Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More good news . . .

WOW! Though it is not the blog topic I said I would share in my next post, this was too good to not share. The senate democrats released their budget today and it is good news for schools. NO CUTS! This sets up negotiations with the governor and the house who did make cuts and also made the decision in 2013 to reduce levy equalization from 14% to 12% and the levy lid by 4%. Together these cuts would be about $2.3 million for our school system. For this reason and for standing up for public education we owe our Senators a big THANK YOU!

See these Seattle Times articles here and here for more information.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Not yet dead . . .

I learned yesterday and had confirmed today that the charter school legislation may not yet be dead in Olympia this year. Even if it does not resurface in some legislative way it appears likely in this Seattle Times article that reformers will take it directly to the people. There is growing frustration on both sides of the aisle that this is a needed reform in our state.

The leaders said they prefer to work with lawmakers on a compromise that would allow for at least a handful of charters — public and free but independent schools that use unconventional techniques. But resistance from the Legislature's controlling Democratic Party has made that increasingly unlikely as the session nears its conclusion.

"Because the teachers union and (Democratic) leadership won't consider lifting Washington's ban on charter schools, there are some rumblings of an initiative," said Lisa Macfarlane, state director of Democrats for Education Reform, a political-action committee.

Even though the issue has been rejected three times by voters in our state, many in the reform movement believe that the timing is right. In a recent study conducted by the Washington Policy Center, 60% of those contacted said they strongly or somewhat support charter schools and 25% said they strongly or somewhat oppose charters. When asked about charters that serve low-income and minority children in urban areas the support was even greater. The data is being used by reformers to support their position. Below is an excerpt from a Policy Center release on February 23rd.

"We often hear that people in Washington don't want charter public schools. These findings show just the opposite," said Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research at Washington Policy Center. "Washington has been called an education reform backwater. It appears support for lifting the ban is growing as people learn about how charter public schools in other states are achieving amazing results for children, even in some of the country’s toughest urban neighborhoods," Guppy added.

As one might expect, WEA responded to the news with a different analysis.

But the state teachers union, which opposes charters, pointed out that the 400-person telephone poll didn't define charters or give any facts about their success rate; instead, it said only that most states allow them.

"There's no way this classic push poll accurately reflects what Washington voters think," said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the union, called the Washington Education Association.

Though I don't believe that charters are necessarily the answer to the achievement gap, I think that we will see something this session or it will go to the public where millions will be spent to support passage by the reform community that will include people on both sides of the political aisle.  Knowing that there are now 41 states that allow charters in various formats and that it is another of those "options" being pushed by the Obama administration leaves us in a different situation than we experienced in past attempts.  For me, however, this is simply the background for what I see as a much bigger issue at the state level involving some major democratic fundraisers growing disillusionment with the party's stance on education reform and a belief that WEA wields too much influence in Olympia. More on this in my next post. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Friends of the Cedar River Watershed . . .

Thanks to Crystal for the information that allows me to use the older Blogger interface - it feels much better.

Friday morning at our Rotary meeting the program was a presentation by two Tahoma students Jayaram Ravi and Conner Hammond representing the Friends of the Cedar River Watershed.  I have attended their longer presentation for two years and have been very impressed with their work as were the Rotarians on Friday.

These students represent 13 school districts and 27 cities comprising the Cedar River Watershed.  From that group a youth leadership team of 22 students was formed to produce a series of short videos focused on the health of the watershed and sustainable development in the watershed communities.  The videos are intended for use in classrooms and to inform others in and outside the watershed.  In an effort to inform policy makers, they recently presented to a group of legislators in Olympia. You can read more about the project here on their web page.


The Watershed Report integrates Friends of the Cedar River Watershed’s fourteen-year history of successful project management while significantly amplifying our reach through TV, the internet, the classroom and student-led presentations to local decision-making bodies. The pilot for the 2009 Watershed Report received a private screening before 150 community leaders at the Flagship REI Store on June 29, 2010. On August 17 of that same summer, members of our student team traveled to Ecotrust headquarters in Portland, Oregon, to receive an award for watershed films sponsored by the Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative. The Watershed Report is featured each year on 19 public access channels.

The videos are all student produced and feature the 22 students from the leadership team.  I encourage you to visit the site and view some of them.  They are short, with most of them in the two to three minute range. Below is one of the videos focused on schools, featuring Jayaram discussing our district's curriculum.  As in other areas, we are viewed by many as a leader in preparing young people to experience their environment with the tools necessary to understand and embrace the challenges we face.

The vision behind this work is Peter Donaldson. Even though he is absent from the screen, his passion for supporting youth and teaching us and policy makers to view the environment systemically can be felt in each of the videos.  He is very supportive of our work and has collaborated with us on a number of projects and recently with the city of Maple Valley on a storm water retention curriculum.  We look forward to a continued collaboration as we engage our young people with their community at the local regional, and international level.

Check out the videos, our students play a prominent role.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Still struggling . . .

I need to let this issue go, but every time I read something like this I struggle to suspend my assumption that the real driver behind evaluation reform is not support over time for teacher growth. The “this” is a Times editorial supporting the need for our state’s waiver request.  Please know I support the need for and request for the waiver.  The last paragraph is what triggers my ladder of inference.

President Obama so far has granted waivers to 10 of 11 states that applied. Washington's reform efforts haven't been the strongest — nor the weakest. But this state, with new legislation, is poised to meet a key request of the Obama administration to strengthen the teacher-evaluation system in public schools. We've earned a dose of flexibility.

So, with the recent Senate change to the evaluation process requiring the use of student assessment data in three areas, we meet one of the federal government’s requirements to qualify for waivers and future federal dollars also tied to this requirement.  How much of the change to the process was driven by the need to support teacher growth and how much by the need to meet federal waiver requirements?  I’m trying to suspend my assumption, but it gets more difficult when I read things like this.  I guess I’ll need to accept that both reasons are drivers for this reform and that both MAY be valid.  That will take some more reflection on my part, but I’m open to considering it.

What do you think?  If we want to be positioned for federal dollars in the future it makes little sense to not align with the requirements for waivers and grants.  I guess a little more transparency on the part of the policy makers related to the purpose for the evaluation revisions would be appreciated by me.

State budgets emerging . . .

I haven't been able to post because of problems with Blogger on the computer I normally use.  It no longer recognizes my browser so I switched computers this evening and now see a new look to the layout that is not as user friendly.  Anyone else with a similar problem or is it just me with my lack of technical knowledge?  Below is a post on the state budget roll out this week.

With the help of some good news this month when the Economic & Revenue Forecast Council released its update of projected revenue for the remainder of the biennium, the budget gap in Olympia is shrinking.  For the first time in 15 quarters (almost four years), the revenue forecast was positive with estimated revenue for the biennium increasing by almost $100 million.  Adding to this good news is an estimated reduction in caseload costs bringing what was an expected $1.5 billion deficit down to about $1 billion.

With this as a backdrop, the House Democrats yesterday released their budget that did not include a sales tax increase.  According to Ross Hunter, House Ways and Means Chair, the tax increase, however, is still a possibility.

Although the House plan balances the budget without asking voters for a sales-tax increase, Hunter did not rule it out. No decision has been made yet, he said.

In this budget K-12 comes out far better than was expected earlier this year.  Through accounting gimmicks used in the past, the state realizes savings by delaying our June apportionment payment to the first day in July, pushing the expenditure into the next biennium.  They will also delay levy equalization payments and reduce the equalization rate beginning in August 2013 from the current 14% to 12%.  This is good news for us as earlier budget possibilities included cutting the entire amount.  If you are a budget nut and want more detail you can find it here and a related Seattle Times opinion that calls the budget irresponsible because it pushes the problem into the next biennium.

In contrast to this budget, the House Republicans earlier released their Education First budget.  This is a concept that was first shared in 2006 and now seems to have more backing including some support from democrats.  It would require that the legislature develop an education budget first, before looking at other needs in the state.  They use the state constitution and recent court ruling to support this proposal.  It did not, however, have the votes to get out of committee.  You can read about this budget proposal on the Washington House Republican site here.

I will share more details as we learn more.  We now wait for the Senate’s budget release next week and the negotiations that will follow between the two houses and the Governor.  Perhaps we should add the recent State Supreme Court ruling on funding to the good news that may have been in the back of legislators minds as they crafted their budget.  Other than the equalization reduction there may be little push back to this proposal.  Even that would not result in big issues as levy equalization is arguably not part of basic education.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Not the answer . . .

Daniel Pink, author of Drive, a book about motivation, posted on the problems with  merit pay for teachers.  Basically, he says it won't work providing eight reasons why.  I follow Pink 's blog and have read his books Drive, A whole New Mind, and Johnny Bunko.  He has studied the research and is someone with credibility in the field and someone that should be influential in the merit pay debate. 

Why are there so many that continue to pursue this approach when the research suggest that it will not succeed?  Below are two of Pink's eight reasons that particularly stand out for me, but I encourage you to read all of them on his post.

1. Some rewards backfire. Fifty years of social science tells us that “if-then” rewards – that is, “If you do this, then you get that” – are great for simple, routine tasks and not so great for complicated, creative tasks. Since teaching is creative and complex rather than simple and algorithmic, tying teacher pay to student performance (especially on standardized tests) flies in the face of the broad evidence.

7. Teaching isn’t investment banking. I find it peculiar that we single out teachers for “if-then” pay when we wouldn’t consider it for other public servants. Should we pay police officers based on how many tickets they write or whether the crime rate in their district drops? How about compensating soldiers based on whether our borders have been attacked or how many of their colleagues have been injured or killed? Would legislators, who are behind much of the bonuses-for-test-scores push, ever agree to hinge their own pay on whether budget deficits rose or fell?

So, what does Pink see as the answer?

4. There’s a simpler solution. My own solution for the teacher pay issue, which I’ve voiced many times both in writing and in speeches, is to strike a bargain: Raise the base pay of teachers – and make it easier to get rid of underperforming teachers. Not only is this approach more consistent with the evidence, it’s easier to implement and doesn’t require a new bureaucracy to administer. (To her credit, Michelle Rhee launched some efforts to move in this direction.)

Sounds like a simple idea that I can support.  Speaking of underperforming teachers you might want to see a summary of the evaluation bill passed last week in the state Senate intended to support teacher growth.  It can be found on the LEV site here.  A couple of the points are below.

- Prevents unsatisfactory new teachers from receiving tenure. New teachers rated unsatisfactory in their third year would be ineligible to obtain tenure, remaining on provisional, year-to-year status.

-Removes unsatisfactory veteran teachers from the classroom. Teachers with more than five years of experience who are rated unsatisfactory for two consecutive years must be issued a notice of nonrenewal.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Oh, yes they did . . .

Our boys won the state wrestling championship in spectacular fashion over the last two days.  It proved to be what was expected, a two team race between our Bears and Mead HS with the Bears prevailing in Mat Classic XXIV, 190 to 168.5.  This is my favorite single high school sporting event of the year.  Congratulations to the boys and to coaches Feist, Higa, Kitchen, Burnham, and Sherriff for bringing the trophy to Tahoma.

We took fifteen wrestlers to the tournament and ten of them placed in the top 8.  Below, are the names of the boys representing our high school and the place they took.  We had two state champions Joey Palmer and Aaron Davis with Davis pinning his way through the tournament.  It was AWESOME to watch.

106 Todd Link (8)
113 Sam Schuessler
113 Tim Whitehead (2)
120 Cruz Velasquez (4)
126 Jesse Vaughn 2nd
126 Steve Hopkins (2)
132 Gabe Boynay (4)
132 Joey Palmer (1)
145 Tanner Mjelde (5)
152 Dan Haniger
170 Garret Autry (3)
182 Austin Perry
195 Matt Hopkins (4)
220 Aaron Davis (1)
285 Ed Torres

See more pictures and quotes from the wrestlers on this Maple Valley Reporter site.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Some good news . . .

Today was the second meeting of the Task Force focused on sighting schools outside the urban growth area.  This is important for us becasue the only piece of land that we have for building a new school is adjacent to our Junior High which is outside the UGA.  A proposed amendment to the county's Growth Management Plan would have precluded any new schools or additions to existing schools in these areas.  Because districts in the county already have schools outside the line and have purchased properties for future schools there were many people opposed to the change.  A decision was made to form the task force that met today to review the situation and make recommendations to the county executive.

In today's meeting we focused on creating an understanding of the 17 sites in the county and the plans that districts have for them.  We then met in small groups to brainstorm how best to deal with sites that are adjacent to the urban growth line or have sewer hook ups on the sites and the same for those with no sewer on the site and not adjacent to the line.  It became clear to me in the small group that those representing schools, cities, and the rural areas all see how a site such as ours is what one person called a "no brainer" for building.  Peter Rimbos, a member of the Greater Maple Valley Area Council and a supporter of protecting the rural area shared how he feels when he asked why we even need to be involved in the process.  Given our circumstances, we just might be the poster child for allowing a site outside the line.  Thanks to Peter for his vocal support.

Though no decisions have been made, these conversations lead me to believe that this diverse group is committed to reviewing each situation individually and that we will be able to reach consensus on recommendations to the county executive.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cloud covering . . .

Though it was a sunny day in our community, black clouds moved in over the Tahoma School District this morning. As I shared in this post, the Senate teacher evaluation bill was a concern for me that may now turn out to be valid. I received a voice mail from an OSPI staff member who has been following our work and who knows the intent of the legislation. The message is that the new bill has tightened up on a districts ability to receive a waiver from adopting one of the three state approved models that I shared in this post.

Districts must now adopt one of the models and can make minor adjustments. As with much of what we do, we are using the framework and research from one of the models to support creation of our own Classroom 10 tool. This would not be viewed in a waiver process as minor adjustments. Unfortunately, the work that we have been doing for many years may be influenced by forces outside of our control; legislators with no confidence in our ability to create and implement a rigorous evaluation tool mandating a choice of three models.

I have experienced many emotions today related to the passage of the bill and to the later phone message. The situation is made more difficult because it is tied to a deep belief about how these decisions should be made. I am struggling to suspend my assumptions that these changes are not about support over time, but are more driven by the need to align with the federal education department’s demands and the perception that using student assessment data will help get rid of bad teachers. I must, however, identify a way to suspend them so that we can bring the TPEP team together, identify our options, and move forward.

I’ll share more as we learn more.

Back to life . . .

Yesterday, the State Senate approved a new teacher evaluation bill on a 46-3 vote.  Remember this was one of the bills killed in committee last week.  The Governor brought two senators and two representatives together over the past week to hammer out this compromise bill. One statement in this Seattle Times article concerns me because across the state we are already into developing models as I shared in this post.  Does this mean that we must take one of the three proposed state models and lose the opportunity for a waiver? 

The measure builds on the four-level rating system established two years ago by the Legislature.

But this time, the state will offer evaluation templates that districts can choose from instead of having local teachers and administrators design the system.

Even with this vote, however, there are very different opinions on how far the measure goes towards improving education in our state.  See below the comments from Senator Tom and Governor Gregoire.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who went to the Senate to watch the debate, said it was virtually the bill she wanted and commended the negotiators.

"The folks at the table were thoughtful, and I think by the end of the day Washington state comes out as a model for the rest of the country," Gregoire said.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, voted for the bill and said he hoped it would make a difference, but didn't think any of the more progressive states would be impressed by Washington's efforts on education.

This is an important bill and one that we need to learn more about and watch closely as it moves to the House for a vote.  We do not want to lose the opportunity for a waiver that allows us to continue moving forward on our Classroom 10 evaluation model.
It does also change language related to student achievement data that currently gives the local system much autonomy to a directive in three of the eight evaluation criteria.
Student-growth data — improvement in test scores from one period to the next — would be used in at least three of the eight criteria for both teachers and principals.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Waivers granted . . .

Susan Walsh/AP
I've been so focused on our work and the politics at the state level that I lost site of what is happening with the rewrite of ESEA and NCLB and the waiver process.  No good news on the rewrite process as it is still under partisan debate in the House, but the President did last week announce the first ten states to be granted a waiver from the punitive components of  NCLB.  All but one of the states asking for waivers in the first round were successful.  Our state is in the process of requesting the same waiver.

Not all are pleased with the President's decision to grant waivers as they see it as circumventing the law.  The chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is one of those who spoke up.

On Thursday, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, accused Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Obama of usurping the role of Congress. Kline released the final bills in a series of five proposals to replace No Child Left Behind. Only one, aimed at expanding charter schools, has attracted Democratic support.

“Rather than work with us to get it changed, he [Duncan] and the president decided to issue waivers in exchange for states adopting policies that he wants them to have,” Kline told a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute. “. . . This notion that Congress is sort of an impediment to be bypassed, I find very, very troubling in many, many ways.”

Still others are concerned that the changes will result in loss of focus on key components of NCLB focused on monitoring the achievement of ALL students.

But some said the administration might be giving too much leeway. Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group that seeks to close the achievement gap, said she is concerned that plans submitted by Indiana and Oklahoma don’t do enough to hold schools accountable for educating Latino, African American and other minority children.

As I've shared in earlier posts I believe removing the "failing" label is appropriate and I also believe that states should have more control over how they support the lowest achieving schools, two things granted in the waivers.  I am not as aligned with the requirements that go beyond those in NCLB for a successful waiver such as revised principal and teacher evaluation systems and agreement with revised standards.  Additions to the current law should come from Congress and not through a waiver process.  I suppose if I carry that logic further I would be saying that the President should wait for Congress to act, something he is reluctant to do as shared in this Washington Post article.

Obama said he was awarding waivers because Congress had failed to revamp the 10-year-old law, despite broad, bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill that it is in need of an overhaul.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Teacher Evaluation - closer to home . . .

Today, we had our large group meeting of the Teacher/Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP) team to review and provide direction to the smaller working team. The team is composed of teachers including TEA reps, principals and T&L staff. Mark, Nancy, and Scott shared the work of the smaller working team and provided us with the opportunity for feedback and direction as the team continues to prepare for the mandatory fall pilot of a model that must be in place for all by the 2013 school year.

This is a very complex project made more so by the fact that we have many years of experience with our Classroom 10 model that must be integrated into a state-mandated model that contains eight required fields. A second requirement is that the model be research based so the state has chosen three for districts to choose from. They are Charlotte Danielsons’s, Marzano’s, and the CEL model out of the University of Washington. You can see the frameworks for these on this TPEP site. If you go to Frequently Asked Questions on that site you will see that districts like ours who have a model will be allowed to ask for waivers.

3. Will there be a waiver process for districts that are currently using an alternative instructional framework? Districts that are currently using a different instructional framework (including modified versions of the three listed in this document) are encouraged to study the new criteria definitions and this alignment document. A state level waiver process for alternative frameworks will be developed at the conclusion of the pilot. This waiver process will require districts to demonstrate they are using a research--‐based instructional framework aligned to the eight Washington State teacher criteria (RCW 28A.405.100 2(b)) and definitions as the foundation of their teacher evaluation model.

So, we have our work cut out for us. We are using the CEL model and their research base to place our Classroom 10 components into the state’s eight fields. We then must come up with rubrics for each of the components before making decisions on how we can operationalize and effectively implement a very complex and labor intensive model. All of this is taking place with what was described today as the “heavy black cloud” hanging over the multiple bills in Olympia that could impact our work.

This post on the League for Education Voters blog linking to a Tacoma News Tribune editorial gives you a sense of the black cloud and issue that I described in this blog post. Because of a “revolt” in the Senate Education Committee the evaluation bills, one labeled as a reform bill and the other as a watered-down bill favored by education establishment types are still alive.

Revived with it was a watered-down “teacher evaluation” bill with few teeth; it is favored by K-12 establishment types who want to claim credit for a weak alternative that can be labeled as reform.

The real thing is Senate Bill 5896, which would make performance an overriding factor in hiring, firing, layoffs and transfers. Seniority has traditionally dictated these employment decisions, a policy that treats highly educated teachers much like factory workers.

SB 5896 is supported by people who want much more from our schools, including the League of Education Voters, Stand for Children and companies weary of barely literate job applicants.

Let’s be clear: The teaching profession is packed with effective educators who give their all to their students and deserve substantially more compensation. But they share the pay scales and job protections of ineffective teachers who belong in another honorable line of work.

Teaching in the public schools is as important as surgery – arguably more important. Real education reform will reward teachers like surgeons, on the basis of ability and results, not on how long they’ve been able to hang on to their jobs in a system that makes it almost impossible to fire them.

Given all of this, today we created a deeper understanding of our current reality and progress to date as well as what we must do to be ready for the fall pilot. We confirmed our focus for this work that is consistent with our beliefs; supporting individuals and teams of teachers in implementing the practices embedded in our Classroom 10 model. It was a good day filled with skillful discussion and sharing around what quality teaching every day, in every classroom, for every child looks and sounds like.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

One more try . . .

I am using this content to continue my learning and once again try to embed a presentation into my post.  I have shared information from Technology Tidbits: Thoughts of a Cyber Hero in previous posts and also sometimes send a link to tech staff or teachers that I think might be of interest to them.  If you are looking for educational uses of technology you might want to add his site to your RSS feed.  Below, is a Slideshare of 50 slides that he uses in his presentations.  Included are links to sites in the following areas: Apps, Audio, Charts/Graphs, Digital Art, Digital Storytelling, Educational Games, Miscellaneous, Presentation, and Search Engines.

50sites ver3
View more presentations from David Kapuler
I think this may be the first time that I have been able to embed a slide presentation into my post.  If this works I need to thank Amy Adams for the link that provided me with directions.  If not, I need to go back to the link and try again, something that I often find myself needing to do. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Multiple evaluation bills . . .

Well, I didn’t take Jonathan’s advice to boycott the Times so I found this informative article on the various teacher evaluation bills in Olympia. I didn’t realize that there were actually four bills being considered this session; one backed by WEA, one by Governor Gregoire, one by Superintendent Dorn, and one by the business community. The one I referenced in yesterday’s post is the one getting the most attention and comes with support from the business community. Interestingly, in the article it is referred to as the reform-minded bill. Though the model that emerges will be similar because all the bills use a four-tiered system, the one requiring the use of student test scores is considered a reform. Actually, all the models being piloted today and any that will emerge from this session include significant reforms to current practice. It troubles me that the mental model for many of true reform requires the use of student test scores. evaluations, hiring, and firing situations.

The current law leaves the specifics up to individual districts, while the bill supported by the union would fill in some details and provide training. The reform-minded bill, on the other hand, would require student test scores to be used in evaluations and evaluations to be used in hiring decisions.

In another part of the article this same “reform” bill is described as seeking to improve education. Does that mean that the WEA, Gregoire, and Dorn backed bills are seeking to maintain the status quo? Again, none of the bills support the current model, but the mental model of many is that reform and improvements in our work require that we use student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations and in hiring decisions. This persists and will not go away even though there is a lack of research to support this model having a significant influence on student achievement. So, in yesterday’s post based on the actions of the committee chairs it appears that the “reformers” bill will not prevail. Methinks there is still plenty of time for it to resurface and prolong the debate.

The bill backed by those seeking to improve education, sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, would shake things up the most.

The article is a nice review of the situation without taking sides. Though it is focused on Seattle’s model you leave the article with an understanding of the current situation and proposed changes in each bill.  Once again, make sure and check out the comments where the real conversation takes place.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A halftime post . . .

It looks like the charter and evaluation bills in Olympia are encountering some difficulty in the form of the Senate and House education committee chairs. Senator McAuliffe and Representative Santos refused to give the bills a vote in their respective committees. Absent a vote they will not make it to the floor. The response in this Seattle Times piece is not positive.

"It is discouraging that two individuals could completely block the dialogue from happening," said Ramona Hattendorf, of the Washington state PTA. "The idea of having a good evaluation and discussing how it should be used is not radical."

The evaluation bill is intended to add accountability to the evaluation process by including the use of student achievement data. Even though we are in the second year of a revised evaluation process, new legislation was introduced this year because some lawmakers and others are concerned with the lack of focus in the process on test scores. The legislation would ensure that test scores would be included.

It's worth reviewing what's at stake. Stronger teacher evaluations are set to go statewide in 2013 but a key ingredient, student achievement, is missing from the policy critera. Teachers like the more-robust evaluations' inclusion of individualized development plans and training to help improve their craft.

But efforts to tie them to student growth measures — including test scores — have been rejected by the teachers union and the Democrats who do their bidding. That's too bad. The credibility of the new evaluations hinges on the ability to hold teachers accountable.

Interesting words when one considers that the intent of the original review was to support teacher growth. It would seem that growth is giving way to accountability, a trend that we have seen at the national level. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the session. What I find most interesting is the lack of focus and information on how the legislators will close the budget gap. Same sex marriage, charters, evaluations and much more seem to be taking up their time. Could it be that the budget discussions are taking place behind closed doors and we will only learn about them as the session comes to a close leaving no time to lobby?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Focused on our learning goal . . .

Today we had another opportunity to work with elementary teacher leaders.  As with previous meetings this year, our focus was on our Classroom 10 key content goal.  These meetings are always energizing for me.  I have the opportunity to support teachers, clarify expectations, and work with committed people.  Nancy, Dawn, Annette, Kristin, and Connie prepared a lesson design that provided opportunities for us to deepen our understanding of learning goals and differentiate between activities and goals.  We also revisited the importance of providing feedback as a necessary component of growth.  Nancy and Dawn once again did an excellent job of facilitating our learning.

Another component of the work was introducing a planning tool to assist the principals and teacher leaders in planning for support at the building level.  The tool places a focus on the gap between current reality and the building's learning goal for the year and the need for intentional support structures and learning opportunities to close the gap for all staff.  I believe that the teachers and principals left with increased knowledge and understanding of the need for focus and planning as they seek new and adaptive strategies to support deeper understanding and capacity to use these research-based instructional practices that increase student achievement.

In my learning walks in all district buildings I am observing changing practices with visual learning goals and increased use of checks for understanding.  It is rewarding to see the willingness of teachers to embrace these practices and the response by students when the practices are in place.  The brief story below comes from an elementary teacher responding to a question from me on why she believes the work this year on our learning goal has been so powerful for her.

For me the focus on Learning Goals at staff meetings and inservice days throughout this year is what has been powerful. The two main reasons it has been powerful is because my teaching is so much more focused. I know for that block of time my objective is to get my learners to meet that goal. The other, and I think most powerful, reason is that my goals now include my students. During our conversation at the beginning of every lesson I ask them what they should know by the end of the lesson. They have become very skilled at identifying what their target is by the end of the lesson. I don't have the data but my observation shows me they feel more confident about their learning and I feel like they are more clearly able to communicate if they have met the goal or not. Just today I had a student come right up to me after a lesson and tell me that she didn't understand what we had worked on today. My students are reflecting on their learning and communicating when they don't understand.

I would welcome additional feedback about your experiences with crafting well-constructed learning goals and the impact of that on your work and the response by students.

C for our state . . .

In January Education Week published their 16th annual Quality Counts report that tracks key education indicators and grades each individual state. Our state earned a C (74.5) and ranked 38th as shown in the chart below. The overall rating was a slight decrease from the 75.4 earned in 2011. A link to a summary of the report and the state-by-state rankings can be found here. The highest overall score was a B+ (87.8) earned by Maryland. Washington is at best in the middle of the pack in most of the rated categories with the best being 16th on Chance for Success and the worst being 41st in School Finance, something is not a surprise to us.

The report tracks information in five areas.

Chance for Success captures data in 13 areas over three broad life stages: the early childhood years, participation and performance in formal K-12 education, and adult educational attainment and workforce outcomes. In this category Washington earned a C+ and a ranking of 16th.

K-12 Achievement evaluates the state’s performance on 18 criteria in three dimensions of performance; current state performance, improvements over time, and equity as measured by poverty-based achievement gaps. In this category Washington earned a C- and a ranking of 25th.

Standards, Assessment, and Accountability examines state level policies related to these topics. In this category Washington earned a C+ and a ranking of 37th.

The Teaching Profession measures 44 indicators in three areas of state policy: accountability for teacher quality, incentives and allocation, and efforts to build and support the capacity of the teacher workforce. In this category Washington earned a C- and a ranking of 26th.

School Finance grades states on eight indicators in two dimensions of education finance: school spending patterns and the distribution of resources within a state. In this category Washington earned a C and a ranking of 26th. The adjusted spending per student shows Washington spending $9,329 per student that results in a ranking of 41st. The nationwide per student adjusted funding average is $11,665.

A more detailed summary of the scores can be found on the Education Week site and in this summary on the League of Education Voters site. One of the charts on this page shows our state increase in the achievement gap from 2011 to 2012 while most other states are experiencing decreases. This is one of the main drivers for the recent legislation promoting charter schools. To see how that battle is playing out in the media check out this post on the LEV site in favor of charters, one of many posted over the last two weeks. Then check this Seattle Times opinion piece by Wayne Au, a University of Washington professor suggesting charters are not the answer to closing the achievement gap.