Archive for Districts

New program for progressive district leaders

I’m delighted to announce a new professional learning opportunity for district superintendents and deputy/assistant superintendents – the Purpose to Practice Academy (P2P Academy).

Progressive district superintendents and their deputies/assistants often seek out their own professional learning opportunities to push their thinking, learn about innovative approaches, and problem solve issues of practice. While state education leaders and large districts have more access to experts in the field, small to mid-size districts often lack access to education reform experts and information on how to apply research and promising practices to their own practice.

The continuous improvement cycle can be applied to all districts (and all organizations). There is always room to provide more efficient and effective services, supports, and structures.

The Purpose to Practice Academy is a virtual learning network for progressive district superintendents and their deputies. The virtual academy, includes a series of six 2-hour webinars, off-line peer support on a problem of practice, and an e-newsletter with current research and promising practices.

The inaugural cohort will feature 6 sessions between late October 2018 and late April 2019. Additional or rolling cohorts may be added, dependent upon interest. For more information – click here. Completed applications are due by Monday, September 24, 2018.

Questions and completed applications can be emailed to academy@corbetteducation.com. I look forward to seeing how this program will evolve and serve district leaders across the country.

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Closing achievement gaps in diverse and low-poverty schools – an analysis

Despite millions of dollars in funding to support closing achievement gaps, many efforts fail. After more than a decade of working in this field and seeing the same cycles continue, I would claim that the efforts often fail for a variety of reasons, including: a lack of root cause analysis, not aligning solutions to the root causes, lack of structural and systemic changes, and failure to implement with fidelity (note- all areas in which the adults are responsible).

A new report, Closing Achievement Gaps in Diverse and Low-Poverty Schools, from the Oak Foundation and Public Impact unpacks some of these issues. There are so many good pieces of information in this this report. So many, that I can’t summarize them. This report is a must read, as it examines systemic issues, structural/technical implementation issues, and connects to policies and practice.

The report highlights why closing achievement gaps and fighting for equity is such hard work. It’s not a quick fix to buy a program or bring in a consultant, but it requires a multi-faceted approach with a toolbox of programs, strategies, and changes. It requires going through the phases of the continuous improvement cycle, developing strong goals, building out an implementation plan, and monitoring (and making mid-course corrections) along the way. To do all of this requires strong capable leaders who can push change, while also engaging with the stakeholders to communicate the why and how. This work is not for the faint of heart.

Some of the findings and statements that I find particularly relevant include:

  • “Today, the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers is approximately twice as large as the racial achievement gap between white and African-American children.” (pg 8)
  • “Moreover, the income achievement gap for reading between children born in the mid-1990s to late 1990s is nearly 40 percent larger than the gap among children born in the 1970s.” (pg 8)
  • “Many school systems continue to operate discipline systems that suspend and expel students of color at higher rates than white students. Large-scale studies have shown that this cannot be explained by differential rates of serious infractions. Year after year, these systems keep students of color out of classrooms, perpetuating inequities.” (pg 9)
  • “Given the deep roots of achievement gaps, districts will not find a quick fix or a simple checklist of policies and practices that will close them. Instead, addressing achievement gaps successfully requires committing deeply to equity, engaging with the community to understand its needs and perspectives, taking persistent and complete action steps to change, and being accountable to the community for equitable outcomes. Only within a context of commitment, engagement, action, and accountability can districts expect the research-based policies and practices we outline below to have a meaningful and lasting impact.” (pg 14)

In conclusion, the authors write that “a district must be willing to commit to equity, engage families and the community, take a complete set of actions to fulfil the commitment, and embrace accountability for success” (pg 22). The authors are on point throughout the piece and all district and state education professionals who aspire to close any and all achievement gaps should would benefit from the findings in this piece.

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New Publication — The Role of Equity in School Improvement

The second of a three part publication series for the Illinois Center for School Improvement (at AIR) features The Role of Equity in School Improvement. We write “Today educational equity stretches far beyond the idea of leveling the playing field (equality) to one that integrates the timely, needs-based support for all students to attain their maximum capacity (equity)” (Garland, et al, 2018. p. 2). The publication includes some introductory information that frames a discussion on equity, and then highlights what equity looks like in each of the four domains of school improvement: Leadership, Talent, Instruction, and Culture (The four domains are championed by the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd). Reflective questions are included throughout the document to prompt discussions of school and district staff.

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New publication– System Thinking Leadership for District and School Improvement

In the next few weeks, I’ll highlight a new three-part series of documents that was created for the Illinois Center for School Improvement (run by the American Institutes for Research). The first, System Thinking Leadership for District and School Improvement, was designed as a primer on how systems thinking informs school and district improvement. We focus on leadership as it is the heart of any improvement work. The document includes some Illinois-specific references, yet the majority of the content is applicable for any district or state across the country. One of the most important pieces that came out of the early thinking for this publication was a visual representation on how the the continuous improvement cycle is applicable for each of the foundational elements of improvement (leadership, talent, instruction, and culture); is supported by needs assessment(s); must include efficient and effective systems, structures, and processes; and, be supported by districts and state actions. LAYLAND_GRAPHIC_v4

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Residency models for teacher training

We know that on the ground training with close monitoring and mentorship is more likely to produce better professionals, yet we still see this done in isolated communities. This recent post on bringing the medical residency model to education reminded how badly this is needed and how much our routes to teaching certification still need to change to reflect the realities of education and our economy. I saw a similar model when visiting Ann Arbor, Michigan a few years ago to write a case study  on their efforts to close achievement gaps. In Ann Arbor, the university held classes for pre-service teachers at the school and concentrated the student teachers within a small number of schools. This brought exemplar teachers into the school on a regular basis, shifted the overall approach to one of continuous learning, and impacted the pre-service teachers as well as the veterans. I also this type of approach when in England learning about their education systems as well. We must also recognize that in today’s economy, some folks may enter the teaching field mid-career, and others will move on to different sectors after a few years. Leaders in Michigan are clearly thinking creatively and we all must think out of the box to recruit the best and brightest into education, to provide them the skills they need to lead a classroom, and the supports they need to thrive in the future.

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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.

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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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