Friday, May 27, 2011
I'm still ambivalent, but here is an interesting piece at Learningmatters.tv on a school that has given every student a laptop. At least one teacher thinks that it's completely transformed her ability to teach.
I'm still not completely sold, but this is an interesting concept.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
In a couple of recent articles on disputes between the union and the district in Los Angeles, it's pretty clear that the union cares far less about students than it does its members. While teachers' unions have tried to tell us that they care about our children's education and that they know best, it's become pretty clear that in the past year's nationwide battle in which unions are losing ground in a lot of states that unions are protecting their own. It's often said that one's true colors come out when under pressure. Recent pressures are demonstrating that what unions really care about is their own existence.
In some ways you can't blame them. The survival instinct is just as strong in organizations as it is with individuals. I've been part of business organizations whose lives probably should have ended, but leaders fought for their survival. I understand that. The problem here is that the unions aren't a business. They do not provide a service. In the case of teachers and other public servants, they are not fighting corporation America. They are fighting with taxpayer dollars.
In one instance they are spending lots of time and money fighting the takeover of two LA schools that are failing. The schools will be run by Green Dot, a successful charter school management company. The union is not fighting this transition based on what is good for the kids, but on what is good for their members.
The other article has to do with budget issues and cuts. How could the district attempt to manage the budget based on what is good for students? How dare they? Instead, the union thinks the priority should be protecting its members. Now, does that make sense to any taxpayer who wants a good educational system?
If we need evidence that the union is one of the causes of our failing school system, I think we have two pretty good examples right here.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
TCA lost a tough 1-0 game last year in the championships against St. Mary's (also of Colorado Springs). This year they beat Peak to Peak Charter High School 1-0 in a very even game.
TCA is a K-12 charter high school in Colorado Springs with a high school of about 600 students. It was recently recognized by Jay Mathews as the number 828th best high school in the country. It consistently has academic scores among the highest in the country.
TCA also has a unique program for junior high and high school students that combines in class with online education and a dual enrollment program located on the same campus as Pikes Peak Community College.
Peak to Peak is also an outstanding high school and was named to Mathews' list as the number 50 high school in the country.
So, it is reasonable to say congratulations to these young women for both their athletic as well as their academic achievements.
Jay Mathews, who writes Class Struggles at the Washington Post, posted his list of the top high schools in the country. BASIS Tucson, a charter high school in Arizona, was ranked number 4 in the country and the top charter high school. This is especially important as the top high school list is filled with magnet schools and magnet programs from across the country.
Peak to Peak Charter High School in Lafayette, Colorado (a favorite of mine) finished 50th. Still a fine showing when competing against the most prestigious schools in the country.
When people talk about charter school failures, that's fair. But let's also not forget to use the examples of the great charter schools out there to see what their models might offer for all kids around the country.
Of course the union thinks this will "stack the deck" against teachers who are merely fighting for their rights.
I'm not sure who else has the right to waste hundreds of thousands of employer dollars to be kicked out of a job that they don't deserve. And unions wonder why the public is beginning to attack them. Hmmm.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
While teachers fight a new evaluation program in New York, the published numbers on teacher termination cases is astounding.
Here is something to think about. New York spent somewhere between $7 and $8 million on teacher termination cases. This averages about $200,000 per teacher, and it takes almost a year and a half to complete the process.
I don't know about you, but if I was an administrator and knew those numbers, the only people that I'd fire are the ones that really just had to go. In other words, I'd be letting a number of marginally useful teachers stay in their jobs. Assuming that I'm somewhat rational (A huge assumption), that means that many principals are likely to be keeping poor teachers on staff.
I can't say that I'm a huge proponent of the new evaluation system, but it has to do a better job than what we have now. Of course, a new evaluation system doesn't guarantee that some of these expenses won't be incurred, but they should be reduced and perhaps more bad teachers will be removed from the school system.
Taxpayers and students should shout a big "Hurray" for that.
The United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is saying that the new teacher evaluation program using "value-added" elements, which include student test scores, is an unfair labor practice. It's funny because all of the participants for the coming year have volunteered to participate.
I'm not a big proponent of making student test scores a large part of the teacher evaluation, but I do believe that teacher evaluation must take into account the value added by the teacher. The current system rewards almost nothing relevant to good teaching.
so, I ask again, if I volunteer to be part of a new pay program how is that unfair? It seems that the current pay program is unfair to the taxpayers and students.
In the East Bay of San Francisco there is a problem. It's a problem that needs change. What kind of change? The district says that it has been changing to meet the needs of poor kids. So far, there hasn't been much change.
It's a leap to say that charter schools would immediate fix the problem, but it is also a leap to say that the district, some how, will fix itself.
What happens when public schools fail? They continue to exist. What will bring radical and immediate change in this district and why has it taken so long for the district to recognize and correct its problems?
I'm sure that teaching kids in poor neighborhoods is difficult, but the evidence suggests that in these neighborhoods the adults in the building make a bigger difference than do the children in the building. That starts at the top with the expectations and strategies.
It's districts like these that led to the cry for education reform and charter schools. We have to keep up the pressure because only then will districts need to change and get better. We cannot accept protectionism when it comes to our schools.
Friday, May 20, 2011
If this were a charter school, it would be used as an example of why there shouldn't be charter schools. I could make an invalid conclusion and use this as an example of why their shouldn't be school districts. I won't. I'll simply say that this is an example of how the existing school system, if left unchecked, would continue to fail kids. Fortunately, Illinois has stepped in. We'll see what happens.
Like setting up goals, strategic planners must be careful not to set up more objectives than are realistic or are essential to meeting the organization's goals. Sometimes the confusion comes because their are other objectives in the organization. However, those other objectives are not necessarily strategic objectives. For example, there can be tasks within an organization that have measurable outcomes that are not strategically linked. They may be set up for many reasons. Administrative tasks may have measurable outcomes, but they often do not affect the strategic outcomes of the organization. A very simply example is a desire to see financial statements produced by the end of the fifth working day. This is an objective, but is not strategic to a school reaching its strategic goals and to fulfill its mission. It may facilitate good accounting practices. It may assist the board in reviewing financial statements in a timely manner. It may achieve a lot of other desired outcomes, but they aren't strategic outcomes.
A good facilitator, and often a good committee, can sift these types of objectives from strategic objectives. It's important to make this distinction clear as well as to ensure that any stated strategic objectives actually will lead to the achievement of the strategic goals.
The importance of objectives is also often underrated. I find that objectives are important because objectives will then be used to task various parts of the organization in developing ways to meet those objectives. If the wrong or irrelevant objectives are considered strategic, and even used for financial rewards, then people or departments within the school will do the wrong things and focus on non-strategic tasks.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Well, in most jobs, the employee would be fired or even perhaps charged with a crime.
In a school, a student would likely face charges and be expelled. But the rules are different for teachers. When a teacher does it, she gets a big pay out. That's the way union contracts and tenure work.
Check out this Michigan case of Lynette Brown.
We offer our readers this guest blog, by Alexander Russo.
5 Steps To Fixing A "Broken" School
By Alexander Russo
Author of Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School
Fixing a neighborhood high school with a quarter of its kids not showing up every day, single-digit test scores, 40 percent graduation rates, and extremely low morale is one of the hardest, least desirable jobs in education. The chances for glory are few and far between, and miracles are rare. And yet, there’s really no choice. Leaving things the way they are at deeply dysfunctional schools isn’t right, pulls down neighborhoods, and can affect an entire school system.
And yet, turnarounds can be done. Disorderly, dreary buildings can become safe, warm, and engaging places for kids to learn. Teachers frustrated and disillusioned with far-off administrators and over-stressed building leaders can become re-energized, hopeful guides and mentors. I know this because I’ve studied the research on school turnarounds and spent three years reporting on the effort at Locke High School. Located in a rough area of South Central Los Angeles, Locke was rescued by a dedicated group of teachers, an outside organization that took on the massive responsibility of running the school, and a lot of very, very hard work. There were mistakes and setbacks along the way, and the effort appeared to be on the rocks several times, but three years later the school is, well, a school again. The students who go there have a legitimate chance to get an education and go on to college.
So how do you start on the path to fixing a broken high school? Here are five not really very easy steps you should take:
1) Where Does Your School Stand?: One of the most important steps is to take a careful look at where things really stand – how students, teachers, and community members feel about the school, and how the school performs compared to other similar schools. What’s the pass rate for students taking key math and English classes? What’s the attendance rate for teachers and kids? How many freshmen make it through to graduate four years later? You’d be amazed how often parents, teachers, and even administrators don’t know where a school stands compared to its demographically-similar counterpart in another part of town.
2) Find Inside Allies: Ideally, a school improvement effort will at least partially come from inside the school itself – involving the teachers, parents, and community members who are part of the school and want change just as much as you do. That’s what happened at Locke, where a group of teachers tried everything they could and then, determined not to give up, circulated a legal petition to hand the school over to an outside education organization. It was a controversial and risky maneuver, but no one could ignore it because it came from a genuine desire to show that the kids and school could do better, and it came from inside the building. Parents, alumni, or community members can do the same.
3) Make the Building Calm and Safe: You want to make the campus safe and welcoming – without turning it into an armed camp or kicking all the so-called knuckleheads out at the first sign of trouble. That “lockdown” mentality won’t work for long and will actually undercut student achievement. You need to show that you can make things better with the same group of kids as before, treat everyone with the utmost respect and restraint, and demonstrate patient persistence during the early months when the new rules and systems are being tested by the kids.
4) Make Changes as soon as Needed: No matter whether you have months or a full year to plan, be prepared to adapt on the fly because there will be mistakes, bad hires, and plans that don’t work out. That's OK. The key is to be prepared to revisit and re-route along the way – whether it’s two days into school or halfway through the year. As long as problems are being addressed rather than being left as they are, the kids, parents, and teachers will generally understand. Problems that aren’t addressed – teachers or administrators who aren’t up to the task, for example, or rules that aren’t being implemented evenly, will create problems and undercut confidence in the effort.
5) Make a Clear Break with the Past: It’s tempting to avoid making big changes, but a turnaround can’t just be new paint and a new set of textbooks or computers if it’s going to have any real chance. It’s got to include new leaders, a certain number of new staff, new rules, and a new way of doing things. The key is to create a balance of familiarity, coordination, and accountability. You don’t want everyone off doing their own thing, or losing sight of the serious task of improving results. A core group of teachers and staff will want to stay and help with the turnaround. Another handful will be deeply opposed and likely to leave. But that’s OK. The veterans will create continuity and help orient the new teachers and administrators.
What’s it like to try and turn around a broken school? It’s deceptively simple at the beginning. It’s a trickle of halting, incremental success -- totally unlike the instant results and heroic figures who dominate the Hollywood version. And at times it may seem like everyone wants you to fail. But you’re not alone in doing this. The federal government is investing $3.5 billion and there are roughly a thousand schools around the country being turned around this year. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently said, "We're not going to stand idly by where you have populations that are being poorly served, where we are in fact perpetuating poverty and social failure. Our country can't afford that."
© Copyright Alexander Russo, 2011.
Alexander Russo, author of Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School is an education writer whose work has appeared in Slate, Miller-McCune, Washington Monthly, Chicago Magazine, The Huffington Post, and The Washington Post. He's the author of three blogs: This Week In Education, District 299, and Hot For Education. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Please connect with Alexander on Facebook and Twitter, and visit Amazon.com for more information.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Teachers want systems that reward what they can control. With Strategic Teacher Compensation, as we have designed it, teachers are rewarded according to factors that they control. For example, teachers are rewarded for their behaviors and methods, not student achievement on specific exams. Of course, effective school leaders reinforce and institutionalize methods that have been demonstrated to achieve the desired results. For example, if a school implemented a customer-service commitment of responding to student or parent questions within 2 hours, the might see an improvement in student achievement and parent satisfaction. If those improvements were strategic priorities, then it would make sense to hire and reward teachers with strong communications capacity and commitment. However, it may take some time to assess the impact of a particular strategy, so teachers are not paid based o the he snapshot achievements of students in a particular year on a a particular exam.
In addition, teacher efforts to develop their capacity beyond formal degrees can be recognized as well. If degrees and training support strategic priorities then the school will reinforce them. If, however, the static goals call for more relational teachers or more communication from staff, then the compensation system must adjust accordingly. If implemented properly, a strategic pay system honors the factors that teachers and the school believe are important. It honors the factors that most influence teacher success and student achievement.
Not surprisingly, teachers are more supportive of systems where they can access the rewards. Incentives that cannot be earned are more properly characterized as disincentives. The Kansas Teacher Leaders Network, in collaboration with the Center for Teaching Quality, reports that teachers who don't receive merit pay are disillusioned with the overall system to a greater degree than teachers who do receive merit pay (2007). In one sense, this can be a positive outcome. If a school system wants to motivate excellent teachers to cluster in high-needs schools, then it makes strategic sense to skew the incentive system in favor of serving at those schools. Traditional models and many merit pay models are skewed in the opposite direction. Teachers at schools with small populations of high needs students are more likely to qualify for typical merit pay bonuses. Similarly, if student performance is not a factor in compensation, then it makes sense that teachers may choose to work with students who have a higher propensity for academic success. Whether from a sense of entitlement or the simple pleasure of working with high-end students on challenging material, teachers typically prefer to work with students that they describe as committed scholars who take school seriously. Over time, the seniority system as well as an informal hierarchy of teacher superiority tends to stratify the "best" or "most-connected" teachers with high performing students in advanced classes. meanwhile, students in basic or remedial cohorts are taught by teachers who do not qualify by experience or excellence to each the more desirable classes. In some of those classrooms, the mutual resentment between teacher and students is palpable.
Because of this dynamic, the natural leaders of the teaching staff have a conflict of interest. On the one hand, their superior performance indicates a commitment to students and learning. On the other hand, they have very little incentive to change a system that gives them preferential working conditions, a great deal of autonomy, and virtual immunity from termination.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Innovation Ohio Report: Frontal Assault on Ohio’s E-Schools by a Highly Partisan “Think” Tank
Columbus, OH – Ohio is one of America’s leading states when it comes to e-Learning. Some of this country’s most cutting-edge innovations in the delivery of K-12 e-Learning are happening in Ohio, thanks to e-school management companies that have made massive investments into their products and services; these are not low-cost enterprises. And traditional school districts are very much in the game as most of the e-schools in Ohio are district run. It doesn’t take much of a crystal ball to come to the conclusion that digital learning will be a huge part of education reform and the future of public education across the globe. Fortunately, these innovators are here and very much a part of school choice options in Ohio.
Context is important. Innovation Ohio’s report: “Ohio’s E-Schools: Funding Failure; Coddling Contributors” was researched by Steve Dyer, a former House member who earned a reputation for attacking charter schools. Ohio’s three largest e-schools in Ohio are currently operating either at “Continuous Improvement” or “Excellent.” So when the report concludes that “Ohio’s e-schools are nothing short of a disaster,” suspicion of an attack report transcends hope for a carefully reasoned report.
The press release goes on to demonstrate "ad hominem" attacks on e-learning in Ohio.
I'm sure the full press release will be available soon, but I couldn't find it immediately on the internet. It's worth looking into, especially since two years ago, the reports were out that E-schooling in Ohio was very successful. Here is the link to a report about the criticisms of e-schooling.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Over at Intercepts, I found an interesting post on the California teachers' union and some interesting use of numbers. Given how often unions accuse charter schools of misusing numbers, this one is very interesting.
As a side note, I was thinking the other day about my position on unions and realized that I am really pretty neutral on unions from a theoretical perspective. In other words, I'm not sure that I care much one way or the other. The biggest issue that I have with unions is that they often distract from the real issue. For example, they talk about lost jobs and protecting jobs, etc., but the purpose of a school system is to educate children. The primary question should not be whether or not the education system is creating or cutting jobs. The primary question should be what is the most cost effective way to educate children. If the primary question becomes how do we save teachers' jobs, then we have a welfare program disguising itself as an education program. Maybe this should have been a separate post?
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Goals, in a strategic plan, are no longer those pie in the sky goals that we discussed in the vision and mission statements. Strategic goals are those than stretch the staff, but won't break them. They have to be attainable.
In addition, you have to make sure not to set more goals than can be attained by the resources available. In other words, strategic goal setting involves both the quality and quantity of goals.
So, how do you decide what a goal is? How do you decide which goals are most important?
Some of this sorts itself out because this is a school. It's obvious that some of the goals will have to do with academic achievement. I am a big fan of making these goals vague enough that the objectives (sub-goals, if you will) can be the measurable components of the goals. For example, a goal might have some measure such as:
- Exceed comparable local school test scores at each grade
That brings up the next point about goals. They should have time constraints. The time frame of the strategic planning should be clear. In fact, depending on the time frame of the strategic plan, you can set up short term and long term goals. For example, if you are developing a three year strategic plan, it's more than OK to develop objectives for each of the three years of the plan.
Goal setting involves prioritizing. You can't do everything all the time. Setting clear goals and sticking to them requires discipline and perhaps some compromise, but if leaders focus on those goals, it helps leaders and other stakeholders to know where the school is going and what it intends to do. It doesn't mean that some other things aren't important, but it does mean that resources will be allocated to those strategic goals first.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Given that North Carolina won it's RTTT money in a competition in which change and innovation was a main critierion, I think it would be dangerous for Perdue to veto the removal of the charter school cap. Still, she is not a big fan of charter schools, and anything can happen.
Let's hope that she remembers the old adage, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you."
Monday, May 9, 2011
12 schools, and a pretty good record. It's probably worth a read.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Five years later, it's tough to tell what is going on. Denver Public Schools is boasting about the additional pay that it has provided to teachers. The union is concerned because much of the additional compensation is not guaranteed for life. I wonder what the effects have been in enabling DPS to hire better teachers or to inspire teachers to do a better job.
I've never been a big fan of the thinking that additional pay will make someone teach better. I do think that additional pay might attract better teachers. However, DPS appears to have no data on the important results of Pro Comp--has the system driven better instructors into the classroom.
If it hasn't, then it's just another government give away of tax payer dollars.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
It's at www.educationnews.org and it's by Laurie H. Rogers.