Sunday, July 31, 2011

The march follow-up . . .

At the Teacher Leaders Network blog you can read about and follow the teacher march on Washington D.C. protesting the testing requirements of NCLB and the Obama administration's implementation of Race to the Top .  The Park Service estimated that there were about 8000 braving the heat to give their message.  I wonder who was listening?  How many from our system even knew there was a march?  Are those in positions of authority fighting over the debt limit listening or in a position to be influenced by the message? 

One of the speakers was actor Matt Damon who was introduced by his Mother, an educator.  He shares his public school education including the time his Mother told the principal that he would not be taking the standardized test because it would not tell them anything and would just make him nervous.  If you are a teacher I would recommend that you listen to his speech.  He has many positive things to say about teachers and the current situations they face in their difficult work.

The video can be found here.  (I would like to embed the video itself as the TLN blog did, but have not yet learned how to do that.  Any help is appreciated.)

The TLN post provides a link to a Washington Post article by Valerie Strauss.  She understands the difficult circumstances that teachers face.

Critics also accused participants of supporting “the status quo,” which is a phrase commonly used by modern school reform leaders to disparagingly suggest that they would rather keep bad teachers in classrooms than fire them. It’s nonsense (the issue is how to give teachers due process). If any of these critics listened, they would have heard people literally desperate for some sense to be returned to education policy.

As we move forward without changes to ESEA and NCLB we need to find ways for the teacher voice to influence the work.  The business community and foundations will continue to be an influence in our work, they will not go away.  Teacher unions will play a vocal role representing the interests of their constituency.  All of these various stake holders must place themselves in a position to examine their mental models and the assumptions that drive their behavior.  The adaptive changes necessary to insure that all young people experience success will come from those doing the work in buildings and classrooms.  That is the voice we must hear and the destination for the high support necessary to balance the high demand placed on students and teachers from others with sometimes little or no experience in the work.

In this Post article you can learn more about the events that took place over a four day period including an invitation from the White House to visit with education policy advisors that was turned down.

The White House invited some of the organizers to speak with education policy advisers Friday, but the organizers turned down the offer, saying they would be willing to meet after Saturday’s march. “July 30 is your opportunity to listen to us,” they said in a news statement.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

A march for public schools . . .

After Tucson I think it will take me a week to get caught up on my RSS feeds. I came across this post today and had read about the march prior to this, but thought I’d share with you this important weekend event. In this post from Jay Mathews Class Struggle he shares his thoughts about the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action.

In the post Mathew shares his concern about the factions in the education debate struggling to find common ground.

Our educational factions don’t seem capable of agreeing to disagree, even when they reveal sympathy for what the other side is saying.

He does, however, see potential for this march and rally where thousands will converge on Washington D.C. to focus on public education and demand change. The guiding principles of the march include the following.  More detail can be found here.

• Equitable funding for all public school communities
• An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation
• Teacher, family, and community leadership in forming public education policies
• Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

These are principles that I can support, but I know there are many others who see the need and advocate for high stakes tests, a national curriculum and aligned instructional materials, and evaluations reflecting student achievement. Where is the common ground that can bring us together to create systems that support success for all young people and that recognize that one size will not fit all students, schools, and districts in this learning journey?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Camp Snowball Day 5 . . .

Today was the last day of camp, a time for reflection and celebration.  Our team left this afternoon so they were not able to share in the closing sessions and celebrations.  I am staying over until tomorrow morning because I was asked to be part of the team sharing thoughts about the camp experience and planning for the future of the Society of Organizational Learning education component.

Before leaving, we were able to share our leadership and sustainability journey with about 50 students and adults from across the nation.  Our journey is one that demonstrates what can happen when a shared vision is established and adults commit to supporting learning that young people find meaningful and important.  We did a great job.  People left with information and resources that will support their leadership and sustainability journey.

I am so proud of our team.  Having Mary Jane representing our board was viewed by some in our session as evidence of a vision that reached to the board.  She introduced our journey and the commitment and pride in our work was evident in her words and sharing.  Once again the kids did great work.  They each shared personal observations about a sustainability unit they experienced and the importance of continuing to engage in this work. 

Below, are some pictures of one of our students using her art talent to support the session facilitator's preparation for the session and the students sharing during the session.

While we were presenting, our two teachers were in class increasing their knowledge base on how to use system thinking archetypes in the classroom.  This year they will work with other teachers to bring these concepts into our classrooms.  We believe that this learning will provide students with a knowledge base and skill set that enhances their problem solving capacity.  We are forming a partnership with the Waters Foundation to support us in this work.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Camp Snowball Day 4 . . .

Today was a more leisurely day.  I "volunteered" to spend some time this afternoon at the pool with the kids that was energizing for me. 

The work for the day consisted of presentations by Dr. Michael Fullan and Peter.  We have read a lot of Fullan's books and have used his ideas in our work.  He shared nine findings from his research over time that they have found to be necessary factors for creating learning communities that successfully increase achievement for all students.  He challenged us to rate ourselves in each of the categories as he shared the information.  Many of you know that I am very critical about the progress and success of our learning journey and tend to see the glass as a quarter full.  I can honestly say that I believe we are doing well in relation to these findings.

Mary Jane had an opportunity to spend some time with Dr. Fullan and said that we are doing much of what he has found to be necessary for the formation of learning communities.  He welcomed her to call at any time to continue the conversation.  They talked about the need to create change at levels above the district, meaning at the state and national level.  I am sure that continuing this conversation can lead to potential support for our journey.

We also had what was called a Marketplace where participating districts could share information and materials that others might find useful and informative.  Dawn facilitated this effort and I can say with no bias that ours was the best looking and most impressive collection of material on sustainability.  The kids and adults on our team did a great job.  Below, Mike answers questions of people visiting our Marketplace.

Today was also about preparing for tomorrow morning's presentation on our sustainability program.  At this time Dawn is meeting with our students who all have an active role in the presentation.  I have been able to post pictures of two of our students because they have been in the same sessions as me so I have been able to observe them.  Tomorrow I will be with all the students and can share with you their contribution to our sharing opportunity.

At lunch today one of our students had the opportunity to be on a student panel in front of all conference participants and answer questions asked by Peter Senge.  In the words of one of our other students, "he was awesome."  We heard similar comments from others in the room.  Sorry for the poor picture quality.

I have been struggling to post pictures the last two days, but tried again this morning and got some of them to work

Below are pictures of two of our students sharing some work they did to support adult learning. Once again they made us proud as they described how they developed titles and placed our thinking into categories. Remember, there are between 70 and 80 adults that they are speaking to in these photos. Sorry for the quality, they were taken with my phone.

The picture below is the Washington team, Tahoma with a representative from e3Washington, an ESD, and a modeling consultant.  It was taken at the Desert Museum between rain showers. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Camp Snowball Day 3 . . .

We started the day with a team meeting continuing our discussion to establish goals for the week that carry over into the school year.  Thus far we have discussed the following potential goals.
  • Implementing a model to support teachers in embedding systems thinking into our science and social studies curriculum.
  • Intentionally establishing structures that give students a genuine voice in their Tahoma education.
  • Continuation of our focus on sustainability that includes Establishment of a system structure for coordinating and supporting the work of our green teams.
Today was a day of new learning for me in the Intergenerational Leadership session.  The focus continued to be on personal and shared vision, but the activities were new and placed me in situations that forced reflection and examination of my level of commitment to the vision.  I am no longer thinking about wanting the vision, I now see the importance of committing to the vision.  Commitment requires some form of action to move closer to the vision and that is the  where learning and growth will take place, in the journey moving closer to the vision.

Some of the activities that we are asked to do are difficult for me because they require engaging with people I don't know in behaviors that are foreign to me.  An example are the centering activities designed to get in touch with one's inner self, to become more aware of in the moment.  My mental models towards these activities are not positive so it takes energy to commit to engaging.  Sometimes they work for me and sometimes they don't making it difficult to change my mental models.  Watching our two students engaged and sharing their thoughts has, however, made me aware that I must suspend my assumptions and consider using some of these techniques in our leadership work.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 2 of camp . . .

I learned a new protocol today from the book Presence about Theory U.  I don't have the notes in front of me, but what resonated were three potential barriers to listening and creating.  They are the voices of judgment, cynicism, and fear.  They surface when our mental models, those beliefs we have that help us make meaning of our world, are threatened.  They allow us to maintain our beliefs in the face of information and data that we should be considering.  They keep us from listening and allow us to maintain the status quo. I will be reading the book because it aligns well with systems thinking  and will give me additional insights into how to support our journey.

We were also able to have a team meeting this morning where we shared our assumptions and began the process of identifying what we want to take from this conference.  I am looking forward to our next opportunity tomorrow when we can bring more clarity to our goals and the work that we want to emerge from these learning and sharing opportunities. 

Work continues on our preparation for sharing in Sunday's Marketplace where districts and consortia will highlight their sustainability and system work.  We believe that we have some projects that others will find helpful for them to consider and that are quality examples of engaging young people in important work. 

Look closely and you will see a rattle snake in the middle of the picture at left.  Mike took this and a video of the snake as he and others in our group were walking to the pool this evening.  We were told yesterday about the types of wildlife that we might encounter including rattle snakes, but never anticipated that we would see one this close.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 1 at Camp . . .

I spent the day with Dawn and two of our students in the Intergenerational Leadership session where Peter and two other presenters gave us a primer on components of system thinking.  It was review for me, but new learning for Dawn and the students.  It also once again confirmed the work that we are doing because many of those same components are influencing our journey.  I was so proud of our students for the level of engagement they had in the conversations, for sharing their thinking with about 80 adults, and for sustaining through the activities.  They were great contributors and other adults in the room were also impressed with them.  There is more to come as we have two more days of learning with Peter focused on the principals of system thinking.

Our other team members attended different sessions with the teachers working on modeling and our other two students engaged in Systems Thinking Level I.  Reports from them were positive so it was a good day for all.  The one negative theme that we all expressed was the amount of information shared over a long day without time for personal reflection and team sharing.  Tomorrow will start with a team meeting, something that we felt was needed as closure for the day.  There is so much to learn placing the presenters in a difficult situation as they make choices on how to use the time.

The multiple swimming pools make it difficult to sustain during breaks when we walk outside for a little heat because the hallways are cold and the meeting rooms only a little warmer at times.  The kids have been able to get in the pool, but I haven't as Dawn and I have much work yet to do to prepare for Monday morning's presentation.  I could have tonight as we were discussing our power point by one of the pools, but chose to come in and blog instead.  Maybe tomorrow. 

Lunch and dinner were buffets with great food.  A lot of salad choices and multiple desserts.  I was able to walk by dessert this afternoon, but not this evening.  I can already feel my pants getting tighter.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Here we go . . .

Today it became official.  Superintendent Dorn announced that the state has formally adopted the Common Core Standards for English language arts and math.  Just as we are beginning to shift our focus from curriculum alignment to instruction we will once again be experiencing a change in standards.  Assessing the new standards will begin in the 2014-15 school year.

“The availability of aligned textbooks and other instructional materials will be significantly increased,” he said. “And, testing costs will be reduced because we’ll have common assessments – not 50 different states designing and administering 50 different tests.”

Students will continue to be assessed on the state's current standards until the change in 2014-15.  So, we will continue to prepare them for these assessments while the state begins rolling out the new standards in the 2012-13 school year.  Change and more change on the horizon as we are also being told that we need to implement new teacher and principal evaluation programs that use student achievement on these assessments as a component for determining success.

Science and perhaps even social studies will be the next content areas to experience national standards.

Camp Snowball starts . . .

We are in Tucson for Camp Snowball, a conference focused on system thinking and sustainability.  At the conference we will have an opportunity to learn from people like Peter Senge, Michael Fullan, staff of the Waters Foundation, and to also share our journey with conference participants.  Our membership with the Society of Organizational Learning (SoL) has has led to this learning and sharing opportunty.  I am here with four students, Mary Jane our board chair, teachers Mike Hanson and Kathryn Strojan, and Dawn Wakeley.  We are registered and ready for tomorrow morning's opening of the conference.

Getting off the plane and feeling the heat was a dramatic departure from what we are experiencing at home.  That heat changed by 7:30, however, to black skies and a prolonged thunder storm that lasted through dinner.  I tried to capture a picture of the lightening with my camera phone.  Mike reminded me that I would have been more successful with a video on the ipad.  Oh well, next time, which may be a likely possibility here in Tucson.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Waiver conditions unfolding . . .

In yet another follow-up to the NCLB story Education Week has an update on what the waivers might be. Once again nothing is set in stone, but based on the article this may be doable. Below are the three waivers the article suggests that a state would have to sign up for to qualify.

There would be three kinds of waivers under No Child Left Behind, and states would have to sign up for all of them—it wouldn't be an either/or thing. This is something Duncan made clear in the initial waiver announcement.

• To waive the 2014 deadline for all students to be proficient in math and language arts, states would have to adopt college- and career-readiness standards and assessments. It's not clear yet what that would mean. But, presumably, Common Core would be involved. Student growth could be used to measure achievement. Our state has already gone on record as supporting, but not yet adopted, the Common Core math and English Language Arts standards. One purpose of these standards is to ensure that students are prepared for college and the work force.

To essentially freeze in place the law's system of sanctions, states would have to propose their own differentiated accountability systems that would incorporate growth and establish new performance targets. States also would have to establish differentiated school improvement systems that more accurately meet the needs of schools with different challenges. The accountability systems would not have to include choice or free tutoring. Districts also no longer would have to set aside Title I money for such programs. This could become an issue as each state would have to decide what to do with schools and districts that would be labeled under the current system as not meeting AYP and thus failing. If the four options for failing schools I shared in my July 14th post are a requirement for the waiver it could be an issue.

• To waive the law's highly qualified teacher requirement and get funding flexibility, states would have to adopt evaluation systems for teachers and principals that are based on growth and make sure districts actually do what they say they're going to do. Again, not knowing exactly what this means makes it difficult to assess the potential for the waiver to support our journey. Does it mean that the state and district must use student achievement data as one component of rating teachers and principals? Will growth over time be allowed or will it be based on one high risk test?

Though the possibility for relief from current requirements may be around the corner, there are still too many unknowns to feel comfortable that something will emerge in the short term. But, I am beginning to think that it may be possible if the education department allows flexibility for states and districts to devise frameworks that support change and that are not perceived as punitive. I will continue to monitor and share what I learn.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

No budget cuts . . .

“During a recession, every department deals with budget cuts except education. The education budget actually goes up.”

These are the opening words in a Teacher Leader Network post by Dan Brown an English teacher in a Washington D.C. charter school. Unfortunately, they describe the situation in Singapore.  In our nation, state, and district we continue to experience cuts and challenges.  The post describes the importance of the education profession in Singapore through the words of Mike Thiruman, president of the Singapore Teachers’ Union who presented at a recent conference in Maryland.

It is a short post that describes a situation significantly different than that faced by teachers in our nation.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Disagreement over NCLB . . .

My June 12th post shared information about the potential for Secretary Duncan to waive some of the NCLB requirements in exchange for implementing other programs favored by him and the department. There has been much conversation in the blog world about his authority to do this and push back from legislators like the chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Representative Kline. He questions the secretary’s authority to grant waivers and has asked him for more specific information on what the waivers would be and in exchange for what. In this Education Week article we find that he was not pleased with the vague response from the department.

In a New York Times article yesterday we get a little more clarity from what some state school chiefs see as the “trade-off” for waivers to the requirement that all students meet standard in reading and math by 2014 and to relaxing the requirement that districts identify and address schools that don’t make adequate yearly progress. These school chiefs are saying that these waivers are possible for states that propose their own accountability rules and ways to intervene in under performing schools. This information comes from conversations they have had with the secretary so it is far from policy. If what they are saying is accurate, this is something that we can and should support.

The issue of reauthorization has become a big one for many states seeing NCLB as a failure and the AYP requirements as counterproductive. The school chiefs in Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota have indicated that their states will not follow the law and others will be officially asking for waivers. You can read about the department's response and issues here and here.  The best solution I have seen recommended thus far would be a policy of nonenforcement  that would freeze annual targets at current levels, eliminating the AYP progression and identification of more failing schools.

Why care and follow this? Schools that do not meet AYP go through a progression of four intervention steps with Step 4 having at least one of the following actions in the restructuring plan.

• Replace school staff, which may include the school principal, who are relevant to the school’s inability to meet standards.
• Enter into a contract with an outside entity with a demonstrated record of effectiveness to operate the schools.
• Implement other restructuring activities that are consistent with the principles of restructuring.

We currently have two schools in Step 3 who will likely be in Step 4 when the announcements are made in August following release of last spring’s state assessment results. I use likely because every three years the benchmark is raised for progress towards the 2014, 100% requirement and this is the year for the benchmark to move.

What relieves us from the above sanctions is that they are only imposed on Title 1 schools and our schools at Step 3 are not Title 1. You can read about the sanctions for each step on the OSPI site.

Last year five of our nine schools did not meet AYP, again with the likelihood that this could increase with the 2011 results. Should our schools currently at Step 3 be subjected to the potential Step 4 sanctions? Should we have five schools labeled as failing because of the NCLB requirement for progress towards 100% by 2014? I say no to each question. That is one reason why we need the law to change and to change as the President and Secretary want by the start of the next school year. Our schools and others across the country are not failing. Will that happen? No, it doesn’t appear likely. I support the need for accountability and increased achievement, but I cannot support the structures of NCLB currently used to label schools and school districts as failing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Positive assessment change . . .

In This Week In Education, Alexander Russo shares a link to an article in The Nation by Dana Goldstein on the pre-K testing I shared about in yesterday’s post. The author sees the proposed federal program as a positive shift for the education department away from assessments used in teacher and principal evaluation and pay, and high stakes for students to assessment designed to support instruction.

While Obama’s K-12 education policy calls for student test scores to weigh heavily in teacher and principal evaluation and pay, the Department of Education’s new pre-K policy heeds the advice of leading psychometricians: use test scores to help teachers better target instruction toward individual children, not to reward or punish either individual children or adults in the system.

If this is indeed the focus for the assessment, I agree with Goldstein that this would be a welcome shift. Our teachers currently do a similar assessment to support them in planning and meeting the needs of individual students. Based on this assessment, we are putting together information for parents of pre-K children to assist them in preparing their children for successful transition into our kindergarten program. This may become one of the few components of Race to the Top that actually will be of benefit to and possible for all school systems to consider.

I learned about Campbell’s Law in the article that may be one of the drivers for the many adult cheating scandals recently in the news. If you haven’t followed this you may find the Atlanta case interesting. It contributed to the superintendent leaving and a former assistant, now a superintendent in Texas, is in jeopardy of losing that position because of the scandal. I can’t imagine creating the pressure that would result in these adult behaviors, but they are taking place in multiple places driven by the requirements of NCLB. This is another reason why the executive and legislative branches must come together and reach agreement on reauthorization that supports change while maintaining high expectations for increased student achievement for all young people.

This positive change, however, pales when compared to the $250 million given to two testing consortia, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop summative assessments for the Common Core.  Our state is a key player in the SMARTER work that will have the option to use formative assessments and other tools to support daily instructional decisions.   You can read more about this work on the OSPI site here.  This positive use of formative assessments will not remove the potential for the summative assessments to result in high stakes for kids and if the leadership in the education department is successful they may also be used to evaluate and pay teachers and principals.   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

More testing . . .

While catching up on my Blog reading I saw this article about 4 year olds being tested. Normally I wouldn't spend time on it, but in skimming I got interested in the comparisons once again with Finland. There are many of these comparisons because Finland does so well on the international tests.

What is of interest to me is the differences in the status of our profession in the two countries as shared in the article with these words.

Where Finland rejects testing, nurtures teachers, and encourages its best and brightest to become educators, we fetishize testing, portray teachers as evil parasites, and financially encourage top students to become Wall Streeters.

Quite a difference. Finland's tax and social welfare system also position all students for success. Contrast this to our country where one's address and annual income have much to do with the potential for success of an individual young person. This positioning for success and the country's embracing educators and the importance of education are the major contributors to their success, not more testing.  So, what is it that we should be learning from Finland?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Camp Snowball . . .

Later this month I will be attending Camp Snowball focused on system thinking and sustainability. It is similar to those I have attended the last three summers, but with more people attending than Society of Organizational Learning members. Tahoma will have a nine member team including four students, two middle school and two from our high school.

Peter Senge and Michael Fullan will be hosting a leadership forum that I wil be attending. It is focused on what leaders can do to support the conference goal to create a snowball effect around public schools embracing the need for embedding systems thinking and sustainability into our curriculum. Because we have already embraced this work we will be presenting our story at this national conference. To assure that we could participate, the conference organizers waived conference fees for our entire team. Once again an opportunity to showcase our work, this time at the national level.

As I have done during the previous conferences, I will be blogging about our experiences.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A top 10 town . . .

According to Family Circle Magazine, Maple Valley is one of the top ten towns in the country for families.  The press announcement can be found here on the city's web page.  A link to the article can also be found on the site.  Here is a paragraph from the press release.

Maple Valley, a suburban city of about 23,000 located in southeast King County, fit the survey criteria that analyzed 2,500 cities and towns with populations between 15,000 and 150,000. The survey looked at cities that were considered to be “family friendly” by offering affordable homes, quality schools, access to health care, green space, low crime rate and financial stability. The cities were ranked according to those criteria and a list of finalists was selected. The magazine then did further research, including interviews with people in each city, to determine the 10 most desirable cities.

Schools also played a part in the selection and our school district was a big reason why Maple Valley was selected as the tenth best town for families in the country.  We can give Brett and Brenda Habenicht a big thanks for the kind words that they shared about us when interviewed by the magazine as well as the countless times they have supported fund raisers and other district needs.  City and Chamber staff also shared the important role the school system plays in making Maple Valley a destination city for many people.  We know that this is a great place to live and to raise children and now many more will know this because of the recognition that this article will bring.  We don't need more students, but the recognition, the acknowledged importance of the schools to the community, and our success once again validates our vision and our work. 

A GREAT family fourth . . .

Yesterday was simply a GREAT day for me.  Over the last few years we have created a tradition for the family.  We spend the day on Lake Sammamish with wake boarding and tubing.  Yesterday, there was no wakeboarding just the Grandkids tubing and the rest of us getting sun burns.  My Grandson went from needing me on the tube with him last year to this year going fast over the wake and urging us to speed up.  As for me,  I am as red as a tomato on much of my body just waiting for the peeling to begin.

Dinner was at Red Robin as picked by our Grandson followed by whiffle ball and fireworks at home.  All-in-all it was one of those great family days that just happened to fall on our nation’s birthday.

Our Grandaughter's first tower jump!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Amy sent me this link to an article in the Washington Post sharing a resolution passed at the NEA convention in Chicago. She, Scott, and John are attending what should prove to be an interesting and important gathering of representatives from the nation's largest teacher's union. The article shares a resolution passed on the first day that includes 13 reasons why NEA is appalled with Secretary Duncan. The resolution will be sent to President Obama who will likely do little if anything with it.

Scott let me know that I could follow the event on the TEA Facebook page. I found the page, but could't find where to follow the convention. Maybe I need to friend TEA. Wow, a superintendent friending the union page. I'll wait for some guidance before going that far. After all, I still haven't asked to be anyone's friend yet.

They discussed teacher evaluation today - a topic of interest to me. I am wondering how far they will move in this area to allow student achievement data as a part of the process.