Turnaround Case Study from London

Here’s a great case study on the district level turnaround of Tower Hamlets in London – where one of the lowest performing school systems in the country reached and then surpassed national averages of student performance. The turnaround was led by strong leadership, an urgency for (and a willingness to) change, and a commitment to work with the community. This is one of many great turnaround examples out of London, which is condensed into a readable and, relatively, succinct case study. It concludes, “The experience of Tower Hamlets since 1998 is inspirational. It shows that improvement is not only possible but achievable, that improvement in some schools does not need to be bought at the expense of others and that improvement, once attained, can not only be sustained but surpassed. As a result, it is not unreasonable to argue that what Tower Hamlets has created are some of the best urban schools in the world. This is a genuinely exceptional achievement, worth celebrating, worth understanding, but, above all, worth learning from.” 

Transforming Education for All: the Tower Hamlets Story (Prof David Woods, Prof Chris Husbands and Dr Chris Brown)

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New publication on the use of external providers in turnaround released

The Center on School Turnaround recently released a guidebook entitled The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices, edited by Lauren Morando Rhim and Sam Redding. The publication addresses a variety of issues related to school turnaround from how ESEA waivers impact turnaround and the role of state chiefs, to utilizing technology and turning around rural schools. I authored one of the (many) chapters and facilitated a workshop on this topic at the most recent CST/SIG convening this past September. The chapter is available as part of the compilation (click on publication title above) or individually (Navigating the Market: How State Education Agencies Help Districts Develop Productive Relationships with External Providers).

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Raising the bar for teachers

Many incoming teacher candidates will now be expected to take and pass a performance-based assessment, which requires the demonstration of planning, instructional and analytical skills. While states may choose to require the test for all teaching candidates, individual states will also determine the cut scores for passing. A state could set a high bar, which would force schools of education to step up to the plate and ensure teachers are adequately prepared to 1) teach content and 2) know how to teach. A state could also choose a low bar and little change would result – with the exception of placing undue stress on teacher candidates who study for a test that their universities don’t prepare them for.

There is a great deal of backlash against any type of performance-based pay system in education, yet there is little outcry against inadequate schools of education. Personally, I would be livid if I attended a 4-year college, paid $100k+ for a BA in education that would supposedly teach me to teach, accepted a job, and then once in the classroom realized that I had no idea how to actually teach. The quality of teachers is one of the biggest factors in a student’s performance, and our (underperforming and inadequate) schools of education hurt the entire education system. Until we significantly increase the expectations for teachers who enter the teaching profession, and ensure that training programs (university-based or alternative) teach true classroom management and instructional skills (in addition to content-specific knowledge), our potential for improving education stagnates.

As some states mandate this new assessment, we must pay attention to the cut scores states set, and how colleges of education alter their teaching training programs as a result of the increased pressure. It will also be useful to examine the results of candidates who were traditionally trained (university-based) or trained through alternative programs (TFA, urban teacher residencies, etc.).

NB. There are many good (and great schools of education) out there, just not enough of them.

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First reflections on London

I’m a blogging slacker and haven’t posted since February. Work was busy, life was busy, and all of a sudden, it’s the middle of November. While I can’t promise to blog regularly in the foreseeable future, I would like to use the blog as a platform to reflect on a recent trip to the UK.

As part of the Global Education Policy Fellowship Program (affiliated with the Institute for Educational Leadership), a group of education professionals spent a week in London this October to learn about the UK education system, the strengths, the weaknesses, and how some of the UK strategies could apply to the US. We visited 5 all high performing high poverty schools, most of which had recently undergone drastic turnarounds. In addition, we met with dozens of education researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to discuss everything from early years education (0-4) to the university system, from alternative education programs to the national accountability framework. By the end of 12 days, I was inspired that change really is possible, reenergized that adults can make decisions with the best interest of students at heart, and utterly exhausted.

At the core, the UK and the US are in very similar places. Both countries rank in the middle of PISA performance and both are undergoing: a drastic push towards increased rigor (and trying to figure out how to build capacity of instructors); the constant college or career, or college and career debate; tough economic times, compounded by high unemployment rates and decreased budgets; the all too common “teach to the test” debate; lack of capacity of local education authorities (i.e. boards/governing bodies); increasing diversity; a lack of highly skilled laborers; an increase (or at least a greater recognition of bullying); and, an increasing awareness of schools needing to provide wraparound services to students.

In contrast, there are several differences in the UK that I found quite refreshing, most notably:

  • A real “culture of candor” – some call it blunt, others call it rude – but in the end, it was clear that people are not afraid to talk about controversial topics. As a result, decisions are made quickly and definitively.
  • A focus on students first – adult interests were clearly put on the back burner in all of the schools we visited, and there seemed to be a national belief that schools are for educating students, and not acting as employment agencies for adults.
  • An ethos of shared accountability – at one point, one of our speakers stated “if you’re a great principal and all you do is manage one school, then you’re not really that great of a principal.” This mentality was noted at multiple levels: from teacher collaboration, to principals (head teachers) managing several schools, to networks of high performing schools taking on low performing schools to turn them around.

While these three differences are most likely not universal across the UK, and they likely exist (in selected places) within the U.S., they stuck out early in the week and reappeared numerous times. These three pieces combine to make real change possible. Real change that’s focused on what student’s need to succeed. Real transformative change, that we so desperately need in this country. 

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AmeriCorps to assist with turnaround efforts

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announced $15 million of available funds to place AmeriCorps members in persistently low-achieving schools. The additional capacity from the corps members will assist school turnaround efforts and the grants are designed to:

  • target parent and family engagement and student learning time;
  • improve school safety, attendance, and discipline;
  • address students’ social, emotional, and health needs;
  • accelerate students’ acquisition of reading and mathematics knowledge and skills; and,
  • increase graduation and college enrollment rates.

ED and CNCS will award School Turnaround AmeriCorps grants to approximately 650 AmeriCorps members each year for three years, at an estimated 60 schools in urban and rural areas across the country. Local school districts, states, public or private non-profit organizations, IHEs, FBOs, and consortia of any of the above groups are invited to apply. Notice of intent to apply is due April 2. Applications are due April 23rd.

Turnaround schools need as much additional capacity as they can get – as long as the additional capacity is high-quality and aligned to the rest of the turnaround initiative. Bringing in AmeriCorps members to turnaround schools may also help alleviate some of the staff burnout often associated with turnarounds. A note of caution is that any school using the new School Turnaround AmeriCorps program must plan for the end of the grant and build up internal staff capacity when the additional support ends.

For more information:

 

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A reminder of the potential

Today’s Chicago Tribune includes a story of a student who in most cases would be overlooked. He had the tenacity to commit to school, despite being homeless, but he was also provided a variety of opportunities that put him where he is today – a highly qualified applicant for some of the most prestigious universities in the country. Kudos to Lane for being determined, kudos to his mother for providing whatever support was needed, and kudos to Lane’s teachers and mentors (past and present) who saw through the statistics and circumstances.

This story is a stark reminder of the potential so many students have, but whose skills and dreams are not nurtured, encouraged, or refined. The power teachers have to “discover” kids like this is truly amazing and can change the course of a child’s (and a family’s) life.

From homeless shelter to elite science fair

By Bridget Doyle, Chicago Tribune reporterJanuary 25, 2013

In March, Lane Gunderman, a senior at the University of Chicago Lab High School, will fly to Washington to compete for one of the nation’s most prestigious high school science awards. The 18-year-old is one of 40 finalists — out of more than 1,700 applicants — for the Intel Science Talent Search.

Such an achievement may not seem unusual for a student at an elite private school. But Gunderman’s journey to reach this point has been anything but typical.

Six years ago, he and his family were homeless and living in a crowded North Side shelter. Schoolwork, he says, is what helped him get by.

“There wasn’t much to do at the shelter, and there was very little privacy,” he said Thursday. “I focused my attention on schoolwork — especially since lights had to be out at 8 p.m.”

Through his tenacity in the classroom, Gunderman, who now lives in an Uptown apartment with his mother and younger sister, has found a niche in the intellectual hive of Hyde Park.

“Lane was brought into a completely different part of the city and culture; he started out a little introverted and shy,” Lab School Assistant Principal Asra Ahmed said. “He’s an incredibly amazing kid that’s never asked for any special treatment — even when he should have. He rose to the challenge of this school and has done exceptionally well.”

Gunderman said his family has been “poor or extremely poor” for his whole life. They always managed to scrape by, but in 2006, Gunderman, his parents and two siblings lost their apartment in Rogers Park.

Over the next several months, they stayed with a relative in a pop-up trailer and moved around the Chicago area.

When his parents divorced that same year, the bottom fell out. One night, his father dropped the rest of the family at a North Side police station and drove away. Gunderman and the others slept on a bench in the police station, later moving to a temporary overnight shelter.

The family spent the next year or so in various homeless shelters on the North Side. Previously home-schooled by their mother, Gunderman and his siblings enrolled in public school for the first time.

At Burley Elementary School in Lakeview, Gunderman gained the attention of teachers for his dedication to schoolwork. He received high grades and did well on tests, leading teachers to suggest he apply to the U. of C. Lab High School.

Gunderman’s application to Lab and back story stood out, Ahmed said. He was accepted and offered a full scholarship from the Malone Foundation, a group that provides educational options for gifted children.

After a year of living in homeless shelters, Gunderman and his family managed to stay in various apartments. And after 31/2 years at Lab School, Gunderman is thriving both academically and socially.

He was accepted last year into the school’s Summer Link Science Research Program, which helps place science-focused students in real lab settings. Gunderman was able to work with Greg Engel, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago, in a lab where his Intel Science Talent Search project was born.

Last summer, Gunderman joined a working team of scientists and graduate students on a project that “explains how photosynthesis uses quantum physics,” Engel said.

After just a few weeks of working together, Engel said he realized Gunderman’s immense potential in the field.

“Lane jumped into a difficult project in a complex system. It was great fun watching him tackle big questions in the field,” Engel said. “He’s so driven and talented. I think he’s someone with potential to be a truly spectacular scientist.”

Over the summer, Gunderman created a computer simulation of his project, along with an in-depth analysis of the work. That was submitted to Intel in November, and this week he found out he was one of 40 finalists and could win up to $100,000.

“It’s the dream of a science teacher to see someone achieve what Lane has,” said Lab School biology teacher Sharon Housinger, who had encouraged Gunderman to apply to the Summer Link Program.

Gunderman has big plans for his future. He has applied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago and is also looking at schools like Harvard, Princeton and the California Institute of Technology.

The trip to Washington, though, will be his first time aboard an airplane. He admitted he’s a little nervous about that.

“It’ll be an adventure to my next adventure,” he said.

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Finally! Teacher prep programs in the spotlight

State Chiefs to Examine Teacher Prep, Licensing

By Stephen Sawchuk, EdWeek, Dec. 17, 2012

Twenty-five state schools chiefs are vowing to take action to update their systems of teacher preparation and licensing, with an eye to ensuring teachers are ready the minute they take charge of their own classrooms.

The announcement Friday morning from the Council of Chief State School Officers is probably state officials’ most explicit promise to engage in changes to teacher preparation, and it comes as the latest sign that the topic is likely be a major focus of K-12 policymakers in 2013.

“Attention to teacher preparation is definitely growing at the state level,” said Sandi Jacobs, the managing director of state policy for the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, a group that tracks states’ teacher policies. “But it hasn’t yet reached the level of interest as other topics, like teacher evaluation.”

The participating state superintendents and commissioners of education are in: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. They will implement recommendations in a report, also released Dec. 17, by a task force of the Washington-based CCSSO.

Among other measures, the report says that states should align certification requirementsRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader with the demands of college- and career-ready standards; developperformance assessments aligned to those new requirements; improve the process for approving teacher-preparation programs by raising colleges’ and programs’ entry requirements and acting on regular reviews to aid or shutter weak-performing ones; and provide better pre-K-20 achievement data to the programs to inform such efforts.

The paper doesn’t spell out what those policies should look like. The CCSSO plans to provide technical assistance, support, and guidance to the state chiefs as they audit their policies and determine how to make changes.

Janice Poda, the director of the CCSSO’S Strategic Initiative for the Education Workforce, said the task force concluded that reforms to certification are necessary because licensing no longer signals quality.

“The public does not have a lot of faith in licensure meaning that a teacher is qualified or effective. It’s lost its ability to communicate that a person is ready for the classroom,” she said. “We will raise the import of what it means. … It should be more than a completion of a set of courses.”

Many Actors

How quickly, and how radically, states can make the changes outlined in the report remains in question. The regulatory structure in each state differs, and state chiefs exercise varying degrees of control over licensure, certification, and preparation rules.

For instance, at least 11 states—California, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming—have an independent standards board that has direct authority over certification and/or preparation programs, according to the NCTQ. Other states have advisory bodies, or share authority among several entities.

“The regulatory landscape is quite varied across the states,” said Ms. Jacobs, who served on a separate committee that advised the task force. “There’s no one model for how the authority structures play out.”

Some state officials say they want to move quickly. Tennessee Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he wants his state’s board of education to pass new rules on teacher licensure and program approval by next summer.

“We do not have a rigorous performance-based bar” for teacher licensure, he said. “We have had a convoluted, bureaucratic bar, but not a rigorous one. I think we have it exactly backwards right now.”

In Iowa, state Director of Education Jason Glass said he sees the work as complementing policymakers’ goals of improving teacher pay and tying it to a career ladder, a priority for the next legislative session.

“It represents one part of a more comprehensive picture of what we have to do to improve educator quality,” he said.

While teacher-preparation policy has taken a back seat to other issues, the past few years have seen increased movement in statehouses and education departments:

• Louisiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina now all produce data for education programs based on the performance of their graduates.

• New York state plans to implement a performance-based licensure and recertification system.

• Indiana recently completed an aggressive overhaul of its certification rules, making it easier for teachers to enter through alternative routes.

• Michigan officials acted on accountability data to bar enrollments in certain certification areas at two underperforming teacher colleges, until they successfully strengthen their programming.

• A Kentucky overhaul of state licensing rules increased the minimum grade point average for entering candidates and added new student-teaching requirements.

• Officials of the Illinois board of education, over protests from some education schools,raised the bar on the state’s basic-skills exam for teachers and required candidates to achieve a minimum score on all four sections.

• Several states have added stand-alone tests of teachers’ ability to teach reading.

Next year will also see the publication of the NCTQ’s review of every college of education; the release of new regulations governing teacher-preparation accountability by the U.S. Department of Education; and the unveiling of new standards by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

The task force that produced the CCSSO report included nine current or former state schools chiefs: Virginia Barry of New Hampshire; Mitchell Chester of Massachusetts; Terry Holliday of Kentucky; Tom Luna of Idaho; Judy Jeffrey, formerly a chief in Iowa; Christopher Koch of Illinois; Rick Melmer of South Dakota; Jim Rex, formerly a chief in South Carolina; and Melody Schopp of South Dakota.

It also included two members the National Governors Association and three from the National Association of State Boards of Education.

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