Sunday, March 21, 2010

New York Times Thinly Veiled Support of Charters Is Wrong

Today the New York Times published an editorial titled "Who Grades the Graders" and in its first paragraph proposes that a more complex form of evaluating teachers is needed, including rethinking the role of principals and superintendents.

I agree with that sentiment, but the editorial says little about principal's role in evaluation and nothing about superintendents. Instead it focuses on a study by the Center for American Progress about the effectiveness of teacher evaluation in 5 charter schools representing the three major charter school operators. The NYT once again is pushing the charter school solution for American education rather than a broader view about best practices evident in mainstream public schools as well.

Many education leaders believe in a view of teacher evaluation that insists on multiple measures and focuses the conversation on teacher development rather than a punitive approach to simply weed out bad teachers. Principals and superintendents do have important roles here, especially around providing the time and resources for this to be implemented.

But this isn't happening just in charter schools.

One of the leaders in teacher development is the New Teacher Center which mentors and coaches over 49,000 teachers across the country. The involvement of organizations like NTC, who work in thousands of mainstream public schools, in the re-authorization of ESEA is critical if the Feds are to create a balanced view of teacher development and evaluation.

In fact, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is proposing the Teacher and Principal Improvement Act, which would amend the ESEA Title II to include more comprehensive developmental evaluation processes for teachers. One statistic quoted in a description of Reed's proposal states that the cost of replacing teachers who leave the profession is $7,300,000,000 annually! Firing bad teachers isn't the key issue, it's developing new teachers so they will be more successful and stay.

But we need to go one step further in teacher evaluation by focusing on the work of students as well. The Schlechty Center's work with thousands of educators provides methodology for using a collegial  coaching process for looking at the quality of student work as evidence of effective teaching. By examining the design of learning activities and resulting student products, teachers are evaluated by the success of their customers - their students - who are depending on schools to enable them to be productive and responsible members of our society, in their work and in their civic duties.  This broader, student-centered approach, could fundamentally and positively impact teacher development and retention, as well as the quality of American public schools. We don't need charters to make this happen for all children.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NCLB Reauthorization - Everyone Is Getting Into the Discussion and That's a Good Thing!

Today's NYT editorial on the re-authorization of NCLB made a few good points, especially about measuring school and teacher success. While I believe that measurement is a good thing, the way in which district and school success is measured must be broadened. Good teachers monitor and measure their students' performance and growth all year using many tools. Teachers look at student products, project work, progress and end of unit tests, collaboration activities, and individual reports from self-paced learning programs. Using a test score from a single day in the school year to make any determination about the performance of schools is absurd. In California, the STAR test has no meaning for 11th graders as many have already passed the high school exit exam and only care about grades and SAT scores. There are no consequences for kids from the high stakes tests results, so what motivates them to do well except the fear that well-meaning, but misguided teachers drive into them? I've heard from many parents and teachers that there are much more meaningful measures of a school's and teachers' success. Using today's technology advances, let districts and states decide how to measure effective schools using a broader view of student performance so teachers can get back to providing a broader, more meaningful curriculum.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is The Administration Finally Admitting Change Is Needed?

The Obama administration is revising NCLB - finally there is sensibility in Washington. Maybe. The good news is the expansion of standards to include science and social studies, not just math and ELA. Also positive is the plan to back off AYP and, rather, set goals for college or career readiness for graduating students. Another positive aspect is the focus on principal quality in addition to ensuring the effectiveness of teachers.

However, there's still the goal of using testing as the measure of success with a heavy hand by the federal government on ensuring compliance to standards. Even with new national standards that reflect higher-order thinking versus memorizing facts and formulas, schools will still be held accountable by the federal government, rather than their state government, or better yet, their community. Even with the decrease in the number of poor performing schools being punished, the federal government is still meddling in local issues. Providing grants and funding for innovation and improved results is a great role for the Feds but using test scores as the only measure of success is just wrong. Awarding the dollars in return for compliance to unproven reform practices (e.g, more charters, firing staff, closing schools) is even more deadly to public education in this country.

Local communities - politicians, business leaders, formal and informal social groups - need to take back control. Some districts and states are refusing to compromise local control and principles by not applying for Race to the Top funding. We need to see more community and state leaders have the courage to just say "no" to the money if it means implementing questionable improvement practices, that are more like punishment than rewards.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Communities and corporations are getting more involved in public education and that is a good thing. Funding for resources that don't focus on high stakes testing is becoming less available as massive budget cuts are underway.

However, creative administrators, teachers, and parents can find some great resources out there. Time Warner Cable has launched an initiative called Connect a Million Minds where parents and kids can connect with organizations that provide after school and summer activities related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The coolest feature is that you can put in your zip code and find local offerings in an instant. Each day more organizations are loading their information onto the site, which launched in November 2009, and more kids are connecting to them.

Another corporate initiative, sponsored by PepsiCo is called Refresh Everything. Every day ordinary people vote on the ideas of dedicated and creative educators who submit their requests for $5,000 - $250,000 grants. PepsiCo gives away $1.3 million every month to a variety of projects across all social sectors.

Donors Choose is another initiative that connects individual donors with teacher requests for funding for projects. It's a simple process similar to those used by KIVA and other organizations who provide a marketplace of sorts for people wanting to give back to society. Instead of costly evaluation processes, the teachers who receive the grants merely have to create a 'thank you' package to show the donors how they used the money.

Some may be cynical about these programs, suspecting that the corporate programs have ulterior motives and that the non-profits will show few measurable results. But I believe these are wonderful ways for people to directly impact the education of kids and get involved in helping provide engaging learning experiences. Maybe this will inspire them to get more involved in the larger discussion about providing a richer learning experience for all kids in public schools.