Thursday, February 25, 2010

Common core standards, common sense . . .

I will be quiet with today’s post and share with you these words from Chester Finn over at Flypaper. He does a better job than I can of bringing some common sense to the Common Core Standards movement.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More potential ESEA reform . . .

Another part of the President’s budget proposal relating to ESEA is a move to make more of the money be driven by competition as opposed to the formula driven model embedded in the current plan. An example would be a shift of $500 million from Title II funding currently provided to states based on a formula to a competitive grant for new ways to recruit, train, compensate and evaluate teachers and principals. We use our share of the Title II money to staff two teaching positions to reduce class size and a small amount for supporting staff development. Though not a large dollar amount, it is an important source of revenue.

Once again states, locals, and collaborations will need to focus on grant writing as a priority, something that we have not done to date. I am again concerned that revenue will flow to those that have the best grant writers, a relationship with someone that can open doors, and not with those systems worthy of support because of the work they are doing and commitments they are making to reform.

I also continue to be concerned that the lure for and need of federal dollars will limit the scope of change efforts to those currently driving RttT and other federal proposals. They say they want innovation, but only within the parameters that they have identified for change; supporting teacher and principal quality, alternate routes to certification, increases in charter school numbers, using student achievement data in teacher and principal evaluations, intervening in struggling schools, and developing comprehensive statewide data systems.

I also agree with Mr. Hirsch from the New Teacher Center when he says,

“How do we take these ideas and move them from federal government to state government, to districts and schools, to teachers and into practice?” he said. “If we look at it as a game of ‘telephone,’ there are a lot of places where the messages can get miscommunicated.”

At this stage we can only hope that what emerges in ESEA reauthorization, if anything, will be supportive of our work.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Is AYP a thing of the past?

The President’s budget proposal provides some insight into revisions to ESEA being discussed with lawmakers. This Education Week article provides information though there are many more unanswered questions. One of the main changes would be replacing the current AYP measurement with a new metric focused on career and college readiness. Exactly what this means and how it would be measured is not yet known, but moving from the current focus would be a welcome change.

Below is a summary from the article.

Changing Measurements
In seeking to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Obama administration is trying to significantly revamp the accountability system at the heart of the law’s current version, the 8-year-old No Child Left Behind Act.

Set college- and career-ready standards.•
Measure student growth over time.•
Establish a definition of “teacher effectiveness” that relies heavily on student learning.•
Track high school graduation and college-enrollment rates.

STILL UNANSWERED• Would the new system retain the current 2014 deadline for bringing all students to proficiency?•
How are “college- and career-ready” standards defined?•
How often would students be tested, using what assessment, and in what subjects?•
Would schools that fail to meet the new goals still be subject to a timetable of penalties?

We will watch this develop as it obviously has a significant influence over what we and all school systems must do to qualify for federal funding. We’ll see what emerges once both houses of Congress weigh in and all the interest groups have an opportunity to lobby for or against specific provisions. If we didn’t need the federal funding, we would have much more flexibility in how we continue our journey.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is RttT Dead Before Mailing?

I’m back from Chicago with more information on federal grant opportunities and the potential to partner with SoL on a grant to meet some of our needs to support organizational learning through teacher and administrator leadership training, a focus on system thinking in our work, and increased capacity to develop our sustainability curriculum. I am energized by this opportunity and eager to hear what Peter and others learn in their meeting next week with Education Department officials.

In reviewing articles and sites that I place in a folder for potential blog posts I see one from last week on the state’s RttT grant process in the Seattle PI. I have posted on this many times, but this article does a god job of capturing the thinking of those closest to the process and the significant differences in opinion as on the potential for success.

On the one hand we have Superintendent Dorn saying:

“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 (current efforts) will move us past the starting line but will not win the race," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said recently.

On the other we have Governor Gregoire saying in response to critics who say the reforms do not go far enough.

“You still have to pass reforms that actually can be submitted and perform," said Gregoire spokesman Viet Shelton. "It would be presumptuous and unrealistic to pass reform that wouldn't fit and couldn't be implementable. You need teachers and principals and parents to go along with them."

The consensus of opinion in the article is that the reforms in SB 6696 do not go far enough to position the state for a successful grant. It mentions the usual suspects in the way of change; democratic majorities who rely on and support WEA. Some interesting comments are included.

"These are the only new dollars coming into the education system and we're saying we aren't interested in getting them?" said Steve Mullin, head of the Washington Roundtable, a group representing major businesses in the state.

“The WEA has always, of course, been charged with and done a great job of protecting it's members, said Grimm, who use to chair the House Ways and Means Committee. "Generally they have been able to thwart, or impeded, or limit education reform proposals over the years based on how those proposals would affect active WEA members."

I believe that we will not get a grant because of no charter schools and lack f a plan that includes the use of student achievement data in teacher and administrator evaluations. Charters have been turned down three times by voters in our state and though WEA was in opposition I think it unfair that they would be blamed for no charters. We need to stop pointing fingers and figure out what is important as a state because the federal guidelines for this grant may become the guidelines for revision of ESEA and the dollars attached to that revenue source. If this revenue becomes competitive and we are not positioned for success, not having access to those dollars would have a negative impact on every district in the state.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Working with SMART people . . .

The SoL Education Partnership is a loosely coupled organization focused on organizational learning, sustainability, youth engagement, and systems thinking. The key players include Peter Senge from MIT and the Society for Organizational Learning, the Cloud Institute, and the Creative Learning Center. The people representing these organizations are all very bright and committed to this work. They volunteer their time and find grants to support our work. They have also been working directly with Martha Kanter the number two person in the education department. They have met twice and will be in D.C. at the end of this month to continue the conversations around grants and department goals. We are one of eight school and community organizations currently part of this work.

I continue to learn that we have much to offer with the story of our journey and the capacity that we ave developed in our system. Unfortunately, I also learned today that we will struggle to meet the i3 grant requirement of a 20% match unless the department removes that requirement before the request for proposals. We will continue our planning and hope that they do just that. The partnership is also exploring the potential for a SoL Institute to support members work around systems thinking and dynamics, education for sustainability, and school community partnerships. There are a number of grants that could potentially support this work.

I was impressed today with a presentation by Tracy from the Waters Foundation, an organization supporting systems thinking in schools. They have experienced success in Arizona and are beginning to branch out into other parts of the country and internationally with a program in India. They have many resources on their site and have collected data over time that supports learning through use of system thinking tools. Staff in both of our 10th grade integrated programs are using these tools in their sustainability work. In Water's supported schools they start in kindergarten.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Partnerships on many levels . . .

I wonder what it would be like if the United States was partnered with China and/or Denmark on an international renewable energy center as opposed to the national one between China and Denmark. I would assume that the world would see more renewable energy options in a shorter period of time than we will see emerge under the given circumstances. As this review of wind energy suggests a USA/China partnership could be impressive. What would it take for this to occur? I don't believe that we can point to any one thing that is in the way or that will create the necessary changes for this to occur. We found out how hard this is during the recent Copenhagen Conference. Perhaps today's youth will be able to overcome the obstacles that are keeping this from happening.

I'm currently in Chicago for meetings tomorrow and Tuesday with members of the SoL Education Partnership to review the potential for partnering on one of the federal education grant options. I am excited to be a part of this opportunity made possible through SoL's partnering with the private sector and foundations. I believe that our system has much to offer and I am eager to learn what they have found out in two meetings with assistant secretaries in the federal education department. I will share more after tomorrow's meetings.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More on China and renewable energy . . .

A short follow-up to my post on renewable energy work in China includes this amendment to their energy law that requires electricity grid companies to buy all the power produced by renewable energy generators. This would include power generated by wind, solar, hydropower, biomass, geothermal, and ocean energy. This is, in essence, a significant subsidy to support these new renewable energy industries and an example of the government's understanding of the need to be a leader in this area for future economic position in the world.

This is one of the few areas where their form of government can be an advantage. They can take quick and decisive action that will be followed even when, as in this case, the grid companies may not want to be forced to buy this power. This change is happening in a country where two thirds of the power is generated by coal giving them the distinction of being the world’s number one greenhouse gas emitter.

The amendment isn’t the only energy news as the Chinese have recently announced that they will team with Denmark to build a national renewable energy center.

"The project is set to combine the advantages of the two countries and promote renewable energy development fast and well in China," said Danish Minister of Climate Change and Energy Lykke Friis.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is also pushing companies to reduce operating costs through development of renewable energy sources. These changes I believe are not about global warming and the need to cut carbon emissions, though that is something they have committed to do. I believe that it is about the future, about maintaining economic growth, and understanding that power in the future will be with those countries that are no longer dependent on fossil fuels for energy. This is happening in China while in our country we read about both sides in the climate debate using the recent eastern snow storms to support their position.

Updated levy results improve . . .

With today’s levy update, I am more comfortable that both measures should pass. The ballots returned after 8:00 pm Tuesday for the operations levy have been about 64% yes and for the technology levy about 62% yes. If these trends continue the measures will pass.

Though they are passing, it is a bittersweet victory. Had the law not changed to allow passage at 50% both would fail. It is also difficult to see the percent of yes votes given to almost all other districts exceeding ours. We have much to ponder as we seek additional ways to engage the community in understanding and supporting our efforts to prepare young people for success in post high school learning and work.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Initial levy results too close for celebration . . .

The first count for the levies is complete and can be found here. I was hoping to see a yes vote of at least 60% so the 53.89% for the operations levy and the 51.64% for the technology levy are disturbing. Yes, if the percentages hold they will pass the 50% requirement.

I am concerned because historically the late votes have resulted in a loss of yes vote percentage as the absentees are counted. This is, however, our first total vote by mail so we have no trend data to make predictions nor do we know how many total ballots were returned. Hopefully, we should know sometime this week as the late votes begin to be counted.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The race for market share . . .

Though it is hard to find the time, I try to keep up with what’s happening in the world related to green technology and the movement to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. Regardless of one’s opinion on global warming, I believe that all of us should be focused on the need to find alternatives to fossil fuels for our nation’s security and economic health.

Related to this, I want to share this post from Tom Peters where he writes about a New York Times article about wind turbines and other renewable energy projects in China. I have shared previously about the changes taking place in China including their rapid expansion into green technologies. This growth is creating concerns:

These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.

The president shared his concerns with these words in his state of the union address.

. . . in his State of the Union speech last week, sounded an alarm that the United States was falling behind other countries, especially China, on energy. “I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders — and I know you don’t either,” he told Congress.

If this is true we better start making changes with laser focus at the federal level on establishing incentives for American entrepreneurs to enter this market. We need to unleash our creativity and take advantage of our technological expertise to discover new renewable sources of energy and bring them up to scale. This won’t happen if the incentives are not present.

You can read more about China’s aggressive moves in this area at this post in Climate Progress.

In China, the government poured an estimated $440 billion into clean energy last year. It is investing heavily in renewable energy and nuclear power. It also is pursuing efforts to make extraction of its vast coal reserves cleaner. Already home to one-third of the globe’s solar-energy manufacturing capacity and 400 solar-energy companies, China is expected to surpass Spain this year as the No. 3 country in terms of wind power installations, behind Germany and the United States….

How we, as a nation, respond now will have significant influence on our future position in the world.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

More NEWS news . . .

Mary Jane, Bruce and I spent the day in Olympia listening to legislators and others update us on the session and the potential impacts on public schools. Yes, I missed much of the Super Bowl getting home just in time to see the Saints interception return for a touchdown with about three minutes left. Congratulations Saints!

Before leaving this morning I learned at the League of Education Voters Blog that the governor was considering her options in light of the decision in the NEWS lawsuit. In the same post they shared that 31 members of the state house have sent her a letter urging her and the attorney general not to appeal the decision. This is a big deal as we heard today from Foster Pepper PLLC lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Thomas Ahearne, that an appeal would not be heard for at least eighteen months. Even with this move, he expects an appeal to be filed to delay the need for the legislature and governor to comply with the judge’s ruling.

Ahearne was informative and entertaining as he shared how they used the documents prepared by the state to prove the funding inadequacies. In all, there were 1652 exhibits presented at trial. We are learning that the ruling is very positive as the judge defined what basic education is and is not and further clarified what the words paramount, ample, and education in the state constitution mean. You can find a link to the judge’s ruling here.

The most important message that we heard today was very simple. Last month the legislators took an oath to uphold the laws and constitution of the State of Washington. Last Thursday they learned that the way they fund public education in our state is unconstitutional. Will they honor this oath by making good faith efforts to increase state funding for schools such as that found in HB 2776? Or, will they ignore the judge’s decision and continue to cut funding as presented in the governor’s proposed budget?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A win for ALL kids . . .

We learned today that the state has lost the NEWS funding lawsuit. NEWS stands for Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, a coalition of over seventy organizations that formed to challenge the state’s public school funding formulas. At the request of TEA our district became one of those joining in this effort. This is a day to celebrate as the message in this ruling to the governor and legislature is that the underfunding of the state’s public schools is a violation of Article lX, section 1 of our state constitution.

On the OSPI site, Superintendent Dorn shared his agreement with the ruling and the need for the legislature to step forward and make it happen.

Now that Judge Erlick’s decision has been returned, we, as a state, need to fully fund basic education. For more than 30 years we’ve been heading down this road, and the time for action is now. Only when the Legislature acts affirmatively and addresses this issue can our students obtain the education we are morally and legally obligated to provide.

I don’t envy any of the legislators given the enormity of the budget gap that must be met while now having to stare this ruling in the face as they contemplate making additional cuts to “non-basic” education such as I-728 and the enhanced K-4 funding that all districts have used to lower class size. With the likelihood of additional federal stimulus money being bogged down in the health care fight, I don’t see how they can make all this work in Olympia without additional revenue. The $2.6 billion shortfall will either require significant changes to state government or some combination of increasing revenue and additional cuts. I don’t believe that there are the votes to make significant changes so we will more than likely see the combination of taxes and cuts, another short term solution.

It will be interesting to see if the state chooses to appeal Judge Erlick’s ruling and argue that the funding formulas meet the constitutional requirement that says “it is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders”. We know that we are far from this even with about 20% of our revenue coming from our local community through the levy.

Another important component of the ruling by the judge is the definition of “basic" education that would no longer allow the legislature to change what it funds each session by the revenue available. It would instead need to focus on what young people need to know and be able to do to experience success in post high school learning and work.

In addition to reconfirming that the State Constitution means exactly what it says – and declaring the State in violation of that standard – the court also established that “basic education” is not whatever funding formula lawmakers might choose to adopt during each legislative session, but the “basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this State’s democracy.”

“This definition will help ensure that school funding is focused on student achievement, not arbitrary calculations based on whatever the Legislature feels like spending on K-12 education from year to year,” said Blair, who is superintendent of the Chimacum School District on the Olympic Peninsula.

Last year with passage of HB 2261, the legislature acknowledged that changes are necessary, but gave themselves a number of years (2018) to implement the changes identified in the legislation. The judge in the ruling said that funding 2261 in the future is not an answer to fixing a legal violation that is taking place today. It looks like the timeline may need to change given this ruling. Is an appeal on the horizon?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reflection follows comment . . .

If you follow he comments to this blog you will see some from LoomDog. In response to yesterday’s post Ken shares this thought.

As for the bulk of this post I fully understand the necessity to teach life skills, regardless of one's content area and yet I am consistently amazed at the dichotomy I encounter when kids are asked about their desires. I begin every new Marine Science class by asking every student (anonymously), "what do you want to learn about in this class?" I've yet to get a single response along the lines of "I want to learn how to manage my impulsivity better" or "I sure hope I get a chance to be a Quality Producer" or even "This class better be relevant!" In fact, EVERY student asks (begs!) for a parched person staggering through a desert looking for water. "I want to learn about sharks, whales, tides, and the scientific names of sea life, what lives in trenches and on and on." Will learning these things help these kids enter an NPR blue ball? Will they retain this knowledge on into their future? I highly doubt it but it's still reassuring to know that, at the very least, curiosity is alive and well...validating the importance of content.

I know that many share this same experience that contributes to the need to have a balance of process and product in our curriculum. All of us agree that there is a body of content that must be learned in each of the disciplines. What that is becomes the point of departure for numerous debates across our country and in our school systems. The Common Core initiative is attempting to make that mute by identifying what that content will be in math and language arts across the country. Though I have concerns with this process, it would be nice to have this debate behind us and be that much closer to a focus on the instructional focus of Classroom 10.

The important learning for me is that to acquire the knowledge and skills of Classroom 10 there must be content and we need these learning opportunities in all disciplines. How we support students in understanding the need for process/content balance and away from the need to acquire more factual information about a topic is a key question that we must answer. How do we move students away from the grade as the outcome to a focus on the learning when so much of their future is influenced by GPA? How do we, in all content areas, create relevant group learning opportunities that provide for content acquisition while supporting the collaborative problem solving skills industry tells us are necessary for success? There are many questions such as these in our future that provide fuel for rich conversations and wonderful opportunities for learning and growth as we continue our Classroom 10 journey.