Archive for the ‘Mass Insight Education & Research Institute’ Category

When budgets are resolved, what do schools take up next?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Suppose the California legislature agrees to resolve the most current budget deficit of $25.4 billion as of January 11, 2011. California’s Governor Jerry Brown presented his administration’s budget this week. It includes big budget cuts (but not to K-12 budgets), as well as temporary tax extensions to be voted on in the Spring.

Suppose the California legislature agrees to revise the state and local tax system which had become so unfair that Proposition 13 passed easily in 1978. The fiscal trouble that existed then has increased many times over as the state and local governments vie for revenues.

Suppose  California citizens agree that all services cannot be paid for individually or by initiative.  Some, like fire protection, police protection, infrastructure, parks, recreation programs, and schools are better provided by communal funds.

If all that were agreed, some schools are still found in very poor areas-both urban and rural. Those schools need to be turned around. It’s not easy.

Mass Insight Education and Research Institute has laid out the steps to take. See www.massinsight.org.

Matteson School District (SD 162) in Illinois under Superintendent Dr. Blondean Y. Davis has given an overview of steps taken to improve student success. See www.edline.net/pages/Matteson_School_District_162

Success For All is used often, especially in eastern urban areas, as a specific reform for reading/language arts.  SFA lays out school-wide steps to make sure students learn to read and understand the meaning of text.  See www.sfa.org.

Edsource’s February 2010 report “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better” explains steps that help adolescent students succeed.  See www.edsource.org.

Suppose schools began to turn around. What’s the next step?

Testing and the tests schools use is a huge complaint, whether the scores are used to assess student success or to evaluate teachers or to determine school quality.

The first problem is the kind of test: standardized, criterion referenced, short formative tests several times a year, one summative test a year; tests provided with software.  Who decides which kind of test to use: the state, the local school board, the federal Department of Education, the publishing companies of the United States?

Here’s another list of questions to resolve: which standards are tested; what do tests measure; how do results affect promotion, teacher evaluation, and accreditation for higher education?  See the Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline program for an in-depth analysis of testing issues.

In education, the biggest concern is the quality of each school.  Does a single test determine all of the school qualities that establish success?

One statement can be made: once the budget crisis is resolved, state departments of education must analyze the tests they use. Successful schools depend on the steps taken.

Who’s going to take the tiger by the tail, the bull by the horns, or shoulder Sisyphus’ burden?

Whose Fault???

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Having been a teacher, blame placed on teacher’s unions “that view reforms more for how they affect pay and job security than whether they improve student learning” is unfair and inflammatory.

The accusation by David Davenport in the article “Value-added education in the race to the top” San Francisco Chronicle, November 29, 2009, is based on the country-wide dispute about using data to help students learn, rather than to evaluate teachers.

This is not to go along with every position NEA, for example, has taken in the past, but the constant denigration of teacher’s unions about their position on evaluation and student testing performance is misleading about a complex reform.

Davenport, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, well-known for its conservative views, advocates the “value-added” model, originally a manufacturer’s economic theory, to address the problem of teacher evaluation with data, collectible from the vast pool of scores since NCLB began.

Actually, the teacher and student evaluation reform issue is touchy, easy to manipulate with statistics, and difficult to resolve because of the multitude of variables.

It’s easy for the media to grab onto student test scores and conclude the results are attributable to the skill, or not, of the teacher.  It doesn’t matter that a superintendent, a principal, or a teacher defends the year’s testing outcomes, if scores have not soared higher than a kite, those educators are said to be making excuses.

The term “value-added” education, partly referring to the student’s gain in reading and math proficiency over a year, has been around for nine years, at least, in California.  Every school knows its exact place in relation to other schools in the state.  Those in need of program improvement are deep into the change process.

Several reports can be found (Mass Insight Education & Research Institute and the California Governor’s Advisory Committee on Education Excellence are two) elaborating on conditions for bringing change to schools so that students actually learn more and more each year.

In addition, “value-added” refers to the other attributes in the school and classroom that can be assessed, such as the instruction received.

None of the “turn around” measures advocate evaluating a single teacher solely on the improvement in scores of his/her students.  As I’ve read it, unions are against that particular type of evaluation (which is the magic bullet whirling around in the media air), but NEA and AFT have offered suggestions to use the test as one part, along with other tools, to assess the teacher’s skill in the classroom.

As part of Race To The Top grant preparation, California’s Governor Schwarzeneggar has signed two bills to support data availability for teacher and school evaluation.

Next problem.

While reading that the “value-added” proposal can provide a foundation on which to build accountability, to be practical, how can time be spent to develop these evaluation tools when there is so little money?

And what will be done when the evaluation procedures are developed?  Will there be money to set in motion the practices needed to truly and fairly move unsatisfactory teachers from a school district?

Besides, does Mr. Davenport surmise that just getting rid of weak teachers is going to fix a school?  The article notes Eric Hanushek’s comment that replacing 6-10% of the nation’s poorest teachers with average teachers will make a difference in the quality of American education.

How will that happen?  A bit of research into Mr. Hanushek’s theories may provide some insight.  See next post.

Having supervised teachers in a program improvement school, the advice is every Race To The Top dollar should be spent for program evaluation, professional development for highly-qualified teachers, facility improvement, parent education so they know how to keep track of their children’s work and expect achievement, and school community celebration of effort and success.

While each teacher must be accountable, the overall success of those “good” school characteristics is the key.  That’s how the program improves.

We Are Going and We Will Get There

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Woyaya, a gentle, melodic song from South Africa encourages the singer to keep walking, even when the road is hard and muddy and rough, or when she can’t see how far she still has to go.

Of course, the song was composed to keep up the spirits of those pressing for freedom from apartheid, but even now for low-performing schools in today’s education world, the road is long and rough.  And those who embark on a turn around effort need every good word and good tune.

Fortunately, a few studies (see post 6/24) have researched the traits of the schools that are moving in spite of the travails on the road.

In 2008 I heard a presentation from the Mass Insight Education & Research Institute, Inc. that outlined the bold steps a school,  school district, and state must take to see students perform as well as students in the most high-performing schools in the country.

Geoffrey Canada, Founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, 2004, was quoted, “Instead of helping some kids beat the odds…why don’t we just change the odds?”

A brief summary of the findings to change the odds shows that instead of a model that merely tries to keep up with the curriculum, the school or district or state must pursue a model that will help each member of the entire school succeed.  Change occurs when the students, teaching staff, administration, and parents are ready to act.

Unfortunately, as we’ve posted on this blog, (5/16 and 5/20), there is little leverage, i.e. funding, from No Child Left Behind legislation; there are few exemplars that are easily available to school districts; there is a lack of public will to sustain support for any school.

Finally, there is a lack of highly visible collaboration among schools, districts, and the state to pull together-as the song urges, no matter how hard the road or far away the end of the trail.

Now, to overcome the odds (some say 5000 low-performing schools will need to be restructured by 2010) the report from the Mass Insight group offers three components, sending the undaunted toward coherent, comprehensive change.

First, revise the conditions for work, time, money, staff, and programs used.  Teachers and administrators will all have to agree on the incentives for work (often a teacher’s union issue), accept the negative impact of the status quo, and be willing to pursue aggressive performance targets.

Second, the capacity to turn around a school requires a school staff that understands and prepares to sustain a revised curriculum, invites other community partners to support the turn around (from nearby universities, for example), and includes students and parents in the effort.  See the article at the end of the Program tab for takecareschools.com.

Third, clustering bolsters successful collaboration for change, the desire to be part of a successful team.  For instance, several schools can band together to access resources, share success, and offer support.

While the components for program improvement seem obvious in a report, be assured beating the odds requires relentless, consistent effort.

That’s why I remember the words “It will be hard we know, and the road will be muddy and rough, but we’ll get there.”