Posts filed under ‘Teacher Effectiveness’

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

In Favor of a Robust Design for Collaborative Instruction

Collaboration and teamwork are such great concepts. So why do educators feel the need to put them in strait jackets? Broad-based pedagogical awareness and ongoing support of diverse learning styles are essential in any classroom. The rewards are great…as long as educators take their feedback from the children rather than each other. Otherwise, we risk getting caught up in group think and regulating one another instead of relaxing constraints to get more flexible classroom dynamics.

Collaboration in education has become synonymous with all members of a team using the same short list of strategies in parallel while sharing an abridged vocabulary to create context for the students. It is the stuff of lowered expectations for teachers and students. Yet anyone who deviates from the plan is challenged for not being a team player. The rallying cry is that if the students hear the same thing from all of us…they will have to get it. We fail again and again but think that we only have to try harder.

A team is a collection of players with divergent skills brought together to solve a series of problems based on their complementary talents. Individual achievement and excellence get each member a place on the team; their ability to recognize one another’s strengths and weaknesses and choose to lead or to follow in any given situation makes the team function. Collaboration means handing the ball off to another player no matter how hard one feels he or she needs the score personally. Natural rivalries create demand for a coach.

Okay, so team teaching is not a run and gun sport…even if we move really fast there will not be time for each of us to be the star, nor will there be a likely win under such circumstances. The good news? Whether working sequentially or in parallel, anyone matching the right strategy to a child’s learning style can become a vital part of the winning solution.

We already seem to agree with the goal that each child achieve competence in essential skills and demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving across a large range of applied challenges. The trouble is that how we achieve these results cannot be set in stone in advance. And, in an industry that values classroom management, control freaks (and I use that term with endearment) tend to rule.

Of course, there are benefits to shared classroom practices that create structure and reinforce effective organizational strategies. However, these form the matrix for the learning milieu, not instruction itself. And teachers must plan every session to define the short-term goals and lay out the group’s common lesson, along with the flexible options for students as they engage in self-directed exploration or practice style. Then the kids get to take over.

Beyond the traditional classroom, learning labs can include online instruction or digital problem-solving opportunities as well as low-tech hands-on models. The key is to break down processes to a level at which the component parts can be mastered, then to facilitate learning opportunities that can be either synthetic or deductive. Frequent feedback is particularly helpful in the early stages of learning, but intrinsic ways to validate one’s own result should be built into each student’s expectations.

This may seem like a confusing a blend of competency-based instruction, multiple-intelligence-based design, and quiet chaos in the classroom. Hopefully the teachers are down with MIT’s kindergarten for grown-ups and the students have internalized Maria Montessori’s habit of putting things away after play. Sounds half-baked? We better collaborate to see who does what well.

September 10, 2015 at 7:15 AM Leave a comment

A Village of Leaders Trapped in Their Own Stories

The study of literary classics teaches us about characters – heroes, villains, and the rest – who are trapped in their respective stories. Paralyzed by karmic inertia, they often pursue flawed strategies in parallel, and the plot cannot be resolved without life-changing events that both unite and liberate them in a convergence of common causes and conflicts. Collateral damage is unavoidable, but children are rarely allowed to suffer tragic consequences in the end.

Accountability and blame are two sides of an unbalanced coin, or so it would seem in education. But accountability in a fair game could also be the catalyst for a much needed cultural change…inclusiveness among all teachers. Results-orientation is a good thing…something to strive for in a world of natural leaders who just happen to be teachers. And for that, traditional teachers, boot-camp “heroes” from the Land of No Excuses, and seasoned career changers need to merge their ranks and share talents with more mutual respect and less suspicion. Maybe then the lost children of failed schools would be saved.

I became a teacher through a mid-career transition program after 20 years in health care. As an ICU nurse, I learned quickly that failure was not an option to be taken lightly. Later, as an MBA working in the corporate world, being accountable for my personal, professional, and company goals was just business as usual. One agreed to a set of goals and met them. It wasn’t mercenary. The trickle-down theory of profit-sharing was just that – theoretical – to a young business analyst. But having a job and delivering results went hand-in-hand.

Similarly, the No Excuses teams of recruits have a common thread of achievement that links their mission-driven work. And many new teachers emerging from traditional teacher prep programs arrive in schools truly believing that they are their students’ only hope for success. Yet the schools were full of well-intentioned professional teachers before any of us joined their ranks. Why can’t we all get along?

Education has a long history of regulation, and a bureaucracy has grown around documenting rule-following behavior instead outcomes. Caught up in such distractions from the primary mission of educating the children, many career teachers are frustrated by newcomers who introduce an alternate agenda…like they invented it. And the cruelest irony is that each group seems to bank on gathering young, like-minded individuals who will all do it (fill in new leader’s name)’s way. “Watch me succeed and learn from me” is the battle cry. Great…another charismatic leader with a magic pill and a role modeling strategy for delivering change. And as the pendulum swings and time marches on…educators try every strategy from A to B.

The fly in the ointment is the idea that a universally adopted narrow agenda is a long-term solution. A novel approach in the classroom may yield a boost in performance for some, but it will grow stale and miss the mark for many. To reach all students, a broad range of learning strategies must be cultivated, and teachers need to be able to have the discretion to respond to students for whom the latest thing in education is not a good fit. Innovation is crucial, but it does not guarantee obsolescence of that which came before it.

And veteran teachers need to have their voices heard at least as well as any other group. True leadership fosters mutual respect among staff members, and professional development must be robust enough to keep all teachers vitally engaged in their mission over the course of a lengthy career.

A legacy of grudgingly tolerating teachers for the last 15-20 years of their employment is the self-fulfilling prophecy of the occasional bit of dead wood within the ranks of veteran teachers. In my first couple of years of teaching, I bought into the folklore of new heroes and old villains. But the closer I looked at many of the older teachers walking ghostlike, unseen by their younger colleagues, the more evident it became that their spirits had not died of natural causes. They were the victims of not-so-benign neglect, the designated scapegoats who were vital to the formula for a blame-based failure cycle.

School transformation has become a disruptive process that is driven by a presumption of guilt among some of the teachers. Individuals have been faulted for a bad system’s outcomes with little benefit to the children. Further, accountability testing itself is being targeted as an evil force as well. A truly bleak picture is emerging of eliminating accountability tests and turning out the spotlight on achievement so that the children will be allowed to fail without so much evidence…Mission not accomplished.

In an alternate ending to the story, breaking the failure cycle could mean transforming the people – students and staff – through a better system…not just new schools designed around closed systems of elite players who fit into a tight mold and forgetting the rest. Broad-based pedagogy and inclusiveness of all teachers and students would be essential to the ultimate plan for success. And accountability for student outcomes would be founded in a commitment to a minimum standard for literacy and mathematical reasoning as the base from which all students would pursue their goals as lifelong learners. For that, conversations will have to be moved beyond identifying individual culprits who can be excluded.

February 17, 2015 at 2:42 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

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

What’s Up in Holyoke? Privacy, Freedom of Speech, and Due Process under Fire

A teacher has been fired for speaking out against district administrators in Holyoke. Or at least the Commonwealth of Massachusetts thinks there is probable cause to investigate. His offense? Revealing that students’ names and test scores were being exposed on a data wall…then releasing the PowerPoint presentation in which teachers were directly instructed to include the students’ names. Opportunity, action, and intent on the part of the school district to violate the privacy of the children are in evidence.

Our children are our future. And our schools are on the front lines teaching those children about democracy, civil liberties, and citizenship. Unfortunately, in the Holyoke case, the teacher’s rights to freedom of speech and due process appear to have been flagrantly violated. In addition, the children’s rights to privacy have been encroached upon. Most details of their growth and development are protected from scrutiny in matters ranging from intellect to discipline until they reach legal adulthood at age 18.

Let’s start with the schools and their possession-with-intent-to-distribute of very personal data on children. In the era of Big Data, interpretation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) already has left parents, guardians, and children vulnerable to a couple of gaps in privacy guarantees. The first is the definition of directory information, which can be distributed without permission; the second is the waiver of prior consent for “…a contractor, consultant, volunteer or other party to whom the school has outsourced institutional services or functions.” In either event, FERPA has a bad nudge.

Parents get disclosure of policies or contractual arrangements with a brief window for them to prohibit access to their children’s data. It would be far better to offer parents a one-click opt IN if they wanted their children’s privacy rights to be violated, not requirement of an opt OUT action to keep data secure. Passive responses should protect the kids but, in reality, FERPA errs on the side of protecting access to the kids’ privileged information on behalf of public information requests or private consultants who mine data.

Holyoke school officials went the next step to provide the kids’ names and test scores expressly to subject them to intrusive offers of motivation and intervention in public and did so without prior notice. This action also left the students vulnerable to embarrassment or mockery regarding their achievement or lack thereof. When first exposed, the District issued a denial. When cornered, they retaliated against the whistle blower.

The Holyoke school teacher in good standing who led the protest against the inappropriate disclosure of students’ identities and test scores lost his job. Due process for teacher termination had been defined for tenured teachers; however, the teacher in question had not earned his access to those internal protections yet. He needed the Department of Labor Relations to intervene, which they have now done.

As for Freedom of Speech, that may remain in question within the Holyoke Public Schools for some time to come.

September 12, 2014 at 10:30 AM Leave a comment

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