Sunday, January 30, 2011

Interesting facts . . .

I don’t often post about something that is not education related, some world event, or a topic of interest such as sports. Today, however, I decided to share this post from Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day . . . about 10 interesting facts about e-mail from Mashable. I did find these interesting – did you know that the most popular password in 2009 was 123456? It was determined by reviewing 10,000 hawked Hotmail addresses.

As is so often the case when going over a post, there were links to other Mashable interesting fact lists that I couldn’t ignore. I went to the 10 Fascinating Facts You Didn't Know About Apple and found that more interesting. Did you know that the first Apple logo featured Sir Isaac Newton?

The Newton logo was designed by the lesser-known Apple founder Ronald Wayne (the guy who sold his stake — that today would be worth $22 billion — to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak for $800 – ouch!) and was only used briefly in 1976, since its high level of detail didn’t really show up that well when shrunk down and stuck on a product.

Or, did you know that the name ipod was inspired by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey?

The story goes that Jobs had already decided the MP3 player’s tag-line was to be “1,000 songs in your pocket,” which left naming options wide open since it wouldn’t have to explicitly refer something music related.

“As soon as I saw the white iPod, I thought 2001,” Chieco told Wired in 2006. “Open the pod bay door, Hal! Then it was just a matter of adding the ‘i’ prefix, as in ‘iMac.

I saved the Mashable site to go back and look at the other interesting fact sites on Facebook, eBay, and Google at another time.  So much to see and know and only so much time for it.  Another example of how difficult it is to maintain focus online with the world at your fingertips.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Another online alternative . . .

I found this article on Educationnext interesting and another example of the high school learning options that are beginning to emerge. We know that the traditional high school experience does not work for all students and our mental models suggest that this means for the struggling learner. The GWU experience described in this article is not for the struggling learner, it is actually focused more on the gifted and talented learner. Online learning is no longer primarily a vehicle for credit retrieval.

As can also be seen in this edReformer piece, online learning is being touted as a way to save money, something with high appeal in today’s economic conditions. As I have shared in previous posts, these and other options for learning must become part of our comprehensive school delivery system to the varied accommodate needs and wants of students and families.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Board passes the bond resolution . . .

This evening, the School Board took action on a resolution to bring a bond measure before the community on April 26th. Included in this bond measure are needed repairs and upgrades to current buildings and, most importantly, adding quality classroom and support spaces for current and future Tahoma students and staff.

One of the drivers for this bond is the projected increase in enrollment of 1700 students between now and 2020. At a cost of $125 million, it is intended to provide quality learning environments through the year 2020. It is a continuation of the building and renovation projects begun with the successful 1997 bond measure that was designed to provide sufficient classroom space through 2005. This date was extended by expansion at Tahoma Junior High and  placing portables at multiple sites. With the projected increase of 1700 new students there is a need to increase the number of classrooms and support spaces to maintain the structure and quality of current programs.

Look here for a more detailed review of the planning process and projects included in the bond measure.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Team of 12?

In my last post I continued the focus on the state report card from the League of Education voters and shared a few more of my thoughts.  Two people responded to that post.  Scott shared his current reality teaching grade five where students are reading well, but where there is a gap in math and writing.  Ethan shared some of his thinking and classroom experience and some thoughts about the work of a group we call The Team of 12. 

This team has evolved over time and is one of my attempts at adaptive change.  The team is composed of all principals, Nancy, Dawn, Annette, and myself.  It is the responsibility of this team to identify current reality as it relates to implementation of Classroom 10 and then implement short and long term plans to support all teachers in this work.  Sounds like normal practice, how can this be adaptive? 

Heifetz identifies “adaptive challenges” as those that can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties; they do not lend themselves to technical fixes.  Normal practice for us would be the Teaching and Learning Department assuming primary responsibility for this work.  Normal practice would be identifying the goal and not first clarifying current reality.  Normal practice would be principals having a secondary role in planning.  Normal practice for us would include lack of focus on how we will identify success at the front end of the initiative.  Normal practice for us would be . . . and I could go on.

This shift is forcing us to challenge our beliefs about who is responsible for planning, implementation, and evaluation of major system initiatives.  Work roles and interaction patterns are changing and new structures are necessary as we move towards differentiating staff development to match need with strategy.  Yes Ethan, an important step is identifying current reality, something we do not do well.  Thanks for the comment and I welcome the challenge embedded in it. 

One might be wondering, where is the teacher voice in all this?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Revisiting the state report card . . .

On the 13th I shared a post on the League of Education Voters report card on public schools in our state. I received one comment from Stacy that I want to pursue. In response to her question asking if I was surprised by the report; no it was not a surprise. What was of more interest to me was the following part of her comment.

Actually, we already know this research, yet we DON'T follow the advice. For years I know primary teachers have been saying to help the kids BEFORE third grade, yet most of the interventions happen AFTER third grade. WHY? Why the "flooding" before the test in 4th grade and then those SAME students are left to flounder on the 5th grade test.

Why? We, like many districts, were influenced by the 4th grade WASL when that was the ONLY public score out there for elementary schools. This influence resulted in the focus on interventions to support more students in meeting standard on that test and it has worked for us. We have not, however, found ways to continue the same level of support that many of these students need in subsequent years. Had the first WASL been at grade 1 we would have seen the interventions at that grade level.

I am seeing a shift in our behavior about this issue though in baby steps. One example is the walk to read program in the early grades at multiple elementary schools. This model is designed to provide more intensive support for struggling readers and the data suggests that it is working. Another example is the use of the small amount of intervention money provided to support interventions no longer being used just for grade 4 students. Perhaps the biggest shift will come with the goal I have for principals and that the board has for me to ensure positive growth on the State Board’s Accountability Index. The focus can no longer be on just those students close to meeting standard because this index demands growth for ALL students.
If you follow my blog, you might know that I don’t do a lot of complaining about money. In this case, however, I must say that to support all students at meeting standard will require more revenue, revenue that we have not had for students in multiple grades and in four schools. For success, we must find ways for intensive support in early grades for struggling students in literacy and math. Though additional revenue is necessary, money alone will not result in success for all students. It will require adaptive solutions to how we structure school for these kids and how adults interact with them. It demands that we examine the beliefs that drive our behavior, because right now as Stacy suggests, our behavior is not aligned with the research.

Thanks Stacy, for pushing me to be more reflective about our current reality as it relates to early learning. Creating adaptive change is difficult. It requires understanding of our current reality, our goals for the students, teachers, administrators, and schools, and a vision based on research of how to close the gap between the current reality and goals. Where will these conversations begin? Where should they begin? Where is the influence for adaptive change? We don’t need money for these conversations, but it will become a significant part of the conversation when we make decisions about our ability to implement any proposed adaptive solutions.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walking to learn . . .

Thank you to the Lake Wilderness teachers that shared their classrooms today with administrators and teachers from all elementary buildings to further our Classroom 10 learning. As I said yesterday, our goals in this work are to:

• Develop a shared understanding of what key content and checking for understanding looks and sounds like in classrooms.

• Practice sharing data collected in a way that is non-judgmental.

• Use our noticing and wondering to support a building principal and leadership team to consider next steps on the Classroom 10 journey.

We split into six teams for the classroom visits with Teams 1, 2, and 3 seeing the same three teachers over an 80 minute period of time. Teams 4, 5, and 6 did the same with three different teachers. Following the classroom learning walks, we reconvened in two groups depending on which rooms we visited.

In the groups, we first created an understanding of what happened during each team’s learning walk by individuals sharing what was happening during their time in the classroom. We then shared what we had noticed teachers and students doing and saying that was related to key content and checks for understanding and to reference it back to the teaching standards document. In my group, we spent considerable time discussing when checks for understanding are related to the content and when a strategy is more focused on actively engaging students in the learning. This conversation resulted in us not having time to debrief each walk, but it did result in more conversation. Unfortunately the facilitator, me, did not do a check for understanding to determine if all participants left with a common understanding around the issues that surfaced.

Sharing what we noticed was followed by an opportunity for individuals to share their wonderings about what was seen and about the conversations we were having. Using the terms noticing and wondering is designed to support keeping the conversations non-judgmental, something that we were able to do for the most part in our group. My experience led to many wonderings for me. One of mine is; I am wondering if the standards document for key content should include a bullet on referencing previous learning to assist in making key content meaningful for the students.

Some of the other wonderings that emerged include the following.

(From multiple secondary administrators) I am wondering what teachers are doing that result in the group work and engagement seen in the learning walks. And, what happens between elementary and later grades related to group work and engagement.

I am wondering about the balance between checks for understanding related to key content and checks for understanding about teacher directions.

We have much more work to do as we review the standards document and how to use it to support teachers on our journey. Being in classrooms is essential to this work so once again I thank the teachers for allowing us to use their classroom on our learning walks.

Monday, January 17, 2011

More learning walks . . .

Tomorrow, the district administrators will be at Lake Wilderness Elementary to do walk throughs.  I am excited to have some elementary teacher leaders join us for this learning opportunity.  Our learning goals for the day are to:
  • Develop a shared understanding of what key content and checking for understanding looks and sounds like in classrooms.
  • Practice sharing data collected in a way that is non-judgmental.
  • Use our noticing and wondering to support a building principal and leadership team to consider next steps on the Classroom 10 journey.
We will be sharing what we notice and wonder as we script what teachers and students do and say and then use the Classroom 10 documentation to identity interactions around key content.  It is our opportunity as leaders to internalize the documentation and to assess ourselves individually and collectively on our recognition of interactions around key content and checks for understanding.  It will also provide us with an opportunity to use and provide feed back on data collection tools.

Thanks in advance to Laurel and to her teachers for supporting our learning as district administrators and teacher leaders.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A state report card . . .

Two report cards on public schools at the state level have been released recently. In this post I’ll share a local one compiled by the League of Education Voters. Below, are the grades for 2011 with a summary of how the grading is done found here.  The grades are not good for either year and the prospects in the short term on these goals is not much better.

Ratings (2010 rating in parentheses)

Invest in early learning.   C+ (C+)
  • Ensure every child reads by third grade – close achievement gap
Prepare all children for college, work, and life.   C- (C+)

  • Every high school student opportunity graduate with meaningful diploma
Focus on math, science, and engineering.   C- (C)

  • Support every student in passing Algebra I by 8th grade
Prepare everyone for 21st century job market.   D+ (C-)

  • Increase number of students completing one year after high school and return for a second year
Invest in what works.   C- (D+)

  • Improve transparency, accountability, and funding necessary for student achievement

I think that this quote form the report summary will give you a context for understanding the above rankings.

The report paints a pretty gloomy picture.

In our last Report Card, we wrote that whether we make progress will come down to our collective will to do the things that matter. Invest in early learning; make sure kids read by third grade; focus on cutting our dropout rates. Well, we didn’t do those things. Our reading scores have flatlined. We are near the bottom of national rankings for college-going, we are one of nine states where the achievement gap is actually growing, our graduation rates are in the bottom third, and a full 18 points behind the national leader. While our SAT scores rank us at the top, the test is voluntary, taken by kids intent on going to college. The good news: for kids who believe they’re going to college — mostly White, affluent, or Asian kids — we do pretty well. For everybody else, we don’t prepare them for much of anything.

One piece of information I found interesting was the chart comparing Washington’s per pupil spending to the national average. In 1980 we were 13% above the national average, in 1992 we were at the average, and in 2007 we were at 89% of the average. Given the current condition of the state’s economy and the cuts that are being done to this year’s and next year’s budget the trend line will most likely continue the negative path.

Please know that the League of Education Voters is one of the leading advocacy groups for public schools in this state. They have a strong presence in Olympia and are pushing the legislature to continue the reform agenda passed over the last two sessions.  They are aligned with many of the current national trends, but are truly focused on supporting the education of all Washington students as shown in this quote from the report..

And finally — and most importantly — we put kids first, and we tell the truth.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A learning walk . . .

I had a wonderful opportunity yesterday at Tahoma Middle School where Amy and the staff allowed a group of superintendents and central office staff to visit classrooms. Dawn and I are part of a group working with U.W. staff from the Center for Educational Leadership on learning walks using the instructional model developed at CEL. The intent of the program is to assist superintendents in developing a common understanding of instruction around the five components of the model and identifying support structures necessary for teachers to create classrooms driven by the model.

For our work, we asked our colleagues to provide us with feedback on implementation of three characteristics of Classroom 10; key content, active learning, and checks for understanding. The theory of action that we shared was that a focus on these characteristics will influence increased student achievement as identified in the research. The learning walks process we use is intentionally designed to not make judgments since the purpose of the work is calibration, not assessment. This is difficult to do, but the facilitators from CEL keep this focus and force the participants to discuss what was observed with supporting evidence.

The process calls for us to divide into two groups with each group visiting the same classroom for twenty minutes back-to-back. Our task is to script what we see and hear teachers and students doing as it relates to the focus. Following the classroom visits, members share what they noticed with the group and an overall picture begins to emerge of what took place in the classroom. This is followed by members sharing what they are wondering about from their noticing. These are questions that emerge from the noticing that are not judgmental and are intended to promote thinking by the host district.

We were then given an opportunity to share our thinking based upon the noticing and wondering process. This was valuable to me as I was forced to be reflective about our instructional model and the support structures that we must put in place. Three questions or areas of focus emerged for me from this work.

1. One of the components of the CEL instructional model is the balance between teacher and student talk and the level of thinking embedded in student talk. Our model has student behaviors identified, but I don’t see the clear connection to the balance issue that has a strong research base. How can we make this clearer using the format and components already identified in our model?

2. Much of our current effort is on creating documents to support implementation of the model. I am wondering if we have spent enough time focused on the research base so that teachers have an understanding of the importance of these three characteristics. It also forces me to consider how to differentiate support for teachers on this journey.

3. Should we be focused on fewer Classroom 10 characteristics at one time?

Once again thanks to Amy and the TMS staff for this learning opportunity.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Football and snow . . .

Sorry, I can't pass up sharing the Seahawk experience.  I haven't really been actively involved in games for the past couple of years, but yesterday was an exception.  Wow, long touchdown passes and the best touchdown run I can remember by a Seahawk ever.  Still hoarse as I sit here thinking about it and wishing we could have at least one more game.  It could happen if the Hawks beat the Bears and the Packers beat the Falcons.

Now, on to something more important, the possibility of snow later this week.  The only good news is that the forecast is changing from the possibility of many inches on Wednesday to a few.  That is still too many for me.  You can read about the updated  forecast on the Cliff Mass Weather Blog.  He is usually pretty accurate, though I can't make much sense of the charts and graphs.  We don't need another day lost to weather, but chances are good considering this forecast and that we are now entering what are the normal months of worry for us, January and February.  Hopefully, there won't be any problems in the morning.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Qualifying for military service . . .

I wonder how our high school graduates do on the military entrance exam where potential Army recruits need a passing score of 31 out of 99 questions. An NPR story was referenced in this edReformer blog post by Tom Vander Ark. The article refers to a study by the Education Trust that found nearly one fourth of high school graduates do not meet the minimum requirement; 31 out of 99 for the Army, 32 for the Marines, 35 for the Navy, and 45 for the Coast Guard.  Kind of interesting how this breaks out for each branch of the military.

The article gives an example of one of the questions that would suggest the assessment is not that rigorous.  I don't have experience or data to know if this example is one of the easier, harder, or typical questions so I won't make an assumption on the difficulty of the exam, but the passing standard is not that high.

"If three plus X equals six, what is the value of X?"

One positive insight from the study is the chart showing our state having one of the lower ineligibility rates at about 17%.   Since military service is a viable post high school opportunity for many young people meeting standard on the entry exam is critical and another measure that we need to be targeting.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Some additional thoughts on value added . . .

In my December 29th post I asked you what you thought about value added so it is only fair for me to share my thoughts. First, let me share three additional articles that align with some of my thinking on this issue.

In these separate edReformer and Educational Leadership articles, information from a Brookings Brown Center Task Group on Teacher Quality is shared about the need for multiple measures in teacher effectiveness. It is important to understand and consider that more than simply looking at standardized test score gains from year-to-year is necessary for any effective teacher assessment model.

Teaching is a complex task, and value-added captures only a portion of the impact of differences in teacher effectiveness. Thus, high-stakes decisions based on value-added measures of teacher performance will be imperfect. We do not advocate using value-added measures alone when making decisions about hiring, firing, tenure, compensation, placement, or teacher development, but surely value-added information ought to be in the mix given the empirical evidence that it predicts more about what students will learn from the teachers to whom they are assigned than any other source of information.

The main arguments surfacing about using the value added model focus on the reliability of the model as a measurement of effectiveness, the potential for misclassification, the problem with controlling for the many additional variables found in every classroom, and how the measurement will be used in future employment decisions.

What's One to Do? (Education Leadership)

From the federal government to foundations, the pressure is on to use student test score gains to evaluate teachers. Yet doing so in a credible and fair way is a complex and expensive undertaking with no guarantee that intended improvements in teaching and learning will result. What's more, it is not clear that value-added measures yield better information than more traditional teacher evaluation practices do.

The complexity and uncertainty of measuring student achievement growth and deciding how much responsibility for gains to attribute to the teacher argue against using such measures for high-stakes decisions about individuals. To protect teachers from erroneous and harmful judgments, a consensus is emerging that we need multiple measures that tap evidence of good teaching practices as well as a variety of student outcomes, including but not limited to standardized test score gains. According to a recent study (Coggshall, Ott, & Lasagna, 2010), most teachers support such a multiple-measures approach.

That is the question we are faced with. What is one to do? My view is aligned with this Education Week article from the authors of the above cited study.

When teacher evaluation that incorporates value-added data is compared against an abstract ideal, it can easily be found wanting in that it provides only a fuzzy signal of teacher effectiveness. But when it is compared to performance assessment in other fields or to evaluations of teachers based on other sources of information, it becomes obvious that even a fuzzy signal of teacher effectiveness, if it is the best available signal, can be a vast improvement over no signal.

Since we say we are about learning we should be using student achievement data as a measure of success at multiple levels in our system. Yes, this will be complex and difficult to achieve. It will require collaboration and common understanding of our purpose for the measurement and demand differentiated support systems for teachers and administrators, including me, who also share in the responsibility to ensure that all students continue to learn and grow. In Tahoma, it will also mean going beyond measures of academic progress on standardized tests to identifying growth on acquisition of our Outcomes and Indicators, Habits of Mind, and thinking skills.  Most importantly, I believe that student achievement data is only one of multiple indicators that must be considered as we work together to develop a measurement system that influences the quality of learning in every classroom, everyday for every child in our system.

What are your thoughts about this part of the quote from the Education Leadership article quoted above related to what teachers think?  Do you agree?

. . . To protect teachers from erroneous and harmful judgments . . . According to a recent study (Coggshall, Ott, & Lasagna, 2010), most teachers support such a multiple-measures approach.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One more football post . . .

The Hawks played a great game last night and earned the right to play the Saints again next week at home.  The picture is from my phone just after they made the last field goal with about one minute left, 16 to 6.  The three points were great, but the first downs and clock eating was better. I won't get into the issue of losing record - they just happened to be the best in a bad division.

The other thing I learned is that the commercials in a nationally televised Sunday night game are more frequent and longer than our normal games.  Good thing it started at 5:20 and not 8:00.

I'll get back to school related posts next time.