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.

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