Archive for Districts

School quality by zipcode

I recently read this opinion piece on the74million.org and it really hit home. (It’s a great and well-written piece and I highly recommend the read). A quick summary is that the head of DC Public Schools used his position to manipulate the student lottery and confirm his daughter a spot in a higher performing and better perceived public school (as opposed to the neighborhood school she was supposed to attend). The author explores enrollment practices in DC and how real estate and quality schools are intrinsically tied. At one point, he questions, “Why is this? Why is money — specifically, money spent in the real estate market — the only form of privilege we allow free rein when it comes to accessing high-quality schools?” He responds, “Partly, it’s because the real estate market provides a patina of respectability on privilege. Presumably the wealthy have “earned” their resources through their diligence and hard work and “deserve” the rewards — including automatic access to great schools. Real estate in expensive neighborhoods with guaranteed entry to good schools is just another of the benefits of bootstrapping your way up the American socioeconomic ladder.”

This is not an issue isolated to DC. It happens all over the country —  in the suburbs, in big cities, and even in some more rural areas. Good schools drive up real estate prices and can often lead to housing shortages, and especially affordable housing shortages within the catchement area of a “good” school. Families with means will do whatever it takes to ensure their students attend those “good” schools – including moving across town or to a nearby surrounding town. Now, here lie several issues.

  • A zipcode should not determine the future educational or life opportunities for a child. All schools should provide students with equitable access to academic, extracurricular, and social programs. Equitable does not mean equal, some students require additional supports and some students are ready for enriched opportunities as well. Until school districts are able eliminate low-performing schools, there will always be the good and the bad schools. Attempts at bussing have created their own share of issues (including decreased parent/family engagement, long transit times for kids, and increased transportation costs for districts).
  • And a bigger philosophical question – Beyond ensuring that students receive appropriate academic growth and opportunities, what constitutes a good school? Across the country accountability indexes and report cards are just starting to quantify the value of other academic and social factors (besides the percent of students proficient in an academic area). But, we are still a long way away from being able to really quantify the value of a school – Do the students feel safe? Do the students feel at least one adult cares about them? Is the student population diverse (culturally, ethnically, linguistically, socio-economic, religious)? Is diversity valued? Do the students have fun and are they engaged while learning? Are the students building life skills? Is creativity valued? Do the students have a balanced life?

Often times it takes a few years of improved academic performance and a positive learning environment for the community perceptions of a school to change. Which means it takes a few years for local real estate prices to increase, and thus starting the cycle again.

This article struck me particularly hard as the district I live in is currently fighting for an additional $4M to fund our proposed education budget. At a recent council meeting, taxpayer after taxpayer (mostly parents) identified how much they care about this city, why they chose to live here (diversity was frequently cited), the great programs and learning going on in their schools, but how much they struggle with the annual battle to fight for funding from the state and the city. Many of these outspoken families are the ones who have the means to move just a few miles over to a competing town with “better” schools. If these families leave, what does that mean for the families of students who are unable to move?

A healthy school district would include magnet options for some students and families who aspire for specialized programs or approaches, in addition to strong neighborhood schools. In effect, students have choices and all students have access to a high quality education, regardless of their home address. Until all schools perform at a level deemed satisfactory, the adults with means or with power will continue to game the process for their children. Changing the rules isn’t going to fix the problem. Instead, we have to change the whole system.

Advertisements

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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.

 

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

Usefullness of Classroom Walkthroughs

Classroom walkthroughs are a crucial tool for school leaders to get a gage learning in their school and for teachers to get some immediate feedback on areas that they might not normally be able to see alone. But, classroom walkthroughs can be done well or poorly. Some useful tips that I’ve picked up from school and district leaders over the years:

  • DO provide same day feedback for every walkthrough – either via email if using an ipad to monitor, or via a small slip of paper in the teacher’s mailbox)
  • Do Focus on a few key areas – a walkthrough is very different than a full classroom observation. It’s impossible to see everything in 3-6 minutes, so identify a few areas to focus on and DON’T provide negative feedback to a teacher if you didn’t see something (i.e. group work) if you only saw part of a class. You may have missed the group work section.
  • DO look for real learning – what level questions is the teacher asking? What type of thinking do the assignments require?
  • DO look for classroom management techniques and positive teacher-student relationships – these should be apparent in a classroom in 1 minute or 1 hour. They can make or break learning from occurring, so always keep an eye on it.
  • DO walkthroughs regularly – their benefit is their frequency
  • DO encourage others to do walkthroughs in the school (i.e. other district administrators or fellow teachers). But, if this is done, ensure that all observers understand appropriate protocol (i.e. being a fly on the wall, not distracting students, also providing feedback, etc)
  • DO use the results of many walkthroughs to inform school-wide professional development needs.

Some additional thoughts about walkthroughs are found in this EdWeek story.

Leave a Comment

Older Posts »