The last few months reflect a time of momentous change in public education. Weekly, it seems, headlines tout new developments from across the country. Much of this conversation has morphed into a broader, polarized rhetoric, portrayed with clear winners and losers. Whether it is the publication of VAM data by the LA Times, the exit of Michelle Rhee as chancellor of Washington, DC schools, or the redefining of tenure in Illinois, we sense that a battleground of high stakes change is afoot.
I suspect this positional media frenzy is more symptomatic of national political discourse than an accurate portrayal of the challenging yet rich high stakes conversations taking place in many states. Certainly in Oregon, we have chosen a more thoughtful path as we navigate the forces of reform together.
I was pleased to learn that President Obama specifically cited emerging work in Oregon and a few other states as part of his weekly radio address this past Saturday (watch the full address here). In fact, I believe there is a compelling and admirable story to be told within our state. This is not a headline story based in union bashing, erosion of contracts, or top-down directives from a governor; rather, it is a more subtle, compelling story of collaboration, hard work, and creativity in the midst of extreme economic hardship.
As the 2010/2011 school year comes to an end, the CLASS districts have a lot to celebrate! This past Wednesday, 14 Oregon school districts came together in Salem to share highlights about their creative and innovative work, connect with other districts and hear from two national leaders. This powerful delivery came from the teachers, union representatives and administrators who have lived and breathed the CLASS Project work.
A few district highlights…
Forest Grove’s Assistant Superintendent, Dave Willard, began with a powerful presentation on the challenges and successes of his district’s CLASS work. He described the ways in which his district started to rethink their approach to professional development. For example, his district administrators took time to practice providing positive and constructive feedback to their teachers by asking effective questions and listening to each other.
Suzanne West, a middle school humanities teacher in the Sherwood School District, described her district’s work with CLASS as becoming fully integrated into their school system and school culture. In fact, she found that colleagues were becoming less familiar with the term “CLASS Project” because their work was feeling less like a temporary project and more just their standard way of daily life at school.
In the Sisters School District, three teachers—Justin Nichols, Kristy Rawls and Norma Pledger—opened up their presentation by explaining that they got involved with CLASS to “get better at what we do and improve the education of kids in Sisters.” They went on to describe a new evaluation tool in which teachers created a mock lesson plan, filmed it, and staff were able to use that footage to provide feedback to each other.
Juliet Safier, Vernonia’s Association President, described her district’s process of redesigning their professional development system and was excited that everyone was able to be at the table. Whether it was administrators, teachers or “Goddess Extraordinaires” (aka their wonderful administrative assistants), staff members were working together and felt ownership around the progress that they were making.
Our two keynote speakers also provided a fascinating and relevant national context. The first, Tabitha Grossman, is a senior policy analyst at the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices. She has worked as a teacher, school counselor and administrator in school districts in the central Virginia region. During her presentation, she shared her work with several states to redesign models of teacher pay. She provided the political framework and admitted that she was frustrated that so many of the policy makers in Washington DC “had never been educators.” She was energized by the CLASS work and found it powerful to be in a room of teachers and educators who were taking the lead.
Our second speaker, Louise Sundin, is the executive vice president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, and a career ninth-grade English teacher. She provided a lively presentation on the importance of teachers being in the drivers seat and being the agents of change: “If you are not at the table making the changes, then they will inevitably be made to you. We need to be part of the process.” After her presentation, Louise shared that she was blown away by the high level of work and collaboration in the CLASS districts.
For those not yet familiar, the CLASS Project (Creative Leadership Achieves Student Success) is a program that empowers educators and administrators to work collaboratively to design career paths, relevant professional development, effective performance evaluations and new compensation models. If you are interested in learning more about the project, please visit: http://educators4reform.org.
Thank you to all of the fabulous school districts who joined us on Wednesday! Watch video clips from the day here.
I was recently intrigued by a blog post on GOOD that posed the question: Is the Education Reform World Filled with Too Much Jargon? Being relatively new to the education world since joining Chalkboard two months ago, I could relate to the learning curve that is required to dive into edu-speak, as the author Liz Dwyer calls it.
Of course, any profession has a sort of shorthand code, an expert language that conveys the expertise of those who have studied the industry in-depth and live it everyday. Journalism (my world for the past seven years) is no better: we write heds and deks and balance ad/edit ratios and make sure folios are on every page. The trouble with jargon arises when the experts need to communicate with everyone else.
As teachers and administrators and other education reformers do the hard work to make real change, it makes sense to use among each other agreed upon terms like “benchmark” and “aligned instruction” and “inquiry-based learning.” But as more “regular folks” get interested in the education reform movement—and the movement involves more of the community as a whole—it’s important to make sure the actual meaning behind those words is clear. And sometimes simple is best. It would be a shame for people not to get more involved with education reform efforts because they are turned off by needlessly complicated terms.
The GOOD post was inspired by education reporter Jay Merrow’s riff on education jargon on his Learning Matters blog, and whether or not you agree with his (somewhat-playful) call for a moratorium on the overuse of such jargon, both posts offer an interesting perspective. It’s easy for us to use certain words and phrases so much that we forget what they really mean. If nothing else, we can all benefit from taking an extra moment to remember the real purpose behind all this jargon and always make sure we say what we mean.
What’s your favorite—or least favorite—piece of education jargon?
With much of the education and political news grim, with gridlock and pettiness the norm—how are we to move forward? How do we move past the wringing of hands and gain or re-gain our belief that we can do this? (“This” is doing every damned thing we can to prepare our kids for what lays next in their lives—and through them, our own lives.) I have two suggestions.
First, we must be bold and move forward with new ideas that place our kids’ interests at the very heart of our processes and systems. Business as usual must go, gridlocked politicians and political processes must be chiseled apart and forced in to the bright sunlight (please, give us some bright sunlight!). We must find a balance between our need for local control, and the clear and convincing reality that the larger system is broken.
How do we solve a school funding crisis when the decisions of how the state doles out our money has little to do with the actuality of what is happening locally in the schools? When cutting school days from our pathetically short school year does not change the amount of funding our districts receive? When local school boards can negotiate contracts that push off to another generation the very difficult conversations that the adults need to have in order to ensure our kids’ success? When our various systems, well intended to help our most vulnerable, are often uncommunicative and dysfunctional silos?
Sadie Feibel Holmes is the Director of Education Programs at the Latino Network, a community-based organization that provides programs and services to support education equity, parent engagement, civic leadership and advocacy in Oregon’s Latino community. Through their Padres Promotores de Educacion (Education Promoters) program, she and a group of Latino parents joined CAUSA’s Advocacy Day in Salem last week (the day after the May Day rally) to share their hopes for education in Oregon with state legislators.
Relentless hope for our children’s future.
Anxiety about entering a government building in a foreign land.
Determination and commitment to stand up for the rights of our community.
Belief in the power of a quality education.
Such was the mix of emotion on the bus ride from Northest Portland to the Capitol Building last Monday, May 2. After two weeks of training, identifying critical issues, and preparing written testimony, a group of 36 Latino parents, children and their allies caravanned from Rigler and Scott Schools to Salem to speak face-to-face with legislators during CAUSA’s advocacy day.
This group of Latino parents is part of a Latino Network project called Padres Promotores de Educacion (Education Promoters), which strengthens the confidence and capacity of Latino parents to become agents of positive change and to promote their children’s academic success. The lobby day represented the first trip to Salem for all but one of the parents, and was the first time any of the participants had the opportunity to share their hopes and concerns directly with a state legislator.
Anne Gienapp is an evaluation consultant at Organizational Research Services, leading qualitative and quantitative analysis of many community-based programs throughout the Northwest. With a Master’s in Public Administration from The Evergreen State College and extensive experience with children and family services, early care and education, youth development and community development, she brought an insightful and layered perspective to Chalkboard’s evaluation of our civic engagement efforts, which was conducted in 2010.
The Chalkboard Project’s long-term goal is to elevate student achievement and propel Oregon’s K-12 system to be within the top ten nationally. To achieve this goal, Chalkboard pursues multiple civic engagement efforts intended to provide the public with credible information, build broad support for education reforms, promote stronger stakeholder voices and mobilize key individuals and groups to advocate for proposed solutions.
In 2010, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Chalkboard engaged in an evaluation of its civic engagement efforts. The comprehensive evaluation (read the full report here) was based on interviews with a range of key informants—legislators, education practitioners, partners, staff, board members, and advisors—and review of multiple secondary data sources such as press coverage and past reports. The evaluation, conducted by the Seattle-based firm Organizational Research Services, addressed the extent to which Chalkboard’s efforts between 2007 and 2009 led to progress on education reforms in Oregon.
Being a “veteran” educator, I have participated in many tight economies and the resulting effects on public funds for schools. None has been quite so nasty as the one here in Eugene, where we are in a fight over a ballot proposal for a four year local income tax to fund schools. But, for the first time in my career, I have found myself really having to consider my support for such a tax.
The tax funds are carefully ear-marked for lowering class size by re-hiring teachers who have received pink slips, many of whom are graduates of Pacific University where I teach. An independent committee will oversee the expenditures. The lowest income residents will not be taxed. What’s not to like?
First, there is a great deal of the unknown about the dollars that will actually be collected. At this point, the city has not even decided how and by whom the taxes will be managed; Portland, which apparently has experience with these school taxes, is the likely manager, but the woman who runs the Portland office is unsure of the management charges that will be allocated from the total tax collection.
Another unknown is the actual numbers of residents who will pay the taxes. One of the nastier attacks has been on the retired public employees who, because of their PERS income, will not being paying the tax. (Interestingly, my friends who are PERS recipients do not understand the law that permits this and many are planning on donating to the local school foundation.)
As an educator I’ve heard a lot of talk over the years about change and improving outcomes for our students, but it feels different this year. Real change may actually be in the air, and there are new coalitions of stakeholders in the field of education that seem to be making it real. Here’s what I am seeing:
- Almost five years ago the Chalkboard Project formed an advisory council of teachers, school administrators, district superintendents, college deans, and school board members. This council supports Chalkboard in its work promoting innovations making a difference in Oregon schools—innovations like the CLASS project, teacher mentoring, and professional development coordination.
- Three years ago Chalkboard convened a broad cross-section of educators at the headquarters of Oregon Public Broadcasting for a summit on education in Oregon. This initial gathering spawned the Oregon Coalition for Quality Teaching and Learning, a body equally as diverse as Chalkboard’s advisory council. The coalition is currently chaired by Randy Hitz and is a state member of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. The Oregon coalition was the driving force behind a two-year legislative task force that established recommendations to the 2011 legislature to recruit, train, retain and develop teachers in Oregon.
- For over a year a team of district superintendents has been meeting to consider new ways to deliver education services and boost student achievement.
- The 2011 legislature is considering the creation of an Oregon Education Investment Board to better coordinate the delivery of education in Oregon from pre-school to graduate school.
Will these new coalitions and new efforts help Oregon achieve its ultimate goal, more student learning and achievement? That remains to be seen. But we have to hope that we’ll strengthen education in Oregon when educators at all levels are working with each other instead of independent of each other.
At the Chalkboard Project, this is one of our favorite times of the year: National Teacher Appreciation Week! Of course, we believe the hard work and dedication of our educators deserves recognition all year long, but it’s been great to have a chance to pause in our busy schedules and really take the time to show our gratitude.
If you’re a teacher, let those who inspired you to this career know about the impact they had on you. If you’re a parent, remember to thank the teachers who are partners with you in your children’s learning. And if you’re a student, well, just be extra nice!
In that same spirit, we’d like to share a big THANK YOU to the memorable teachers who made a difference in our lives. And to all the teachers doing the most important work in Oregon, thank you!
What teacher did you most appreciate? Share your memories with us in the comments.
Children vary in cognitive ability. This is readily apparent in schools. We have long spent time assessing cognitive ability and developing programs to improve learning outcomes for those in general ability ranges (special education and TAG programs being notable). Yet the impact of cognitive differences on learning outcomes is rarely, if ever, taken into account by education reformers. This is troubling because over half of the variance in achievement among students of the same age is attributable to differences in cognitive ability.
Cognitive ability differences translate directly to academic achievement through variation in the ability of students to benefit from instruction. Lower ability students are more prone to misconceptions and are more likely to need more stage setting, more structured (scaffolded) skill development, and more skill practice to achieve mastery. In addition, they may need more examples to consolidate concept learning, more periodic and structured review to strengthen long term memory, more problems of escalating difficulty to reach desired levels of application, and generally need more frequent and precise assessment feedback. Instruction, if it is to be effective, must attend to these issues. But the consequence of these various learning challenges is that the rate of mastery of core concepts and skills is slowed. And without quality instruction, progress can stall altogether.
Higher ability students, on the other hand, generally need less staging—they already have the pre-requisites in hand, master skills and concepts on the first try, commit things to memory readily, and can handle sophisticated application problems without the need for intermediate levels of difficulty. They reach mastery with greater ease, more quickly.
As a consequence of these different orientations to learning, students diverge from each other over time in terms of achievement, even when they are exposed to the best quality instruction. Differences in achievement are inevitable, particularly when the learning resources available to students are roughly the same. And resources available through public education—especially time—are roughly the same for all students.
I have recently completed a research report that discusses the relationship between cognitive ability and achievement from an empirical perspective. I also discuss some of the implications for standards-based school reforms. You can access the report here.