Archive for Districts

Ensuring Equity Work is Systemic

State Education Agencies, districts, and schools across the country are talking about equity. Researchers, think tanks, and funders are too. Equity audits, equity policies, equity officers, abound. All of this is great, but how are those systems, processes, policies, and procedures are changing due to all of this equity work? If what the adults do every day isn’t changing, is the equity discussion truly making a difference? I believe equity is the removal of systemic barriers that allows an educational system to serve each child what they need to succeed.

A recent EdWeek article on district/CMO equity officers reminded me of some of the lessons I’ve learned and observed from working with schools, districts, and states.

  1. Senior leaders, and the broader community, must decide what equity means to them and their system (school, district, or state). It’s really difficult to make progress if there isn’t a shared definition or vision of what you’re aspiring to achieve.
  2. While it’s important to name one person in charge of equity for accountability and implementation purposes, it’s crucial that the entire leadership team owns the equity work and understands each senior leaders role in making changes.
  3. Equity work must be supported by resources – resources that may include people, time, money, and programs. These may be new additional resources or may be reallocated or repurposed from existing resources. To say that you’re working on equity without providing the needed resources to make changes and implement practices is like selling fool’s gold as the real thing.
  4. Monitoring equity requires disaggregation of data – which may go beyond what the state requires according to ESSA subgroups – i.e. while a state may require data disaggregated based on poverty or special education or English Language Learner identification, schools and districts should still disaggregate data to ensure that policies and procedures don’t have adverse impacts on specific and traditionally underserved subgroups of students (i.e. African American males, Latinos, etc). This type of analysis is where we’re seeing conflicting information in many districts – the achievement gaps are closing (great!), but discipline data shows racial and gender gaps (not good) that still need to be addressed from a systemic level.

Doing equity work and doing it right is not for the faint of heart. It requires commitment from leadership (chief/superintendent/principal) and elected officials (boards of education). It requires courageous conversations in communities, but those conversations only get us so far. More importantly, it requires courageous actions to truly change how the educational systems and structures serve them every day.

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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.

 

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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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