Tag Archives: Robert Frost

“Evening the Playing Field:” Will the ESSA Accountability Plan Acknowledge the Work of Teachers in “Truly Disadvantaged” Schools? Will the plan be “Equitable?”

A teacher: “We love our kids and love to teach in this school, we make a difference in the lives of our kids. Our kids are poor, really poor, some live in shelters, others in foster care, trauma is part of their daily lives. We’re building out our community school, we prepare our kids to learn by feeding them, by searching for contributions of clothes, and, make our classes as rich as possible. I wanted to take my class on a series of trips out of the neighborhood, my principal said wait till after the tests, the future of our school depends on six days of testing, it’s sad that no one cares about the social and emotional needs of our kids, needs that precede the ability to learn. We just want an even playing field.”

In some school districts kids come into school knowing their letter and number facts, in other schools it’s  their first exposure; kids are behind from day 1.

In “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (1987)” sociologist William Julius Wilson details how programs across the political spectrum have failed the underclass, he is sharply critical of conservative and liberal policies.

Wilson posits social isolation–a distinction which shifts the problem from the psychological to the socio-economic realm. Instead of blaming poverty and its associated pathologies primarily on the individual, as conservatives do, or on the effects of contemporary racism, as some liberal scholars do, Wilson calls for a “refocused liberal perspective” which emphasizes “the dynamic interplay between ghetto-specific cultural characteristics and social and economic opportunities.”

Thirty years later our society, and especially our schools are even more segregated.

The result is islands of poverty, what Wilson called the “truly disadvantaged,” whose children enter school far behind other children.  The Harvard Education Letter writes,

  • According to a seminal 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, 3-year-olds whose parents are professionals have vocabularies that are 50 percent larger than those of children from working-class families, and twice as large as children whose families receive welfare.
  • “We could eliminate at least half, and probably more, of the black-white test score gap at the end of twelfth grade by eliminating the differences that exist before children enter first grade.”
  • In a 2002 study, Valerie E. Lee and David T. Burkam of the University of Michigan found that at kindergarten entry, cognitive scores of children in the highest socioeconomic group were 60 percent higher than those of the lowest group.

From the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law up to our current iteration, the Every Student Succeeds Act administrations across the political landscape have tried to legislate equity. Previous leadership of education in New York State jumped on Common Core State Standards and testing: the unintended consequence, a massive opt-out movement primarily among middle class white parents.

The current Board of Regents, led by Chancellor Betty Rosa is a newer board. Former superintendents and teachers, a judge, a doctor, an attorney. a parent activist, a range that crosses the spectrum of experience and background.  The board is attempting to create, as required by the ESSA law, a new school accountability system that goes beyond test scores. The new law requires grades 3 – 8 tests in ELA and Math but does not limit the accountability system to test scores.

The process of building a new accountability system has been transparent. Scores of open, facilitated meetings, a think tank made up of stakeholders and hours upon hours of open meetings with national experts Linda-Darling Hammond, Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion, the Center for Assessment.

Your correspondent has sat through them all.

This past Tuesday a three hour plus session with Darling-Hammond and Marion tele-communicating with the board. It was crunch time, decisions had to be made.

You can check out nine presentations here.

Or, check on the individual power points/reports below:

Status of Development of ESSA Plan

Promoting Diversity – Integration in New York State

Considerations for the New York State Assessment System

Models for State Performance Assessment Systems

Building an Accountability and Assessment system Under ESSA

Putting It All Together – Annual Differentiation Under ESSA

I know parents and teachers ask: why do we need state tests? The answer is simple: the law requires that each state include state tests in any school accountability system and the system must identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools.

If you’re going to go beyond test scores what would you add?

You can add other indicators: for example, growth, the increase in scores from year to year, you could add counting subgroups differently, you could add chronic absenteeism, maybe other items. Additionally you can weight the indicators: for example ELA and Math scores could count 30% each, growth can count 20%, other items 5% or 10% resulting in a cumulative score.

Think in terms of a dashboard with the indicators across the top and the levels down the vertical column. Do you use satisfactory, unsatisfactory, levels 1 to 4, ineffective, developing, effective highly effective? Do schools receive an overall numerical score? a letter grade? How do you identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools?

One of regents members asked if there was a “scientific” method of making these determinations. Scott Marion explained these were subjective decisions, capturing stakeholder values, for weighting indicators is a subjective decision. Marion explained that subjective is not a negative; Marion discussed “credible  defensibility,” making value-based decisions that reflected the experiences of the members..

After extensive discussion the members agreed on a weighted dashboard. The first draft will be released at the May regents meeting, public comments, meetings around the state, submitted to the governor and submission to the feds in September.

Colorado has completed and submitted a dashboard plan that goes beyond test scores: read a description of the plan here.

Hopefully, maybe, the changing of the metrics will “even the playing field” for the “truly disadvantaged.”

The next steps will be to begin to explore alternative assessments, aka authentic assessments. Vermont and New Hampshire involved in pilots; however, the path is long and complex, and to quote Robert Frost,

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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Will the Proposed New UFT Contract Change the Direction of Education Policy Across the Nation? From “Duncan Voice” to Teacher Voice?

Teacher contracts around the country have followed the Gates-Broad-Duncan model: merit pay based on student performance as measured by a Value-Added Metric (VAM), tying tenure decisions to VAM scores, eroding tenure and due process procedures and a heavy dose of compliance. A few contracts delink seniority from step/longevity increases and offer the potential of larger raises if teachers jump into the pay for student performance plans.

An example is the highly touted Denver ProComp Plan, negotiated by the union and the school district,

• Rewards and recognizes teachers for meeting and exceeding expectations
• Links compensation more closely with instructional outcomes for students
• Enables the district to attract and retain the most qualified and effective teachers by offering uncapped annual earnings in a fair system

The glitter of the Denver plan turned to dross – the enthusiasm waned and Denver did not become nirvana; however, the enthusiasm for the elements remain as similar contracts were negotiated in Cleveland and Baltimore.

The New York City proposed contract moves in a starkly different direction, according to the UFT website,

New teacher leadership positions, with extra pay, will foster idea-sharing by allowing exemplary teachers to remain teachers while extending their reach to help others.
Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The website Chalkbeat adds,

Under a new “career ladder” compensation system, high-performing teachers can earn yearly bonuses of $7,500 or $20,000 for allowing colleagues to observe their work or sharing best practices. Teachers who work at certain schools in low-income areas will be paid a $5,000 bonus. Low-rated teachers won’t receive the bonus, the city said.

The proposed contract is taking on the essence of improving schools – changing school cultures. High performing individuals may impact students in their own classrooms, they do not impact schools. Teachers working in collaborative settings, none of which are necessarily superstars can create higher performing schools.

For twenty years, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (1993) has been the bible in corporate America – every large corporation organized themselves into a team structure.

A summary of the book that is the Talmud/Ten Commandments of organization after organization,

Lessons we have learned
• Significant performance challenges energize teams regardless of where they are in an organization. No team arises without a performance challenge that is meaningful to those involved. A common set of demanding performance goals that a group considers important to achieve will lead, most of the time, to both performance and team…
• Organizational leaders can foster team performance best by building a strong performance ethic rather than by establishing a team-promoting environment alone.
• Discipline-both within the team and across the organization-creates the conditions for team performance. For organizational leaders, this entails making clear and consistent demands that reflect the needs of customers, shareholders, and employees, and then holding themselves and the organization relentlessly accountable.

Team Basics
• Small enough in number. Can convene and communicate easily and frequently. Discussions are open and interactive for all members. Each member understands the other’s roles and skills.
• Goals are clear, simple, and measurable. If they are not measurable, can their achievement be determined? Goals are realistic as well as ambitious.
• The approach is concrete, clear, and really understood and agreed to by everybody. It requires all members to contribute equivalent amounts of real work. It provides for open interaction, fact-based problem solving, and result-based evaluation. The approach provides for modification and improvement over time. Fresh input and perspective is systematically sought and added, for example, through information and analysis, new members, and sponsors.
• There is a sense of mutual accountability.

From Google, (“Redesigning Google“) to Harvard Business School teams are the expected organizational structure, except in schools.

Schools and school districts traditionally have been top-down organizations, each step down the ladder to the classroom everyone salutes and not much changes. Teachers close their doors and do what they have been doing for decades – new ideas; “innovations” come and go: from homogeneous versus heterogeneous grouping of students, the Workshop Model to the Common Core Learning Standards, the culture of schools are strong and firmly embedded and schools become skilled at shedding ideas that require change.

The feds acknowledge the power of culture in their turnaround strategies: replacing the principal and/or 50% of the staff, converting the school to charter or closing the school; in other words, the only way to change the culture is to change the school leadership and/or the teachers who are not onboard. The turnaround efforts, in spite of huge dollar inputs have not shown lasting success – in my view because the plans are punitive (“change or else”), are put in place far too late in a school’s downward spiral and are imposed from the aeries of all knowledge, the hallways of Washington, Albany and Tweed. Turnaround schools are persistently lowest achieving Title 1 schools – the lowest 5% in a state, waiting until a school is far beyond a “tipping point” is a failed strategy.

The winter 2013-14 edition of the American Educator is devoted to the question collaboration,

In recent years, rigorous studies have shown that effective public schools are built on strong collaborative relationships between administrators and teachers.

It is no surprise that collaborative relationships within schools, between teachers and school leaders and among teachers lead to more effective schools. Begrudgingly even the US Department of Education agrees,

While real differences must be acknowledged and agreement among all stakeholders is neither a practical, nor a desirable, end goal in itself, the U.S. Department of Education believes that in the long run, the most promising path to transforming American education is student-centered labor-management collaboration.

In the early nineties New York State adopted regulations requiring schools to create School Leadership Teams (SLT’s), school districts complied, and the SLT’s languished; for compliance purposes the teams met to sign Comprehensive Education Plans or other required documents; it was the rare school that actually engaged in a collaborative relationship among staff members.. “Mandating collaboration” is an oxymoron – school districts and school leaders must model collaboration in their day-to-day operations – not cede leadership, not forgo the power and responsibility of their office – they must engage, and, collaboration is a two-way street, teachers must learn to engage both with the school leader and with each other.

The American Teacher points to caveats at the outset.

First, while labor-management collaboration is a necessary condition for sustained improvement in school performance, it is not sufficient. The strong relations must extend beyond the bargaining table to a persistent, team-oriented focus on enabling teachers to work more effectively with students. Other, interrelated factors also are crucial, including close ties with parents and community groups, and attentiveness to assessment results to identify areas where students and teachers need more support.

Second, while collaboration can promote a self-sustaining culture that outlives the tenure of any individual superintendent, principal, or teachers’ union representative, it’s also the case that disruptive personnel changes and political forces can torpedo progress built on collaboration.

Third, because collaboration usually requires upending deeply entrenched cultural habits, it is inherently arduous and requires years of effort on the part of all parties. Collaboration is not a “silver bullet” that will eliminate whatever ails a school; rather, it is a shared mindset and an agreed-upon collection of processes that over time enables everyone connected to a school to effectively work together in educating children.

An in-depth study of five high performing school districts explored the reasons for their success,

A high degree of engagement between administrators and teachers in developing and selecting instructional materials, assessments, and pedagogical approaches;
• Embedded time in the workweek for teacher collaboration to improve instruction;
• An openness among teachers to being observed and advised;
• Close monitoring by administrators and teachers of testing data to identify areas where students and teachers needed additional support; and
• Personnel who dedicate time to extensive outreach to parents and coordination with community groups and social service providers.

The proposed contract is an enormous risk for the union. For years the union stood outside the circle peeing in, criticizing initiative after initiative: how can Common Core work if there are no curricula, professional development is absent or insufficient, teacher expertise is ignored, the overuse of outside consultants, principals more interested in silencing teachers than working with them, “reforms” that are destructive of teacher morale; now, for the first time, the union is inside the circle.

The creation of a zone of innovation will encourage teachers and school leaders to create and actually implement their dreams,

Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The PROSE schools are an answer to charter schools, the defenders of charter schools point to freedom from union and management rules, now a cluster of public schools can, if they choose, shed restrictive union and management rules. Under the former contract the School-Based Option section did allow schools to reconfigure, the new zone schools can, perhaps, share these practices. When schools have a sense of ownership the school communities are committed to making their “ideas” work, rather than constantly looking over their shoulder or trying and operate under the radar schools can proudly display what they have accomplished.

The union will have to change, to move from an organization skilled at fighting back to an organization committed to promoting educational leadership among their members. Some teachers will be unhappy, they would rather close their doors and teach; opening their doors to other teachers is frightening. Working together is not natural, some teachers are protective of their lesson plans, sharing is out of the question. The union has to move from filing grievances to mediating disputes among their members.

Union President Mulgrew has taken a risk – he could have simply negotiated dollars and cosmetic changes – he choose to negotiate a contract which may change the entire direction of a school system, he may have negotiated a contract that will resonate across the nation, he may have negotiated a contract that will impact federal legislation.

In my union representative days the Board of Education started a program called QUIPP,

Quality Improvement Program Plan for Special Educators (QUIPP) which provides supplemental professional development opportunities for New York City special education professionals and paraprofessionals at the elementary, middle, and intermediate/junior high school levels. The program stresses design of the professional development program by program participants.

As the union guy I put together a committee of special education teachers to work with the district to design the program. It evolved into a catalog of courses taught by teachers, lectures by experts, a retreat, a professional library in every school, and for me, interactions with teachers who had no interest in fighting and filing grievances; teachers, who for the most part, had never been involved in the union were now involved in an educational project led by the union and the school district.

I would like to think that we are reimagining a time when the union, in partnership with the Board of Education, was the driving force in creating new pathways, from John Dewey High School to City-As-School High School, to School-Based Options to the SBO Personnel Transfer idea.

Maybe by taking the road less traveled we can change the future,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.