Sunday, May 31, 2009

I made it to 200 . . .

When I opened blogger I noticed that I have posted 199 times, so this is my 200th post. When I started this I didn't give much thought to how long I would post so I don't know if I should be shocked or proud that I have kept it going this long. The celebration is that I actually have a few people following me and a few others that may read once in awhile. I have been able to start some interesting and informative exchanges and have also been able to share some of my thinking about our work. For those things I am proud and look forward to continuing for at least another 200 posts.

Thank you for taking the time to read my sometimes rambling thoughts, it is appreciated.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Teacher unions, roadblock to reform?

In case you didn’t get a chance to follow this exchange about teacher union’s influence on reform and successful practice I thought I would share this link.

I follow Flypaper, a blog written by a team from the Thomas Fordham Institute though I often find myself in disagreement with their beliefs and thoughts. I found this exchange, however, interesting because we live in what would be called a pro-labor state and because of what I believe is important for successful educational reform.

The exchange started with a comment made by Diane Ravitch, who can be followed here. The discussion is around unions and how strong unions at the state level get in the way of reform that results in superb schools. I agree with Petrilli when he says that the comments to the posts are important and encourage you to not only read the posts, but the comments as well. Massachusetts gets a lot of space in this discussion because of their reform efforts that have resulted in the highest scores in three out of four of the 2007 NAEP assessments and they tied for first in the fourth assessment. They have also shown significant progress in reducing the achievement gap. The question is was this possible because of or in spite of the state teachers’ association? Most comments and authors believe that the teacher unions are at the heart of the problem with public education in our country. Not the only issue, but certainly one of the stumbling blocks to successful reform.

My experience does not necessarily support the belief that unions are the major obstacle to successful reform. I have seen WEA have a powerful influence such as early in this session when they did not support basic education legislation, but revised legislation did emerge and passed that contains components WEA does not support. For me, what is more important is the relationship at the local level between the district and the association. Certainly there are times when we disagree and make a decision to do or not do things that can influence our change initiatives, but I believe that if there is a union we must work collaboratively if we are to experience success that sustains over time.

I prefer to work with a group where leadership is representative of their members, where belief, language and behavior are aligned, and where there is a willingness by both parties to be influenced. I see these as critical keys to successful collaboration. If the group is splintered, it makes it more difficult to initiate system change. If the group, especially the leadership, is not aligned and their behavior is not consistent with their words, it makes it difficult to establish and maintain the trust that is necessary to make and sustain significant alterations to a traditional management/union working relationship. For example, we have made significant movement in our contract such as our leave provisions to demonstrate respect for our teachers as professionals. When leadership or teachers at the same time push for traditional time constraints it places us in a position of questioning what professional means. Concerns like these can be overcome, however, if all parties are open to being influenced and share a common focus on the needs of students. For the most part, we have achieved this, but I realize it is not the norm in other places.

If I were going to point fingers at what at times has a negative influence on our efforts to change practice and influence the quality of learning in every classroom they would be pointed at some of the statutes that were put in place many years ago to drive revenue and mandate practices and to protect the rights of teachers. First and foremost would be those that define basic education and those that require significant expenditures of time and resources to remove teachers from classrooms in those situations where even their colleagues question why they continue. But, that would be for a different post. If you have some time to follow the string of posts it will be interesting to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The road to success after high school includes . . .

I learned of this article from Sunday’s New York Times Magazine entitled “The Case for Working With Your Hands” at AssortedStuff. It is written by a man with a Ph. D. in political philosophy who shares his work history that has resulted in the enjoyment he now has in his motorcycle repair business. The article brings home the world we live in where so many parents and other adults believe that the only path to success in the future is through a four year college degree and see the trades as demeaning or something done by those that couldn’t make it in the academic world. Crawford explains it with these words.

"The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid."

He goes on to make an important point that most of today’s adults don’t think about as they plan their children’s futures.

"But there are also systemic changes in the economy, arising from information technology, that have the surprising effect of making the manual trades — plumbing, electrical work, car repair — more attractive as careers. The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.” Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India."

I am certainly not suggesting that the traditional college degree is not important or useful. It is not, however, the only way to achieve success in post high school learning and work and it cannot be the path that all should or can take. Crawford suggests, however, that most parents do not see it this way.

"A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. . .If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things."

What do you want for your children? What do we want for those young people that attend our schools? When and how should we factor in the aspirations of these young people?

Monday, May 18, 2009

An answer to one last question . . .

Anonymous followed up the question with a comment that included an apology for the original comment. Not necessary, but appreciated.

I am ok with not doing move up day, though I am worried that it will be gone forever and that saddens me. It is such a nice thing for students, teachers and parents. For some teachers, not posting teacher names till the last few days before school starts will be a huge adjustment. There are before school open houses that will be impacted. I am being asked to create a generic supply list with my team. My normal supply list is short, so that will mean adding to it and asking my parents to buy supplies that we won't use. That is really unfortunate when people are struggling as it is. So, I better close with an apology for being so "snotty" in my last post. I am just frustrated that there has to be so much more stress and anxiety than necessary. Sad....

Fritz has helped me understand the situation so I will use his words below in response to the original question.

The elementary principals agreed to forego move up day due to the impacts of two things. First, some schools are more impacted by displacements than others and when this decision was made, we still did not know the outcome of the RIFs and displacements. Second, it was brought up that in some of our elementary schools there are a high number of students/families being impacted by the current economic conditions, which potentially creates a high number of turnover and impact on class placements over the summer. Although these conditions may not be as extreme in some schools as others, we agreed to stay consistent in discontinuing the move up day as it has been traditionally known.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Support for curriculum implementation . . .

I don't usually respond to "Anonymous" comments, but since I did not say it prior to my post asking for questions I have decided to respond. In the case below I have asked Nancy Skerritt to share her thought on the following question.

Why are we not hiring trainers who create the curriculum? Lucy Calkins, Kathryn Twomey Fosnot, Vicki Spandel, Debbie Miller, etc... to name a few. Training completly for the curriculum is the only way it will be fully implemented and invested in by the teachers. My colleague in another district has sent everyone, that wanted to go, to the Lucy Calkins institute in NY, on the districts dime, yes 13 elementary schools. They are now sending 14 teachers back to NY to train with Fosnot, a pioneer in math problem solving.
Out of the three districts I have been in, our trainings our inadequate and ineffective.

Before sharing Nancy's response let me simply say that she is an example of the person that is not always perceived as an expert in the place that they do their work. Outside our system, however, she is highly respected for her expertise in thinking skills, reader's workshop, and for her capacity in developing curriculum. Though not always appreciated, we are most fortunate to have her leadership in the Teaching and Learning Department. We have been colleagues for many years in our system and I like to think that the two of us have had an influence on our system. I know that she has had an influence on me and my work and I thank her for the leadership, guidance, and support she provides our system.

Her response is below. I will amplify the part about resources. I don't know the district referred to in the question, but most systems that send all teachers have either a grandfathered levy lid meaning they can collect about 9% more than we can (about $6,000,000 each year for us) or they have a foundation that picks up all or part of the cost. For example, in Mercer Island he foundation will purchase new math books with the staff development component. I believe that this has also happened in Issaquah.

Let me share the district’s perspective on curriculum choices and the professional development philosophy that guides our curriculum decisions in the Tahoma School District. As the person responsible for leadership in Teaching and Learning, I have had the opportunity to work with many teacher leaders and administrators over the past decade. We are committed to making curriculum decisions based on extensive research into best instructional practices. We have selected researched based models to guide our work in all major content areas including reading, writing, and math at elementary and secondary levels. At the elementary level, our district sent lead teachers to spend time learning from Stephanie Harvey and Debbie Miller at a week long seminar in Colorado about ten years ago. The people who attended then returned to our district to help us set up and implement lab classrooms in reading using the balanced literacy model with guided reading and reader’s workshop as the centerpieces. We have continued to build on these initial efforts in reading by providing reading specialists at each school and by conducting job embedded support in implementing best instructional practices. Our work has been guided by Strategies that Work and research on the close connection between thinking skills and reading comprehension. Our students achieve at the very highest levels of performance on measures such as the grade 2 reading assessment and the state WASL.

In the area of writing, we identified Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher’s work as representing a model of instruction consistent with constructivist learning practices and a workshop approach to instruction. We conducted book studies, identified lead teachers, piloted assessment models, and developed an implementation framework to support our elementary teachers in implementing a preferred instructional model for writing. Our lead teachers have developed additional curriculum materials to support implementation. This past year, teachers had the opportunity to participate in a study of Lucy Calkins’ book One to One which focuses specifically on conferencing strategies. People involved in the book study viewed video models, tried new ideas in their classrooms, and problem solved issues of implementation. The professional development focused on job embedded support.

This past year, our focus for professional development at the elementary level for all teachers has been on math problem solving. Our work is guided by the expertise of O’Connor, Anderson, and Chapic, authors of Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn. All of our teachers received a copy of this book to guide the instructional expectations for our teachers. We are incorporating a coaching model to support implementation of best practices. Research on effective professional development supports job embedded practices. One time workshops, regardless of how famous the trainer is, are effective for 5 to 10 percent of the participants, according to the research of Joyce and Showers. We have embraced a model of professional development that is researched based and calls for teachers to not just attend a workshop but rather to be supported in trying out new practices in the classroom. The model includes “Learn, Observe, Practice, Feedback, Reflect, and Evaluate.” Our math coaches have provided demonstration lessons, observations with feedback, and core instruction on the preferred practices. We are currently collecting data to help us to understand the next level of support needed to ensure fidelity of implementation in all classrooms.

The reality of our budget, even in better times, is such that we cannot send everyone to national trainings with experts- and we know that the effectiveness is limited when we consider the goal of full classroom implementation. We must rely on learning from the experts through reading and studying their work. Our efforts to implement Classroom 10 rely on our ability to articulate a vision within our district and to be self supporting in providing quality curriculum and the expertise needed to implement that curriculum. We continue to draw at the systems level from experts such as Marzano, Costa, and Senge and we support developing teacher leadership to build capacity at the school level for implementation. Our district is completely committed to quality professional development that is job embedded and provides opportunities beyond an initial training. Even in our time of financial crisis, we will look for ways to continue our initiatives and to ensure “Quality Learning Every Day for Every Child in Every Classroom.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is RTI in our future?

Jonathon’s question: Our school site is considering the piloting of an RTI model to help our District move towards meeting the AYP requirements. What do you think about the Blueprints for Implementation presented at The National Center for Response to Intervention?

I couldn’t open the first document, but was successful with the second. Though I haven’t looked at all the information in this feed (there is a lot), what I have reviewed is consistent with what I have read and learned about this approach to intervention. We decided last year to explore RTI (Response to Intervention) because of the success some systems are experiencing and because of the support it is receiving at the national level. Districts exploring this model are better positioned for federal support than those not engaged in this research-based approach to intervention.

We chose Rock Creek as the site to begin our exploration and spent this year learning about it and visiting other systems that are using the model. A team of teachers with guidance and support from Michele Willson and Annette Whittlesey have attended training and explored options for implementation at Rock Creek. As I have shared in a previous post, I am excited with the attitude that the team has developed around the model and await a proposal from Fritz for a pilot implementation.

I believe that the model has the potential to change the way that we approach intervention, but it will require changes to practice that have been in place for many years. The interesting part concerning these changes is that there is no clear decision making process in place at the district level to review how we use Title 1 and RAP funds because we have always used them to support reading interventions. Since the proposal is focused on math with the need to use paraprofessional and certified intervention time in this content area, we will need to first make decisions on who has autonomy and how to reach closure before we even review the proposal. This will stretch us, something that I look forward to and see as an opportunity for system growth.

In closing, yes I think that the outline of a proposal that I have seen has a chance to become a pilot at Rock Creek, but as I shared above, it will require a significant shift in how we allocate limited resources. Will we be able to make this shift without negatively impacting the reading achievement levels that we currently experience? This will be one of the key, critical questions that will be explored as we discuss this potential intervention model.

Thanks for asking Jonathan.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A respose to the first question . . .

A question from Scott, thanks for asking. So my question is what is your thought or philosophy on performance pay/merit pay?

I am not a supporter of merit pay options that are entirely tied to student performance as measured by a standardized test. Though you know that I believe that the teacher is the most important variable in the classroom related to student growth, there are many additional variables that must be considered before tying compensation, advancement, and employment status to a single measure. One of those variables is class size where we are unable to even get close to the level that suggests we should see significant change in academic achievement.

My vision is one similar to that used for national board certification only it would be locally controlled and focused on our Classroom 10 initiative. Teachers would demonstrate proficiency in creating, implementing, and sustaining Classroom 10 learning environments over time. They would become part of collaborative adult learning cultures designed to provide meaningful learning opportunities and support over time. These learning opportunities would be designed and facilitated by staff endorsed in the Classroom 10 model. Teachers would be compensated for additional responsibilities related to this training and support. Teacher pay increases would be tied to their level of proficiency on the Classroom 10 continuum with an identified time line for reaching the agreed upon benchmark for being labeled proficient.

We must continue to focus on the importance of student achievement and we must also find ways to sustain for some and increase for others the current levels as measured by WASL and local assessments. We must create additional assessments that provide meaningful, useful, valid, and reliable information on student attainment of our Outcomes and Indicators and Habits of Mind embedded in our curriculum initiatives. This data must become a meaningful part of adult discussions related to meeting achievement goals at the building and district level and teachers must expect that the data will be analyzed and shared at these and at the classroom level. I believe that we will gain insights from these discussions on what individual teachers are doing that support academic achievement gains not experienced by all students.

If we had the cultures and data described above and the resources to differentiate the learning experience for all students I might reconsider my thinking about traditional merit pay. We know that not all students learn at the same rate or in the same way, yet we still place them in schools with the same days per year, similar hours per day, and limited resources to support their non-academic needs. As long as these parameters are in place and we struggle with class size I choose to focus on supporting teacher growth on the Classroom 10 continuum and leave the discussion of merit pay to those with a more narrow view of what success looks and sounds like.

Next, I will focus on Jonathon’s question. Our school site is considering the piloting of an RTI model to help our District move towards meeting the AYP requirements. What do you think about the Blueprints for Implementation presented at The National Center for Response to Intervention?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A free question . . .

I have many things I want to share:
  • A comment from my last post sharing what I would say in response to the request for information on what is right and wrong with public schools.
  • A draft of a post on the continued conversation for identifying one set of national standards. This topic continues to gain momentum with heavy hitters weighing in on the need.

  • A focus on the Teaching and Learning Department as they identify how best to support development and implementation of Classroom 10 curriculum and instructional practices given the changes to the department's budget.

  • A look at what will happen as we move into the second year of not meeting adequate yearly progress at the building and district level.
For today's post, however, I simply want you to share with me. If you could ask me one question, what would it be?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

How would our schols rate?

I would be interested in how you might respond to this request for information about our public school system. I learned about this over on Free Technology for Teachers and thought it might be interesting to see if some of our teachers might want to engage their students in this opportunity or for adults to share their responses to the request.

"The Obama administration has pledged to reform the country’s school system and we want to know where you think they need to focus their attention. Are your schools all they should be? Show us what needs work."

What would you say about the schools in the Tahoma School District?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An up and down day . . .

Today was for me, one of ups and downs. Up, because with the Board taking action last night on the budget adjustments we have put behind us one of the most difficult issues I have faced in a leadership role. Up, because it was a Teacher Leadership learning day, always an energizing and rewarding experience. Up, because I had an opportunity to observe leadership teams engaging in skillful discussions to identify the focus of their change efforts. In the case of one building, it includes planning changes that will force us to examine long-established and unwritten rules for resource allocation. They are pushing the envelope because they are not pleased with math achievement levels in their building. I look forward to being a part of the process that will determine whether they are given the autonomy to make these changes.

With all of these ups what could cause me to feel down? Well, it is the last leadership learning day of the year, always a bittersweet day. More importantly, however, it is the last leadership day of the foreseeable future because of the adjustments that we made to the Teaching and Learning budget. This was for me, the first of what will be many changes to the work that I do because of the significant changes to this budget.

The loss of these leadership learning days will have an impact on our efforts to distribute leadership and to support leadership work at the building and district level. It will not be evident for many in our system, but those in a leadership role with facilitation responsibilities will experience the loss of support. It will also be evident in situations where leadership roles will be filled by those with no experience in learning and acquiring the communication skill set that has become the foundation of our work.

Please know that I am not questioning the decision to make this adjustment to the 2009-10 budget. Given the context we found ourselves in, I don’t believe that we could have made a different decision without significant loss of credibility and trust. We made the decision that this was more important in this process than the loss of capacity to purchase materials and to support change and adult learning that results from the adjustments. We need to now adapt to a new environment and to find creative ways to continue our journey while we wait for that time when the state makes significant changes to public school funding that allows us to bring back some of what we have suspended in this important part of our school system.

Though I don't question the need for the decision, I am saddened by the need to make it and by the loss of this leadership learning opportunity that I believe has had a significant positive influence on our professional learning community journey.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comfortable with projections because . . .

After reading the comments to the last post, I would like to share why I believe that we were able to make the decisions that we have while most other districts are not comfortable doing so at this time. Many of those around us are informing far more teachers that they will not be returning while creating the expectation for some that they will be back after the district has more time to figure out the budget situation more closely. They are not comfortable with making decisions on the budget until OSPI comes out with the final budget documents sometime in May.

That is the key; being comfortable with projecting the revenue once the state has made decisions on the final budget. We did this in a very short period of time for both years of the biennium, something others either won’t or can’t do. Why can we while others don’t? The main answer is we have Lori Cloud and others don’t. In the absence of someone with knowledge and the willingness to go out on the limb by making early projections, a district must wait until they have the budget documents to make revenue projections accurate enough to make these tough decisions we now face.

Lori is a CPA who came to us with no public school experience. In a short period of time she learned the complexities of public school accounting and the nuances that are necessary to master the complex formulas that drive revenue from the local, state, and federal levels to districts. She has created her own tables to replicate what OSPI does once their staff understands what the legislature has done with the budget. Because of this, we are able to make projections in a short period of time by using Lori’s tables. This is why we are now bringing staff back while most others are still trying to figure out how many to RIF and why we didn’t need to RIF many more than was necessary.

Making these projections is difficult and not without risk especially trying to project out two years. We made some difficult choices based on these projections only because of the confidence that we have in Lori’s experience in being able to make sense of the complex formulas in a short period of time. Next time you see her, thank her for this ability and for the risk taking necessary to make these projections. Once again, we stand out in another area of public school operations because of the expertise of our staff. This time it is Lori.