of children to save the Common Core. He has charted the path for states that were unable to meet their own goals after getting waivers that forgave their failure to meet NCLB goals…as long as they have goals…that show they will really mean it this time. Promises made to Mr. Duncan do not supersede the promise made to our nation’s children that they will not be left behind educationally. Playing Kick the Can from 2008 through 2019 cannot be Obama’s intent.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation is the law of the land. It must be enforced by the Executive Branch of the US Government. The Obama Administration has addressed two important issues in its treatment of NCLB, partially excusing the waivers, but there is no constitutional mandate to allow continuation of the waiver program for states that are out of compliance for both their waiver agreements and NCLB.

The two most valid education issues have been…

  • Interstate Portability: The absence of consistency and rigorousness of standards for education across the country has left some children more equal than others. That is to say, children in states without high standards for K-12 education render their young constituents disadvantaged Vis a Vis their peers in other states when they reach adulthood. In addition, these same children are unable to carry their education property across state lines without unnecessary knowledge gaps. Children who enter these states will likely see the value of their education property diminish through unnecessary redundancies and their becoming underserved educationally.
  • Absence of Due Process: NCLB created a “presumption of guilt” clause that removed due process from job loss actions against educators in schools that were declared to be failing. The absence of objective educator effectiveness standards, combined with mandates to dismiss some or all educators in these schools, has created the opportunity for unconstitutional capriciousness in the firing process.

The Obama Administration has explicitly mandated the development of educator effectiveness processes as part of the waiver process to address the latter issue. The only questions remaining are, “Did you do it? Yes or No?” followed by, “Have you met your self-imposed standards for progress toward conformity with NCLB?”

The Interstate Portability issue was partially addressed by a collection of states in adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and reinforced by their inclusion in the NCLB waiver terms. However, the whole issue has become muddied in CCSS implementation. At the highest level, CCSS could have been reasonably imposed by the Executive Branch as part of NCLB from the start to insure Interstate Portability…End of story, with the interpretation of the standards and subsequent curriculum development and compliance measurement being matters for state and local education authorities.

Instead, the US Department of Education has taken a passive-aggressive approach by offering CCSS as an optional way to score a waiver from NCLB and has offered curricular-like guidelines for their implementation that the Federal Government has no business doing. Educators across the nation have been doing their part to complicate things by misinterpreting the CCSS as a curricular mandate and playing pedagogical ping pong with the Common Core for at least a couple of reasons.

Educators often take binary approaches to pedagogy and choose sides. The Common Core standards were written in language that seems to have bolstered some academics to think, “Aha! They are going to have to do it MY way now.” This position has a couple of flaws…first, CCSS is not a curriculum, and, second, jumping from standards to directions for instruction omits the concept of scaffolding. Educators have to teach the children, not just reinvent the world to be more consistent with a one-sided vision of pedagogy.

The other, quite valid, cause for debate is that the Common Core represents a very good first attempt at a set of education standards for the US. Like any other first draft, the CCSS will need to evolve to maintain their validity against the test of time. Unfortunately, today’s political game seems to be one of smoke and mirrors on the Common Core that is obscuring the fact that educators can escape accountability for the rest of the decade. At this rate, the reach of the NCLB waivers will undermine the educations of children as yet unborn. This is wrong.

November 15, 2014 at 11:44 AM Leave a comment

Common Core Not So Hot of an Issue

The heated debate that is being waged over the Common Core is neither. Yes, it is July, which renders any environment a bit sultry…but the Common Core has slipped under the heading of safe binary disputes over pedagogy. These discussions are not a problem; the natural tension between standards and curriculum is a functional cornerstone of what should be a dynamic equilibrium in education. Feel free to jump in at any point. Just try not to ignore the real problems that should be at the top of the list.

I just read a cogent piece on literacy instruction and curriculum development by Kathleen Porter-Magee in the Education Gadfly; however, its inherent reason survived its goal of perpetuating the current obsession with the Common Core. The main objective seemed to be that some standards are good and others are bad, and that the bad ones are more likely to come from the Common Core. Standards that lead to manifestation within the context of a curriculum, as in the math example, are good. Standards that manifest in applied problem-solving are bad, as in the literacy example, because educators try to teach a generic skill before context.

Generic skills must become known as such before applied problem solving can happen across any curriculum. However, the skills themselves often need a context in order to be learned at the start. But then again…don’t forget style variations among students. Not everyone excels in linear thinking. Ms. Magee makes a number of fine points, but the Common Core is not essential to her argument. Instead, it does make for a strong case for a wider bandwidth in pedagogy. The students only win when the educators agree to disagree and accept more than one approach to learning at any given time.

Now, back to the Common Core…and the Gadfly’s Twitter summary that “this too shall pass.” The Common Core is a crucial element of our nation’s education system, but not because of its skills concentration. Rather it is the interstate portability of education that is at stake. The Common Core can and should be tweaked endlessly in a continuous quality improvement effort. Of greater importance, perhaps, is the notion that education as an institution can withstand any external forces of change.

Educators are resilient under conditions of siege, which is the way any change is perceived. And the industry can set up a failure with great reliability. The Common Core resistance suggests that, like No Child Left Behind, it was destined for failure from the start within this context. This is why neither can be left as an artifact of history. We are denying access to a high quality education to a large number of American children, and they are trapped in their geography. These changes must happen in spite of the resistance. The education community must learn a new skill, to rally around success with the same facility they exercise to create a failure.

July 24, 2014 at 8:27 AM Leave a comment

Common Core Debate Misses Point

The Common Core State Standards are about interstate transferability of education. They do not tell a state how to do its job…only that children should be able to move about the country without having that property right that is education be devalued or burdened with inefficiencies related to deep knowledge gaps or redundancies. Unfortunately, however, they have a side effect of undermining progress to date in accountability.

The current debate about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has become politicized and presumptive of conclusions before full implementation. By mid-September 2013, reports of who was struggling under CCSS made headlines, less than three weeks into their beta-test year. The States Rights advocates decried implicit federalism, the straw man tossed aside too many times to recall. Then, a few educators began to fret about the assessments…perhaps their real concern. Waivers had all but eliminated the NCLB deadline of proficiency by 2014, but the testing would continue.

Sadly, the timing of CCSS has undermined achievements made over the previous decade in math and literacy. Instead of looking at a clear picture of progress with hard data, we have changed the experiment so as to eliminate comparability. All other things have no longer been held the same. We have entered a new base year for most states, and student outcomes have lost an important part of their meaning. Further, many of the very people who have failed to deliver adequate results for their students have found a wedge against future evaluations of student outcomes.

In addition to the temporary setback of resetting the base year for statistics, the Common Core has been heralded as a new higher standard for college readiness. This has confused their definition as floor versus ceiling. Any standard that applies to all students as a baseline is a floor. Yes, for a few states that had not entered the era of standards-based education before now, the standard may be higher. But this cannot be considered a real problem. The previous absence of such standards was the real deficit.

The Common Core State Standards are new…they can and should be evaluated and tweaked as needed over time like any other benchmark in evolution. And children need to be proficient in in math and literacy at a minimum for adult life readiness. We, as educators, should focus on these issues and welcome the objective evaluations of student performance along with the many data points we can develop to help us move beyond the basics for all children.

On the issue of the ceiling, there is none. There never should be.

January 16, 2014 at 9:21 AM Leave a comment

How to Create a Legacy in Education…for New and Returning Mayors

Yesterday we honored our nation’s democracy as voters in state and local elections across the country. As we congratulate new or returning mayors, why not set aside politics and offer a few guidelines for education leadership? 

1.  Align schools to mission and benchmarks…

  • PreK through 3rd grade
  • Grades 4 through 8
  • Grades 9 through 12

2.  Manage education for balance between supply and demand…

  • Students organized around equitable access to education and bridges to their communities
  • Academics organized around student needs and  instructional effectiveness

3.  Streamline business functions around the mission of education…

  • Student-centered funding and resource allocation – school as locus of control
  • Information systems that integrate finance, teacher effectiveness, and student outcomes
  • Matching of support services to student needs

4.  Develop results-oriented approach to services for outliers in the system…

  • Accelerated progress toward grade-level proficiency in Special Education
  • Two-pronged approach to ELL with growth in literacy in 1st language translating into more rapid assimilation into English language content
  • Level playing field in academics for students at risk

5.  Reward leadership that…

  • Achieves successful student outcomes
  • Values continuous growth for professional staff
  • Attracts voluntary enrollment
  • Is responsive to all community constituencies
  • Monitors key indicators of student satisfaction, service delivery, culture, and safety to anticipate disequilibrium and address it proactively
  • Allocates resources effectively and efficiently

6.  Seek alignment with evolving standards of information and technology to…

  • Get the best data on student outcomes, teacher effectiveness, financial management
  • Transcend the evolution from traditional media to digital tools for learning, communicating, and managing educational efforts
  • Create a vision for achievement that relegates regulatory compliance to the lowest common denominator among educators

With achievement of each of these strategies, mayors could spend more time creating a legacy in education and far less time dealing with NCLB failures, Parent Trigger campaigns, union battles, or random disruptions to the business of running their cities or towns.

November 6, 2013 at 2:43 PM Leave a comment

Teaching to the Test…Financially

Children who perform well with access to a standards-based curriculum in the classroom also tend to do well on standardized tests in the same content area. Teachers who worry about test scores generally learn that they do not need to tailor instruction to the test. However, an insidious form of teaching to the test happens at the school-wide resource allocation level. And limitations in financial reporting allow administrators to fly under the radar with this practice.

There is no uniform chart of accounts for general education at the Federal level. Only a handful of states utilize such accounting standards within their borders. Accordingly, there is no objective or normative data available for resource allocation within the largest category of spending on education each year.

Intuitively, we suspect that school leaders intensified investments in math and literacy after the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Logically, this would have necessitated a shift in resources away from science, social studies, and elective courses. But we do not know how prevalent this practice might have been. We only know that US standings in science deteriorated globally over the same period. We cannot locate the smoking gun in the absence of detailed financial reporting.

The President has called for Federal incentives to improve STEM education. This will involve grant funding with some degree of regulatory tracking. However, total spending may actually become more obscure without consolidation of the dollars allocated between general and special funds and itemized accounts within categories. How new spending levels compare with historical patterns will remain unknown.

As I have stated previously, we would benefit from a more detailed standard chart of accounts at the Federal level. As the funding source, the US government plays a relatively small role in general education. However, as the data driver for the nation, federal regulators would do well to establish standards for record keeping that would allow periodic assessment of resource allocation.

Local education spending is highly flexible across academic content areas, and this may not be a problem. However, decision-makers need to own their choices in state and local reporting. And they need to be able to analyze student outcomes within the context of their spending patterns. This is unlikely to happen under the current data rules.

October 16, 2013 at 1:09 PM Leave a comment

Informed Policy for Efficient and Effective Public Education

School finance, student outcomes, and teacher effectiveness are inextricably linked. Unfortunately, the state of the art in data is woefully inadequate in each area. We cannot fund the mission of education, validate teacher effectiveness, or ensure desired student outcomes for an efficient and efficacious public education system without better information. And we certainly should not attempt to reinvent the system while remaining uninformed.

Consider that current policy rhetoric in public education would suggest that we…

  • Cut education spending, switch to block grant funding, and/or increase spending equitably instead of funding competitive performance-based grants.
  • Economize via ageism to cut older, higher-paid veteran educators from staff saving on salaries and breaking pension promises, increase salaries of effective teachers to $150,000 a year, and/or create compensation based on salary and merit pay for performance.
  • Fund enhanced services for gifted students and others who “want to learn,” provide combined education and social services for whole-child care, and/or shift money out of troubled districts and into charter schools or private alternatives…all while creating equity.
  • Improve teacher prep by hamstringing traditional programs with even more regulations, exempting fly-by-night schools and boot camps to keep them fleet-footed. And so on…

The absence of cognitive dissonance among policy makers is worrisome, given the logical inconsistencies among strategies, often within the same camp. Even more troubling is that we cannot reasonably assess any of these options given the current state of the art in real information. Regardless of one’s policy position, there is no clear path to valid analysis.

We currently fund bureaucracies with oblique formulas and regionally variable equity. There is no uniform chart of accounts that allows comparative analysis of long or short-term investments in educational programs from a financial perspective. Nor do we gain much insight into success or failure. For instance, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on Special Education, yet we account for eligibility for services, not results. We may choose to highlight STEM education, but there is no data that captures comparative STEM spending or outcomes.

Technological change has created opportunities from simple paper reduction to virtual instruction. And, unlike incompatible policy-making, we actually can standardize and individualize our services to students at the same time. Beyond pedagogy, our information support for operational effectiveness is within reach with updated business systems. However, transitions with technology are costly. Again, we need a way to look at the people and the money.

Data standards and analytical tools need to be built into our new systems that allow us to be informed as we make choices to invest in productive capacity for learning as well as making sound decisions to subsidize whole child support in special cases.

May 8, 2013 at 3:10 PM Leave a comment

Anti-Testing Activism Is Destroying Evidence

Testing for compliance with NCLB is meant to reassure regulators that we are delivering on 14th amendment rights of our students for that personal property that is education. Period. We owe it to the students. Hiding the evidence that some of the kids are not given that which is due them is a cover-up. And part of what is hidden under that cloak is a secret belief among educators that all children are not equal in their most basic potential.

Educators who rally against achievement tests probably to not think they are obstructing justice. In fact, they may be wonderful teachers of social justice, environmental justice, or economic justice. But their efforts to obscure this measure of educational justice are out of synch. Kids who cannot pass the tests have been cheated out of some piece of their property rights for an equitable education.

Achievement tests set lower limits for adequacy of education in terms of literacy and mathematical ability. We still need to work harder to prove to ourselves and to the children that they have the intellectual ability to match their peers in the classroom and in life. Those who are afraid the children cannot pass the test guarantee that those same children are less likely to find out how great their accomplishments in life might be.

Hiding the evidence does not negate the charges levied against us…nor does it save the children from paying the price for life.

May 1, 2013 at 10:52 AM Leave a comment

False Dichotomy – Testing vs. Search for Excellence

All children should be prepared to pursue lifelong learning with a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding. They also benefit from a strong sense of their own potential for high achievement. These are highly interdependent constructs. Future accomplishments rely on prior knowledge. They are never mutually exclusive options for educators.

Any performance measure, such as an NCLB proficiency test, that begins with, “All students must…” sets a MINIMUM standard by definition. It is not meant to measure how high student achievement can go. It merely sets a standard for documenting baseline skills that are prerequisites to advancing to the next level of education. Students will vary in their accomplishments; however, none of them can be expected to advance without proficiency in the basics.

Proponents of various approaches to pedagogy often set up a false dichotomy, seeking to show that their methods far outshine those of “teaching to the test,” some going as far as demanding elimination of standardized tests. They incorrectly presume that accountability testing limits the scope of their practice. In reality, if their collective practices are working, over time their students will happily join the ranks of proficient children who just take the test and move on. No sweat.

Our children need access to a broad range of instructional techniques to meet their diverse learning styles. Bring them on! Tell us about your methods and hold onto those lofty goals. Show us how to use them, and help us to know who benefits the most from them. But please…check the teaching-to-the-test straw man at the door. It’s irrelevant.

May 1, 2013 at 10:35 AM Leave a comment

Amoral Politician’s Dream…Privatizing Education

What could be better for conservatives than creating non-government jobs that drive up government spending through private mismanagement that you can blame on progressives until you can dream up your next flax-spinning scheme? Um…how about investing our nation’s savings in factors of real economic development? No…alchemy makes better campaign rhetoric, and it’s all about getting re-elected in the midterms.

I took a couple of weeks off Twitter only to return the same old…with a new spin. Deregulation of private charters – when the numbers don’t look good; getting rid of the tests – when educators get caught cheating on them; and direct funding of students – only if they go to private schools. This future vision plays right into the hands of an opportunistic and amoral conservative political bloc.

Privatization of government services has emerged again as the perennial antidote to deficit spending. Whenever our nation’s economy seems hopelessly mired in the trough of a business cycle, conservative politicians seem to turn a blind eye to economic development, their alleged forte. They choose, instead, to look for opportunities to appear to create private-sector jobs by churning pre-existing government jobs into their own.

The key to privatization is that it sounds like it might be a good idea. First, you demonize union workers. Then you cite the evils of government spending. Finally, you turn to technological innovation as the new magic pill. Who better to turn this situation around than an entrepreneur from the private sector?

The flaw in the plan? It calls for investing private money that only sustains profit growth through excessive government spending. There is no real end game for investors. It is a short-term fix for the appearance of economic growth. And it has a real economic opportunity cost. If our “job creators” can’t do any better than this, things might just be worse than we thought…and that’s no April Fool.

April 1, 2013 at 9:46 AM Leave a comment

Rhode Island…the Little State That Could

Rhode Island has created what should be a national model for education accounting and data collection. Minor enhancements may be needed to aggregate information on virtual schooling among expenditures and to link city and town accounts for capital assets and pension liabilities. But the lion’s share of the work has already been done in Providence.

In 2004, the late Representative Paul Crowley, Senate President Paiva Weed, and Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Hanna Gallo collaborated to sponsor a better vision for education finance in Rhode Island. The result was a gargantuan effort to address the needs for transparency, uniformity, comparability, and accountability to mission in education spending. The system continues to evolve in its third year of full implementation under Commissioner Deborah Gist. But the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Uniform Chart of Accounts already could serve as a national model for K-12 finance data.

The US spends about $500 billion annually on education without matching the money to the mission of educating children. While the federal government only contributes about 10% of the funding, with state and local governments splitting the other 90%, financial reporting is only standardized with regard to a small number of federal regulatory line items.

The federal role in public education includes…

  • National data standards
  • Common Core standards for interstate portability of education
  • Management of “market” imperfections
    • Food and transportation for the poor
    • Disability benefits
    • Incubation of innovation
  • Funding adjustments for equity via specific grants

Autonomous state education authorities (SEAs) offer half the funding and carry the weight of decision support for the mission of educating the children. However, their informational common denominator is compliance data for federal reporting. Accordingly, most comparative analyses can go no further than aggregate data on general education, special student services, food, and transportation. Action items have been elusive; inefficiencies have been funded without intent or natural correction.

When Rhode Island began its data project, only six states – most notably New Mexico – had made substantive progress toward uniformity in financial data collection within their borders. Rhode Islanders gathered an extensive team of stakeholders. Together, they studied these exemplars of unified charts of accounts against their own needs for comparative analyses of local education authorities (LEAs) as well as internal assessment of the effectiveness of their spending patterns. The team paid close attention to every detail in analytics and created an incredibly robust decision architecture that addresses issues of money, mission, and regulatory compliance.

Two areas for development that I could see…

  • Virtual education resources have grown in unforeseeable ways as materials and delivery sites for education services. They need to be integrated into the system in multiple dimensions.
  • Balance sheet items concerning major assets, such as school buildings, and liabilities, such as unfunded pension obligations, need to be consolidated into school finance at least for analyses and decision-making. These line items do not have a consistent place in school or district finance, often falling under local government authority and residing in their accounting structure. However, complete understanding of these components of investment and their impact on scarce resources to support the mission of educating the children cannot be overlooked.

In addition, I am a believer in student-centered finance that goes beyond weighted funding to include direct linkage of expenses for case management. But that may be a generation away. In the meantime, hats off to Rhode Island.

Now can this best practice get shared…immediately?

February 27, 2013 at 11:51 AM Leave a comment

Child Find as the Catalyst for Success in STEM and PreK

Never watch the State of the Union speech in your cranky pants – not just good advice for John Boehner. As an urban educator, I thought I was looking forward to the President’s address with a positive attitude. But I kept going negative…Universal pre-kindergarten? Wasteful and wrong. STEM competition in high school? Too little too late. Then I realized there was a missing link. Child Find will be the key to success with either initiative.

My preferred approach to pre-kindergarten is to dedicate free public access to children who are at-risk. I truly believe that universal access will dilute the child-find efforts of the program, and that the most-needy children will continue to fall through the cracks. That’s where they live and where their parents are trying to eke out a life for them. Comfortable families already preparing their children for school will get a free ride, less fortunate children will continue to be left behind, and deficit spending will result in a net loss to the system.

That said, the child-find clause in any PreK legislation must have some real teeth in it. Our vulnerable populations must be served first.

Similarly, I worried about the President’s competition for high school STEM programs because so many talented children in troubled schools would have lost their way long before then. Efforts to set up springboards for STEM education in high school would be hamstrung with the need for re-engagement and remediation programs before accelerated STEM instruction could begin.

However, there are many emerging STEM programs that target older elementary and middle school children. In a better world, many more of these children will be found as they enter adolescence. Their interests and abilities will be nurtured through opportunities for exploration and placement in programs that offer appropriate stimulation and challenge. But where, in this new world order, would there be enough seats for all of them in high school? More on that in my next post…

February 13, 2013 at 10:25 AM Leave a comment

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