Monday, March 29, 2010

Winners announced . . .

Race to the Top round one winners were announced today. Delaware will receive about $100 million and Tennessee about $500 million. In both cases it was more money than the Education Department had originally indicated would be available to these states, about $25 million more for Delaware and about $250 million more for Tennessee. This is both good and bad. Good because it leaves about $3.4 billion left for round two and bad because the bar for a successful grant is obviously very high. There were sixteen finalists and only these two received funding.

Here is the Education Department’s announcement with links to scores and here are two articles providing information, one in the Washington Post and a second in Education Week. The buzz seems to be about the correlation between high ranking and union support. Over at Flypaper, Andy Smarick has some thoughts about this and about how his ratings differed from the education departments.

Now, here’s the telling point. States that fared better with ED had union support levels of 100%, 100%, 100%, 100%, 93%, and 31% (Illinois). South Carolina didn’t have a union rating because it is right-to-work, but 95% of its districts signed on.

States that fared worse with ED had union support levels of 0%, 4%, 8%, 41%, 61%, 78%, 99%, and 100%.

The message for our state and all those other non-winners is to get busy on ensuring union support for their applications due on June 1st. We have been told that our state’s grant should be available for review sometime in early April. Even if all local associations sign on, however, I don’t believe that we will be among the winners in round two. There are too many other issues surrounding charters, use of data, and intervening in struggling schools to overcome when compared to where other states are at.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another appeal, another loss . . .

The state decided to appeal the finding last month that they are failing to meet the paramount duty to fund public education. See this NEWS summary of the court’s findings. This was done despite a letter from legislators urging the Governor and Attorney General not to appeal.

In this Seattle Times article we are given the basis of the appeal.

Guthrie said the appeal is based on three points: the Superior Court decision does not seem consistent with the legal framework previously set forth by the state Supreme Court in other school funding cases; the decision raises questions about what it would take to achieve compliance and, as the Legislature continues toward reform, there could be a threat of additional lawsuits.

The Governor is quoted as agreeing with the decision to appeal.

"I am pleased we will have direction from the state's highest court as we work to ensure a world-class education for our children," she said in a statement.
It would appear that OSPI is also in agreement.

"While we are in agreement with the general thesis of the ruling that the state is not amply funding schools, we don't have a problem with the appeal because some of the language needs clarification," spokesman Nathan Olson said.

The legislature and Governor are committed to reforming how the state finances public schools by 2018. In the meantime, they continue to cut revenue this session and transfer the burden to the local level by passing legislation to increase the local levy lid. These moves to me are not in alignment with the words used by Judge Erlick when he urged the Legislature to proceed with real and measurable progress to establish the cost of basic education and find a stable way to pay for it.

They have made strides with measuring the cost with the passage of HB 2261 and HB 2776. On the stable funding portion, however, they are going in the wrong direction. The appeal will ensure that nothing needs to be done for at least a year and may even let the legislature get through next year’s session before a verdict is given. It is a tactic that will more than likely result in another loss by the state, thousands of dollars in legal fees, and another year with revenue loss for public schools.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Death of the desk top . . .

One of the blogs I follow is The Committed Sardine written by Ian Jukes. Ian was our August keynote speaker a few years ago when he shared his thinking on the future of education, new discoveries about how millennials learn, and the influence of technology on teaching and learning.

In this post he shares an article where Google staff are suggesting the end of the desk top is near. According to Google CEO Schmidt:

Our programmers are working on products from a 'Mobile First' perspective. That is in fact a major change. Every recent product announcement we have made - and of course we have a desktop version - is being made from the point of view of it being used on a high-performance mobile phone on all the browsers that are available. Now the programmers want to work on those apps for mobile that you can't get on a desktop - applications that are personal and location-aware.

In this article Europe Director Herlihy gives the desk top three years.

In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant. In Japan, most research is done today on smart phones, not PCs,” he said.

So, how did you vote on the Quick Poll? I agree more with PC World than Google. Of course, remember my score on the millennial quiz was 25 so one would expect me to cling to old technology like a desk top. The funny thing for me is that I don't use a desk top any longer at home or at work. I wonder if the Google folks are lumping desk tops with lap tops and net books.

PC World argues that the 'conventional PC' will 'have a longer, healthier life than Google anticipates. [...] The smartphone is great for many things, but it's no desktop-replacement device, either in the home or office.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A great evening of music at . . .

Last Friday evening I attended the annual faculty music conference, an event whose purpose is to raise money for scholarships for music students and to honor Mary Lou Harting, former Rock Creek music teacher. Please excuse the quality of the pictures. I took them from my favorite spot, the back of the theater, with my cell phone. Maybe that will increase my millennial score.

It was an evening of great fun and wonderful music. Our music teachers are talented musicians and they shared with us their love of music and showmanship. The crowd was small, about 150, but we were loud and boisterous in showing our appreciation for their efforts and talent.

I don’t think you can find a better show for the requested donation of $5. It would be worth your time to consider this event and place the date on your calendar for next year. I would love to see us fill the theater to honor the memory of Mary Lou, to raise money for scholarships, and to rock out with our music teachers.

If you need more incentive, Elvis (thanks Steve) was in the house. Will he be back next year? You won’t know if you don’t attend. See you there.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Worth recognizing . . .

In case you missed last week’s announcement, three of our schools, Tahoma Middle School, Rock Creek Elementary, and Glacier Park Elementary, were recognized for their efforts. There were only 174 schools achieving this recognition statewide, so this is quite an accomplishment for our system. This is the second time that Glacier Park has received this recognition under two different standards. Congratulations to all three schools!

In addition, Cedar River was notified that using the new state metrics, they are the number one middle school in the state for reducing the achievement gap. At this time there is no formal award for this achievement, but it is one we are particularly proud of as we have not been known as a system needing to focus on diversity. Great job Cedar River teachers and staff!

This recognition, I believe, validates the work that we are doing in our school system. It is the result not only of the work being done in these schools, but across our school system. Though not always understood or appreciated in our system, the Teaching and Learning Department is simply the best. In the absence of an aligned curriculum and the support they provide this recognition would not be possible. Of course, the curriculum and support would not matter without teachers creating quality learning environments and administrators and support staff supporting them in this work. And, we also know that administrators and teachers from all of our schools are working collaboratively to support each other as we continue our learning journey.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mixed response to the new blueprint . . .

Last week the Education department released the blueprint for revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA); the replacement for NCLB. Secretary Duncan identified three goals for the revision.

· Setting a high bar for students and schools.
· Rewarding excellence and success.
· Maintaining local control and flexibility.

Reports that I read are generally favorable for the following reasons.
· The 2014 date for all students being at standard in reading and math is replaced with all students being prepared for career and college success by 2020.
· AYP would disappear and be replaced by a growth model for individual students instead of the multiple cohorts currently used to measure progress.
· The flexibility for states to determine how to intervene and support struggling schools instead of the tiered system currently in place. This is true for all but the lowest 5% that would continue to select one of the four intervention models mandated at the federal level to receive funding.
· The mandatory school choice and supplemental educational services options are removed which some applaud and others view as a loss of choice for parents and students.

The guidelines are not viewed by all as favorable with some seeing it as placing the burden on teachers as evidenced by these words in Education Week.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, said that judging from her initial discussions with department officials, it appears the blueprint places “100 percent of responsibility on teachers for school success and gives them zero percent authority.”

Jay Mathews at the Washington Post sees a flaw in using the achievement gap to measure progress.

Also, I see a problem in the president using the achievement gap as a measure of schools in his suggested revisions. This could mean that a wonderfully diverse school like T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, a recent subject on this blog, would be motivated to ignore its best students, who want to get even better, and focus all its money and time on those at the bottom of the achievement scale so they can narrow the gap. That is not a good idea, and I hope the president will get it out of his proposal.

Mike Petrilli over at Flypaper calls it a proposal largely faithful to reform realism meaning it is possible to do and could have positive impact. It will be good for schools to get out from under the “failing school” label and focus on initiatives to increase achievement without fear of labels. Once again this is true for all but the lowest 5% of schools in each state.

I am still concerned that districts like ours who are doing well will be left out of the windfall of revenue that will go to rewarding high performing schools and supporting struggling schools. I don’t know what the rewards will be for high performing schools or how they will be identified and I don’t believe that we will have schools in the bottom 5%. Given this, however, I like many of the changes and believe that they do provide more flexibility at the state level. On the other hand, we still have the federal government controlling the distribution of much needed revenue with parameters such as adopting Common Core Standards necessary to qualify to even compete for the funds. There must be a better way.

Here is an interesting exchange between Duncan and our own Senator Murray concerned with funding during the Secretary’s presentation to a Senate panel. This same article gives some sense of the mixed response the blueprint is receiving, but still more positives than negatives.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she had "serious concerns" about a proposal to shift emphasis toward competitive grants for teacher quality programs. She said formulas were the best way to ensure money is spread evenly, and she criticized the notion that there would winners and losers for important federal aid programs.

Duncan replied: "Honestly, what we don't want to do is fund the status quo."

See this Education Week article for a more recent response from representatives of education organizations and the national teacher unions to the blueprint.

A response for student consideration . . .

It was fun to read the comments from those of you that tried the millennial survey. I also enjoyed reading Crystal’s comments to the post on students responding to teachers who they perceive demonstrate a concern for them. They in turn say that these are the teachers that they work hard for and want to be in their classrooms. I will be passing along Crystal’s comments to the students and would like to include others. You don’t need to be a high school teacher to have an opinion on this topic. Please consider sharing your thoughts and contribute to what may become an important conversation between students and teachers.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Legislative spotlight on schools . . .

The legislative session is not over as the legislators grapple with bringing closure to the budget issue by trying to reach agreement on a package of cuts and taxes. But, they did pass significant legislation before closing last week. SB 6696 was passed to support the state’s RttT bid. This bill will:

*Revise teacher and principal evaluation processes.
*Create additional opportunities for teacher certification.
*Add another year for a total of three probationary years.
*Allow the state to intervene in failing schools.

In an Education Week article Representative Sullivan shared his thoughts about the legislation boosting our state’s chances. I believe that it provides us with a better platform to write the grant, but still lags behind what many states have done to prepare for this opportunity.

"At the current time, we have very little chance of getting a grant from the Race to the Top program," said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. "But hopefully, with these changes to our system, we will be in a much better position to compete with other states."

The second piece of important legislation is HB 2776 that puts in place recommendations from the Quality Education Council’s work to implement last year’s education reform bill HB 2261. This is a very positive step to demonstrate a commitment to change that will:

*Begin a new way to fund schools using a prototype school model .
*Increase the state’s funding of maintenance and operation’s costs formerly called NERC’s.
*Lower class size in grades K-3.
*Implement an improved funding formula for transportation expenditures.

They accomplished much in a short period of time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Students work for teachers that . . .

Recently, the school board met with sixteen high school students to share pizza and conversation. It was the most diverse group the board has met with, resulting in an enjoyable and energizing conversation. All of the students engaged in the conversation around a variety of topics with one being what teachers do that makes students feel that they care. They look forward to being in these classrooms and work hard for those teachers. Some of the responses are identified below.

They also would like to hear from teachers what students do that make teachers feel that the students want to learn and that energizes them. What would that be? I will share your comments with the students to see where this might go.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The gloves are on . . .

The gloves are on in Olympia as the governor and legislators try to bring closure to this session. Passing the RttT legislation is seen by the governor as a must before she will allow the session to close. The problem identified in this Seattle Times article is that the house and senate have different ideas on what must be accomplished in the legislation. The senate wants to act only on the governor’s RttT proposal while the house has amended it (E2SSB 6696) to include support for continuing implementation of last year’s HB 2261 and fully funding schools. This is a very wide gap as evidenced by these words.

From the governor: "The one thing I do know we need to do before anyone goes home is reforms in the K-12 system," Gregoire said. "We're going to have to make that happen, not only for Race to the Top, but even more importantly to me, for the success of the children."

From a representative: On the House's efforts to combine the two issues — by amending the Race to the Top bill — Gregoire said she didn't want anything to stand in the way of her bill.
Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the two education bills must be connected.
"Either both have to pass, or neither will pass," he said Tuesday.

From a senator: Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, said she strongly supports both bills, but believes they should be voted on separately.
The education finance bill is tied up in negotiations over the budget, but that shouldn't stop the House from approving the Race to the Top bill minus the amendment the Senate will not approve, McAuliffe said.

"They are two distinctly different bills, and they each need to stand on their own merit," she said.

Any predictions on how these differences will be resolved?

Common core standards released . . .

The Common Core Standards were released today. This Education Week article captures some of the early review and as expected they are very mixed. The following excerpt from the article captures the difference of opinion on just one aspect of the standards that are of importance to us; the acquisition of key skills compared to content knowledge.

The completion of the public draft sparked a repeat of earlier criticism from some quarters that the common standards demand skills such as critical thinking without the underlying subject-matter knowledge required to learn those skills.

Jim Stergios, the executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based research and advocacy group, said the common standards are “skills-based standards without any real content to speak of.” He said he is worried that Massachusetts’ own standards will be “dumbed down” if the state adopts the common standards.

But Richard Long, the director of government relations for the International Reading Association, commended the draft for its potential to serve as a “cornerstone” of improvement in U.S. education. Too much focus on subject-matter knowledge in standards, he said, risks turning schooling into a mechanical use of facts, rather than a process of learning how to apply key skills to varying sets of facts.

The released standards can be found here with an opportunity for public comment here. According to the article, the organization wants to hear from teachers on if they think the standards are teachable, if the grade-by-grade progression of skills makes sense, and any ideas they may have on curriculum materials and assessments that could be developed that reflect the standards.

This Seattle Times article gives some examples of the standards at various grade levels and different opinions on their value.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents major urban systems, called the proposal crucial for improving public education. "It's very clear to us that when the standards are high, it elevates the performance of kids and schools," he said. "Where they are low, it appears to serve as a drag on your ability to get faster gains."
The problem with this statement is that representatives from some states see these standards, especially in math, as not being as strong as current state standards.

Karen Klinzing, who oversees standards development in Minnesota as the assistant education commissioner, said the common standards for English/language arts are at least as rigorous as Minnesota’s own highly regarded standards, but those for math “are not there yet.”

The controversy surrounding the standards resulted in the delayed release and will not go away. The pressure by the federal government to link revenue to adopting them will be difficult for states to ignore making it highly likely that for the first time we will have a set of standards developed at the national level by organizations not directly linked to a content area. It will be interesting to see how long it will take publishers and assessment developers to respond with curriculum materials and common core assessments will not be next on the horizon. We will now wait for our state to analyze and share with us the alignment of these standards with our essential learnings.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Shift happens updated . . .

Found this September, 2009 copy of Shift Happens over at hey jude.

Last Thursday the school board members and I had a chance for a discussion with sixteen high school students and an earlier version emerged as one of the topics of conversion. Some of the students shared their concern that when it was shown in classrooms they didn’t like the tone, what they perceived as a scare video, and a competition with India and China. The conversation demonstrated the need for the video, if used with students, to be introduced as a tool for understanding the scope and fast paced changes taking place in the world today. It provides for a nice opportunity for conversation about why the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of our Classroom 10 focus are so critical for future success.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

RttT finalists announced . . .

Big surprise, there are 16 round 1 finalists in the RttT competition, about 10 to 12 more than most experts were predicting. There is a lot of speculation out there and I am just now starting to read my RSS feeds. This one about the Gates connection is interesting and also gives links to other sites. Twelve of the fifteen original states that received $250,000 planning grants to prepare their applications are finalists.

The finalists are: Colorado, Florida, District of Columbia, Georgia, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee. No western states made the first cut to send a team to Washington D.C. to pitch their plan.

I'll share more as I get a chance to read and understand how many of these states have a good chance, if anyone even knows for sure. The political pressure with this competition must be growing.

Any more risk takers . . .

I had four people comment that they tried the millenial survey. Check them out here. Thanks for sharing your results, it was fun to see. It would also be fun to hear from others, especially from the younger and older end of our work force. Give it a try; it will only take a couple of minutes then share it with the rest of us. It can’t be any “worse” than mine or wait; I guess Scott’s might be open to a few more questions since I am at least in the range for my age.

Gates and Scholastic listen to teachers . . .

A survey of over 40,000 teaches is making headlines. The survey was conducted by the Gates Foundation and Scholastic Education and can be found here. The survey asked teachers about the state of American education, about the challenges facing students, and about the variety of supports and tools that teachers need to tackle those challenges. In the opening letter the sponsors cite five ways that teachers believe will address the challenges facing today’s schools and ensure that all students learn at high levels.

1. Establish Clear Standards, Common Across States
2. Use Multiple Measures to Evaluate Student Performance
3. Innovate to Reach Today’s Students
4. Accurately Measure Teacher Performance and Provide Non-Monetary Rewards
5. Bridge School and Home to Raise Student Achievement

The results are informative and the information is disaggregated in a variety of ways with state results beginning on page 79 of the report. This Seattle Times article summarizes some of the findings including differences between Washington and the average of all states. A second review can be found at the Washington Post where Foundation director Vicki Phillips shared some of the rational for the survey.

"No doubt we wanted to put some of the big agenda items out there that are under discussion, some of which we care deeply about," said Vicki L. Phillips, a foundation official who oversees grants in elementary and secondary education. Among the foundation's priorities, she said, are common standards, stronger data systems and compensation linked to performance. Last year the foundation announced it is investing $290 million on experiments in tenure, evaluation, compensation, training and mentoring -- all meant to promote effective teaching in Pittsburgh, Memphis, Los Angeles and Tampa. Teachers' unions have collaborated with local administrators and the foundation on the initiative.

It is interesting to note that the answer to the question about what’s most important in keeping good teachers, the number one choice nationally was supportive leadership or good principals followed by higher salaries. In our state they were reversed with higher salaries first. Any ideas on why that might be the case?

We learn from the responses that only 22% believe that principal evaluations are an accurate measure of their work. Only 28% felt performance pay would have a strong impact and 30% felt it would have no impact. This is important information as we seek better ways to support teachers and influence achievement for all students. It is interesting to note that some findings support the Foundation’s priorities while others do not and that they will not be changing their priorities because of the survey results.

The survey findings won't cause the foundation to make major changes, Phillips said, but they do provide food for thought about how it tries to help improve the quality of teaching. That's been a focus of the foundation's education giving since Phillips arrived several years ago.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How millenial are you?

If you are older like me and want to find out how “millennial” you are, here is a simple survey of 14 questions from the Pew Research Center. I found this survey at Free Technology for Teachers, a great resource that I have shared before.

Well, I’d like to say I’m pretty close to being like a millennial, but my score would suggest I am just where my age puts me, a baby boomer. It must be the lack of a tattoo, or reading the newspaper, or . . . Try it out; it only takes a couple minutes.

Oh, my score was 25 and I thought I had adopted much of what millenials do. How did you do? Does your score match your chronological age?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Billions to round 1 winners . . .

The first round of RttT finalists could be announced this week. Eduflack shares an analysis and links to other reviews with educated guesses from those that have read the proposals. Thomas Carroll’s assessment is mentioned in many of the blogs I read as one to be trusted. He sees three states as very competitive, four as competitive, and thirty-three likely losers in round 1.

Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee clearly deserve a Round One victory. A strong case can be made as well for Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, and perhaps Michigan. In total, awards to these seven states would allocate almost half of the $4 billion in Race to the Top dollars, leaving about $2 billion unspent—giving states like New York and California another chance to adopt reforms in time for the June 1 second-round deadline. These states would do well to learn from the Round One winners.

If he is correct and these seven states receive funding, it won’t leave much for others if California and/or New York and other large states take additional legislative action before the next round. In Washington, a bill is moving through both houses containing a package of reforms that do not match the scope of those in place in any of the states mentioned as likely winners or competitive above and there will not be another chance for additional reform before round 2 applications are due. Given the status of our reform efforts, our Governor still believes that the reform package will place our state in a position for a competitive grant proposal in Round 2. In the reviews making the blog rounds, Washington is not even mentioned. Maybe the Governor knows something that we don’t.

I continue to be troubled by this whole process. How will giving a few states billions of dollars influence what happens in those states not receiving anything? If, over time, the reformed states demonstrate significant improvements in student achievement, will the federal government dedicate the multiple billions more for implementation in other states? Will this process and others proposed by the administration at the federal level alter the balance of state and federal influence over public education? Has it already?

Does anyone at the federal level believe that a successful education is more than math and reading competency as defined in whatever the Common Core Standards end up being, improving the graduation rate, using achievement data to evaluate teachers and principals, turning around low performing schools, promoting STEM, . . .and the list goes on. I don’t disagree with any of these needs, but I am concerned that there is disproportionate support given to the need for what we believe is also important, things like a focus on our Outcomes and Indicators, Habits of Mind, and thinking skills. I do not see that need being expressed in distributing these billions compared to the less than one billion in the i3 grant opportunity for innovative initiatives.

Well, enough complaining for today and if you read this blog you know that I am revisiting once again these same concerns. Even without recognition at the federal level, I remain committed to our Classroom 10 focus and believe that our story is one that others will view as important and will want to support.

Nationally Board Certified . . .

This is a picture of the Nationally Board certified teachers that were able to attend the celebration of their accomplishment Monday evening. Again, it was a wonderful evening and one that we plan to make an annual event as others make the commitment to this opportunity for learning and growth. I was impacted by Dave Wright sharing that he didn’t realize the importance of the experience until it was completed. What was initially an opportunity for an increase in salary became for him the single most important staff development opportunity of his career and one that continues to influence his work. The focus on and need for reflection in their practice was a theme that we heard from him and many others.

Congratulations and thanks for the commitment to your professional growth and to our young people!

Monday, March 1, 2010

A day of sharing and celebration . . .

Today, we had our second meeting focused on documenting our Classroom 10 journey with the intent to seek outside resources to influence the pace of the journey. In the room were teachers, administrators, community members, and high school students. We have identified four components to our work and today we spent time focusing on identifying current reality in each of these areas based on the input from the building level discussions around Classroom 10.

Today was also an opportunity to bring more people into the conversation as we document our journey and seek outside support. One potential source of outside support is the Investing in Innovation (i3) federal grant opportunity. This is just one of what we believe will be multiple opportunities to share our story and search for partners to support our learning. One such partner has emerged with a district in Hawaii who was a part of today’s discussions via ooVoo. There are many questions still unanswered on this journey, but today was another step to ensure that the necessary questions are being surfaced before we identify structures to provide the high support necessary for success on this journey.

I am energized by the work of this team and the potential to bring additional resources into our system. The pace of change on our journey will be slow unless we can find outside sources of revenue to support our work.

The day ended on a very high note this evening as the school board sponsored a celebration for those teachers in our system that have achieved National Board certification. Superintendent Dorn sent a statement acknowledging the number of teachers reaching this honor, 25, and the level of support we provide for them during this rigorous learning opportunity. Terry Duty, high school principal, was recognized by Superintendent Dorn for his advocacy and leadership in this program. It was an enjoyable opportunity to share our appreciation and thank these teachers for their commitment to learning and growth in our chosen profession.