Saturday, October 10, 2009

Four levers for Chairman Brothers

Earlier, I posted Joe Brothers' mighty question from Thursday's KBE meeting. In a nutshell, he asked: "What you just said to me is no different than what I heard in 1987. So why should I be hopeful? ... What are we going to do to change the culture to educate our kids?"
Here's how I answer that question.

At the local level, four big steps are needed to create a culture where student performance will substantially improve:

  1. Principals must observe and evaluate teachers based on instructional quality.
  2. Professional development must become a steady cycle of finding and studying fresh evidence of student learning and collaborating to push that learning higher.
  3. Superintendents must evaluate principals based on the quality of staff evaluations, steps to ensure effective professional development, and overall leadership to improve instruction.
  4. School boards must understand whether local student performance is improving at an acceptable place. When they understand that, they will support the superintendents who are doing the job and get those who are not doing it to change or retire.
In schools and districts where those things are happening, the culture is changing, teaching quality is rising, and student performance is improving. In others,the state has not provided consistent, strategic leadership to get them to occur.
The Department must tackle the first three: teacher evaluations, professional development, and principal evaluation. The law already requires them, and they should be drop-dead priorities. KDE monitoring can target the weakest ten percent of schools, allowing those who are not in compliance six months to improve or be removed for neglect of duty. Publicizing that pressure can also help: it will convince other schools and districts to move on the same issues without direct state engagement.
The state board itself must lead on the last item, local board understanding of student results. They have already played an important role in getting the boards in Christian, Covington, and Union to understand the need for mighty change. If KBE calls in half a dozen more boards this year, I think we'll see similar motion in those places within 12 to 18 months. If KBE asks KSBA to offer intensive training on understanding weak scores and pushing district staff to raise them, and urges several dozen boards to sign up for those activities, they can move the impact to a wider group in roughly the same time frame.

Why does KBE itself need to do the local board work? Because KDE is wired to respect, support, and protect superintendents. That is good: our effective superintendents deserve that kind of relationship with the agency. But when the record shows that a superintendent is way off track, KDE is not going to change its approach and reach past the superintendent to other district leaders. The local board needs to know what's wrong, and someone other than the Department staff needs to deliver the message. KBE is the right someone for that task.

Those four culture-changing, achievement-raising levers are already in the Board's and the Commissioner's hands.
They can be used before the legislature meets, before the economy thaws, and before Senate Bill 1's big changes are ready to roll. They can move us from admiring the changed culture of some districts to seeing that change take hold in all districts, and from discussing what's needed to seeing it happen for all Kentucky students. They're my answer to the Chairman's excellent, urgent question.


  1. It will be interesting to see the correction of disability students' achievement scores. Let's teach the bright, often brilliant students with dyslexia, early and with methods identified with meeting their learning styles. If we took care of our students with this invisiable disability, comprising at least 10 percent of our student population, we would solve a multitude of problems. A teacher advocate for students with dyslexia for nearly 40 years--

  2. Susan-you are right on target. That is exactly what is needed-responsibility for accountability. It starts with the local board, drops to the superintendent, and is finally consummated by the principal in the school who is the designated academic leader. His faculty are the ones that make it happen in the classroom. Seems simple doesn't it? I know it's not, but this is what has to happen. Wade Mountz


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