Sunday, August 29, 2010

Addressing priorities without RTTT funding

In a family, you find a way to take care of priorities with whatever money you have. If your son outgrows his coat, you buy him one that fits, even if it means lunching on peanut butter sandwiches for the next three months. If your daughter needs braces, you get it done, even if it means continuing to drive a battered car with a broken air conditioner and 150,000 miles on it. Finding a way and paying the essential bills is what parents do.

As a state, it's time to do the same thing. To equip our children for college and for good jobs, we have to deliver on our new standards, and the efforts that requires have to be our financial priority.

Race to the Top funding would have made that work much easier, but the work must still be done.  It's time to start figuring out how.

For the district and school-level work, RTTT would have added $17.5 million a year for five years. That’s about $26 a student, and about 0.3 percent of average current spending at the district level. To implement Kentucky's RTTT strategies, that funding should go mainly for staff time, including time to learn about our new standards, develop skills in teaching to those standards, implement new evaluation systems that promote teacher growth, and start using a new data system that supports better instruction.

If districts count delivering on the standards as a top priority, they must find ways to move the needed resources. The things they cut will not necessarily be easy to let go: the hard choices are between a good investment and a better investment, and the challenge will deciding how to fund strong work on the standards first and keep as many other good efforts as possible on track beyond that.

For the state-level work, the issue is again $17.5 million a year for five years. In the RTTT application, that money was slated to support professional development around the standards, around new evaluation approaches, and around the data system, and also for costs of creating the data system, creating the evaluation system, strengthening teacher preparation, and bringing stronger support to Kentucky’s weakest schools.

The current state budget gives KDE about $22 million for 2010-11 (and less than that for 2011-12) for all the work done by Department staff. The Commissioner and the state board cannot, even with the tightest budgeting, find a way to free those funds. For the state share, legislators will have to make the hard choices.

What are the state level options? Commissioner Holiday has identified about $10 million in small education grants that go for good things, but perhaps should now go for the better things we identified in our RTTT proposal. Following the earlier example of a family keeping an aging car on the road, putting off some school building replacements and renovations may also be a way to free up resources. Those are first suggestions, but there may be other parts of education spending or total state spending that would be better choices for reduction.

To be blunt, my own preference is for raising added revenue, but to be just as blunt, our state leaders need to find the will to support Senate Bill 1 implementation even if they are not ready to do it through tax changes.

For both district and state leaders, the choices will not be easy or comfortable, but they are essential. Our children need for us to prepare them for college and for careers in the new economy, and we need to the adult generation that gets that job done.

A personal note: last Wednesday, Bob Sexton asked me to take a look at the implications of not receiving Race to the Top funding and call him back with questions in the form of an interview that would provide his thoughts on how to move forward. By the time I was ready for that next conversation, he was gone. The post above is far weaker without his wisdom and I know that the weeks ahead will be full of other tasks that miss his insight. For all of us, figuring out to continue Bob's work without his wisdom will be achingly hard. For me, writing about this topic had to be my first step.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bob's voice at dawn

“We've spent the last 100 years near the bottom,” Dr. Sexton told The Courier-Journal's Pam Platt in an interview last year. “Let's spend the next 100 years much closer to the top. We've shown we can do this.”
That's from today's C-J's editorial, and so exactly what my spirit needed to hear this morning.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bob Sexton

Statement from the Prichard Committee
for Academic Excellence
August 27, 2010

It is with great sadness that the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence announces the passing of its executive director, Dr. Robert F. Sexton of Lexington.

Bob had led the Prichard Committee since its creation in 1983, building the grassroots organization into a nationally recognized model of citizen engagement on behalf of improving education at all levels. The committee will honor his legacy by continuing the important work that framed his career of public service.

A Louisville native, Bob held a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. He was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University and at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and had been awarded honorary degrees from Berea College, Georgetown College, Bellarmine University and Eastern Kentucky University.

His many civic contributions included serving as a member of the board that created the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington and on the boards of the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center and the New Opportunity School for Women. He also was a founder of Kentucky's Governor's Scholars Program and of the Kentucky Center for Public Issues.

His national board service included Editorial Projects in Education (publishers of Education Week and Teacher Magazine), the Education Trust, the Center for Teaching Quality, the Education Commission of the States and the American Association for Higher Education. He also served on advisory groups for several national foundations.

Bob, 68, died Thursday night, August 26, 2010, at the University of Kentucky Medical Center following a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Pam, and children Rebecka Sexton, Robert Sexton, Ouita Michel (Chris), Paige Papka Richardson, Perry Papka, granddaughters Willa Dru and Lily Kathryn and the Prichard Committee staff. Memorial plans are pending.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Adding students, unevenly

Kentucky public schools have added students over the last five years, with average daily membership growing from 631,760 in 2004-05 to 647,560 in 2009-10.  Overall, that's an increase of 2.5 percent.

Sixteen districts grew by more than 10 percent over those five years, with growth rates of

  • 10 percent in Barren, Eminence, Fort Thomas, and Madison
  • 11 percent in Calloway and Kenton
  • 14 percent in Oldham
  • 15 percent in Warren
  • 16 percent in Bardstown and Shelby
  • 17 percent in Boone
  • 18 percent in Spencer
  • 20 percent in Corbin and Scott
  • 28 percent in Walton-Verona
  • 48 percent in Southgate

Eighteen districts declined by more than 10 percent, with losses of:

  • 10 percent in Campbellsville, Clay, and Covington
  • 11 percent in Harlan County, Lyon, and Middlesboro
  • 12 percent in Leslie
  • 13 percent in Russellville and Robertson
  • 14 percent in Anchorage
  • 15 percent in Frankfort
  • 16 percent in Dayton and Newport
  • 21 percent in Murray and Fulton County
  • 22 percent in Silver Grove
  • 23 percent in West Point
  • 27 percent in Jackson Independent

Monday, August 23, 2010

Value-added measurements: not as easy as it sounds

The biggest education story recently has been the L.A. Times reporting on how student test scores do and do not improve in the classrooms of "more than 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers for whom reliable data were available." The report used "value added analysis" in which "each student's performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors." The article discussed four teachers by name and linked to a data base showing results on the others, again by name.

After a week of letting the issue simmer in my thinking, I have some thoughts about the method.

First, the analyses are worth creating. This kind of data on student progress could be quite useful for professional development, first for individual teachers' individual reflection, and second for individual conversations with supervisors about next steps in professional development.  Separate from evaluation decisions, tenure decisions, promotion decisions, intervention decisions, and removal decisions, the information could help teachers improve their craft and help school leaders support teachers on making those improvement.

A recent national study reported that:
If only three years of data are used for estimation (the amount of data typically used in practice), Type I and II errors for teacher-level analyses will be about 26 percent each. This means that in a typical performance measurement system, 1 in 4 teachers who are truly average in performance will be erroneously identified for special treatment, and 1 in 4 teachers who differ from average performance by 3 to 4 months of student learning will be overlooked. 
Most elementary teachers have 25 or fewer students. Middle school teachers often have more students, but they have shorter periods for working with each one.  Given those small numbers, weakness in the statistics should really not be a surprise.

The value-added approach requires "before" and "after" test scores. Using Kentucky's current state assessments, only reading and mathematics teachers in grades four through eight could be analyzed this way. In science, history, and other subjects, we do not test every year. Even in reading and math, we do not have grade-to-grade results we can use for teachers in third grade and earlier or in ninth grade or higher.  Future testing could provide additional data and options--but those approaches are in the design phase and their funding in limbo.

In current discussions, many educators are clearly very wary of value-added analysis.  Some of the wariness rests on specific evidence, including examples of plans that ignore the best methods available and informations on the uncertainties even when the best methods are applied. Some comes from wanting to hear the details before endorsing any approach. Some does, frankly, seem to come from general uneasiness with change, and at least a little comes from resistance to responsibility.

The thing is, if teachers do not trust and respect an evaluation system, it will not work. That is, an evaluation system without substantial buy-in will not lead to increasing teaching quality that leads in turn  to increasing student performance.  Accordingly, any proposal for using value-added data in evaluations has to pass two standards: technical soundness and teacher acceptance.

As I read the current discussion, that teacher acceptance will have to be earned through careful listening, careful responses, careful design, careful explanations of the design, and and very careful implementation of any design that gets adopted.  That is the kind of work Commissioner Holliday has requested from the task forces now looking at Kentucky evaluation methods, and I'm honored to be participating in those efforts.

If the reports are to be created on individual teachers, I think they should be confidential rather than public documents.

It is one thing to imagine a principal using the value-added analysis in the context of observing the teacher in the classroom, discussing the data with the teacher, offering the teacher support to improve, and checking whether the teacher uses that support--and doing all of that based on careful training in a system that allows appeals and reviews of the principal's judgments.  I think it is possible to do that in a way that delivers for students and is fair to teachers.

It is quite another to imagine parents pulling the analysis from a website separated from all other information and controls.  In that second model, there is huge opportunity for good teachers to have their skill and effort devalued.   I do not see a way to make that fair to teachers.  Further, trading off parents' knowledge against teachers' concerns, I do not see a way it nets out to helping improves student performance.

I can add that I think public release of individual teacher data will be politically impossible.  Educators will fight that part fiercely enough to win.  Only when I add that part, I do not want that political calculus to be the main argument.  The main argument should be that we cannot make it fair and we cannot make it helpful to students.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Common Core curriculum maps (a draft worth checking out)

Here come more tools to support implementation of the English language arts portion of our new standards (known locally as Kentucky Core Academic standards and nationally as Common Core State Standards):
Common Core’s Curriculum Maps in English Language Arts were written by public school teachers for public school teachers. The maps translate the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Kindergarten through 12th grade into unit maps that teachers can use to plan their year, craft their own more detailed curriculum, and create lesson plans. The maps are flexible and adaptable, yet they address every standard in the CCSS. Any teacher, school, or district that chooses to follow the Common Core maps can be confident that they are adhering to the standards. Even the topics the maps introduce grow out of and expand upon the "exemplar" texts recommended in the CCSS. And because they are free, the maps will save school districts millions in curriculum development costs. The draft maps are available for public comment until September 17.
Update: Robyn Oatley tells me the link to the maps isn 't easy to see in the text above, so you can also click here to find the maps.  (I think the problem is in the blogger template, but I'll see if there are ways to make the links easier to spot.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Dear readers,

I haven't fallen off the planet, but I have escaped on vacation, planning to get back to work and blog on August 23.  I'm sorry I didn't mention that part before I vanished.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New federal push for students with disabilities?

The Disability Scoop blog covered a speech by U.S. Education Secretary Duncan, and reported on two strategic pushes to fix historic failings in education for students with disabilities:

What’s more, Duncan highlighted department efforts to establish new assessment tools to measure academic progress among students with cognitive disabilities for whom traditional fill-in-the-bubble tests may not offer an accurate reflection of skills.
Duncan acknowledged that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights “has not been as vigilant as it should have been in protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities” in the last decade. But he said his staff has opened nine compliance reviews related to special education since March and is working with school districts to help them better understand their obligations.
[Thanks to Melanie Tyner-Wilson for the link!]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Giant Steps: SB 1, Common Core, and RTTT (August edition)

Once again, I've revised my overview of some huge changes underway in Kentucky education.  Click here to download the one-page PDF, or read on:



Senate Bill 1, passed in 2009, requires Kentucky to upgrade its standards for what students will learn. Our new law says the standards must be shorter, clearer, and better focused on students being ready for college, work, and global competition. To match the new standards, Kentucky will use new tests starting in the spring of 2012. Current teachers will receive specialized training on how to teach the new standards well, and teacher preparation programs will equip future teachers with the same skills.

For language arts and mathematics, Kentucky has joined with many other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards. Nationally respected experts drafted the standards, using learning research and information on how each subject is taught in the countries with the world’s highest academic results. Then they gathered comments from state leaders, local educators, and the general public have been gathered, and revised the work several times before issuing the final edition in June.

Similar multi-state work is planned on additional subjects, including science and history.

Because of Senate Bill 1, we expect to be ahead of most states in preparing current and future teachers to implement the standards. In the future, Kentucky and other states will be able to collaborate on developing tests, textbooks, technology, and professional development that match the standards and help students develop the knowledge and skills they will need for college and career success.

Nearly all states are now competing to win Race to the Top grants from the United States Department of Education. The winning states will share $4 billion in funding to implement their plans to make their school systems among the best in the world. The plans must address:

• Standards, including classroom implementation and good tests to check student progress.
• Data systems to help teachers identify student needs and effective learning strategies.
• Evaluation and support systems to strengthen teachers and school leaders.
• Major changes to schools that repeatedly fail to deliver acceptable student performance.

Since Kentucky is already committed to Senate Bill 1 and the Common Core, the Race to the Top competition is an opportunity to get the funding we need to implement those changes quickly and well. In the first round of the competition, Kentucky was one of the finalists, but did not receive an award. In the second round, we have applied for $175 million to be spent over five years, with half of the funding going to school districts for local work and half being used at the state level, and we are finalists again. The second round winners will be announced in the fall of 2010.

SCOBES board exams: future testing and future high schools?

The State Consortium On Board Examination Systems (SCOBES) is planning working on high school assessments of English, math, science, history and the arts.   Check out a new, clear one-page summary of the SCOBES proposal for federal funding here, similar to the ones on PARCC and Smarter/Balanced that I blogged in July.

Board exams are a strategy for transforming our high schools.   The core idea is that when students succeed on those tests, usually after tenth grade, they will be ready to "move on" by taking one of five paths:
  • A community college transfer program designed to start them toward a four year degree at an open enrollment university.
  • A community or technical college certificate or degree program.
  • High school work preparing for a selective college or university.
  • High school work preparing specifically for STEM work at a selective college or university (with STEM meaning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
  • A high school career or technical program with industry certification.
A key insight from the summary:
SCOBES will not develop new assessments, but will review, select and certify a set of existing rigorous Board Examination System providers that member states and high schools can offer to their students. To be eligible, providers must align their systems to the Common Core State Standards.
Because multiple systems will be considered, there will not be a single answer to questions about types of tasks, length of tests, and schedule for testing, but the summary does specify that "most" possible providers "rely heavily on essays and constructed-response questions and some also include coursework and assigned projects" and that "scoring is external, done either by machine or by hired, trained teachers."

Kentucky is a SCOBES member, and this major shift in direction is clearly an approach Kentucky will consider.  It is also a major bid to transform high schools, making the first half about demonstrating competency for the later options, moving a substantial group of students out of high school when that competency is shown, and asking the remaining students to choose a sharply defined direction for their remaining work.

Finally, though these board exams are not billed as "graduation exams," the summary does not show any   paths forward for students who do not succeed on the tests.  For those whose first board exam scores are below the needed level, is the plan to offer them added learning opportunities in preparation to retest?

Monday, August 9, 2010

It happens in teams (a turnaround model?)

Boston is creating teams of veteran teachers to lead improvement in their weakest schools.  They're recruiting people to take challenging jobs with a full teaching load plus mentoring responsibilities, with a commitment to having them start work as a group rather than as isolated individuals.  The New York Times shares some key elements of the process:

Asked about applying to one of the city’s 12 turnaround schools, Lisa Goncalves, a first-grade teacher with seven years’ experience, said, “I’d be hesitant to go alone.”
And that is the simple idea behind a new program that is being used to staff three of the turnaround schools in Boston: you don’t go alone. Rather than have the principal fill the slots one by one, the Boston schools have enlisted the help of a nonprofit organization, Teach Plus, to assemble teams of experienced teachers who will make up a quarter of the staff of each turnaround school come fall.
“It’s like jump-starting a culture at these schools,” said Carol R. Johnson, Boston superintendent of schools. “In turnaround schools, you often wind up with a high portion of first- and second-year teachers, so you need some experience, a team of teachers who are enthusiastic and idealistic.”
Said Celine Coggins, the chief executive of Teach Plus, which developed the idea and is financed by the Gates Foundation: “I think teachers want to know they’re not going into a school alone as a hero.”
The teams will spend two weeks working together this summer. While teaching a full load, they will serve as team leaders for their grades and specialty areas like English immersion. They will work 210 days versus the normal 185 and get paid $6,000 extra a year.
On average they have eight years’ experience.
There were 142 applicants — from as far as Arizona, Florida and Nevada — for the 36 positions. Everyone offered a job took it. Sixty-eight percent came from Boston public schools, 18 percent from charter schools.
Because I think engaged colleagues are crucial to each teacher's ongoing growth, this model strikes me as full of promise. It's also full of peril: the teachers are forming their team from scratch and will need to move from there to forming strong relationships with the school's current staff and other incoming teachers, and the article makes it clear that the effort does not have full political trust and support behind it.

Especially important, the idea began with actually hearing what educators say over and over again about their own motivation:
The idea for inserting teams of experienced teachers came from teachers. In 2007, Teach Plus created a group of 15 teaching fellows, searching for ideas for turning around schools. The second most important thing they mentioned was a strong principal; the first, a team of effective teachers.
“We thought like teachers,” said Melanie Allen, a fellow, who’s a nine-year veteran of Boston schools. “We wanted to be surrounded with a group of equally collaborative and dedicated teachers with open doors. We wanted to create a tipping point that would inspire the school culture."
Definitely an approach to watch!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Future accountability (an SB 1 deliverable)

Commissioner Holliday offers a blog-summary of the current draft ideas on how Kentucky will handle accountability starting in 2012:

It is now time to turn our attention to finalizing how schools and districts will be measured under the proposed strategic plan. We have been conducting advisory group meetings to gain feedback on revisions to the Kentucky accountability model and school/district report cards. The proposed accountability model would include the following measures:
* Next-Generation Learners – schools and district will receive an A,B,C,D or F grade on student learning results based on new common core assessments. The grade would be derived from a composite of proficiency rates, closing gaps and growth. Middle schools would have a high school readiness component added based on the 8th-grade PLAN assessment. High schools would have a college readiness component and a graduation component added.
* Next-Generation Professionals – schools and districts will receive a grade based on percentage of effective teachers and leaders. This measure will be developed by the teacher and principal effectiveness steering committees.
* Next-Generation Support Systems – schools and districts will receive a grade based on results from the teacher/leader working conditions survey to be administered for the first time in spring 2011. Also, program review performance will be included to ensure schools and districts are continuing to focus on a complete education in addition to tested subjects.
* Next-Generation Schools/Districts – within this strategic priority, districts will be graded on percentage of schools they have at each grading level. Also, school report cards will be revised to show performance on the above measures.
Let me reiterate that the new report cards and accountability system are only PROPOSED at this point. We are gaining feedback from all stakeholders; however, the time for action by the Kentucky Board of Education is drawing close. The KBE will receive a draft proposal at the October board meeting, and a final vote will be taken at the December board meeting. Should legislation be required for any component, we will work with legislators during the 2011 short session.
I'll add some quick thoughts:

  • Science and social studies remain a puzzle.  We hope and plan to use standards we can share with many other states, like the common core literacy and math approach we've already adopted, but those standards may not be ready in time for 2012 testing.  I'm confident this will work out in the long run, but not as confident we'll see a smooth transition in the next two years.
  • Arts & humanities, practical living/consumer studies, and the writing portfolio are in this accountability model.  They are not shown through as assessment results for students, because we no longer test those results, but the quality of what each school offers students will be evaluated through program reviews and the results will be in school and district accountability reports
  • This "accountability" model does not yet include a description of planned consequences for various levels of reported performance.
  • Visuals matter for public engagement.  For parents and citizens, this set of results ought to be available in a one page overview that is truly easy on the eye.  The key information should be in a comfortable font size with an appealing layout and a note on how to get deeper information on-line. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Boosting college completion: some state-level strategies

Complete College America is a serious push to get attention ensuring that college students don't just enroll, but actually earn a degree or another credential of real value.  In recent years, American higher education has made far more progress on access than on graduation.

One major emphasis of their approach is on telling students frankly that starting late and going part-time lowers their chances of ever graduating, and encouraging them to make the added push to graduating on-time or early.

Here are some examples of state policies shared in their great three-page analysis (download here) of how states can "Reduce Time and Accelerate Success:
• "Full-time enrollment in Connecticut community colleges increased dramatically when colleges began using full-time enrollment status as the default when they processed students’ financial aid applications. The strategy shows students that attending college full-time is often more affordable than they expect."
• "Texas has a two-step approach to cracking down on credit creep (students’ earning unnecessary and excessive credits): First, the college or university loses its state subsidy for students who exceed a certain credit-hour threshold. Second, students are charged out-of-state tuition if they exceed limits for repeating courses or if they take classes that are “substantively identical” to ones they have completed."
• "North Carolina adds a surcharge to tuition for students who exceed a certain number of credit hours in a four-year degree program."
• "Florida enshrined a number of acceleration mechanisms in state policy, including dual enrollment (allowing students to earn college credit while in high school), early admission, credit by examination, and Advanced Placement/ International Baccalaureate credit. All of these acceleration models are made possible through a common course- numbering system that also allows credit from two-year colleges to be easily transferred to four-year institutions."
• "Tennessee is establishing a common core associate degree curriculum consisting of 41 hours of general education courses and 19 hours of pre- major courses. Completing an associate degree will ensure junior-level status at any public four-year institution in the state with all credits guaranteed to transfer."

Kentucky adult education shows a regional lead

The Southern Regional Education Board has released a new report showing some important Kentucky growth in adult learning, outpacing most of the other states in the region.

From 2005 to 2008, Kentucky adult education enrollment grew:
  • 25 percent in adult basic education--third fastest in the SREB region
  • 71 percent in adult secondary education --fastest in the region
  • 39 percent in English as a second language--again fastest in the region
Kentucky's GED passing rate rose over the same period from 73 percent to 78 percent, giving us the third highest passing rate in the region and the second greatest improvement in the region.

The report, A Smart Move in Tough Times, offers Kentucky as an example of a state actually pushing forward on a real strategy to face a real challenge:
Quite simply, the economic well-being of our region is at stake if we allow the growing group of less-educated, working-age adults in SREB states to expand further. Their low levels of education contribute to higher health-care costs and unemployment rates, diminish tax revenues and hinder economic development. Where better-trained workers live, good jobs will follow.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Innovation Grant for Jefferson (Congratulations!!)

Jefferson County Schools will receive one of 49 Investing in Innovation (or I3) grants funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the "stimulus bill").  EdWeek has the breaking news of those Kentucky successes.

The project, titled "Making Time for What Matters," requested just under $5 million for a proposal that included this summary information posted by the U.S. Department of Education:
Our i3 Development grant, will demonstrate the power of a coherent targeted strategy to turn around our six persistently low-performing high schools in the context of a trimester schedule that will drive academic acceleration, promote social and emotional well-being, and advance teacher professional growth.

Monday, August 2, 2010

34 and counting

EdWeek's Catherine Gewertz reports (and beautifully maps) the votes that move us to 33 states and the District of Columbia committed to the Common Core State Standards initiative.  Tennessee, Iowa, Florida, Colorado and California are the newest additions.  Off the top of my head, I know that Alaska, Texas, and Virginia have decided definitely not to participate, and Minnesota seems to settle on staying out at least on mathematics.

Model teaching: a new draft of core standards is out for comment

The draft Model Core Teaching Standards: A Resource for State Dialogue is available for public comment.

Who created the draft? It's from the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC), an effort of the Council of Chief State School Officers, with committee members nominated by many national education groups (all listed on page 2 of the document). The work was funded by the National Education Association, the Educational Testing Service, and Pearson's Evaluation Systems group.

Why was it created? It's an update to INTASC’s 1992 Model Standards for Beginning Teacher Licensing and Development: A Resource for State Dialogue.  The update effort aims to describe standards of professional practice not just for beginning teachers but as a continuum for development over the course of careers.  Compared to the earlier effort, this version adds deeper attention to use of assessment data to shape instruction and to the "explosion of diversity of learners today," as well as other changes.

How will it be used? After revision based on comments, the final version "is to serve as a resource for states, districts, professional organizations, teacher education programs, and others as they develop policies and programs to prepare, license, support, evaluate, and reward today’s teachers."  That's good language for CCSSO isn't going to decide that, but hopes many different groups will use it as a starting point for many kinds of constructive work.

How can the draft be improved? Download it here to read the 22 pages of text (not counting covers and table of contents), and then respond here to the survey seeing broad responses from the field.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In teams (again, for Sunday thinking)

In my previous post, I summed up my evidence for the role of collaboration in developing teaching quality strong enough to change student results.

There's another way I hear that argument, closer to the voices of the teachers I learned it from.

When I asked the principals of schools deliver for students often left behind what they did, there was a consistent claim that that they didn't do anything special.  Instead, the key thing I heard over and over again was about knowing each student, caring about each student, and adapting instruction to keep each one moving.

My first effort to sum up what I heard was that they were saying "we love 'em and teach 'em."

As I drafted and redrafted my report, going back through the answers I'd received,  I began to see something more about how they did it: the core approach was  a shared approach, requiring a core of trust and commitment and common effort among colleagues.  

Before I learned to call that sort of environment a professional learning community, I knew that in schools that deliver, the educators work in a distinctive way. My own summary may never have made it into print before, but my understanding of schools that get the job done is this:  They love the students enough to try, and they love each other enough to succeed.

Love's an odd word in public policy discussions, but it's also a deep one in understanding human motivation and an inescapable one in faith-based understandings of what matters in human efforts. For me, it's the understanding that goes deeper than the research citations, rarely having an explicit place in the discussion, but there even when it goes unnamed.

In teams or not at all

Consistent strong results for students, at a level that closes gaps, support economic growth, and strengthens our communities, will be created by teams of teachers--or it will not happen.

In my reading, listening, writing, and blogging, I keep coming back to that.

Reading the literature on professional learning communities gave me a name for the approach: teachers thinking together, looking at student work, checking progress toward standards, finding ways to adapt instruction to speed that progress, finding and sharing professional growth activities to fit the questions they generate together are the core of the PLC idea.  It sounds like multiple separate elements, but they're really a single coherent initiative, like a cube formed by six sides.

Listening to teachers who deliver for students often caught in the gap, I had already heard the same ideas.  I heard it direct from our high performance, high poverty schools.  I heard it indirectly through the interview results from the systematic Black Box study and through every Kati Haycock presentation and EdTrust success story I can remember.

Writing years ago for the Kentucky Association of School Councils,  I grappled with ways to describe the same shared approach based on what I'd learned from Kentucky schools that deliver the highest results for African-American students, students with disabilities, and students in the federal lunch program.

Blogging last year about the McKinsey report, I kept circling back to the idea of consistent teaching quality, and the collaborative environments in which teachers worked together in ways that spread strong skills, making them all more effective at their craft.  I  came back to the same ideas as I engaged Karin Chenoweth's case studies in How It's Being Done.

No single educator, whether teacher or administrator, can will that kind of collaboration into being.  It takes many colleagues, growing together, developing the trust and the habits to lean on one another and learn from one another.  Naturally, some members of the team may be the first to propose the approach, the most willing to begin, the most able to draw others into the circle--but the big steps for students happen when many have joined the circle and the shared process has their shared ownership and commitment.

The thing that must happen for students will happen in teams of teachers, or it will not happen.