Thursday, February 26, 2009

Building momentum . . .

Those that are supporting the movement towards national standards will be pleased with the National Governors Association’s endorsement of a policy statement that could lead to a set of national standards. This follows Arne Duncan’s statements about this being a goal of the Obama administration and AFT President, Randi Weingarten, endorsing the need for national standards. Momentum is building as these are obviously significant players in education at the state and national level.

The report from the NGA, Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve Inc. referred to in the article is full of heavy hitters from state education offices like our OSPI and business leaders such as Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer. People such as these will be listened to as our elected leaders determine the fate of NCLB. The focus of the report can be seen on page six of the Executive Summary where five Action statements identify the need for benchmarks against international standards in math and language arts.

It will be important to follow this movement as the shift to national standards would have significant impact on our work at the state and district level. We have experienced many changes to our state standards; I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to accomplish this at the national level. It will be interesting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A meeting with a positive result . . .

I just got home from a meeting in Seattle. The traffic was bad and the ground is white meaning it will be a restless evening for me wondering what it will look like at about 4:40 am. Oh well, another chance to make the school closure call. What an opportunity!

The meeting I attended was organized by e3 Washington an organization I have introduced in an earlier post. They are providing leadership in our state to bring business and education together around sustainability. Also at the meeting were representatives from Boeing, Costco, and multiple foundations interested in supporting e3’s goals. Peter Senge, author of The Necessary Revolution and numerous other books on systems thinking and dynamics was also present. He serves as a representative of the SOL partnership looking to match innovators in sustainability education with innovators from business on a national level. For me, these are always energizing opportunities to share our work and to play a small role in an important initiative.

One of the highlights of the meeting for me was Peter confirming his desire to engage with students and teachers from our high school using his book as a point of departure for the conversations. He is excited about the opportunity to support their learning and to learn from them. The second highlight resulted when I shared an e-mail from Brett Thompson a high school teacher and part of the writing team for the grade 11 American Studies sustainability unit. In the e-mail, Brett shared a summary of the unit and I asked for partners to share authentic work in the field and to support the learning of our young people. The Costco representative came up to me after the meeting and asked to be a part of the work. Costco is doing much work around the world with food chains and sustainability. She shared examples that will make wonderful authentic learning experiences for our students.

The one thing that still gives me dissonance is listening to the Boeing representatives share their experiences with system thinking and dynamics that is having significant influence on changes the company is making to not only the products they produce, but on their impacts on the environment. I need to learn more about this because I believe this focus on system thinking and dynamics is one that we need to embed in our work with young people.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

One more try . . .

On February 12th I blogged about our teacher leadership session focused on two critical questions from The Influencer. The questions are critical for leadership to consider when staff is engaged in a significant change initiative. The questions are:
· Is it worth it? (If not, why waste the effort?)
· Can I do it? (If not, why try?)

I shared the following:

When we move to the second question around can I do it, I share my belief that we make assumptions that almost all teachers believe that they can be successful at changing their behavior to align with that of the stated goal. I believe that these assumptions are made based upon the leader's personal experience not on data and information from those being asked to make the change.

This is because most teachers in leadership roles are among the "early adopters" of any change initiative. This means that they are among the first to find out about it, learn it, and try it. When it comes time to share the initiative with others their experience base leads them to believe that others will embrace the change as they do and not see it as difficult to do. I believe that this is not always the case and that more teachers than we think question whether they can do it for many reasons.

No one commented on this and I am curious to know if my assumptions are accurate. For me it is like when I am asked by someone, usually much younger than I am, to play a video game. I am great at watching, but have little experience in playing and am intimidated by what I see skilled players do. So, being somewhat competitive, if asked to play I find some reason to avoid what I believe would be an embarrassing outcome. It saves face, but I wonder what the private thoughts are of those that I don’t play? I haven’t thought about that question until now and it is bothering me. I might have to actually do some practicing in private and give it a try. I don’t want my son, son-in-law, and granddaughter to think I’m chicken.

Though my personal example does not have the same sense of urgency that our change initiatives do, I believe that the experience may be the same for some teachers. I believe that some question if they have the knowledge, skill, capacity, desire, energy, or . . . to engage in the change. We tend to lump the reasons together and label those that make these decisions though we need to become much better at knowing what specifically is in the way as we consider how to support all those expected to change. One example is the perceived or real gap in teachers’ use of technology in classrooms. Another might be the implementation of the district written curriculum units. The list could go on, but what I am interested in knowing is if there is any accuracy in my assumption or is the second question not critical for us to consider? I would welcome any thoughts you might be willing to share.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bears find success . . .

The Bears took 4th place at the state wrestling tournament that ended this evening. It was exciting as we had three wrestlers in the finals and a fourth, Konnor Knudsten at 215 lbs, that took third place. Nick Bayer, at 171 lbs, won his second straight title. John Buban won first at 145 lbs and Tyler Lamb took second at 135 lbs. With Bayer, Knudsten, and Lamb back next year, we should be well positioned for even greater success in 2010.

These kids did a great job representing our school, their team, and themselves. Congratulations also to Coach Feist, Coach Higa, Coach Burnham, and Coach Seger.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A lost opportunity . . .

The latest developments in Olympia around education should not come as a big surprise since the big players in the state in education (WSSDA, WASA, WEA, PSE, PTSA, League of Education Voters, and the Business Roundtable) could not reach agreement on the bills being considered by the legislators. These basic education bills including HB 1410, SB 5444, and SB 5607 that I have referred to in previous posts have been dropped and replaced by two companion bills, HB 2261 and SB 6048. The new bills speak only to an intent, meaning nothing will emerge from this session.

The need for significant change to a process that was developed over 30 years ago to support basic education will remain in place for the foreseeable future. We have changed a great deal over this time in what we do, how we do it, and how we are held accountable for student learning. Yet, the same formulas that defined what basic education included in 1978 are still being used to drive revenue to support what basic education has become since then. Many of the materials we use and the support structures required for quality in today’s public schools were developed after this legislation and the cost for most of them is not possible within current state funding. This means that more and more of the burden is placed on local funding through levies that has resulted in disparities between districts and the multiple lawsuits the state now faces around funding.

It saddens me that we have lost this opportunity to at least reach consensus around the need and the specific parts of the bills that would have lead to changes in funding of both staff and non-employee related costs. The bills did recognize and reinforce the need for changes to funding formulas and support for adult learning if we are to be successful in meeting the needs of all students. Were they perfect, no. But, there was more that we could have agreed on then not had we made the commitment that this was truly important legislation and that the time was now.

I don’t believe it serves any useful purpose to point blame at this time, we must instead again look to what drives our behavior as adults. To be successful at preparing today’s young people for options in post high school learning and work we must see changes to basic education in our state. We need to look beyond our organizations and our individual beliefs to find what will result in a collaborative product with enough leverage that the legislators will be forced to act. I was hopeful that 1410 and 5444 would provide that. Our lack of unity made it easy for the legislators to take the action to drop the bills. Obviously, given the current economic situation and the lack of support there was no leverage. We will never know, if we had united, whether there would have been enough to move forward through the current budget crisis. Only time will tell if 2261 and 6048 will be the answer.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Could I support national standards?

The case for national standards is gaining momentum with the new administration and comments from Arne Duncan, the new Secretary of Education. With the unprecedented money his department will receive in the stimulus package he certainly will have the resources for an effort of this magnitude. In an article in the New York Times he shares his thoughts on this opportunity.

“There’s going to be this extraordinary influx of resources,” he said in an interview. “So people say, ‘You’re going to be the most powerful secretary ever,’ but I have no interest in that. Power has never motivated me. What I love is opportunity, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something special, to drive change, to make our schools better.”

Based on what I am reading, I think that he would see national standards as being important enough to include in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Joining Duncan is Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, who makes the case for national standards in this Washington Post article. I don’t know if her membership is in agreement with her stance, but I applaud her for coming forward. I was influenced by the analogy below that speaks to the different standards students are measured against depending upon the state that they live in.

"Imagine the outrage if, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to move the ball the full 10 yards for a first down during the Super Bowl while the Arizona Cardinals had to go only seven. Imagine if this scenario were sanctioned by the National Football League. Such a system would be unfair and preposterous."

I have historically been against national standards always believing in local control, but I find myself wondering in today’s world if it might not be important to consider at least having the conversation. I agree with Weingarten when she says there is a body of knowledge about what children should know and be able to do that should not be dependent on where the child resides. She is also not advocating for a national curriculum, simply a common set of standards. I think this is what is making it more comfortable for me to be open to being influenced as I have in the past thought of it more as losing control over what is taught, the curriculum, rather than the target, the EALR’s. We had little influence on the EALR’s, how different would it be if they were identified at the national level instead of at the state level?

The question is around my comfort with some group identifying what those standards are? If they read what we have they should include our Classroom 10 focus, but I fear that the people placed in the room for the conversation might not reach agreement on this set of knowledge and skills. If what emerged was only a content focus I would struggle with supporting the outcome as it would drive more of the same. If content changes were included with a Classroom 10 focus I believe that it could result in positive changes to what we do as resources would become a national initiative as opposed to the local focus we now have. It would be a welcome scenario to have the revenue necessary to support the development and implementation of our vision emerge from outside our system. Is it possible?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feeling much better this morning . . .

Tomorrow is now today and I'm feeling better about blogging, less stress around yesterday's issue. I figured out my problem. I somehow hit Edit Html which gives a different set of choices than Compose. I don't understand why, but I will now be more careful . More importantly, things are back to normal which will make it easier to link, insert images, and spell check. Wish I would have discovered this on Sunday so I could have included Scott's picture in his guest post.

Here is the link to Dangerously Irrelevant that I shared yesterday. What are your thoughts about changing the question parents ask their children at the end of the day and the author's response to the answer?

Monday, February 16, 2009

A different question for kids about school . . .

An interesting quote and question over on Dangerously Irrelevant.

Robert Fried says…

"There is a simple test we can perform to find out whether or not our children are truly learning. We can ask them, not the usual question, “How was school today, Honey?” or “What did she teach you in your math class?” but rather, “Did you learn anything in school today that you really want to know more about?” If the answer is … usually no, you have cause for worry - even if your child brings home a good report card. [The Game of School, p. 7]"

I'm having trouble with inserting links and images and changing text. My blog has taken on a different look in the new post mode and I don't know why. It's getting pretty frustrating because I don't have the knowledge or skills to figure out what or why it is changing. The link below is for Dangerously Irrelevant, I couldn't get it to highlight in the opening. Well, there is always tomorrow.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A guest perspective . . .

I asked Scott, as TEA President, to share his views on the legislation in Olympia as a guest blogger. He has made comments, but I think it is important for him to have an opportunity to share with a wider audience. He and I agree on some areas and disagree on others as it relates to this legislation. Our biggest area of disagreement, I believe, may be in how we choose to proceed during this session. I lean towards finding components of the proposal that we can all agree to and moving forward on them. Scott believes that we should not move forward until there is a funding mechanism that makes it worth the effort to pursue areas where we might agree. After reading my earlier posts and his guest post, where are you on this continuum of action?

First, I would like to thank Mike for this opportunity to share with his readers my point of view on the current legislation going on in Olympia. Mike was been gracious enough to invite me and share some of the thoughts that I have been posting as comments to his blogs. I think that it exhibits Mike’s desire to have a real conversation and cognitive dissonance around an important issue that many education groups around our state are currently struggling with coming to agreement on.

Does our current education system in Washington need reform? Yes. Does this reform come with a price tag? Yes, $6 to $7 billion dollars. Does the state have the money or a named funding source to pay for all these reforms? No.

House Bill 1410 and Senate Bill 5444 are two bills that are filled with sweeping changes that would change the landscape of education in Washington State. And while the bills have changes that I agree with, the main issue is that the legislators who brought forth this bill forgot to include the most important detail, a funding source. This bill, if passed, would put the ball in the court of districts to cover the costs of these unfunded mandates because there would not be the additional resources to carry them out. Can our district take a financial hardship like this when we are currently facing $3 million in cuts?

Olympia has a track record with making changes and not funding them. Back in 1992, Governor Booth Gardner created the Governor’s Council on Education Reform and Funding (GCERF). This Council was formed in response to a WEA member campaign highlighting the lack of adequate State funding for public education. GCERF recommended plenty of education reforms but little funding to pay for them. We got Essential Learning Requirements (ELR’s), the Certificate of Mastery (for high school graduation), onerous certification rules (Pro-Cert), the Commission on Student Learning, WASL, and several other bureaucratic mandates without resources to carry them out. GCERF punted the funding issue to the Legislature, and the Legislature dropped the ball. I believe that this is exactly what the current legislature is also going to do and I do not trust that the funding will come along in the future.

Some of the other issues that worry me about these bills are that they would repeal the I-728 class size money, it would increase graduation requirements (Core24) with no additional resources to support it, it repeals levy equalization which decreases district funding sources, and it changes the teacher licensing system for the 4th time in 12 years.

These unfunded reforms are the last thing we should be focusing on until we actually fund our schools at the levels that were first discussed in 1978. There is an old saying that says if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. But like everything else in this world if it is broke then please fix it but with that said, I can remember the last time I took my car in to get fixed and it had a pretty hefty price tag attached. I can guarantee you the mechanic would not have fixed it if I told him I had no funding source to pay for the fix. What this legislation would do though would be to force us to fix it anyway and leave it up to districts to figure out how to cover the costs. Is this how we want our school system to work?

While I have my opinions on the topic and there are many organizations that share my point of view and many that do not, I encourage each of you to read the legislation, make an informed decision, and contact your legislators in Olympia.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Influencing behavior change . . .

Connie and I finished two days of teacher leadership training today focused on what leaders do to support and influence change. From the Influencer we learn that there are two critical questions that we ask ourselves in a change process.

• Is it worth it? (If not, why waste the effort?)
• Can I do it? (If not, why try?)

We share the importance of leaders needing to ensure that the answers to these questions must support continued participation in the change effort if behavior change is to sustain over time. As leaders, we usually spend time using verbal persuasion to try and convince teachers of the importance of the change. This works for some, but others need more than this to open the door to change. In our work, we have learned that there are at least two other strategies that may yield better results; personal experience and vicarious experience.

When we move to the second question around can I do it, I share my belief that we make assumptions that almost all teachers believe that they can be successful at changing their behavior to align with that of the stated goal. I believe that these assumptions are made based upon the leader's personal experience not on data and information from those being asked to make the change.

This is because most teachers in leadership roles are among the "early adopters" of any change initiative. This means that they are among the first to find out about it, learn it, and try it. When it comes time to share the initiative with others their experience base leads them to believe that others will embrace the change as they do and not see it as difficult to do. I believe that this is not always the case and that more teachers than we think question whether they can do it for many reasons. I have no data other than personal experience from our change efforts to base my assumption on and would like to hear from you. Do teachers question their capacity to successfully implement a stated change or do most just need to know that it is worth it?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

And now, more dissonance . . .

I am enjoying the comments to my last post. They are very thoughtful and it is pleasing to see people share their private thoughts with passion. It is also rewarding to see the different perspectives that each brings to the issue. I find myself agreeing with parts of each and then disagreeing with other parts. It sort of sums up what I am feeling about the proposed legislation; dissonance. In leadership class I say that dissonance is a necessary component of creative tension, that time when learning is possible so I am waiting for the "answers" to become more clear.

It saddens me that all the time and effort that was placed into this report may result in no change because the writing team chose to not include the most critical component, a funding source. This after the fallout from Washington Learns and a request from the Governor is inexcusable. Now, instead of skillful discussion we hear debate not on the merits of the proposed changes to basic education, but on whether they should even be discussed due to the funding omission. Thus far, I still find myself leaning towards finding the parts of the proposal around which all parties can find consensus as opposed to a flat no, this must go until the funding is decided.

I found the site that Kristin shared interesting in that the writers are questioning the stance taken by their Association, a situation that I share as mine has not endorsed it as referenced by John in his comment. The superintendents of our ESD have in fact sent a letter of support to legislators and are in the process of continued discussions on how to proceed. I don't recall a time when there has been this level of disagreement between WASA leadership and individual members. This has added to my dissonance because it is contributing to the forming of battle lines in Olympia that will serve no useful purpose.

I also agree with John that SB 5607 is worth a look as it speaks directly to the funding issue as I shared in my response to Scott's comment. Better coordination between these two efforts might have resulted in a product that all of us could have endorsed. But, that not being the case, how should I proceed? Do I continue to promote a search for common ground or do I join in the no discussion without funding group?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Is this too much change?

Last month the Final Report of the Joint Task Force on Basic Education Funding was released. It recommends sweeping changes to what basic education is and to how it would be funded under these proposed changes. Career ladders would be established and the current salary schedule would be replaced with a schedule based on attaining three levels of certification; residency, professional, and master teacher. Degrees would be replaced with stipends for individual and school incentives and include a regional wage adjustment. One of the stipends would be given to teachers who become peer reviewers, those who must endorse a teacher's transition through the career ladder.

The responsibility and incentive components of TRI would disappear and the time component would need to be documented and clear as to how much time would be included for compensation. The work year for teachers would be 190 days that would include ten LID days. Staffing levels are identified for all positions, local levy amounts would be established based on dollars per student and the list goes on. Basically, it includes significant change to most components of basic education established in 1978.

There are currently two bills before the legislature, Senate Bill 5444 and HB 1410. With the current economic situation I don't know how much traction either will get because the estimated price tag is $6.3 to 7.5 billion in the first biennium. The changes would be phased in over a six year period. Changes to the current funding formulas are overdue. I like much of what is included in the report while questioning and disagreeing with some of what is being recommended. One missing component is a funding source, something the Governor specifically requested the task force include. There are, however, some funding recommendations in the minority reports that are attached to the report.

I encourage you to review the report and the bills. They have the potential to result in significant changes to our schools and school district. Please consider sharing your thoughts by posting comments to this entry. Perhaps we can create a dialogue around the merits of the recommendations.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Changes with more to come . . .

Well, according to CNN the Senate will be trimming the stimulus package with two of the cuts being $600 million from Title 1 and $16 billion from school construction. Though we would have received $150,000 for school construction, this cut might might make sense. To simply allocate billions with all districts receiving a percentage doesn't make much sense in the absence of knowing needs and short and long term construction plans. Some districts were in line to receive millions at the same time that they are in declining enrollment and have no identified needs. If this were to become a part of the stimulus plan I believe that it needs much more thought and a better process for identifying individual district needs. It makes more sense to give allocations to each state and allow them to distribute based on need than a per district allocation model.

What might prove to be more problematic is the $40 billion cut in state grants that would have given states flexibility to deal with their economic issues. Some of that funding may have resulted in fewer cuts to education as our state faces increasing deficits. Things should get interesting as Nancy Pelosi vows to fight to keep the House version of the stimulus package. It would be interesting to have a chair at the Senate/House conference committee with the task to reach consensus on this package. Throw in our new President and it could be fun.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The stimulus package, a boon or a bust for us?

If you thought that the federal government's stimulus package was going to ease our budget problems get ready for more disappointment. The print out from the Committee on Education and Labor (click on Washington) shows the potential revenue for school districts across the country from the House plan. Because both Title 1 and the construction are driven by free and reduced lunch counts our potential windfall for Title 1 is zero and for construction is $150,000. To put the construction amount in a context, our planning committee was looking at a potential bond measure in excess of $150,000,000 to meet our maintenance, renovation, and growth needs.

The one area slated for a potential increase is in IDEA (special education) funding. Year one would be about $625,ooo and year two about $720,000. This looks good, but the problem for us is that these dollar amounts would simply reduce the revenue we currently receive from Safety Net, a separate federal revenue source administered by OSPI. The result would be no net gain in special education funding.

Since it is highly unlikely that this same stimulus package would be included in future federal education budgets it may end up positive for us. Since we will not be receiving significant amounts we will be making budget adjustments next year that other districts might postpone because they are slated for much more. This could make it even more difficult for those districts in the future. There is obviously much debate and disagreement in Washington D.C. over this package so things could change. We will be monitoring closely and letting you know as well as any developments in Olympia that might influence our budget efforts.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Setting the adjustment tone . . .

One of the components of our budget adjustment process is meeting with all bargaining units to identify ways to suspend or adjust compensation as we work through these difficult economic conditions. The first meeting was with the Principal Association. During this discussion, the principal representatives made the commitment to go to their members with the recommendation to suspend any potential raise due as a result of their negotiated agreement and also to take a 2.5% reduction in salary for the next budget year.

In addition, Central Office administrative staff will take between a 2.5% and 3% reduction in salary next year. Discussions with classified supervisors and non-represented staff will take place this week to identify adjustments for each of these groups. While many might say this is no big deal and expected of administrators, I am pleased by the willingness of these groups and individuals to step forward and set the tone for our adjustment process.

On Friday we met with TEA representatives to share information and to identify any ways that adjustments might be possible. Though the meeting was not planned to look at any specific areas, the Association identified a number of potential areas for consideration that might result in saving certified district positions. Again, the willingness to discuss suspending or adjusting salary was appreciated and demonstrates the culture of care and concern that is so much a part of the Tahoma way. As with our administrative staff, our teacher association is approaching this process in a collaborative, problem solving manner. My belief is that not all districts will be greeted with the same attitude when similar conversations are held.

Though only discussions and a tentative agreement thus far, the positive tone established by the Principal Association and TEA will bring energy to our budget team. We look forward to continued discussions and decisions that result in additional options for the board to consider as they make the difficult decisions necessary in this budget alignment process. I feel so blessed to work in a system facing significant economic adversity with the communication capacity and caring attitude that can result in us emerging from this process with a continued focus on meeting the needs of our young people through Classroom 10 and PLC's. Certainly the tone that has been established is characteristic of a PLC at the system level.