The Next Chancellor: Do Chancellors Matter? Do Chancellors Actually Impact Teaching and Learning in Classrooms?

A frequent commentor reminds us that chancellors spinning out policies from on high may not impact on teachers and students in classrooms,

“It is time to recognize that who the Chancellor is will not make a huge difference for students in classrooms. Teaching takes place in those rooms and learning develops as a result of the skill and relationship building ability of the teachers in those rooms. Top-down mandates (i.e. workshop model lesson plans, rugs, specific reading programs, etc.) are not a prescription for improved teaching. In my career every time a new chancellor came in they reorganized the curriculum or rewrote the standards to put old ideas into new packages. Teachers wasted time learning the new language instead of thinking about how to better reach and engage the students in front of them. Today, I see teachers writing and students being forced to copy the numerical code for the standards covered in that lesson. Does any student or parent know what those numbers stand for? Does it make the lesson better to spend time writing and copying them?

Teachers need to know and have the flexibility to use an approach that works for the students they have. Some students need Direct Instruction; others may benefit more from classrooms where knowledge is socially constructed out of student to student discussion. Most students need a combination of the two approaches. Teachers know when students need more time to learn and practice new skills and concepts. Pacing calendars handed out by zealous administrators to ensure coverage of the whole curriculum hurt students. A student who knows 65% of 100% of the material is unlikely to pass a Regents Examination. A student who knows 100% of 80% of the material is likely to pass.

Empowering teachers and giving them time in their work days for lesson study and discussion with colleagues and support staff when they encounter difficult students is the best way to grow and retain teachers. We need a leadership model that is focused less on who is at the top of the heap and more on how the service delivery persons, the teachers and paraprofessionals, are performing. Teachers should be empowered to watch colleagues and help them improve. We need more mentoring not more top-down mandates. Teachers who are not improving can be referred to a supervisor for observations that can lead to an ineffective rating and counseling out of the profession. It is time for teaching to move away from the nineteenth century model of supervision and into one more appropriate for the twenty-first century and the diverse school communities we serve in.”

The New York State Board of Regents met in Albany for their monthly meeting:

At the meeting  the State Commissioner passed on the opportunity to apply for an ESSA Innovative Pilot, moving away from multiple choice and standards-based questions to authentic assessment;  actual student work. The competitive US Department of Education application does not contain any funding and, unquestionably, the creation of assessment alternatives is a heavy lift, in my view, a worthwhile effort. The current state tests are for accountability purposes only, aside from the ability to compare district to district, school to school and year to year, the tests do not improve instruction. There are no common curricula, assessing standards without a common curricula is comparing apples to oranges. The disconnect between the Danielson Framework’s definition of “highly effective” teaching and learning and the tests are dramatic.

“Highly Effective” instruction according to the Danielson Frameworks:

  • Students initiate higher-order questions. • The teacher builds on and uses student responses to questions in order to deepen student understanding. • Students extend the discussion, enriching it. • Students invite comments from their classmates during a discussion and challenge one another’s thinking. • Virtually all students are engaged in the discussion.

Do the current state tests support the skills referenced above?

The decision not to apply for the Alternative Assessment Pilot does not mean that the state cannot construct limited pilots within school districts; hopefully the state can find a way to put a toe in the water.

2 responses to “The Next Chancellor: Do Chancellors Matter? Do Chancellors Actually Impact Teaching and Learning in Classrooms?

  1. I liked the blog but the commentator did not explain why the suggested model of collaboration is appropriate for the 21st century. That leads me back to the role of the system’s leader. The points made about the curriculum are perfect in the context of standards and Danielson’s framework. If the chancellor can impact on curriculum development, not necessarily from a mandate on high, but rather, through training that draws the strong and rightful relationship among standards, curriculum and assessments, the ship would at least be sailing in a constructive direction. Leave the rest to the practitioners and I anticipate the work that will occur: the analysis of the assessments in the context of grade level standards and content, the development of an aligned curriculum and revision of that curricula and methods as the testing results provide feedback that can be used to inform what to teach and how to best teach it. We should, we must take a lesson from some of the states whose leadership have pushed for uniform grade level curriculum, such as Massachusetts. National and state test results of learning outcomes should inform our professional common sense.

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