Archive for Districts

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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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.

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The Challenges of Change

Even when change is absolutely necessary (i.e. the debt of Chicago Public Schools continues to grow and the current operating budget is not sustainable), education leaders must fight for every possible change. I completely agree that school closings are necessary, but they must be done strategically and we must analyze the unintended consequences of closing each school. The bottom line is that CPS cannot continue to run so many half-full (and often low-performing) schools. The below Editorial doesn’t acknowledge the other issues that must also be addressed in order to successfully and safely close schools (i.e. students crossing gang lines to get to new schools, long(er) commuting times, increased difficulty for parents to get to the schools, lack of a neighborhood/community hub, and the lack of higher-performing schools for students to attend), but it does address many of the reasons why the schools must be closed in the first place.

An editorial from today’s Chicago Tribune:

By Dec. 1, Chicago Public Schools officials must deliver to state lawmakers a list of schools slated to close at the end of this school year. The district will release its criteria for making those decisions this week.

As many as 120 Chicago schools are likely to be on the chopping block because the district faces a $1 billion budget gap next year. And the following year.

This is a critical moment for CPS and its new CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Make no mistake: This will be painful. But scores of schools must be closed.

There are more than 100,000 empty seats in schools because CPS badly mismanaged its real estate portfolio over the past decade. Overall district enrollment has declined by 34,000 students since 2003. CPS built new schools to relieve overcrowding in some communities but failed to close enough of the older, emptier ones, often caving to community pressure.

Reality check: Keeping half-used buildings open is a huge financial drain the system can’t afford.

CPS says it can save about $800,000 a year in operating costs by closing a school and reassigning kids to schools that have extra space. It also avoids the cost of capital improvements, and could generate some revenue through property sales.

Those closings alone won’t eliminate this huge budget gap. But CPS simply can’t operate more schools — heat more buildings, patch more roofs — than its students need.

One of the first major tests for Byrd-Bennett is how compellingly the district makes its case to Chicagoans — particularly parents of CPS students — that neighborhood schools must close. She needs to deliver a clear explanation of the district’s strategy. Byrd-Bennett and her boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, need to build community support for these closings. They should start making the case now by stressing two major points:

•Many of those half-empty schools not only drain resources, they rank among the district’s worst performers. CPS should first close schools that are underenrolled and poor performers. Scores of schools fit that profile.

•Displaced students can benefit academically if they transfer to a higher-quality school. That’s the conclusion of a 2009 University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research study of 18 elementary schools closed from 2001 to 2006. “Displaced students who enrolled in new schools with high average achievement had larger gains in both reading and math than students who enrolled in receiving schools with lower average achievement,” the study said.

That could be a huge selling point for CPS to parents. No, not every student will be able to move to a much better-performing school; sadly, there aren’t enough in the system. But closing half-empty underperformers and boosting investment in the remaining schools should massively increase the odds that a child will transfer to a better school.

We know this will be a painful and emotional time for parents, teachers and students. Many parents don’t want to send their kids to another school, no matter how abysmal the neighborhood school performs. There are legitimate safety issues in some neighborhoods.

The Chicago Teachers Union should help guide CPS closings, not stand in the doorway of every school, shouting “No!”

And then there are the politicians. We expect state legislators who unwisely tried to meddle in earlier closings and turnarounds to try again with this round. They may have company: Some 33 aldermen are calling for City Council hearings on the closings, demanding to know which schools are being targeted for closing and under what criteria.

That can be helpful if the goal is to inform parents, not to delay the inevitable. We understand the impulse to save neighborhood schools. But this isn’t a matter of CPS whim. This is about the creating a sustainable budget for the district and its 404,000 students.

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Turnarounds Can’t Happen by Themselves

A recent EdWeek blog discusses school turnaround at a very high level, and while the author acknowledges the importance of a school principal (which I completely agree with), he misses the importance of strong and committed district leaders. Until we link school turnaround with district turnaround, we cannot expect schools to make sustainable gains.

High Performing High Poverty (HPHP) schools do exist across the country and most do share those 4 characteristics (amongst others). We’re starting to see the results of schools entering year 3 of the revised federal SIG program and we can only hope that those schools will continue to make gains as they exit SIG and/or Priority School status.

That said, the piece that’s missing here is need for political will at the district level. Schools will not maintain (and continue) their turnarounds without building school AND DISTRICT capacity. Districts must be part of the solution and must shelter turnaround schools until they are fully turned around and self-sufficient (this requires more than 3 years).

Time and time again, I have seen schools with strong principals and teachers succeed IN SPITE of the district. In order to make the systemic changes that are so needed, district administrators must lift constraints and empower the school staff to lead the turnaround process. Once a school turns around, the district must also build a succession plan for that school’s leadership: don’t simply pull a great turnaround principal out, without first transitioning a strong AP into the principalship; don’t pull all the newly trained teachers into other district schools; and don’t eliminate all supports at once.

There must be a strategic phase out process at both the school and district levels and this desire for sustainability must come from the district’s leadership (superintendent AND the school board).

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Districts blocking partners from getting the job done

I just saw this posted on EdWeek.com – I don’t know the back story here, but if the article is true, this is exactly the type of issue that prohibits successful turnarounds. Lead Turnaround Partners can’t do their jobs if the districts won’t work with them.

But, what are the consequences for the partners? They will be fired or their contracts will not be renewed. For the districts? In many states, district staff will keep their jobs and will continue to run the failing school year after year. That makes sense, right?

Turnaround firm sues Gary schools to get records

Published Online: July 26, 2012

GARY, Ind. (AP) — A company appointed by Indiana to run and try to turn around a troubled Gary high school is suing the Gary Community School Corp., demanding that it turn over student records it needs to run the school.

EdisonLearning Inc. senior vice president Todd McIntire told The Times of Munster for a story published Wednesday that the lawsuit requires the district to release student records and provide the for-profit firm with services as required by law, including those associated with student transportation and school maintenance.

The Indiana Department of Education appointed the Knoxville, Tenn.-based company last summer to operate Gary’s Roosevelt College and Career Academy, one of seven Indiana schools approved last year for private takeovers after poor student scores on standardized tests placed them on continued academic probation. The school had been on probation for six consecutive years.

McIntire said the lawsuit was filed Monday in Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis because the company is acting on behalf of the state Department of Education.

Gary attorney Robert Lewis, who represents the school district, said his firm received the lawsuit on Tuesday and is still reviewing it.

“I don’t know the basis for any lawsuit. We are reviewing it and will respond accordingly,” he said.

McIntire said the district provided some student records to EdisonLearning on Wednesday morning, and company officials are auditing those records to determine exactly what it has.

“We’re going through them now. Transportation is connected to the records, and we can’t develop transportation until we have all of the student records,” he said.

McIntire said he meets weekly with the school district’s new superintendent, Cheryl Pruitt, and that she has been cooperative.

However, he said the company has had “very little response” from the school district on maintenance issues plaguing the school, including a malfunctioning elevator.

McIntire also said the school’s heating and air conditioning fails on a daily basis, and there are a number of areas with no ventilation. He also said the building also experiencing flooding last week following heavy rains.

“We have not been successful in getting the school corporation to address these issues or a date when they will get to them,” he said.

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Analysis of GAO’s SIG report (part 2)

To continue the analysis of a recent GAO report…. See Part 1 here.

Dance of the lemons

Schools implementing the federal turnaround model must replace 50% of teachers, and the transformation model requires replacement of the principal (with a few exceptions), yet how those staff members are removed and replaced is not always done in the best interest of students.

While some teachers or principals in a low-performing school may simply need a new environment, many need significant professional development to improve their instructional and leadership abilities, and a few may need to change careers. The GAO report cites how these requirements are implemented all too frequently, “However, the district officials said they relocated the released teachers to the other SIG schools in their district because those schools had almost all of the vacancies. Similarly, in two states we visited, district officials moved a school’s previous principal into another leadership position on site so that the person could continue to work in the school even after a new principal was assigned.” (Pages 9-10)

Some of these moved teachers may succeed in simply a new environment, but reassigning low-performing teachers, who’ve been teaching in a chronically low-performing school, to another chronically low-performing school will not likely produce the desired student achievement results. Similarly, keeping a low-performing principal in a leadership position undermines the authority of a new principal coming into the building who is trying to make changes.

Districts must put their best teachers and best leaders in their (traditionally) “worst” schools. District leaders must develop the political will and the commitment to put student needs ahead of adults (i.e. acting as an employment agency) and school boards and state education agencies must back up these decisions.

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