Practicing what I preach

I recently embarked upon a new journey. After a few years writing case studies on effective school board practices (New Haven and Wichita) and developing a training program for local school boards across the country, I took a leap and am now on a local school board. I’m learning a lot, and I also recognize that my work experience from the past decade brings a wealth of information, research, strategies, and contacts to the board and the district. Remembering to practice what I preach is a continuous challenge and one that I hope results in improved educational opportunities for students in my community and for continued professional growth for my company. For some more information about why I ran for the the position and what I hope to bring, see the blog post from ConnCAN linked here or the text of which is copied below…

I’ve worked in the education reform space for over a decade, so ensuring that all of Connecticut’s kids have access to a quality education is important to me.  Quality education is not only a civil right, but it is also how we advance as a country, a society, and within the increasing global world. While I know many people believe that our kids need a great education, it takes on a different meaning once you are a parent. Thinking about what the school system will provide for my toddler-aged son is one of the reasons I decided to run for the Norwalk Board of Education. The changes I strive to make now will influence the education my son and his peers will receive when formal schooling begins in a few years.

Prior to running for and joining the Board of Education, I was part of the design team that helped to launch Board Watch, a grassroots effort involving community volunteers who are trained to observe and hold their local school boards accountable via evaluations of meeting conduct. I believe that bringing transparency and accountability to public officials is always important. When I first moved to Norwalk, I was concerned about the rhetoric and the perception of the school board. While I didn’t have children at the time, it didn’t make me any less concerned about the public education system and the quality of life for our kids. If we want to see change, we can’t wait for others to make it happen for us. It’s easy to sit back and critique, but the hard work comes when we choose to roll up our sleeves, listen to other’s perspectives, assess the need, create a plan, implement the work, and monitor the outcomes.  

With a busy education consulting company and an even busier toddler, I didn’t plan on running for the Board of Education, but the opening occurred and the situation presented itself. I hope that I can use this opportunity to maximize my impact in public education during the remaining two years of this term.  I look forward to working with my fellow board members to assess the district’s needs, ask tough questions, and support changes that will directly benefit students. Too often we see adults’ personal feelings become involved and decisions are made not in the best interest of our kids.

With the state’s current economic situation, it’s clear Connecticut is at a crossroads. We’re going to need a strong workforce that is prepared to take the jobs that will help our economy flourish. I hope to use this position as a board member to uplift our kids and to help provide them with the education that will lead to their success.

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New release: Recommendations for differentiating supports for schools identified for TSI

This brief includes recommendations for state level supports and services for schools identified for Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI). The brief is co-sponsored by the Council on Chief State School Officers and the Center on School Turnaround (at WestEd) and was originally drafted and released as a draft for an ESSA Implementation conference in September. Additional examples were added after the conference.

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New Brief! Targeting subgroup achievement gaps – lessons from Ann Arbor, MI

At one time, over 90% of Ann Arbor’s schools were identified for performance issues due to large achievement gaps between the lowest performing and the highest performing. Within a few short years, the district exited the vast majority of those schools from status and demonstrated improvement in a number of school indicators (enrollment, discipline, academic performance, etc). This document, released by the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd, profiles the steps the district implemented to change how the adults act and better support the students. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Focusing on Achievement Gaps

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New Resources! Integrating Resources to Implement School and District Improvement Cycles

This set of resources, released by the Council of Chief State School Officers, is designed to help SEAs, LEAs, and schools through the school and district improvement cycle. The resources braid together some of the latest thinking on the improvement cycle, Strategic Performance Management, and needs assessments. The overview of the cycle includes a description of each step, coaching tips, and suggestions of tools that could be useful. The work was started by the state members at a School and District Improvement collaborative meeting, sponsored by CCSSO, in June 2017 (SDI SCASS). The resource was released by CCSSO, and staff/consultants from the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd, the Building State Capacity and Productivity Center, and several SEAs contributed to the final resources. The main document is a PDF, and 3 of the 4 tools are available as Word documents that can be downloaded and adapted by users.

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Cause and effect of principals rating teachers accurately

Despite years of SEAs encouraging/requiring/begging districts and school principals to rate teachers more accurately, two recent studies (here and here) highlighted in an EdWeek article show that there has been little improvement in this area. One of the pullout quotes in the article is from a principal in Delaware. She states, “Somebody’s job is in your hands.” This statement is accurate and teacher evaluations should be taken very seriously, but as a principal, the futures of hundreds of students are in your hands every day. While a low rating could potentially cost an educator his/her job, the system should be designed to support that person improve over a specified time period. But, we must get back to the impact on the students.

Not accurately rating a teacher for ineffective performance (if warranted) makes it more difficult 1) for subsequent principals to provide accurate ratings (i.e. “I’ve never been rated poorly, this isn’t accurate!”) 2) to obtain the professional development that may be needed for that teacher, 3) to remove that teacher if performance doesn’t improve, and 4) most importantly, an inaccurate rating could harm classrooms of students for years. Based on these reports (in addition to the original TNTP report), as well as working schools and districts identified for performance issues, it it clear that simply requiring principals to rate teachers more effectively isn’t the solution.

This is a multifaceted issue and requires deep analysis and a number of solutions. Some of the areas that must be examined for root cause and possible solutions include: providing appropriate training for principals on both assessing the quality of instruction AND providing constructive feedback to staff, streamlining paperwork burdens (so that it is easier for principals to rate teachers ineffectively and provide them services), supporting principals with PD provision for the lower rated staff, providing high quality professional development to support staff that are rated ineffective (so that they can improve in a reasonable time frame), providing additional instructional support to the students in classrooms with teachers rated ineffective (so that they continue learning), and increasing the teacher pipeline (so that if ineffective teachers choose to leave or are removed, that there are people to replace them).

Some educators that I’ve met with over the years have also proposed tying a principal’s evaluation to the effectiveness of their teachers (i.e. Are the teachers improving their proficiency and effectiveness? Do the teacher ratings correlate with the performance/trajectory of the student body?). I fully agree that teachers should not solely be accountable for student performance. All of the adults in the education system play a critical role and should be accountable for how their actions impact student learning.

These areas can be complicated, filled with additional barriers, and are not easy or quick wins. But, putting the most effective teachers in front of our students should be an absolute priority in every single classroom across the country.

Ann Arbor, Michigan and New Haven, CT also recently revamped their teacher evaluation policies and interviews with staff from both of those cities demonstrated promising results.

 

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New! Tactical Guide for Needs Assessments

This tactical guide recently produced by the Center on School Turnaround and the Council of Chief State School Officers describes the core components for developing and administering needs assessments for improvement. Worksheets are included to aid users in designing and developing needs assessments for schools and/or districts. A companion document includes the worksheets in a format that can be completed (forthcoming).

The guide includes, for example, specific guidance and questions for SEAs and LEAs to consider as they develop an needs assessment or hire an external provider to complete one, and then utilize its results as part of their planning, implementation, and monitoring processes.

The guide also includes information on ESSA requirements, planning a needs assessment, designing a needs assessment, how a needs assessment is part of the improvement process, and key decision points.

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The Illusive 5th or “Other” Indicator

Under ESSA, states are required to have a 5th school quality or student success indicator. While many rejoiced in this requirement initially, it quickly became a challenge to figure out what type of indicators meet the proposed federal regulations, what type of indicator actually demonstrates school quality or success, and what data states already collect that could be used. One of the most challenging requirements is that the indicator must be able to be disaggregated by subgroups of students – so while teacher effectiveness might be a useful indicator, it would be difficult to disaggregate a teacher’s effectiveness by subgroup for middle or high schools – since students attend many different classrooms with different teachers each day. Such an indicator could be used for elementary school grades, since students often stay with one teacher for most of the day. The proposed regulations do allow different indicators to be selected for different grade levels – as long as it’s consistent across the state. The other major issue that states are running into is what data do they already have? And, is that data reliable and indicative of school quality or student success? Many districts collect additional data, but the same data may not be collected in the same way across the state.

This recent EdWeek article explains some of these issues, while also providing some initial thinking from a few states as they think through the implications of this 5th or “other” indicator. An important note is that states must use at least one “other” indicator, but they may use more than one as well. From what I’ve heard from states, many are leaning towards including chronic absenteeism, college or career readiness, and other school climate indicators as their “other” indicators. While states think through this new data source, it’s also uncertain if the Department of Education will make any modifications to the proposed rules/regulations. The final rules should be released in late August or September.

This 5th or “other” provides states an amazing opportunity to redefine what a successful school is, but the implementation requirements may make it difficult to actually implement the intention in the timeframe states have to do so.

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