Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wanting to focus on leadership, but . . .

I'm under the gun to get two presentations complete; one for the Systems Thinking Conference that starts Thursday at the ESD and the second for our leadership retreat that starts on Monday at the Junior High.  The leadership retreat for me marks the start of the new school year making me wonder where the summer went.  For the system conference I will be sharing our leadership journey focused on reflective conversations and aspirations.  We only have an hour so it won't be that difficult.  I start the leadership retreat with "Mike's Story" also focused on our leadership journey and my learning.  This is important to me and always proves difficult to say something of importance that results at the same time in generating energy and passion while also producing some creative tension for those in attendance.

At the same time I'm working on these and wondering what to share in this post about them, I can't get the chart I saw today in a post from Climate Progress out of my mind showing the first and second quarter earnings for the big 5 oil companies.

How much is enough?  Over $62 billion in profits in two quarters while producing less oil and natural gas liquids than in the first two quarters of 2011.  According to the article this is about $236,000 per minute.  If they donated about six minutes of these profits to us we could meet our current and future needs for renovation and increasing student housing capacity.  Something just doesn't seem right and I say that without sharing what they pay in taxes or lobbying.  When I pay a higher percent of my earnings in taxes than these companies something needs to be looked at.  I think I spewed forth in a post about the same or a similar chart last year - some things just don't change.  I guess they need the $72 billion in cash reserves for the day the world turns on something other than gas and oil.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Olympic pull . . .

I can't believe it, but I find myself sitting in front of the TV watching water polo, something I can't remember watching since the last summer Olympics. This morning it was the women's bicycle road race, gymnastics, basketball, boxing, equestrian, soccer ,. . . Many of these sports I wouldn't even consider watching if it weren't for the Olympics. To show how bad it really is - there are two of us in the house with three tv's going, each on a different Olympic broadcast and most are not currently showing our teams, Wow, what a pull these games have on me. I did go out each of the last two days for some yard chores, but then it was right back in. How about you? Are you watching games that have little or no interest for you except during the Olympics? Wonder why?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Initiative concerns . . .

According to this Education Week post, the Charter School Initiative is officially on the ballot.  Needing about 241,000 signatures to place 1240 on the ballot proved easy for supporters as they gathered in excess of 350,000.  According to this information on my July 14 post at $6 per signature they spent about $650,000 more than was needed for these signatures.  Big money helps.

Also today I was notified in an e-mail from my organization, WASA, that the board has voted to oppose the initiative.  Were I on the board, I would have voted the same way.  The following flaws expressed in the e-mail I believe are important for any voter to consider and include issues I was not aware of until reading the e-mail.  The new information for me included the ability to go beyond 40 charters because conversions of existing public schools would not be included in the count.  Once again, a reason to go to the primary source document that can be found here to create a deeper understanding and to not rely on other's opinions.

Much of the e-mail is shared below.

Charter schools put power into the wrong hands. Existing public schools can be “converted” to a charter school by a majority vote (signed petition of teachers or parents) without proper professional assessment, analysis, or investigation. Under this initiative, schools are defenseless against those holding the unverified opinion that a particular public school is ineffective.
Other serious flaws of I-1240 include:
  •   A newly created charter school commission must have a diverse membership; however, each member must hold a “demonstrated commitment to charter schooling,” with only one member of the commission being a public school parent. In creating charters, the charter school commission or approved local school boards may delegate responsibilities to employees or contractors and are excused from legal liability.
  •    If a charter applicant is denied by the charter school commission or an approved local school board, it can “shop the proposal around” and be approved by another authorizer, which allows sub-par or poorly planned charter school applications to be accepted. No standard or universal contract exists between charters schools and their authorizer—each school contract establishes its own policy and standards. 
  •     Although proponents claim I-1240 is a “modest” proposal, with a limit of 40 charter schools over the next five years, any current school that converts to a charter school is not counted as part of the cap.
  •       Converted charter schools can remain in their existing facility, but cannot be charged rent by the school district. Further, the district is responsible for repairs and upgrades. A school district cannot stop a conversion, yet it must still pay facilities costs.
  •         A district must allocate public-approved levy moneys to converted charter schools, although charter school boards cannot request levy or bond moneys from the public.
These are serious concerns that make this a potentially flawed answer to the issues facing public schools in our state.  Continuing the education reform currently in process and funding the planned changes currently in legislation may prove to be a better vehicle for improving learning and teaching and would reach far more young people than this initiative.

Monday, July 23, 2012

More affirmation plus new learning . . .

Though we are already a decade plus into the 21st century, more and more studies are emerging about what young people need to know and be able to do for success in post high school learning and work.  I blogged about two of them from Camp Snowball on this post.  Today, I read about a new one on Education Week, Education for Life and Work from the National Academies of Sciences.

The committee found the skills considered necessary for the 21st-century workplace generally fall into three categories: cognitive, such as critical thinking and analytic reasoning to learn "deeply"; interpersonal, such as teamwork and complex communication; and intrapersonal, such as resiliency and conscientiousness.

I found this visual on the link to a report brief.  Once again there are similarities to our Outcomes and Indicators and focus on Habits of Mind and Thinking Skills, but there is also more detail for us to consider.

One of those areas to consider is contained in these comments from Linda Darling-Hammond.

The skill that may be the trickiest to teach and test may be the one that underlies and connects skills in all three areas: a student's ability to transfer and apply existing knowledge to a problem in a new context. "Transfer is the sort of Holy Grail in this whole thing," Mr. Pellegrino said. "We'd like to believe we can create Renaissance men who are experts in a wide array of disciplines and can blithely transfer skills from one to the other, but it just doesn't happen that way."

As we become more knowledgeable and conversant with the Common Core, we are seeing that transfer may become even more important.  I also see the potential for the system tools to support capacity for young people to transfer and apply existing knowledge to new situations.  This report is one that we can learn from as we continue our instructional journey and prepare teachers and young people for the challenges and opportunities found in the Common Core.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The student voice . . .

Below, two students share what they took away from their Camp Snowball experience.  A common theme from their sharing and across the participants was how to increase participation in the sustainability journey.  They and we would be very interested in your ideas so please consider sharing them.

Camp Snowball Highlights
Sustainability starts with an inspiration. Students will begin to work with their green teams and comply with sustainability standards if they feel inspired to. As a school district we need to spark more inspiration; students do participate but we want the effort to be more voluntary and common. At camp I feel that one of the most valuable pieces of information I learned was how to increase participation. There are multiple ways to spark this inspiration.

An important lesson I learned was how to make sustainability a part of the culture. The strategy is volunteerism. People will comply with sustainability only if they want to. When people see those who comply with sustainability, the question arises why not. We cannot preach to the choir or force staff and students to change behavior. We can only encourage these best management practices.

By going to camp my view of sustainability has changed. I realized how it was a system that people need to comply with it. But it must be joined by others, not enforced upon them.
Key Learning from Camp Snowball
Camp Snowball was a great learning community where people from around the country, who had similar visions for the future, could come together and learn what they could do to improve. Something I saw was that many people were facing the same challenges as each other, but there were people who had overcome those same challenges and shared how they did so, in order to help others do the same. I know as a student at the camp, that while I collaborated with other students, I was getting a different point of view of their districts than I would if I had talked with an adult. There were many groups at Camp that had just started work towards sustainability and applying systems thinking. So seeing the diversity of levels everyone else was at was definitely quite interesting to see.
Although Tahoma has taken many steps towards sustainability, while in my Core Module at Camp Snowball, I gathered many new ideas about what we could do differently. For example, something I hope to see done across the Tahoma School District is more collaboration throughout the different green teams. Up until now, each team has been working individually to improve their particular school. But when we connected with each other recently, we discovered we were all facing similar challenges such as needing more student participation. So if we connected and looked at things from a different perspective or in “big picture” form, we would be able to make a much larger impact. And while at camp, I learned many techniques that could help solve some of these common challenges. So in conclusion, I am really glad to have attended Camp Snowball, and I am looking forward to applying all that I have learned into our school and community. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lesson - importance of primary sources ....

I happened to run across a Partnership for Learning article that shared what Washington must do to meet conditions for a continuing NCLB waiver.  What conditions?  In the article I read announcing the waiver that I posted about here, it did not speak about conditions.  It seems that our state’s waiver is only conditionally approved for one year unlike those granted to most states. 

So why did we only receive a conditional approval?  Because there are still questions at the federal level about the state’s plan in two areas; the same areas that I have identified in my previous posts that led to my concerns or skepticism with the proposal.

  • the continued study and refinement of Washington's new accountability index/system.
  • the use of student growth as a significant factor in its teacher-and-principal evaluation system.
Going to the letter from Secretary Duncan to Superintendent Dorn we find the issues summarized in this lengthy paragraph.

To receive approval to implement ESEA flexibility through the end of the 2013–2014 school year, Washington must submit to the Department for review and approval an amended request incorporating:  (1) the final version of the new index, including by attaching to the amended request any technical documentation, administrative rules, and other relevant information; (2) rules regarding the use of student growth as a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that Washington’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation Project Steering Committee is expected to recommend by December 2012; and (3) a copy of the amended State statute that requires each focused evaluation to use student growth data.  If Washington’s amended request does not include the final version of the new index, fails to demonstrate that its final method for determining a teacher or principal’s summative evaluation rating includes student growth as a significant factor, fails to demonstrate that it has secured the necessary legislative change to require that focused evaluations include student growth, or if Washington does not receive approval of the amended request, the waivers being granted to Washington through ESEA flexibility will expire at the end of the 2012–2013 school year, and Washington and its districts will be required to immediately resume complying with all ESEA requirements.

What this means is that OSPI must meet the conditions for a continuing waiver by submitting:

  • the final version of the  Achievement Index.
  • rules regarding the use of student growth as a significant factor in educator evaluations.
  • a copy of the state's amended statute requiring the use of student growth data on focused educator evaluations.
Work is underway on the first bullet.  The second and third, however, may prove more difficult as the current language in statute provides local associations with the opportunity to bargain over what student data is used in teacher evaluations.  It will be interesting to follow the next legislative session to see if there are votes to make it more restrictive like Senate Bill 5895 did when it removed the flexibility for using one of the three state-approved evaluation models.

What did I learn?  I should have gone to the primary source document and not relied only on the news article.  I also learned that the story is not yet complete.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Applying system tools . . .

I have been part of a team along with Dawn that has been planning a systems thinking conference next month sponsored by our Puget Sound ESD.  The conference is the brain child of Joshua Halsey from the ESD who has been supported by many people to make this learning opportunity come alive.  I believe that it will be a wonderful opportunity for teams to focus on system tools to develop a deeper understanding of their current reality and the gap between that reality and a preferred vision for the future.  This deeper understanding and the tools will assist the teams in developing short and long range plans to reduce the gap.  Each team will also be supported by a systems coach to assist them in using the tools that will be introduced.

For a variety of reasons we were not able to identify a building to take advantage of this opportunity.  We do, however, have a team that will attend composed of department and building administrators, building managers, PSE Association representatives, and classification representatives.  The problem of practice they will focus on is evaluation and what many in the Association currently see as something the administrators do to meet the legal and contractual requirements, but is not something that provides meaningful data for support and growth over time.  For years they have been asking for us to revisit this issue and each time we agree that it is a problem, but put forth no solutions.  This conference will provide an opportunity for a collaborative review of current practice, for creating a vision of a better process, and for planning how to move towards the new vision.

I am excited for this opportunity to support the team with this issue and for the experience with the tools locally.  I want to see this conference with four teams grow because I believe that there is leverage in these tools for teams wanting to change practice that sustains over time.  I’ll share more during the conference that starts August 2nd.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The battle looms . . .

Reading Scott's comment to last night's post made me think about the upcoming battle on Initiative 1240 and who will join WEA in fighting against charter schools.  We know that there will be a lot of prominent voices and money from people such as Gates, Allen, Bezos, Stand for Children, and legislators from both parties.  Who will stand with WEA, teachers, and other public school employees in opposition?

The vote in November will take place in a different context than the previous three times when it was defeated.  There are more divergent voices supporting these schools and we have been bombarded with negative reports and editorials about the failures of public schools since the last vote.  Even though the research is mixed on charters, like most research in our profession, it seems like what gets in the media is mostly positive.

It will be people versus money and what it can buy.  Who will the people be?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Buying signatures . . .

In case you didn't see how much money was spent to gather signatures for the Charter School Initiative check out this short Education Week piece.  According to PDC filings supporters spent about $6 for each signature gathered for a total of about $2.1 million.  That means they have about $200,000 left to begin the yes campaign.  The opponents of Initiative 1240 have raised about $16,000 to date.  Looks like a classic David versus Goliath encounter when it comes to donations.

How much money do you think the proponents will raise and what influence will it have on the outcome?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Growing PASSION . . .

Last night we had the opportunity to listen to Ken Kay talk about what he sees as the capabilities students must have to succeed in life, citizenship, and work.  He calls them the 4Cs in his book The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education.  You can read about them in this document on the NEA site.

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
This morning we heard from Tony Wagner about the 7 survival skills for future success found in his book Creating Innovators.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurship
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and using information
  • Curiosity and imagination
Sound familiar?  They should, because most of these have been a focus of our work for many years especially our Outcomes and Indicators, Habits of Mind, and thinking skills.  Following his presentation Ken Kay came up and gave me his card and said we should consider joining his organization as our work is aligned with his.  He knew me because of the pecha kucha presentation.

Along with the passion I have an accompanying growing dissonance based on comments from seniors following their oral boards making jokes or comments about finally having not to worry about complex thinker or community contributor or . . . any longer.  Fifteen years ago in our elementary buildings the  halls would be full of indicators of the importance of our Outcomes that I don't see today.  I wish that every student and parent of an elementary student could hear Wagner talk about what they learned in their work and what will position young people for success in the future.

We need to rekindle passion for our work and find balance between knowledge acquisition, skill development, and what Wagner and Kay suggest are the value added for the future.  It's time to refuel the train because I can't tolerate the dissonance.  

The conference is proving to be one of the best I have attended.  I'm increasing my knowledge, discovering new tools to support my work, finding affirmation from colleagues around the country, and being challenged to reflect on our practice and learning organization journey.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Learning at camp . . .

Graphic artist documenting the sessions
I have had two productive days at Camp Snowball.. I picked Practical Applications of Systems Thinking for School Leaders as my Core Module and it is turning out to be a good choice. The facilitators, Mary Sheetz and Tony Robinson from the Ritenour School District in St. Louis are giving me practical leadership applications for system tools that for too long I have avoided. I can see how they can provide additional leverage for the conversations and decisions that we face on our key content learning journey.

I also made the decision to do a Pecha Kucha presentation on our learning organization journey.  A pecha kucha is a presentation using 20 slides each lasting 20 seconds.  I chose to use slides from our leadership institutes which proved to be difficult for me because on some of the slides I would spend 20 minutes or more.  Having only 20 seconds to craft a meaningful message was hard.  It became more difficult when they turned the lights down making it hard to see my index cards, causing me to stumble on the first couple of slides.  Based on the feedback I guess it was ok and I'm glad it is behind me.

You can follow the learning journey of the four students with us as they blog daily here.  As always, we have great kids who are contributing to the success of the conference and are gaining ideas for sustainability projects back in their schools.
Sharing our Market Place booth

Monday, July 9, 2012

Arrived at Camp Snowball . . .

Today was a day of travel to Camp Snowball in Tuscon with a stopover in Phoenix, about eight hours in total to arrive at the conference site.  We opened with a dinner meeting and an opportunity to meet others from around the country with an interest in systems thinking, sustainability, and organizational learning.

Tomorrow we begin our learning journey with an opportunity to hear from Peter and others in the morning and in the afternoon with the core module we chose for our focus. I am still debating on a core module needing to choose between Developing Collective Intelligence and Practical Applications of Systems Thinking for School Leaders.

By the way, it was 113 degrees at the Phoenix airport when we boarded the commuter plane for the last leg to Tucson where it thankfully dropped into the 90's.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Off to camp . . .

Tomorrow morning I'm off with Dawn and nine others to Camp Snowball.  What was once an annual gathering of SoL Ed. partners for the last two years has become Camp Snowball, a learning opportunity focused on education for sustainability and systems thinking.  As I have shared before, we are a member of the SoL Ed. network though most in our system are not aware of it.  The work of the network is grounded in four operating frameworks that include: Education for Sustainability, Organizational learning, Systems Thinking, and Youth Engagement.  The focus is very aligned with our journey.

Here is a link to the SoL Ed. newsletter that contains an article about the Junior High's Green Ribbon national school award and the high school's garden.  There is also an interesting article from an elementary school in North Carolina where a resource room teacher is using system tools with students in her resource room.  The tools are supporting these resource room students to think differently that is having an impact on their self-esteem.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Its official . . .

It is now official, the federal education department has announced that Washington and Wisconsin have been granted waivers from many of the NCLB requirements.  Congratulations to Superintendent Dorn and to Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke for their efforts to bring this process to a successful conclusion.  You can read about the announcement in this Seattle Times article.

On a different topic, thanks to Scott for his comment to my post on teaching and feedback.  Your hope for the new evaluation system to foster feedback that results in reflection on the teacher's part is what we are striving for with our Classroom 10 goal on key content.  It will be important for us to work collaboratively to insure that supervision practices do not get lost in the evaluation process.  Also, thanks for asking me for feedback.  I visited hundreds of classrooms this year to support principal learning.  I gave formal feedback only to you because you asked for it and gave in the moment feedback and asked reflective questions on a few occasions.  This was intentional on my part, but giving feedback is something I enjoy and perhaps should reconsider next year.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The need for practice, feedback, and reflection . . .

I like this short post from Alexander Russo's blog This Week In Education.  It has me reflecting on the need for support for emerging as well as practicing teachers.

It is time, finally, to start training teachers the way we train doctors and pilots, with intense, realistic practice... to stop saying teaching is hard work and start acting like it. -- The Atlantic's Amanda Ripley

He links to this short article in the Atlantic titled Boot Camp for Teachers that starts with a former Air Force commander suggesting it is harder being a teacher than it was being a commander.

Before the Air Force technician George Deneault flew combat missions, he had to practice—a lot. “You can’t fool around on combat aircraft.” But when Deneault retired and became a special-ed math teacher, he walked into a Virginia classroom cold. When asked which was easier—being a military commander or being a teacher—he didn’t hesitate. “Commander.”

I don't know if the answer is to implement military training practices in preparing teachers, but I agree with the need for much more practice before teachers have the primary responsibility for the learning of young people at any grade level.  The traditional student teaching model does not provide the quantity of practice necessary for prospective teachers to experience the multitude of decision making opportunities a teacher faces in any given day.  This takes practice opportunities and the support of an expert coach.  Feedback is necessary and the coach must also have the capacity to ask reflective questions so that the learner can reflect and evaluate her/his practice.

Practicing teachers also need feedback and reflection to grow their practice.  In the absence of feedback, most of us will not learn, apply, and evaluate new strategies.  We instead continue to do what we believe is right and familiar to us.  Unfortunately, the norm in our profession for emerging and practicing teachers is little feedback and little focus on reflection, something we are trying to change with our Classroom 10 goal focused on key content.

When was the last time you were asked a reflective question that made you reflect and consider the actions you took or are planning to take in a future lesson?  What was that question?  If you have recently experienced this opportunity I believe that you do remember it as well as who asked it, when it was asked, and how you responded.  These are learning opportunities that we cherish and wish for more.  Consider sharing your question in a comment to this post.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Big money initiative . . .

Interesting article in today’s Seattle Times about big donors to the charter school initiative.  The headline tells much of the story.

Well-funded charter-school initiative has nearly enough signatures to make ballot

Supporters of allowing charter schools in Washington state have raised nearly $2 million from a handful of high-profile donors and say they are poised to submit the needed 241,153 valid signatures by the Friday deadline.

You can probably guess who some of these donors are.  So far seven donors have contributed with the smallest donation being $25,000.  The money was used to hire professional signature-gatherers through a California firm.

Jason Dominguez, a self-described ballot initiative professional from California, said he was getting paid $4 for each signature he obtained. The 31-year-old said he was among about 400 signature-gatherers who came from out of state to work for the initiative.

Supporters are confident that the outcome will be different than the previous three tries that failed in 1996, 2000, and 2004.

"A lot of people — parents, teachers, a lot of us — share the frustration that the status quo is working for some kids but not for enough," said Campion, executive director of the Washington chapter of Stand for Children, one of several education advocacy groups supporting the initiative. "I think Washington voters share that sense."

The article shares how those behind this initiative are using similar strategies to those used in the successful liquor business initiative that easily passed with a 59% yes vote.  Another similarity is the large amount of money raised by supporters.  The group formed to oppose the initiative, People for Public Schools, has yet to raise any money, choosing to wait and see if enough signatures were gathered.

The short time frame is one of several similarities between Initiative 1240 and Initiative 1183, last year's successful effort to get the state out of the liquor business.

Both initiatives used the same signature-gathering consulting firm, California-based Winner & Mandabach Campaigns, raised a lot of money before getting on the ballot, and worked with spokesman Mark Funk.

Will the fourth time result in success?  I believe that it has a much better chance now than it did in any of the previous attempts.  Charters are more common across the country, for the most part they get positive play in the media, people are disillusioned with the lack of success they read about in public schools, and there will be large sums of money donated to support a yes.  These changes may be difficult to overcome.  All of these to support 40 charters over five years.  What do you think, will the initiative pass?

Monday, July 2, 2012

OSPI wins approval . . .

My concerns in yesterday's post about the state’s application for NCLB waivers appear to be unfounded based on an e-mail today from OSPI staff.  It is another example of open mouth and let flow without good information, something I need to consider as I choose blog topics.  On the other hand, I’ll just chalk it up as a poor estimate of success. 

With the recent announcement from the United State Department of Education (USED) that five additional states were granted ESEA flexibility requests (waivers), several of you have inquired about the status of Washington’s flexibility application.  In short, negotiations are continuing and, after last Friday’s conversation with USED, have reached a point where we are confident that final approval will be granted and that Washington will be included in the next round of announcements.

This would once again suggest to me that the process implemented by the federal education department is more flexible than I and others first thought.  First, Virginia was successful without needing to sign on to the Common Core standards then our state experienced success with a teacher evaluation system that provides more flexibility in how student assessment data will be used than I thought would be approved.

This is good news for all of us, but especially for those in schools and districts that have not met Adequate Yearly Progress and are in school improvement.  They will no longer need to be labeled as failing under the NCLB guidelines and will move to the accountability system proposed by OSPI in the waiver request.

I look forward to Washington’s waiver request being approved in the next round of announcements expected in the coming weeks.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Still no answer . . .

On Friday, another five states were granted a waiver from the provisions of NCLB.  There are now 13 states that have applied that are still waiting for an answer with Washington being one of those 13.  What makes one of the last five interesting is that Virginia did not sign on to the Common Core, something that all of us thought was a requirement for a successful application.  You can read more about it in this Education Week article.

I also learned from the article that states that have not yet applied or that do not receive an answer by the start of the school year can request a one-year freeze on their AMO requirements.  So far only one state's application, Iowa, has been refused.  I'm still not sure that we meet the department's standard in the teacher evaluation category or in the interventions for schools that don't make adequate yearly progress over time.  My sense is that negotiations are taking place between OSPI and the federal education department over these two components of the waiver process and these negotiations are not easy.  Will it be yes, no, or back to the bargaining table?