Monday, November 29, 2010

Cancun climate change conference . . .

Though I haven't blogged much about climate change and efforts at reducing carbon emissions I continue to follow the difficulties the world faces in challenging global warming.  Last December's Copenhagen conference was a failure so the latest United Nations Climate Conference that started today in Cancun begins with only hopes for minor changes.

One of the big issues remaining from Copenhagen is a replacement for the Kyoto Protocal a thirteen year old document that the United States never signed.  The agreement expires in 2012 and there is little expectation that a new one will emerge in Cancun.

This New York Times article summarizes the major issues faced by delegates from the 190 nations represented at the talks.  Chief among these are problems between the world's two largest emitters China and the U.S., the pace of slowing emissions, and how countries will be held accountable for goals that are established.  The world economy and finding the money to support developing countries in their efforts to cut emissions are also issues that will be difficult to overcome.

Coincidentally today, Energy Secretary Hu made an address where he cited the work of China and other industrialized nations to develop clean energy sources as a "Sputnik Moment" for our country.  In case you are not old enough to remember the first "Sputnik Moment", it occurred when the Soviet Union beat us into space.  That event launched a national effort that changed public schools and resulted in our country surpassing the Soviet Union in the space race. 

I agree with him on the need for our country to wake up and enter with commitment this new race to create and lead the world in identifying new, cleaner, and sustainable energy sources.  Failing to do so will impact our future and that of future generations as the winners will be positioned for economic success. Somehow I don't see President Obama and the recently elected House and Senate as having the capacity to make this a priority issue let alone reaching agreement on how to accomplish the need to reduce emissions and to enter this new race by unleashing our creative capacity with government support as do the Chinese and other leading nations.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A beginning . . .

As I shared in the previous post, our district is beginning to study and plan for integrating online and blended learning opportunities for our students.  A summary of this review can be found on this document

The four components of our work are outlined in the chart below.  Currently, ten teachers are working with Moodle, a web-enhanced learning management system to identify how this tool can provide flexibility and support for teachers and students.  We also plan to implement one current high school class as a blended learning opportunity second semester of this year and a new blended course for fall 2011 focused on the self directed learner.

I am excited about this work and the opportunities it will provide for students and families.  I believe that options, flexibility, and online are going to be important components of a comprehensive public school system of the future.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Influence of online learning . . .

I took a couple days off from electronic media so I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

In this post I want to share with you an area I believe will have a growing influence on public education - online and blended learning.

What will learning be like in the future? One of the trends that we are beginning to see is the need for options and flexibility. This is evidenced by the chart from stephen’s web showing the growth of online learning. Though the chart is for students taking college classes, the increase of about 20% from 2002 to 2009 is large and will not be confined to college classes in the future. The Sloan Consortium Study behind this data can be found here.

files/images/sloan1.jpg, size: 31840 bytes, type:  image/jpeg

Why are we seeing this type of growth? In edreformer we find ten reasons why students may prefer to participate in online learning.

1. I can sleep in
2. I can pursue my own passions
3. I can focus on my work without distractions from my classmates
4. I can move at my own pace
5. I don’t have to compete to share my thoughts and ideas
6. I can take more interesting classes
7. I can learn with a schedule that meets my needs
8. I can learn despite health issues that might get in the way of a traditional class setting
9. I can easily communicate with my teacher when I need to
10. I can easily communicate with my classmates when I want to

Though I don’t see all of these as compelling reasons for change, there are many that have and will continue to be reasons why more and more students will pursue this option.

Looking to the future, our school system is beginning to work on creating this flexibility for our students. The chart below from the Sloan study identifies various delivery models.

In a future post I will share what we are doing to increase flexibility and options for our students and families.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another closure . . .

We made the call to close again tomorrow.  The outlying roads are covered with ice and a little snow that by tomorrow with the bitter cold will not be safe for morning travel.  The busses would be on limited transportation meaning the kids would need to walk further to bus stops in this cold weather and have a longer wait depending on the traffic and road conditions.  For me, these calls have been some of the easier ones we have had to make over the years. 

The down side to this is that we are now into the week of June 20th for the last day of school and we still have the normal snow months of January and February in front of us. 

Here is my back deck in Ravensdale at about 4:30 this afternoon - that is between 6 and 7 inches.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Some clarification . . .

A reader e-mailed me with a comment about the information I posted on the recently passed graduation requirements by the State Board.  He wanted to make sure that we understand that fitness has been moved into the mandatory requirements as identified in the chart below.

Ethan also posted a comment to this same post questioning how the Essential 20 could be budget neutral with the potential shift in classes.  I agree that there will be additional costs especially with the added lab science.  This will require specialized spaces we do not have and additional teachers.  The changes in class requirements will also impact staffing as some content areas will have increased requirements and some will have flexible requirements.  Yes, there will be costs to this potential change both fiscally and in personnel.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Changes to state math assessments . . .

This morning at the monthly PTA Roundtable meeting some questions were asked about the new state required end-of-course mathematics exams that replaced the traditional tenth grade WASL. For some students the change may require them to take two assessments this spring, one for algebra and one for geometry even if they are not taking those classes this year.

There is an information sheet on the high school web page that explains the changes and options that students have to meet this requirement for graduation. The new requirements are in place for students with sophomore status or younger. On page two of the document is the test schedule that provides no flexibility. The state has determined the test dates and there are no make-up opportunities until January 2012. We question the requirements for students beyond geometry to take these end-of-course assessments, but unless the legislature reverses the OSPI decision we have to follow the guidelines as identified.

We will be providing support for those students taking end-of-course assessments in classes they took one or two years ago. Please follow the high school’s web page for additional information as these supports unfold.

Are new graduation requirements here?

Earlier this month the State Board of Education formally adopted Washington’s new graduation requirements called the Common Core. They will present the new requirements to the legislature in January for approval and funding. The key term here is funding, because the previous legislation was clear that the requirements would not be implemented without funding. When funded, Washington’s high school students will need 24 credits for graduation. The current state requirement is 20 for students graduating in 2013 and our district requires 2 additional credits for a total of 22.

Today, we learned that the state is forecasting an additional $1.2 billion drop in tax collections between now and 2013 giving the next legislative session starting in January an unbelievable $5.7 billion shortfall. Given this, there is little to no likelihood that the recently adopted graduation requirements will be implemented on the identified timeline.  The price tag on page 2 of this document is too much under these conditions to expect. For additional information go to the State Board web page.

So, if the new requirements are not implemented as planned, what can we expect?  The State Board has planned for this possibility by identifying the Essential 20, one of multiple changes to the state requirements that the state board sees as no-cost policy recommendations.  A comparison of the current policy to the Core 24 and Essential 20 is provided below.  Other information on this straw proposal that emerged in the June 15th State Board meeting can be found here.

At this time, moving to the Essential 20, far right column, seems a more likely possibility to emerge from the upcoming legislative session.  Given the budget shortfall, perhaps nothing will change during this session related to graduation requirements. 

This is a lot of information for something that is not likely to take place soon.  One of the interesting things about it, however, is how something of such significance can take place with very little public knowledge even in our school systems.  We'll keep monitoring and let you know if there is anything new to report.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Some elaboration required . . .

Once again Ethan in his comments to yesterday's post has posed some interesting questions and thoughts.  I don't know, however, that I totally agree with his experience from the state level work about the need to separate the work of defining what the standard is from how the standard will be assessed.  In their work to create learning standards and assessment tools for students I don't believe that the students played an active role in the work.  They are the recipients of the work done by adults and the ones held accountable.  The adults create the tools, but do not have the responsibility to implement the work and be held accountable to a standard as the teachers do in our context. 

I believe that initially we were engaging in conversations about both what the standard is and how it will be assessed and that work did become confusing.  It was not, however, this confusion or concern around accountability that resulted in the decision to not assess growth this year on the goal.  This statement from Ethan's comment captures the reason.

We should have maintained our focus squarely on defining what focusing on key content, using active learning strategies, and checking for understanding looks and sounds like until we were crystal clear on that. Only then should we have begun to think about how we might go about assessing mastery of these “standards.”

As of today, we are still not "crystal clear" on what it means for key content to be visual, stated in appropriate student language, be tied to unit goals or broader learnings, and be reinforced throughout the lessons.  We know more because of recent research we did that was shared last week with teacher leaders, but there are still questions that we have not yet answered.  We know more about checking for understanding because of Ethan's work and the teacher tools he created.  We also have identified teacher resources for active learning, but have only recently begun to document them for teacher use. 

The reflection tool is another resource that provides necessary information on what it looks and sounds like, but it has not yet been introduced to all teachers.  This tool and the "crystal clear" vision of the three characteristics should have been available when we introduced the goal.  Implementation should have followed creation of these additional resources with accountability to follow.  That is what I meant by not able to support the goal given the lack of clarity on the characteristics, the inability to identify resources to bring clarity to the work, the competing commitments that were not factored into the timing, and the expected questions on what accountability would be. 

We are better positioned today and will continue this year to focus on bringing clarity to this work.  Teachers will continue to focus on the characteristics without the accountability component.   We will learn from this work and apply that learning to creating tools that bring additional clarity and understanding to the work.  I don't know that we have taken a step backward, more of monitoring and adjusting our pacing to align better with our current reality.

Once again thanks to Ethan for pushing my thinking and assisting me in elaborating on my post.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An error in pacing . . .

Over the last few weeks I have found myself reflecting on my work more than normal. Our Classroom 10 goal has been the reason for this reflection. I believe that we initiated a focus on key content, active learning, and checking for understanding before we were ready. Many questions have been asked by principals and teachers since we shared the goal at the opening breakfast. Not being able to answer all the questions or to provide the resources that some have requested has led to my added reflection.

Following the work of building leadership teams and an ad hoc team formed from these teams we have a teacher reflection document that I believe is a positive step in this work. They have created a document that provides more information about what Classroom 10 looks and sounds like when these characteristics are influencing interactions between teachers and students. It is also the tool we will be expecting all teachers to use in an online version to collect data for next year's refocus on this goal.

Yes, next year will be the real implementation of this goal because the system was not ready to support it for this year. Our eagerness and excitement about removing the word Draft from the document resulted in this premature goal and for that I take responsibility. The work we are now doing is setting the stage for implementation, providing answers to the questions, and creating the resources necessary to support this work.

I am feeling a sense of renewed energy by admitting that I made some mistakes in the planning for and pacing of this work.  It has resulted in changes that will have positive influence on our future and the work that we will do.  These changes include engaging teachers through the leadership teams in the development of future goals.

For this year, the system goal will consist of teachers self reflecting on the document referenced above.  The data will be used by T&L and the leadership teams to determine the scope of next year's goal and the structures that will be necessary to support teachers in this work. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bond measure direction . . .

The board met this evening to continue discussion on the bond measure and to confirm their role of advocating for quality learning environments for current and future students of our school system. They once again reviewed the components of each of the individual projects and also discussed the timing of those projects, the projected costs, and asked questions as they considered the two decisions they must make.

• When to bring the bond measure to a vote.

• What projects and related costs to include in the bond request.

They have spent almost three years focusing on this need and this evening made the decision to direct us to prepare a resolution for a bond measure vote in April 2011. They also directed us to include in the resolution the dollar amount necessary to complete the projects identified in the long range plan. We will subtract from this amount projected interest earnings and any further savings that may be made from a review of timeline related to inflationary costs and the use of projected impact fees for identified projects.

So, we will now prepare the resolution for final action and move forward to share information with our community on our need and options if we are not successful in passing the April measure. I will share with you the resolution dollar amount that will be less than this evening’s projection of $127.5 million. I expect this to be completed within the next month.

The next phase of our story can now move forward.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

We need more ideas . . .

I want to continue to focus on the bond with this post.  In a comment to Thursday's post, Stacy says that parents need to see a timeline for project completion and they need to know what will happen if the bond doesn't pass.  Christel adds to this the impact on learners and the impact on taxes when passed.

What other ideas do you have.  You have an opportunity to influence what we will include in our fact sheet.  This is an important document for some who want to understand the need and impact on them before they cast their ballot. 

Another priority is any ideas you may have about ensuring that parents register and vote.  It is difficult for me to understand why so many parents that are registered didn't vote in the last levy election.  As I shared, only about 2500 of the 6000 who are registered returned their ballot.  Why?  Is it complacency?  Do they not support us and make their statement by not voting?  How can we overcome this?  I welcome your thoughts.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Expressing concern for the bond . . .

I had the opportunity today to hear from two staff members committed to our school system and concerned for it's future.  The concern is the need for increased capacity and the lack of urgency they are feeling in the community.  There are many indicators of this as we make presentations and begin discussions with staff, parents, and community members.  They asked me many questions and wonder what we can do to share our story in ways that provide voters with the information that they need to make this critical decision.

The Board will be making decisions on Tuesday including scope of the projects and timing of the vote.  As with all of these measures, as a school system we are limited in what we can do.  We can't "market" the measure or influence people to vote yes.  We can, however, create one fact sheet that can be used multiple times and distributed in a variety of forms.  Other than scope and cost, what information must we include in this fact sheet? 

  • What do those that are not connected to the school system want and need to know?
  • What do parents parents want and need to know?
  • If the bond measure were to fail, what happens and how much of this information needs to be included in the fact sheet?
  • How can I do more than just share factual information?
  • Given the lack of urgency in the community, is February the best election date?
Perhaps one of the most disturbing findings is the recent discovery that of the approximately 9000 parents in our school system about 6000 are registered voters and of this 6000, only about 2500 voted in last year's levy election.  Why don't more registered parents vote?  Why are there so many parents not registered?  How can we influence more parents to register and vote?  As we begin this process, there are many more questions that must be answered.  Some will be answered by the school system and others will be answered by people that make up the Voice of Tahoma Education, the VOTE Committee.

If you feel the need to be an active participant in this process, the VOTE Committee is the appropriate venue for participation.  They need help with new ideas and people to do the work.  There is room for all of us.  They can be contacted on their web page found here

I wasn't able to create a comfort level today in my conversation with the two colleagues who care a great deal about this school system.  They are frustrated, concerned, and want to see more action.  As the board enters the week for making the critical bond decisions, the time for action is here.  The fact sheet will follow the decisions and the community information sharing will increase and become more visible.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A typing support . . .

At a meeting today, I learned about an ap for my Android that makes typing easier called Swype.  I watched it being used, but didn't get a chance to try it.  It is intuitive with use and could increase my slow speed.  It looks awkward, but the user said that he mastered it in a short period of time.  Looks like something I should try.

Then, this evening going through my RSS feeds at edReformer, there was this post on a new texting keyboard.  The New York Times article identifies the new program called 8Pen that will be released shortly.  It also looks a little weird, but one of the developers said it only took about 10 minutes of use to feel comfortable.  The interface is designed to recreate the action of handwriting.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Some additional reflection . . .

There are three comments to yesterday’s post on the amount of math necessary for everyday use that I encourage you to read. They each provide a different perspective on the issue through their personal experience with math. There are also links in two of the posts that provide additional perspectives on this issue. In one of those links I found this statement that would describe my experience with math.

The purpose of learning math, which most of us will never use, is only to prepare us for further math courses . . . which we will use even less frequently than never.

I took math classes the first three quarters of college and as long as I could memorize short term I did very well. I found that whatever that third quarter class was (?), it turned out to be the beginning of the brick wall for me, as simply memorizing and regurgitating no longer worked. Prior to that I thought my future was in the science/math area, but that experience pushed me in other directions.

Maybe the question I posed is not the best question to reflect upon. The national push for more scientists and engineers has been a catalyst for more emphasis on all students taking more math in high school. Another has been the need for all students to be college ready. If this is the purpose for learning math, to be college ready and prepared for a career in science and math then perhaps geometry is not far enough. One would need to go beyond this to be accepted into most if not all four year colleges.

The struggle for me begins with the data from our school system. Last year 35% of Tahoma graduates enrolled in a four-year institution with the range over the last six years being 33% to 42%. Yet, the math program is designed to prepare students for continuation of the math sequence in college. It works well for those students, but what about the 65% last year that didn’t enroll in these schools or the 38% who didn’t enroll in any school. Do they need to be in the same sequence, with the same purpose, and the same pace? I don’t think they do and I don’t know that the algebra, geometry requirement best meets their needs for future success.

I don’t disagree with the need for math, but as Ethan suggests in his comment the appropriate ending course or courses may not be geometry. Yes, we need more engineers and scientists, but all young people are not going to become engineers and scientists. Yes, more students from our system should be attending four-year schools, but there isn’t room or money for all to attend. Then why have the same math sequence and expectations for all students?