Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year . . .

Be safe and have fun as you usher in the new year!  We'll see if our Grandson makes it to midnight or for that matter if I do.

Monday, December 30, 2013

An important question . . .

Below is a post I did on December 30th that I have decided to post again, something that I have not done before.  I don't have a lot of readers and the count always drops over longer holiday breaks so I should plan better for when to post content I would like to see generate comments and interchange between readers.  For me, this is one of those posts, a topic of importance that impacted me when I read the answers that teachers submitted.

Amy Torrens posted a comment to the original post that captures the feeling that many teachers and principals hold about needing to be perfect  that also showed up in one of the comments to the Strauss post.

I think this post captures what I hear my teachers say, and how I feel as a principal. So many people want to do it "perfectly" but there isn't the time to put in place everything we know goes into good teaching.

I won't make it a practice to repost, but this one deserved more readers and the opportunity for comments from those of you that do this important work.  Consider sharing your answer to this question.


On the Washington Post Answer Sheet Valerie Strauss poses the following question.

How hard is teaching?

She includes a few examples such as this one below.

“Teaching is hard. Not only because of the curriculum, not only because of the new tests, new rules, new measures. Not only because there are tests, tests, and more tests. But because it so often feels like an insurmountable, thankless, stressful endeavor. The rules are always changing. The tests are always changing. And the blame for anything and everything that goes wrong usually falls squarely on our shoulders.” – Neyda Borges, teacher at Miami Lakes Educational Center in Florida, from this piece on the website of StateImpact Florida, a project of NPR.

How would you answer the question?  I was particularly moved by a comment to the post from palan.

. . . But in some ways the hardest part is never being enough.

You know what, in a perfect world, you would do-- the assignments you would give, the personal attention you would give, the feedback you would give on assignments, the preparation you would put into units. You will never have enough time to do all of it, especially if you have a life of your own (and you have to, even if only to be able to connect to students), and so you must always decide what thing that ought to be done is not going to be done.

You grow every year (if you're any good) and you get better at juggling more balls faster. But every day is still educational triage and you are still bothered by the things you know you ought to do, but you don't have the time or the resources.

You will never be perfect, even though you have a pretty good idea of what perfect looks like. You will always be better than you used to be, but all good teachers know exactly in what ways they are failing.

Please consider sharing your answer with our readers and commenting on the Strauss post.  It is important for policy makers to get closer to the reality of how hard teaching is as they make decisions that impact what young people need to know and do and the resources they allocate for teachers and support staff to accomplish this difficult task.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A big win . . .

Once again a tremendous game by the Seahawk defense to win the NFC West Division championship and secure home field advantage throughout the play offs.  Still concerned with the offense even with Lynch mauling his way to 97 yards, but can and should go far with this defense.  It was loud today, but will be louder in two weeks no matter who we play.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A difficult transition . . .

In going through my blog file for post ideas two articles by Catherine Gerwetz in Education Week are at the top and follow conversations we had in our latest Teacher Leadership learning opportunity.  In the first she shares how states are grappling with common test score cutoffs for measuring career ready and in the second she follows that up with the problems associated with making the cut scores NAEP-like.

The issue of cut score is very important as we enter a new era of accountability aligned with common core standards beginning for many of our grades in the spring of 2014 with full implementation in the spring of 2015.  We are already experiencing some of the issues associated with this as we transition this year to assessments aligned with the common core that use some Smarter Balanced released items and scoring rubrics.  As accountability with these assessments becomes a reality and as questions of grades and graduation become tied to them we begin to see the push back she shares in her articles.

I am particularly intrigued by this issue of tying them to a NAEP standard.  As shared in the article, this is a high standard that could and probably would result in significant political backlash with the predicted low scores.  In 2013 fewer than 4 in 10 reached the proficient level in the reading and math assessments administered across the country.

W. James Popham, a governing board member who also sits on Smarter Balanced's technical advisory committee, said that while state schools chiefs "have a vested interest" in setting cut scores that minimize political fallout, technical advisors to a testing project push for a higher cut score because they don't want their test to be seen as weak.

He worried that "in the quest to look good... NAEP might be playing too dominant" a role in setting performance standards for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. When the NAEP cut scores were set, Popham noted, they were intended to be "aspirational." Setting PARCC and SBAC "college ready" scores at that level of rigor has states "frightened," he said.

Patricia Wright, Virginia's superintendent of public instruction, said that states "like to be ambitious, but [NAEP-like proficiency cut scores] may not be the cut scores we want to set if we want to maintain our accountability systems."

Will the predicted low scores result in a common core cuts score different than the cut scores used by states for graduation purposes?  If different cut scores become a reality, will graduation cut scores across the states be the same?  I believe that there will be two sets of cut scores that result from implementing common core state assessments that will lead to more criticism for our public schools.  I also question if "aspirational" as measured by the NAEP should drive the proficient cut score and agree with those that say this should be a long term change process given a chance to succeed before it is destroyed by short term posting of results on assessments administered before we are given the resources and time to prepare them.

When using the mastery levels of PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests in policymaking, states would be wise to "set goals that are stretch-but-not-break," said Kati Haycock, the president of the Washington-based Education Trust, which advocates policies that help disadvantaged students.

"When you ask yourself how many kids are hitting that [NAEP] level of proficiency now, and ask yourself how fast we can move systems and kids," she said, "there is no way this is anything less than a 10-year transition."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A special wish . . .

I'm taking a few days off for the holidays, but wanted to wish for you and your family a very special and restful holiday season.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Focus on principal growth . . .

This Anthony Cody post at Education Week TEACHER includes a guest post by a teacher, Jennifer Gonzalez. that is worth the read. In it she asks the question: What makes a principal great? She refers to evaluation standards developed by the Interstate School Leaders' Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) and shares information from a study in our state.

Research in the state of Washington, for example, suggests that adoption of the ISLLC standards hasn't resulted in their consistent use in principal evaluation. In a 2011 summary of research on principal evaluation, Matthew Clifford and Steven Ross report that these evaluations are not conducted in any consistent way, and that by and large, principals see little value in them for their own professional growth.

This hits at home since I am the evaluator of principals in our system. Before this year and implementation of the mandated principal evaluation model I was much more focused on supervision and principal growth. The model that we have selected is based on the ISLLIC standards and is one that allows me to maintain a focus on what I believe are critical areas for principal focus, school culture and instructional practice. Though I am collecting data in more areas, I continue to provide feedback in these critical areas.

In her post Gonzales ends with these questions.

What impact have principals had on your ability to teach well? Have you found ways to offer them feedback about their work?

I am interested in the same questions and welcome any comments from teachers in our system. Principals want to increase their capacity to support teacher growth and feedback is an essential component of increasing this capacity. Please join me in supporting growth of our principals by providing this necessary feedback.

If interested, she is also conducting a survey on this topic. You can participate here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wondering about us . . .

A recent This Week In Education post shared the best NEA cartoons of the year including the one below.  They come from those that were the most shared and liked on the NEA website over the year.

Though funny it makes me wonder if this is what our students, parents, and teachers are thinking.  Though NCLB has not been a focus of conversation in our community and we are now much more engaged in Common Core conversations, is the testing in our system at a point where this question is an accurate description of our reality?

If you are interested in seeing more of the best cartoons of the year from NEA check them out here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another holiday brings more lasts . . .

Today was a multiple day of lasts beginning with our annual office ornament exchange brunch.  As always, it was great food, good company, and much fun watching Mark steal and Kristie make multiple trips to the table after being on the wrong end of an exchange.

The day ended with another last as we had our only board meeting of the month, one where gifts are exchanged with great food and important business.  It was a particularly good meeting as the board engaged in a difficult discussion to reach a decision on the upcoming levy.  We used SPACE to keep the focus on the issue as all of us were influenced in reaching a decision different than the original recommendation that I made.

So, it was another day of lasts on my continuing journey to retirement.  Funny how so many of the memorable ones are associated with fun, my central office colleagues, and great food.  Oh, and thanks Diana for reminding me within 20 seconds of entering the room that it was another of my lasts.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reflection leads to wondering . . .

I'm sitting at home reflecting on the day and wondering how I could have been more effective in providing leadership, direction, and feedback on a number of topics and with the many colleagues who shared their day with me.  So much of my work is about feedback and support that I don't have traditional "products" to measure success so I often reflect on conversations and what I could or should have said or done in various situations.

As always in this situation, I find specific examples of positive influence and other examples where I question my effectiveness.  Today was no exception as I keep revisiting part of a conversation where I attempted to make a point with a questionable statement instead of a reflective question.  In a later conversation it was clear that my comment at the time did not have the desired impact that the later conversation and questions did.  I'm now wondering what influenced my intentional choice of the statement and what I need to do to not repeat the behavior.  Sometimes you just mess up and need to acknowledge and move forward.  Looking forward to tomorrow and a fresh start.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Interesting reader . . .

I had an interesting comment posted to my last post on the common core.  It came from the Illinois Freedom Coalition.  When I went to their link it took me to a blogger site that started in February 2013 with 562 profile views before I added mine.  The comment I share below shows how emotional the common core has become for some and the scope of arguments being used against it.

For years they went after the kids but good teachers maintained control of their curriculum. Now the communists are going after the teachers, follow the script of be fired. This started with Bush one and he dedication to the UN charter which violates the US Constitution 15 ways. The special status and benfits for teachers and unions has passed, join the parents and enforce the constitution or we move to the soviet system.

What is interesting to me is how my post actually was read by an individual in Illinois who felt the need to post a comment.  We see and read so much about online privacy, but this is my first experience that drives home the point that you never know who is watching and reading.  Out of all the blogger posts on December 12th, it boggles my mind that I would receive a comment from an anti common core organization in Illinois.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Common Core at home . . .

Going through my RSS feeds the first post I opened had the Common Core as a topic.  As I went through it there were others on the same topic that I transfer over to my blog folder for possible posts. The folder has a number of posts most of which I have not used and will not, but today I do want to share some of my thoughts and some of the posts.

Why now?  Because the Common Core is creating anxiety, confusion, and concern in our system and is a topic of conversation in our latest round of Teacher Leadership.  We are asking the teacher leadership teams to assist us in identifying our "Common Core current reality", something that would mostly be based on assumptions if we did it with input only from central office staff.  Knowing our current reality is essential if we are to identify the structures and strategies necessary to close the gap between our aspiration of young people positioned for success in the spring of 2014 and the reality shared above.  As system leaders, we created the reality, understand and own the responsibility to close the gap.

This is and will continue to be difficult work as we focus on answering the question many are asking themselves.  Is it worth it?  The focus of these efforts is on culture at the team, building, and system level; work that many of us struggle with and find ways to put toward the back of our priority lists.  Working through our issues to create learning environments positioned to support the needs of our young people is essential and time sensitive.  We are sputtering after a less than successful unveiling, but committed to reflection and implementing structures and strategies to move the system in a direction that closes the gap.

Our efforts are taking place at the same time that systems are experiencing push back at the local and state level around the country.  Here is a link to an Education Week article sharing the shift that Mike Huckabee, a one time Presidential contender, is making from a conservative supporter to opposing implementation of the standards.

"It's been hijacked," Huckabee tells his audience, referring to common core, "and I don't support the hijackers or the destination. But I don't blame the airplane for getting hijacked."

He calls for the term "common core" to disappear from the education policy lexicon, but that states shouldn't back away from high education standards: "Common core is dead, but common sense should not be."

In this Education Week Teacher article, Anthony Cody shares hos concern with the influence of the Gates Foundation and the standard's tie to commerce and corporations.

There is a powerful engine of "reform" at work in the "venture philanthropy" of the Gates Foundation, which has sponsored the development, adoption and implementation of the Common Core, spending close to $200 million so far on the project. While every Common Core web site claims that the standards were "authored by states," those who inquire learn that the standards were written by a small groupof individuals affiliated with a handful of non-profits funded by the Gates Foundation. 

I could pick many more posts and articles to share, some supporting and some fighting against implementation of these standards, but I doubt they would be read.  You get the point, the experiences in our system are no different than the struggles taking place across the country.  How we respond to the challenge will have a significant influence on the learning cultures that  emerge to support students and teachers in this most important experience we call learning.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Seeking adaptive solutions . . .

There are many major initiatives demanding time making it more and more difficult for me to maintain a focus on providing support for principals and central office leadership.  My situation is similar to that faced by all of us, competing demands on our time and added responsibilities with little likelihood of dropping any current job functions.  The demand for engagement in the planning of our new high school has been the latest need for my time with the replacement levy decision and processing up next.  Others in the central office are also experiencing significant push and pull on their time from these same initiatives.

So, how do we meet increased job functions and maintain a focus on what we consider to be priority responsibilities while maintaining a balance in our lives?  Is it possible to provide quality leadership in public education while maintaining a balance in our lives?  Since I don't view saying no as an option, what new strategies and structures are necessary to adapt to these changing conditions?  What can and must we do to support each other through new adaptive structures and strategies?

These are some of the questions I am struggling with as I try to keep my priority on supporting building leaders in Classroom 10 and TPEP work and my central office colleagues in their leadership and support work at the building and system level.  Though the context will be different for each us, the needs are similar.  How we respond to these competing commitments and the demands we place on ourselves will influence the cultures that emerge from our efforts and the learning environments that result.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A tribute to Mandela . . .

If you spend much time online, you have probably already seen this Maya Angelou tribute to Nelson Mandela.  If not, I encourage you to give yourself the approximately five minutes to see and hear her work.  I learned about it on Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I'm wondering . . .

This Education Week article is interesting to me and makes me wonder who makes these decisions for us and the criteria they use when making them.  In this case it refers to a new teacher assessment, the edTPA, that will become part of the licensing requirements in January 2014.

I know nothing about the test, what interests me is that Washington and New York are the first two states to adopt the test and the difference in the cut scores.

Washington state, as I report in a story this week for Education Week, on Nov. 14 chose to set its bar at 35 out of 75 points, for a predicted passing rate of 85 percent of teacher-candidates. That figure is somewhat lower than the nationally recommended maximum of 42, a decision made in part because the exam is still pretty new, a state official told me. It's possible the state will look at increasing the score over time.

Conversely, a few days later, on Nov. 22, a New York state panel set its marker: a 49 out of 75 points for elementary teachers, a 35 for world and classical-language teachers, and a 41 for pretty much everyone else. Candidates also would have to earn a minimum score across the various rubrics that make up the total score.

Why the difference and why did our state pick a bar that is below the recommended cut score?  What does this decision communicate to parents and to prospective teachers?  Who and how was this decision made and what will trigger the possible increase suggested by the unnamed state official?  It makes me further wonder the intent of the assessment.  Is it measuring the candidates capacity for becoming a "proficient" teacher?  Is it intended to weed out teachers without the capacity to reach the "proficient" standard?  Is it a measure of the effectiveness of the college that prepared the candidate to meet the licensing requirements?  Just wondering.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Center stage for "high risk" waiver . . .

In the last few days there have been multiple articles about a major focus of the upcoming legislative session on the need for legislators to amend the teacher evaluation law to mandate use of state test scores in a teacher' evaluation.  In this Seattle Times article they show how"easy" it could be and the reason why many believe that it must be done.

The Washington law says statewide test scores can be a factor in teacher evaluations. The federal government wants the word “can” to be changed to “must” or the state will not meet its requirements for a waiver from the federal education law, according to Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

State Superintendent Dorn has made this one of major goals in his legislative package for this session with the other being increased revenue for K-12 of $540 million.

“When the Legislature was debating this back in 2010, I said the language didn’t go far enough,” Dorn said in a statement.
He noted, however, that test scores should not be the only measure to judge teachers. “But they must be one of the tools we use in our new accountability system,” Dorn said.

He wants and needs this change in the law to secure the waiver.  If the waiver were not granted nearly every school in the state would need to inform parents that they are not meeting the NCLB standards.  This would then lead to other federal mandates under the NCLB legislation.  He and policy makers are in a difficult situation because they know there will be a lobby effort to maintain the current level of flexibility and "local control" at the same time they face this federal mandate for change to maintain the waiver status.

I think there also may be some inaccurate information about what districts are doing based upon this comment in the article by Deputy Superintendent Burke.

At a recent meeting of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke said districts are ahead of schedule in implementing the new law and that so far all districts that have adopted a new teacher-evaluation system have included student growth on statewide tests as a factor.

Every district is required to have an adopted model at this time and I know that our district does not currently have an agreed upon process to use statewide tests as a factor and I don't know that I have heard of any agreements at this time that include that factor.

This is a BIG DEAL and one that will influence our belief in the primary purpose of this effort being to support teacher growth as I blogged about here.  If changed, it would add additional complexity to the process in the first year of implementation and make it even more difficult to maintain the focus on teacher growth.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Great football evening . . .

Wow!  The Seahawks put it altogether tonight dominating on both offense and defense holding the Saints to less than 150 passing yards while winning 34 to 7.  They did it without Pervy Harvin, two suspended corner backs, and lack of a running game.  It was once again Russell Wilson's night.

My son and I were also able to be on the field for about an hour before game time.  We were on the 15 yard line on the Saints side of the field for warm ups almost completely surrounded by Saints fans that traveled from New Orleans for the game.  Mostly corporate types that talked business, acted like they knew the players personally, and shared a little "smack" while suggesting that we were on the wrong side of the field.

Loading the overhead camera
I was amazed by the size and speed of the athletes.  Two other things made the experience very interesting.  First is the noise, it is much louder on the field than in our seats, even before the stadium started to fill up.  Lastly, though I thoroughly enjoyed being on the field and close to the action, I like the view from our seats where we can see the plays unfold.

Great night of football and the Hawks secured a playoff spot.  Now onward for home field advantage.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Difficult decisions . . .

Looking forward to tomorrow night's Seahawk game against the Saints, but it is presenting me with a challenge.  For the first time, I have sideline passes to be on the field during pregame warm-ups compliments of my ticket agent.  Since my seats are under cover I rarely worry about what to wear other than being warm.  With this opportunity and the weather forecast I now have the problem of what to wear not only for warmth, but to remain dry while on the field.

Compared to bond issues and the day-to-day decisions I make this may not seem like a big issue, but it is a decision I must make tonight to be ready for the game.  So, what criteria do I use in arriving at the "best" answer to my dilemma?  I have three different Seahawk outer wear possibilities, but none are water proof.  I have three water proof jackets, but none show Seahawk colors.  So, what is more important, showing our colors or staying dry?  Or, can I accomplish both?  Yes, I can by wearing a light water proof jacket under a Seahawk top.  I'll stay dry and show our colors at the same time.  Better yet, maybe the latest forecast will be accurate and it will be dry and cold something I can and have planned for at Seahawk games.

So, tomorrow at about 4:30 p.m. I'll be on the sideline next to where the Saints will be warming up.  No food, no autographs, but pictures are allowed.  Should be an interesting experience to see and hear this part of the pregame activities.  I'll share some thoughts in the next post.