Exciting things happening in Louisiana

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Don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but Louisiana Superintendent John White, despite great controversy, has been making strong leadership moves over in LA, writing smart op-eds, maintaining a clear focus on higher standards in the face of volatile political headwinds, working with innovative partners to develop online curriculum, and pulling teachers together to conduct thorough reviews of curricular options according to LA state standards (I wrote a little more about how their reviews compare against EdReports here.)

And now, White is continuing to steer Louisiana on the path to meaningful reform with a proposal to pilot a new form of assessment that recognizes the importance of background knowledge in reading comprehension. These assessments will do so by merging social studies and ELA texts and units throughout the course of a year. Here’s his explanation:

“Rather than administering separate social studies and English tests at the end of the year, Louisiana schools participating in the pilot will teach short social studies and English curriculum units in tandem over the course of the year, pausing briefly after each unit to assess students’ reading, writing and content knowledge. Students, teachers and parents will know the knowledge and books covered on the tests well in advance. Knowledge of the world and of specific books will be measured as a co-equal to students’ literacy skills. And teachers would have good reason to focus on the hard and inspiring lessons of history and books.”

This type of assessment is something I’ve been dreaming about for years, and that former NY State Commissioner and current Executive Director at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, David Steiner, has been talking about for years. At a Research ED conference back in September, I had a chance to chat with Steiner about this a little bit. It’s not a topic that non-wonkish education people seem to care about, but he is also passionate about this issue, and it’s really nice to see that this might finally get a chance to get “tested” by a state.

Too bad NY couldn’t get itself together to make this happen first.

Here’s a short video I had made about ideas for successful implementation of the Common Core standards back in 2014 in which I also make the case that all teachers on a grade-level should be held accountable by literacy assessments:

States don’t measure what kids actually know. That needs to change. John White / The Hill

 

A Farewell to Fariña

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Unless you’ve been stuck in a subway tunnel somewhere for the last few months, you know that NYC Chancellor Carmen Fariña has announced her 2nd retirement, Miami Supe Alberto Caravalho psyched out De Blasio and had an even shorter tenure than Cathie Black, returning to the bosom of weeping Miami-ans before he’d even left (telenovela style), and Houston Supe Richard Carranza has since stepped eagerly in.

Prior to the spectacle, you may have missed an interesting Politico/Shapiro piece on how Fariña operated as NYC Chancellor: This is how Carmen Fariña works: Outgoing chancellor led from inside schools. The piece provides insight into Fariña’s strengths, as well as possible weaknesses.

A while back in 2014, we examined how Fariña was leading from a socio-ecological perspective, and we rated her quite highly at that time.

I think those ratings still hold. Fariña has brought deep instructional and administrative experience to the role, and she has demonstrated many of the traits that we’ve examined as signs of a leader who recognizes the importance of schools as ecosystems, such as:

  • Values inclusion and diversity (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
  • Consistently observes local conditions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  • Plays the long game  (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  • Models active listening (1, 2, 3, 4)
  • Applies intensive management (1, 2, 3, 4)
  • Displays a willingness to try different things (1, 2, 3, 4)
  • Utilizes the principle of obliquity (1, 2, 3)
  • Sweats the small stuff (1, 2, 3)
  • Demonstrates humility (1, 2)
  • Facilitates the confrontation of the brutal facts (1, 2)

Yet I think, too, her administration has demonstrated some of the downsides of a few of these aspects when operating a system as vast and complex as NYC’s.

Take “consistently observes local conditions.” As Shapiro’s article highlights so well, Fariña’s great strength as a leader is her ability to step foot into a school and see what’s going on and speak from her expertise as an educator.

Yet in operating a system as vast as NYC’s, it doesn’t make as much sense to attempt to direct the system from such supervision alone. As Shapiro points out in the article, despite all of the visits she’s conducted in her tenure as chancellor, she still has only been “inside fewer than half of the city’s 1,800 schools.”

Fariña’s theory of change, as articulated in this piece, seems to be that she and her superintendents will ensure better outcomes in NYC schools by visiting schools.

I think there’s sound logic to this–it aligns with the idea that context is key and that stepping foot in schools is essential to see past the numbers–but what I find interesting is that at no point have I heard this theory of action clearly articulated by either the Chancellor or her administration.

I find this problematic because if we are talking about a theory of action, we are acknowledging that it’s a hypothesis, and that we need to keep checking to see if it’s accurate. This is fundamental in the administration of a public system — the public needs to know what is happening so they can hold the administration accountable.

Under Joel Klein, the theory of action that governed his administration was pretty clear — by breaking up the ‘fiefdoms’ of the districts and empowering principals and holding them accountable, student outcomes would improve. You could disagree with this theory of action and how it was implemented, but at least you knew what it was.

Under Fariña, it has not been so clear what her theory of action has been.

Klein’s strength as a chancellor lay in systems thinking, but his weakness was lack of  experience and expertise as an educator. It might be said that Fariña flip-flopped these strengths and weaknesses.

Let me hasten to acknowledge that overseeing NYC’s vast and diverse system of schools is a tremendous challenge, and we are fortunate to have benefited from the deep dedication and service of Carmen Fariña.

Will NYC’s new chancellor be able to balance systems-level strategy with ground-level expertise?

 

NY Education Officials Make the Wrong Move on Charter School Teacher Induction

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The New York state education department has filed a lawsuit to block a controversial new rule allowing certain charter schools to certify their own teachers, claiming that the regulations will “erode the quality of teaching” across the state.

New York education officials move to block rules allowing some charter schools to certify their own teachers, Monica Disare / Chalkbeat NY

I find this to be a highly questionable move by Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and state education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. And the only way I can make sense of it is that they feel threatened by charter networks and want to exert greater state authority over charter autonomy.

Let me preface my argument by sharing my view of charter schools, since it is such an apparently contentious area of our politics. I work for and believe in NY public schools, and I do not buy into the ed reform narrative that public schools are all failing and charter schools should supplant them.

But I also don’t buy into the opposing narrative that charter schools are “privatizing” education and destroying public education. Or that they only “cream” high achieving students in order to derive mind-boggling results.

There are practices and operations from the charter sector that are incredibly valuable, and there are charter networks and schools that are doing incredible work serving their communities and students that should be scaled and emulated, especially here in NYC. And at this point in the game, the research on the charter sector in general is pretty darn convincing — unless you’re only reading Diane Ravitch’s or Valerie Strauss’s blog, in which case you’re the education equivalent of Trump watching Fox & Friends.

Highly effective charter operations have built an infrastructure around teaching and learning that can accelerate student learning. In too many public schools, we leave teachers and administrators on their own when it comes to communicating and supporting what effective instruction looks like. We all too often give them vague platitudes, complex compliance rules, and abstract concepts and then say, “Here, go apply this! Good luck!” and blame them when our initiatives don’t garner the results we expect.

That’s why I believe charters have their place alongside district schools. Their relative autonomy provides them with the leeway to develop more direct and intensive on-the-ground supports. And we should be learning from the best of them, just as we should be learning from all of the best of our schools that are performing contrary to expectations.

At the same time, I believe charters should be regulated, and that it’s the state’s prerogative to do so.

So Rosa’s and Elia’s pushback makes kneejerk sense in that they feel the need to exert state control over the charter sector in order to ensure positive student outcomes—which they are ultimately responsible for, regardless of the type of school.

But in the long-term, it really doesn’t make sense when you consider that NY’s charters are already well-regulated, and that the charter networks already in operation, such as Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, KIPP, Democracy Prep, and Success Academy, have a demonstrated track record of success.

These are networks that have extensive infrastructure built around instruction and accountability. They can take a new teacher with no certification and accelerate their ability. And if that new teacher doesn’t demonstrate results, they’ll get rid of them. That’s what being a charter school provides the leeway for.

So let them take unexperienced and uncertified entrants into the profession and develop them. And then when those new entrants get tired of having all their time drained away with few benefits from the charter school they’re working for, they’ll move into the public system with some solid training and experience.

Let’s be honest. Charter networks will probably do a far better job of preparing new teachers than the majority of our state’s certified teacher preparation programs. And this will be of ultimate benefit to the learning of NY state’s children, which our state officials can then take credit for.

Listen to the music: Some things are universal

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Vivek Pandya, a 12 year old, slaying the tabla at the Ragas Live festival in 2016.

A central argument posited by this blog is that context matters. In order to truly understand a school as an organization, you have to account for the physical and social factors of that specific school.

This argument pushes back on the dominant narrative in ed reform that schools are more or less comparable, and if not universally comparable, then at the very least, by grouping according to “peer groups” by similarities in demographic inputs, such as free-and-reduced lunch or ELL populations.

Yet there is a risk, too, in taking such an argument too far, and claiming that local context is everything — and that meaning can therefore only be determined subjectively by those who exist within that local context. Such an extreme argument would suggest that there are no universal statements that can be made about schools.

We can see this play out with music across the world. Is the meaning of music solely determined by the culture that produces it? Or are there traits of music that are universal?

Interestingly, cognitive psychologists side with the latter (universal), while ethnomusicologists fight for the former.

A recent study suggests that ethnomusicologists are being too precious, and that there are universally recognized traits of music. At the very least, people from across the world can identify whether a song made by a small-scale society is a lullaby, dance, made for healing, or an expression of love.

Similarly, I think there are universal traits and principles of effective and ineffective schools that we can discuss. So while I stress—and this blog hinges upon—the importance of acknowledging the strong influence of local context, I also don’t want to take that argument to an extreme.

Context matters—I believe much more than we generally recognize when it comes to schools and many other things—but it’s not everything.

A Study Suggests That People Can Hear Universal Traits in Music, Ed Yong / The Atlantic

Smorgasbord: Back to school pep talks and charter accountability

It’s back to school week in New York. As teachers and students dust off their summer-laden books and brains, they head back under the increasing haze of chaos and uncertainty that Trump and his rich minions have ushered in as they slice and dice regulations and public services and norms and institutions willy nilly.

Yet there may be one thing that the Trump “administration,” if you can call it that, is right about when it comes to protections of the children of undocumented immigrants: it really should be on the shoulders of Congress to pass legislation, rather than be based on the whims of the Executive office. Look to advocates from both sides of the aisle to begin applying pressure to Republican legislators to actually create legislation for once that will work for the American people, rather than further subdivide them.

Sara Mead gives ed reformers a pep talk

It may be more comfortable to believe that educational outcomes are fixed and there’s little we can do to change them – but it’s also a moral failure.

Progress Over Pessimism, US News

Are students of color over- or under-identified as having a disability?

A researcher is pushing back on the conventional narrative, which has been formed around raw numbers. Controlling for poverty and academic achievement skews it the other way.

What’s left out this conversation is the fact that kids in the US are over-identified in general, in comparison to top performing countries, with little performance gains to show for the additional money and services.

Many worry that students of color are too often identified as disabled. Is the real problem the opposite?, Chalkbeat

Even when identified, students of color in poorer communities may not receive services

The city’s data show students from underserved districts in the south Bronx and Brooklyn are most likely to be deprived of the services they need to learn in comfort and safety.”

NYC denies nearly 9,000 kids with disabilities the services they need, NY Daily News

Oklahoma prioritizes oil companies over the education of its children

Just goes to show you what happens when you prioritize short-term interests over that of the long-term. A lesson for America.

Big Oil, Small Schools, US News

John King suggests that actual leadership from Department of Ed would be nice

“The department spokeswoman said Moran asked DeVos for ‘any resources we may have,’ and in response, officials provided a seven-page readiness and emergency management guide drafted by the department to specifically address Charlottesville.”

A readiness and emergency management guide? King slams Devos for her tepid tweets and bureaucratic response:

“The job of education leaders, whether it’s secretary or state chief or superintendent, is to every day be a voice for equity and civil rights protections, and we haven’t seen that from this administration.”

John King: DeVos, Trump Administration Not Doing Enough After Charlottesville, US News

Sony envisions a future of AI harvesting student data off a blockchain

“In the future, Sony believes student data can be analyzed using artificial intelligence to suggest improvements to specific educational institutions’ curriculum or management.”

Sony and IBM Team Up to Make Education Data More Secure – and Easier to Share — with Blockchain System, The 74

Bullying on social media is a real problem. Maybe it’s time to hold those platforms accountable like we hold schools accountable

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Most schools–you know, the ones that care about their children–stick their noses in kids’ private business because that’s where all the trouble happens. But as bullying increasingly moves into online spaces, where it’s more difficult for nosy administrators and teachers to monitor, maybe we need to start applying more pressure to those platforms to actively monitor the activity of minors.

This is a part of a bigger problem–that we’re increasingly ceding both our private and public lives to private platforms that are unaccountable to the public.

New Teen Survey Reveals Cyberbullying Moving Beyond Social Media to Email, Messaging Apps, YouTube, The 74

Can you imagine if this was the culture of school districts?

Elon Musk sends a message to his employees about the problems with communication as a chain-of-command:

“Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission.”

Sure would be nice to work in an organization like that!

This Email From Elon Musk to Tesla Employees Describes What Great Communication Looks Like, Inc

How schools are governed determines their effectiveness

One has to look beyond the averages to see the truth: In states where charter authorizers close or replace failing schools—a central feature of the charter model—charters vastly outperform traditional public schools, with students gaining as much as an extra year of learning every year. But in states where failing charters are allowed to remain open, they are, on average, no better than other public schools.

What matters is not whether we call them charter schools or district schools or “innovation schools” or “pilot schools,” but the rules that govern their operation.

David Osborne, in the introduction from his book, Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System; To Save Public Education We Must Reinvent It, The 74

Because charter systems with no accountability can be devastating for children

Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse.

Michigan Gambled On Charter Schools. It Lost., NY Times

And we should not give up on public schools, because it’s not only about performance — it’s about serving our democracy

Our public-education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society. Unfortunately, the current debate’s focus on individual rights and choices has distracted many politicians and policy makers from a key stakeholder: our nation as a whole.

Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake., The Atlantic

CREDO and Clown Shows have equal weight in education world

…the larger problem is that chaos is a ladder and too many people in the education world see a clown show article by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post and an RCT or CREDO analysis as all having equal weight.

Great Moments For School PIOs, State ESSA Reviews, Buried Voucher Ledes, Charter Funding, Success At Success, RCTs V. Credo, Screaming Armadillos! Much More…, Eduwonk