Posts tagged ‘ESEA-NCLB’

Seven Keys to Education Reform

This brief explores key levers of change to eliminate the data limitations, institutional myopia, bureaucratization, and mismatch between mission and incentives that interfere with sustainable reform of elementary and secondary education in the US.

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Seven Keys to Education Reform

Cover letter enclosed in mailings….

Education reform is among the highest priorities in the nation. At the heart of the problem is a system that suffers from data limitations, institutional myopia, bureaucratization, and a mismatch between mission and incentives. The toxic culture that is a product of this environment obscures the vision for 21st century educational excellence. Restoration of the vitality of existing institutions is a crucial building block for the future.

The enclosed document, Seven Keys to Education Reform, offers insight into strategic adjustments to the levers of change for sustainable improvements in the U.S. education system. Predicated on system reform, this no-fault approach calls for an end to the search for culprits among educators. Rather than pursue divisive policies, the Seven Keys remove obstacles to professional growth and collaboration while providing an infrastructure that quietly functions in the background, no longer distracting teachers and instructional leaders from their core mission of educating children.

We appreciate your consideration of this point of view and welcome comments.

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January 13, 2012 at 2:36 PM 3 comments

Making NCLB Happen

I oppose NCLB waivers on the grounds that they undermine the rights of children who may have been underestimated by the very advocates they depend on for their futures. However, this was not meant to promote antagonism between or toward educators or their regulators. Working together is the only way to go. Indeed, regulatory third parties could provide the mediator role between school leaders and teachers in the short-run even as they rush to reinvent themselves and eliminate the regulatory sources of the conflict.

My last post was a bit out of synch with my self-proclaimed no-fault education reform stance. In my haste to preserve high standards for all children, I suggested that it was okay, and perhaps even beneficial, for districts to “be embarrassed in public” and to have regulators “all over their butts” if they were leaving high-risk children behind.  In reality, a collaborative approach to this painful self-examination is crucial to any successful outcome.

Urban schools need help raising the bar and building a better education system. Many other schools need to reinvigorate their programs to ensure that they have maintained historically high standards and practice inclusive excellence. Even more schools are pretty good, but would benefit from continuous quality improvement. So how can we as a nation begin to diagnose clusters of problems and address them in a scalable fashion?

The big picture foretells of 80+% of schools failing, and some would imply that the Feds will be running our school systems very soon. Loud calls for a government pull out have presumed failure as a foregone conclusion and proposed a remedy that ultimately abandons equal protection and due process under the law for at-risk children. However, we need to break down the problem to see the less draconian reality behind the numbers.

For those who think we are just getting too picky about all this anti-discrimination business…

  • Schools with subgroup failures have no fear of government takeover. They simply have to prove that they are not engaging in discriminatory practices that harm individuals in a particular demographic or disability grouping. And the proof is in achievement of proficiency within any relevant subgroup. A waiver to avoid this obligation would be unconstitutional in and of itself.
  • Schools demonstrating a recent history of improvement yet leaving too many students “needing Improvement” simply need to accelerate growth, accepting advice from policy makers. If progress from within an organization is not adequate, the search for external guidance is merely prudent.

Professional development is needed beyond the urban setting to share insight into breaking failure cycles within high-risk populations. Many privileged communities fail to fully assimilate newcomers into their most successful programs. Students who do not fit in immediately find themselves reassigned to alternative programs, losing access to honors classes and advanced placement. Struggling students within this underclass are among the first to be declared incapable of achievement on tests; however, they are being underestimated daily. Test scores continue to be good predictors of achievement in post-secondary education, and it is unconscionable to rely on alternative pathways that do not foster equity in academic preparation.

For those with persistent AYP failure…

In extreme cases, regulators may be given an iron grip over a school, but this power can be used with reason.  To date, a turnover-based policy of redistributing people without systemic change has produced more failure complicated by growing cynicism. As the number of schools being managed grows, this practice could be parodied as a giant game of Whack-An-Educator as people associated with failing schools are shuffled about within any troubled district. There is no end game in sight here.

The blame game was not invented in response to NCLB, but its accountabilities have sent finger-pointing into hyper mode. There has been a landslide of support for school leaders in their search for scapegoats among their teachers, which has been a driving force behind punitive teacher evaluations.  A backlash of support for teachers has been developing as these witch hunts have spun out of control. It is beginning to feel like we need a reset button to reestablish sanity and pursuit of solutions within a collaborative school community. Yes, unions and districts working together.

To help districts improve performance under NCLB, federal and state education leaders need to use their bully pulpit to engender genuine growth within schools based on trust, collaboration, and a persistent, i.e., more than eight-year, belief in equity for all children.  More specifically, regulators have the opportunity to develop models of management that…

  • Bring an end to treading teachers and assist school leaders in seeing all of their staff members.
  • Restore a level playing field for all teachers and objective bases for evaluation.
  • Encourage general management growth for school and district leaders, especially motivation of the total staff – not just the most obvious champions and freeloaders.
  • Sponsor experiments with weighted average funding of students to get more resources directly to the schools.
  • Differentiate between the need for professional development for more inclusive strategies for populations with high risk or special needs and systemic reform for toxic organizations.

For long-term improvement in the ESEA, I have suggested Seven Keys to Education Reform. Ultimately, Federal legislation must reflect a rethinking of the decision architecture that drives the education industry. Many dysfunctional actions among educational institutions originate at the Federal level. As national and state policy-makers ask educators to realign their organizations with their missions, a good look in the mirror is in order.

August 16, 2011 at 9:58 AM Leave a comment

Leaving Children Behind

There are words for people who manage systems that leave out children of color, children of Hispanic heritage, or children with special needs. “Failing” is not the worst of them. Why should we be allowed to reject NCLB as a failed initiative when all it did was catch us in the act?

Since the beginning of the No Child Left Behind initiative, schools across the country have made great strides to improve education. This is good news. We should be proud of those accomplishments. However, we cannot celebrate victory. The children who were at risk remain so, and our efforts have not been inclusive enough.  Our mission has not been accomplished.

The headlines keep emphasizing the large percentage of school systems that cannot make the grade under the increasingly stringent guidelines for NCLB. Educators try to deflect this reality by begging the question and claiming that any benchmark against which there is so much failure must, by definition, be a failure itself. They cite the pain “for the children” of being labeled failures and call for waivers to remove that designation.

Truth is…having a school be labeled a failure hurts the pride of the people who work there, those charged with success under NCLB. What hurts the children is living the life of less educated members of society. And all our requests for relief from NCLB translate into the right to abandon the hopes of those children without getting caught and being embarrassed in public.  

District leaders must examine their collective consciences and redouble their efforts with the struggling children. And having the regulators all over their butts while it happens is just the price one pays for betraying the trust of our most vulnerable kids.

August 12, 2011 at 9:50 AM 2 comments

Seven Keys to Education Reform (extended)

Seven Keys to Education Reform

  1. Build the data infrastructure for the next generation of education leadership, from formulas for government funding to data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness. 
  2. Make teacher pensions portable.
  3. Place teachers and administrators in a shared incentive system linked to student achievement in their school.
  4. End pedagogy wars.
  5. Reinvent school leadership modeled on the general manager role and asset-based management.
  6. Open up the dialogue on Special Education to include the children prior to high school.
  7. Value people of all ages.

(1) Build the data infrastructure for the next generation of education leadership, from formulas for government funding to data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness.

Regulation accounting thwarts good fiscal management within schools. Districts can only keep one set of books, and that is the set that gets them the most funding. It is nearly impossible to find a link between investments and outcomes for education. Regulators must work with educators to develop a common system of financial reporting that allows school districts to intend the outcomes that are to be rewarded. To avoid further funding of bureaucracies, a student-centered decentralized distribution of resources must be part of this plan.

Data on student outcomes must have more depth, be actionable, and document longitudinal progress. The current state of the art seems to focus on poor test results and allowing all constituents to weigh in on possible reasons. It’s still guess work masquerading as data-driven leadership. In addition, systems for feedback to students are cumbersome and incompatible.

Merit-based contracts for teachers cannot be drafted in the absence of data. Leaders must build a system around student outcome objectives and validate the data before asking teachers to accept it as a basis for their employment and compensation. This is NOT a chicken and egg conundrum.

(2) Make teacher pensions portable

A defined benefit retirement plan that optimizes benefits only for those past age 55 with 30 or more years of service creates a pension trap for experienced teachers who feel they cannot afford to change jobs. It also fuels high turnover among new teachers who experience mandatory payroll deductions but cannot envision staying long enough to ever reap the benefits. The net result is a dichotomy between career teachers who pursue the path of security and tenure and a highly mobile short-term workforce. Schools become myopic as they lose the sustained vitality of knowledge and experience from beyond their communities.

(3) Place teachers and administrators in a shared incentive system linked to student achievement in their school.

Paying teachers and administrators to work together to achieve a short list of goals for students is a logical first step toward a more robust system of merit pay. This action creates a reward for desired outcomes while limiting the focus to collective accomplishments. It celebrates interdependence, collegiality, and a results orientation, all of which are crucial to long-term success.

(4) End pedagogy wars.

Dogma can be the enemy of diverse learners. It is not news that children are smart and different. When lessons fit their styles, students internalize teaching methods and begin to activate strategies independently. Even the best techniques become stale over time as singular approaches to formal lessons. However, it is not that the strategy has become obsolete. Rather, it is the lack of creative alternatives being presented.

Pedagogical fads come, go, and come back again because each represents good instruction when presented to students for whom they are new or particularly well suited for style. Each generation of learners misses out on crucial strategies that are out of vogue. In addition, the pinball approach to pedagogy fosters cynicism and intensifies the new school/old school divisiveness among the faculty. Case in point, the current battle being waged over algorithms versus exploration wastes the energy needed to learn how to teach both well.

(5) Reinvent schools leadership modeled on the general manager role and asset-based management.

Instructional leaders must become general managers as they assume new responsibilities for decentralized budgets and education delivery systems that extend beyond the school walls. This new role will require enhanced managerial decision models for resource allocation as well as an expanded functional skill set.

In addition, it takes counterintuitive insight to sustain optimism in schools. Budget constraints limit decision-making to zero sum games. A culture of blame highlights the problems children bring to school from home or the lowest common denominator among educators. Historically, many teachers became administrators without benefit of transformative leadership training. Despite the best of intentions, a legacy of dysfunction remains.

The current mantra about getting rid of bad teachers plays directly into an age-old practice of making an example of someone each year to gain cooperation among staff. A remnant of this is a toxic culture in which an invisible hand within the learning community can deliver a failure with precision – a major barrier to innovation and collaboration. A naive leader can easily fall into the trap of addressing cultural change through opinion leaders who are the worst offenders behind the scenes.

Each member of the school community needs to have room to grow and excel. The children come first, but their best interests can be enhanced through programs that open doors for their parents and teachers as well. Gifted leaders raise the level of discourse without a heightened sense of competition, without winners and losers.

(6) Open up the dialogue on Special Education to include the children prior to high school.

Currently, we begin to train children to be their own advocates in the management of their learning disabilities as part of transition planning for the end of high school. By involving younger children in their diagnoses and education plans, we can draw on their insight and motivation to help them overcome obstacles and resolve some issues earlier. In addition, engaging children in very private exchanges safely preserves confidentiality while lifting the shroud of secrecy that has left many children unnecessarily sensitive and confused about the learning style issues that have the grown-ups so worried.

(7) Value people of all ages.

Older teachers and administrators have become acceptable scapegoats in education. For administrators, they represent a cost burden at budget time. Often their younger colleagues were warned in school about their alleged backward ways of teaching. Opportunists find that one of the easiest ways to connect with a challenging student is to take his side against an older adult in the building.

A system that values diversity and embraces its students as emerging leaders in their communities must be intolerant of any form of discrimination. Further, a system that marginalizes its most mature members then blames them for its ills gets distracted from diagnosing the real problems and developing viable solutions for the children.

March 24, 2011 at 10:41 AM 2 comments

No-Fault Education Policy

Better public schools are full of people with good intentions doing wonderful work. Exemplary models for educating children are being developed across the country, and each has instructional leadership at its core. They depend on excellent teachers. So why did I list the seven keys to education reform without a single entry about the best teachers? The short answer is that plenty of people are addressing the issue already. The slightly longer version turns on the difference between building a better educator and building a better education system.

Education policy is about the entire system of public education. A sustainable system must be robust enough to serve its mission while being inclusive of the general population of students and teachers. It cannot break down in the absence of a hand-picked collection of education’s finest participants.

Further, the current system did not break down because of its incumbents. It has collapsed under the weight of data limitations, institutional myopia, bureaucratization, and a mismatch between mission and incentives. It has become abundantly clear that a bad system can drive good people to do bad things. What we need is a good system that makes it easier for all people to do better things.

February 23, 2011 at 12:52 PM 2 comments

Seven Keys to Education Reform

My reflection on posts to date led to the revised list of seven keys to education reform…

  1. Build the data infrastructure for the next generation of education leadership, from formulas for government funding to data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness.
  2. Make teacher pensions portable.
  3. Place teachers and administrators in a shared bonus pool linked to student achievement in their school.
  4. Develop and share best practices – all of them, not just the fashionable lessons du jour.
  5. Reinvent school leadership modeled on the general manager role and asset-based management.
  6. Open up the dialogue on Special Education to include the children prior to high school.
  7. Value people of all ages.

This supersedes my earlier Four-Point Plan to Support Education Reform.

February 20, 2011 at 12:12 PM 2 comments

Education Reform Plan

A Four-Point Plan to Support Education Reform

The problems in education seem insurmountable; however the path to solutions would be easier to pave with four key strategies to overcome obstacles.

(1) Build the data infrastructure for the next generation of education leadership, from formulas for government funding to data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness.

Regulatory accounting thwarts good fiscal management within schools. Districts can only keep one set of books, and that is the set that gets them the most funding. It is nearly impossible to find a link between investments and outcomes for education. Regulators must work with educators to develop a common system of financial reporting that allows school districts to intend the outcomes that are to be rewarded.

Data on student outcomes must have more depth and be actionable. The current state of the art seems to focus on poor test results and allowing all constituents to weigh in on possible reasons. It’s still guess work masquerading as data-driven leadership. In addition, systems for feedback to students are cumbersome and incompatible.

Merit-based contracts for teachers cannot be drafted in the absence of data. Leaders must build a system around student outcome objectives and validate the data before asking teachers to accept it as a basis for their employment and compensation. This is NOT a chicken and egg conundrum.

(2) Develop and share best practices – all of them, not just the fashionable lessons du jour.

Dogma can be the enemy of diverse learners. It is not news that children are smart and different. When lessons fit their styles, students internalize teaching methods and begin to activate strategies independently. Even the best techniques become stale over time as singular approaches to formal lessons. However, it is not that the strategy has become obsolete. Rather, it is the lack of creative alternatives being presented.

Pedagogical fads come, go, and come back again because each represents good instruction when presented to students for whom they are new or particularly well suited for style. Each generation of learners misses out on crucial strategies that are out of vogue. In addition, the pinball approach to pedagogy fosters cynicism and intensifies the new school/old school divisiveness among the faculty. Case in point, the current battle being waged over algorithms versus exploration wastes the energy needed to learn how to teach both well.

(3) Reinvent schools leadership driven by strength and possibilities.

It takes counterintuitive insight to sustain optimism in schools. Budget constraints limit decision-making to zero sum games. A culture of blame highlights the problems children bring to school from home or the lowest common denominator among educators. Historically, many teachers became administrators without benefit of transformative leadership training. Despite the best of intentions, a legacy of dysfunction remains.

The current mantra about getting rid of bad teachers plays directly into an age-old practice of making an example of someone each year to gain cooperation among staff. A remnant of this is a toxic culture in which an invisible hand within the learning community can deliver a failure with precision – a major barrier to innovation and collaboration. A naive leader can easily fall into the trap of addressing cultural change through opinion leaders who are the worst offenders behind the scenes.

Each member of the school community needs to have room to grow and excel. The children come first, but their best interests can be enhanced through programs that open doors for their parents and teachers as well. Gifted leaders raise the level of discourse without a heightened sense of competition, without winners and losers.

(4) Value people of all ages.

Older teachers and administrators have become acceptable scapegoats in education. For administrators, they represent a cost burden at budget time. Often their younger colleagues were warned in school about their alleged backward ways of teaching. Opportunists find that one of the easiest ways to connect with a challenging student is to take his side against an older adult in the building.

 A system that values diversity and embraces its students as emerging leaders in our constitutional democracy must be intolerant of any form of discrimination. Further, a system that marginalizes its most mature members then blames them for its ills gets distracted from diagnosing the real problems and developing viable solutions for the children.

February 9, 2011 at 9:29 AM Leave a comment