Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yes . . .

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Battle for online presence . . .

Moving my focus back to what’s happening in the world of public education brings me to this piece in the This Week In Education by Alexander Russo on the battle between reformers and reform critics to use online sources to get their message out.

There's a strange dynamic going on inside the online education reform debate in which the well-funded reformers play the role of wimpy David and the scrappy traditional educators are Goliath. But the mismatch could change quickly in the new year, and if it does things will get noisier but also -- I hope -- a little more interesting.

I don’t know if I agree with his labeling the reformers as David considering the large amounts of money that they bring to the table and the influence that they have had on forming the debate around choice and charters, LIFO, teacher evaluation, and unions. He contends that the reform critics have the edge in this arena because there are many out there sharing their message and they appear to be able to coordinate a response when necessary. From my point of view in the larger picture the reformers appear to me to be in the position of Goliath not David, but in this one area he may be right.

Amy shared with me this response at Living in Dialogue to Russo’s post from one of the reform critics he identified, teacher Anthony Cody. In it Cody shares his view of the battle using the same view point that I find difficult to move from.

As I tried to point out yesterday, the online debate is rather meaningless if the real decisions about our schools continue to be made based on misinformation, bribery and political gamesmanship. I believe the online debate has been deliberately ignored by the corporate reform sector, as they see it as a battle they can well afford to lose, given the access to real power their funds buy them.

I’m wondering what it will do to the debate if, as Russo suggests , things could get noisier if the reformers are successful in coordinating their message through online vehicles. For whatever reason I seem to have more reform-minded sites in my RSS feed than “scrappy traditional educator” sites as Russo calls them. I also tend to believe that people in government at the state and federal levels are also being informed by these same individuals and organizations and that the teacher voice is losing influence. I don’t know what Russo means when he hopes that it gets a little more interesting. I would settle for a little more stability and collaboration with less influence from those sectors trying to tell us how to do the work, or at least an equal amount of financial support from those same individuals and foundations so that we can provide them with a model of system success that can be replicated.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Now you know 5 . . .

On the topic of overcrowding in our schools I want to share some additional information that you may find interesting. I would also ask that you consider sharing the “Now you know . . .” series of posts with others in our community. We must find ways to get factual information about our current reality in the community to generate conversations and a deeper understanding of our current and future student housing needs. The majority of this and other information can be found in the Ad Hoc Citizen Committee Housing Proposals found here.

The series of charts below will share comparisons of King County school districts passage of bond measures from 1985 to 2011. Though there are many variables that influence the need for a bond measure such as enrollment growth and age of buildings the comparisons are quite striking considering our growth and current reality. Before looking at approved bonds, however, the chart below captures our current situation. It lists the square footage per student taking into account all schools and total enrollment in each King County school district. Tahoma is at the bottom with less than 100 sq. ft. per student with the average for the other districts excluding Skykomish being 146 sq. ft. per student. What does this mean? It means that we are placing more students into buildings than they were designed to accommodate and are doing it by adding portables and using spaces efficiently. It means that we have not as a community created learning spaces approaching the average square footage per student that students in other King County school districts experience every day.

The next chart identifies the total bond dollars approved between 1985 and 2011 in King County School districts. Though we were the second fastest growing school district behind Issaquah on a percentage basis over this time, we can see from the chart that only three school districts have approved fewer bond dollars than our system.  What does this mean to you?

I think the next chart is even more telling. It shows bonds approved compared to enrollment growth for the same time period in our neighboring districts. The yellow bar represents enrollment growth and the green bar bonds approved. We have far fewer bond dollars approved compared to enrollment growth than any other district in this comparison.

The final chart builds off of the previous one by showing the bond dollars issued per student enrollment increase for this same time period, 1985 to 2011. Once again, Tahoma is at the bottom of the comparison with about $14,000 per student increase and far below the average for the districts excluding the highs in Bellevue and Renton, of about $49,000.

So, what does all of this information mean? For some, perhaps a celebration because we are experiencing academic success compared to these same school districts with less community support in the form of approved bonds. For others, it means we have created a situation that will soon result in critical decisions this community will need to make about the future of its school system. Yes, we have been successful by adjusting grade level configurations and adding portables to accommodate student enrollment growth. And, yes we can continue to meet these needs in the near term, but at some point without increased capacity we will not be able to offer the current program that has produced this success. Though slower growth projections have lessened the urgency, the time line for adding new capacity requires multiple years of planning. We cannot wait until the students are here to make decisions, we must move forward and plan for our future.

The question is a simple one. Do we want to move forward on our journey to prepare young people for post high school success in learning and work with today’s planned learning environments? If yes, then we will need to add additional classrooms and infrastructure space to our school community. If we do not add space we will need to change our school culture and the question then changes. How do we safely house more students than the buildings can hold? The answer to this question will result in a far different school system than we experience today and one that we may face in the coming years.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Now you know 4 . . .
In an earlier post, I shared the chart showing building capacity and the concerns that many have expressed with it.  Specifically, the column titled Tahoma max capacity***, is one that was difficult to identify and has been questioned by many.  The concern being expressed is that the numbers in this column give the impression that we have room for additional enrollment in all of our buildings.

How can we say that we are overcrowded if we have room in all buildings?  That is the question that emerges in people's minds when reviewing the chart and is not what we intended for the column to do.  The intent was the opposite.  We wanted it to signal to people that we have a problem today that will become more critical and difficult to solve with additional enrollment, but we can maintain our current program with some revisions until the max number is reached in each grade level configuration.  Instead of creating a sense of urgency it did the opposite while also making it difficult for many to accept the fact that we are overcrowded.  Most people don't compare the Design capacity columns to the enrollment column to see that we are full.

The column was also designed to provide a timeline for the community to understand when significant program changes will be necessary if we cannot add classrooms.  In reflection, I believe that answering the question about when will double shifting or multi-tracking be necessary resulted in creating the max column.  I still believe that is a question many have and that the system has a responsibility to answer.  But, could it have been done without creating the column is the question that I continue to struggle with. Yes, we could have taken the position that we are full and in the absence of new space we will need to implement other delivery models, but the bond measure is designed to not reach that point keeping the focus on the need for new classrooms.

It is good to reflect, but a continued focus on the column and what could or should have been done is wasted energy.  For now, the chart is public and may or may not be used in the future.  Though it is questioned and did not achieve the intended results, it was our attempt to be transparent; something that I believe is an essential quality of our school system's culture.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Last minute leads to lost chance . . .
Well, I missed the opportunity to wish readers a Merry Christmas as I got caught up in my usual last minute shopping spree, then preparing for family.  It was great fun and a I had a wonderful time with family.  This morning it is just my wife and I and except for a few barks from the dog it is quiet and calm and that also feels just great.  My biggest problem is the number of cookies with cream cheese icing, See's candies, and ice cream cake left over.  It seems that I have no will power to refuse them and I fear as they disappear they will become visible as added inches to my waist line and other parts of this rapidly sagging body.

Maybe next year I can change my behavior and start preparing for the holidays before it is upon me, or maybe not.  I think it is now a badge of honor to reply to the question that is always asked, are you ready for the holiday?  It may be difficult to let go of being able to give my standard reply of no I still have two more days.

I hope your day was as enjoyable as mine.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Now you know 3 . . .

To continue painting a picture of our current reality related to student housing I will share enrollment by building compared to the enrollment the building was designed to house. Sharing this information with various groups over the last year has resulted in feedback from many that we are not accurately describing how bad our current reality is. This feedback is based on the column in the graph below titled, Tahoma Max Capacity***. By sharing the numbers in this column, we are telling the community that we can continue to place additional students into already overcrowded schools and for some that is a problem. To be transparent, however, I believe that it would be a mistake to change the message that we gave in last spring’s bond documents.

Without getting into the technical discussion of 100% or 85% utilization for buildings housing students in grades 6-12, you can see in the chart that we have more students in all four elementary buildings, the junior high, and the high school than they were designed to house. Using the 100% utilization that is above the 85% norm for secondary schools, we have about 700 more students in our schools than they were designed to hold. If we use the 85% norm for secondary schools that number is over 1000.

How are we able to house these students and still provide a quality program? The answer is the 84 portables that we have on our sites. We have portable classrooms, but many are very old and do not meet the quality of learning environment that we want for our young people and staff. Portables work for classrooms, but placing more and more students into hallways, eating areas, elective areas, and rest rooms results in overcrowding and the problems associated with cramming bodies into tight spaces. We are also in a position where we have little or no capacity to add additional portables on school sites. The chart below shows the number of portables being used to house students and programs in local school districts. No district in the chart is housing more students as a percentage of enrollment then we are in Tahoma.

Our current reality is one of overcrowded schools except at the middle school level, aging portables on all school sites, and enrollment projections showing continued growth over the next decade. At some point we will not be able to house additional students in the same spaces and offer the same program. In my next post I will share more of my thinking on the max capacity identified in the first chart above.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Now you know 2 . . .

As I shared in my last post I will continue with information from the Ad Hoc Citizen Committee Report on future student housing options. Now that we know we experienced the second largest percentage increase in enrollment in King County since 1985, what does future enrollment look like?

The chart below shows the demographers projections through the year 2011. We can see that growth has slowed with the sagging economy, but we are still looking at an increase of almost 1100 students over that period of time. These numbers include development of the Summit Pit site (Donut Hole) starting in 2016 using the housing projections in a project no longer on the table. So, why include them? Because in conversations with city and county staff we were told that the property will be developed over time. Even if we didn’t consider this site in our projections, we will still see an increase in enrollment with few options for housing them given the current delivery model and grade level configurations.

The enrollment growth that we have experienced has resulted in large schools. Based on 2010 enrollment, we have the two largest elementary schools in the state, Lake Wilderness and Rock Creek. From the charts below we can see that compared to other King County districts, all of our schools are very large. Please note that in the high school comparison most schools house four grades while THS houses three.

In a future post I will share how many students we are placing in each building and compare that to the built capacity of the site.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Now you know . . .

I decided that I will share some additional information on the current reality of our student housing situation in a series of posts with a Did You Know theme. Though I have a small readership, if people begin to share this information it may lead to conversations in our school community that accurately reflect current reality and the difficult situation we find ourselves in today. The information in this post and additional information can be found in the citizen committee’s report and recommendations to the board.

I will begin this series of posts with enrollment information since it is enrollment that is driving the need for the system to add capacity. The chart below shows enrollment growth in King County school districts from 1985 to 2010. Though we are not one of the larger districts this chart shows that we have experienced significant growth over that period of time.

The chart below shows the rate of growth for each district over the same period of time. From the chart we can see that our system has experienced on a percentage basis more growth than any district except Issaquah, 139% to 141%. The others are far below this. Our enrollment has more than doubled since 1985.

In the next post I will share enrollment projections through 2021 and housing capacities to provide a context for our current reality.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A focus on overcrowding . . .

Last week Channel 5 did another piece on our overcrowding problems that was shared on Living in A Custodial World, high school Head Custodian Rick Bergum's blog.  In his post, he raises the issue of increased operating costs if we were to implement year-round, multi-track or double shift delivery models.  He is accurate in his assessment as either of these options would increase not only energy and material costs, but would also result in increased staffing costs. 

Though it would result in increased operating costs the bigger question is what impact would it have on our school culture and program.  That is the question that voters in our school community will decide.  With a slower increase in student enrollment we have time to consider long term solutions, but we are still today in a situation where we are over crowded with few options to house more students at all grade level bands. At some point in the coming years we will need additional classrooms and infrastructure spaces or we will need to change our delivery model.

If you follow the e-mail string on the Channel 5 post you get a good idea of the struggle we face as commenters share their thinking.  Of particular interest is an exchange between ScottG and Cougsrback.  Below Cougsrback captures our situation.  Unfortunately not all understand or agree with this position.

ScottG apparently has no knowledge of the situation in the Tahoma School District or how Washington schools are funded. Planning has been in place for some time. Unfortunately, voters are in no mood to approve property taxes to pay for additional facilities. Existing property taxes are not sufficient to build more schools. Those taxes pay for operations and a bond that was approved in 1997. Since then, the school district has grown significantly and is again in need of more classrooms. This district has stretched its resources to the maximum and has made good use of tax dollars. Until voters approve a bond measure there are very limited options to deal with the overcrowding.

The School Board is currently reviewing proposlas from a Citizen Review Committee.  I will share more as they review the options and make both short and longterm decisions for housing current and projected student enrollment.  The citizen report can be found here

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Action in Olympia . . .

There were two pieces of news from Olympia this week that deserve a comment.

The first is a Policy Brief by Governor Gregoire highlighting what she sees as the next steps in education reform. The focus is on the new principal and teacher evaluation models based on instructional frameworks and the changes related to ratings and professional growth opportunities. The opening paragraphs in this Seattle Times article is interesting considering she is promoting the change as renewed professional growth opportunities.

Offering a blunt assessment of the state's failure to get rid of struggling teachers, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday proposed a tougher statewide evaluation system aimed at weeding out ineffective educators.

"The current system doesn't work," Gregoire said of teacher and principal ratings. "It's too broad. It doesn't help people grow. Teachers need to know what they're doing well, and where they can improve."

In an Education Week article she shares the need to ensure the public that we have quality educators in our state.

"We need to address this concern out there that we have bad teachers," Gregoire said. "For the most part, we have very, very good teachers. We want to make sure the public feels confident that we have everybody at the proficiency-or-above level."

Considering that some have been working on this for two years with support from OSPI and that we started our work this year, the timing of the announcement is interesting especially given the significant budget issues confronting her and legislators in Olympia. Superintendent Dorn says he hasn’t seen the details of her proposal and will be submitting his own bill by the end of the week. Doesn’t sound like a collaborative effort, more like competing bills and waste of energy and resources to me? I am trying to suspend my negative assumptions about what is driving the changes in teacher and principal evaluation, but this policy brief and article simply reinforce them.

The second announcement is from a Seattle Times article on the legislative action thus far in the special session. The title of the article says all one needs to know; State legislators settle on plan for down payment on shortfall. In essence they used a combination of cuts, transfers, and delayed payments to carve $480 million out of the $2 billion revenue shortfall. They prolonged the agony by leaving the difficult decisions for the regular session. The changes in this down payment will not be seen or felt by most in our school system, but stay tuned as those necessary to reach the $2 billion target could dramatically change this situation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Refocus on reform . . .

The Seahawks won - started this post, but didn’t finish last night after the game.  The articles share the need for reform to focus not just on schools and teachers, but for societal changes as well.  We need HELP to support success for ALL young people.

I decided today to share an opinion piece in Monday’s Seattle Times by David Sirota, What real education reform looks like. Later in the morning Amy e-mailed this Washington Post article by John Kuhn, a superintendent from Texas. Both articles talk about what the authors believe to be at the root of problems in public education; economics. They label what many of the reformers choose to ignore, the problems associated with poverty that students bring with them to school. They instead choose to focus on the negative influence of teacher unions on change and the need for value-added evaluation models while promoting charters and choice.

Sirota shares the recent Stanford University study that demonstrates the importance of a family’s economic situation on future academic performance. We have been aware over time of the importance of the parent’s education on performance of their children and we are now learning more about the gap in student achievement being influenced by poverty.

Finally, the growing income achievement gap does not appear to be a result of a growing achievement gap between children with highly and less-educated parents. Indeed, the relationship between parental education and children’s achievement has remained relatively stable during the last fifty years, whereas the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply. Family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement.

In his piece Sirota argues for implementing new funding models that drive money to schools in high poverty areas and away from models based on property taxes that tend to drive more revenue to wealthy areas. He also shares what he believes to be the potential for achieving his goal in the following words.

Policy-wise, it’s a straightforward proposition. The only thing complex is making it happen. Doing that asks us to change resource-hoarding attitudes that encourage us to care only about our 0wn schools, everyone else’s be damned.

In America’s greed-is-good culture, achieving such a shift in mass psychology is about the toughest task imaginable, but it’s the real education reform that’s most needed.

In his article, Kuhn takes on the reformers and proposes a model to hold states accountable just as NCLB is designed to hold schools and school districts accountable.

They repeatedly call on get teachers and administrators to quit making excuses and hold themselves accountable for the educational outcomes of poor and minority students. Who could be against that?

Well, I’m calling their bluff. Let’s see if it really is all about the children.

NCLB has done one important thing: By disaggregating data, it has forced teachers and administrators like me to agonize over the outcomes of our neediest students.

But after 10 years, it is clear that NCLB’s reforms haven’t spurred miracles, and it is time that the profound problem of inequality is addressed. The deck is stacked against kids who live in poverty not just because their schools are on average worse than others, but also because of the circumstances of their lives when they leave campus.

It’s time that we admit that it isn’t just teachers holding back poor and minority students back. The problems are societal.

So I’m calling on reformers — Kress and Rhee included — to lend support for a new kind of reform, one that steps outside the schoolhouse and shares the onus for achievement with more than just teachers.

I’m calling for data-driven equality, modeled on Kress’s work, expanding it to force greater societal changes that will help teachers bridge the achievement gap.

Let the 50 states disaggregate equality-related data by ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, and let us rank the states and reward them for closing all the societal inequalities that are truly at the heart of our achievement gap. There should be an incentive for voters to elect lawmakers who will craft policies that minimize inequalities.

Both of these articles shed light on a problem in our society that results in a significant influence on the capacity of ALL young people to experience social and academic success in school and later as adults. How is it that as a country, we allow over 20% of our youth to live in poverty while spending billions to support others in need and in conflicts across the globe? I’m struggling as I reflect on my own giving and the priorities that I infer from news media and calls to action. Though neither of the proposals in these pieces is likely to occur, I applaud the authors and the focus they have created on this important issue in our society, not just in our schools.

If this topic interests you these are two good articles.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another word cloud . . .

I decided it was time to do another word cloud.  I used Word It Out for the cloud below.  It is easy to see what profession I am in from the words and my recent focus on feedback.  I wish the words state and cuts didn't need to appear.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Breaking the trust barrier . . .

Scott has posted a comment on feedback and raises the issue that surfaces in much of our work; the need for trust. If I had the power to change one mental model held by many people it just might be the one around trust. In a PLC where work is driven by a shared vision I don’t believe that people need to earn trust, I believe that it should be given and if behavior over time is inconsistent with that vision than one earns mistrust. As Scott suggests, we are not at that place in our PLC formation throughout the school system where trust is given. I believe that it is in specific contexts like interactions between teachers and our math coaches and in the work we are beginning with systems thinking tools, but not system wide.

The big thing is that I believe peer feedback requires a level of trust that I am not sure we have in all of our buildings or in any of our buildings for that matter. In a conversation regarding trust I had on Monday with a room full of presidents, I brought up that there are two major components that I felt were in schools and groups. One is comfort and one is trust. These are two very different things. I feel very comfortable in my school to share my views, my thoughts, and jokes. But do we all trust each other to give genuine honest feedback to grow as teachers. I am not sure all of our schools are there.

If teachers have a comfort level with feedback from administrators the question is how do we create this same comfort for peer-to-peer feedback? If as I suggest and Scott supports that it is working with feedback from colleagues in math, we might learn what lead to his feeling comfortable with and having trust in the teacher providing the feedback. What did the system intentionally do that produced this result? What did the teacher providing the feedback do over time to gain trust and create a comfortable context to observe and share? How does an individual teacher become more aware of the assumptions that they have about trust and feedback to crack the door open to receiving it from a colleague? What makes it easier to receive feedback and even wanting more from an administrator?

Any follow-up to these would be appreciated.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Continued focus on feedback . . .

I received a comment from Jonathan to my request for feedback and he brings up a good point.

I believe, as each school site works to develop a thorough understanding and seamless implementation of Classroom 10 concepts, each school will probably need their own unique support.

My school site, for example, is not in the same place as Cedar River Middle School with its understanding of Classroom 10. I have had conversations over the years with a staff member at CRMS and their understanding is very much advanced from our site.

Schools like CRMS may be ready for feedback at this time, where my site may benefit from more basic types of support.

His observation is accurate as each building is at different places that require differentiated support. Even within a school, in my observations across the district, teachers are at varying places on implementing key content learning goal and key content checks for understanding. This would also suggest the need for differentiated support structures to be put in place. It also makes the teacher leader position more critical as there are not enough administrators to support the number of teams that we have in our very large schools. Teacher leaders must and will be a part of what Jonathan calls the more basic types of support and will also become part of the feedback structure so essential in a change initiative.

Feedback becomes essential when teachers have experienced an adequate level of learn, observe, practice and can be expected to be implementing the eight components of the goal or some specific component(s). It can also be supportive as teachers are first attempting the new practices, but can be counterproductive in the absence of adequate knowledge and for some a safe place to try them.

So, to push a little further on this feedback thing, what must be in place for teachers to use feedback from their teacher leader colleagues or others to support them in changing their practice? What do you see as the framework for collecting and delivering effective feedback? The most effective feedback would come from whom?

This feedback thing is not just about this initiative or work in schools. We use it with students to support learning, we use it as parents to support learning and growth, coaches would not be successful without the capacity to use feedback to change behavior, and the list goes on. We need this component in our work and are ready to embark on preparing teacher leaders with the knowledge and skills to collect and provide it. How will teachers receive it?

Shadow Lake recognition . . .

This evening our ESD hosted a reception for those receiving the honor of being one of the top 5% of the highest improving schools in the state.  To qualify the school must sustain increases in math and reading as measured by state tests over a five year period.  This means the focus must be on both content areas over this period of time, something difficult for many to sustain over this period.

Congratulations to our own Shadow Lake Elementary School for being selected in this top 5%.  Chris and her staff should be very proud of this accomplishment and we need to join in thanking them for their commitment and hard work that resulted in this achievement.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Not giving up . . .
No takers yet on the request from my December 2nd post on feedback. In that post I asked for the following.

The focus for teacher leaders will be on positive and questioning feedback. I have a positive presupposition that teachers want feedback concerning their progress on our Classroom 10 goal. I would appreciate hearing from any of you if this is an accurate presupposition. It would also help to know what type of feedback would be most helpful and how it will be received from teacher leaders; will it be as effective or perhaps more effective than that received from an administrator?

Thanks for reading and considering a response to this critical component of an effective change initiative.

I know that I have some regular readers out there who I believe have an opinion on this and I also know that most rarely, if ever, comment on a blog post because I am the same way. I decided I would ask again because of the importance of this critical step in our Classroom 10 initiative.

In the absence of feedback we make decisions that are not always supportive of meeting our goals and there is much at stake in this initiative. We view it as an intervention with the potential to support student learning in every classroom when learning goals and checks for understanding become drivers in lesson design and delivery. I understand that using a blog is perhaps not the best way to ask for feedback on my assumption and for further clarity on a delivery model, but it would be good for the system to have an open conversation on this topic. So, once again I ask that you consider supporting my thinking as I influence our Classroom 10 goal.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The student voice . . .

As the legislators grapple with the $2 billion budget gap in Olympia we sometimes lose sight of the bottom line, the students in our public schools.  In a Seattle Times guest column two Garfield seniors, Grant Bronsdon and Sam Heft-Luthy show us what is at stake.  Yes, the courts have told the state that it is not meeting it's constitutional requirement to amply fund schools and, yes the state has appealed to the State Supreme Court.  So, the adults fight about ample funding while school districts make program cuts because of reduced state funding.  Districts ask local tax payers to make up the gap because the legislature increases the levy limit which leads to success for some students and increased revenue disparity for many more in districts that can't pass maximum levies.

While we wait to find out what cuts the legislators will use to balance the budget and for the legal process to conclude with the Supreme Court's decision, these two students remind us of what cuts do to students.

As students, we are told that we are the future, but if we truly are the future, we must have a say in the choices that are made today. Education, the paramount duty of the state, must remain intact to ensure that we can live up to the dreams promised to us by the state of Washington. It is immoral to shirk this fundamental mandate.

We call for our legislators to provide a responsible and reasonable solution to the state's budget problem that doesn't put the weight on the shoulders of students. Whether that solution is new taxes, cuts to other programs, or a comprehensive re-evaluation of the current public-education system, we need a plan that will actually improve the quality of education our students receive.

Across-the-board cuts to vital education funding may seem like the easy solution at first, but they are nothing more than a poison-soaked Band-Aid.

By cutting the education of the present, we are pawning off our future, rather than funding it.

The future for these two students and for all students in our state will be influenced by the decisions made in Olympia over the next few weeks.  Even with more cuts, many will continue to experience success in both K-12 and in post high school learning and work.  For many others, however, the loss of additional revenue will reduce the capacity of our schools to meet this goal for ALL students and that is something that must be considered in the decision making process.  Do ALL kids really matter? Do we hold them accountable to rigorous standards necessary for post high school success or do we lower the standards commensurate with reduced revenue?  And, we need to remember that the courts have already determined that this revenue, before more cuts, is less than ample to meet those identified standards.

What message do you want to give to our legislators as they struggle with these difficult decisions?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The importance of FEEDBACK . . .

On Tuesday at our T&L Leadership meeting giving and receiving feedback was one of the topics in our lesson plan. Wednesday, it was feedback that helped me come down my ladder and suspend assumptions so that I could contribute to our TPEP meeting. I am constantly reminded about the importance of feedback in change initiatives like our Classroom 10 goal, yet I still struggle with how best to provide it as teachers begin the work of creating well-constructed learning goals that drive teacher and student behaviors, and monitor and adjust based on data from checks for understanding.

My dissonance is associated with our new teacher leaders who have been given and have accepted the responsibility to support their colleagues on this learning goal journey. We know that there is a skill set necessary for effectively providing feedback and a necessary mental model for receiving it in ways that are accepted and that can lead to change. My hesitance has been with our lack of opportunity to provide them with the skill set and lack of understanding of where they are in their PLC work because we know that in a PLC feedback is not only accepted it is demanded. So, I have been pushing them and principals to measure their current reality and influencing them to provide feedback in other than one-to-one situations. After Tuesday I am now moving more towards creating opportunities for feedback in a variety of settings. It is simply a necessary component of learning and growth that we must provide. I need to remember our adult learning model: Learn – Observe – Practice – FEEDBACK – Reflect.

To move in this direction we will share with the teacher leaders at our December training a protocol for providing three types of feedback; positive, questioning, and critical. The focus for teacher leaders will be on positive and questioning feedback. I have a positive presupposition that teachers want feedback concerning their progress on our Classroom 10 goal. I would appreciate hearing from any of you if this is an accurate presupposition. It would also help to know what type of feedback would be most helpful and how it will be received from teacher leaders; will it be as effective or perhaps more effective than that received from an administrator?

Thanks for reading and considering a response to this critical component of an effective change initiative.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Struggling with a mental model . . .

daveelf's photostream
 In this post from earlier this month I shared an article about Tennessee's new teacher evaluation model and the problems they are confronting.  Today, I had the opportunity to work with teachers and administrators in our system on our state-mandated teacher evaluation model that must be in place by 2013.  Unfortunately for the others in the room, I struggled to suspend my assumptions based on the Tennessee story and the national trend partly driven by the administration tying grant money to systems using student achievement data in teacher and principal evaluations.  Our state has joined many others in an attempt to align our model with the criteria for a winning grant.

My mental model resulted in an argumentative attitude and counter productive behavior for at least the first hour.  I am struggling with the stated goal being to develop a model to support teacher growth over time with what I believe is a primary intent, rating teachers to find leverage to overcome LIFO, last in first out as shared in this Christian Science Monitor article.  It was another difficult experience that demonstrates how mental models can control behavior.  Through feedback from others such as Amy telling me I interrupted her and focusing on how the model can support teacher and adminstrator conversations, I was able to suspend my assumptions enough to contribute to the work. 

Even after a more positive experience, however, I continue to struggle with this mandate.  Like many things, our system is ahead of many others.  We have a model, Classroom 10, and a system goal already in place.  The state is in year two of the TPEP pilot  and has identified three models for systems to choose from.  We are not a pilot district and we don't want to give up our model, so we find ourselves in the position of aligning Classroom 10 with one of the three choices, the 5D's from the Center for Educational Leadership at the UW.  Using their product is supportive of meeting the mandate, but I question if it is value added to our effort. 

Though I have many questions, the mandate is in place and we must move forward.  We are doing this by working collaboratively with a small team of TEA representatives and administrators.  Today was day two of the work and I hesitate to guess how many more days will be needed to draft the entire document and then turn to developing the mandated principal evaluation model. 

Before closing, let me ask one additional question.  If the intent of the model is to support growth over time, of what value is there in the state reporting by district the number of teachers rated in each of the four mandated categories, Unsatisfactory, Basic, Proficient, and Exemplary?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Successful rally . . .

Scott, John, and other TEA Executive Committee members pulled it off.  I would guess somewhere around 75 to 100 teachers, PSE staff, parents, students, and administrators rallied this afternoon at Four Corners to show our support for public education and against further budget cuts.  Somehow they got KIRO Channel 7 and KOMO Radio to cover the rally and earlier in the day they both interviewed Scott at Shadow Lake.  Unfortunately, I was also asked for an interview by KIRO.  This is not my favorite thing to do, but hopefully they didn't include much in their coverage, at least not anything to cause me or the system any embarrassment.

It was fun and the right thing to do as the legislators began their special session this morning. There were similar gatherings across the state so if they had time to watch the news they saw the concern being expressed for the continuing cuts to "Basic" education. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fate of the superintendent letter . . .

In this post last week I shared with you the tension I was feeling about a possible letter form our ESD superintendents to our area legislators.  At that time I was not able to sign the draft because of the recommendation for a reduced school year, something that the Governor included in her proposed budget.   Over the next three days there were changes made in an attempt to convince at least 2/3 of the superintendents to sign the letter.  Unlike the superintendents in the northern ESD counties, the changes did not result in enough support for the letter to be sent.  

The following portion of the letter with a recommendation for how to make equitable budget cuts created the impasse and lack of 2/3 support.

An example of a funding reduction that could meet the equity principle is to reduce compensation uniformly for all employees, including a freeze or reduction in the salary allocation model. To be equitable, establishing clear legislative intent is essential so that reductions can be applied as intended across the state. Furthermore, all cuts should be made so that school districts can include them in their budget planning, rather than being imposed mid year.

So, how did I respond to the request for support?  Though it will probably result in loss of credibility with some of my readers and colleagues, I indicated that I would support the letter with reservations.  I did not like the inclusion of the recommendation, but I believe that it was more important to send a unified message to the legislators as they begin the special session.  I don't see a scenario where public schools will not be cut.  If I did, I too would hold out  as some of my colleagues did, but for this reason, not the one that was shared by some.  The message from some was that including the example would anger bargaining units in their systems and send the wrong message.  Yes, that is a possibility and for some a probability, and my transparency may result in just that to me in our system.   Given that, I think it is still important for you to know my decision and how I made it.

Even though I believe that cuts will emerge from the special session, I will be at tomorrow's rally with my TEA, PSE, and PTA friends showing my support for public education and encouraging our legislators to not make cuts to our public schools.  Read about the rally here and see you at Four Corners tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rally for public education . . .

Below is a description of a rally for education sponsored by TEA. I copied the language from their web page. With legislators facing uncharted waters with the $2 billion gap and the Governor already sharing her recommendations that I posted about here, this will be an opportunity to share our concern with future cuts. I thank TEA for the leadership and planning for this event and look forward to seeing you at Four Corners.  Oh, they are also asking that we wear something red.

On Monday, November the 28th, we are going to rally in Maple Valley! We plan to assemble at Four Corners from 3pm to 5:30pm to deliver the message that our schools cannot take any more funding cuts during the special session in Olympia that begins November 28th.

Our hope is to get the local media out to this event to get the word out that legislators cannot continue to cut funding to our schools. Students only get one schooling opportunity, and it is not right or fair to make cuts to our children's education. It is not right or fair to ask students to learn in overcrowded classrooms that lack basic resources for all students.

We want our voices heard! TEA is hosting this event, so grab a friend and come help us to wave some signs on November 28th!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving . . .

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I wish for all of you an enjoyable day with family, friends, good food, and plenty of football.  I also want to share with you a short video on Teaching Channel of Secretary Duncan sharing his thanks for teachers and the important work that they do.  I think that you will appreciate his sentiment and in this time of budget cuts and teacher bashing it is both timely and rewarding.

On this StoryCorp site you can learn about the National Day of Listening on November 25th where you can join Secretary Duncan and StoryCorps in asking everyone to take a few minutes to say thanks to a favorite teacher on the day after Thanksgiving.  On the site you can also create a video that can be sent to a teacher that had a positive influence on your life.  What a wonderful way to say thank you.  Please consider sharing a message on the 25th with a teacher, one of those people performing one of the most important functions in our society.


Monday, November 21, 2011

The first budget is out . . .

In a news conference today Governor Gregoire presented us with her supplemental budget proposal.  It comes as legislators prepare to begin the special session that she has directed.  As expected, it contains proposed cuts to public schools of $873.5 million out of the $2 billion all cut budget proposal.  You can find a summary of the proposed cuts on the WSSDA web page or on the OFM site here.

Big hits include the expected cut to Local Effort Assistance (LEA); revenue that property poor districts receive in an attempt to make raising local dollars more equitable across the state.  In the Governor's proposal our district would go from receiving about a million dollars this year to zero in a two year period.  The other big cut was a surprise to me.  She did not propose the cut that would have raised class size, but instead proposed a reduction in the school year from 180 to 176 student days, equivalent to about a 2.2% cut in salary for school staff.  I have already shared my disagreement with this proposal and the accompanying loss of learning time.

Saying she had been persuaded by those who talked with her about not increasing class sizes, the governor reluctantly is recommending cutting the school year from 180 days to 176 days, for a savings of nearly $100 million to the state. By cutting days, state funding for school employee salaries would be reduced by 2.2 percent, while transportation and MSOC would be reduced by a proportional amount.

There are many other proposed cuts in her budget that can be found on the sites referenced above.  She also has provided the legislators with revenue ideas including a half-cent raise in the sales tax that could buy back some of the proposed cuts.  Whether they can reach agreement on new revenue measures will become more evident when the session begins. 

For now, the only positive part of the Governor's proposal is that the cuts would not be enacted in this budget year.  Though positive, it does not make the future more promising.  Though I want to say enough is enough, this taste of reality from the Governor makes that more difficult.  Though we may applaud Superintendent Dorn for his response to the Governor's proposal, by taking this stance we may lose capacity to influence the final decisions.

The cuts being proposed would be catastrophic to basic education, and amply funding basic education is the state’s paramount duty. Our school year is already too short when compared to our economic competitors. We simply can’t go backward on school days.

From the perspective of the schoolchildren in the state – and that’s my perspective – either voters need to approve more revenue or the state Legislature needs to find another way to avoid these cuts. Cutting basic education simply can’t happen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Service by Bear Computers . . .

Students from Bear Computers at the high school are working to support students and families who do not have access to a computer at home. They refurbish surplus school district desktop computers and offer them free to families in need. The program will benefit up to 145 families while providing meaningful work for members of the club.

Information about the program can be found online here and registration information can be found here. Thanks to advisor Mike Jackson and the students for their efforts to support those with this need. Please help us share this opportunity with members of our community.

An application can also be obtained by calling Jill Jolk at 425-413-6204.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Feeling some tension . . .

It has been a difficult two days as I struggle with whether to support a letter from our ESD superintendents to all local legislators. You may have seen the recent article in the Seattle Times about a similar letter that implied it was from superintendents across the state, but wasn’t. It came from superintendents in Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom Counties. You can read the letter here.

Though I am in agreement with much of the letter from the superintendents in those districts, I would not have been able to sign it. Why? I have two reasons with the first being the recommendation to cut the number of days in the school year from 180 to 175. For me, it is not only about shifting the burden from the state to the local district to bargain a loss of revenue. It is also about lost opportunity to prepare young people for meeting the standards imposed on them by the state and federal government. As an example, last year we moved to end of course assessments in mathematics at the secondary level. Today, end of course means 180 days for learning and for the other activities in a comprehensive school program. I don’t hear, nor am I advocating for, reducing the expectations to align with a 175 day school year. Is maintaining standards while reducing opportunity to learn fair to the students that must take the test or for the educators that make the decisions on what to do and not to do with five fewer days to learn? I don’t believe so. Yes, I know we could argue about being more efficient, focused, and not wasting days for staff development, but we are not going to change the mental model of students, parents, and staff in a short period of time that will transform how we use days.

My other reason is a struggle that I am having with making recommendations on how to do the cuts. When we talk with legislators that is always a question they ask us so sending a letter without answering that question could result in significant loss in capacity to influence. Yet, how do we reach agreement on what those recommendations should be? That is where the superintendents are at in our ESD, we are struggling as a group to find common ground on what we need to say and can support individually and collectively. I struggle because I find myself aligned with those not wanting to suggest fewer days or other specific cuts and we are in the minority.

In reflecting on this and what I am saying in this post I am beginning to realize that my biggest struggle may be with sending a letter signed by superintendents. I don’t really know what influence it would have, if any. If what we recommended aligned with a particular strategy for one or the other party it could become leverage in the debate so that could be a positive outcome. Our problem as superintendents is that our various communities, just like our schools, are diverse systems. Though I believe deeply that if we cannot unite with one voice our capacity to influence is greatly diminished, finding that one voice is proving to be very difficult. These competing beliefs are causing me tension because I want to be a part of that one voice.

Maybe the bottom line for me is that I believe that legislators listen more closely to those that vote in their district and that our ability to influence as superintendents may come more from our lobbyists and our individual efforts than a letter. Perhaps shifting my energy to encouraging those in our school community to communicate directly with their legislators is a way for me to find some resolution to this tension. Oh well, I have until tomorrow to make a final decision on whether to sign or not. I’m hopefully waiting for another revision that more closely aligns with what I believe so that I can sign, though I don’t think that will happen.

Though it is not how I prefer to work, I am moving closer to a position of enough is enough. I urge the legislators to create expectations that are achievable with the resources they choose to provide. Stop placing the burden on local districts to supplement in order to reach the identified standards. This results in increased inequities for students across our state. Our current reality is one of shifting targets as we now begin work to move from state to Common Core standards and shifting resource allocations as we prepare for year two of mid-year cuts. That is not the learning environment that will prepare our young people for success in post high school learning and work or for what our governor and legislators continue to tell us that we must do. We accept the challenge of preparing our youth to fill the jobs of the future and contribute to moving our state out of this economic mess. This high demand must be balanced with high support not shifting targets and budgets. Identify what young people need to know and be able to do and provide us with a stable and reliable funding mechanism designed to meet those expectations. With this in place, you can then hold us accountable to achieving them for all students

Monday, November 14, 2011

A School of Distinction . . .

I missed sharing this honor that Shadow Lake Elementary brought to our school system last month. I know that I have shared it at many district and community events, but I can’t find a blog entry so here it is. It is a significant honor as only 99 schools across the state received it this year. It represents continued improvement over a five year period.  The picture is of Nancy and me presenting Chris and the school with a banner commemorating their honor.

Shadow Lake is our first school to receive the School of Distinction award from The Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE), in partnership with the Association of Educational Service Districts (AESD), the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP), Phi Delta Kappa-Washington Chapter (PDK-WA), Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA), Washington State ASCD and Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA).

The award is given to the top 5% of schools in our state who have made sustained improvement in reading and math over five years as measured by state assessments. In the Puget Sound ESD region, 38 schools in 18 school districts achieved this honor. You can read about it on the PSESD web page or on the district web page.

Staff from Shadow Lake has been invited to attend an awards ceremony on the evening of December 7th at the ESD. Congratulations to the staff, parents, and students of Shadow Lake Elementary for supporting increased achievement over a period of five years. This award demonstrates commitment to a vision of improvement for all young people. We applaud and thank you for your effort and commitment.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

State board acts . . .

On Thursday, the state board took action to rearrange the state's required graduation credits.  The total stayed at twenty, but they added one additional English credit for a total of four and a half Social Studies credit for a new total of three.  They also made successful completion of Washington State History a non-credit requirement and added a half credit requirement for civics.  These and other changes were passed on a 9 to 3 vote.  I shared some of the process the State Board is using to make all Washington graduates college and work ready in this 2010 post on the essential 20.

You can read about the board's action on their website here where they describe what took place prior to the meeting.  Tahoma was one of the 70 districts sending formal written comments to the board.

SBE staff reported that they had received formal written comments from 70 school districts and other stakeholders over the past two months on the proposed rule-making change. From staff comments, it appeared the majority of school districts that sent formal comments were opposed to changing the requirements at this time.

According to SBE staff, the top reasons for opposing the change at this time were:
  • Fiscal impact of making the changes, including the cost associated with staff mix, materials cost, adding sections, etc.
  • Loss of flexibility and choice by reducing electives
  • Concern from districts that may be meeting requirements now but are using local levy dollars which wouldn’t necessarily still be available with future funding cuts by the state
  • Some questions about how the two-for-one CTE credit requirement would be implemented
Our primary reasons for opposing the change at this time are related to cost and loss of flexibility.  With about 40% of current seniors not meeting the new Social Studies requirement, if the requirement were in place today, it would have a significant impact on our elective program.  This would create staffing concerns for the district and would take away additional flexibility from students and families as they plan for post high school learning and work.  Since the legislation that is driving this change required that there be funding in place prior to implementing any changes, we agree with one of the dissenting board members reason for voting no.

Dal Porto also mentioned his concern about breaking the SBE’s commitment with school districts to push forward no unfunded mandates until funding is provided for the changes.

The changes are required for the class of 2016, the current eighth grade class.  Because there were districts raising concerns, the board decided to compromise by allowing for a two year waiver to extend the requirement to the class of 2018.  We have until June1, 2012 to decide if we want to apply for the waiver.  I'm disappointed that this action was taken.  It is not timely and I am not supportive of requirements that limit additional flexibility as do some who testified at the meeting.

Wood spoke specifically about a concern losing electives and questioned whether the SBE’s preferred “core” subjects really were the most relevant and critical to the success of all students.

“Is a fourth year of English, spent diagramming sentences, or a communications class in public speaking more relevant?” asked Wood.

WSSDA Past President Kevin Laverty (Mukilteo) and Northshore School Director Janet Quinn also spoke in opposition to the changes.

“We just can’t do it anymore,” said Quinn. “We have a dedicated group of educators who are doing their best, but they just can’t take on one more unfunded mandate. Something has to give.” She also mentioned that electives were sometimes the only thing that kept a student in school.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The frenzy for accountability . . .

Amy Adams sent me a link to this New York Times article about implementation of Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system. As a winner of a Race to the Top federal grant the state made the decision to develop a new model partly based on using student achievement data. Fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation in Tennessee is based on their students’ state test scores and the model requires the principal to make at least four observations in every teacher’s classroom. The last part makes sense though I don’t see how it is possible in a large school with the additional requirements referred to in the article.

The state is micromanaging principals to a degree never seen before here, and perhaps anywhere. For example, Mr. Shelton is required to have a pre-observation conference with each teacher (which takes 20 minutes), observe the teacher for a period (50 minutes), conduct a post-observation conference (20 minutes), and fill out a rubric with 19 variables and give teachers a score from 1 to 5 (40 minutes).

Mr. Shelton is a middle school principal who used the following words to describe the situation.

“I’ve never seen such nonsense,” he said. “In the five years I’ve been principal here, I’ve never known so little about what’s going on in my own building.” Mr. Shelton has to spend so much time filling out paperwork that he’s stuck in his office for long stretches.

One other component of the model makes even less sense. Since not all teachers teach subjects that administer a state test such as P.E., art, music, K-3, and vocational teachers the decision was made to allow the individual teacher to choose which test they want to be judged on for fifteen percent of their testing evaluation. That has led to comments such as the following.

Several teachers without scores at Oakland Middle School conferred. “The P. E. teacher got information that the writing score was the best to pick,” said Jeff Jennings, the art teacher. “He informed the home ec teacher, who passed it on to me, and I told the career development teacher.”

All of this was done to align with what the federal education department sees as a necessary component of improving public education. For Tennessee, it has resulted in problems and requests to change the model that are currently being discussed. Why should we care? Because there is currently a process underway in our state that could also result in using test data to evaluate teachers and principals. It is the Teacher Principal Evaluation Project that has been in place for a year with some districts in year two of a pilot.

You can find information about the project on their site here and if you go to the TPEP Task Force page you can see that value added and student achievement is a topic of discussion at the meetings. Below are the agendas for the last two meetings.

November 10, 2011 – NEWESD 101 – Spokane, WA

• Agenda
• Common Cores State Standards: A Commitment to Student Success – Greta Bornemann, OSPI
• Developing and Assessing Teacher Effectiveness – Linda Darling-Hammond, Standford University
• Using Value Added for Teacher Accountability: What Could Go Wrong? – Jesse Rothstein, University of California, Berkeley

October 27, 2011 – City University – Renton, WA

• Agenda
• Overview of Student Growth for Non-tested Grades and Subjects – Gretchen Weber, American Institutes for Research
• Presentation and Discussion: How to Use Student Learning Objectives in Educator Evaluation – Joann Taylor, Austin Independent School District

To be in position for future federal grant opportunities the state will need to be using student achievement data to evaluate teachers and principals. I think this is inevitable given the current national trend and focus on teacher quality. My hope is that those engaged in this process do not replicate the problems being experienced in Tennessee. I agree with Alexander Russo in this post about both the situation in Tennessee and Florida. You can read about the Florida problems here.

These examples show just how disconnected teacher evaluation is getting from what teachers do.

I think it is unfortunate that in our state and in states around the country millions of dollars are being spent to create evaluation models whose stated purpose is to support teacher growth over time, but whose intent is to get rid of “bad” teachers. We don’t need a four tier model, required observations, and paper work to focus on instruction and support teacher growth. We need a shared vision of quality instruction and the capacity for principal and teacher leadership to create the cultures where quality is demanded and support is in place to balance this high demand.

In our system it is our focus on Classroom 10 and for this year on learning goals and checks for understanding. The conversations between teachers and principals and teachers are productive and are resulting in changed practice across our system. The layering on in two years of a new evaluation model that is aligned with our Classroom 10 goal will complicate the work and make it more difficult to maintain focus on the goal. We don’t need the threat of an evaluation to create changed classroom practice. We are experiencing it through our work and the foundation of that work is a collaborative system with the capacity to engage in difficult and important conversations about what quality learning and instruction look and sound like. This might be a model that reformers should consider.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Student Housing report . . .

Kevin Kalberg and Tanya Donohue
At the board meeting this evening we shared the student housing proposals from the Ad-hoc Citizen Committee that has been studying the issue since June. Over that time the committee met two times a month to understand our current reality and to identify options for the board to consider with the failure of last April’s bond measure. This included options for both short and long term housing needs.

It has been an interesting process as the group struggled to understand how we could be in the current situation and sharing their frustrations with our struggle in educating the voters about the need. They did accomplish the goal they were given and you can see the report on the district web page here. The board has some difficult decisions that will need to be made and the report will assist them in this process.

The committee was made up of nineteen citizens committed to our school system and determined to identify options that maintain the quality program currently in place and planned for the future. To a person, they volunteered to continue to support the board throughout the process and I believe will be there to support the final decisions made by the board. We owe them a huge thank you for their commitment to our school system and for sharing their time and thinking with us.

Committee members: Jett Thompson, Marcy Rice, Kaethe Long, Craig Mahoney, Chad Wall,
Michael Crowe, Megan Sheridan, Sean Cassidy, Christina Delia, Kartha Heinz, Kari LaBree, Kevin
Kalberg, Jill Saldivar, Joy Stramer, Kari Thomas, Catie Larsen, Tanya Donohue, Jim Flynn, and Dick

In addition to the citizens, there were two school board representatives; Tami Henkel, and Didem Pierson.

Support for the committee’s work was provided by staff members Mike Maryanski, Rob Morrow, Bruce Zahradnik, Fritz Gere, Robert Talbert, Terry Duty, and Kevin Patterson.

John Schuster represented teachers and Barbara Roessler represented classified staff.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

State champions . . .

Congratulations to our girl's cross country team who ran to a state title on Saturday at Pasco.  Coaches Connor and Brady have built a quality program that experiences success from year-to-year and this year they made it all the way.  Seeing that almost all the girls will be back, I would say that next year should also be successful.

Not only did the girls win, the boys finished in eighth place.  Again, this shows the dedication of these young men and women and of the coaches that support them in this sport.

Not liking it . . .

Google recently changed their RSS feeder page, something that I had become comfortable with over time.  Not being very techie, I didn't take notice when they shared with users the information on the change to the page and further changes in the future.  After reading some blog posts I guess it has something to do with integrating Reader into the new Google+. 

What I do know is that I don't like the change and there are others who share my sentiment including Iranian youth.  It seems that for some technical reason the Iranian government can't block Reader in the country so it has become a way to share uncensored news.  The recent revisions to Reader may change this.

As explained by Amir on, Google Reader is not a separate domain (i.e., it’s available at and it’s available behind a secure URL beginning https. This setup makes it hard for the government to directly block and filter Reader, even though many other social services, including Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr and Picasa, are routinely banned in Iran, a country that’s ranked as the world’s worst oppressor of online freedoms.

In Iran, Reader is able to serve as a hidden social outlet. It even has super-users like activist VahidOnline, a user with more than 7500 followers. These folks help share and spread news through Reader with posts that become online discussion boards for a network of Iranian users.

I'm in agreement with Stephen at Stephen's Web that it is now more difficult to use and with these comments from a former Google product manager.  I find it much slower to use.   Is anyone else having trouble with the change?
Reader is a product built to consume information, quickly. We designed it to be very good at that one thing. G+ is an experience built around browsing (similar to Facebook) and socializing. Taking the UI paradigm for G+ and mashing it onto Reader without any apparent regard for the underlying function is awful and it shows.