Archive for May, 2010

Standards We Can Believe In

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

The entire education world stands behind consistent core content standards to use as benchmarks for student evaluation.  But, what about teacher evaluation?

another California elementary school

another California elementary school

At this moment most school districts in the country are frozen by the disarray in state budgets and taxpayer angst, preferring to blame teachers when students aren’t doing well just as the oil execs pointed fingers at everyone but themselves for the latest catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

So with the uncontained controversy over funds for schools-think about it, we’re talking about money to make sure students are educated.  What would it be like to live in the countries where children don’t go to school at all, aren’t educated, struggle through life with little to sustain them much less lift themselves out of their hard scrabble existence?

Here in the U.S. the latest way we value our students is to not approve school district budgets, vote not to pass parcel taxes, exact wage freezes and higher insurance premium concessions from teachers, and require furlough days–to name a few of the cutback options pervading not only urban districts but upscale suburban districts also.

On top of such turmoil, state legislatures are passing new education bills that feel to teachers like another slap.  Why?  Before common core standards for students are put in place, and no matter what the states say, teachers are being evaluated by one tool–analyzing the improvement in test scores for the teacher’s students.  For many states improvement in this area would mean SPENDING funds and time to make those test scores valid and available.

Here it is: the cart before the horse.

This is how academic standards for student achievement should affect the teacher evaluation goal.  Follow this path: consistent standards and benchmarks, preferably throughout regions of the country if not nationwide; then tests that actually assess those standards and for which proficiency is equivalent region-wide; after test analysis, provisions made for each school to support those students who need intervention; next yearly evaluation, non-threatening, designed collaboratively with teachers in a school, test scores being one aspect; yearly evaluation of the school as a whole and of the district as a whole, including the superintendent and school board; money set aside to provide professional development for aspects of academic achievement not met by teacher, principal, school, and district.  REPEAT EACH YEAR.

This process is not on the agenda.  Instead, teacher tenure, anathema for most lay people, drives the process, especially for those fixated on turning schools into businesses, which they aren’t and won’t be even if run for profit.  Why would anyone wish to make a profit on the backs of little kids just doing what their parents want and the state requires?

The tenure aspect of teacher evaluation ought to be seen as an outcome of consistent, agreed upon standards and benchmarks for student achievement.  The teacher’s standards must be clear, unequivocal, based on objective statements of good teaching.

In addition, an agreed upon framework is needed for how the school community works together to meet student achievement goals.  If one teacher can’t or won’t support that goal, then steps to lay off the teacher make sense.

If you are interested in details of national student core standards, part of the federal Common Core State Standards Initiative to make assessment and proficiency consistent and achievable across the country, you can go to the National Governor’s Association or the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Both groups have overseen the development of and recently set out a draft of national core standards K-12 from which the process outlined above would lead to results that teachers may feel adequate for successful evaluation.  Don’t forget the principal and school district administrators must be evaluated also.

You can go directly to look at the core standards and take a survey.  Do so.

Colorado’s Big Bet

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Colorado has placed a big bet on how to improve student testing outcomes through more frequent teacher evaluation.  Senate Bill 10-191 sets in motion a vast assessment system of annual performance appraisal for all teachers.

Probationary teachers must receive three consecutive satisfactory reviews to move to non-probationary, or tenured, status.  Tenured teachers will drop to probationary status with two consecutive years of unsatisfactory performance.

The legislature put no new money into the system to pay for expanded evaluation, yet alone additional compensation for superior performance.  After all, Colorado is so broke that the legislature reduced education spending by $260 million for 2010-2011.

So what’s a school district to do?  Why of course… apply to the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant program!

So far, the U.S. Dep’t of Ed has funded 33 TIF plans.  According to Jonathan Eckhart, Wheaton College, only six are currently deemed successful in their impact on student learning.  The typical plan drops bonus dollars on teachers on top of the traditional steps and levels compensation system.

Jefferson County School District, the 37th largest district in the country and largest in Colorado, may attempt something else.  Jeffco is looking at tying its whole compensation system to student outcomes by eliminating steps and levels in their traditional format.

Essentially, the District is exploring the idea of paying teachers on a goal-based system.  SB10-191 declares that 50 percent of each teacher’s evaluation is based on student test outcomes.  Districts have some flexibility in choosing the assessments, but about 40 percent of teachers will receive 50 percent of their performance rating based on the state’s CSAP test.  In Jefferson County, the remaining 50 percent of assessment may be based on team and school goal-setting.

Teachers may also gain more pay by providing added value to the district through their contributions to student success, teacher mentoring, curriculum improvements, professional development, and serving on teacher appraisal teams.

The new system envisions a four tier set up.  The first tier includes new teachers.  The second tier includes teachers who work primarily in the classroom.  The third tier requires additional certifications and expanded teaching and professional development responsibilities.  The fourth tier will probably be a hybrid of teacher/administrator.

Teachers will receive additional pay within tiers as their work with students produces positive results.  As teachers move across tiers, taking on more responsibility for leadership and professional development, they may receive additional jumps.

But the District cannot afford this program without help.  The Teacher Incentive Fund grant program, if the district’s proposal is accepted, will provide the additional dollars for at least five years for up to 10 schools in a pilot program.

After the pilot program, there’s the great unknown. If the program succeeds, will the district be able to scale it up, as it also tries to keep current with other program innovations necessary for a 21st century education?  If the program succeeds, will the Jefferson County taxpayer and the state of Colorado reward the district for its success?

These are big questions as the district moves into untested territory to see if a non-steps and levels compensation system can kick start and sustain significant improvements in student academic outcomes.

How They Do It

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Argument after argument is tossed back and forth at conferences, in the newspapers and magazines about low-income, high ethnic population public schools that aren’t making it.

Then, lo and behold, three more great public schools and school districts pop up in the news.  In April 2010 at the National Association of School Boards convention in Chicago, Illinois, a presentation was made by Matteson School District (SD 162) near Chicago with 7 Pre-K to 8 schools. Three-fourths or more African-American students, second language, reduced price or free lunch, are all part of the list that indicates poor performance.

But, no, the district has won awards for meeting and exceeding proficiency on the state exams that are the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) benchmarks of success.

Not only Matteson public school district, but Marshall Elementary in budget deficit San Francisco, California, and Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, have overcome the odds.  Comparable schools-low-income neighborhoods, high number of minority students, second language issues.  How does it happen?

When reading the articles, it makes sense.  The factors that education studies have said make good schools were gripped by each school and the school district.  And it was done before the state superintendent or government came down with hands on hips, insisting on change.

Although specific programs may differ, four main traits identify the success of these schools.

* The school board, district superintendent, and principal have high expectations to do all possible to help students learn.  They have developed a long-range plan and stuck to it.  The faculty and staff are informed collaborators in the decisions to reach the achievement goals for the district and school.  The school community celebrates success.

* All members of the school community focus on providing the strategies to improve student achievement.  Teachers employ continuous assessment using multiple data sources which are analyzed and evaluated to improve instruction.  Teachers are given time outside of teaching for analysis and talk about how to improve instruction.  In addition, even with tight, tight budgets, resources are found to include speech therapists, nurses, tutors, social workers, and most important aggressive staff development.

*Parents are included in the school community.  For instance, at Marshall Elementary, the principal has hired a parent liaison who works on attendance, nutrition, transience-whatever impedes student success.  At PS 172 money was found for a dental hygienist who has dealt with the poor health issues that impede speech and energy to learn. At all schools, Matteson School district has trained parents to use the website in order to be knowledgeable about the programs going on at the schools.  Parent-school participation is encouraged at all schools.

* These good public schools report that art and music instruction has not been abandoned in order to improve test scores. Instead, the day is structured to use support staff during class time to reach the students with special needs. More than one teacher may be working with a group in the classroom. You can imagine that students are intent on learning, not “zoning out.” Money for after-school and Saturday instruction has been authorized.

Here’s the follow-up question. How was money found for the extra resources? So far we know only that principals scrounged for the funds and didn’t give up.

To ask about the report on Matteson School District (SD 162) in Illinois contact Dr. Blondean Y. Davis, Superintendent.  The article on PS 172 (aka Beacon School of Excellence) is found in The New York Times, April 26, 2010, “Poor Families, Rich Test Scores: A School Defies Odds” by Sharon Otterman.  Marshal  Elementary School’s story is found in the San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 2010, “U.S. tapping school’s recipe for success” by Jill Tucker.

5 de Mayo Victory for California Teachers

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

My school district is taking teachers off the Reduction in Force (RIF) list after negotiations with the district’s local union, a branch of California Teachers Association-National Education Association (CTA-NEA).  Union representatives have agreed to five furlough days, that is, no pay for a break during the fall term.

Unlike vacation days which are included in the teacher’s yearly salary, furlough days save money.  Instead of a battle negotiating revision of the pay schedule to lower salaries, furlough days seem to be preferable.  Perhaps the union’s thinking is that unpaid furlough days can be eliminated when the funds for schools increase someday.  (No way will that happen anytime soon in California!) If the state finally does conquer its budget, another revision of the salary scale would have to be renegotiated.  We can see the lines drawn right now in Oakland over salary negotiations in a poor district.

Anyway, due to retirements and resignations in my district 45 third year teachers who were on the countdown list for layoffs were notified last week that they will be working next year.  I’m happy for them and my chances of being retained are looking better.

I don’t know what will happen in big districts like Oakland or San Francisco which has a much worse deficit than my mid-size district that has already passed a parcel tax to support its schools.  Several parcel taxes-or extensions of parcel tax time limits-will be on the June and/or November ballots this year for a number of school districts up and down the state.

Our superintendent is lucky.  We have a PTA and Foundation group that is using every ounce of persuasion to get parents and the community businesses to support the schools.

May 4, 70 businesses in the surrounding shopping areas donated a percentage of their sales for the day to the Foundation.  It’s one of those win-win deals.  The businesses make money on a slow day and the schools benefit from the community support.

So far the Foundation has raised more than one and a half million $$, mainly so that school faculty and staff aren’t laid off, which would make class sizes larger, fewer librarians and other resource teachers available, and classified support minimal.

On Wednesday May 5 we will commemorate Cinco de Mayo, a festival celebrated by Mexico and Californians of Mexican descent, that honors a single victorious battle in Mexico against the French well over 100 years ago.  I hope I will be celebrating the single-handed collection of enough funds to support our school district and keep the rest of us employed.

There are over 6 million students in California.  Do voting adults in this state have to be this close to a school collapse before they are willing to put money in the pot for the student education they say they support?