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Generosity doesn’t equal justice

I heard a thought provoking piece on NPR this afternoon. At times I agreed with the discussion, and at times I disagreed. Either way, it got me thinking. The author, Anand Giridharadas, the author of a new book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, was interviewed and highlighted several arguments from the book that explores how the global elite’s propensity towards charity sometimes create (or perpetuate) the very social problems they are trying to “help.” In an interview with Time he states, “A lot of philanthropists cause problems with their left hand and then try to fix those problems with their right hand.” He continues, “They underpay workers and then try to rebuild, through their foundation, the American opportunity structure.” For this reason, Giridharadas doesn’t think that real solutions to our national problems, from wage stagnation to education inequality, will come from the country’s wealthy and powerful but rather a return to America’s foundational public institutions. “It is we the people who actually need to take change back from these pretenders of change,” he said.

Full disclosure – I haven’t read the book and I’m not going to elaborate on the tax code and the ability to deduct charitable donations, or the fact that non-profit organizations do have positive impacts and can spur innovation in many places around the world. This would be a very lengthy blog post to truly respond and reflect on the entire interview.

So, the piece that resonated with me was when he said, “Generosity does not equal justice,” or something to that effect (the audio of the show isn’t yet available for me to double check the quote). As I started thinking about it, I thought about the often used meme “equality, equity, justice” (figure 1 below) that encourages us uncover the root causes of issues and then address the systemic barriers that exist. The generosity of millionaires and billionaires does not simply result in equity for those who need additional supports to do whatever short-term circumstances and sources of systemic oppression impact them.

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Figure 1: Equality, Equity, Justice Meme

The problem right now is that based on the decades of inefficiencies, oppression (racial, gender, sexual orientation, language, etc) that the very systems that are supposed to turn around outcomes (i.e. health, education, social) continue to perpetuate them. Even when we receive a significant influx of philanthropic dollars to implement a program to target a need (i.e. an afterschool program for low-income students), we continue to tinker around the edges of the system, as opposed to truly changing the entire system (i.e. a longer school day with extracurriculars and academics combined and accessible for all students, combining the work of community partners and the school district into one cohesive effort). We are in an endless cycle of needing philanthropic dollars to improve outcomes, yet the very presences of those dollars sometimes pushes us to not rethink the broader infrastructure and systems. We become reliant on those dollars as it often seems too difficult or cumbersome to truly change the system.

This all said, there are numerous organizations and funders that are still doing great work and we should not stop those programs, strategies, and efforts. And, we should do so, while keeping an eye out for true innovation. We must pushing ourselves and our elected, appointed, and hired government leaders to truly address the root causes of social issues and work together to remove those historic and systemic barriers.

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New Publication — A Practical View of MTSS

The third and final publication of a series for the Illinois Center for School Improvement (at AIR) is Practical View of MTSS.  This document includes an overview of what MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) is, how MTSS aligns to other educational acronyms (RTI, PBIS), what MTSS looks like in practice, and key elements and some suggested tips for successful implementation of MTSS.

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What blending learning looks like in practice

A new publication on how innovative staffing approaches support the use of blending models was recently released by Public Impact and the Christensen Institute.

A few excerpts that particularly resonated with me:

“… high-quality personalized learning requires much more than equipping students with tablets and software.” … “The greatest impact of blended learning will likely come not from technology alone, but from a redesign of staffing arrangements and instructional models that integrate online learning with excellent teaching. Most schools, including many of those that are seeking to adopt blended and personalized learning, remain stuck in a one-teacher, one-classroom model. In that model, teachers work largely alone, with only sporadic feedback and support. New tasks associated with personalizing learning— such as analyzing student data, differentiating learning activities for student needs, planning real-world learning experiences, giving individualized feedback, and helping students set customized goals—are often added to already overwhelming workloads. In these schools, teachers of all levels of effectiveness essentially play the same role, and they reach about the same number of students.”

The publication then explores how a handful of schools are utilizing new staffing models to adopt blended learning to enable personalization. The varying practices in the schools are the heart of the document and the most useful way to see how the work could be applied in other schools and districts.  The document concludes that to move forward and bring such practices to scale, three conditions must be met. They include: including operations in the annual operating budgets, as opposed to relying on grant funding; availability of excellent teachers; and, availability of great leaders to champion excellence and be willing to think outside of the traditional educational program and staffing boxes.

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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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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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Updated ESSA Highlights

Here’s an updated overview of ESSA highlights from EdWeek.

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The Washington Post recently posted an article describing the work of a small Missouri district (3,000 students) principal who was determined to change the school system to meet the needs of her kids. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but below I note some of the key decisions/actions the district implemented.

  • Superintendent Anderson regularly visits classrooms. While a small district makes this logistically feasible, larger districts could have district office staff visiting classrooms on a more frequent basis. It not only increases teacher accountability, but it connects central office staff to the kids they serve every day (but never see).
  • Inclusion of wraparound support services – including a home for homeless students, food banks for students and their families, access to doctors and dentists, and access to washers/dryers for clean clothes.
  • The district hired back recent graduates who weren’t able to get jobs after graduation.
  • Saturday academies and other programs to catch up off track students are offered.
  • Students can earn an associate’s degree while in high school.
  • The district restored access to music, dance, art and other non-core curricular programs.
  • The budget was balanced, deficit improved, and additional philanthropic funds granted.
  • Teachers use weekly assessments to check for progress.
  • New teaching staff have one semester to one year to team teach with a more experienced staff member.
  • Prospective hires must pass a 10-question quiz, with content two years higher than they’re applying to teach. The article notes that most applicants don’t pass the quiz.
  • The Superintendent believes in the district and its students. She’s willing to do a variety of jobs – including acting as a crossing guard.

One note, while the graduation rate has increased (which is great), the level of college and career readiness should be questioned. (This is an issue that expands far beyond this district.) Graduating high school is definitely an achievement and should be celebrated, but if a student has a diploma and is unprepared for work or college – what value is that diploma?

This is a superintendent willing to change the systems and structures to meet students where they are, who’s willing to push staff to work harder and positively impact students, and is willing to do the heavy lifting when needed. While this type of superintendent is hard to find, she’s created a great road map for others to adapt and bring to their own districts.

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