Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Work for America

Seems I've been reading a lot about Teach for America lately.  I had an awareness of the organization, but not a lot of knowledge.  From what I understand TFA was founded in part to meet the teacher shortage in the early 1990s, especially in urban, high poverty areas.  Corps members look to be high achievers who did not plan to go into education.

Interestingly, corps membership is growing despite roughly 300,000 teachers losing their jobs since 2009.  Even more interesting is that around 1/3 of TFA placements are being made in charter schools.  Folks are wondering if TFA has abandoned its purpose and become more of a business.

For the entrepeneurs out there I have an idea for you, although I'd like a percentage of any profits.

When I look at the job market and talk to local employers I see and hear that what is needed are folks with technical know engineers and the like.  In fact I spoke to an employer in the last week who had 330 applicants for a technical position, but not one qualified.

So if TFA can bring in college grads for a few weeks in the summer and train them to be teachers, why doesn't someone start Engineers for America.  Just scan presitigious colleges and universities for high achieving young adults who got a degree is something that isn't marketable and put them through a summer engineering training program.  They'll then be ready to go into companies across the country for a 2-year commitment.

Once their commitment is completed they will come back to work for EFA.  After a while they'll get a senior position at an engineering firm and shortly thereafter be able to lead the firm.  For those with political talents they can move into policy making, maybe even becoming Secretary of Defense.

But why stop at EFA, could we not do something similar for other career paths?  A larger Work for America organization could be the answer.  But doesn't that exist as a completely different entity?

I want a highly effective teacher in every classroom in the district.  So do our parents.  It's time the media and politicians stood behind the talented folks in our classrooms rather than demean them.  And we can't circle the wagons and shoot inward.

Monday, August 27, 2012

When will we leap again?

Neil Armstrong passed away a few days ago.  He became famous for his words as the first man to step onto the moon.  Over the past few days I've been wondering about that leap for mankind and what the next leap will be.

Will it be in technology, medicine, space exploration, energy, our ability to coexist, or something else entirely?  Whatever it is, I hope it makes the world a better place for future generations.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Can't Have It Both Ways

The Broad Foundation has defined 75 ways how bureaucracy stands in the way of America's students and teachers.  This was written to apply to urban districts.  I've not taught, worked, or been an administrator in an urban district, but I want to compare some of the claims to what we see in rural districts.  On others I just want to comment.

The 75 ways are split into 3 categories. 

Resources often don't reach the classroom

1. More than one person in a central office may play the same role, meaning resources are unnecessarily duplicated. ---In rural districts the same central office plays multiple roles.  This has especially grown as politicians and agency officials place more reporting requirements on schools.

3. Central office systems are slow, meaning that teachers may not get paid on time and students may not have books and materials (or the permanent teachers) by the start of school. ---I've not see a rural district not pay on time, but getting materials can be a struggle if not ordered early enough.  Suppliers sometimes don't get in a hurry with small orders.

5. More money is spent on facilities construction and maintenance than is necessary. ---State laws drive these costs up.  This is especially true in very rural districts.  Laws governing our bidding processes require that we pay prevailing wage on construction jobs.  This drives up cost with some districts paying much more for labor than a contractor would pay in a locale.

6. Investments in purchase and maintenance of supplies and facilities go unused. ---Rural districts tend to use almost everything they have before ordering more.

7. Budgets are not based on what things actually cost. ---This is an interesting claim without any backup information.

9. Little effort is made to learn from other high-performing organizations and public agencies in areas like transportation, operations and facilities that would free up dollars for the classroom. ---Rural districts operate the only transportation system in their area, and often the largest restaurant.  We learn from each other to be as efficient as possible.

10. Different parts of the organization that manage resources do not communicate with each other, which means that schools and classrooms receive resources like supplies and instructional support inconsistently. ---In rural districts the entire system usually knows what the other parts of the system are doing.

12. Principals lack the freedom to decide how to spend school dollars in ways they know would support their own students and teachers, because district central offices often control school budgets. ---Our principals submit and defend budget proposals.  They are then given great leeway over those funds.

14. States often inform districts of their budgets too late (e.g., often after school has already begun) for districts to be able to properly plan how to best use resources to support students and teachers. ---This is a function of state laws having deadline requirements that simply don't mesh with the reality of schools.

15. Across the board budget cuts (vs. strategic, targeted cost reductions), operational inefficiencies and administrative overhead mean that too few taxpayer dollars actually reach the classroom. ---Given the cuts that colleagues have had to make in recent years, I've not seen anyone doing across the board cuts.  The cuts I've seen have been very strategic.

Teachers often don't receive the support they need, and may talented Americans don't even enter the profession.

17. Teachers don’t have the time or technology they need to change or improve upon their instructional strategies. ---Many of us provide staff development time during the summer (100 hours for us this year), as well as having staff development each week.

18. Teachers don’t have access to instructional pacing guides to help them make sure students learn what they need to know in a timeframe consistent with other schools by pacing the delivery of curriculum across the school year. ---This one is strange to me because our curriculum development software used by folks around the country has a pacing guide component.

20. Teachers lack access to mentors, master teachers, collaborative planning time, expert lesson plans and best practices to grow professionally by working with their peers. ---We require mentoring of new teachers and have ongoing training for our new teachers.  Collaborative planning time is the norm, as well as professional development focus groups.

21. Teachers lack access to proven interventions for students who are struggling. ---For the past 2 years we've held data institutes where teachers examine data and gather research-based interventions to use in their classrooms.

26. Teachers feel assessments are not appropriately connected to what students should know and be able to do. ---Aren't these assessments being pushed by folks like the Broad Foundation?

28. Teachers lack timely and adequate information about how each of their students is progressing. This includes data about how subgroups of students (i.e., different income, ethnic, gender, racial and language groups) are progressing on mastery of expected academic standards so that teachers can hone in on particular student needs, improve instruction and fill in gaps in the curriculum. ---Most of my colleagues is using some type of benchmarking tool to know how each student is progressing.  If we stay focused on the needs of each student, the subgroups will take care of themselves.

29. Test results throughout the year are provided to teachers too late for them to re-teach subjects and fill gaps in learning before students take high-stakes exams or before the end of the year, so students enter those exams without core knowledge and skills and fall behind grade level.  ---This is true of state-mandated tests, but not of local assessments.

34. Central office staff and principals are not evaluated regularly nor are they held responsible for teacher or student success. ---Student achievement is a key component of superintendent and principal evaluations.

38. Top teachers are not properly recognized, rewarded or compensated, so they leave the profession. ---What evidence is there that top teachers are leaving the profession?  Does the Broad Foundation demean other professions the way it does teachers?

39. Teachers are paid far less than many other professions that are just as critical to the strength of our country, our democracy, our society and our economy. ---The policies being backed by the Broad Foundation seem to support low pay for teachers.

41. Processes to apply or interview for teaching positions are often difficult, burdensome, unclear or lengthy, which means districts lose talented candidates who instead take positions in suburban or private schools that have faster, simpler hiring timelines. ---I have found suburban hiring timelines to be extremely slow.  Rural districts hire much faster.

43. Principals and managers are often unable to hire candidates they feel are best suited for the job because someone above has to approve the hire, or they are forced to hire teachers, like those removed from other schools, but have placement seniority and can bump other, less tenured teachers. ---Our hiring processes leave the hiring of teachers to principals.  How else can we hold them accountable for their building's performance?

47. Arbitrary certification requirements (e.g., whether teachers have master’s degrees, which research shows does not correlate with student achievement increases) mean great people are not hired and millions of dollars are spent by districts unnecessarily. ---Certification requirements are set at the state level.  Several avenues for alternative certification are available to the "great people" supposedly not hiring.  We want the best people teaching our kids, but we don't get paid unless they are certificated.

48. Teachers are hired without being observed teaching a sample lesson or otherwise evaluated for their actual ability in the classroom, and are instead just screened for a criminal background check and required paper credentials. ---This is somewhat true, although we're starting to see folks asking for a video.  We also have to manage the volume of applicants.  This notion would increase the hiring time mentioned in item #41.

51. Top college graduates are discouraged from entering the teaching profession due to low salaries, poor work conditions and lack of respect. ---The Broad Foundation could set the example of treating teachers with respect.

52. Many teachers feel frustrated because of poor workplace conditions and have little hope that things will improve.

Policies and procedures - which may be designed to comply to laws and regulations - often don't allow the school system to pursue its core mission:  advancing student achievement

56. District leaders focus on complying with regulations and funding streams that are not necessarily helping students and teachers, as well as on day-to-day operations, rather than on removing the barriers to student success. ---The largest barrier to student success is poverty.  We'll take all the help we can get on removing that barrier.

60. A lack of accountability exists at all levels of school systems, which creates a culture where it is unclear who is responsible for what. ---The short-term expectancy of the superintendent seems to yield that he/she is highly accountable to changing boards of education.

62. New, well-intentioned “programs” are often arbitrarily adopted or selected because a vendor made them sound good, rather than because they are research-based, proven to raise student achievement or, in the absence of research, logically connected to student achievement. ---This is all too true.  It is imperative that districts of all sizes evalaute their programs. 

64. Scientific standards for research and evaluation in the field are lower than in other fields like medicine. ---Is this not a function of the infinite number of variables in a student's life?

70. Similarly, district leaders do not publicly share their strategies to address these problems and their progress, which means that the people who are affected by the success of their school district are unable to judge whether leaders are doing enough to fix these problems. ---I see more and more transparency of actions through district websites.
Since the Broad Foundation continues to fund education reform efforts that aren't producing the gains touted, I must assume they aren't taking their own advice.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mental Models

What is your mental model of school?  My guess is that it is the school you attended.

Over the next few weeks we have a group of teachers and patrons walking our facilities as we update our facility maintenance plan.  The first walk through was earlier this week.  It was at our high school.

Interestingly, several participants seem to want to recreate our high school as the high school they attended.  Some partcipants attended the high school and spent time discussing what teacher was in what room, how the building had grown, how programs had expanded, and how other programs had dwindled or been eliminated.  Regardless, it was fairly clear that people wanted to see things as what they had when they were in school.  When we talked about the future of school and what it could look like, they had a hard time grasping the potential changes we will see.  Are they stuck in their mental model?

There are more buildings to walk through.  Can and will their mental models change?  Can they see beyond the school they attended?  I think so...they want the best opportunties for their kids.

Caring Adults

A parent scared the bejeezers out of me this morning.  I was in my car putting on my seatbelt in preparation for leaving a parking space when a parent appeared at my window.  Considering the parking lot was empty, the surprise presence of a body startled me.  (In full disclosure I have a tendency to do this to others.)

This parent had moved to the district at the start of last year but kept their child in the parochial school she had been attending.  The drive was a challenge for them, but they kept it up all last year.  This year they chose to bring here to public school.

The parent's purpose in catching me was to let me know that their first two weeks had been a great experience.  It started with a greeting from the principal, who escorted her to class when he found out she was new.  It has continued by being in the classroom of an experienced teacher.

It's the people that make a difference in schools.  Other countries understand this.  Our political and business leaders would rather bash teachers.  I wonder how their employees would perform if they were being demeaned as teachers and administrators are?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Charity Paddling Trip

For the past several years I've donated a canoe trip for four to a local charity auction.  Each year the trip has been purchased by Phil.  We did the outfitted trip this past weekend.  He again brought Greg, Tom, and John.  This year they wanted to paddle sections of the Current River.  We base camped at Pulltite.

On Saturday we put in at Aker's Ferry for the 10 mile paddle down to Pulltite.  I like this section of the river, but on a Saturday during the summer the crowd can be a bit much.  It wasn't horribly crowded, but some of those who were out for the day were loud and rowdy.  The Park Service had tightened down on the silliness a few years ago.  Perhaps they've eased up.

Sunday was a much quiet paddle from Pulltite to Round Spring.  The rowdy folks must have gone home.

Overall it was a nice weekend of paddling with cool evening temperatures and daytime temps in the low 80s.  Can't wait for some cooler paddling this fall.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

172 Days

Yesterday marked the start of school for us.  It's always fun to see how the kids change over the summer. 

I started my day at the high school as kids started to arrive.  Several have grown quite a bit, many look more mature, and some it's hard to believe they are seniors.

At West Elementary the new second graders were learning how to navigate their new surroundings.

At East Elementary the kindergarteners looked lost, but perhaps not as much as their parents.  Lots of teary-eyed adults travelled the halls after dropping off their pride and joy.  They could stop by the boo-hoo breakfast, but most exited in quiet reflection.

We are entrusted with their care for the next 172 days.  During that time we will monitor their academic progress to provide necessary interventions or enrichments to move them forward.  While doing that we will see them grow, wipe their tears, bandage their wounds, feed them breakfast and lunch, send food home with some on the weekends, clothe some, and celebrate their birthdays, all as part of what teachers do on a daily basis.

Educators are a self-less bunch.  Thank one the next time you see one.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paddling with Troop 2

Paddle with Troop 2 was a great time for Zack and me.  We arrived at their camp late Friday and had a great night's sleep in the tent.  Zack was up early Saturday and exploring before hitting the water.

We paddled from Two Rivers to Powder Mill.  Seventeen boys, four leaders, Zack and I were off for a great day on Current River.  After some quick instruction I took the lead boat position.  The conversation among the boys was interesting and they wanted to race.  After a bit we pulled over on a nice gravel bar to let the boys swim. The temperatures were much cooler than they had been all summer, so there was some shivering.

Another stop for lunch and I went to the rear of the pack to help two scouts finish canoeing merit badge.  They had not gotten it complete at summer camp.  They were left with what I think is the most difficult requirement for small boys--entering the boat in deep water with assistance.  It took us a couple of times, but the boys were successful.  I also demonstrated some alternate methods.

After another stop it was time to help some scouts with kayaking merit badge.  One of the leaders is a merit badge counselor for the badge, so I was the helper.  We took four boys through the paces on the water.

One of the boats was a Dagger Response.  I watched it being paddled all day and wondered if I would fit in it.  My height is a disadvantage in trying to fit in a nice whitewater boat.  I was curious if I would fit.  After adjusting the foot pegs I was able to crowd my legs in.  What a fund boat to paddle and easy to roll without a skirt.  Might have to investigate finding a used one.

Thanks to Troop 2 for letting us join them for a nice day on the river.

Friday, August 10, 2012

August Paddle

Several months ago a good friend asked if I would join Troop 2 on a float trip this coming weekend and serve as a canoeing instructor.  I was looking forward to it and helped him a bit with the trip planning. 

Each year I donate an outfitted canoe trip to our scholarship auction.  The same guys buy it each year and we have a good time.  In trying to schedule a mutually agreeable date we ended on the weekend following the Troop 2 float.  I didn't think I could swing two weekends in a row away from the family so I backed out of the Troop 2 float.

Then came a nice bike ride earlier in the week where Zack and I discussed getting away for a last weekend before school started.  We decided a paddling trip was in order, so I'm back to paddling with Troop 2 this weekend and the auction guys next weekend.

The Troop 2 float will be from Two Rivers to Powder Mill on the Current River.  Zack had paddled the 40 miles upstream from Two Rivers earlier in the summer so he'll get to pick up another 7 miles.  Don't know that I know any 7 year olds that have paddled that entire stretch.  We'll need to do Baptist Camp to Akers when the water is nice.

Can't wait to paddle with Troop 2 this weekend.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What sells?

Recently I had a conversation with our local newspaper editor about an observation I made regarding the Olympics.

My observation was that the ratings for the Olympics were quite high and that the Olympics are what could be considered good news.  We get to watch people at the pinnacle of performance and learn about the work that got them to this point.  I argued that people do like good news.

The editor's response was one of facts.  The paper had recently done two very different stories as headlines.  The first was a good news story about Governor Nixon visiting a local advanced manufacturing plant to given an award.  The second was a story exposing some potential conflicts of interest in the city government of a neighboring town.  Guess which sold more papers?

There are educators doing great things in classrooms across this country every day.  These supermen and superwomen are getting blasted daily in the national media by those who seek to privatize public education.  We're not going to improve education as an institution by throwing rocks at the people in it.  Our teachers have earned better treatment.

Student Engagement

Middle and High School teachers are back today with two days of training on Kagan strategies.  Teachers had two days of training last summer including coaching throughout the school year.  Soon after the start of the year students were asking who this Kagan guy was.

Friday, August 3, 2012

New Staff

New employees (teachers and support staff) started orientation this morning.  They are in district and building level meetings throughout the day.  We visit as a group again next week and have new teacher induction sessions throughout the year.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Data Institute

Teachers and administrators at West Elementary working with data to develop interventions and enrichments for the upcoming school year.

Our collaboration around student data, and subsequent actions, have led to significant gains in student achievement.  Thanks to our staff for their work this week.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Worst Congress?

This article was referenced in a recent presenation I attended.  Sounds very much like what I saw on a recent visit to DC.