Monday, November 30, 2009

The lure of BIG money . . .

You may want to spend some time on the League of Education Voters site. They are focusing on how our state stacks up against the RttT criteria. They are also asking a question of the week related to this federal initiative that I have referenced in previous posts. Here is the question for the week.

Should student performance be included in teacher evaluations?

You may want to comment and share your thoughts with them. I believe that this question will surface in this year’s legislative session as those in positions of power at the state level attempt to influence our ability to be successful in this grant opportunity. I also believe that this organization wields some political clout in the state and can influence legislators. There will be much discussion leading up to and during the session on this topic and others related to positioning for RttT success. Let your voice be heard in multiple formats before decisions are made that all of us must live with. There is simply too much money available ($150 - $250 million for Washington) to ignore. Our state will file in round two. Changes are necessary for us to be better aligned with the scoring criteria and here for a successful application. The question of concern is what these changes will be and how they will influence our work.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Corruption and lowering standards . . .

I found this post on Larry Ferlazzo’s site. It called to mind the recent announcement by Superintendent Dorn to delay requirements for meeting the math and science graduation requirements. His decision was not received positively by all as can be seen by this response from the Governor.

The post is interesting because he takes us to a post by Yong Zhao where he shares information about corruption issues in China caused by the perceived need for ever higher standardized test scores to qualify for entry into more prestigious colleges. He compares this to our country in the following way.

On the surface, the corruption cases in the US may seem different from those in China, the root cause is actually the same: the desire to demonstrate good performance according to some standardized quantitative measures.

He shares that this phenomenon has been termed Campbell’s Law.

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

All of this is another reason why our focus must continue to be on Classroom 10 with success on the WASL or other assessments a byproduct of this focus.

Would you consider Superintendent Dorn’s proposal a lowering of standards? Is it the correct action to take at this time?

Monday, November 23, 2009

More from Education Week . . .

Here are two other very short articles from the November 11th Education Week that caught my eye. The first has the title, ‘GenY’ Teachers Don’t Reject All Merit Pay, which shares information from a report about a willingness on the part of teachers 32 or younger to consider merit pay under certain conditions. Less than half, however, were open to tying teacher pay to student test scores.

What really caught my eye was the last paragraph where we learn that merit pay was rated last of twelve proposals for improving teaching in this survey. Doesn’t that make the title a little misleading? What are the other proposals that were all rated higher and why no focus on them?

Overall, though, merit-pay plans did not rank high as a policy prescription among the group of younger teachers. They rated it last among 12 proposals for improving teaching.

The second article is another short report on a paper about the importance of teacher quality and the need to improve the supply of skilled teachers. As with the previous article it was the last paragraph that resonated with me.

In the end, the paper concludes, if we want high-quality teachers, we will need to accord teaching with a higher status, create policies that attract and keep good teachers in the workforce, enhance school working conditions, and create policies that demand that those teachers continue to learn and teach their students well.

If we could establish the learning environments described in this paragraph, the accountability policies mentioned might not be necessary. Our experience would suggest that to be true. Our teachers are open and energized by learning opportunities and focused on supporting learning for all students. Yes, we need to increase the supply of skilled teachers. We also need the environments to retain and support them and those already in our class rooms. What are the attributes of a system with these environments that result in teachers wanting to work in them?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Is it possible without Gates support?

What do you think about the Gates Foundation giving $335 million to a few school districts and charter schools to learn what makes an effective teacher? We learn in the article why no Washington state districts were invited to apply. I can’t help but wonder if these same reasons won’ result in lack of success in the quest for RttT funding. By the way, our Governor announced we will not be going after funding in round one. Wonder what the legislature might be considering?

Foundation officials said they looked for districts with a lot of high-needs students, a history of tackling teacher-quality issues and a willingness and readiness to try bold new approaches to how teachers are recruited, trained, evaluated and paid.

Teachers unions — or teachers, if there was no union — had to be a partner.

State policy was also a factor, said foundation spokesman Chris Williams, and that hurt the Seattle School District. Washington state, he said, hasn't pursued the kinds of teacher-quality efforts the foundation would like to see.

One of the prerequisites for consideration was involvement with the local teacher association and its national affiliate an indication that the NEA and AFT are open to supporting change in teacher preparation, support, and evaluation. Consider this comment from an article in Education Week.

Each of the sites that made the final cut devised its application in collaboration with teachers, reflecting what Gates officials, in an interview, called “unprecedented” support from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, as well as from local teacher associations.

Each of the participants will be defining effective teaching, creating new teacher evaluation and compensation systems that include the use of student achievement data, and designing support structures for teacher growth. I believe that these are all steps that we should be taking. It would be nice to have financial support, but we shouldn’t let that get in the way of identifying and supporting what quality teaching looks and sounds like and what data is used to make judgments about when it is in place.

Our Classroom 10 journey is our response to this work. We need to suspend old assumptions and be open to influence by the changes in place and planned. We must continue to find ways to engage the teacher and at some point the student voice in this work.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Another report, another disagreement . . .

I found some interesting articles in the November 11th issue of Newsweek. I’ll share one in this post and others in future posts. A report is shared in this article that includes policy recommendations for improving the quality of teachers in the nation’s 100 largest school systems. The recommendations range from raising the bar for who can enter teacher preparation programs, to recruitment strategies, to evaluation and salary schedule changes.

Like many reports in our profession the release is followed by concerns from other education agencies. Of particular interest with this one is the inclusion of the AFT President on the panel as well as the NEA President and two other representatives of teacher associations. Panel member Francine Lawrence, Toledo Federation of Teachers, shared the following.

“There weren’t many of us on the task force speaking for teachers, and I think the report reflects that, especially in the lack of emphasis on principal effectiveness,” said Francine Lawrence, the president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, an AFT affiliate, and a member of the panel. “It doesn’t speak to the professionalization of teaching at all, which is a real disappointment.”

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, task force chair, shared the process used to reach agreement or lack of agreement on the final document.

“. .said the panel had a “consensus on much of what’s in the report,” but he explained that there had been no formal vote of its members to endorse the report because of some disagreements.
“We wanted the recommendations we put forth to be significant and specific, so we did not water it down in order to get agreement from everyone,” said Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican.

With this type of process, having dissenting opinions should be no surprise. The six guiding principles and the twenty recommendations are worthy of consideration, but once again we find ourselves in the all too frequent position of disagreeing on process and focus that precludes collaboration around the intent and recommendations of this effort. Unfortunately, it will be viewed by some as another example of teachers being against change and for maintaining the status quo in our profession. We believe that this is not the case in our system, but I wonder if those in our community know.

Crystal at maybecrystal taught me how to embed a pdf today by walking me through a jing. It worked and I was able to do it with the report cited above. THANKS Crystal!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Grand kids are . . .

We took the grand kids to the last showing of Disney on Ice today at the Showare Center in Kent. It reminded me of Disney World and Disneyland with the multiple opportunities to spend money. They sure know how to market; we couldn’t walk or look anywhere without seeing something that Kobe didn’t want. We left with lighter wallets, but the smiles on their faces during the show made it well worth it.

I don’t know if there is anything I have experienced that beats this grandparent gig. We had them since Friday with Ciara’s first ice skating competition that night and finished tonight by dropping them off with Mom. They left with their treasures and tired and we left tired and pleased that we could provide them with this fun weekend. Yes, having grand kids to love and be loved is one of life's true joys. You can't beat those hugs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Standards again . . .

I found this article on Education Week. It is about the common core standards and states slowing work on their own standards while waiting for the release early next year. I found some of the information interesting and informative. It also raised additional questions about the future plans for our state.

I can understand why states would want to not engage in standard’s work if they are planning on adopting these national standards following their release, but where are we as a state. We have been told that we will not adopt them for at least two years so we continue to work on alignment and assessments that may change again in two years. The article shares the following information.

Mr. Montgomery said that, based on a CCSSO survey, he expects that at least a dozen states will adopt the common standards within six months of their release. He said 16 participating states have the capacity to adopt them within six months and another 15 within a year; the rest would likely need more time.

I wonder if we responded to the survey request and, if yes, how. This would be important information for us to have. It could certainly influence how we choose to use our time and resources. Early in 2010 we are required to submit a timeline and process for adoption of the language arts and mathematics standards since we have already signed on indicating our agreement. All indications point to adoption by our state, we just don’t know when at this time.

The following comment in the slow down article is troubling for me because of concerns I have previously shared. It speaks to the use of federal dollars as the carrot to entice states to move in this direction. Will money be the primary motivation for this significant change?

"The delay would be very pragmatic because, as someone said to me, ‘Why should I spend my money if I can get Race to the Top money to do exactly the same thing?’ ” Mr. Kamil said.

Is there anyone out there with a direct pipeline to our governor or to Randy Dorn? If yes, next time you talk with them you might want to find out the timeline for adoption by our state. Once released, I look forward to OSPI’s review of the alignment of our standards with the common core standards. That will be important information that will influence how we respond to the anticipated change. At this time, we can only hope for high alignment to our own.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Wordle time . . .

I decided it was time to do a Wordle of my blog to get some sense of what I have been sharing. It certainly shows the emphasis in my recent posts with national standards, the Gates Foundation, and the need for support. Teachers and teacher are fairly prominent so I feel pretty good with the focus. I know most are not as interested as I am in RttT and core common standards, but I do believe that they will have significant short and long term influence on our profession.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The President says . . .

In this article in last week’s Los Angeles Times President Obama once again speaks to the need to judge teachers by how well their students do on some type of assessment.

Obama called for the abolition of "firewall" rules, which prevent many schools from judging teacher performance based on student performance.

I believe that we should be held accountable for the learning of all students, but for me the operative word is we. Teachers work in schools, that are in school districts, that operate within state guidelines and funding mechanisms. Yes, the research is quite clear that the teacher is the single most important variable in this equation, but we can’t ignore the system within which teachers and students engage.

I believe that there can and should be a point in time when we will be able to link student achievement with teacher performance. That time, however, will come after we work collaboratively to identify the support that is necessary over time to achieve a “teaching standard” that results in teacher accountability for student achievement. The support is the responsibility of the system to provide under the guidance of the building leadership of which the principal is the key player. Then there will be the issue of what assessment(s), in what content areas, and over what period of time

I wonder if the President and others pushing this agenda are seeing this accountability only for what we traditionally call the core content areas or for teachers in all content areas. Is the accountability standard the same for the first year teacher and for those in the profession for longer periods of time? Will states be allowed to identify the standards and determine the cut scores for assessing success or will they be national standards? There are many questions that need answers before we can successfully implement this change.

It was interesting that the President made these remarks in a charter middle school. He and the education department have made their support of charters quite clear. I also found the following statement quite interesting.

"If a state wants to increase its chances of actually winning a grant, it will have to do more," Obama said. "It will have to collect information about how students are doing in a particular year -- and over the course of an academic career -- and make this information available to teachers so they can use it to improve the way they teach. That's how teachers can determine what they should be doing differently in the classroom. That's how principals can determine what changes need to be made in our schools."

If only it were that easy. It will take much more than simply making achievement data available to teachers to achieve the President’s vision. The data is only one critical component of a very complex system. Forcing change on this system through grants is not the key to successful change that sustains over time. Yes, we need to change and we must ensure that all young people experience K-12 success and are prepared for continued success in post high school learning and work. That is what we are working to achieve for the students in our school system.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More national standards, opportunity or . . .

It would appear from this short article in Education Week that there is now a new movement to add common core standards in K-12 science and social studies to those being developed for math and language arts. The title of the article is a little misleading as the math standards are currently being developed and are supported by 49 states including Washington.

This could add an additional layer of complexity to our work that would involve two additional content areas with once again needing to go through a possible alignment process. The state science standards have undergone multiple revisions over time and I do not look forward to revisiting this process once again with national standards. I anticipate that there will be significant pressure for our state to adopt these standards when and if they are developed. If this is the direction of the future it would be good to have this knowledge now so that we can discuss options on how to proceed.

It will be a welcome relief when we can put the alignment and curriculum process behind us so that we can focus on and support instructional practice? I believe that there are some valid arguments for moving towards national standards, but I am frustrated with the timing and the continued emphasis on NCLB that includes nonsensical requirements for adequate yearly progress. What do teachers think about this potential for additional national standards in science and social studies? If the pattern continues in these content areas, national assessments will follow.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Could it be?

Did you happen to see this post on Blogger King about Bill Gates? I first saw it here on Certainly, spending $200 million dollars per year and having foundation staff end up on Duncan’s staff results in having an influence on public education, but Duncan has far more than that to spend through Race to the Top in a short period of time. The foundation’s positions on education especially support for charters and improving teacher evaluation systems are resulting in a closer alignment with the department. This, together with their support of states’ efforts to secure federal stimulus funds may be moving them into a position to have significant influence on future education policy.

In an earlier post I shared the Gates Foundation’s original support of 15 states in positioning for stimulus funds. After complaints from other states and organizations the foundation recently made the decision to support the remaining 35 states in this effort. This doesn’t satisfy the critics concerned with what they see as a partnership between this private foundation and the federal education department. Gates sees it differently.

"It's no secret the U.S. education system is failing," Gates said. "We're doing all kinds of experiments that are different. The Race To The Top is going to do many different ones. There's no group-think."

To receive support from the foundation in the competitive proposal process the state must first sign off on the foundation's education reform platform. Does signing off mean agreement? If yes, than I would suggest that they are in position to have significant influence on public policy as states race to them for support in writing their proposals. In an e-mail from OSPI in October we were told that our state is in the process of developing a proposal for round 1 of these funds. That is interesting considering the governor’s comments in this July article when she shares that we would not be in consideration for round 1. I wonder if the foundation is involved in this change. I am told that soon we should be seeing updates on the proposal at this site.