Sunday, February 27, 2011

A new focus in Olympia . . .

Now that the legislators and governor have agreed on a supplemental budget to take care of problems with the current year’s budget, things should start happening with the next biennial budget. Though we should make it through this year without major changes, we are concerned with next year. There is currently a projected state shortfall of $4.6 billion that will grow because of supplemental budget deferrals to next year’s budget and once again, projected revenue decreases in the upcoming forecast.

How will this shortfall be managed? Where will the cuts come from and what will be the impact on the state’s schools? I join WASA, my state association, in asking the legislators to:

• Not further reduce basic education funding.
• Not reduce funding for or restructure Local Effort Assistance, LEA.
• Not consider reducing the 180 day school year and pushing the funding problems to the local level.

We understand that the cuts in funding to K-4 that we are experiencing this year will more than likely continue in the next biennium. We also understand the tremendous burden faced by these legislators and the shrinking pool of potential cuts, but we ask that they preserve funding at the level imposed in the supplemental budget. This will be an issue because we will not have the approximately $1.5 million federal jobs money to offset cuts as we did this year.

Please consider these points if you have an opportunity to share your thinking with legislators as they struggle with this huge deficit.

A bill that was introduced last week is especially troubling.  SB 5829 may be one for you to focus on as it would transfer control of cuts and reductions to the school year to the local district for bargaining. I do not support transferring a state responsibility to the local districts and the potential negative energy drain to our work that could accompany this change.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Paths to future success . . .

Earlier this month a report was released titled “Pathways to Prosperity” from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education that was a summary of a two year study focused on how our nation’s education system prepares young people for the transition from K-12 to higher education, learning, and work. The results of the study are captured in these words from the press release.

Despite decades of efforts to reform education, and billions of dollars of expenditures, the harsh reality is that America is still failing to prepare millions of its young people to lead successful lives as adults. Evidence of this failure is everywhere: in the dropout epidemic that plagues our high schools and colleges; in the harsh fact that just 30 percent of our young adults earn a bachelor's degree by age 27; and in teen and young adult employment rates not seen since the Great Depression.

You can read about the study at edReformer, Education Week, and in the Seattle Times. The authors propose moving towards more of a European model based on three elements.

• A broader vision of school reform that includes multiple pathways for young people to successfully transition from school to adulthood.

• The nation’s employers must play an expanded role in supporting the pathways system and in providing opportunities for students to participate in work-based and jobs in fields related to their study.

• We must develop a new social compact between society and our young people to ensure that by their mid-20’s every young person will be equipped with the education and experience needed to lead a successful life as an adult.

The release was not without controversy as it raised red flags about tracking and loss of new found rigor for many of those struggling in schools.

“They’re arguing for different standards and separate tracks,” said Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that focuses on policies to improve education for low-income students. “Every single time we create multiple tracks, we always send disproportionate numbers of poor kids and kids of color down the lesser one. Until we can find a way not to do that, then people like me will object.”

Mr. Schwartz of Harvard acknowledged that the report wades into “tricky terrain.” But he said that tracking is “when schools make decisions about what kids are capable of and what their futures are. It’s pervasive in our schools, and it’s a huge problem.

What was of interest to me and affirmed a concern that I have about our system is the data on successful completion of a four year degree and projected education needs for future jobs. Even with the emphasis that is placed to support the college bound student, only 30% of young adults nationally successfully complete a bachelor’s degree.

In recent years at Tahoma, much of what we have added to our high school course offerings has been designed to better position our young people for admission and success in four year schools. Our latest data, for the class of 2004, indicate that 42% of our graduates started at a four year school and 27% have thus far graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Do these numbers reflect what we and our community expect of our students? Does the emphasis on a four year degree as the only path to success mean that over 70% of the 2004 graduates are not meeting success in their learning and working lives?

I would say no to that question and would point to the projected job findings in the report to suggest that there are other paths to success. From the Education Week article:

In 1973, seven in 10 jobs in the United States were held by those with only a high school education, but by 2007, that figure dropped to four in 10, the report says. Half the jobs created in the next decade will be well matched to those with associate’s degrees or vocational or technical training, including “middle skills” jobs such as construction manager or dental hygienist, it says. Many of those jobs pay more than jobs typically held by workers with only high school diplomas, and some even pay more than the average job held by a four-year college graduate, according to the study.

Six in 10 Americans don’t complete associate’s or bachelor’s degrees by their mid-20s, the report notes, and only one in 10 earns an occupational certificate. Those figures, combined with the job forecasts, suggest that education must be fundamentally reworked to ensure sound options for non-college-bound students, the authors say.

I support the course changes we have implemented at the high school to prepare students focused on attending a four year school.  I also support the need for all young people to continue post high school learning and the need for our schools to support them in exploring options for future success. The mental model of success requiring a four year degree is embedded deeply in our culture and will be hard to influence, but we must move in that direction. It requires career counseling at an earlier age, something recommended in the report, and experiences not yet available to our youth and families as they identify options that provide each and every Tahoma graduate with multiple pathways to success.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A welcome break . . .

I was a bit premature in my last post about Nancy and Kristin’s guest post on key content, one of our Classroom 10 characteristics. I once again forgot that this was midwinter break, so they will be sharing what they have learned with us sometime next week.

Speaking of breaks – am I ever so thankful that the snow and potential for more just happens to coincide with this break. It makes falling to sleep and waking up a much more enjoyable experience knowing that we do not need to make a decision about what to do; cancel, late start, or on time.

As I look across the country at the weather situation, we have much to be thankful for that this has thus far been a “good” winter. Yes, we started out with some problems, but not compared to what much of the country and world have had to face. Making the “difficult” call is not one that I look forward to, but after much reflection and study we have a process in place that provides us with guidance for dealing with many situations. Of course, there still is the problem with snow that starts falling after 6:00 am making for much more difficult situations.

How do they go to school in Montana and Chicago with much more snow and ice for longer periods of time? What can we learn from their experiences? In the meantime, thanks to the midwinter break for easing this week’s stress. Anyone seen next week’s forecast?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The importance of key content . . .

I've asked Nancy and Kristin to guest blog about what we have learned about key content since the start of the school year.  Through our observations, review of the research, and conversations we continue to refine and add to our knowledge base about this Classroom 10 characteristic.  What at one time seemed to be easy to define has taken on more complexity in our efforts to support implementation in the classroom.

In preparation for the guest post, you might want to write down what you understand are the critical components of key content.  Why is a focus on key content important and what does the research say about key content and achievement?  If these questions interest you, stay tuned this week to Nancy and Kristin's guest post.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why less coverage . . .

In yesterday’s Seattle Times there was a column by Danny Westneat titled "Time to school this myth" that reminded me of an article in my potential blog file. The article was referenced in a Class Struggle blog post. Westneat refers to the same report found on the Class Struggle post.

Basically, the report calls into question the response to the release late last year of the international PISA scores placing our 15 year olds in the middle of the pack with Shanghai, Finland, and others well ahead of us. At the time it caused quite a furor that I posted about on December 9th. Remember the comments about a Sputnik moment and Arnie Duncan’s wake up call.

"For me, it's a massive wake-up call," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday. "Have we ever been satisfied as Americans being average in anything? Is that our aspiration? Our goal should be absolutely to lead the world in education."

At the time it was a huge topic in the news for multiple days. Once again, tearing down public schools and raising concerns about competition with China. The “reformers”, those seeking any data point to further their cause for charters, merit pay, value added, and testing, fail to draw comparisons between our 15 year olds and those taking the test in Shanghai, a province that is not representative of the education most Chinese students receive. With Finland, they fail to look at the less than 3% child poverty rate compared to 23% in our country, the impact of universal health care, day care, and preschool to support children and families, and the status and pay of teachers in that country.

They also fail to make note of the fact that the need for a wake-up call comes on the heels of more charters, more tests, higher levels of accountability, and NCLB. I guess they believe that these preferred practices haven’t had the time necessary to achieve the expected results. I’m sure that if asked they will have adequate answers. Well, you get the picture. I’m tired of hearing about how bad we are and creating a canvass with one color. We are not supporting every child to reach their standards, but we are also not doing poorly and we certainly care and are searching for and developing adaptive practices to better meet the needs of ALL our young people.

I commend both the Westneat article and the earlier Class Struggle post for sharing the Brookings report. What this report does is call into question the deterioration of public schools in our country based on these international tests. What the report found is summarized below.

Two myths of international assessments are debunked—the first, that the United States once led the world on international tests of achievement. It never has. The second myth is that Finland leads the world in education, with China and India coming on fast. Finland has a superb school system, but, significantly, it scores at the very top only on PISA, not on other international assessments. Finland also has a national curriculum more in sync with a “literacy” thrust, making PISA a friendly judge in comparing Finnish students with students from other countries. And what about India and China? Neither country has ever participated in an international assessment. How they would fare is unknown.

According to this report, from the beginning of these international assessments in 1964 we have been middle of the pack and lower. The data would suggest that we are actually improving. I am not going to study the report and compare it to what others are saying. The question for me is why we are not seeing the same level of media coverage for this report as we saw for the release of the data. If this later information is accurate, shouldn’t people know about it? Should we not be making future decisions about schools based on accurate data? As Westneat says:

Why is that? I get that if you're trying to change or reform something, it might not help your cause to notice when it improves.

It would be really interesting if the reformers had used the data to say that NCLB, testing, and charters are working they just need more time and more of the same and we can become number one, the goal of our President. If we want to measure our success, I say let’s put our best against the best anywhere in the world and ask them to put their literacy and mathematical knowledge and skills towards finding solutions to the “BIG” problems we face today and those in the future. I’m betting that our kids will do well in that competition. Yes, we need all high school graduates to enter post high school learning and work with high literacy and mathematical capacity in, but using the results of these international tests to scare us into hasty and ill advised changes will not be successful.

I better stop before I say too much more, but I am tired of reading and hearing about how badly we are doing and the simple solutions being put forward by people who just don’t get it. We need support and guidance as we change our cultures to embrace the adaptive changes necessary to meet the learning needs of ALL students, not more bashing. And, we CAN’T meet the learning needs of ALL students until our society embraces the need to assist us in meeting the social and emotional needs of not just the struggling learner, but of ALL learners. Where is this recognition and where is this support?  When we experience it, we will see both the pace of change and achievement increase.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another celebration . . .

We have more good news to celebrate. Two of our schools were notified that out of the thousands of schools in the state they were one of the 186 honored by the State Board for the Washington Achievement Award program for 2010. This is an exceptional honor because they received it in the Overall Excellence category that recognizes the top 5% of schools. Both of these schools were also 2009 award winners.

The schools are Glacier Park Elementary, one of 53 elementary schools statewide and Tahoma Middle School, one of 19 middle schools statewide in the overall category. The awards are determined by the scores on state assessments over a two year period using the Achievement Index. The index takes into account student demographics, closing the achievement gap, and improvement against peers making it a more fair comparison.

CONGRATULATIONS and THANK YOU to Glacier Park and Tahoma Middle School students, staff, and parents for this recognition.

We did not have any schools in the other categories identified for recognition that includes the following.
• Language Arts
• Math
• Science
• Extended Graduation Rate
• Improvement
• Closing Achievement Gap

The list of recognized schools can be found here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The budget situation . . .

During our monthly meeting with TEA today, it was said that there are probably many staff members and others that are not aware of the budget cuts that the district will experience this year. That came as a surprise to me because I am so close to it that I simply don’t think about how and why others wouldn’t know. We have shared the cuts with our board and with the administrative team, but not publicly in ways that others would see and understand. So, though I don’ have a lot of people that regularly read this blog, I’m going to start the sharing process right here.

This year is unprecedented in my history as a superintendent with significant revenue cuts being administered during the budget year. From year-to-year we have experienced cuts to non- basic education programs, but not in a year that we have arrived at a balanced budget based upon promised state revenue. Below, is a summary of the proposed cuts based on the Governor, house and senate proposed budgets.

These potential cuts are partially offset by the state distributing the Edujobs federal money to each district. For us, this revenue that we were aware of during the budgeting process, but did not include in our revenue to expenditure comparisons amounted to $1,477,000. If we had budgeted the use of this money, as some districts did, we would be in a much more difficult situation than we now face. Other factors that mitigate against the cut are enrollment and Safety Net revenue above budget projections. The other important variable is that we had already made the decision to use part of the fund balance in the 2010-11 budget, something that becomes more difficult to do in future years. With this additional revenue, we should experience an actual cut of between $119,000 and $269,000 far less than we anticipated earlier in the year and before finding out last week about the additional Safety Net revenue.

Given the process in Olympia, however, we know that there will be much bargaining over the three budgets and that only one budget will finally emerge identifying the cuts for this year and the revenue projections for next year. At this time, based on the three proposals, we believe that we can make it through this year without significant changes to expenditure projections. Next year, however, will present us with a more difficult situation that may once again require adjustments to our program similar to what we experienced in the 2009-10 school year. This is because of the anticipated state cuts and because we used $1,050,000 in fund balance for this year’s budget, something that will be more difficult to do in future years as the fund balance is depleted to balance a given budget. Since we have little capacity to increase revenue the budget balancing alternative is program cuts.

Unless there is a dramatic change from the three proposed budgets to final budget we will be alright this year because revenue is above projections. This additional revenue, with the Edujobs money came close to covering the proposed cuts.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Talent on display . . .

Friday evening was the Mary Lou Harting Memorial concert where our music teachers annually share their talent to raise scholarship money in memory of Mary Lou, a former music teacher at Rock Creek.  The date for the concert was earlier this year and once again almost got by me, but I was able to change plans and attend with my Granddaughter who turned 12 today.  She was very impressed and between the teacher's talent and the beautiful setting said she wants to go to school here instead of in Federal Way.  It was an enjoyable evening, thank you to our music teachers.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Leadership focus . . .

Yesterday, we had our teacher leadership meeting focused on creating a deeper understanding of the Classroom 10 characteristic of key content and checks for understanding. Nancy and Kristin used a video of an elementary classroom lesson to assist us in observing and labeling behaviors aligned with the key components necessary to make learning visual and understood by all students. In one meeting we were able to combine learning and observing, two of the elements necessary for successful staff development that will actually influence behavior. Though I did not leave as an expert, I know that these learning opportunities result in me feeling better about my understanding and capacity to observe and provide feedback and reflection for others.

Through this and other experiences, we are bringing much more clarity to our Classroom 10 goal beginning next year. The emerging focus is on the instructional practices that are necessary to take advantage of the research findings and potential for this work to influence student achievement. These best practices will guide our document development work and content for adult learning. Here is a link to the power point used yesterday to support our learning. Under PD Resources for Classroom 10, click on the power point for key content.

Feedback from teachers about this learning opportunity was positive with suggestions for increasing the opportunity to incorporate videos into our adult learning model.
The video lab is a great way to show people what you want rather than telling people what to do.
• Make sure to get a variety of videos for different subjects and ALL grade levels.

I also want to share this additional comment on the feedback form because I believe that it captures the current reality for most teachers in our system.
• . . .connections, bringing it to our attention that we already do most of these it is just a matter of being more conscious and deliberate rather than doing something new.

Yes, for most teachers it will not be new learning. We will become more focused in lesson planning to ensure that best practices are embedded in the goals and activities for the day and that we are more intentional about when and how we check for understanding. Lessons will end with a summary and students with the opportunity to reflect on what they learned that day in relation to the identified key content.

In a later post I will share the other learning component of the day focused on language and culture. Until then, if you were a participant in yesterday’s learning opportunity please consider sharing with us your observations, thinking, and feelings.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Voting at 14 . . .

Tonight was a board meeting night with students from the Junior High sharing their community project to identify and document local historic districts. We also had a presentation on the status of our Moodle pilot and our online and blended learning opportunities. We have a great school board. They focus on policy, operate collaboratively, and care about our students and staff.

With this as a background I found the proposal to allow 14 year olds to vote in school board elections interesting. Check this short Education Week article on allowing students to vote for school board members in our state. It is sponsored by Senator Scott White from Seattle. Below, is the description in the Bill Digest, SB 5621.

SB 5621 - DIGEST
Allows students, having attained the age of fourteen as of the date of the election, to vote in school board elections for the district in which they are enrolled and in good standing.

Short and to the point unlike many of the other bills in Olympia. With the fiscal issues faced by the legislators I don’t believe that this bill has much urgency or support, but it is interesting to think about. I understand that board members make decisions that impact students, but providing 14 year olds with the ability to vote for them is a struggle for me. Would they be smart voters?

Anyone care to share your thoughts about this possibility?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Deserved more . . .

There were a few comments to my last post on the Center for American Study review of 9000 school districts return on investment. I also had a few others share in person how nice it was to see the validation of our hard work. Once again, however, it made me wonder why I posted it more as a factual story instead of as a celebration.

This was another opportunity to boast and say thank you to our students, staff, and community that I didn’t take. Since I have a personal goal this year to do a better job of recognizing achievement and celebrating successes, I want to say thank you for the hard work that contributed to the findings in this report. Though the achievement takes place in a classroom, return on investment measures like ours demands quality in all components of our operation.

GREAT JOB! Thanks to all students, staff, parents, and community members who make this a great place for working, learning, and living.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bang for the buck . . .

Tahoma once again receives a high ranking from a new study I found on Education Week by the Center for American Progress to measure school district productivity. They measured the return on investment for over 9000 school districts across the country using a set of rubrics they developed. The results are based on district demographics and assessment scores from 2008. In their words the goals of the study are to:

First, we hope to kick-start a national conversation about educational productivity. Second, we want to identify districts that generate higher-than-average achievement per dollar spent, demonstrate how productivity varies widely within states, and encourage efforts to study highly productive districts. Third—and most important—we want to encourage states and districts to embrace approaches that make it easier to create and sustain educational efficiencies.

The study uses three different rubrics to rate districts.  On the study's interactive site, we can see that our district does well on all three measures.  The first  measure, Basic Return on Investment (ROI), rates school districts on how much academic achievement they get for each dollar spent relative to other districts in their state.  Green represents good in the charts below.  The green dot with the black circle around it in the "best" section of the chart is us.

The second measure, adjusted return on investment, uses a different form of analysis to be more sensitive to spending differences within states.  Once again the green dot with the black circle is our system.

The third measure, Predicted Efficiency rating measures whether a district’s achievement is higher or lower than would be predicted after accounting for its per-pupil spending and concentrations of low-income, non-Englishspeaking, and special education students.  Our rating can again be found in the best section of the chart.

As can be seen by this study, our school system once again has a high rating when compared to other systems in the state and nation.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reflecting on leadership . . .

Next week we have the opportunity once again to support the work of teacher leadership teams in five of our schools and two departments. Our goals are to:

• Continue our focus on understanding Classroom 10 at a deeper level with a specific focus for the day on key content.
• Bring clarity to the role of the teacher leader in the Classroom 10 work and the work at the building level.
• Share mental models and skills to increase the capacity of teacher leaders to provide support for their colleagues. The focus for Wednesday is on culture and tools to move towards communities of trust from communities of complaint.
• Provide time in the afternoon for teams to reflect on their learning and to focus on a building need of their choice.

I work with Connie Hoffman to plan these learning opportunities. They are energizing for me and times that I enjoy planning for and sharing my thinking with those in our system with the ability to influence our work. Even though I play a small role, I spend considerable time considering what to focus on and where the leverage is to support increased system leadership capacity.

In planning for Wednesday, I have read and/or reviewed the leadership books pictured below. They use different words and models, but there are themes that run through all of them. One of those that I will focus on Wednesday is the barriers to skillful conversations. We can all identify many of these barriers, but we are not all skillful at facilitating through them to identify issues and concerns of all participants.

Part of what I will be sharing, is the need for us to ensure in conversations that we facilitate that all participate and contribute. Of particular importance is the need to know what each person is observing, thinking, feeling, and wanting at the time. Since all of us have the need to make sense of our experiences, when people do not share these experiences during the meeting, we make up a story with answers to those questions for others in the room. It is these made up stories that result in our mental models that over time make our work much more difficult because the stories come from our assumptions, not the thoughts and feelings of the others on the team.

I’m energized just thinking about it as I believe that our future success is dependent on our capacity to distribute leadership to those with the greatest capacity to influence this work, our teachers.