Recently I attended a great event hosted by the Oregon Education Assocation (OEA). The Symposium on Transformation in Public Education was well-received by an enthusiastic audience. It was encouraging to see so many educators and state leaders give up a Saturday to participate in a deeper conversation about possibilities for meaningful reform in our delivery of public education. OEA is commended for intentionally engaging a wide range of stakeholders and bringing strong speakers to the forefront.
Our keynote speaker, Dr. Yong Zhao, launched us well with a provocative and humorous look at public education contrasted with some of our questionable long term assumptions about global competitiveness. He offered a healthy and balanced perspective that was refreshing and funny. His message reminds us all, as we pursue this path of collaborative reform in Oregon, to maintain balance and common sense.
Our renewed Governor, Hon. John Kitzhaber, provided a powerful closing. I see in our state leader an intentional move to bi-partisan balance and a willingness to courageously tackle tough issues with a sense of immediacy in the coming few months. This urgency is welcome, knowing the magnitude of our larger challenging context. His selection of Nancy Golden as Educational Policy Advisor is a compelling choice for sustained reform, a signal to all of us that he is serious about deeper work in the educational enterprise.
Kudos to OEA for delivering a well-planned day that appropriately sets the stage for the shared challenges ahead.
Rep. Ben Cannon serves House District 46 in the Oregon Legislative Assembly. When the legislature is not in session, Rep. Cannon teaches Humanities to middle school students at the Arbor School of Arts and Sciences.
The following is from a speech Rep. Cannon gave at Stand for Children’s Legislative Breakfast this morning.
I want to extend my thanks to Stand for Children for all of their work, not just this morning’s breakfast. Legislators know the effectiveness of the organization. The annual rally is always one of the more memorable events of the session and your presence this year will be crucial.
I first ran for office five years ago and education was my highest priority. What did I say about it? Pretty simple: schools need more funding. The important thing, it seemed, was for the state to provide the fiscal context for educators to thrive.
When it came to other questions about improving educational outcomes, my standard response has pretty much been that those issues were best left up to districts and teachers. The teacher in me knows that educational outcomes are so highly conditioned by particulars – that what works in one classroom, between one teacher and her students, may very well not work in another. The teacher in me is skeptical of “best practices” coming from the Legislature and dictating to me what happens in my classroom.
The budding politician in me appreciated that this position seemed to hit a political sweet spot. Join organizations like Stand in calling for more funding. Form common cause with our local educators who say when it comes to contracting, to professional development, to mentorship, to evaluations, those are issues to be worked out between educators and their district.
Fast forward ahead a few years.
In some senses, not a lot has changed. If I could wave a magic wand and do only a single thing for schools, it would be to significantly increase funding – not only its stability but its adequacy. We are asking our schools to do far too much with far too little.
Especially this session, we don’t have that magic wand; I think every person here is cognizant of the likelihood that K-12 education will experience cuts.
So with that dismal outlook – a belief that improving funding is the most important thing we could do, and that funding won’t be available this biennium – what can we do? (more…)
A great school has at its core, I believe, a strong leader. Great schools, like winning teams, have leaders with coordinated plans of action, intimate knowledge of the skills of players and a determined, focused eye on outcome. I’ve been in a few schools and have seen the styles of quite a few principals. All principals want their school to churn out successful students. Like the fans of teams who second-guess a coaching decision, I have wondered about the decisions of some of my principals. It’s an easy thing to do, to coach from the stands, but the reality of the game is much more complicated. A principal’s job is a lonely one that demands a leader who is Teflon coated, personable, tactful and caring. It’s a tough recipe to find.
My current principal seems to fit the bill pretty well. He exudes enthusiasm even in the face of last year’s lackluster test score data. He understands that the work of teachers is more complicated than seen from the stands. Some qualities that make him stand out:
- He has been a teacher so he has credibility and a deep understanding of the challenges we face in the classroom.
- He not only encourages collaboration but has also put in place measures that demand it. As grade level teams we look at the state standards every month and align our monthly curricular plan to meet those standards. There is no set allegiance to a textbook. Whatever lessons that get our kids to meet the standards will do. That respects our professionalism, and allows for creativity.
- He demands evidence that our students have met the standards set forth from the previous month. What assessments have we given and what percentage of kids have met those challenges?
- He is a frequent visitor to the classroom. He is often talking to kids about their learning and will even take on a group and teach them.
- Above all, his positive nature permeates the school.
He’s only in his second year as a principal and I’m hoping that his work reflects on our school “Report Card”. He already has an “Outstanding” rating from his staff, but is that enough for a quality leader to stay in the profession?
What can be done to measure the progress of principals that goes beyond looking at only their school’s test scores? The stress of making adequate yearly progress sits squarely on the shoulders of school principals. I would like to see evaluations by teachers and parent input put in place to ensure that our principals are recognized and retained for qualities that go beyond mere numbers.
O, Public School, how I loved thee much more,
Before my first-born in his youthful sap trotted through thine kindergarten door.
Ten autumns, Public School, of promise and betrayal,
This year a teacher of genius, the next one beyond the pale,
Of budgets fickle as mercury and policies that bind
Teachers to scripts and standards that numb minds.
You hath dwelt, Public Ed, on No Child Left Behind, but what of Ahead,
When teaching to the test earns a sweet ransom from the feds?
Estimable Science, chide with me the teachers in elementary
Who claimed you little more than the egg drop test in grades five, four and three.
And Apollo cheer the maestro who conducts music class before school day’s dawn,
And fundraises for festivals and instruments the summer long.
Hate be too strong a word for the teacher who cost me dear in Styrofoam and twine,
When he bade my son build a scale model of the solar system, though it be five miles by nine,
Likewise, Love says too much for she who called the Teacher Certification Committee to task,
so an uncertified college professor couldst teach foreign language class,
But this civil war of gratitude and despair you inspire in me, Public Ed,
Results when our youth line the rafters in classes too big,
And when some insult as elitist those who ask for more challenge,
And when we’re told, “Home school” to get students’ needs met.
A lifetime of asking for money in the space of short years–Local Options, candy sales,
meat sticks, fun runs, cookie dough, galas, auctions, car washes, ad sales, golf tourneys,
jump-ropes, bingo–more coming, me fears.
Public Education, my progeny are your products, like it or naught,
Pray, find you world enough and treasure until they graduate.
By Merry Ann Moore, with apologies to Wm. Shakespeare
The Chalkboard Project is releasing a new report today on the condition of Oregon’s K-12 education system. The report draws on new statistics and makes the case that we need to ensure 1) our high-need students are receiving an equitable education, 2) all of our students are meeting high standards, 3) our school dollars are being spent wisely, 4) our educators are meaningfully evaluated and supported to do their best work in the classroom, and 5) the early years of a child’s education set the foundation for success.
From the press release:
Chalkboard’s K-12 Conditions Report: Oregon Schools Can Improve
PORTLAND-January 14, 2010- Oregon’s K-12 schools are mediocre and risk getting left behind schools across the country.
The state’s schools could especially improve when it comes to educating students of color and those from low-income families. And all Oregon students, and families, deserve better.
Those are among the stark findings in the non-profit Chalkboard Project’s latest report on the condition of K-12 education in Oregon.
“We are quickly approaching a crisis point for our state’s schools and students,” says Chalkboard Project President Sue Hildick. “As Oregon enters another difficult budget year, we must look closely at how we are spending our education dollars and whether or not we are getting the results we need. We know we have hard-working, committed educators, great schools doing amazing things for students, and engaged families who want to see their students do well, but as a state we have to ensure that ALL students have the opportunity to succeed in a global environment.”
A primary goal for the Chalkboard Project is to help push Oregon’s schools into the top 10 among all states. Chalkboard’s K-12 Condition Report for 2010 underlines the areas where the state needs to focus its efforts in order to move towards that goal of excellence.
In the early 2000s, Oregon was in the top tier among all states in its eighth-grade reading and math scores. By 2009, Oregon’s eighth-grade scores had fallen to the middle of the pack. In the early 2000s, Oregon was in the middle of the pack among all states in its fourth-grade reading and math scores. By 2009, the state’s fourth-grade scores had fallen to the bottom tier of states. Oregon’s scores are not getting worse; other states are improving more quickly.
Chalkboard’s Condition Report notes other challenges:
· About 45 percent of Oregon K-12 students were part of low-income families in 2009, almost twice the percentage of 1998. Yet Oregon schools with the highest proportions of low-income students have less experienced teachers, and lose them more quickly, than other schools.
· High school graduation rates among students of color continue to lag behind those of white students. While 88 percent of white students graduated on time in 2009, only 72 percent of African-American students did.
The K-12 Condition Report also points out practices that we all know can improve the education of our children, including providing the tools and resources teachers need to do their best work in the classroom, strong early childhood education programs, and a commitment by the state to direct funds to programs that shows results. Chalkboard has been an advocate for all of these issues, including lowering K-1 class sizes and providing reading tutors to all K-3 students, as well as piloting new career, evaluation and compensation models for teachers.
“We have seen in districts participating in Chalkboard’s CLASS Project that a commitment to supporting teachers and empowering them to do their best work can have a tremendous impact on student achievement in the classroom as well as on teacher satisfaction and collaboration. We hope that the K-12 Condition Report makes the case that we need to build on such successes, encourage educators to lead the way, and put our education system on a clearer path to excellence,” Hildick says. “Pockets of success cannot overcome funding instability and resistance to change; transformation has to happen at the state level.”
Chalkboard’s K-12 Condition Report is available at: http://www.chalkboardproject.org/images/PDF/Chalkboard_cond_final.pdf.
More information about the CLASS Project is at: http://educators4reform.org
The Chalkboard Project is excited to hear that Dr. Nancy Golden, Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, has been appointed to serve as Governor Kitzhaber’s Education Advisor.
Throughout her career, Dr. Golden has been a strong advocate for public education. In addition to being Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, Dr. Golden has served as the Deputy Superintendent in the Albany School District and Staff Development and Special Education Director in the Eugene School District. Dr. Golden recently received the Superintendent of the Year Award from the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) and the University of Oregon’s Leading for Leadership award.
Congratulations, Dr. Golden! Chalkboard looks forward to working with you and the rest of the Governor’s office to strengthen teaching and learning in Oregon.
Read more about Dr. Golden’s transition on the Springfield website: http://www.sps.lane.edu/sps/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=278883
Originally published in the Oregonian, as “How about some straight talk about fiscal crisis?”
This past election I received 146 political mailings. They contained hundreds of promises, including vows to support businesses and seniors, improve healthcare and education, and reduce taxes and regulations. Beautiful promises all. But not one of the promises was to cut public programs or raise taxes. Troubling, since state and national fiscal crises suggest we must do both.
My economics students understand this. This fall we watched “I.O.U.S.A.,” which revealed that federal debt swelled to $12.7 trillion in 2009. Bad news, considering we have not budgeted for the additional $46 trillion Social Security and Medicare will cost over the coming decades.
My government students understand as well. A state senator visited with us recently and said Oregon must cut over $3 billion from a $15 billion budget over the next two years, about 20%.
Our national leaders understand, too, but sadly, they’re unwilling to admit it. This month our president and Congress turned their backs on the recommendations of the deficit reduction commission, then declared victory as they extended expiring tax cuts and heaped another $850 billion onto our mountain of national debt.
Why won’t they confront reality? Is it because we aren’t willing to? Consider Oregon. About 93% of our discretionary budget is spent on education, human services and public safety, so cutting 20% means cutting vital services. And in education, where about 85% of spending goes to wages and benefits, that means cutting people. But public servants are quick to react against this, understandably so. (more…)
After the LA Times published effectiveness rankings of 4th and 5th grade teachers in the Los Angeles School District earlier this year, there has been much public debate over the use of value-added models (VAM). A VAM is intended to be a statistical analysis of a teacher’s effect on student achievement, taking into account a student’s past performance and expected academic growth. While discussions of VAM are not new to educators or policy wonks, a group from the Brown Center for Education Policy at the Brookings Institute recently released a report on some of the questions and concerns surrounding VAM.
The report, “Evaluating Teachers: The Important Role of Value-Added,” was produced by the Brookings Brown Center Task Group on Teacher Quality. The task group included: Steven Glazerman, Mathematica Policy Research; Susanna Loeb, Stanford University; Dan Goldhaber, University of Washington; Douglas Staiger, Dartmouth University; Stephen Raudenbush, University of Chicago; and Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, The Brookings Institution.
Here are some highlights from the report:
- Whether value-added information should be a component of teacher evaluation is a different question than how teacher evaluations impact human resource policies and decisions.
- Much of the concern with VAM is over the fear that an effective teacher could be misclassified as ineffective; yet, in many other professional fields, we readily accept that evaluations are not 100% fool-proof and that imprecise measures are often used to make “high stakes decisions that place societal or institutional interests above those of individuals.”
- “…the interests of students and the interests of teachers in classification errors are not always congruent…” While there is rightfully concern over effective teachers being misclassified as ineffective, we also need to weigh this against the consequences for students of labeling ineffective teachers as satisfactory.
- “…all decision-making systems have classification error. The goal is to minimize the most costly classification mistakes, not eliminate all of them.”
- Rather than holding an unrealistic standard of perfection for teacher evaluations, we should compare value-added models to other forms of teacher evaluation and classification. (more…)
Even though I’m not teaching this year, I often miss having students. I miss the personal connections with kids and their parents; I miss having my own classroom, a safe space for learning and exploration. I miss the creativity of lesson planning and the challenge of developing good curriculum. Sometimes, I just miss school.
In those moments, I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who are still teachers. I can often visit their classrooms, help out for as long as they need, and leave feeling refreshed, hopeful, and invigorated by what I’ve seen. My last visit, however, to see a friend who’s in his third year of teaching, left me feeling disheartened and frustrated—not because of his teaching, but because of the policies that are making it increasingly difficult for him to continue teaching well.
During his three years of teaching, my friend has taught four different subjects: language arts, social studies, PE, and finally this year, his actual endorsement area, math. As you might imagine, even with the best of intentions it’s been difficult for him to improve his teaching of any one subject. With the district bumping and reassignment that happens every year, it’s not what he’s good at or trained in that matters. What seems to matter is simply that he’s a warm body, capable of being plugged into any necessary teaching assignment. Is this the way we want to be using our skilled teachers, as interchangeable and menial labor?
Furthermore, my friend just received news that his district, still facing budget shortfalls, will likely be cutting an additional 100-120 teachers at the end of this year. As a teacher at the bottom of the experience scale who has each year very narrowly avoided being laid off, he’s fairly certain he will finally lose his job this time. So even though he, like me, is excited about teaching, loves his students, and wants to give them the best education possible, his motivation to improve on what he’s doing this year or to create long-lasting curricular plans is basically shot. Who wants to pour their soul into something, only to have it taken away, again, in several short months?
I don’t want this to simply be a complaint about Oregon’s districts, because I know that some of them are doing great things to avoid what my friend is going through. But I just want to know what the plan is here. Clearly schools are going to have to get used to not having enough money, but how can they adjust to that while not killing teachers’ continued desire to do well? How can we continue to give good teachers a chance to shine?