Sunday, February 28, 2010
I remember back when my dog Buster was still around, we used to walk in Palmer Park here in Colorado Springs. There are some trails where dogs are allowed off leash, but there is a sign "Dogs allowed off leash if under control." As many of us know, dogs can make great companions, but they have to be trained, nurtured and kept under control. On occasion, I would run into some dog owners who didn't seem to understand what under control meant. One time I ran into an owner and a dog that frightened me. A Russian Wolfhound (Borzoi) was running off leash. My daughter was once attacked by a Borzoi and shortly after that incident, I read that Borzois barely tolerate their masters, let alone other people. That dog should never be off its leash.
In the latest case of questionable management practices by an Education Management Organization (EMO), White Hat is accused of a lack of financial transparency at their Winter Haven, Florida Life Skills Center. It appears that their local board let them off leash, but didn't keep White Hat under control.
The school of over 450 students works with students in the 16-21 year old age range that has struggled in other environments. It has a 77% graduation rate, but 20% of students do not pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which is required for graduation.
The biggest issue for most is that White Hat takes 97% of the school's revenue, but does not provide enough detail of where money is spent to determine appropriate allocations or resources. It is typical for management companies to hire employees and pay for many of the school services, which is not necessarily bad. It can be good if the management company assists the local board in developing an appropriate budget and sticking to it.
In this case, reviewers state that in the past two schools years 39% and 27% of the budget was spent in the classroom. As a benchmark, the legislature has been toying with a law to require 65% of the budget to be spent in the classroom. While charter schools have a disadvantage as they pay for buildings out of their pupil revenue, one might still expect 50% to 55% of a charter school's budget to be spent in the classroom.
I'm not one to believe a lot in looking at inputs as adequate measures of much of anything, but I do believe that they can be indicators of other issues. In this case, the Charter Review Committee believes that the school is not meeting its academic performance expectations.
Most concerning is the assertion that "the school does not keep sufficiently records with details of how that money is spent. They said Life Skills East did not provide them reports on salaries, benefits, supplies, purchased services, capital outlay and other important information." These are all items that the local board should have access to and reports about if and when necessary.
Management companies have to know that, as we education reformers seek to find trust among politicians and those who may be sitting on the fence on the charter school issue, they must be completely transparent to the public on these financial issues. Furthermore, for the percentage that they take of the revenue pie, they have an obligation to do more than just write checks and pay payroll (as a note of full disclosure, the company I work for provides such financial management services). They have to advise the local board in ways that are helpful to seeing the school meet its mission.
It's not clear if White Hat is a Borzoi or not, and I'm not going to make that judgment here. However, local charter schools boards have to be like responsible dog owners. They have to be careful if they let their EMO off leash. They have to know when to reign them in or if they should be off leash at all. A bad management company doesn't have to be a Borzoi to do damage, so "owners, keep your dogs under control."
The co-founder of Partnerships to Uplift Community provided the keynote speech for the Colorado Charter School Conference today. After showing a brief video about the founding of a couple of the PUC schools, Ref Rodriguez encouraged the attendees to view the charter school movement as a "social movement."
The day began with groups taking trips to the nearby capitol building to visit with their legislators and encourage their legislators to support charter school initiatives. When attendees arrived back at the downtown Sheraton Hotel, they gathered for lunch to hear six schools recognized for committing to complete the online board training provided by the Colorado Department of Education School Choice Unit.
Rodriguez then spoke about the importance of the charter school movement as not just a "rich white" people's movement, but a movement of social change to allow choice for families and to help those kids who are struggling. The PUC schools are in neighborhoods characterized by violence and poverty.
He challenged charter schools to continue with the call to innovate. With all the emphasis on proven best practices, Rodriguez said that charter schools should pursue best practices plus innovation. He urged teacher participation in the school as well as proper treatment of teachers with incentive pay and a nurturing environment. He believes that one of the issues with traditional public schools is that they often "depersonalize" the work environment for teachers.
Rodriguez also encouraged charter schools to celebrate successes and to pursue high quality and not just pursue the money available.
I found particularly interesting that Rodriguez does not like the strategy of asking charter schools to turnaround failing public schools. He believes that there are usually too many restrictions for the charter schools to be successful.
Rodriquez ended with the message that charter school are about "courage and integrity." He contrasted courage and integrity with "funding, size, and ego." He said that charter school leaders need to work hard to maintain that focus on integrity and courage because that is the heart of the movement.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
His solution is for California to follow Oregon's plan to increase taxes. Of course the tax increase he proposes is on the "rich" and corporations. Are corporations really doing that well in the current economy that they can afford higher taxes? OK, let's get away from the political opinion about taxing the rich.
The real question is whether higher taxes or more money is really the answer. If I can add a question (and it's my blog, so I guess that I can), I'd ask whether we see the glass as half empty or half full.
In my little entrepreneurial mind, I see a huge opportunity for innovation, rather than simply accepting the status quo (because the economy isn't going to turnaround and replace all of the lost dollars soon), why not look at new ways of doing things. Mr. Cruikshank is a teacher, and so has a vested interest in keeping the status quo (I realize that's an ad hominem). He has no rason to explore solutions that use fewer teachers or open up other possibilities.
I don't pretend to have all of the answers, but this is the kind of situation in which innovative ideas often arise to solve difficult problems. So, I'll just throw out one idea to which people can response. What if we could create a system similar to what the medical profession has developed? What if we created a position that is similar to a physician's assistant? This would be someone between the teacher and a traditional tutor or classroom aid. Perhaps it would be possible to hire fewer teachers and save money?
In addition, a lot of research shows that money is rarely the problem in education. Ben DeGrow made this point in an opinion piece in this morning's Denver Post.
So, why don't we eliminate fatalism and increase emphasis on innovative new solutions? Let's look at uses of technology that might save money. Let's look at ways to streamline administrative costs? Are there unnecessary compliance rules that could be changed or methods of compliance changed to reduce costs? Times like this demand new solutions.
Just say no to fatalism.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The reasons that we keep high performing students in high school through twelfth grade seem to be:
- Social grouping
- It's the way it's always been
- We don't know what else to do
The fact is that beginning about 5th or 6th grade for most kids, you can really see those who are serious about learning. We have self-paced programs for alternative high schools. Why not self-paced programs for charter high schools? Right now, the only real alternative that exists is online programs.
Some schools, such as Colorado Springs Early College and The Classical Academy's College Pathways School, are providing flexible routes for kids transitioning from secondary school to college. Why not take things a step further where students, especially at the junior high and high school level could take their classes in a flexible format? For example, a student who is great at math, but perhaps only above average in Language Arts, could take four math classes in a year, but take the normal path through English. Why make a math genius sit through a semester of Calculus, when it only takes her a month or two to learn it?
I don't want to ignore the issues in this country for educating average or struggling students, but we also have to think about our best students and what model would be right for them. This is a case where an equal education is not treating people as they should be. Treating high IQ, high performing, and highly motivated students just the same as average students is wrong.
Let's begin to think of more ways to get students through school faster. It will save money and be better for the students.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I have heard rumors of similar activities at other charter schools. While I'm not opposed to schools informing parents that their standards are high and curriculum rigorous (assuming that it really is), I am appalled that schools actually refuse to put students on waiting lists or enroll them.
If the charter school movement is about choice, then every student and parent should be allowed to choose the charter school whether or not their test scores or other attributes of prior learning show them capable. The whole point of excellent schools is that they can educate all students.
While I have not been a huge proponent of the measuring growth movement, this is a case where what is key is moving a student from where he or she currently is performing to the next level. If that student is three grade levels behind, then getting that student to only one grade level behind is a great deal of growth, regardless of the absolute value of the test score.
Not to take the responsibility away from charter schools that screen students, we have to rethink a system that encourages any school of choice (charter or otherwise) from discouraging those who have not succeeded in the past or who may have learning difficulties. It may be much better for student to struggle in an excellent and demanding school rather than be denied admission.
I have been accused by some of my detractors as blindly following all charter schools, but readers of this blog can look back and find that isn't true. Charter schools must prove themselves to be better schools than their local district schools in either growing students, higher scores, better thinking, and/or better use of financial resources. When charter schools fail to live up to their billing, they need to be put on probation or shut down.
In order to further discourage this type of behavior, perhaps there should be penalties available to states that would deny a school leader found guilty of practicing such behaviors for a period of time, such as three to five years.
Charter schools have been given an opportunity, and they should not waste it on schools that cheat or manipulate results.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Peter and I are honored to have been invited to present two sessions at the Arizona Charter Schools Business Conference on April 29th. The conference will be held at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix.
We'll be presenting "How NOT to bankrupt a charter school" based on principles we've learned in working with clients as well as in our own school leadership positions.
We'll also be presenting a session about creating the dream charter school at each stage of the charter school life cycle. We've done a series of lifecycle posts on this blog for each stage, which will be the basis of what we will present in Arizona. Arizonans (Arizonians?) be ready for the Lifecycle Savant!
As usual, we'll spice up the sessions with some visuals and exercises to get people out of their seats. For those who haven't been to one of our presentations, we don't bore our audience. If you prefer presenters who read a bunch of bullet points off of a PowerPoint slide, then DON'T come to our sessions.
We are really looking forward to being in Arizona again. I just wish it were sooner to get a break from the Colorado winter.
We'll post the presentations here when we get them completely together. We are revising the presentations from others that we've done in the past to keep them fresh and current.
Peter is representing The Classical Academy. He is currently the Director of Strategic Programs there, including an innovative hybrid brick and mortar and online program. The Classical Academy currently enrolls approximately 3,000 students and is one of the most successful charter schools in the country.
I am representing Charter School Management Corporation, and Miles Denniston and I will have a booth set up on Thursday. Miles and I will also be available on Friday to get together with anyone who would like to share breakfast or lunch with us.
If you are at the conference, stop by the CSMC booth on Thursday on contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know if you'd like to get together.
The first misuse of the facts occurs in Rodolfich's opening and closing (and so I believe his primary) statements. He uses the Stanford study on charters to say that charter schools misfire "83 percent of the time." He conveniently leaves out the 46% of charters that function as well as their district schools on test scores. It seems to me if you hit the benchmark, that is hardly a misfire. It may not be great, but a misfire implies a complete failure. If I fire a new highly rated gun, and it shoots with the same accuracy and feel of my old gun, it's not a misfire. I might not be impressed, but it's not a misfire. So, the fact is that charter schools score the same or much better than their comparison traditional schools 63% of the time. As charter schools have not been around nearly as long as traditional schools, it makes sense that many school may not have reached their full potential yet, whereas we can assume that because traditional public schools have been around for decades, they are pretty much operating at their optimum level.
Of course, this assumes that the argument is valid in the first place. The argument suffers from the informal fallacy commonly called the fallacy of division. Rodolfich takes information about all charter schools and assumes that those statistics will apply to charter schools in Mississippi. He doesn't account for the fact that charter school advocates themselves have been trying to figure out ways to improve the success of new charter schools by improving applications processes and approval processes to weed out bad charter schools before they get started. You can't lump charter schools together and say 17% of the will be bad in the future. Charter school advocates are reviewing the Stanford report for what makes a highly successful school. Perhaps traditional public school leaders should be examining that report for what has made highly successful schools and copy those characteristics.
Rodolfich complains about the lottery system not being fair. Well, what else is a charter school with limited space to do. In fact, in many states it is either the law that a charter school has to have a lottery for students. The purpose of the lottery is so that charter schools do not exclude students that they do not want.
Rodolfich also argues that charter schools cost more money than traditional public schools. This is often not true. In fact, there are hidden costs to running traditional schools because voters often pay for buildings and other capital assets of school districts through bond elections. The money gained from bond elections can be 10% to 30% above what charter schools receive solely from their Per Pupil Revenue.
Mr. Rodolfich then closes by saying, "What agenda is at work when you break up functioning schools" in order to provide for charter schools? Of course, the language is deceiving. No one is "breaking up" anything. If no one wants to attend a charter school, then the charter school will not exist. No one forces a charter school into an area.
It is exactly exaggeration and misuse of the facts that makes these arguments that try to generate fear among the public that hinder real debate about charter schools, the improvement of education in America and school choice.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Over at ydouask.blogspot.com, there was a recent blog about performance based pay. While I agree with Mr. Murry that pay based solely on test scores is ludicrous, he argues for a couple of positions that are simply absurd.
As we've mentioned many times on this blog, the single salary schedule has to go. The biggest reasons are the very factors that make up the table. Education is supposed to be researched based, but obviously for traditional education proponents that only applies to what teachers do with students and not with salaries. There has been no good evidence that years of experience or degrees are good indicators of a teacher's classroom abilities. Yet, Mr. Murry argues in favor of both of those.
He criticizes performance pay because it is like commission. It is and it isn't. Often commission based employees work primarily on commission. In most teacher compensation models, teachers' base pay is well above a minimum wage. Mr. Murry then goes on to give a hypothetical sales organization where sales people guard their best secrets in order to take money from their peers. This might be true where their is 100% conflict and the pie is fixed, but in most teacher pay systems that are good, and that we advocate, there are multiple factors some of which cannot be obtained by everyone, but are typical of other industries. In addition, I do not know where Mr. Murry has worked, but I've observed sales departments at places I've worked and my friends who have been in sales jobs, and while their is a certain rivalry, there is also a great deal of professionalism. Professional sales people know that there are enough sales for everyone. Sure they want to do their best, but they also often spend time helping others in their organizations. This often happens in the insurance industry where a senior agent will help a new agent learn the ropes.
Mr. Murry also ignores the fact that principals will be evaluating teachers and will identify predatory practices. If the teacher's don't share their great practices, then the principal should. That's part of a principal's job. Just as in a sales organization, it's the sales manager's job to train sales people. The sales manager should be the sales expert.
If Mr. Murry's claim is that because performance pay isn't perfect, we ought to stick with a system that is outdated and violates everything we know about effective teachers, then that seems a pretty sorry excuse to avoid performance pay. If, as I have argued in other blogs, that there are ways of making performance pay better in the form of strategic compensation, then doesn't that seem to be, at least an improvement?
Other blogs on this topic:
Pay teachers for their performance, not their students
Presentation on strategic compensation
Teacher compensation and a new way of thinking
Are states shopaholics when it comes to teachers?
Performance pay vs. merit pay vs. strategic pay
Thursday, February 18, 2010
In reports from Los Angeles, LAUSD has as many as 1,000 teachers that they'd like to fire, but they can't afford to.
"Can't afford to?" you say.
That's right. Due to union issues and court battles, LAUSD has said that they've spent an average of $500,000 per teacher fired over the past ten years.
The cost to fire 1,000 teachers would be...$500,000,000. WOW! Now, that's a big number. Looks as if they are harder to get rid of than bed bugs.
Don't let the bad teachers bite.
There are probably a number of ways to go about answering that question. One way is to look at current law, but we know that's flawed. I'm not sure that liberals or conservatives like the current NCLB definition. If they do, that's not what they are telling me.
Another way is to ask educators and school leaders. In a recent discussion with a number of school leaders, we listed the following:
- Know their subject
- Care about their students
- Relate well with their students
- Have good classroom management
- Don't waste time in class
Let's think about some interesting characteristics that are not on the list.
- Degree in the field
- Degree of any type
- Degree in education
- Union member
- Advanced degree
As a person with a Ph.D., I have to admit, it's tempting to rank degrees at the top of the list, but my experience both in teaching adult learners for the past 18 years, as well as knowing my own learning preferences and knowing many teachers over the years, tells me that the school leaders with whom I was brainstorming are right.
My daughter, of whom I'm very proud and graduated as salutatorian of her high school class at The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs and is now attending Colorado School of Mines, had some great teachers in high school. Of her favorite and best five teachers, one is certified, two have master's degrees, and all have degrees in their field. None of them are union members and only one has an education degree.
All of them, have a solid knowledge of and passion for their subject. All of them care about every student in class. All of them have high expectations of students. All of them have high expectations of themselves.
If I look back to my own high school experience (and I can barely remember it), my best teacher in high school was not teaching in the field in which she had her Ph.D., but was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about her subject and took a strong interest in her students.
So, what's the point?
The point is that in this day of testing and data driven instruction and focusing on research based methods of both ranking students and developing educational plans for students, why not do the same for teachers?
Isn't it time, that we eliminated check boxes that have little to do with good teaching and find ways to measure and evaluate good teachers to determine if they are highly qualified?
Ok, now it's time to get personal. I have a Ph.D. in Religion and an MBA. A few years ago, I was laid off and inquired with a local growing school district about a teaching position. At that time I had about 8 years of teaching as an adjunct for a university. I had taught many courses in business, philosophy and religion. I had completed both of the aforementioned degrees. I also had ten years of experience in the accounting and finance field. The Human Resources professional at the school said that they could "probably" get me in on an emergency credential while I worked on my certification program at night. If I was hired I would start at the base pay on their salary scale.
Aside from the fact that it would have been a huge pay cut, what was wrong with this picture?
The system is set up to prefer a 22 year old with no experience of any kind, but with a teaching credential and a degree in business or accounting to a seasoned professional with teaching experience. Does that make any sense to anyone?
So, hate is a harsh word, but I hate the idea of Highly Qualified Teachers, at least with the current definition. I will continue to advocate for and applaud those programs that continue to minimize tenure, years of service and certification as measures of a "good" teacher and increasingly emphasize factors such as caring and knowledge and use of effective methods for hiring, retaining and rewarding good teachers.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Teachers say they feel under more pressure than ever. I have to admit. Teachers should feel some pressure to perform. Any professional occupation requires high performance to be successful and progress to higher levels of pay. The teaching profession has historically rewarded teachers primarily based on longevity and education--factors that have little effect on desired outcomes.
A way to put appropriate pressure is to pay teachers based on the common qualities that great teachers demonstrate. This way teachers will feel appropriate pressures to perform. In addition, kids will win because financial incentives will be directed toward teachers who work hard to exemplify good teaching practices today and over time.
To this end, District 2 (Harrison School District) in Colorado Springs has announced a plan that will completely eliminate longevity as a criterion for pay. I applaud the district. Now, charter schools to be the innovators that they were intended to be must begin to adopt similar pay programs. One example that Peter and I developed at The Classical Academy has been featured many times in this blog. In our system, we still had a small factor for longevity because we believe that loyalty is helpful to sustaining a great school culture. However, the much larger increment in a teacher's pay is the teacher's ability to meet specific criteria defined the the pay system documents.
To see a presentation that Peter and I put together as a "how to" on this topic, click here.
Whatever your school or district decides, we highly recommend looking seriously at your district and school strategic plan and make sure you are financially rewarding teachers who demonstrate those characteristics that most closely align with your strategic plan.
I've written before that I think that a lot of high school is just a holding tank because we don't know what to do with teenagers in our society. It wasn't a long time ago in world history terms that boys might be out of the house and learning a trade at 14 or 15 years old. In many countries, students choose a vocational or academic track at age 16. In my humble opinion, if the only reason that we force students into four years of high school is that we don't know if they'll be ready for life at age 17, then we are doing something immoral by imprisoning students against their wishes. It's like indentured servitude.
The idea of dropping 12th grade is a brilliant and innovative (although not completely new) option that merits consideration. For example, 12th grade could be optional. Many districts already hold out the possibility of early graduation. In addition, states could continue to enhance the ability of students to dual enroll and take college courses while still in high school. For those who are near a local university, this would be relatively easy. In locations where there is no college around, students could take online college courses in place of twelfth grade.
The school I worked at (The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs), they've developed a hybrid program that allows students to take college courses as early as they are college ready. In this unique partnership, the "secondary school" is on the same land as the community college. Students can easily attend their hybrid courses (part in class and part online) and then walk over to the college building to take their college courses.
Saving money by having one K-12 campus is something that districts have been exploring. In many small districts, it is simply reality. Why not have a K-20 (or as Colorado's Governor Ritter calls it P-20) campus?
As I said, for those not near a college campus, this can be done virtually. There is no reason that we ought not be thinking about the future and moving students to the reality of increasingly technology based education.
In times like this, innovation needs to go beyond the classroom. Innovation needs to take place at the very core of the way we think about education. Go get 'em Utah!
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
One of their tactics is to lure back charter schools students into the traditional system. In discussing this possibility they asked the Bill Miller the Superintendent from Washtenaw Intermediate School District to address the issue at a recent board meeting. Miller says that the way to get kids back is to offer more choices.
Miller also said, "Many parents like smaller learning communities, better customer service like a certain style of learning and teaching, or choose for cultural reasons."
It would have been interesting to hear the rest of the discussion. I believe that Miller is right about the reasons that many parents choose charter schools for their kids. However, does he have the right solution? It doesn't appear that offering more choices meets the desire for smaller learning communities, specific styles of learning or cultural differences. It appears to me that if Ann Arbor, or any district, wants to lure charter school kids back to their schools, then they need to either compete with charter schools head on or find a niche that parents desire and that charter schools don't or can't meet.
Still, it seems that traditional public school leaders do not understand what drives charter school parents and the often deeply held belief that the traditional school system has forgotten about them and that charter schools provide a more customer focused option. This alone will drive parents to a charter school even if the educational outcomes are approximately the same.
As a personal example, I have a son who is slightly more than active. He is in fifth grade now, but I still remember his kindergarten teacher telling us that he is always on the edge of his seat waiting for the next activity. My wife and I examined two local public schools and the charter school that he now attends. It was very clear to me that the teachers and the teaching strategies used by the charter school are more effective for kids like my son than are the strategies at the local (high performing) schools. My son has never required any diagnosis, which I'm sure he would have had in order to get teaching methods that suited his activity level or he would have been in trouble all of the time (as I was when I was in elementary school). There has never been a day that I regretted my decision.
So, what would my public school district have to do to win me back? Well, like highly satisfied customers in almost any service industry, it would be almost impossible. My brand loyalty is very high. However, let me make a few suggestions for Ann Arbor or any other district who wants to win parents like me back to their schools.
- Be extremely customer friendly, especially to those customers who are cooperative and serious about their children's education.
- Ask customers how they prefer their children to be taught. Take into consideration multiple learning styles.
- Hire, train, and retain strong teachers.
- Eliminate weak teachers.
- Hire teachers who love their students and their subject (HQ is not nearly as important to parents, although I know its law.)
- Hire teachers who will develop a rapport with parents.
Can school districts lure charter school families back to the traditional public schools? It will remain to be seen. If they can, the strategies and tactics will have to revolve around the parents and the parents' needs and desires. It won't just be marketing, districts will have to make real changes.
Note in the article that Ann Arbor is not a choice district. Becoming a choice district will also attract the kind of parents who might choose a charter school. In our district of six high schools (including the charter high school), each high school has a different emphasis. For example, one is IB. Another focuses more on math and science. Parents who might otherwise choose the charter school (impossible at this point because the charter high school only accepts about ten to twenty new students a year and the waiting list is a mile long), might be attracted to the unique programs at the other high schools.
The first reason it amazes me is that it strikes me as a childish and mean-spirited attitude. It's sort of like the kid on the playground that teases the kids who can't kick the ball right in kick ball. It seems that a more appropriate response be, "Hey, here is how you can do that better next time."
The second reason is that everyone says that education is all about the kids. So, it seems that both charter school advocates and non-charter school advocates should still be cheering on each other's kids and programs. In fact, it seems that we all ought to cheer on anyone who seems to be having success with kids, especially the most difficult learners. Instead of hoping for others to fail, we should hope that they succeed. It has become almost like the stereotypical Scottish soccer hooligans, who don't care about anything other than their own team.
The third reason is that charter school opponents act as of these extreme cases are indicative of the norm for charters schools. Because there isn't really a "normal" charter school, it's tough to determine what a norm for charter schools is, but 99% of the charter schools that I know of are trying very hard to comply with the law and to operate as efficiently as possible.
I realize that there are probably charter school advocates who act the same way about non-charter public schools, but I don't know too many of them. The fact is that I hope traditional public schools improve. I hope they educate kids well. The other fact is that right now, traditional public schools need help. One way to help them is to have charter schools that can explore more and try to find additional solutions, not just in the classroom, but in school organization and operations. Can we be charitable to each other while this work goes on? Can we make it really about the kids? I'm appealing primarily to charter opponents, but also to charter advocates, let's all be for the kids. Let's move education forward together. Yes, there is some competition, but it's good competition, it's customer focused and it's student focused (or it can be if we let it be.)
Monday, February 15, 2010
The failing high school needed to change its ways. The board proposed a turnaround strategy, but teachers rejected the plan because it involved extra work, but not a commensurate amount of extra pay.
Central Falls High School is one of the worst rated high schools in the state.
It seems to me that this might be a real win for the high school. It's unlikely that you can make bad teachers into good teachers just by assigning them extra duties. It's pretty clear that someone isn't doing a good job at the high school. If the school is that bad, then a full set of new teachers may be exactly what the school needs.
Hats off to Superintedent Galli for making this bold move. Now let's hope the school really reforms and the kids are the winners.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools decided to include evaluations and other factors in prioritizing which employees to keep. In these tough economic times, many school districts across the country will use lay-offs as one means of balancing budgets.
On the not so bright side, the County is also considering giving teachers points for living in the county. How a teacher's living in the county improves instruction is beyond me. So, kudos for using performance as a measure, drop the geographic requirement. I understand the economic concern, but the school system is not the place to do that. Students need the best teachers, not necessarily those who live near by.
Friday, February 12, 2010
I have to admit that while I am an avid supporter of charter schools, the reason I support charter schools is not necessarily to eliminate unions. I think unions are actually bad for schools and for children and ultimately for the best teachers themselves. The reason I support charter schools is so that we can reform American education and improve education for kids and give more choice to parents. So, why am I agreeing with the Socialist Worker in this case?
The reason is that the competition with charter schools caused teachers and parents to get together and make plans for reform. It was exactly the existence of charter schools as a possibility that forced teachers to change what they do. Will it work? We don't know, but this event has caused change and allowed parent input into the reform process. I'm guessing that as good teachers are forced to create reform minded schools, they will realize themselves that they cannot support things like guaranteed employment. They will realize that sometimes they have to make cuts or help bad teachers find other opportunities (preferably outside the classroom). In other words, I believe that teachers in these schools will have to do exactly what a charter school would do if it took over these schools.
In effect, Los Angeles Unified School District has allowed teachers and parents to form their own schools that will resemble charter schools. In addition, if those schools do fail, it will give LAUSD the opportunity to readdress the issue. If successful, students will be properly educated. In other words, what has happened is exactly what charter schools were formed to do. Charter schools have rarely been advocated as the only solution to the education reform challenge.
It may surprise readers of this blog, but I hope that these teacher/parent driven schools work. I hope that they raise expectations and meet those expectations. I hope that they hire good teachers and only good teachers. I hope that they learn lessons about what really works as they go. That is the goal of the charter school movement to challenge, to innovate, to lead traditional public education to do something different. In this case, the existence of charter schools has done just that. While charter school management companies do not get to operate these schools, they did put pressure on the existing system to drive change, and that alone is a victory and a reason to allow charter schools.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
So, what has the stimulus really done? I can only speak confidently for Colorado, but other states seem to be in similar situations. We still had budget cuts this year and we are now headed for another seven to ten percent next year. So, instead of the gradual softening that the stimulus intended, it seems to simply have delayed (or exacerbated) the problem. Eileenn Norcross calls is a "stimulus cliff."
Perhaps the good news, she suggests, is that states will be forced to cut costs and some will consider more frugal options as charters schools or vouchers or other radical innovation. I'd suggest more online or hybrid online courses as well.
Of course, the government could have softened the blow by giving out a smaller amount of money the first year and allowed districts to cut a smaller portion of staff and expenses and then determine what they could or should do in the second year, but I guess hope springs eternal, but as a friend of mine says, "Hope isn't a strategy."
The money is being spent to spread fiber optic cable for high speed internet access. Now, that really sounds like a necessity. Of course, students won't have teachers to assist them with those outdated subjects such as...math or language arts. But who needs those subjects anyway when kids can have high speed internet. Because there will be less supervision, kids will be able to sneek in one more Yu-gi-Oh episode before the teacher notices that they aren't doing their homework. You see. I have ten year old boys. I know what they do on the internet, and their first click isn't for learningmath.com or improveyourlanguageskillsrus.com. (If those sites really exist, I guess they are getting some free publicity.)
Please understand, I'm not ideologically opposed to either the internet or to stimulus money. It's just that the way the stimulus money was advertised, I had the silly idea that it might be used for real necessities, things that people couldn't do without.
I wonder if they'll put a sign up outside the schools next to the teachers who have lost their jobs, "Your stimulus dollars at work!"
Saturday, February 6, 2010
The study cites Brown v. Board of Education in a way that suggests that charter schools are part of the same tradition, when, in fact, it's often minority groups that are self-selecting into charter schools. Joanne Jacobs asks "Are Charter Schools too black?" She asks, "Should black students be denied a charter alternative unless enough whites want to attend the same inner-city school?" In fact, some charter schools very clearly design themselves to serve segregated minority populations and are run by leaders of those same minority groups.
For example, in Colorado, we have Ricardo Flores Magon Academy--a school named after a Mexican revolutionary. The school naturally attracts students of Mexican descent, but by naming the school after a Mexican revolutionary it also will tend to attract more students of Mexican descent. Most of the highly qualified staff (and knowing some staff members personally, I can attest to that) is of Mexican descent. This staff doesn't make apologies for being largely segregated. They believe there is power in this for their students.
In fact, schools' main goal is education, not desegregation. If higher standards are expected, then that is a good thing. The study points out that history shows that segregated education is normally bad for ethnic minorities. That is true, and I find it as appalling as the authors of the study. The question to be asked is why is segregated instruction bad for minorities. It can't be the bare fact of segregation. That would imply that there is something wrong with that group of kids. No. It has to be something in the education itself. Charter schools attempt to do something about the education piece. The study is correct. Charter schools do not aim at desegregation, for the most part.
The study also points out that charter school claims to improved educational outcomes are at least questionable. However, this conclusion is based on averages. I've always been a huge proponent when studying anything is to look at the best examples of an idea or institution and not the average or the worst. If we look at the best examples of charter school outcomes, then we do have to admit that the best charter schools are pretty impressive. Without being magnet schools (that the study admires because they tend to be more diverse), charter schools consistently are disproportionately represented among the top schools in the country.
Of course, the debates continue about what is education and whether or not a successful education organization such as KIPP really is educating students or just providing kids who can regurgitate facts. However, by the standards listed in the study, KIPP does provide a superior education for students consistently across the country.
In addition, charter schools are still relatively young. It seems pretty obvious to me that if public schools, especially most of the ones in urban areas were subject to the same standard as charter schools, the public schools would be on turnaround plans or facing closure.
Therefore, given the focus on educational outcomes and the choice that charter schools give, it seems to me that the authors of the study could be a bit more courteous and gracious to charter schools. It isn't that charter schools couldn't be better. I've often argued that individual schools have to get better. I'm not a fan of below average charter schools, unless they are making progress pretty quickly. The charter school movement is still learning. It's getting better.
The last point is that there are more civil rights than just desegregation. In fact, the right to not be discriminated against is different from having a right to be included in any particular organization. Another civil right is being able to choose my own path and my own destiny. I know plenty of friends from high school who have chosen a different path and ended up in the arts. The arts is a very competitive field, not for the faint of heart. There is certainly no guarantee of success. On the other hand, most of my friends who have gone this route have made a pretty decent living. Only one of them has been on major television, but still, they are doing OK. But is was a risk. It took time and a lot of perseverance. In the same way, charter schools (as with any change) involves some risk, but it is the parents who are choosing to risk.
As Democrats for Education Reform said in their comments "Given the choice between a poor-quality integrated school, and a high-quality segregated (majority students of color) model, which would we choose? If you choose quality, schools also tend to become more integrated over time, which is not true if you choose integration." I abhor discrimination in all of its forms, but what the UCLA study shows is not a pattern of discrimination, but attempts by schools to provide a high-quality education, that if successful may well prove to be more integrated over time. Let's give it a chance.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
- The editorial claims that the state should pay for the charter schools and not the district. However, the districts don't have to educate those kids, so they save (or should save) money.
- The editorial incorrectly equates the district with "the public." Then argues that therefore the public has no say in the spending of the money (as if the public has any say in the spending of the money at the district). Of course, if the district is the public, then I suppose ipso facto the public does have a say. Can you say circular reasoning?
- The editorial uses scare tactics by saying that the accountability structure leads to the "potential" for fiscal abuse. As we all know, any entity has the "potential" for fiscal abuse. In fact, districts are extremely open to fiscal abuse because the only oversight they have is a board that rarely has any real idea of the day to day expenditures by the district. If the district is of any size, it's absurd to think the volunteer elected board members have the time or understanding to get into the details of the district expenditures.
- It appears the author's biggest concern is that the "funding mechanism cuts out the public." However, that depends on how you define the public. It is interesting to note that charter opponents seem to use local control when they want others. In this case, if the funding model in New Jersey is really a problem, then people around the state can put pressure on their legislators to change it. The law isn't cast in stone.
Charter schools, in general, deserve to exist if there is demand. The old must change. Some districts are changing, and I commend them. Some don't, which means they need help. Why should a district be paid for not educating students that go to a charter school? Why should local elections bar innovative groups from their right to a good public education? School reform is a great thing for individual rights as well as educational improvement. Charter schools are part of that drive to do something better. Let's find ways to promote innovation, not stymie it.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
In an excellent study of teacher pay, Podgursky and Springer examine the history of teacher pay as well as what is being done in the way of performance pay. The basis for the current single salary schedule is the same as for traditional hourly union jobs. It is not based on an assumption of pay for a professional. Prior to that time, the common method of pay for teachers was a small stipend plus room and board. You can imagine how far back that method dates. The point is that the current salary structure is based on assumptions that long ago ceased to reflect what the teaching profession wants to be--a group of recognized professionals. When we think of professionals, we often group people like engineers, lawyers, doctors, and accountants. The problem with comparing salary structures for these professions is that there is no single or even regional salary structure. Professionals are paid by their ability to market their services. Even when they work within a corporation, salaries are not fixed by anything other than an accepted range at that company. Often larger companies pay more than smaller companies. In addition, once inside a company, an employee's salary can change drastically if his or her performance merits it. There are often many levels within a profession. For example, when I was a financial analyst within a large corporation, there were three levels of financial analyst--not including various levels at the management level. Promotion to any level above the entry level was never guaranteed no matter how long a person was employed.
It is also interesting, although not surprising, that traditional pay systems reward things like length of service and advanced degrees, which show almost no affect on teaching excellence, while teaching excellence is rewarded far more often (in over 1/3 of charter schools and 1/5 of private schools compared to 1/20 of traditional public schools) in other settings.
It is clear from Podgursky and Springer's study that the elimination of the single salary schedule has not been rapid, especially in union schools. However, recently Harrison School District 2 in Colorado Springs has developed a salary plan that will eliminate years of experience as a factor in pay. The plan has some temporary safety for current teachers, but ultimately all teaching staff will be rewarded completely by performance. The salary range is huge, suggesting that mediocre teachers will still be kept, but at a serious economic disadvantage as compared to great teachers. The plan has not yet been implemented, but this plan is closest to a market model of any plan I've seen implemented in a traditional district setting.
The plan that we put in place at The Classical Academy kept a small consideration for time at the school because of the school's belief that loyalty should be rewarded. However, we also included a market factor for difficult to hire positions.
One concern that some have raised with our suggested approach is that it is too subjective because it relies on principal evaluation for a large portion of the teacher rating. It's interesting that Podgursky and Springer find that principal evaluations are effective means of enhancing teacher and student success. In other words, criticisms that principals arbitrarily dismiss teachers or rate them low seem to be irrelevant or at least a statistically insignificant in determining a process. Those cases where arbitrary treatment occurs can be handled on a case by case basis.
The problem seems to be that a compensation system for teachers that drives teaching to meet strategic goals requires a new way of thinking. Teachers need to adopt a professional mindset toward pay and abandon a historical model that is built on a model that was designed for factory workers. The assumptions of the factory worker pay model are built on the assumption that workers are essentially cogs in a machine. The model probably isn't even valid for factory workers anymore. It certainly isn't valid for a professional whose discretion, effort, and thinking are crucial to accomplishing the desired outcomes.