Monday, May 30, 2011

Time for reauthorization . . .

I learned about a joint resolution sponsored by the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators in an e-mail  from the Superintendent Roundtable.  The intent of the resolution is to influence the Department of Education to suspend sanctions under current AYP requirements until Congress is able to complete full authorization of ESEA legislation.  It is unlikely that they will be able to reach agreement this session, so these associations are basically saying enough is enough, NCLB needs to be replaced.

We urge the Department of Education to exercise their regulatory authority to relieve school districts from the constraints of current statutes, keeping schools from being held hostage while Congress moves forward with complete reauthorization.

We request that this relief be straight regulatory relief, not waivers. Schools deserve straight regulatory relief, and not the additional requirements or conditions that often come with waivers.

We specifically support suspension of additional sanctions under current AYP requirements, effective for the 2011-12 school year. (Schools currently facing sanctions would remain frozen; no new schools would be labeled as ‘In Need of Improvement’ or subject to new or additional sanctions.)

I signed the petition, something that I don't take lightly or do often.  I believe that NCLB needs to be replaced and that a continuation of sanctions on schools and on districts will not be productive.  I also know that NCLB has had a positive influence on our profession by focusing on success for all students.  It is time to take what we have learned from this initiative and replace it with legislation that is supportive of change while creating realistic accountability goals.  If you want to sign the resolution you can do it here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Future budget impacts . . .

I had two comments to my post on the state budget; one stating that district staff should not be asked to do the same amount of work with less pay and the second thanking me for the post and sharing concern for the future. 

I worry that these issues will only be compounded in the coming years and am unsure how to successfully advocate for our students and profession.

I share Angela's worries as we look at a biennial budget with significant cuts to what we believe to be "basic education" and to staffing levels that beyond next year will be extremely difficult to maintain.  For next year, we are looking at using the projected fund balance to continue K-4 staffing levels that keep class size similar to this year.  In the absence of unanticipated revenue next year, the fund balance will not be able to maintain these staffing levels beyond that.  That means program changes will be necessary if we choose to prioritize K-4 class sizes.

We have difficult decisions in front of us that could become more difficult if the state economy does not improve.  Without an economic recovery legislators will once again need to look for savings, a situation that is difficult to predict and uncomfortable to consider.  The one arena that could help public education is the state supreme court review this June of the state's appeal to the NEWS lawsuit where the judge said that “state funding [for basic education] is not ample, it is not stable, and it is not dependable.” 

This year's cuts would suggest that it continues to be far from stable and dependable.  It is unfortunate that we must rely on the courts to secure stable funding and that to achieve it may result in deeper cuts to other services.  The budget cuts, however, leave us with few choices and the need for continued advocacy on behalf of our students.  Unfortunately, without increased state revenue there is little that advocacy will accomplish leaving legislators with few alternatives and our best hopes in the hand of the courts. 

I don't enjoy being in the position of needing to advocate knowing that maintaining or increasing public school funding will result in severe cuts to other state services, but we cannot continue our journey to achieve success for all students with cuts to our primary funding source, the state.  Something must change and for us the best change will be economic recovery.  It will be faster than court cases and result in less disruption to other services across the state.  I guess there is an alternative and that would be raising taxes, but that doesn't appear likely given the public response to tax increases.  So, we move forward given what we know and wait and see if state revenue becomes more stable.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Passing the buck . . .

Lets look more closely at the legislative salary "cuts" of 1.9% for certified and classified staff and 3% for administrative staff.  The "cuts" are actually reductions in the formulas that drive revenue to school districts, reductions that districts must make decisions about in collaboration with their bargaining units.  Unlike what the headlines would suggest, the legislators didn't cut individual staff salaries.

What does it mean for teachers?  Well, we won't know the actual impact until we begin discussions with TEA and are able to work through all the formulas to determine our actual 20011-12 budget revenue.  We do know that there will be less revenue and that the base will be reduced meaning those salaries driven by the base will be less.  In reality, however, many teachers will move on the salary schedule either for experience, education, or both.  This movement on the schedule will offset the reduced base providing them with a raise.  Teachers at the bottom step in any column and no education increment will experience reduced salary.  So, what has been touted as a 1.9% cut to teacher salary will not result in a reduction for all teachers.

For classified and administrative staff it is a different situation.  There are no state salary schedules for these positions so the revenue formulas are reduced by 1.9% and 3%.  In both of these cases, however, the formulas do not drive revenue close to what the district expends in salaries.  So, a percentage reduction in revenue to these positions can be made up by a smaller reduction to each person's actual salary.  In other words, because each person's compensation is in excess of the revenue received it takes a smaller actual salary reduction to each position to make up the total reduced revenue.  Remember, they did not cut each person's actual salary, they reduced revenue.  Once again, we do not know how this will all work out until we meet with the bargaining units.

Is this fair and equitable?  Before answering that question I think we need to also consider what some districts will do that makes the answer to the question easier.  There are districts that have a large fund balance, foundations that can raise thousands at a single event, or both.  These districts have the capacity to and probably will backfill cuts to teacher salaries.  We have neither.  So, cuts that are not in my mind equitable and the potential for districts to respond in different ways is not what should have resulted from the drawn out budget deliberations. 

It angers me when I think about the situation we find ourselves in coupled with the legislators not making the difficult decisions that would have provided us with flexibility and options in resolving the situation with our bargaining units.  Once again, the difficult decisions will be ours to make and there are so many questions to consider.  Do we reduce salaries and expect the same work year?  Do we reduce salaries and reduce the work year?  If yes, where do we reduce the work year since the 180 day and program hour requirements are still in place?  What other options should we consider?  What will equity look like for the bargaining units since the revenue reductions can be made up in different ways?  And, . . .

Time for collaboration and problem solving.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finally, some answers . . .

Yesterday, the legislators finally reached agreement on a budget that cuts about $1.8 billion from the maintenance level. Though that is a lot of lost revenue, in today’s economic environment it is not a surprise and it is what many people would expect. It certainly does not make our task any easier, but at the same time it must not diminish our resolve to support quality learning every day, in every classroom, for every child.

We need to separate our issues with this budget and the history of lawsuits over funding from the mental model that we bring to our jobs. Our parents send their children to school every day with the expectation that they will experience quality learning opportunities. Our students come to school every day needing learning environments that support the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes for current and future success. Our job is to provide this with fewer resources per student and in the face of salary reductions for many. Yes, an uphill battle, but one that we must win. We must maintain a focus on the classroom through our Classroom 10 initiative while we fight the necessary funding battle.

So, what did we learn about the budget? There were no big surprises; it was the packaging of the cuts from the proposed budgets that emerged from the lengthy negotiations between the senate, house, and governor. The big cuts that had been anticipated because they were taken away in this year’s supplemental include those below. The potential impact of these reductions on K-4 class size is significant.

• Suspension of I-728, class size reductions, for the biennium.
• Suspension of I-732, cost-of-living adjustment, for the biennium
• Eliminates funding for K-4 class size reduction for the biennium.

The compromising that took place is evident in the following salary reduction that was the big unknown until yesterday. As I have shared before, I do not like the perception that the legislators are “cutting” salaries because they can’t. What they are doing is reducing revenue in salary allocation formulas by 1.9% in each year of the biennium for teachers and classified staff and 3% for administrative staff. The burden now falls to the local level where each bargaining unit will meet with the district to determine how this revenue loss will impact salaries.

The legislators come off as being tough by cutting teacher salaries (see Seattle Times) while they are actually simply shifting the burden. The bills designed to support this reduction allowing for furloughs or reductions to days and hours are no longer part of the solution making the local decision that much more difficult. If passed, those bills would have resulted in additional lawsuits because they would have reduced the minimum program hour offerings in the basic education statutes. Knowing this, we would have been better off without the conversation and raising the expectation that this was possible. I believe that bargaining units would have been supportive of the furlough model as it would have placed public education in the spotlight and given more leverage for future deliberations at the state level on funding of schools.

I’ll stop now as the post is getting long and share more in my next post including the inequity in the salary reductions. I don’t believe that this budget helped the state’s appeal of last year’s funding lawsuit seen here in the Paramount Duty Coalition news release.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The path to success . . .

I had my quarterly Puget Sound Skills Center board meeting this morning. I am on the board as are the superintendents of the other three participating school districts Highline, Federal Way, and Tukwila. The skills center provides a program for juniors and seniors in a number of program areas that can be seen in this six minute marketing video.

One of the items on the agenda was projected enrollment for next year and thus far we have one student enrolled. There are a number of valid reasons for this low enrollment, but it does concern me because there are a number of programs at the center that we do not offer and that lead to family wage jobs following certification. It is unfortunate that more of our young people are not taking advantage of this opportunity.

My intention in this post is not to focus on enrollment or the merits of the skills center, but sitting there this morning once again brought the four- year college mental model front and center for me. For many of us, the only path to success in post high school learning and work is through a four-year college. I agree that success will require post high school learning, but there are other viable options for this learning including community college, online, trade school, apprenticeship programs, and individual learning plans. We must find ways to shift the current mental model to provide multiple options for families and students to consider as they make choices in K-12 and beyond.

Rob Morrow, Junior High Principal shared this article with me of Mike Rowe’s (“Dirty Jobs”) testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee on the work force and the skill gap.

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch, that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

I want to also share a post from high school teacher Crystal Hess on maybecrystal where she identifies the same Rowe article and also her personal experience when she shared with her parents that she wanted to be a teacher not a software developer. Crystal identifies the mental model issue in her post and how the “vocational” label can be misleading.

When I started teaching at Tahoma, I didn't really 'get' CTE courses. I went from teaching the top 10% at my old school, to teaching students who struggled to make D's. My perspective of what students do after graduating from high school changed quickly. The students in my class had passion. Sure they might not all make straight A's, but that didn't mean they weren't highly capable. It didn't mean that they weren't going to be successful. It didn't mean that they weren't going to be happy. It just meant their future might be a little different than mine turned out.

I’ll close this post with a personal experience. In the last month I have had the opportunity to get to know two high school seniors who have made the decision to go to Green River Community College. Both of these students are on the We the People team. They are bright, articulate, committed to their education and could have chosen to go to a four-year school. They decided not to because they don’t have a definite focus on what to do with the rest of their lives, they wanted to work and make a little money, get an AA degree and then transfer to a four-year school. Sounds like a viable and well thought out plan to me. On two separate occasions, however, where their college choice was announced, adults near me were surprised and concerned with this choice. That is the mental model that we must change if our goal is to support all young people in making choices and creating options that meet their goals in life and not the mental model that many of us continue to have that real success is only possible through a four-year school.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

High School Challenge . . .

The 2011 High School Challenge Index is out listing the top 1900 high schools in the nation and once again Tahoma High School makes the list at 1489.  This list was developed by Jay Mathews, education columnist for the Washington Post who shares some insights about the list and other rankings in this class struggle post.  It is his way to measure how schools prepare the average student for the rigor of college. 

The formula is simple: Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors. While not a measure of the overall quality of the school, the rating can reveal the level of a high school’s commitment to preparing average students for college.

A more detailed explanation of the rankings can be found in this Post article.  It is one measure and one that not all agree with.  I see it as another affirmation of our work from an independent source.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What next . . .

What will they think of next? I follow Ian Juke’s The Committed Sardine blog where I learned that Pepsi has developed a SOCIAL vending machine. One can now gift a friend with and actually record a video message by simply inputting the person’s name and cell phone number. The person can redeem the gift or pass it along to a friend with a personalized message. You will need to get in line, however, because there is only one machine. Do you believe that this machine will find its way to your staff room?

On the other end of the technology spectrum, in this post from the same blog I learned that the world’s last known mechanical typewriter manufacturer has closed its doors. So, what do you think will be the next technology break through that will bite the dust?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A pocket of EXCELLENCE . . .

John’s comment to my previous post on our influence on evaluation is another affirmation of the work that we are doing. He shares his experience at a conference with Dr. William Daggett as a featured speaker. In his presentation, Dr. Daggett talks about what young people need to know and be able to do for success in post high school learning and work. He also shared that our state’s reputation around the country related to change is not very positive.

He also stated that Washington State is one of the worst states in the country for change. According to Daggett, we as a state are known in the national education debate as being more focused on what we used to do than where we need to go.

John later introduced himself to Dr. Daggett and shared our Classroom 10 journey. Dr. Daggett replied that he had heard of us and that there are “pockets of excellence” in the state. Wow, a pocket of excellence. We can add to this to the seventeen people who are part of an online Habits of Mind Class initiated by the Institute for Habits of Mind with Art Costa and Bena Kallick. We have been chosen to be the only pilot district in the country for this work because of our focus on the habits, Nancy's work with the Institute, and our willingness to embrace new learning and change.

John goes on to share:

I asked myself why it is that we are a “pocket” in the midst of stagnation. The ability that we have to work collaboratively together on the Classroom 10 initiative, on evaluation, and on innovation make our district special, worthy of leading our state in true reform. The key is collaboration; without it we stagnate and fail in our attempts to improve the quality of education for our students.

Yes, collaboration is one of the foundations for success and collaboration requires a knowledge and skill set necessary to support the many skillful conversations. We are developing this capacity through our teacher leadership institute where we are also revisiting the need to balance high demand with high support, another need spoken to in John’s comment. Focused, caring, safe, and reflective environments are necessary for teachers to engage in collaborative efforts to support change in classrooms. This is something that many districts and change agents fail to see as a necessary component of change that increases achievement for all students and that sustains over time.

There are many indicators from within and without the district that support our focus and reinforce our reputation as a quality place for learning both for students and for adults. John, thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts about why our school system is a special place for learning and work.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Influencing evaluation . . .

In a comment to the post on NEA’s potential policy change related to teacher evaluation, Scott shares with us that he and two others will be delegates at the national conference where the decision will be made on the proposed policy change. Perhaps I can get him to do a guest blog from Chicago.

He also shares with us a conversation with Governor Gregoire where our work was mentioned in an attempt to influence her as decisions are made on the evaluation model adopted at the state level. We want whatever emerges to have a framework that provides districts with the flexibility to identify a preferred instructional process. The districts that are piloting this year are using a variety of approaches with most using a model created outside their school district. You can sign up for following the progress of these districts here.

There are many in the state that are advocating for one model while we want flexibility that allows our Classroom 10 work to continue. We have been using a variety of avenues to share our work in an effort to convince those with decision making authority that flexibility is a key to success. The conversation that Scott Poirier had with the Governor, conversations we have had with Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke and feedback from Superintendent Dorn suggest that we are having some influence.

Why is our work in Tahoma part of this conversation? How is it that we are influencing the course of the discussion? We must be doing something that others see has value. I would suggest that it is partially due to the following characteristics of our culture.

• The quality of our work force and our desire for continuous learning and growth over time.
• Our belief in collaboration and consensus that promotes engagement and supports skillful conversations.
• Our Classroom 10 vision.

Once again, our work is being used as an example and Tahoma’s reputation continues to grow. Thank you!

Friday, May 13, 2011

NEA to the table . . .

It looks like the National Education Association is finally ready to enter the teacher evaluation debate. For some time the American Federation of Teachers, represented by Randi Weingarten, has been engaged in this conversation and has endorsed evaluation models that include the use of student achievement data based on standardized tests. The NEA has been mostly silent on the issue. In this Education Week article, NEA Leaders Propose Teacher-Evaluation Shift, I find that the silence was due to policy resolutions that restricted their leaders from engaging in the conversations.

The NEA board of directors will be proposing a policy statement at its Representative Assembly in July that includes the potential for valid, reliable, high-quality standardized tests to be included in a comprehensive evaluation model. I believe that this is overdue. We cannot ignore achievement in evaluating the effectiveness of teachers, principals, teaching and learning departments and the superintendent. Yes, there are many other factors that influence achievement, but the bottom line is that we are responsible for ALL students achieving at high levels.

The following piece from the article reinforces our belief in the need for teacher leadership and support as we implement Classroom 10.

The policy statement also outlines features of such a system’s implementation. The evaluation system should provide lots of nonevaluative feedback to help teachers improve their craft, as well as a final rating, it states. And observations must be conducted by trained objective evaluators, including, potentially, mentor-teachers or peers.

It calls on such systems to be fully funded and supported, noting that “our schools currently do not have enough staff trained to provide meaningful evaluative and nonevaluative feedback to teachers.”

I would argue that the system MUST, not should provide lots of feedback. I agree that there are not enough administrators in any school to do this and that we must develop capacity within the teacher ranks if we are to be successful in supporting growth for all teachers, the necessary outcome of any comprehensive evaluation model. We are in the process of this work through our teacher leadership institute and are collaborating with teacher leaders on what this work needs to be and the support that teacher leaders will need to be successful in supporting their colleagues.

I will be following this conversation as it unfolds in July. I wonder how the TEA delegates to the national assembly will be voting.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thinking teacher salary . . .

In this April 30 op-ed piece from the New York Times, Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari question the country’s commitment to a world class education system. I like some of the comparisons such as the one below comparing support for teachers to support for soldiers.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

This is so true. The title of the piece, "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries", aptly describes the point that if we want a world class system we need to recruit and pay teachers better. They cite a McKinsey report comparing the teaching profession here to those in Finland, Singapore, and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.

The question that seems to always be in the way is; how do we pay for it? As the authors suggest, when we had a vision of placing men on the moon, bailing out sinking banks, and bank rolling multiple wars on foreign soil we did it. The question for us and for the future is how to identify that compelling vision that creates enough tension to mobilize the country to action. I question whether those in position to accomplish this at the national level have that vision and if they did, could they sell it?  Absent that shared vision it will not happen.

Speaking of salary, I urge you to read Scott's comment to my recent state budget post.  He shares his thinking about the potential salary cut and the possible impact on teachers and the community response.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The scores are in . . .

Gretchen Wulfing shared with me today that our We the People Team took 13th in the nation, just three places and a small number of points shy of the coveted top ten. This is so affirming yet so heartbreaking for these kids. It affirms that their goal of top ten was within their sights and is something that is attainable in our program. It is also heartbreaking, because they were so close to realizing this goal.

It was reaffirmed for me by these young people the importance of passion in achieving one’s goals. They care about our government, our constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The passion that they have for these documents and the intentions of the founding fathers energized them to spend hundreds of hours beyond class time learning and forming cohesive units to present their arguments and share their knowledge.

It strikes me that we should be engaging with these and other young people about their education. What do they want? What do they need? What is working and not working? How do they make decisions about schedule and what drives them to succeed? We could and need to learn more from them. The structures are not in place, but need to be.

What do you think? Is it important to bring the student voice into the conversations about the future of education in our school system? If yes, then who, when, and how?

Monday, May 9, 2011

And that state budget . . .

We are waiting like everyone else for the legislators to reach agreement with the Governor on a 2011-13 state budget.  Like you, we understand that the road block is between the senate and the house, specifically around dealing with education reductions and worker's compensation issues related to disability.  Who will prevail?  Will it be the house freeze on salary schedule placement or the senate's proposal for a three percent across the board salary cut? 

Speaking with contacts we have with more information leads us to believe that the senate may be looking at reducing their proposal to a 1.9% salary cut.  If this salary cut is paired with reductions to the 180 day school year requirement so less pay comes from less work are you in favor of it?  I struggle to support any agreement that reduces the school year.  For us, it could result in loss of our waiver days that are necessary to support our change efforts and implementation of Classroom 10. 

Should the budget compromise include a salary reduction coupled with a reduction in the 180 school year requirement?  Or, should the compromise include freezing placement on the teacher salary schedule.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

National Teacher Recognition . . .

It is National Teacher Appreciation Week. I shared thanks yesterday in an e-mail that I will reprint below. I want to also share this link to a 3 minute presentation developed for this occasion from Mary Robinson Reynolds at

Please let me add my words of thanks to each of you as we celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week.  For many in our profession and especially for you that work directly with students, the recent national publicity associated with loss of bargaining rights at the state level and the focus on value added accountability would suggest that the nation's public schools are failing.  Unfortunately, there is a tendency in the media to lump all of us together in the reform debates taking place around the demand for major change.

We are not failing and we do no need to shift our focus as we continue to find additional ways to support all of our young people in being prepared for options in post high school learning and work.  Our success and that of our students is directly related to the capacity and commitment of our teachers to create positive learning environments for all students.  I want to thank each of you for this commitment and for the care that you bring to this important work.  This is a good school system and we are determined to get better.  That is only possible because you embrace our Classroom 10 vision and understand the need for continuous learning and adaptive change.

Thank you for your role in making the Tahoma School District a quality place for adult and student learning and for being a destination school system for people wanting to enroll their children in a place where quality counts.

The trip and the bond . . .

Over the last month my blog has been dominated by the bond measure and my trip with the We the People Team. I have many potential topics in my blog folder, far too many at this time, but before I get to them I’ll share some additional information on the same two topics and then a short post on some important recognition.

The pictures below are from Representative Reichert’s office on the last day of our trip to Washington D.C. As I shared before, the time with him was informative and affirming for me. This entire experience was very rewarding for me. I am energized by being around these kids, their teachers, and the family members that were able to attend. I am also committed to supporting this program in finding new ways to prepare our young people for the challenges they face when competing at this level.

Another positive outcome of the trip was being able to separate somewhat from the defeat of the bond. As of today, about 49% of registered voters cast ballots, but only about 53% of them were yes and we needed 60% for approval. The late count thus far is smaller than in previous elections so it is difficult to determine how successful we were at getting more people to vote with the focus on the parent voter. We will be meeting soon with the board to reflect and to plan ahead.

One of the more disturbing outcomes of this vote is the yes percentage. In m mind, being this far from the required 60% removes the option of running the same measure in this calendar year. Unfortunately, this supports the strategy of those voting no because they believe that we are asking for more than we need. By voting no they believe it places us in the position of removing things we don’t need resulting in a smaller dollar amount. Only time and much difficult discussion will determine if this strategy will play out.

Many people are deserving of our thanks for the time, energy, and commitment they made to make this a community conversation starting with the VOTE co-chairs Erin Weaver and Barbara Kennedy. They did a great job of bringing many others on board who developed and implemented new ways of communicating the need and supporting those wanting the measure to pass. Thank you very much for your efforts, they are appreciated.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rewarding trip closes . . .

I missed last night as it was late and we had to be up and ready early this morning. Where to start? With the good news! Our Unit 5 received the honor for having the highest two day total of any other unit in the competition. The not so good news was that we did not receive any other honors at last night's awards banquet that was followed by another dance. I was lucky on both dance nights to go back to the room with those not wanting to stay. Thanks Heath and Austin for making that possibe.

Yesterday, Thomas, Amy and I had the opportunity to view three units from Alabama in the finals. I was impressed with their performance, but not necessarily with their knowledge. They did not cite court cases or documents during the longer question and answer format like our units did. Neither were they more articulate individually or collectively. All the time that I was watching and listening it became more clear to me that I could have been in my suit watching our team in place of Alabama who ended up taking fourth in the nation. It was at the same time my best and worst moment of the trip. Best, because it confirmed for me that our team was good enough to be in the top ten. Worst, because they were technically as good or better than Alabama and did not reach their goals. There must be some balance between demonstrating knowledge, creating a conversation, and conveying passion that we need to find to break that formidable barrier of top ten.

On a much more positive note, we were able this morning to visit with Representative Reichert. He gave the kids an hour of his time answering their questions, sharing his beliefs, and taking us through his office window onto his "balcony" for pictures. He had an impact on all of us and I, for one, was very thankful for this commitment of time that he gave to our kids.

We experienced technical problems at the airport making it impossible to make our connecting Chicago flight. Gretchen was able to work with the airline to place 18 of us on a flight to Denver for a connecting flight to Seattle. This was very important as a number of our young people have an AP Calculus test tomorrow. The rest of the team will spend one more night on United's dime and will catch a departing flight at 6 in the morning.

As I watched Gretchen work through this latest issue it reaffirmed for me the quality of person she is. She remained calm as she has shown on the entire trip and focused solely on meeting the needs of those students showing stress about the test. She is teacher, mentor, friend, confidante, motivator, and supporter of our young people and this team. We are so very fortunate that she has chosen to share her experience and commitment with Tahoma students.

We made it to Denver and are now waiting for our flight home. I'll share more tomorrow or the next day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Not good news . . .

To put it bluntly, we did not make the top ten.  I am so saddened for them and for Gretchen.  They had high hopes and worked so hard to achieve this very difficult goal.  I am also struggling to know what to say and to do.  I know that these kids will bounce back, but for many the pain is very visible at this moment. 

I also believe that the process has some flaws.  As an example, yesterday I shared that there are 72 judges from various backgrounds that come together to judge this event.  The potential for inter-rater reliability is not high in the absence of some opportunity for the group to view and rate a presentation followed by sharing and conversation to reach agreement on using the rubric effectively.  To do it well, it would take multiple opportunities and considerable time, something that these judges would find difficult to do.

How is this a problem?  Yesterday, unit six had two judges who shared that this was their first time and that the presentation was the first that they would hear at nationals.  Following the presentation, one of the judges when sharing his comments said that they did a very good job, but he wouldn't know how good until he saw other presentations.  I believe that they turn their ratings in following the presentation.  If this is true I believe that our unit could have been unfairly judged because in new situations where we have little context, most of us would not rate the presentation at the highest level because of concern that there might be even a better presentation later.

Also, judges are aware of the "good" teams, those that constantly make the top ten. They form mental models based upon what they see and hear about them even if they have never judged the team. We know how strong these mental models can be by filtering out things that don't support what we believe and focusing our lens on those that do support our mental model. I believe that this mental process is even stronger in an environment such as this, where there isn't common understanding of what the components of the rubric look and sound like.

I need to stop because I don't want to demean this wonderful event and the opportunity that it has given our young people. They did an awesome job and we need to take pride in that and thank them for representing us so well.

A welcome break . . .

It's about 5:00 p.m. here and we are on a break before boarding the bus for tonight's dance and announcement of the top ten.  Our kids once again did a great job this morning.  For the most part, the judge's comments made me feel positive.  It will take an exceptional performance from six units to better what we have seen over the past two days.  Of course, I say this with no context.  As I said yesterday, you don't get to see any of the other teams or get your scores until the evening of day two making this a frustrating process.

After the performance and lunch today we hit the tour trail once again.  We visited the north side of the White House, the World War II Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial. In two days we visited so many sites I can't remember them all.  Oh, we also walked more than I do in probably two weeks.

Now, we wait until this evening to find out if we made the cut to continue tomorrow.