Sunday, January 31, 2010

Preparing young people for change . . .

One of the blogs I follow is FREE TECHNOLOGY FOR TEACHERS, an excellent site for resources and information. It is the source for much of the information I pass on to T&L staff and to teachers that I know with a particular interest. I would encourage you to make it part of your RSS feeds.

Last week there was a post sharing an NPR article with predictions of the growth and decline of various U.S. industries over the ten year period between 2008 and 2018. The scope of the study includes ten critical industries in our economy. The information comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. An interactive chart of the information is available here, simply roll your cursor over one of the blue balls to see the data. A short narrative related to the information and economic trends over the past decade can be found here.

In reviewing the projected changes I can’t help but focus on our Classroom 10 initiative and the foundation of Outcome and Indicators, Thinking Skills, and Habits of Mind. The big question; Are we preparing young people for post high school success given these predicted trends?
As I reflect on this it makes me realize that I really don’t know enough about the trends and specific skill set in each of these industrial sectors. My reading has been more generic and focused on studies over time about what young people need to know and be able to do for success in this century. It reinforces for me the need to begin sharing data such as this with students while assisting them over time in identifying options for future learning and work, something that is currently being planned by a team of counselors.

Though I may not have specific information about any of these industries, I am comfortable that the knowledge, skills, and attitudes embedded in Classroom 10 learning are applicable to any work environment. I believe that this is especially relevant, given the rapid changes and new learning that influences the work in all sectors of the economy. Content changes with the creation of new knowledge, but Classroom 10 knowledge and skill sets are not dependent on any specific content. Our initiative is validated in reading from Pink’s A Whole New Mind, Zhao’s Catching Up or Leading the Way, Friedman’s The World Is Flat, Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need and What We Can Do About It, and Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Not one voice . . .

In Olympia on Monday the response to SB 6696 was mixed with testimony both for and against when the bill was presented at hearings before the Senate Education Committee. This Seattle Times editorial shares some of the testimony and ends by painting WEA in a less than positive light.

On one political side sat Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association (WEA). Lindquist didn't come before the committee packing pistols or even a combative mood. No need for such theatrics, Lindquist simply reminded the senators that she controlled an 82,000-teacher union and — left unspoken but understood — an unrivaled political war chest. Guns in the holster.

Unfortunately, at a time when the various players in the educational community must come together we find ourselves in different camps. On one side we have Dorn lamenting the lack of charters. On another the Governor supporting the legislation while the Business Roundtable is saying it is not enough and not fast enough.

All this is taking place at the same time that Superintendent Dorn is asking for a delay in math and science graduation requirements. As with the legislation to support the RttT grant, his recommendation was met with mixed reviews and disagreement among the education establishment. Once again Dorn and the governor disagree on this proposal, HB 2915. AWSP and WASA support it, the state PTA supports part of it while the State Board of Education and League of Education Voters oppose it.

In addition to delaying the new language there is disagreement on whether the legislation lowers standards. Dorn says no while others suggest it does as described in the article.

“Do kids need more math and science? The answer is 'Yes,'" Dorn told the committee. "This is an alignment issue and a fairness issue. Do we lower our standards? I don't think so."

But one part of the House Bill 2915, sponsored by committee chair Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, does appear to lower the standards for statewide assessments in science and math.

It would give a passing grade to students who have a basic understanding instead of the current requirement, which is for students to be proficient to pass the comprehensive high school math and science tests.

For those familiar with the WASL, the bill would drop the science and math passing level from a score of three to a score of two.

The RttT grant requires collaboration. These two reviews suggest that we have a ways to go in this area.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A message from OSPI . . .

I received this communication from OSPI today where Superintendent Dorn answers the question about what we need to do to be competitive in the RttT grant process. In summary, he shares that the proposed legislation in Senate Bill 6696 gets us to the starting gate, but will not result in a winning proposal. He goes on to share his reasons that follow in the communication below.

What do we need to do to be competitive for Race to the Top?

I’ve been asked many times if Washington has a chance to acquire a federal Race to the Top grant. My best response is that Senate Bill 6696 will move us past the starting line but will not win the race.

There are good points to the bill. An evaluation system that divides teachers into four levels of effectiveness, instead of the current two, will better pinpoint both good teachers and poor teachers. Principals will receive similar four-level evaluations. Teachers will receive tenure after three years, instead of the current two years.

However, OSPI’s evaluation of RTTT criteria, and my discussions with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other federal officials, indicate that we still fall short in a number of areas, such as:

*Our lack of truly independent charter schools. The 500-point scale on which grant applications are scored assigns 40 points for charter schools. Even with some innovative schools, such as the School of the Arts in Tacoma and Aviation High School in Des Moines, we likely will receive no more than 10 points. Other states that are more competitive for RTTT money are allowing the poorest performing 5 percent of schools to become charter schools or innovation zones.

*Our cumbersome process to remove poor teachers. Currently it takes too long to remove a poor teacher in Washington state. RTTT guidelines don’t assign a specific point value to the removal of poor teachers but include many categories for ensuring effective teachers.

*Our need to link data and teacher performance. To comply with RTTT guidelines, the bill needs stronger language that student achievement – how they perform on statewide and other tests, and how they might improve over time – be one of multiple measures of a teacher’s success. A total of 58 points are given in RTTT scoring for this category.

These are initiatives that President Obama wants, and they will make us more competitive for an RTTT grant. My staff and I are prepared to answer any questions you might have.

Randy Dorn State Superintendent of Public Instruction

If this is the thinking of the person closest to the process why are we putting so much energy into passing this legislation? It certainly doesn’t make me want to put much time and energy into this proposal. Do the other members of the coalition that has formed to push this legislation have the same belief? From previous posts you know that I have questioned whether any of these changes will matter for our state, because they don’t go far enough to align with what I read as the intent of the grant. This statement goes a long way towards affirming my thinking. Again, we’ll know much more when we see who wins round 1 and what they did to achieve success.

If we will not be successful, why agree to adopt the Common Core Standards and the assessments that will follow? I must be getting a little too cynical in my old, old age, but this is starting to bother me.

You might also want to view on the OSPI site where Superintendent Dorn is asking the legislature to delay mathematics and science requirements for graduation. He will be testifying Tuesday before the House Education Committee. Do you agree?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Is Federal Money the Answer?

I found this post on EDUCATIONnext very interesting and it makes me wonder about my guess on the number of states that will receive RttT funding. The post speaks to a Wall Street Journal editorial about the grant opportunity and some suggestions for Secretary Duncan.

“Race to the Top represents less that 1% of what the U.S. spends annually on K-12 schooling, so the heaviest reform work still has to get done at the state and local level. We sympathize with those, such as Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry, who say his state can do better without federal meddling. But as long as Race to the Top exists, Mr. Duncan ought to use it to reward only the very best reform states that want the money, perhaps only two or three in the first round.”

I encourage you to read the editorial. It is a short read that raises good points and questions just what can be accomplished through this process given the economic situation in most states. This piece in the New York Times raises additional funding issues from Illinois, but it is important for all states to consider. In a state where one third of funding comes from the state questions are raised about the ability to continue any reforms that may be possible when the RttT funding dries up. How much more difficult or easier will it be in a state where approximately 80% of funding comes from the state?

In case you haven’t been following comments to the blog, here are two with questions and sharing that you may want to read. Loomdog is always a good read.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Round one completed . . .

The first round of RttT grants are in with 40 states and the District of Columbia applying. Washington is one of the remaining states and losers in round one that will apply for round two consideration. Reading this article suggests that some states are asking for more than the estimated amounts based on state population. For example, Florida has requested $1.14 billion while the guideline range for a state of this size is $350 – $700 million. With the total to distribute at about $4 billion, if Florida were to “win” it would take about 25% of the total leaving 75% for the others. Not all states will “win” after going through a very difficult process. Maybe Texas has the right idea by making the decision to not apply.

It will be interesting to follow the results, to learn from how the proposals are rated, and to see how many states will ultimately prevail. I am guessing that in round one there will be no more than 15 funded proposals and probably fewer that that. What will happen in the future when the successful applicants implement their "innovative" plans to turn around public schools? Will there be money available for schools in other states to scale up the successful practices or will it create "elite" states and all the others? It is also interesting to note that President Obama will be requesting an additional $1.35 billion expansion of RttT funding for next year. We might see in a short period of time more innovative practices than we've seen in decades. Will they all result in increased achievement? I don't believe it will. it makes me wonder if this is the best approach and use of this funding. There must be a better way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More detail . . .

Yesterday, we learned more about the Governor’s legislative proposal. As shared in the review from the League of Education Voters, here is a summary of the major components of the plan designed to put in place requirements for a successful RttT grant application.
The plan includes adopting legislation that would do the following:

*Allow the state to intervene and oversee schools where student achievement is persistently low.
*Revise teacher and principal evaluations to focus on instruction and use multiple measures, including student academic performance.
*Extend probationary period for teachers to 3 years, and allow districts to grant continuing contracts after 2 years.
*Allow non-institutions of higher education to offer teacher and principal preparation programs.

*Encourage increased parent involvement and input.
*Provide for adoption of Common Core Standards.
*Encourage local dollars to be used to close the achievement gap and increase STEM instruction. (e.g. TRI pay, changing the I from Incentives to Innovation).

This certainly answers the question about Common Core Standards; they will be a part of our future. We will need to see what the timing will be and wait for the release to assess the impact on the work we are doing and have planned for the future. Another interesting component is the ability to offer teacher preparation programs by organizations other than colleges. This could prove interesting as I haven’t seen any response from the higher education institutions.

Not being an expert on RttT makes it difficult to determine if these changes will result in a successful grant. I will monitor responses from others and share with you what I learn. Of particular interest in the LEV release were the people present at the press conference. They included the OSPI superintendent, the WEA president, the chair of the State Board of Education, the principal association executive director, and the executive director of the Professional Educator Standards Board. Does this mean that these organizations are supportive of all components of this legislative package and will sign off on the grant? If yes, that could be important in the bigger picture.

What are your thoughts about the components of the proposal and potential support by these organizations?

In my previous post about this legislative package I didn’t highlight the poll that was discussed in the article. The poll asked teachers about their thoughts related to changes to better align with RttT criteria. The article included the following.

The random telephone survey of 500 Washington public school teachers found nearly 70 percent support for paying teachers more for growth in student achievement and for filling shortages in math, science and special education. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The survey also found most teachers are in favor of higher standards, turning around the lowest performing schools and adopting national education standards, but uncovered a mix of opinions on extending the probationary period for teachers and allowing principals to grant, deny or extend contracts based on evaluations.

I wonder what those responding would see as the process to determine who would receive increased pay for student achievement. Do any of you have ideas on the way to make these decisions? If you were one of the 500 teachers polled how would you have responded to the questions?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

RttT legislation emerges . . .

Last Thursday at a news conference we learned more about the legislation that will be sought to align the state's practices with the guidelines for the Race to the Top federal grant opportunity. Bill Gates Sr. gave the keynote followed by representatives from the education community. The message included the normal how poor we are doing in preparing young people for success in post high school learning and work. He and others challenged the legislators to be bold in looking at what must be done for a successful grant.

We also learned that the Gates Foundation is also assisting state leaders in preparing the grant though the following words would suggest they are less than enthusiastic with progress to date.

The Gates Foundation is helping Washington with its application, but I want to make one thing clear. We're not doing it because we see a huge push for reforms that live up to the spirit of Race to the Top. We don't. Not yet. We're doing it because this is our home, and we are still hopeful that Washington State can be a leader in educational innovation.

The Governor's plan was also presented on Thursday with legislation to be introduced this week. A longer probationary period for new teachers, placing experienced teachers on probation following several years of unsatisfactory evaluations, and new alternative ways for certification are parts of the proposal. An active and impressive coalition has formed to support this legislation including the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

"We're there. All working together to make it happen," said Senator Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. "I'm very excited. I want to sponsor that bill."

I don't know if these changes will be enough to put the state's application over the top. I am in agreement with Gates on the status of reform in our state compared to RttT intent. looking at what other states are doing, I don't see the same level of commitment to the RttT criteria in the Governor's proposals. A big hole still exists with the absence of support for charters and lack of a takeover provision for failing schools and districts. The grant must also have the support of WEA for any chance of success and they remain on the sidelines until the bills are ready for review. It will be interesting to see how they engage and at what point and to also follow how rapidly the legislation moves through the process.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

School Board recognition month . . .

January is school board recognition month in Washington. We will be celebrating this at the January 26th board meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Central Services Center. Please consider joining us in thanking our board for their commitment to the young people and adults in our school system. We are blessed to have five individuals that come together many times over the course of a year to provide direction and support for our efforts. They care and want the best for all of us.

Very few people are aware of the time and energy it takes to be effective as a board member. For the most part in our system, they work with little fanfare and support. The five individuals that form our board think and act systemically. They do not bring personal agendas to the work, but instead focus and make decisions that are in the best interest of the school system not any single program.

If you can’t make it to the board meeting, please consider sending an e-mail thanking them for their work. You can find their e-mail addresses here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prefer the second cut . . .

The governor shared her second cut at a budget yesterday that attempts to deal with the projected $2.6 billion shortfall. This cut restores some of the education cuts proposed in her first budget released in December. Those that impact us are her recommendation to restore funding for the highly capable program and for levy equalization. This would put the potential impact of cuts for the 2010-11 school year in the $2+ million range for us.

Much discussion, however, will take place as the legislators make decisions about the balance between cuts and raising revenue before we will know for sure what to expect. The governor is including significant revenue from the federal level in her budget that has allowed her to replace some of the proposed cuts in her December proposal. Legislators may or may not feel comfortable doing this. The big issue is doing something in the short term that will not negatively impact both long and short term economic recovery efforts. This issue and the potential for a tax increase will make this a partisan budget setting process.

In the governor’s testimony before the Senate Ways and Means Committee she outlines her proposal. We have also been told that she will continue to support raising the levy lid. This would allow local school districts to collect more revenue from the local community to offset proposed cuts at the state level, something that our board has not endorsed. We also learn of her decision to focus on development of a new teacher evaluation system based on student performance. Sound familiar? Could this be an attempt to position the state for a successful RttT grant? Or, is this a need that was identified using data and best practices for improving the quality of learning and teaching in our schools? Is this the beginning of new legislation focused on RttT criteria? I’ll let you answer these questions for yourselves and share more as the session progresses.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

And, yet another example . . .

I’ll share another example of federal dollars influencing long held positions in states throughout our nation. In New York, Governor Paterson, is proposing legislation that would allow the use of standardized test scores in tenure decisions and that would remove the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. The following two statements from the article I believe capture the sense of urgency and driver behind these decisions.

We all recognize that this in an important issue of resources,” Mr. Smith said, adding that he was confident that the Senate would vote on legislation within the next week.

I think we’re at a time when the State Legislature can’t afford the possibility to overlook $700 million,” Mr. Williams said.

These decisions are not being discussed based on their educational merit. They have taken on this sense of urgency because the RttT application is due on January 19th and the legislation must be approved five days before this deadline. Similar discussions are taking place across the country as legislators attempt to position their states for a successful application. In this Flypaper post, O’Leary compares Ohio legislation with that in many other states that are taking bolder steps than what Ohio has done.

Once again I’ll share that it will be important for us to follow what happens in Olympia this session. I am sure that much discussion has taken place behind doors that will now begin to emerge in proposed legislation. How far will our state go to secure its share of this money, $150 - $250 million?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pull of federal dollars . . .

Over at Education Next, Chester Finn writes about a pot of money separate from RttT that he believes may have even greater influence on education over time. It is a much smaller pot of money than the $400 billion RttT pot that will be awarded to a consortia of states to develop common core assessments aligned with the common core standards currently being developed. This is just one more example of federal dollars being used to establish a direction for education in our country.

In Finn’s words:

The simple fact that dollars from Washington are to be used to develop what will inevitably be termed the “national test” entangles Uncle Sam big time in what has, to date, been a non-federal process of devising “common core standards” for states to adopt on a voluntary basis. (The National Governors Association [NGA] and Council of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO] have spearheaded that process, using private funds.) Such entanglement carries unavoidable problems . . .

This problem is compounded (there has already been noise at congressional hearings and grumps from influential Republicans) by Duncan’s decision to use states’ participation in the “common standards” and “common assessment” processes as criteria for determining which states qualify for RTT dollars. The (obvious) concern is that, while such participation is technically voluntary, Uncle Sam is deploying potent incentives to prod states into joining.

Another example of the power of federal dollars to influence state education programs is the decision in California to allow state officials to close schools, convert them to charters, or replace the principal and half the staff. Parents of children in the lowest performing schools will also be given more opportunity to send their children to other schools. Though the legislation passed and is now before the governor for signature, it was not without dissent.

"This program essentially is extortion, plain and simple," said Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood. "We're about to make permanent changes to our educational system and we don't even have assurances that we'll get ... the money."

Would these changes have been in place if there wasn’t the opportunity for $700 million in federal grants? I think not.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The first of how many legislative proposals . . .

The State Board of Education has sent to the legislature a new process for identifying failing schools and supporting their improvement. In this Seattle Times article we learn that for the first time districts with schools in the lowest performing 5% as measured by reading and math scores and graduation rates will have a required performance audit and mandatory improvement process. Prior to this, school improvement efforts were optional in our state.

While I do not see this having an impact on our system it is interesting in the bigger picture of reform and positioning for a RttT state grant. States that do not have a mandated process for improving low performing schools will not be positioned for a successful federal grant under the identified guidelines. I don’t know if the proposed process, however, goes far enough to meet the intent of the grant because it does not include a state takeover when improvement is not seen. We see this in many other states and I believe it is part of what those in the federal government see as a necessary step to protect students in failing schools.

In the article it suggests that the chances of passage by the legislature are unknown. I believe that it will pass this session, though we might see amendments to the process. It will be one of many proposals before legislators this session to better align state practices with requirements for this grant opportunity. Look for conversations about charters and other options, teacher quality and evaluation, and data tracking systems. The pull of big dollars is to great to ignore.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Core 24 - flexibility and rigor?

I have a few articles that I have saved as potential topics for posting in my blog file, but I want to continue with my last post’s topic. I noticed that I didn’t link to Larry Cuban’s site in that post so here it is.

I would be interested in hearing from you about Core 24, the State Board’s recommendation that was approved in the last legislative session. The plan is to have it in place for the graduation class of 2017 with some early adopters in 2016. If funded it increases the state’s graduation requirement from 20 (includes new math requirement) to 24 credits. This is in line with national trends and recommendations from many sources.

The intended purpose shared in the second slide of this Core 24 presentation is to . . .

. . .declare that a student is ready for success in postsecondary education, gainful employment, and citizenship, and is equipped with the skills to be a lifelong learner…

One of the claims made by those supporting this change is that it increases rigor and better prepares students for future success. Rigor in this context means taking additional classes in language arts, math, science, art, world language, and a chosen career focus. All of this while maintaining flexibility as stated in Slide 5.

Core 24 is a flexible framework designed to equip all students with the skills and knowledge needed to pursue postsecondary education and employment.

I struggle with seeing the flexibility that these changes allow young people. The requirements are more prescriptive than what are currently in place with electives going from 5.5 to 2 credits though that is debatable when considering the 3 credits in the career field. Still, there is less flexibility with these new requirements.

I agree that changes are needed and I am not opposed to rigor or increasing graduation requirements, in fact we need to embed rigor in all classes at all grade levels. But, I don’t necessarily see taking more classes as providing the rigor that students need. Rigor means providing young people with the opportunity to think, to create, to share, and to engage with others in problem solving and reflection. This doesn’t happen simply by requiring additional credits. It happens through initiatives such as our Classroom 10.

Time will tell if the changes to graduation requirements do position students in our state for future success, or result in the outcomes shared in the Cuban post above, or for that matter if the legislature can find the revenue to implement the requirements. If funded, we will see changes to high schools across the state. Staffing levels will change as additional classes will be needed with the increased requirements in certain content areas and other classes students are currently taking may experience reduced enrollment. Seniors will no longer have the flexibility they currently have for reduced schedules in their final year and all will take a math class as a senior. These are significant changes to any high school’s culture.

While all of this plays out we will continue to focus on what our system believes is the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for post high school learning and work found in our Outcomes and Indicators, thinking skills, and Habits of Mind. These, acquired through the study of essential content will position young people for success and will provide them with options following graduation from Tahoma High School.

What are your thoughts on Core 24 and Classroom 10