Tag Archives: Focus

de Blasio’s School Renewal Plan: Warmed Over Ineffective Turnaround Plans or Well Thought Out Plans Phased-In With Faculty Involvement?

Almost a year to the day after his election Mayor de Blasio, in a major address, rolled out his long awaited education plan. As the spring morphed into summer and the summer into the fall the whispers got louder – What’s happening? What’s the plan for “struggling” schools? If he’s not going to close schools, how is he going to help schools? In a lengthy address the mayor mused about his experiences as a student and a parent and described his plans.

The plan below:

Aggressive Supports and Reforms for 94 Low-Performing Schools

Each school-specific School Renewal Plan will outline the school’s approach to transforming into a Community School and offering extended time, as well as feature the following supports and reforms:
• Additional resources, such as academic intervention specialists, guidance counselors, social workers, small group instruction and individualized plans to meet the academic and emotional needs of every student
• Extensive professional learning and development for school staff, including intensive coaching for principals
• Enhanced oversight from superintendents who all recently completed a rigorous interview process
• Frequent visits from DOE trained staff to provide feedback and closely monitor progress

Additional targeted supports tailored to each school, based on its individual needs, may include:
• Modified curriculum to maximize school improvement
• New master and model teachers who can share their craft with other educators at the school
• Operational support, enabling principals to focus on supporting their teachers to ensure rigorous classroom instruction
• Additional resources for school safety and social service programs designed to address the specific identified needs of the student population

The goals for the coming years are:
• 2014–2015
o Each school must develop and put in place a School Renewal Plan for transformation by Spring 2015
• 2015–2016
o Each school must meet concrete milestones defined in its School Renewal Plan and improve on targeted elements of the capacity framework, as identified in the needs assessment
o Each school must demonstrate measurable improvement in attendance and teacher retention
• 2016–2017
o Each school must demonstrate significant improvement in academic achievement
o Each school must demonstrate continued improvement on targeted elements of the capacity framework

For some the plan looks like warmed-over State Incentive Grants (SIG) that the feds have been distributing for years. The grants fit into parameters set by the state and the details of the grant are created by the school district; principals have peripheral input and staff no input. Programs imposed from central rarely change classroom practice.

Principles of Organizational Change:
• Participation reduces resistance
• Change is perceived as punishment

Some of the schools on the list have been flirting with school closures for decades, superintendents, regional superintendents, network leaders, etc., have been “supporting” schools year after year, how will the de Blasio Renewal Plan differ from years of “new initiatives?”

If instructional practice from 9 – 3, during the regular school day has not been effective what makes you think instruction from 3 – 4 will be effective?

Andy Smarick in Education Next,
in a critical essay about school turnaround writes,

… school turnaround efforts have consistently fallen far short of hopes and expectations. Quite simply, turnarounds are not a scalable strategy for fixing America’s troubled urban school systems…

Looking back on the history of school turnaround efforts, the first and most important lesson is the “Law of Incessant Inertia.” Once persistently low performing, the majority of schools will remain low performing despite being acted upon in innumerable ways.

The second important lesson is the “Law of Ongoing Ignorance.” Despite years of experience and great expenditures of time, money, and energy, we still lack basic information about which tactics will make a struggling school excellent. A review published in January 2003 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation of more than 100 books, articles, and briefs on turnaround efforts concluded, “There is, at present, no strong evidence that any particular intervention type works most of the time or in most places.”

Is the School Renewal Plan spending $150 million and pushing the problem three years down the road? On the other hand school closings sacrificed students in the phase-out schools, two or three years of staff moving on and deteriorating services. Over 1,000 teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool rotating from school to school at a cost of tens of millions. The Renewal Plan will involve staffs in the creation of school specific plans and the master teachers and coaches and mentors will work with school staffs. Schools will have “ownership” of the process, yes; schools plans must operate within the parameters of the Renewal Plan (extended school days, etc.). Schools will have three years to recreate their own schools in a transparent process. If schools fail to show adequate progress, in a transparent process, schools will be closed or staff changed. it is difficult to object to school closing at the end of a process in which school staffs participated in the process.

School closings vigorously resisted by schools, communities and elected or schools that improve, or not, with the total involvement of the schools and the community.

There are three keys: leadership, leadership and leadership.

The Bloomberg era leadership programs have had mixed results. An NYU study a few years ago showed no significant differences among Leadership Academy and traditional program principals. Anecdotally teachers report young Leadership graduates do not exhibit leadership qualities. To claim, as some reformers claim that experience does not matter is deeply flawed. Learning is lifelong, experience matters.

Schools blocks apart: one school chaotic, fights, suspensions, and mediocre instruction, the other orderly, effective instruction, the “feeling” that kids and teachers want to succeed, and sometimes, the same stark differences in schools in the same building.

Can current principals in struggling schools become effective school leaders?

Can school staffs become reflective, collaborative teams?

We anxiously await the implementation details of the Renewal Plan.

I used to wonder why so many secondary school principals had been coaches, and so few English and History teachers.

Have you ever watched a coach work with his/her team during a practice? Have you watched a coach teach a skill?

Description, demonstration, walk through, correction, slow practice, correction, repetition, game speed practice, review, correction … a step by step teaching of a skill with frequent “checks for understanding.” Mike Schmoker, in Focus, describes the same practice in classroom instruction: frequent checks for understanding.

I watched a U-tube of a high school basketball coach, a gymnasium filled with kids, there was less than a second left, an out-of-bounds play, the coach signaled a play, the player under the basket nodded, flashed the signal – the out-of-bounds pass was a lob to the rim and one player came around a screen and tipped the pass at the buzzer for a win. In in a tense situation players performed, coaching worked, kids learned and performed.

Coaches, principals and teachers can teach kids and can instill confidence in students. The de Blasio School Renewal Plan can make a difference with the proper leadership at the school level.

Data Addiction: Why Commissioners Need a 12-Step Program to Cure Data Compulsion and Save Hundreds of Millions, and, Perhaps, Return Sanity to Classrooms.

When the number of initiatives increases, while time, energy and emotional energy are constant, then each new imitative … will receive fewer minutes, dollars and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors.
Doug Reeves

Some years ago The Department of Education, with fanfare, and an 80+ million dollar price tag, announced the creation of the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS)”… a single place where educators can find important information to use to accelerate student learning.”

“ARIS,” the Department gloated, “… provides New York City educators with a secure online platform for:

• Exploring data they can use to improve student outcomes
• Sharing what they have learned by publishing documents and taking part in discussions and blogs
• Finding other educators facing similar challenges
• Creating collaborative communities to solve problems together
• ARIS Parent Link

I sat at an ARIS training session a few weeks before the rollout run by a training company – we got to play around with a beta version of the final product – it was cool! The “one-stop” stopping was useful – the collection of a number of systems on one site, the promise of a platform on which teachers can post and discuss and blog.

The promise was not the reality, the Department realized that “discussions” and “bulletin boards” and “blogs” on a Department site had to be curated and the Department did not have the will or the capacity to curate a site with tens of thousands of users.

Today ARIS “clicks per school” by teachers are meager, the goal of a “data central” that would drive instructional practice and invigorating conversation has morphed to a convenient site to access student bio-data.

The answer to a key questions is embarrassing: do “high-click” schools show higher student growth? How do end users utilize the ARIS data?

The answer, I am told, there is no correlation between the use of ARIS and pupil achievement growth, and, the use of ARIS is overwhelmingly not for instructional purposes. (Commonly checking attendance and bio-data)

Sadly, over 400 schools in New York City purchase a proprietary product, DataCation, which principals find far more useful. You will note I write “principals,” not teachers.

The State Education Department is in the midst of creating its own version of ARIS, called an Education Data Portal (EDP), a tool that was in the Race to the Top application is under construction, at a cost well north of 50 million plus.

“The EDP,” says the state, “will help educators, students, and their families improve student outcomes by:

• Providing tools to accurately monitor academic progress and other indicators, such as attendance.
• Providing access to curriculum and instructional resources aligned with standards, including curriculum modules and teacher practice videos.
• Bringing all of these resources together on one site that can be enriched with additional local school and district data and curriculum resources to support data driven improvement to practice.

Sounds just like the ARIS campaign.

The State Ed dataphiles have joined a Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC), run by InBloom, a not-for-profit funded primarily by Gates-Murdoch dollars.

Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) – a not-for-profit, state-led effort created to help states, districts, schools and teachers more easily and effectively personalize education for students through open and non-proprietary standards and services.

SLC work will allow SED, school districts and schools to build or buy technologies that work on open, non-proprietary standards and services so that fiscal resources can be used to provide the most educational value and choice at the lowest cost for teachers, students, and their families.

A State Ed generated power point attempts to answer the many, many criticisms of this data-sharing collaborative.

While InBloom is a not-for-profit the data they collect and the tools they create will be for sale around the nation. Why doesn’t New York State share in whatever dollars are generated by the tools?

When the dust settles, a year or two down the road school districts will have a vast array of tools, if they wish to expend local dollars; however, will the tools make John Doe and Linda Smith better teachers?

The answer is no. The tools will enable superintendents to produce glossy power points, not help the folks in classrooms.

Currently principals can use state testing results without these new tools – download and disaggregate the scores by question – create an error matrix and ask teachers to address deficits in lessons.

The most common use of technology by teachers is Dropbox and Google.Docs, free available apps that allow teachers within or among schools to collaborate.

The feds, state departments of education and school districts use data – simple uses like creating report cards or student scheduling or tracking lunch forms – all necessary – the tools are not driven by the needs of the end users – the classroom teachers, in fact, the endless data entry and report creation adds needless complexity to the lives of teachers.

“Data-envy” is an infatuation, a compulsion, we lust after each new tool, perhaps we need a “twelve-step program” to cure this compulsion which is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, endless energy and alienating end users.

Mike Schmoker in Focus makes a simple proposal:

There will be no more initiatives – at least for a time. Instead we will focus only on what will have an immediate and dramatic impact on learning in your classrooms: ensuring implementation of a common, content-rich curriculum; good lessons; and plenty of meaningful literacy activities (such as close reading, writing and discussion) across the curriculum. What is essential? Three simple things: reasonable coherent curriculum (what we teach), sound lessons (how we teach) and far more purposeful reading and writing in every discipline (authentic literacy).

Simplicity always trumps complexity.

UPDATE: See just released reserch paper “If You Build it Will They Come? Teachers’ Online Use of Student Performance Data,”