Thursday, February 27, 2014

Learning that context matters . . .

At this evenings CTE Committee meeting I took a step backward before moving forward.  I felt it was necessary with the feedback that I received from the last meeting that I blogged about here and here.  Looking back gave me a chance to reflect on decisions that were made and changes to the process that may have contributed to a difficult experience for some committee members. My reflection resulted in learning that will influence the remainder of this and future groups that I facilitate.

A significant learning for me beyond ensuring that the proper question(s) are guiding the process is the need to create a common and deep context for participants.  When in a situation that calls for skillful conversations and difficult decisions it is important for participants to have a shared and deep understanding of the given situation and variables that must be considered in the decision making process.  Too often we, as facilitators, don't create this understanding before rapidly proceeding to conversation and decision making unknowingly operating from an assumption that they have the same background knowledge and understanding as we bring to the work.   We don't remember that we spend much time in the preparation process that is difficult and often neglected when we bring the group together.  The work of the committee reinforced for me the need to replicate as much as possible this front end work to ensure that the group moves forward with this shared and deeper understanding.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"MUST" won't go away . . .

It didn't take long to identify the vehicle to move forward on the language change to preserve the state's NCLB waiver I blogged about here.  It is a new bill being drafted by Governor Inslee and Superintendent Dorn that changes the language to force use of state test results in individual teacher evaluations.  As shared in this Seattle Times piece it is expected to change enough votes for passage in the Senate where a similar bill was recently defeated.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said the governor met Tuesday afternoon with lawmakers from both parties to hammer out a compromise that would establish the requirement to allow the state to keep its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law — and keep control over some $40 million that comes with the waiver.

The compromise would delay the move until the 2017-2018 school year and include a provision that voids the requirement if the state cannot retain the waiver, Smith said.

When Inslee failed to convince Secretary Duncan to continue the waiver without the language change it was only a matter of time before something emerged.  The threat of losing control over $40 million was greater than the lobby effort against the change.  Could I be wrong again?  Could it still fail when it comes to the Senate floor for a vote?  Will the House approve it?  Well, I was wrong before and can be again, but I'm betting the language in the law will be amended to "must" and will have an influence on the teacher growth focus of the work when implemented.  We can still hold out hope that before 2017-18 there will be a new ESEA bill that replaces the sanctions of NCLB with something that maintains a focus on achievement for all students, that has accountability for growth over time, and that results in a collaborative effort to support teachers and schools in this effort.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A welcome last . . .

If you follow the blog you are familiar with the "lasts" I am experiencing as retirement rapidly approaches.  Thus far they have all been experiences that I will miss for many reasons.  Tonight I'm sharing a success that will not be missed

It is now official; our operations and technology levies passed with 62.33% and 62.97% yes votes.  Contrast this with four years ago when they passed with 56.56% and 54.18% yes votes.  We must be doing some things well as perceived by our community.  The validation on top of the bond measure success feels good, but I will not miss these campaigns.  So this is possibly one of the few lasts that will end up on my glad to leave it behind me list.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Moving the NCLB waiver forward . . .

Governor Inslee met Sunday with Education Secretary Duncan in an effort to continue the NCLB waiver after last week's Senate vote that did not meet the Secretary's criteria for removing the at-risk label.  There was a short article reporting the meeting in today's Seattle Times that I could not find online, but I found the same article in The Oregonian's OREGONLIVE.

The governor said in a statement that "there's a possibility to develop a positive path forward that has a realistic chance of success."

He says he'll talk next with state lawmakers and the superintendent of instruction about the state's options.

Any speculation on what that path might be?  We know that State Superintendent Dorn wanted to change language in the law to mandate use of state test scores in teacher evaluations and sponsored legislation that did not make it through the current session that would have met Duncan's criteria for continuation of the waiver.  We know that the Senate voted down legislation to make the language change partly because of other requirements added to the proposed bill.  So, what is the vehicle for a positive path forward?  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A humorous comparison . . .

Time for a post with a message using coverage of the Olympics compared to coverage of public education mixed with a little humor.  It was delivered in a post by Karl Fisch on The Fischbowl after he read an article in The Atlantic by Richard Florida comparing our medal count to that of smaller countries.  The chart is earlier in the games and the medal counts have changed, but the message is similar.

In his post Fisch takes Florida's comparisons (Above) one step further by wondering why there is no outrage over the lack of success.  Considering what happened in hockey and speed skating the comparisons should take on even greater significance, but why no controversy?  Yes, I know there is some discussion of the speed skating suits, but come on, can't they find a better excuse?

Where's the outrage in Washington, D.C.? Why isn't the Denver Post writing editorials decrying the state of the U.S. Olympic program? Why isn't NBC holding a day-long "Olympic Nation" (with accompanying website) to figure out what we're doing wrong? I mean, if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre Olympic performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

Well, I for one will not stand idly by while our children's future slips away. Clearly we need some changes, and we need them fast. So I propose a Blue Ribbon panel to examine this issue. I think we should get someone eminently qualified to lead this panel. I propose Bill Gates, but I suppose I'd be okay with someone like Eli Broad.

This gives you a feel for his post, in fun, but it makes one wonder doesn't it?  You'll enjoy the post, but in case you choose not to, you might like to see how he ends it.  The post is here if you'd rather read it all.

Now these aren't my only ideas, but I don't want to dominate the conversation too much. I think we can all agree that if we would just raise the bar a little bit and hold these folks accountable, their performance would improve. (In the case of the Summer Olympics, I would suggest we literally raise the bar; perhaps to 10 feet in the high jump, and 25 feet in the pole vault. After all, our athletes should be outperforming the rest of the world.) And we should learn from those countries that are currently kicking our butt. If it works in Slovenia and Latvia (I've heard some people refer to it as the Slavic Miracle), it should work twice as well in the U.S., right?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Vote leads to weak evaluations . . .

As predicted there is an interesting follow-up to yesterday's news about the Senate vote on the teacher evaluation bill I posted about here.  It comes in the form of an editorial in both the Bellingham Herald and the News Tribune.  It is the same editorial in each paper under the following title.
Are weak teaching evaluations worth $44 million?

The assumption is that not using student achievement data from state tests makes evaluations weaker.  They also point to the potential loss of federal revenue if the state were to lose the NCLB waiver and to the influence WEA had on the vote.

What, education dollars are actually scarce? That makes the Senate’s rejection of a cash-preserving school bill especially bizarre.

The bill is modest, though the state teacher’s union has made opposition to it a political litmus test this election year. It would clarify that teacher evaluations must include student performance data as measured by statewide tests.

It boils down to a word: “must” vs. “can.” Right now the law allows school districts to use state tests – or select or invent their own. A hodgepodge of tests that differs from one place to another is useless as a way of holding schools and districts accountable.

The underlining above is mine - I agree that schools and districts should be held accountable for student achievement and that there is a role for state tests, even the new Smarter Balanced Assessments that will be used in Spring 2015.  I struggle, however, with using them initially to hold individual teachers accountable to standards when schools and school districts have not yet had the opportunity to put in place the structures they need for success as measured by these new assessments.  I am open to conversations that focus on a student growth model with the capacity to provide data that can be used over time in individual teacher evaluations, but we are not yet at that place.  Until then, the accountability focus should remain on schools and school districts with a fair and equitable system that holds systems accountable to growth over time, not a benchmark percentage and one size fits all.

In the systems world we talk about "creative tension", that place between current reality and an aspiration or description of a better place.  The tension lies between these two places and leads to new structures and strategies to close the gap.  In the absence of tension no learning takes place and cultures are maintained.  Too much tension is also counter productive and can result in unintended consequences that set the culture back increasing the gap between current reality and the aspiration.  I fear that the move to use the data at this time in individual teacher evaluations will have this impact on our system where we have an aspiration of success for all students with the necessary "creative tension"  to over time close the gap.

I don't agree that the defeat of this bill will result in weaker evaluations in our system.  We can and are supporting teacher growth under the new evaluation model using the student growth measurements emerging from quality conversations in our schools, departments, grade levels, and class rooms.  Wasn't teacher growth the intent of the new model?  Isn't that what policy makers and OSPI told us?  We can achieve this and improve the quality of instruction and achievement in all class rooms with the "creative tension" in our system that was reinforced by implementation of the new model.  We do not need additional tension from a change to a model still in the first year of implementation for us.  Another example of one size does not fit all.

I don't see the defeat of this bill as a celebration.  For me, it is another example of wasted energy and inability of well meaning people with different mental models not being able to close the gap and put in place structures to listen to each other.   It saddens me that we can't find the common aspiration and agree upon descriptions of our current realities that result in the "creative tension" where adaptive solutions can be found and where we can collaborate to do what is right and necessary for all young people.

Read more here:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Proven wrong . . .

I am completely surprised by what happened yesterday in the State Senate when SB 5246 requiring the use of state test results in teacher evaluation failed to pass.  I believed that the lobby supporting the bill would prevail because of the fear of loosing the federal NCLB waiver and control over $40 million in federal revenue across the state even suggesting it in last post.  I should have listened to Senator Mullet who told us on our Olympia trip that other provisions added to the bill would make it more difficult to pass.  It was also one of the few losses the majority coalition has experienced as explained in this Seattle Times article.

The proposal would require that statewide student tests be used as part of teacher and principal evaluations — a change federal officials said would be necessary for Washington to keep its waiver from some painful parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

It was unclear how the bill could be revived, because 5 p.m. Tuesday marked a deadline for non-budget-related legislation to make it out of at least one chamber of the Legislature. The teacher-evaluation bill was the last one the Senate considered before the cutoff.

“I thought we had it, but obviously we didn’t,” said state Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, vice chair of the Senate Education Committee. “It’s very disappointing.”

Dammeier blamed the loss on Democrats who supported a nearly identical bill just weeks ago. He said the Democrats reversed course after receiving pressure from the state teachers union.

This is the second big surprise this session with the first being the restructuring and delay of the 1080 hour requirement in SB 6552 that passed the Senate and was moved to the House.  In both cases, many of us were told and felt that both the implementation of the 1080 hour requirement and the change in language to keep the federal waiver were a done deal.  For once, I feel good that I was wrong.

Why the change?  Enough legislators were influenced by the lobby effort from multiple organizations and switched their position because of the stories that were told of how these bills would have a negative impact on our work.

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, said she and others pulled their support after hearing testimony in committee.

“We heard from parents, teachers, school boards,” said McAuliffe, D-Bothell. “They said our state tests are not designed to measure student growth,” as the bill would require.

McAuliffe said Democrats “remain committed to finding the right solution” to keep the No Child Left Behind waiver.

I also believe that we are witnessing what is happening across the country where legislators from both parties and from the right and left are forming coalitions to push back against the common core and common core aligned assessments.  This coalition forming played out in the Senate vote on SB 5246.

Seven Republicans also sided with Democrats to sink the bill.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, who supported the bill, said some of his colleagues voted against the bill because they did not like testing imposed by the federal government.

Time to thank those legislators for taking this stand and forcing the federal education department to make a decision.  Do they support the work being done in our state that Secretary Duncan has commended or do they impose the unrealistic expectations of NCLB and the penalties that go with those expectations?  Your turn Secretary Duncan.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Movement to back off . . .

As we learned in our recent trip to Olympia, our legislators will more than likely change the teacher evaluation law to require the use of student achievement data from state tests in individual teacher evaluations.  This is a response to the threat from the federal education department that without the change the state would lose the waiver from the unrealistic requirements of NCLB.  I shared the threat in multiple posts like this one from August 2013 and haven't changed my mind that this is not what we should do and will not achieve the claims made by policy makers.  If it was the right thing to do why was it not part of the original legislation and why did it take this threat for the legislators to respond as they are now?

So, as we embark on this new requirement forced by the federal department, what can we learn from other states that have been using this data over time?  In this New York Times piece shared with me by Amy Adams we see that legislators from both state houses have called for changes to their state law that pull back from the use of their state test results in teacher evaluations.  Currently these evaluations account for 20% of a teacher's evaluation.

In synchronized statements, Democratic leaders of the State Assembly joined Republicans in the State Senate to propose that the tests, which are aligned with the new curriculum standards known as the Common Core, be excluded, for now, from the state’s new teacher evaluation system, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law in 2012.

Without having the necessary aligned curriculum and opportunity for students to acquire the knowledge and skills in the Common Core aligned assessments before the 2015 implementation, could this be the response we will see in our state?  Other than the threat, what has changed that makes this change necessary?  More importantly, will it lead to increased student achievement?  Over time these questions will be answered and we will work with our teachers to make the most of whatever changes come out of this session.  It would be nice to go into year two of the new evaluation model without a significant change in parameters, but that will not likely be our reality.  We will maintain our focus on teacher growth that will influence student achievement over time.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Focusing on the proper question . . .

This Heart of Innovation post is very timely for me as I find myself in the midst of multiple initiatives with difficult and important decisions that need to be made and questions being asked about the process being used.  The essence is captured in this image from the post.

I am far from an Einstein thinker and make more than my fair share of mistakes and as I reflect on that, I believe that I can trace some of the problems to not considering the question(s) I need to ask before taking action.  There are times when I have a sense of what I want and need to accomplish and then decide on a course of action before having the clarity necessary to ensure that the action will solve the problem confronting me or lead to the desired outcome.  I see this need to determine the proper question not only when solving a problem, but also when confronted with major decisions that must be made and shared with others.

An example can be found in my last post where I shared the status of our CTE Task Force meeting.  I wrote the post later that evening like it was the minutes of the meeting, not once considering that readers would not have the context or experience of the previous meetings when bringing meaning to the words.  Had I asked myself the simple question, what is the purpose of this post and who might read it, the structure and content would have been different.  Because I didn't do that, it caused problems for high school administrators and some staff members.

With time to reflect and more thoughtful on intent, I need to clarify that the purpose of the Task Force is to identify in the short term the career clusters and possible programs of study for the specialized spaces (4000 square foot) in the new high school.  It is not the work of this group to focus on specific classes in our current program or in the new building meaning no classes will be cut or added at this level of the process. Those decisions will be made as the work moves next to programs of study and then to the class level as described in the image below from the meeting.  There are also other spaces in the current design to accommodate clusters not prioritized for these larger specialized spaces that will become part of a comprehensive Tahoma CTE program.

This Task Force work is very challenging because of the time line, emotional nature of the work, and significance of the decisions that will be made.  I need to remember this and consider the proper QUESTIONS that must be asked as we move this work forward and as we communicate with those that are a part of the task force and those not part of the work.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

CTE Task Force continues . . .

Tonight was the second meeting of the full CTE Task Force with the responsibility to recommend to the Board:

  • Career clusters and Pathways that guide program of study development and building design decisions.
The Board has provided us with parameters that the committee is using to narrow 16 possible career clusters down to 4 or 5 for final consideration.  One would think that it would be a fairly objective process considering the parameters and content of the work.  That is, however, far from our reality because of our old friend mental model and past history with CTE programs.  While the focus of the work is at a broad level, it is very difficult to separate our current programs and classes when engaging in this priority process that some see as potentially excluding continuation of long standing classes and the teachers who teach them.  This led to anxiety and tension for many in the room making it more difficult to maintain a focus on the parameters big picture decisions.  The parameters are shared below.
  • Workforce trends
  • Livable wage jobs
  • Articulations with higher education
  • Business and industry opportunities for student experiences
  • City and Chamber vision 
  • Flexibility
  • Utilize partners
Thus far we have identified four priority clusters that align with parameters for program inclusion.
  • Health Services
  • Information technology
  • Manufacturing
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
We are currently in the process of prioritizing one additional cluster for possible consideration from the following four.
  • Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
  • Arts, A/V Technology and Communications
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Transportation (Auto)
We meet again in two weeks to continue our conversations and prioritization process as we identify the programs that will position our young people for future success in post high school learning and work. This is exciting yet challenging work that we are engaged in with the potential to provide quality learning experiences for our young people.  This includes a partnership with the State Workforce Development Council that could lead to expanded partnerships with business and industry partners.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Three in a row and more celebrating . . .

For the third year in a row we have made the AP Honor Roll as described in this OSPI press release.  This means that we have simultaneously raised the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses while increasing the percentage of students earning 3 or higher on AP Exams.  To put this honor in a context, there are only eight districts in the state that met this threshold.

The award has been given for only four years and two districts, Northshore and Snoqualmie Valley have received the honor each of those years.  We join Issaquah as the only districts to receive it three years.  Thanks and congratulations to the students and staff at Tahoma High School and Tahoma Junior High for this recognition and for providing these learning opportunities.

Huge relief and celebration . . .

Yes, both of our levies are passing well above the necessary 50%.  With the updated count today they are both above 60% with the Program and Operations at 60.90% and the Technology at 61.71%.  This is truly a celebration as they would pass under the old 60% requirement and come on the heels of our historic bond measure passage.  There are so many people to thank so I am always hesitant to list names, but I would be remiss if I didn't thank the following people for their leadership and commitment to this effort.  They are the ones spending many hours behind the scene organizing and planning as well as many hours engaging the community in multiple ways around the need for continuing these revenue sources.

Please share your thanks and appreciation with these individuals and the many others who donated their time to share the message and the need.

Community Members:  Erin Weaver, Casey Henry, Angela Stewart, Wendy Castleman, Sean Stewart, Sarah Gilbert, Joy Stramer
Staff:  Jen Dunham, John Schuster, Barbara Roessler, Kevin Patterson
Student Groups:  We The People, FBLA

Monday, February 10, 2014

Grading state practices . . .

I found this report  on the National Council on Teacher Policy and decided to share it because some of the grades are directly related to evaluation and waiver bills currently being discussed in Olympia.  The study gives states a letter grade on the laws, rules, and regulations that influence the quality of teaching in the state.  The chart below shows areas analyzed in the study and how our state changed from 2011 to 2013.  In both those years Washington received a C- and in 2009 it was a D+ so there has been some positive movement in these areas according to this analysis.

The map below shows that we are somewhere in the middle when compared to other states.

My sense is that the proposed changes in teacher evaluation and waiver language reflected in some of the current bills being discussed in Olympia will increase the grade.  The chart below identifies "weaknesses" in Area 3 that the bills are intended to fix such as use of student achievement data in evaluations.  I don't know how widely distributed this report is or how much influence they have on state and federal policy decisions, but I do know that it could be another source of leverage fr reformers in our state and at the national level.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Important conversations . . .

As I shared in this post, on Friday twelve of us representing our school community visited with five of our six legislators.  I was able to be involved with four of the five.  The sixth is a member of the House Rules Committee and was called to a meeting because of a looming bill cut off date.  So, what did we hear?  We heard that the cost of living raise is dead then we heard it is still alive and later we heard that it is doing better than just alive.  We saw surprise on one legislators face as we shared the response to this question from another legislator leading me to assume that in conversations between the two something else may have been said.  Given what we heard I'm not ready to bet n this one.

We heard that the 1080 hour requirement is likely to be delayed and that there will be some flexibility built in by lowering the requirement for some grades.  There will, however, be a struggle as there are a number of bills addressing this issue with  one gaining momentum that includes implementation of the Core 24 graduation requirements beginning with the class of 2019.  We shared our preference with the bills that delay this requirement until it is fully funded.

On another critical issue we learned that there will be legislation coming out of this session that will change "may" to "shall" related to requiring the use of state testing data in teacher and principal evaluation.  We had some interesting conversations about this requirement and what legislators are looking for when they say they want increased accountability.  There is no hope of this going away as the lobby from districts with significant Title 1 money and from OSPI is too strong.  What will be interesting will be to see the parameters attached to the use of these tests.  At least one legislator suggested that he will advocate for language that gives local districts the autonomy to determine how much of an influence these tests will have on an individual evaluation.

We talked about other issues with some interesting conversation around the common core, but I want to close this post by sharing my appreciation for most of our representatives.  I believe that they are transparent and share what they believe or what they know at that moment.  I also believe that I have the ability to influence someone who is transparent and am more open to being influenced by what I hear.  Those that say what they think I want to hear, waffle on positions, use vague and ambiguous language, and hide behind their position are not open to being influenced so receive little attention and time from me.  Though I don't believe we changed any positions I do believe we said some things that opened up the possibility for further conversations.  In any case we, we actually got on both the House and Senate floor in the same day, a new experience for me that could be do to our unique coalition appreciated by multiple legislators.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Coalition to visit Olympia . . .

I'm going through my blog file and seeing a growing number of posts and articles on Common Core push back in states with a focus on the diversity of the groups beginning to advocate for changes to the implementation schedules.  Included in these efforts is a pull back from the two national assessment consortia, potentially increasing the cost of administering these tests next spring.  But, last month I said I would take a moratorium on common core posts so I'll just keep adding to the file.

Closer to home, tomorrow a coalition representing PSE, TEA, Board, students, parents, and administrators will meet with multiple legislators in Olympia.  Our purpose is to demonstrate how one system comes together to identify common needs and advocate for what our system needs to meet the multiple accountability measures imposed by the state and federal governments.  The legislators tell us that we are the only system that lobbies with these diverse groups and they enjoy the opportunity.  It also results in them giving us more time to share our concerns and requests.

Tomorrow we will focus on the following areas.

  • Funding the McCleary decision.
  • Funding to support staff development for teachers, classified staff, and administrators.
  • Please, no new mandates from this short session.
  • Cost of living increase for school personnel.
  • Delay and restructuring of the 1080 hour requirement.  (SSB 6552 was recently submitted that both delays the implementation by a year and provides flexibility in meeting the requirement.  This is a positive move by multiple legislative leaders, something that we did not believe possible when the session started.)
We will be sharing our message with six legislators throughout the day.  This coalition is another example of the collaborative culture we are creating and contributes to what separates us from many other school systems.  I don't know what influence we will have on their voting, but I do know that our process provides us with a greater opportunity than most to be heard.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Difficult day . . .

If you follow my blog you know that I have Seahawk tickets and follow the team, making today a difficult day.  Do I go to the parade?  Do I use my tickets to wait for the team's arrival in the stadium?  Do I come to work and keep my meeting commitments?  How do I/we respond to requests from students and adults in the community to close school or to at least allow students to attend?  And, . . .

Yes, not a good day and once again no way to make everyone happy.  There were hundreds of students who chose not to attend today in our schools who have the opportunity for a parent excused absence in our system.  This is different than the position taken on Monday by Seattle to make it unexcused and then changed Tuesday to allow the building principal to use discretion.  As of today, there were school systems still taking the position that attendance to these events would be unexcused.

It made for difficult decisions by our teachers on learning targets for the day with so many students missing.  I also want to thank our teachers for the decision to be in their classrooms as we were able to cover all but two teaching positions, similar to many other "normal" days this year in our system where we are struggling with substitute coverage.  Thanks also to Tamara Wheeler who made the many difficult and necessary calls to cover all but those two positions.

I feel that the decisions we made were the right ones and that my personal decision to facilitate a meeting today that has been very difficult to schedule was important and necessary.  It didn't feel any better, however, when I received an e-mail with the picture below taken from our architectural firms office overlooking the parade route.  Today was our regularly scheduled meeting date with them and we were invited to meet in their office with this view of the events and heat.

Choices, choices choices . . .

Monday, February 3, 2014

The conference call experience . . .

As I continue to recover from yesterday's game and tell my Granddaughter that she will be going to school Wednesday not the Seahawk's victory parade, I thought I'd share this funny video about a conference call in real life.  Kimberly Allison shared it with me so I placed it in my blog file for possible later use on a day like today.  If you have ever participated in a conference call you will appreciate this video as it captures the experience of trying to engage multiple people over great distances with this technology.  watch the first three minutes of the video to see talking over, cutting out, muted conversation, background noise, bouncing back, and the reality of people engaging or not, and exiting the call.

Sunday, February 2, 2014