Thursday, September 30, 2010

Some comments to a previous post . . .

On Sunday I shared a follow-up post on the Vanderbilt merit pay study.  For some reason Scott and Ethan couldn't get their comments to post.  I thank them for sharing their thoughts and want you to also have the opportunity to read them.

From Scott - Thank you Mike for bringing this to the front on your blog in recent weeks. What I find most interesting about the discussion as it relates to teacher's unions is that in all the polls and in all the discussion, teachers and teacher's unions are talked about as two different entities. Teachers are the teacher's union and while many in our profession do not see themselves union activists, the truth is that the very things that unions fight for are the same things that teachers want because the union represents the teacher voice.

With that said I wanted to weigh in on a few things. The Waiting for Superman movie hits theaters in the next few weeks, I find it important for people to read a couple of responses from NEA  and American Association of School Administrator.

In addition to these movies, I find it interesting that the NBC poll lists legislators and parents as a major problem when all of the talk in the media is about teachers unions. My hope is that more people can see that policymakers are the ones that have the power and the need to look at how we fund our school systems is in the hands of the legislators. Parents also need to become more of a partner in their child's learning. Being a part of their education and getting involved is essential.

I think that the discussion of the "education problem" will stay at the forefront, especially when we have big names such as Oprah, Bill Gates, and John Legend talking as if they know something about education. They talk about how great charter schools are and how terrible public schools are when in reality charter schools have proven to be no better than public school. A study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes shows that only 17% of charter schools perform better.

This conversation will continue for years and there are two things I know; everyone will always have a magic bullet to the solution and everyone will always have someone to blame. Let the debate continue.

Lastly I want to share a link to another education documentary called "Race To Nowhere" at www.racetonowhere.com It discusses the pressures that students, teachers, and parents are feeling in our current state of education.

From Ethan - Hope is not a strategy. I would argue that what we have seen so far, no matter how well intentioned, will not be transformative. It will have impacts. It will lead to improved educational experience for some students. That, of course, is a good thing. But it won't be transformative across the board. Structural changes are called for, and structural changes are being proposed and enacted. And some changes may be influencing some people's mental models. But it won't be enough. The work that is happening is, ultimately, just tinkering around the edges. I imagine something like this: Maybe we are upgrading the engine, the interior, or the suspension of our car. And that is all good. Maybe it will transform our beater car into something better...except that what we failed to recognize was that we while we've always built cars we should have been building boats.

These changes don't get to the heart of what teachers do. Until they do, while we'll all be riding in better cars, we'll still be missing the boat.

More on Superman . . .

Just wanted to share this photo that Allison sent today.  It is Allison and some of our students with the director of the movie, Davis Guggenheim.  Also, look for an article in Monday's Seattle Times that will contain comments from Allison and students. 

The students will be debriefing and sharing their thoughts in class tomorrow morning.  If I can attend, I will share some of their thinking in a later post. 

Waiting for Superman . . .

I just returned from an advanced screening of Waiting for Superman as a guest of Allison Agnew's Literature That Inspires class.  Thanks to Dave Wright's connection and Allison's ingenuity and persistence the class and guests were provided free admission to the viewing.  What made this a special evening was the opportunity to hear in person from the director, Davis Guggenheim.

Thank you so much to Allison and Terry for the opportunity.  Though it is pretty late for an older guy like me, I experienced so many emotions in this short period of time that sleep will be difficult and sharing some of my thinking may help.  What are some of those emotions?  Anger, sadness, disgust, disappointment, hope and pride are some that come to mind.  Quite a range for one movie.

I found that the movie did support the mental model that I had based upon the reviews (see Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day) I have read and blog posts over the last couple of weeks.  I must say that most of these have been negative towards the film.  The main points of the movie for me are the following:
  • District schools and the bureaucracies they represent are failing.
  • Charters are showing the way.
  • The unions and tenure are the major stumbling blocks to successful reform.
  • Michele Ree and Geoffrey Canada are good and Randi Weingarten is bad for reform.
These themes emerge as the film follows the journey of five students and their families entering lotteries to attend charter schools because their neighborhood schools are failing.  They range in age from first grade to entering high school and are in communities in New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Redwood City, California.  In each case there are far more requests to attend than there are openings resulting in the lottery required by law.  Examples are 792 applications for 42 openings in the Harlem Children's Zone, 500 applications for 110 openings to Summit Preparatory High School, 61 applications for 24 openings at SEED.

Following these journeys was made more difficult when we learn at the end that only two of the five achieve their goal of winning the lottery.  It is heart wrenching to watch these young people and their families go through the stress and disappointment of not being selected.  They truly deserve better, yet they have few options other than attending their failing neighborhood school.  This is a world that very few of us, if any, have experienced.

There is so much more swimming around in my head, but I think I'll share how being able to listen to the director influenced my negative mental model such that I would encourage anyone to attend the movie.  I opened my door to being influenced when he shared his intentions for the movie.  My paraphrase is below.
  • I am trying to suggest to the audience that this is the most important issue we are facing in our country today and that we are failing too many of our kids.
  • We must grab this moment and take advantage of the energy around this issue.
I believe that the movie does do this and I agree with both points.  Yes, I think that there are "district" schools that are doing exemplary work and should not be lumped in with the failing schools.  Yes, I believe that he did not highlight the research suggesting that we should not be painting all teachers in failing schools and districts with the same brush.  Yes, they did not clearly define what failing is and suggested that district schools, both urban and suburban are failing.  My list could go on, but my door was further opened when he responded to a question about charter schools.  He said that charters are not the silver bullet and that four out of five are failing.  This was definitely not the message given in the movie.

When asked what is standing in the way and why some charters are successful he suggested it was because of the confusing nature of district bureaucracies impeding innovation and union contracts that block innovation and keep bad teachers in schools.  High performing charters do not have these impediments to innovation and change.  In addition to this is a longer day and Saturdays, a focus on standards and data to measure each student's progress, and an emphasis on preparation for college is what differentiates good from failing charters.  Examples of successful charters he shared include the KIPP schools, Green Dot, Harlem Children's Zone, and Uncommon Schools.

What are these schools doing?  They are demonstrating that you can overcome poverty, that students coming from these backgrounds can achieve at high levels and be successful in college.  Why?  I believe it is partly because they approach the work with a different mental model.  Yes, they do work longer hours and days, but they also choose to join a school with a common philosophy and purpose for being; prerequisites for becoming a professional learning community.  This common vision manifests in the belief that ALL students can achieve resulting in a laser like focus on individual student achievement, collaborative cultures of practice, and holding themselves accountable to achieving their vision for each child.

In some sense every school is failing if success means that all students will achieve the standards imposed at the state and federal level.  This includes our schools since we have many students not meeting standard.  I believe that we care and that adults in our system are committed to finding new and adaptive ways to support learning for all students.  Can we be successful?  I think the answer to this lies in our ability to individually and collectively examine the mental models that drive our behavior.  Are we willing to lengthen contact time if there is no capacity for additional compensation?  Can we make our practice public by sharing student work and achievement results?  Can we make the shift to identifying achievement goals and owning the results of our efforts?  I could go on, but this is too long and I am now very tired, but no closer to sleep.

I'll close by sharing a comment from a parent in the audience who said if you want to know who the good and bad teachers are in any school just ask the kids and their parents.  They can tell you if you would just ask.  I asked students about this and they confirmed it.  I guess we have always known this, but have chosen to ignore it.  That mental model needs to change.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Education Nation . . .

In case you have not been able to follow the NBC focus on public education, here is the Education Nation site.  I am trying to cach up on the many conversations using this site.  Standards, transparency, charters, choice, tenure, compensation, too much money, too little money, and failing schools are just some of the themes emerging in the conversation with the obvious conclusion for many that public schools are failing.  A Wall Street poll commissioned by NBC suggests there is plenty of blame to go around.

President Obama talked today about nations passing us by in math and science and Secretary Duncan announced a new initiative to recruit 10,000 new science and math teachers over the next two years.  He also talked about the need for parents to demand the best for their children and to create the political climate where failure will not be tolerated.  As part of the solution he suggested that everyone needs to knock on the door of their public school whether they have children or not and ask what they can do to help.

This program and the Waiting for Superman movie once again have raised the profile of public education.  Will it make any difference or will it simply be relegated to the back pages and disappear from the airwaves as has happened so often in the past? 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More on teacher salary . . .

Last week I posted on the Vanderbilt study suggesting that merit pay had no influence on student achievement.  To be fair, I need to share some of the voices on the other side that have found fault with the findings.  I found this link on Flypaper where the author questions the findings.

Stated another way: Designing effective incentives for teachers is a mighty complex task, full of many subtle decisions and much uncertainty.  This study, like the ones before it, and the ones that will surely follow it, is highly inconclusive.  It is merely one experiment out of an endless number of possible experiments that could have been conducted.

Later in the article he illustrates his point with a series of questions demonstrating the complexity of the issue and the difficulty in separating out the multitude of variables that can influence the outcome of any merit study.

In this Education Week article Rick Hess found reasons to find fault with the study before it was made public. 

The study will confuse the issue, obscure the actual question of interest, and (depending on the results) lend either simple-minded advocates or performance-pay skeptics a cudgel that they will henceforth freely misuse in the name of "evidence." Either proponents will start asserting that crude rat-teaches-harder-for-food-pellet pay systems are now "evidence-based," or skeptics will argue that we've seen proof that performance pay "doesn't work."

I do think he makes some good points about the need to consider attracting high quality new teacher candidates and then keeping them in the profession.  Common sense would suggest and the mental model about entering our profession would support that low beginning salary is a barrier to attracting people to the profession.  Though he also believes in paying "good" teachers more than "bad" teachers he does not believe that this difference can be measured by achievement on a single reading and math test.  It is hard to argue against this form of pay, the problem lies in how to identify where one is at on the good to bad continuum.  Or, perhaps the better question, why are students in classrooms every day with teachers measured as bad?

With the release of the Superman movie, we have not heard the last on this topic.  Oh, something else to consider, the Education Department has just awarded $442 million to school districts and nonprofits to implement teacher and principal merit pay models.  Do they know something we don't?

Friday, September 24, 2010

I didn’t post last night because I attended the football game against the number one ranked Auburn Trojans at Auburn Memorial Stadium. It was an exciting game with long touchdown runs, a kick-off return for a touchdown, and long sustained drives. Unfortunately, it also had a disappointing ending. We lost in the last minute on a 99 yard drive by the Trojans that included an almost interception and a half back pass that ended up on our one yard line leading to the winning touchdown.

Our kids played their hearts out. The coaches had them prepared and coming off last week’s lopsided loss, I was amazed at what they accomplished. I was so proud and at the same time hurting for the disappointment they felt at not being able to secure the win with second and goal from the Auburn one and less than two minutes to play.

Great job!

Read about the game in this Reporter article.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More on motivation and pay incentives . . .

Ethan posted the following comment to my last post on motivation.  He poses a question at the end of the comment.  Anyone have an answer?

In my career as a classroom teacher I can recall maybe a dozen moments that felt like true epiphanies on my journey toward becoming an effective teacher. One of those aha moments was when I realized that the students that were doing their homework and the students who weren't when they were offered points for doing so were the same students who did and didn't when there were no points involved. Why was I spending all that time processing papers to give students points when it was having no impact on whether they would do the work???!!!!

Now, here is what I really want to share. Why do teachers have to discover this on their own? What are the essential conditions that allow people to move beyond a world view that places more weight on how they feel about what must be right than what research shows is clearly the case?
I believe that part of the answer is in the mental models that we bring to the work.  It just makes sense that giving rewards will result in students and adults working harder to achieve the reward.  After all, isn't that what WE DID when we were students?  For most of us that became teachers, grade point average was an important motivator, more important perhaps than the learning itself.  It worked for me so my mental model is influenced by my personal experience.  To shift the mental model we must create situations that change the experience like you had with your aha moment. 
Another example of Ethan's question can be found in this Seattle Time's article about a Vanderbilt University study finding that teacher bonuses do not boost test scores.  This study, however, will be ignored by those reformers in high places promoting teacher salary being tie to student test scores.  The mental models are strong such that studies such as these are minimized.  On the other hand, teacher unions will use it to support their mental model that pay incentives don't work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Schrute buck . . .

I found this interesting video on Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.  I don't know anything about The Office or Schrute bucks, but I have read some of Alfie Kohn's work.  The video is an amusing look at motivation and what the research tells us about using rewards to motivate.  Kohn makes good points when he asks if students have been given something worth learning and if not, then yes, they may have to be bribed to do it.  This is certainly something to be considered as we think about relevance and rigor in our work.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Complete reversal . . .

Last week was 4 wins and no losses, this past weekend was a complete reversal with the Bears, Huskies, Seahawks, and Cougars all losing.  I don't know about the Cougar game since I only saw the score, but none of the other games was competitive after the first half.  Bad weekend and next week's opponents will be tough to get back on the winning side of the score.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Understanding the need . . .

This morning we had an opportunity to meet with the PTA Roundtable made up of representatives from each building PTA.  One of the topics of conversation was the bond measure.  We shared information on the various projects to meet our short and long term housing needs and the repair and renovation needs in existing district buildings. 

During this conversation a recurring theme emerged, one that has surfaced at other times when discussing the bond.  It is this.  People close to our schools understand the need for additional classrooms and repair to existing structures.  They are also aware of the crowded conditions in some schools and projections for continued enrollment growth that cannot be accommodated without changes to the current delivery model and program.  The dilemma; how do we convey this need to the majority of people in our community that do not have this experience?

It is difficult to create written materials that result in the reader understanding our capital needs.  One must spend time in our buildings when students and teachers are present and also review demographic projections for this understanding to occur.  The likelihood of a successful bond measure is not great if we do not find multiple ways to convey this need.

In running this bond measure, we are asking voters and our community to answer two critical questions.
  1. Is it worth it?
  2. Can I do it?
The answer to the first question will be influenced by how well we communicate our capital needs.  The answer to the second will be determined by individuals as they decide if paying the price is worth it.  For some, it will not be an easy choice given the current economic situation and scope of the bond measure.   The decision, however, will determine the future quality of education in the Tahoma School District. 

How do we create this need for those that do not directly experience it in our schools?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I made a mistake by using an older announcement yesterday on my post about SHADOW'S Frog Frolic.  It is Saturday from 1-6 pm not on Sunday as I indicated in the post.  Here is a link to their web page with the correct information.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Join in the Frog Folic . . .

One of our important sustainability partners is an organization called Save Habitat And Diversity of Wetlands, SHADOW.  They restored and open the Shadow Lake Blog for learning to students in our school system.  This Sunday the 18th they will be celebrating their 14th Annual Frog Frolic from 1 to 6 at the bog. 

The event is open to the public and is a family friendly event with bluegrass music, tours, food, and a silent auction.  Information is available on their Facebook site here and in this brochure.  Please note the RSVP request at

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Not good news . . .

As we have been suggesting, the state budget news is not good.  This Seattle Times article paints a grim picture with a potential $500 million cut in this fiscal year and a $3.3 billion shortfall for the next biennium.  These numbers are worse than anticipated and public schools will not be able to escape the cuts that will be necessary to balance this year's state budget.

We are still getting conflicting information on the federal government's influx of money to save education jobs.  The governor filed the state's proposal this past week and the federal education department has assured states that they will expedite the process.  Some good news for us is that the state will use the apportionment formula to determine how much each district will receive and not Title 1 which would have resulted in less revenue for us.  What we don't yet know is if this money will be in addition to projected state revenue or if it is part of what the state was gambling on to provide for the projected state revenue in our budget.  Our current guess is that it will be replacement money, not an add on to offset the cuts that we will soon hear about.

Thursday is a big day as the state will announce a new forecast for tax collections that is expected to be worse than anticipated.  Complicating this picture are the initiatives on the November ballot that could result in an even larger shortfall that must be met.

Football, week two . . .

I can't believe it.  Just got home from the Seahawks who made it a perfect football weekend for me.  The Bears beat South Kitsap by playing good defense.  They also had a little help from Kitsap missing three field goals and poor play calling that botched a scoring chance just before half time.  The Huskies beat Syracuse after a shaky start, again with good defense and finally some offense.  On top of this the Cougars rallied to beat Montana State.

The Seahawks started off the wrong way with Hasselbeck's first pass intercepted and San Francisco getting great field position.  The Hawks held them to a field goal and went down later 6 to 0 before they could generate any offense.  They won by a final score of 31 to 6.

I don't remember one weekend last year like this, now if we can just keep it going.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A bashing or reality for kids . . .

Later this month a new documentary film focused on public education will be released titled Waiting for Superman.  It portrays public education as failing to meet the needs of kids by following the lives of five children who are trying to improve their education through a lottery to high performing charter schools.  It is being viewed as a powerful message that will cause outrage with the current system and features some of the more prominent names in the news such as Michele Ree, Superintendent of the Washington D.C. system and Randi Weingarten head of the AFT.  It is directed by David Guggenheim who won an Academy Award for An Inconvenient Truth.

At EDUWONK, Rotherham links to a New York magazine article that looks at the film and the issues around it.  Below, is one small segment from this article.

Among leaders of the burgeoning education-reform movement, the degree of anticipation surrounding “Superman” is difficult to overstate. “The movie is going to create a sense of outrage, and a sense of urgency,” says Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s secretary of Education. New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein concurs. “It’s gonna grab people much deeper than An Inconvenient Truth, because watching ice caps melt doesn’t have the human quality of watching these kids being denied something you know will change their lives,” Klein says. “It grabs at you. It should grab at you. Those kids are dying.”

It is a long article (6 pages), but one worth reading.  It certainly has caught my attention.  I struggle to see our system in the picture that is described, yet based on state assessment data there are varying numbers of our students not meeting standard in all the tests.  Using words from the film, does this mean that our kids are getting a "crappy" education?  No, nor do we have the big district politics and union issues standing in our way.  We have much to learn and much room for improvement and we must find new and adaptive solutions necessary to ensure that all students meet standard.  I believe that we can be a beacon of hope for public education because we have a vision and the capacity and collective commitment necessary to achieve it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The need for more space . . .

We had a meeting this evening with members of the committee that studied our housing needs and recommended to the board a capital facility bond package. They have been working on this for three years as first the economic crisis and then increased enrollment projections have influenced the timing and scope of the proposal. We now find ourselves in a still depressed economy, but with a growing need to increase student housing capacity. Our buildings are basically full. Yes, we can accommodate more students, but class sizes will increase and the stress on infrastructure or common spaces such as libraries, lunch rooms, and bathrooms will increase.

The committee members acknowledge the need and the difficult situation that we face. We must become more effective at creating an understanding of the need with parents and community members.  We must find ways to share our story.  This has proved difficult in the past because few people attend informational meetings.  We need your support and input.  What suggestions do you have for the information that people must have to make decisions about supporting the potential bond measure?  In what ways should we be communicating this information?  What do you personally know about the need?  What do you want to tell those of us that are working on this proposal and those that will be responsible for packaging the factual information for community use?  Please consider these and other questions you may have about this need and share them by e-mailing me at or Kevin at, or through comments on this blog.

Good first day . . .

The first day of the new school year is behind us. It is interesting how the context for one’s work influences the criteria used to determine how successful day one was. For me, it was a successful day. I had no phone calls related to bus problems and, more importantly, enrollment was above budget projections. This is important because the majority of our state funding is based on student enrollment. Over estimating and developing a budget based on more students than actually show up can result in a budget deficit with limited options since much of our expenditures are contractually driven. So, the first day always brings with it some anxiety as we wait for that first student count.

The enrollment yesterday was about 50 students above budget projections, a number that we expect will increase over the next few days as additional students return from vacations. This provides some budget cushion that may be necessary as the Governor awaits September’s state economic forecast and the potential for reductions to all state budgets. We learned last month that reductions are likely and reading the latest articles on economic projections for the state, it appears that we will be faced with some loss of anticipated state revenue.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Negotiations conclude in Seattle . . .

Last week the Seattle Education Association and School District reached agreement on a new contract that included the use of test scores in the evaluation process.  It isn't the model that the district proposed, but it is a significant change from past practice.  I have not yet had the opportunity to read the details of the settlement, but in this Seattle Times article we learn that test scores won't factor into the evaluation itself.  They will, however, be used to identify teachers that will be given a closer look.  That is the part that will be interesting to review, what a closer look means.

Student growth, measured by test scores, won't be part of all teachers' evaluations, as the district had originally proposed. And the district won't limit raises to teachers who volunteer to sign up for the new evaluation system.

Instead, as the union suggested a few weeks ago, low student growth scores will only be used to trigger a closer look at teachers, even if principals otherwise have decided they're doing a competent job.

The change to this contract is consistent with what we are beginning to see in other districts across the country.  Moving in this direction is something that all districts and associations will face as contracts come up for renewal.  I agree with the need to consider student achievement in the success of the school system and in supervision of individual and teams of teachers.  How we do this, however, must be the result of a collaborative process involving teachers and administrators focused on how well we are preparing young people for success in post high school learning and work.  That takes place in classrooms that are parts of school buildings that form a school system.  Responsibility for success rests in all these places.

In our school system, the conversations will take place in committees reviewing Classroom 10 support needs and in conversations with district administrators and TEA representatives.  I don't view these conversations as negotiations.  I see them as skillful conversations focused on identifying what data are crucial for holding ourselves individually and collectively responsible for the success of all students in our school system.  The Seattle contract is one more data source to learn from as we embark on this journey.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Football already . . .

Yes, the season officially started this evening with the Bears taking on Thomas Jefferson in Federal Way.  Unfortunately, we lost 21 -7.  We struggled on offense, but the defense played pretty well.  As in most games, take away a couple of plays and a penalty on a kickoff returned for a touchdown and the outcome could have been different.

The Seahawks also lost to the Raiders in their final exhibition game.  Not a good start for the year, but it is early. 

On the education front, the consortium our state joined with 30 other states won a $160 million Race to the Top assessment grant.  It is a collaboration of states and testing firms designed to create assessments aligned with the common core standards. This is another move toward national standards and national assessments that our state has embraced.