Posts filed under ‘Information Technology’

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.

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January 22, 2016 at 12:44 PM 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

Hey, You! Get Off of My Cloud…

Flexible data platforms to build robust student portfolios over time? YES! Data mining by outsiders? NO! Need-to-know cannot be extended to outside entities that offer to provide analytical support to schools while covertly sharing content with others. In fact, the data architecture must not follow the social networking model. Rather it must be designed to shield the data from ready transfer and exploitation.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared this comment with GatesEd concerning their $6 million contest for education applications:

Great idea…but I am worried that we do not have a platform to receive these innovations. Education needs a systems integration project to reinvent the standard for information technology. School systems need an integrated financial, student outcomes, and educator effectiveness system…and it needs to be able to upload activities and download stats with technology-based pedagogy apps. We are being creative, but the process must stop generating incompatibilities eventually. Would love to open a dialogue on this, beginning with https://schoolsretooled.com/201…

It was posted briefly on ImpatientOptimists.org  and then deleted…I think I understand why. Platforms for student portfolios and learning apps have already been invented that marry cloud-based educational resources with externally focused profiling of the students via social networks. As commercial ventures they are attracting good buzz and ready money among venture capitalists. Unfortunately, they also are opening the door for exploitation of children.

This gets us into the conflict between a public good and private enterprise. As business men or women, we may be in awe of any database that uses object design to build a flexible platform for student data, especially one that promises to comprise a wide range of episodic data over time as well as provide access to a content cloud for pedagogy. And it is becoming populated with data quickly because it’s free?!? We also know that’s too good to be true.

Clearly, these new student databases can only turn a profit through data mining and selling to paying clients. As adults we can chose to flagrantly ignore our own privacy rights as we connect with others in the ether. However, as parents or educators we cannot expose our children. The details of their growth and development, their evolving intellects and identities, their hopes and dreams…are not for sale.

It would be naïve to think that opportunists would not enter the market by simply exploiting existing technology. Next time around, however, we must develop decision architecture that is fundamentally different for student applications. My analogy would be a database that implodes rather than explodes in terms of availability. It has to be an insider’s club with “need-to-know” rules that rival those of GooglePlex or Microsoft employees. If you can’t shout it out on the school bus…don’t advertise it on a social network.

March 5, 2013 at 8:47 AM Leave a comment

Privacy and Data Solutions in Education – Part 2 of 2

Big data in education must be just as big on security. Everything from children’s journals to administrators’ meeting notes can turn up on Google Docs or Facebook. These may seem like great platforms for trying out 21st century tools. However, the long range plans must include tight security as we take very privileged information and make it broadly available…on a need-know-basis?!?

The future for education data is bright. We are just beginning to realize the potential for developing integrated systems that are student-centered and can bring together student funding and outcomes…which can then be reconciled with delivery system and educator effectiveness. Whew! But can this brave new world accommodate the privacy requirements for all the players?

Consider that…

  • The New York Times has published test performance data that might have been better kept in NYC DOE teachers’ human resource files.
  • Children who are not old enough to join Facebook or understand their ever-changing privacy rules are active on the site through their classroom pages and may be revealing too much about themselves in journals or personal essays.
  • Confidential memos have been leaked and shared for sport and maximum exposure.
  • Risqué videos and inappropriate photos of teenagers have trended on Twitter with record speed.

Everyone is in the media and social networks, but it is not clear who is in charge or what the rules should be. Privacy has become a thing of the past…at least for the present.

In a period of rapid technological change, it is all a person can do to stay current. Being open to new technology is a requirement for today’s professional, but the blurring of boundaries between public and private personas challenges even the savviest users. Bringing social networks into the classroom and school community has unleashed the potential for innovation in communication and collaboration. But it has brought with it loss of control over content.

Platforms offered by Facebook, Google, or Pinterest allow us to experiment with shared portfolios of content from a variety of media. Concepts for limiting access to information exist in theory, but most privacy shields have been proven to be flawed. For the moment, anything posted on an Internet site carries risk of exposure. Does that mean we should stop experimenting with new apps? No…because the milieu will define important ways that we can integrate data in the future.

Education data banks will need to accommodate all media types, but they also must be exclusive for participation. Essentially, the old privacy rights need to be engineering into new Intranet systems. For example,

  • Children need to be shielded from personal exposure to people beyond their immediate families or the school community.
  • Only students, their parents, and relevant teachers and administrators should have access to certain student information.
  • Every staff member has the right to privacy in employment records and personal information.
  • Student outcomes, teacher performance, and education effectiveness data may be intertwined for quality assurance internally, but the identities of the participants can never be revealed in public records.

We have a major opportunity to become far better informed as decision-makers in education. But as the song says, some things are private.

January 10, 2013 at 1:36 PM Leave a comment

Privacy and Data Solutions in Education – Part 1 of 2

Fully integrated systems in education hold incredible potential to combine a variety of types of data and media from finance, human resources, and education operations…organized around students. Once this very big picture was in place, truly mission-driven education services could become a reality. But do we have the courage to abandon our regulatory model?

Let’s make our education information systems a do-over. Start with student funding and build a zero-based budget from there. Financial statements aggregate from student education centers up. District services would be driven by demand and economy.

Then build student records that combine data fields, documents, and audio-visual inputs. A continuum of real and metaphorical snapshots of the whole child would emerge over the course of his or her education.  It would comprise the usual demographic data, formal assessments, and grades. However, portfolios also could be included with key samples of student work as evidence of academic and psychosocial benchmarks, distinctive strengths, or leaning style profiles. Special education or English language learner files could be included as well.

Every educator would have a consolidated record. It could capture the teacher or administrator’s personnel data and link it to evidence on dimensions such as student progress, videos of practice activities, or feedback from students, parents, and colleagues. Professionalism and dimensions of leadership could be captured as well.

Each player would have a good picture of current achievement levels in addition to a longitudinal progress report. Beyond the individual, finance and performance analysis would inform system leaders as they refined the education delivery system for efficiency and effectiveness. Continuous quality improvement would not only be possible – it should become mandatory – for the people and the system.

Clearly today’s regulatory model is not working. But are we ready to give up bad data, scapegoating, and plausible deniability for real information that allows us to grow?

January 10, 2013 at 11:45 AM 1 comment

New PreK-12 Education Priorities for the Returning Obama Administration

The Common Core State Standards, NCLB waivers, and Race to the Top initiatives have altered the landscape in education in the absence of an NCLB rewrite. On this day of reflection after Election 2012, I offer a few thoughts on resetting policy priorities until ESEA renewal becomes feasible.

Entering the 2nd term, in my humble opinion, the Obama Administration could benefit from raising the priority of three issues in PreK-12 education…

  • Decision architecture for education finance, reporting, and analysis
  • Federal support for government employee pension reform
  • Incentives/accountabilities for grade level proficiency for students in general or special education and students who are English language learners

Decision Architecture

The Race to the Top program (RttT) has instructed states and districts to design new approaches to student funding, teacher effectiveness, and student outcomes. Having completed the idea generation phase for reinvention of the decision architecture within education authorities, it is time to draw expertise from beyond traditional regulatory compliance models. Educators need to learn from non-education sources with more expertise in aligning information and analyses to the mission of educating children efficiently and effectively.

The finished products should draw on the best of the general industry models and those presented by RttT exemplars. They should include a standard for financial reporting that is student-centered as well as data elements to be automated in support of teacher effectiveness and student outcome reports.

Pension Reform

Government employee pensions are straining fiscal resources while yielding inequitable benefits for plan participants and limiting their career mobility. Current retirees and vested employees need security with their defined-benefit pensions. Separately, the wisdom of continuing to underwrite such pensions in the future needs to be assessed. However, any introduction of defined-contribution pensions for new or unvested employees would result in eventual bankruptcy for legacy plans.

The Federal role in the issue could be one of mitigating the financial crisis in pension funding. Changes to the tax code could lower the effective cost of borrowing for sponsors to meet pension obligations. In addition, elimination of the Social Security opt-out would extend the safety net for employees switching to higher risk, defined-contribution pension plans. A prior post discussing this issue can be found here.

Grade Level Proficiency

When redefining the data elements needed for measuring student outcomes, Federal regulators will need to keep in mind new targets and deadlines for general grade-level proficiency among PreK-12 students. Longitudinal tracking across content areas will need to be enhanced significantly, especially to ensure that students receiving services in Special Ed or ELL programs are demonstrating accelerated progress in response to accommodations and modifications.

This shift in emphasis should create incentives to move beyond regulatory compliance to demonstration of real benefits for students, a continuation of the work announced in an Education Department notice available here.

Other items on the Federal agenda

Meanwhile, teacher preparation does not need to be such a high priority on the Federal agenda. Educators are being trained under a variety of conditions ranging from rigorous 5­-year programs that combine baccalaureate and master’s degrees to boot camp immersion programs or online courses with limited apprenticeships. Aggressive evaluation of the most highly structured programs exclusively is both unfair and at risk of overestimating the state of the art in actual practice. In addition, success has been seen with many teacher prep models, raising doubt that the problem lies with the pipeline of new teachers.

Rather, a crucial lapse in quality arises because individual schools and districts show uneven results with their ability to keep teachers in top form professionally throughout their careers. That is a local problem that is being addressed retrospectively through the teacher evaluation process. Prospectively, Federal regulators should consider grants for demonstration projects to introduce general management and human resource expertise from general industry into education leadership development.

November 7, 2012 at 2:46 PM Leave a comment

Communicating Priorities in Education

If you want it, you have to ask for it. Let’s make it “Show Me” time to assure educators that we care about more than test scores. Ask them for details on other priorities, and support their local analyses of discretionary resource allocation in every school. In addition, update certification and facilities standards for alignment with priorities.

PreK-12 education should…

  • Guarantee that every child has the foundation knowledge at each benchmark year (3, 8, 12) to continue successfully as a lifelong learner.
  • Provide well-rounded instruction in English language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and technology, the arts, physical education, and foreign languages.
  • Be transferable across state lines without excessive need for supplemental skill-building or redundant content.
  • House the academic efforts in appropriate, safe, and efficient institutions with universal access for at-risk populations and reasonable attempts to offer flexibility to accommodate all others.
  • Provide advanced placement courses in all major content areas for high achievers.
  • Supplement educational efforts during out-of-school time to make it a way of life.

Accountability for baseline knowledge is well covered in the national dialogue. The Common Core is addressing the need for interstate mobility. However, there remains an information gap on additional priorities. We care but we do not document the details. It’s analogous to teaching material that never makes it into the grade book. No one believes it really matters.

The first step is to collect data on the financial investments made by every school in its content areas listed above, at-risk population, AP courses, and school facilities. In addition, information concerning enrollment, class sizes, and instructional time should be added to the attendance and graduation statistics. Participation in extracurricular activities and other out-of-school activities should be documented as well.

Tests are being given to inform us about student achievement in benchmark years. However, we do not support certification and facility standards that recognize the importance of 3rd grade. Can we make this an endpoint for classifications of professional preparation or school design?

Beyond building design for age appropriateness, what changing needs do we envision for the future of schools and their extended communities? What else do we need to track?

April 4, 2012 at 10:28 AM Leave a comment

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