Thursday, April 30, 2009
Many would argue that they spent taxpayer money to harm the taxpayers. (But I wouldn't do that here. Oh, no. Not me.)
Despite the amount of money spent, the more interesting issue is that the charter schools in Tulsa have largely been very successful. So, the question is "Why would we want good schools declared unconstitutional?"
This is obviously a move based on the attempt to retain power and the status quo. The Tulsa school system wants a monopoly, not based on who provides the best services for kids, but based on oppression of families that they are supposed to serve. So, often today we hear corporations in a competitive environment called oppressive, but here we see true oppression. General Motors has abused its large market share and become inefficient and one day may be a monument to inefficient poorly run business. This is because it has to compete in the market. It appears that the real oppressors today are monopolies like the Tulsa Public School District that insists on operating like GM, but without competition.
The similarities of many public school systems to the failures of GM management are many and should not be repeated in our public schools. Our students should not be subject to the same treatment that GM has given the American consumer. Schools must become more efficient and produce a quality product. This doesn't come from investing in the latest technology or fancy buildings. It comes from hiring and developing great teachers and firing those teachers who cannot or cease to desire to teach. Charter schools are one way to ignite this change.
The court made a decision to end the oppression of Tulsa children and families by the district. TPS, hear the message. Your customers are speaking.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
After seeing hundreds of candidates, here are some tactics to help you make the most of your opportunity to interview:
- Be great at your current job—references really matter. They often seal or break the deal.
- Crackle and hum with energy—schools need energy more than experience. Shake every hand, look in every eye. Stand up until we invite you to sit down. Sit on the edge of your chair. Physical energy communicates professional vitality.
- Know the school—really well. Get inside their vision and their community. Interview students or parents about the school. Use social media. Do your homework.
- Give yourself some think time before answering each question. Five-ten seconds is fine. Even if you are smooth and articulate, give yourself a moment to go deeper. We hear loads of smooth answers—we crave depth.
- Dress up—I have never met an overdressed candidate. Lot’s of candidates make a bad first impression with casual, rumpled, stained, or garish clothing. When in doubt match yourself to a hip bank manager.
- Answer succinctly. Write down the question and parse it if it is a multi-part question. Answer all the parts. Clarify if needed. Say just a little less than necessary and let us project your great answer into the silence.
- Smile more. We need positive people. Laugh with us. Enjoy our time together. This may be the first hour of a multi-year relationship. Why so serious?
- Don’t mention salary. Don’t mention salary. Don’t mention salary. Wait till we make an offer to talk compensation.
- Write answers to basic questions, then organize them, shorten them, and practice them. Clarity of thought doesn’t have to be spontaneous to be compelling.
- Bring products, props, and pictures. If asked about a favorite teaching memory, wouldn’t it be great to have a picture of that kid? If we’re too stiff to hire a person with a package, thank us and find a better school.
In honor of my friends at Spinal Tap here’s #11.
11. Be eager to work long hours, sell out for the vision, and be available. If that sounds too hard then don’t apply at charter schools.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
As Nelson Smith and other national leaders often say, charter schools must take care of business on the quality side, or the movement is at risk. We agree. This is one of the fundamental insights we bring to the charter improvement game.
In Arizona, the pursuit of school quality is job #1. The Arizona quality model mines data from the state AIMS test to identify patterns of longitudinal growth. This is similar to the Colorado Growth Model that is being adopted on a national level. The level of sophistication required to do this with fidelity is higher than most volunteer leaders or part-time oversight can manage. That's why it is encouraging to see experts like Rebecca Gau and her colleagues toss around phrases like disaggregation and hierarchical linear modeling without blushing. Since Colorado and Arizona share a micro-border at the Four Corners, we count them as neighbors, and we're proud to see charters on the rise across the West.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
My interest in this article is not so much whether the school is right or not. It is the fact that a father would get that upset about getting rejected. Why would a parent get that upset about not getting into a school? Whether the charter school is that good or the non-charter public schools are that bad, the fact is that there must be a huge difference for the father to be so upset.
Non-charter leaders often criticize charters for stealing kids from non-charter schools. They also make the statement that charters' original purpose was to be incubators of new instructional methods that could be replicated by non-charter schools.
Let's look at this. First, the charter is obviously not stealing kids. That's actually a pretty funny claim as a parent has to decide to take a student to a charter school and out of the non-charter school. That's hardly stealing. It's like saying that if I open a restaurant down the street from your restaurant, and customers who used to come to your restaurant start coming to my restaurant, then I've stolen your customers. Last time I checked, that's the way the world works. People choose their favorite option.
Second, the non-charter school does not have a right to those students. Just because the non-charter school existed first, the students do not belong to that school. The restaurant example works the same way here. Just because your restaurant existed first, it doesn't mean that those are your customers in any sense that indicates ownership or a right. They are your customers purely on a contingent basis.
The last issue has to do with non-charter leaders fighting against charters. If non-charter leaders would adopt the successful charter school methods as was the intent of the original charter laws, then charters might go out of existence by the fact that parents will begin demanding re-entry into non-charter public schools. Now, wouldn't that be newsworthy?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
One of the main reasons is pay. This is also not surprising as numerous charter schools pay less than non-charters due to funding reasons or small class sizes or both. More charter school teachers also leave to pursue further education. This may well be because more non-charter school teachers already have advanced degrees.
So, while this is obviously bad news for charters at an administrative level, is it bad for the students? Do we know that teachers that leave charter schools are good teachers, for example. I know many charter schools that seem to be able to keep good teachers--some leave. It isn't easy being a charter school teacher. It's not for everyone.
In addition, pay is not everything. Passion to teach for a school that is working harder and hopefully smarter to achieve a better education than non-charter alternatives can make up the difference in salary. Many charters, despite high turnover, still manage to hire pretty decent teachers every year. It's a lot of work on principals, HR staff and payroll staff, but perhaps its worth it. If it keeps up the passion in the school, then it may actually be better for kids. I realize this is speculation, but it's not irrational speculation. What do you think?
1. change for change's sake is not educational reform.
2. "there are no 'silver bullets'."
3. for-profit companies are not always the best at running schools.
4. all schools must be accountable for their success or failure.
In schools that are not improving, we determine why. Instead of declaring them "failing" schools, we need detailed analyses of what each school is doing wrong and what can be done to fix it. We must learn from what works in other areas and inject it into struggling schools.
Let's work together to foster creative, successful strategies and share them with the larger educational community. Only then can we truly "reform" our schools so every student has the chance to succeed.
If serious, then this union leader has it right, it's about the kids, not the schools or teachers. Non-charter public or charter public school, we must be about the kids, about teaching and learning, about producing citizens capable of thinking and presenting those thoughts. Let's do it!
Monday, April 20, 2009
Who is served by this move? No one except the unions who want to see vouchers fail. What better way to see them fail than to stop the most successful program out there. If there are no working examples, then there is less evidence to support the fact that vouchers can help kids that need a way out of failing non-charter, non-voucher public schools.
Once again, we see that teachers unions are united for teachers, not for students.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Practically speaking, it could be difficult to come up with a national standard. People disagree with what should be the standard. Should it be in all subjects or just core subjects? Should the standards include citizenship and character or simply academic knowledge and skills?
Then there is the issue of how high the standard should be and how it should be used. So, what is proficient? Should proficiency be the standard for passing a grade? Do we eliminate social promotion nationwide?
So, why am I talking about all of this here on a charter school blog? I had this strange notion that may be a really stupid idea, but charter schools have a national organization. While charter schools are often different in their methods and approaches and their specializations, I'd guess that charter school leaders all agree that core academics are important. Is it possible that charters could come up with a charter school national standard? Could charters take the lead in such an effort?
I don't believe that the government will do a good job if the task is left to them. When I deal with people and want them to act, I always come in with a recommendation. Could charter schools develop a plan and submit it to the federal government? In taking such action, could we show how truly innovative and productive we are? If we could, and if the standards worked, we could really show our value to society.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Gabrielinos Charter Academy of Arts and Sciences applied as a school focused on performing arts and sciences. The school anticipated an initial enrollment of 300 students.
The District gave some reasonable cause for rejecting the application--inadequate budget and educational plan. However, some of the other reasons were not so sensible--the school would take students from the district and they didn't know what to do with extra teachers.
This shows a number of continuing problems with having school districts approving charter applications. The very reason for charters is innovation and parent/student choice for a different or better education. The school district has a vested interest in not allowing competition. The district can easily say that the school doesn't have an adequate educational plan because the district uses its own standard for deciding that (although some times districts apply state standards, which is appropriate).
A bigger issue is that the bureaucracy of a list of check boxes that may or may not have anything to do with student outcomes is applied to applications rather than an approach that favors innovation, we use a process that is structurally opposed to innovation. Moreno Valley may be biased against charters schools or its system may be biased against innovation and change. Either way, it's not the way things are supposed to be.
My fear is that many of these districts are throwing systems together without being strategic. This frenzy for stimulus money from ARRA is like a shark frenzy for blood. It isn't rational or at least can lead to poorly thought out systems. Existing merit pay systems are still being studied and many have been found lacking. In addition, no one has really set the goals for a teacher pay system. Is the goal student achievement? If so, how do we measure that? Is it teacher retention? If so, who do we want to motivate to stay? Is it those with higher level degrees? Is it those who practice specific methods of teaching? Is it those who display the most passion?
The system that we've proposed and implemented rewards many of these factors. The reason is that we began with the goals in mind, then decided what we would measure and reward. We looked at the characteristics of teachers that were most important to our school--passion, citizenship, leadership, method, etc. We also looked at research about what teaching characteristics make the most difference in developing students. We don't look at test scores. We look at the characteristics that normally lead to better test scores. Any group of students could perform worse than the prior group (which leads to another issue with tracking test scores by grade rather than cohort).
So, while I love the fact that Obama and Duncan support innovation in teacher pay, it will be interesting to see which if any of the pay systems implemented will work to achieve the goal of creating better citizens prepared for the work force and to be part of our diverse community.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Three students will be going to the international science fair--two of them are freshman in high school. Their teacher, Candus Muir, was also honored with a PACE teacher award. Way to go Candus!!!!!
He didn't say it, but the suggestion is that charter school teachers often choose to teach at charters and take a lower salary. They do that because they can serve their students better--often fewer students in classes or else more help from tutors.
Is it a fear from unions because they do not understand why a person would accept less money? Is it because charter school teachers focus on students and not themselves?
One of our teachers recently got up at a board meeting, not asking for more money or time off or a shorter school year or school day, but simply to ask for a realignment of the school schedule so that she could have more time to collaborate with her fellow teachers. She said that it was because her job is a "labor of love."
Could it be that unions fear love? When teaching becomes more about what I can get out of it rather than what I can put into it (and this is true of every profession), there is a huge problem. Is it a universal truth that unions take the passion out of work? I just wonder.
While the argument is largely irrelevant to the value of charter schools in the district, it provides ammunition to those predisposed to be against charter schools. It allows people to hold to the fallacy that if charters are not accurate in their statements about enrollment percentages, then the schools are not good for students. When put that way, any rational person can see that the two issues are completely unrelated. However, charter school opponents rarely put things so clearly. They will use just about any argument (however unrelated to school performance) to cast aspersions on charter schools.
Because of this, charter school leaders need to be very careful in the way they use statistics and language about themselves, especially when comparing themselves to non-charter public schools. Charter leaders need to stick to the real issues like running a great school and not get into debates about what percentage they are of the district.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I had a chance to talk to David for a few minutes and he seems like both a competent and nice guy who will lead this organization with some clear legislative efforts on behalf of all charter schools.
We also ran into a great guy from San Antonio named Gene Gentry who gave us a ride to Mi Tierra--a great and relatively inexpensive Mexican restaurant.
We presented on the tension between facilities, salaries and enrollment. We also presented on charter school lifecycles. The lifecycle presentation was very well received and our reviews were excellent.
We also got a chance to sit with Brian Carpenter again for a while. His new book still isn't out yet, but his sessions were overflowing. You can buy his book through Amazon.com by clicking on the link in the right hand column.
It was a very tiring trip. I was at The Classical Academy board meeting until about 10 p.m., came home and finished my taxes about 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, woke up about 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday, then flew to Texas and presented about two hours after arriving at the hotel.
Peter presented on Monday on SPED for charter school principals. He said it was well received also, but most of the attendees were SPED Directors and not principals so he had to do some adjusting while presenting.
I also was able to talk with Matthew Polk who I originally met this past summer at Harvard University. Matthew is doing very well and his school is moving forward.
I'm getting tired and need to be in the office in the morning so I'm off to bed, but I'd like to say thanks to David Dunn and the other Texas charter folks who make our trip so worth while.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Now, let's look at this for a moment. The school district normally issues bonds to purchase a school building. Taxpayers pay property taxes that pay off the bonds. So, this building is later sold to a charter school that pays for the building out of...you got it...taxpayer money. Any thinking taxpayer must find this appalling. Only a person bent on emphasizing the difference between the district and the charter school could see things this way. A taxpayer bent on efficient use of taxpayer money to educate kids would see far more options. Why couldn't the district loan the building to the charter school, for example?
Does anyone else see this as a way to double dip taxpayers and take money away from educating children?
Monday, April 13, 2009
Peter Groff, Colorado Senate President and Charter supporter was named to the post of the faith based and community initiatives center.
Peter is a long time charter school supporter who has been responsible for maintaining and increasing the funding for charter school capital construction. He's also a great guy.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The assumption by opponents of school choice is that the money somehow belongs to the district. The truth is that taxpayers have the right to say, and it appears that demand is for charter schools and not non-charter public education. It also shows the continuing bias on the part of many non-charter public school administrators who conveniently forget that charter schools are public schools.
So, parents of students in Camden, keep asking for what you need. This is a free country. Let's speak up for what we need so that our governments serve us and not the other way around.
The Barrow county district believes that by getting away from some state laws they can provide a more innovative and flexible education for their children. It's interesting when an entire district believes that state laws prohibit them from providing a quality education. If that's not something to think about as we move forward with Obama's stimulus money for K-12 education under ARRA, then I don't know what is.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
...and could they be coming to a school board meeting near you?
I am shocked, shocked, that public officials would turn off their brains and spout the
party line union position.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
As a principal who hires within a strategic compensation system, I have been thinking wistfully about the simplicity and ease of my colleagues who hire with a traditional step-and-lane system. I am a little jealous. They don’t have to worry about comparing teachers or tracking added value. The simply add up education and experience and voila! the correct salary appears on the contract.
Merit pay is much, much harder. Leaders must know what they value, they must measure what they value, and most importantly—they must communicate the relationship between philosophical value and financial value. I struggle with this during every hiring cycle. Every year I have to tell excellent teachers that their worth as a professional can be measured and ranked. That is hard for us all. When I communicate poorly or misjudge a teacher’s value, they push back or they leave. While it is painful to offend or lose good teachers, their response to the compensation offer is valuable feedback.
Every self-correcting system—from the scientific method to Linux development—depends on corrective feedback. Every year, the leaders at The Classical Academy debrief the hiring cycle and fine-tune elements of the compensation system to make it more strategic. There are elements of the system that don’t work well yet, but overall the system is much better than a pure, subjective merit pay system. The strategic improvements over merit pay are a function of the excellent feedback teachers give to the system.
Last year, two teachers gave me very different kinds of feedback:
- Teacher A was overpaid according to our model, so she received a modest raise.
- Teacher B improved performance and earned a more substantial raise.
- Teacher A said, “I don’t like this system” and left—voting with her feet.
- Teacher B said, “Thank you for recognizing my worth!” and stayed—voting with her feet.
Their differentiated responses gave us good feedback and helped us make our performance compensation system more strategic.Does your system give you feedback? More importantly—do you use it?
- Allow all student to re-do any test or quiz with a grade of a “C” or lower
- Instructors must assign a minimum of 40 grade entries per Quarter
- Instructors will drop 10% of the lowest grades within the Formative Assessments category
Friday, April 3, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
He makes a compelling case that the student is much more than a test score. Citing several advocates of "child-centered" education such as Dewey and Emerson, Gratz shows that the current standards ignore the development of the whole child. Student growth has been sacrificed at the alter of "academic achievement as measured by standardized tests."
Gratz then gives examples of better assessment measures that could be used to reallocate classroom time to what really matters in student development.
While Gratz' conclusion doesn't leave us with a lot of information about how that would affect a pay for performance system, it seems to me that the system that I've argued for on this blog fits well into a more robust assessment framework.
I've often argued that a pay for performance system (that I've called Strategic Compensation) must include a multitude of factors--those factors that are integral to the strategic outcomes of the school. In our charter school some of those factors are teachers who teach and act in ways that align with our mission, who teach in specific methods, who engage students. We also value those who take leadership of their areas or grade level. Those are things that we can measure that contribute to the whole student, and not just test scores.
If we can accept most of Gratz' position, then a strategic compensation model makes more sense than a traditional pay for performance model. Performance is only one element of a strategic compensation model. Treating students as whole persons is another.