Offering Mr. Duncan A “Re-do”

One of the current hot topics in teaching is the concept of a “re-do.”  Proponents of the re-do consider it an opportunity for students to show what they know when their efforts fall short of the expected standards.  Compassionate teachers know that measuring students at one point in time has its faults.  Re-dos allow wiggle room for teachers and students.  Re-dos offer students a way to dig themselves out of potential failure.

In that same spirit, it is time for a re-do in public education.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan needs to ask the American public for a re-do on his quickly failing policies.  Race to the Top, the Common Core State Standards and a poorly designed teacher evaluation system are seriously flawed.

Parents, students, politicians, administrators, and teachers question the rationale behind the U.S. Department of Education’s current efforts on school reform.  The major stakeholders in education no longer have faith in the direction of federal and state mandates.

School systems are being held hostage because they accepted federal funds to adopt the Common Core and its associated guidelines for testing and teacher evaluation.  Many states lack the courage to stand up to the feds.  Teachers in New York, however, are calling for a testing moratorium and pulling their support for the Common Core:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/26/ny-teachers-union-pulls-its-support-from-common-core-urges-removal-of-state-ed-chief/

Is it possible that Mr. Duncan will stand up and admit that while his intentions were good, his policies are failing?  Is it worth it to alienate parents, students, and teachers in the process of reforming American schools?  What harm is there in stepping back a minute to re-evaluate the state of education in America?  I assure you that, in the absence of a testing-heavy accountability system, teachers will continue to work hard and do what is best for their students.

Mr. Duncan, it’s okay to ask for a re-do.  It will give you time to fix your mistakes and, in the end, you might just create an enduring legacy.  Imagine how fondly historians would portray you if you were the one politician who admitted he was wrong and did something about it.  There is time to fix your grade.  The re-do must be submitted soon, otherwise failure is inevitable.  You’re on the clock.

Finding Common Ground Response

In his recent Finding Common Ground (Education Week) blog, Peter DeWitt outlined ten critical issues facing education today.  He listed the following areas that need our attention:

Common Core State Standards
Student Learning
Technology
Social Media
Politics
High Stakes Testing
School Leadership
Pre-service Teaching Programs
School Climate
Poverty

That’s a pretty thorough list.  Peter ended his article with a question:  What would you add to the list?  Here are three that I would add:

Parent Involvement
Students whose parents are involved in their education achieve greater success than students with uninvolved parents (http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED315199).  Schools must find ways to increase parental involvement.  Invite them into the schoolhouse, support them, and never assume that they are unable or unwilling to help their child.

Connected Teaching/Learning
Peter touches on this under “student learning.”  Teachers must be supported and empowered to connect their teaching to “real world” issues.  Thomas Friedman noted in The World Is Flat, that the United States needs to continually update the skills of its workforce.  Politicians and school leaders must support teachers in their efforts to make learning meaningful.

Early Childhood Education
If we are to address the disparities our children face before they ever enter a school building, we must take a stand on mandatory pre-kindergarten programs.  These early childhood education programs should focus on the development of the whole child.  Early childhood programs should be language rich, stimulating environments that give children the opportunity for the same experiences that affluent children have.  They should not be over-tested, data-collecting warehouses that take all of the fun out of learning.

So, there are three more for Peter’s list.  That makes thirteen.  Hmm, can someone help a certified triskaidekaphobic by coming up with at least one more?

Peter DeWitt’s full blog:

http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?DISPATCHED=true&cid=25983841&item=http%3A%2F%2Fblogs.edweek.org%2Fedweek%2Ffinding_common_ground%2F2014%2F01%2F10_critical_issues_facing_education.html%3Fcmp%3DSOC-SHR-TW

Weingarten Gets It

“We can’t reclaim the promise of public education without investing in strong neighborhood public schools that are safe, collaborative and welcome environments for students, parents, educators and the broader community. Schools where teachers and school staff are well-prepared and well-supported, with manageable class sizes and time to collaborate. Schools with rigorous standards aligned to an engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning, not testing, and that includes art, music, civics and the sciences — and where all kids’ instructional needs are met.”

-Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers in the Washington Post Answer Sheet column by Valerie Strauss.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has made a stand that resonates with many educators.  It is possible to embrace the Common Core Standards while being critical of the testing that has accompanied their roll-out.  Being quick to find fault is a habit engrained in American culture.  Many are critical of the new standards.  Ironically, few of those critics are actually educators.

Weingarten is president of the second largest teachers union in the country.  One might suspect that she is only looking out for her constituency.  That, of course, is her job.  Yet, advocating for her teachers ultimately benefits children.  Weingarten makes a connection that so many policymakers have missed.  When teachers are treated fairly and rationally, they are better educators.

States are using value-added models to evaluate and rate teachers.  These measures are attached to the funds that states have received through Race to the Top.  In other words, states have been coerced into using test scores to develop complicated evaluation tools for teachers.  There is little evidence that VAM-based evaluation tools have been, or will be, accurate and fair to teachers.

By circumstance, principals stand in the middle of this political mess.  They have been thrust into a quagmire of illogical formulas designed to quantify the art of teaching.  Rather than being overwhelmed by this predicament, principals should be a voice of reason and sound thinking.

While diligently serving as the interpreters of educational change, principals can make sure that good teachers don’t flee a profession they love.  The adoption of the Common Core should be separated from the assessment-focused milieu that has been forced on schools.  Principals can, and must, do this for their teachers.  Principals can foster a transition to the Common Core that does not alienate teachers in the process.  If they can’t accomplish this, who can?

Link to full Washington Post article:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/13/weingarten-slams-teacher-evaluation-by-student-test-scores/

 

Edweek Rankings: What really matters when it comes to student achievement?

Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report was released January 9th.  Depending on past performance, states were either eager to find out how they did or cringing while they waited for their results.  Many states use the report as a feel-good moment to pat themselves on the back.  The rest start spinning negative results into positives before the report even hits their doorsteps.

The Quality Counts report is comprehensive and complicated.  It contains enough variables that most states should at least be able to find some positives within their results.  After reviewing the report, however, one may begin to question the relationship between student achievement, standards, assessment, and accountability.

The standards, assessment, and accountability rankings are based on test items used to measure student performance, the alignment of assessments to academic standards, as well as the rewards, assistance, and sanctions states provide schools.  The student achievement rankings factor in NAEP scores, high school graduation rates, and AP test scores.

The table below illustrates an interesting point:

State Ranking for K-12 Student Achievement(score/grade) State Ranking for Standards,   Assessment, and Accountability (score/grade)
Massachusetts 1   (83.7 B) 23   (88.4 B+)
Maryland 2   (83.1 B) 44   (88.3 B+)
New Jersey 3   (81.1 B-) 24   (75.5 C)
Indiana 12   (72.8 C) 1   (97.8 A)
Louisiana 49   (59.8 D-) 2   (97.2 A)
West Virginia 47   (60.8 D-) 3   (96.7 A)

A converse relationship seems to exist between standards, assessment, and accountability when compared to student achievement.  The three states with the highest rankings in student achievement (MA, MD, and NJ) are less impressive in the standards, assessment, and accountability rankings.  The three states ranked highest in standards, assessment, and accountability (IN, LA, and WV) struggle to measure up when it comes to student achievement.

Simply put, Education Week’s Quality Counts report calls into question the need to focus on state standards, assessment, and accountability.  States like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland have raised academic rigor without being waylaid by the demands of standards, assessment, and accountability.  The states that have directed their energy at compliance with federal guidelines have done so without benefit to their students.

No one is questioning the need for standards, assessment, and accountability.  Schools and teachers have always been, and will always be, accountable.  The Quality Counts report, however, illustrates that states would be better off focusing on quality teacher training, instruction, and compensation rather than the minutia associated with standards, assessment, and accountability.

Highlights from the 2014 Quality Counts report can be accessed at the link below:

http://www.edweek.org/media/ew/qc/2014/shr/16shr.us.h33.pdf

Meet Peter DeWitt, Ed.D.

Author, speaker, and school leader, Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) will guest host #mdeschat on January 9th at 9:00 p.m.  Peter is a NY principal currently on sabbatical.  He is a great resource for educators who are seeking to understand many of the national issues currently affecting schools.  I sat down with Dr. DeWitt for a Q&A to find out more about him and his professional pursuits.

You are currently on sabbatical.  What are you doing with all that “free” time?

Not sure I would call it free time! Seriously, I’m working on a variety of projects. First and foremost I’m a Visible Learning trainer for John Hattie. I will be working with schools around North America on his approach to learning, which I will get into a little more in the next question.

Secondly, I’m co-authoring a book with Sean Slade, the Director of the Whole Child Initiative (ASCD). He and I are writing a book for ASCD that focuses on school climate. Sean and I are both on the National School Climate Council (I’m the co-chair) which is the steering committee for the National School Climate Center.

In addition, I am writing a book for Corwin Press on flipped leadership which is something I did a great deal of as a school principal, and I’m working as an independent consultant working with schools on flipped leadership, school climate and teacher evaluation.

I’m very fortunate because, although they are all great projects, it was a hard decision because I love my school community. I work with great teachers, kids and parents. I’m thankful my school district offered me the leave of absence.

One of your current interests is “visible learning.”  How do you define visible learning?

Visible Learning comes from Professor John Hattie. Hattie is a Professor of Education and the Director of Research at the University of Melbourne. He did the largest meta-analysis in education which involved over ¼ billion students.

Although it’s a huge amount of research, I would quickly define Visible Learning as the teacher and student working together on a combined goal that they both can see at all times. Three questions to ask, whether you are the teacher or the student are:

  • Where am I going?
  • How am I going?
  • Where am I going to next?

What have you learned from writing your Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week?

This is such a great question because I feel that we should always learn something as we go through the writing process. Writing for Education Week has really changed my life. I’ve gotten the chance to get to know the people that I have long admired like Michael Fullan, Todd Whitaker, Diane Ravitch and Carol Ann Tomlinson. I have also had the opportunity to connect with educators around the world which has been a great experience.

Over all, as I write I am usually questioning something. I may not be questioning another person’s ideas as much as I’m questioning my own long held beliefs. Education is really complicated and it’s often the adults involved who complicate everything. Everyone has strong ideas on what they believe works.

One of the areas that I’m passionate about is making sure every student has a place at the table when it comes to decision-making. I did my doctoral work on how well school leaders safeguard LGBT students, which became my first book for Corwin Press called Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. I found that in too many schools we have marginalized populations that are not treated very well and that needs to change. I believe writing Finding Common Ground has helped me find my own voice so that I can speak for students and teachers who don’t have the power to speak for themselves.

New York is ahead of many states in implementing and assessing the Common Core.  What lessons can you share with the states that are a few steps behind?

The New York State Education Department, under the leadership of Regent’s Chair Merryl Tisch and Commissioner John King, has done a deplorable rollout of the Common Core to the point that parents want to see the Common Core go away. Before schools were ever provided with the proper resources King and Tisch made sure the 3rd – 8th grade high stakes assessments were tied to the Core, which were ultimately tied to teacher and administrator evaluation.

What’s worse is that the state assessments only provide schools with a number of 1,2,3 or 4 which is based on a cut point. They do not provide an item-analysis of where students did well and where they faltered.

All of this came when they were rolling out the Common Core and now school leaders are scrambling to try to differentiate between the Core and high stakes testing. There is absolutely no trust between the public school system and the state education department which is really sad because it wasn’t always that way.

I think if I could offer any advice to states is that they should see what NY did and do the opposite. I typically try to find common ground but I can’t where this situation is concerned.

How do you balance your personal life with your professional commitments?

Not very well! It’s always been one of my biggest issues. I get so passionate about education that it is hard to turn it off. I love learning and thrive on the connections that I have made with people in my life as a school leader, workshop facilitator or speaker, and through my connections I’ve made on Twitter.

When I was young, my grandparents had all passed away by the time I was 7, my dad passed when I was 11 and I was retained in fourth grade. I struggled academically throughout my school career, was a sub-sophomore because I lacked the credits to be a full-fledged sophomore and graduated fourth from last in my graduating class. I dropped out of two community colleges and was working at a liquor store. Fortunately, I was a long distance runner and I went to a community college for my last attempt, because that school had a X-country team. My coach encouraged me (forced…) to go to the Learning Assistance Center. That semester my grades went from a 1.7 to a 3.86 and they never went down again.

Something clicked with me, due to the family, friends and teachers around me, and I became successful in the very thing I failed at so many years ago. It’s hard to turn that off when you know there are many kids in that same position.

Can you give us 5 “must follow” people on Twitter?

Uh oh…the pressure is on! Only five??? This is not an easy question because there are so many great educators out there worth following. Besides two powerhouses, I’m going to have to go to a few of my New York friends for this one.

Todd Whitaker – Everyone knows Todd but he wrote the single best book I ever read as a leader. That book is What Great Principals Do Differently and it’s a must read for any school leader. Besides that he is an outstanding speaker and has some of the best one-liners I’ve ever heard.

Eric Sheninger – Eric is doing tremendous things when it comes to connected leadership. I’m in the middle of reviewing his new book for Corwin and it is going to be a huge success.

My NY Colleagues:

Tony Sinanis – https://twitter.com/TonySinanis

Vicki Day – https://twitter.com/VictoriaL_Day

Lisa Meade – https://twitter.com/LisaMeade23

Thanks, Peter!  We appreciate your support of #mdeschat and the example you set for school leaders across the country.  To learn more about Peter DeWitt, visit his webpage:

http://www.petermdewitt.com/

Here’s to a “promising” 2014!

I held fast to December, but 2014 is upon us and I am determined to welcome it with my full enthusiasm.  While I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, I think it’s a good practice for educators to look inward at key points during the year.  January is a good time to reflect on what the second half of the school year will bring.

When I reflect on the remaining months of the school year, I wonder what significant contributions I can make to my school community.  What can I do for students, teachers, and families that will make a difference to them? After almost 27 years in education, I still question whether I make a difference.  I know it will be time to retire if I ever stop asking that question.  So, here is what I will try to do. You can call it a list of resolutions, but it is really a list of promises.

-Show up. Okay, that sounds weak, but our profession requires our presence. Outside of my family, my school has to be my biggest priority.  Schools require leadership that is consistent and supportive.  I will be there for my students, teachers, and families.

-Make decisions based on what is best for children. This seems like another obvious promise, but I’m sure that my colleagues have been challenged by all of the external factors that can cloud a school leader’s vision. I will keep my focus on children first and handle the adult issues within the context of what is best for children.

-Listen before problem solving. I have the word “listen” taped to the wall I face when I sit at my desk. School leaders are (or at least should be) natural problem solvers. Often, however, we try to get right to the bottom of an issue so that we can solve it as quickly as possible. The first step to helping someone is truly LISTENING to their concerns. I will give my full attention to students, teachers, and parents BEFORE assisting them with their challenges.

-Bring joy to my work. This is not hard. I LOVE what I do. Oh, I don’t love it every day, but I love it most days. School leaders who bring joy to their schools set a tone that permeates every fiber of their buildings. When students, teachers, and families feel that joy, they pass it on and it multiplies. I will try, every day, to bring joy to my students, teachers, and parents.

That’s it, just four simple promises (resolutions). If I can do those four things then everything else should fall in line, right? Maybe I’ll print this out and tape it to my wall.

Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen, Oh My!

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the factors that lead to the explosion of an idea or social behavior.  He specifically addresses three types of people who make things happen in society.  Gladwell calls them connectors, mavens, and salesmen.  While he doesn’t discuss these terms in relation to education, his ideas translate well to our profession.  Let’s first consider how Gladwell describes the people who make things happen.

Connectors
Connectors know lots of people, in fact, they seem to know everyone.  They have an instinctive and natural gift for making social connections.  They know lots of people by occupying many different worlds, subcultures, and niches.  Connectors are curious, self-confident, and energetic.

Mavens
Mavens are knowledge accumulators.  Once they discover something they want to share it with everyone.  They want to educate and help.  They have a message to share with anyone wise enough to listen.  To be a maven is to be a teacher and a student.

Salesmen
Salesmen are persuaders.  The have an innate ability to convince you that what they are selling is worth buying.  They use verbal and non-verbal communication to bring people around to their way of thinking.  Great salesmen sell you things you didn’t even know you needed.

Mavens are data banks.  They provide the message.  Connectors are the social glue.  They spread the message.  Salesmen get you to “buy” the idea.

If we see ourselves as connectors, mavens, and salesmen, we can turn the tide of school reform in favor of those who actually work with children.  If we resolve to become connectors, mavens, and salesmen, we can spend more time on the things that matter to students and their learning.  Let’s co-opt Gladwell’s ideas for education and redefine them.

Educational Connectors
Educational connectors attend conferences and collaborate with educators from all content areas and levels.  Educational connectors know that their professional knowledge depends on their willingness to share ideas with others.  They spend time spreading the word when they uncover exciting ideas.

Educational Mavens
Educational mavens see learning as a lifelong process.  They take personal responsibility for learning as much as they can about their profession.  They are both teacher and student because they recognize what they don’t know.  Educational mavens are voracious readers.  They wake up at night and write down ideas that come to them in their dreams.  You’ll know that you’ve met an educational maven because they exude passion when talking about anything that is related to teaching and learning.

Educational Salesmen
Connectors and mavens are often one and the same.  Salesmen are a different breed.  They have a knack for communicating ideas in ways that leave the average person in awe.  Educational salesmen are unique beings.  When I think of educational salesmen I think of Todd Whitaker, Annette Breaux, Dave Burgess, Eric Jensen, Michael Fullan, Daniel Pink, Peter DeWitt, Adam Saenz, Freeman Hrabowski, Chris Lehman, and Kate Roberts.  They are just a few of the educational salesmen who always leave you wanting more.  They contribute to their profession by “selling” you on the value of what they are truly passionate about.

Imagine what would happen if each of us resolved to being educational connectors, mavens, and salesmen.  Are we so caught up in the day to day management of our positions that we are unable to contribute to the greater good of our chosen profession?  School leaders often remind their teachers that they can’t work in isolation.  That’s advice they need to internalize.  The principalship can be a lonely position.  Principals who see themselves as connectors, mavens, and salesmen increase their individual potential.  That can only be a good thing for their schools and their students.

Showing Up Is Important- Guest Blog by Debbie Wooleyhand

Promises and resolutions mark the start of the calendar year.  January is a great time for schools to review behavioral expectations with students and families.  One of the most important expectations a school can set is regular attendance.  Habits form early and parents are a child’s first teacher.  Educators need to empower parents and encourage them to teach their children about the importance of going to school.

Showing up is the greatest contribution a child can make to the classroom.  Typically, when a student is absent, the teacher will send home “make up” work.  Yet, there are events that occur in a classroom that can’t be sent home.  The calm that falls over a class when the teacher reads a story aloud, the spontaneous song that breaks out occasionally, or the shared laughter when something silly happens in the classroom- these are intangible moments.  They are the events that help create a special bond between teacher and students.  They are the moments that move a classroom from school-like to family-like.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t put those feelings in a backpack and send them home.

What message can school leaders share?  Tell your teachers about the power of a phone call home when a child is absent.  It lets the parent and child know you care and that it matters when they are not in school.  Let parents know that we really do want the best for their children, not just today, but every day and that begins by building good habits.  Other messages to share about attendance include:

  • Good attendance helps children do well in school and eventually on the job
  • Attendance matters as early as kindergarten
  • Sporadic absences matter. Before you know it, a child has missed 10 percent of the school year
  • Don’t let your child stay home unless he is truly sick.  Complaints about a headache or stomach ache can be a sign of anxiety and not a reason to keep your child home from school
  • Avoid medical appointments and extended trips when school is in session

Lastly, attending school regularly helps children feel better about school and themselves.  My resolution for 2014 is to share the message of the importance of school attendance.  I resolve to talk about it every day. See you in school!

Information contained in this blog came from www.attendanceworks.org.

Debbie Wooleyhand is a veteran educator and pupil personnel worker in a school district with over 70,000 students.  She can be followed on Twitter @ppw78.

Hold Fast to December

I have always enjoyed the month of December.  There is no better place to be during the holidays than an elementary school.  Hopeful young faces spark warm feelings of seasonal spirit in jaded adults.  Excited children make December the best month of the school year.  Instrumental and choral performances liven up the schoolhouse.  December makes us young again.  Memories of holidays past come flooding back with every simple sight and smell.  Hold fast to December.

For teachers, December is the calm before the storm.  They embrace December because they know what happens in January.  Every day is a step closer to the second half of the school year.  Time accelerates after December.  December is a fun and family-centered time.  Even the “busyness” of December is slower than the pace of days from January to June.  In December, I pretend that January isn’t coming.  It makes me feel better.

Hold fast to December.  Drink piping mugs of hot chocolate with dollops of whipped cream.  Wear your pajamas all day and do nothing.  Read a book.  Take your dog for a walk.  Have a staring contest with your cat.  Visit family members.  Check on your neighbors.  The joys of December are limitless.  January will come.  The approaching year will be easier to celebrate if you get everything out of December.  Make plans.  Go slow. Go fast.  Just go.  Hold fast to December.

Meet Cybraryman- Jerry Blumengarten

Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) is guest hosting #mdeschat this Thursday, December 12th at 9 p.m. ET.  We “sat down” with Jerry to learn a little more about him and his awesome website:  www.cybraryman.com.

1. What would people be surprised to know about you?

I have a Maryland connection.  My daughter attended the University of Maryland – College Park.  She met her future husband (who is awesome) there. He is from Perry Hall.  They were married at the chapel on the campus and the reception was held at the Alumni Center.  Our Friday night gathering was at our favorite restaurant- Sir Walter Raleigh Inn in the Maryland Sports room.

We owned a townhouse in College Park during her years there.  Not only did I teach, but I wrote for a company (30+ years) that provided educational materials for the utility industry.  I did research at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

2.  What year did you start using Twitter? How has Twitter changed since you began using it?

I signed onto Twitter in May of 2009, but did not start using it until that summer and I stumbled on #edchat.  The first people I followed were @coolcatteacher @web20classroom @shellterrell @tomwhitby

The biggest change, aside from more educators using Twitter, is the explosion of chats that now cover most subjects & grades as well as states.

3.  What would you tell people who say they don’t have time for Twitter?

First you have to introduce Twitter without saying the name: “Do you know about “The Free Educational Support & Discussion Media System?”  You cannot force anyone to take the time to go on.  Show them the advantages.

4.  Why did you start your website?

After being a classroom teacher (grades 6-9) for 20 years (mostly Social Studies) I was asked to take over the library.  I decided to start a library website for the students, parents and school staff. I wanted a one-stop educational place where they could find useful information in all subject areas.  After I retired I expanded the site to include all grade levels and subject areas.

5.  Who inspires you?

My greatest idols before Twitter were Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa who gave their lives to help others.  Today, I have so many educators and those interested in education on Twitter who inspire me.

6.  Can you share 5 great resources for teaching the Common Core?

My Common Core page: http://cybraryman.com/commoncore.html

My Common Core Math page: http://cybraryman.com/commoncoremath.html

My Nonfiction and Common Core page: http://cybraryman.com/nonfiction.html

My Common Core Argumentative Writing page: http://cybraryman.com/commoncoreargumentative.html

My Keyboarding page: http://www.cybraryman.com/keyboarding.html

7.  You retired after teaching in NY for 32 years.  What advice do you have for new teachers?

  • First, get yourself in the best possible physical condition.
  • Observe other teachers.
  • Form a PLN in your school and online.

My New Teachers page: http://cybraryman.com/newteachers.html

8.  What advice do you have for people who are new to Twitter?

Find and then follow the educational hashtags for your grade level or subject area. It is okay to start out by lurking.  Do not be afraid to ask for help or share on Twitter.  The Twitter educational community care, share and support one another.

More about me can be found here:

All About Cybrary Man http://cybraryman.com/cybrary_man.html

Thanks, Jerry!  We appreciate your contributions to the Twitter-verse and beyond!