Focusing on implementation

Thank you to the state improvement leaders who are focusing on the implementation (the how) a plan is done and for encouraging schools and districts that simply buying a program with a strong evidence base isn’t enough to turn around student achievement.

Check out the recent EdWeek article for more: States Hunt for Evidence to Underpin School Turnaround Efforts

 

Advertisements

Leave a Comment

An update to Having a teaching force look like the students they serve

Apparently, I was late to the game seeing the proposed legislation in CT, and luckily other education reform advocates (who focus specifically on CT) were already at work proposing additional legislation that does a better job taking a multifaceted approach to increasing the minority teaching force.

AN ACT CONCERNING MINORITY TEACHER RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION. requires the state to work on developing reciprocity agreements with all states (not just the neighboring states who have some of the same representation issues that we do), and provides options for student loan reimbursements and mortgage assistance. In addition, AN ACT ESTABLISHING A PILOT PROGRAM TO PROVIDE INCENTIVES FOR EDUCATORS TO LIVE IN CERTAIN MUNICIPALITIES, includes the creation of a housing pilot program to develop affordable housing for educators. I particularly appreciate that the latter bill breaks down the silos in state government and requires collaboration between the Departments of Housing and Education. 

The combination of these bills is more likely to result in actually increasing the number of minority teachers in CT, as opposed to a bill that looks good on the surface, but doesn’t actually have much of an impact in individual buildings. The big question remains, does the state have funds to make what’s proposed in these bills a reality? But, if it works and results in increased learning and engagement in students, how can we not make such a commitment?

Leave a Comment

Having a teaching force look like the students they serve

While an effective teacher is desired for all classrooms, we know that teachers who look like their students has a positive impact on student learning (see this article from The 74 for links to several studies).

While many districts are taking steps to recruit more minority teachers and leaders (including alternate routes to certifications for paraprofessionals), states are getting in the game as well. Recently in Connecticut, Gov. Lamont advocated for legislation to extend mortgage assistance and student loan forgiveness programs to graduates of historically black colleges and hispanic-serving institutions, and to enhance reciprocity agreements with other states (EdWeek, proposed legislation, CTPost). These steps, in addition to existing efforts to increase the number of quality teachers in CT should help improve the ratios of minority teachers in the state, and especially in districts with high percentages of minority students.

While it looks good on the surface, the legislation could be strengthened as there are a limited number hispanic-serving institutions (especially in the Northeast) and Latino students are the fastest growing demographic in many communities. The most updated list of Hispanic-Serving Institutions that I could find was from 2007 [and are mostly based in Puerto Rico, California, and Texas (1 in CT)], but there was an eligible list from 2016 (eligible but not necessarily approved), and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) also posts a list of HSI’s (2 in CT), but they may not be approved by the U.S. Department of Education as an official HSI. Bottom line, the legislation is helpful, but if it’s not very feasible for students to attend Historically Black Colleges or Universities or Hispanic-Serving Institutions, how helpful is it?

Even beyond these efforts, ensuring that teachers and staff are culturally responsive to students, regardless of their own cultural lenses, is also important. Teachers who share a racial/ethnic background with their students, still need to be culturally responsive. We all have multiple cultural lenses which overlap, and sometimes even conflict, with each other. These lenses might include our upbringing (family composition, urban/suburban/rural), gender identity/expression, ancestry, skin color (as perceived by others), languages, etc. These lenses form our own identities and how we interact with others, but they also influence how others interact with us as well. All teachers (and all of us) should work to acknowledge our own lenses and the lenses of others. (For more on culturally responsive teaching, check out this publication from the Center on School Turnaround.)

Increasing the diversity of our teaching force is one important step. Ensuring that the teaching force is highly effective AND culturally responsive are the crucial subsequent steps.

 

Leave a Comment

Starting with school culture

There are days when my professional life and my board of education life seem pretty far apart, and often at the expense of my personal life. Then, there are days where my professional life, my personal life, and my board of education life all come together. This morning, I had the opportunity to visit one of my district’s elementary schools. This school was a formerly low-achieving neighborhood school that many families avoided. Under the dynamic leadership of a new principal, the school has a new culture that is intensely focused on student learning and building community, and the academic achievement continues to rise.

CT’s Governor Lamont joined a line of up Yale academics, funders, and community partners to highlight the work of Tracey Elementary (news story), while also pitching the release of a new report “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope” from the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, generously supported by the Dalio Foundation.

In my professional world right now, I’m developing a training program on shifting school culture (based on this CST publication). Today, I saw example after example of practices that I preach about in professional trainings in action at Tracey Elementary school. I saw kids engaged in learning in small groups, positive interactions with staff, student tour guides speaking about the value of having lunch with their teachers, family-style round lunch tables, cross grade level reading buddies, student kudos for the school’s crossing guard, bright colorful student work lining the halls, chill out corners in every classroom, and most importantly, the school’s character work embedded in the philosophy of the building and classroom academics.

So, why is school culture so important? The culture represents the environment of the school. It reflects the customs, traditions, and the values of the community. A positive school culture makes teachers and students want to come to school each day to work and to learn. In contrast, a negative school culture results in disengagement, disciplinary issues, and high absentee rates, all of which impact student achievement.

While I’ve always wanted to see these things in a school site visit, I recognize the mind shift that I have since becoming a parent. Tracey Elementary school is my neighborhood school. This may be the school that my 2.5 year old will attend in the not so distant future. When I walked through the building today, I thought “How would my child do in this environment? Would this be the right fit for him? Do I have any hesitations about sending my child here?” When the time comes, we will have a hard decision to make (there’s also a dual language immersion elementary school that I would love to have my bilingual child in), but without a doubt, as long as Tracey remains on the current path it’s on, I would confidently send my child to our neighborhood school. If a school isn’t good enough for my child, it’s not good enough for any child.

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 3.49.10 pm

Thanks to my great 5th grader tour guides! Photo credit: Norwalk Public Schools 

Leave a Comment

Federal policy is the floor not the ceiling

We often talk about states complying with federal requirements, yet it is important to remember that federal policies and procedures represent the floor and not the ceiling. ESSA requires states to do a number of things related to how schools are identified for support, what their accountability metrics must include, how states communicate progress on those accountability measures, and how funds are used (amongst other things). But, states can go above and beyond those requirements. I highlighted this concept last week at CCSSO’s Implementing Systems for Continuous Improvement meeting in Tampa, Florida. Schools and districts identified for CSI supports must complete needs assessments, but schools and districts identified for TSI supports don’t have to complete needs assessments. Some State Education Agencies have realized the importance of needs assessments are are also requiring schools identified for TSI supports to also complete a needs assessment to ensure that their plan for improvement aligns with their actual needs.

A recent rollback of federal lunch standards is another example of this concept. Just because the federal government is allowing more flexibility to districts to slow down their decreased sodium content or relax the whole grain requirements, it does not mean districts must do so. Districts were already working under the previous guidelines, so why should we backtrack to less healthy food again? Schools and districts have the ability to go above and beyond the federal guidelines to ensure school meals are as healthy as possible for their students. (And yes, healthy food can taste good, and kids can learn to like veggies, whole grains, and salads!)

States, districts, and schools have the responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the students they serve. Sometimes the federal government’s standards ensure that happens, but other times the adults at the local level must step in and set their own floors, which may be higher than the feds.

Leave a Comment

New reviews of state ESSA implementation

Is your state creating systems to meaningfully address underperforming schools for all kids? I was honored to join education policy experts to analyze 17 states’ school improvement plans. Here’s what we had to say: https://forstudent.org/csp-p2p

The peer review process was a great experience digging into the resources that states have created for district and school leaders, learning about what others are doing, seeing trends across the country, and an energizing opportunity to work with peers to assess, evaluate, and make recommendations. States are light years ahead of where we were just a few years ago, and yet there is still much more room for improvement. We must monitor implementation and make midcourse corrections to best serve the students and the education system, in each and every state.

Leave a Comment

Generosity doesn’t equal justice

I heard a thought provoking piece on NPR this afternoon. At times I agreed with the discussion, and at times I disagreed. Either way, it got me thinking. The author, Anand Giridharadas, the author of a new book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, was interviewed and highlighted several arguments from the book that explores how the global elite’s propensity towards charity sometimes create (or perpetuate) the very social problems they are trying to “help.” In an interview with Time he states, “A lot of philanthropists cause problems with their left hand and then try to fix those problems with their right hand.” He continues, “They underpay workers and then try to rebuild, through their foundation, the American opportunity structure.” For this reason, Giridharadas doesn’t think that real solutions to our national problems, from wage stagnation to education inequality, will come from the country’s wealthy and powerful but rather a return to America’s foundational public institutions. “It is we the people who actually need to take change back from these pretenders of change,” he said.

Full disclosure – I haven’t read the book and I’m not going to elaborate on the tax code and the ability to deduct charitable donations, or the fact that non-profit organizations do have positive impacts and can spur innovation in many places around the world. This would be a very lengthy blog post to truly respond and reflect on the entire interview.

So, the piece that resonated with me was when he said, “Generosity does not equal justice,” or something to that effect (the audio of the show isn’t yet available for me to double check the quote). As I started thinking about it, I thought about the often used meme “equality, equity, justice” (figure 1 below) that encourages us uncover the root causes of issues and then address the systemic barriers that exist. The generosity of millionaires and billionaires does not simply result in equity for those who need additional supports to do whatever short-term circumstances and sources of systemic oppression impact them.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 3.29.08 PM

Figure 1: Equality, Equity, Justice Meme

The problem right now is that based on the decades of inefficiencies, oppression (racial, gender, sexual orientation, language, etc) that the very systems that are supposed to turn around outcomes (i.e. health, education, social) continue to perpetuate them. Even when we receive a significant influx of philanthropic dollars to implement a program to target a need (i.e. an afterschool program for low-income students), we continue to tinker around the edges of the system, as opposed to truly changing the entire system (i.e. a longer school day with extracurriculars and academics combined and accessible for all students, combining the work of community partners and the school district into one cohesive effort). We are in an endless cycle of needing philanthropic dollars to improve outcomes, yet the very presences of those dollars sometimes pushes us to not rethink the broader infrastructure and systems. We become reliant on those dollars as it often seems too difficult or cumbersome to truly change the system.

This all said, there are numerous organizations and funders that are still doing great work and we should not stop those programs, strategies, and efforts. And, we should do so, while keeping an eye out for true innovation. We must pushing ourselves and our elected, appointed, and hired government leaders to truly address the root causes of social issues and work together to remove those historic and systemic barriers.

Leave a Comment

Older Posts »