All The News…

First, caste-breaker and former member of Congress (and House Ed and Labor chair) Gus Hawkins passed away this week, services tomorrow, 9am viewing & 11am funeral services at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 East Capital St., Washington DC 20003, 202-543-4200.

WestEd’s Max McConkey is the new chair of the Knowledge Alliance. And, per all this, AFTie One-L crows about not crowing…

Mass Insight has produced some must-read materials on turning-around low-performing schools. Ed Week here. This is the nut issue of No Child Left Behind…though I increasingly think that it’s the middling schools, not the lowest-performers where “turnaround” work should be focused and that we need to think even more radically about the lowest-cohort.

Speaking of Ed Week, they’ve got a new blog about NOLA post-Katrina, worth checking out.

In DE they want to shift from the grade-level focus under No Child Left Behind. More here. There is some play there to do that in a way that doesn’t eliminate standards, but not a whole lot before you get into quicksand.

Hot teacher on teacher action in CA. And, some hot teacher pension action coming. Ed Week on that here.

And, per this post about peer review, this comment makes the main page:

I agree that tenure should be challenging to obtain and meaningful to hold. But after 30+ years of having it signify little more than drawing breath, I’m loath to rate my fellow teachers. It’s not my fault someone hired people who speak no discernible language, who don’t bathe, who see the gym class as a singles meet, who can’t focus because their mail-order spouses have fooled them for green cards the third time in a row, or whatever.The fact is the interview process for teachers ought to be more rigorous than that at Burger King, where they actually don’t hire you if you talk to yourself, drool while thinking, or forget to wear your clothes. And until they do that, don’t lay this mess on me.

4 Replies to “All The News…”

  1. Thanks for turning us on to the Mass Insight study. I’ve just read the Executive Summary but I’ll be studying the entire report in order to suggest approaches that could unite responsible supporters of NCLB like the Ed Sector and teachers.

    If the people who drafted NCLB had had access to the wisdom of that study in 2001, what would NCLB have looked like? By downplaying the effects of poverty, supporters of data driven accountability encouraged a series of skin deep “quick fixes,” curriculum-driven approaches that minimized the role of whole human beings and entire social systems in learning, promoted Top Down administration, attempted a civil rights revolution on the cheap, and accelerated “the Blame Game.”

    I’m pleased that Mass Insight called for “reinventing” schooling “in contrast … to a linear curriculum-driven ‘conveyor belt.'” It calls for collaboration and capacity-building that “depends primarily on an effective ‘people strategy’ that recruits, develops, and retains strong leadership teams and teachers.” It calls for realistic goals like, “bringing achievement at least to the current high-poverty averages.” And above all, it is realistic about the true costs.

    I know that you will read the study from a different perspective but that is precisely my point. We all need peer review as well as multiple perspectives. This time the views of inner city high school teachers must be considered. This report was written by people who have a deep understanding of my kids.

    John Thompson

  2. Andrew,

    You were right about the entire Mass Insight report being a must read. You were at the table and I wasn’t, but from my perspective it is a major paradigm shift.

    As I have written, NCLB spurred the growth of a cottage industry of school reforms that emphasized “the Head” over “the Heart” in educating poor children. Although they sought to overturn some of the best documented truisms of social science, these efforts were based on virtually no scholarly evidence. Assuming that schools alone could reverse the effects of poverty and close the Achievement Gap, and that it could be done within the economic constraints faced by poor districts, they relied heavily on raising “Expectations.” Assuming that the “best practices” for high performance schools would be the best practices for TURNING AROUND high poverty schools, they emphasized curriculum-driven reform. In other words, rather than looking directly at high challenge schools, they retrofitted research of low poverty schools. When, not surprisingly, that approach failed, reformers turned to more “Top Down” management methods that made the problems worse.

    The tragic result was of curriculum-driven reforms was the opposite of their intentions. Lower poverty schools were encouraged to build real rigor, relevance, and respectful relationships. High poverty schools, where students had even greater needs for a personalized education, were subjected to destructive levels of standardization, scripted instruction, and test prep.

    In contrast to previous approaches, The Turnaround Challenge argues that the lowest performing schools face a level of “turbulence” that completely differentiates them from lower poverty schools, arguing that “Turnaround is a different and far more difficult undertaking than school improvement. Efforts that redirect curriculum or provide leadership coaching may help some average-performing schools improve, but they clearly are not sufficient to produce successful turnaround of chronically poor-performing schools.” It argued that “School intervention tends toward silver bullets instead of fully integrated strategies. … Individual elements of turnaround may be critically important, but each by itself is nearly always insufficient to produce major systemic change.”

    The Mass Insight group even surprised itself when they took inventory of the series of failed reforms that created a type of “immunity” to change in low performing schools. They concluded that “It is little wonder that teachers famously say, as various streams of reform … float overhead, ‘duck and cover – this too shall pass.’”

    Perhaps the best explanation of the uniqueness of the challenge of High Poverty High Performance (HPHP) schools was described in the passage Agility in the Face of Turbulence:

    Turbulence for student populations … generate(s) a constant unsettledness that is fundamental to the ecology of high-poverty schools and a factor that principals and teachers must overcome – not through rigid standards and control, but through flexibility and persuasion; the ability to adapt, improvise, and triage on the fly; and the skill to build a resilient organization and culture …

    It takes this agility … to have any hope of supporting the students’ readiness to learn and their teachers’ readiness to teach – because every day will be filled with circumstances and events conspiring to disrupt.

    But ‘turbulence’ applies to more than the constant turmoil in high-poverty communities. Orr et. al. Have taken a parallel look at the challenges that face principals in urban low-performing schools. …

    Principals of urban schools spend more time than their suburban peers managing scarce resources and mediating frustrations. Principal leadership in their words encompasses ‘an ever-changing balance of skills, experience [and] intuition.’ The HPHP research concurs, citing over and over the importance of leaders being ‘flexible’ and ‘inventive’ … rather than acquiescing to guidelines and requirements.”

    The first way that the Mass Insight diverges from previous thinking is its emphasis on readiness – for both students and teachers. In contrast to the normative “curriculum-driven ‘conveyer belt’ that students and schools try (with little success in high-poverty settings) to keep up with successful schools .” First and foremost HPHP schools focus on establishing numerous and intensive relationships between students and adults. In fact, the ability of some teachers to forge relationships with children of poverty is cited by some researchers as the key factor.”

    Sounding like the John Hopkins Talent Devolpment High Schools project, it seeks “coalition-building … to build community connection … Community buy-in is particularly essential.” With the help of social service providers turnaround schools “provide important counterweights to the effects of poverty on families and children through home visiting, workforce training, high-quality child care and early education, after-school programs, substance abuse treatment, community policing, and homelessness prevention strategies.”

    One way of obtaining that support is making the point that “turnaround of failing schools is a civil rights obligation and economic/social imperative of the state.”

    Consequently, Turnaround is, at its core a people strategy. (Emphasis in original) No matter how good a new curriculum is, or how solid the data analysis is, or how imaginatively the new school day is organized, or how new the technology is – no matter about all of that – schooling is fundamentally a human enterprise. High-performing high poverty schools give their highest priority to recruiting the best staff possible and enabling them to do their best work. Effective leaders often are “mavericks.” They need the autonomy to “implement practices proven to work with previously low-performing students without permission for deviations from district policies.” So, “turnaround leaders must be empowered to make decisions regarding staff, schedule, budget, and program based on mission, strategy, and data.”

    Similarly, staff must be “involved in decision-making to disclose and discuss their own results in open-air meetings. Citing a founder of Achieve, it writes, “‘Researchers agree that reform only works if those most directly involved (teachers, school staff, school leaders, parents and students) buy into it. Researchers go so far as to say, No Buy-in, No Reform.’”

    Echoing Elmore’s analysis of the most successful Broad School reforms, the report argues that there is no simple answer to the question of how much autonomy is required. It argues for a balance of “Loose” versus “Tight” management.

    “Applying the loose/tight dynamic in the turnaround context presents an immediate contradiction in terms. The changes in operating conditions … are necessary to allow the people closest to the work to have a strong say in how it is done. The HPHP schools vividly demonstrate the importance of school-based decision-making authority and school-wide commitment to reform. But leaving all decision-making authority up to the schools – as in the charter school model – makes little sense in a turnaround context. Turnaround requires a careful balance that doesn’t undercut the power of site-based decision-making but provides strong support, backed by shared authority.”

    A key to this balance is “clustering.” A turnaround cluster should include schools who voluntarily seek to improve as well as those who are being reorganized under NCLB. The clusters can interact “vertically (focusing on successful transitions for students from their elementary through high school years) or horizontally (by type- for example, urban middle schools or alternative high schools for at-risk students and dropouts.)” High poverty schools must be free to adopt schedules that are appropriate for their students. Similarly, high poverty students need more time for instruction and for enrichment.

    That leads to another key, collaboration and compromise. The report calls for a collaborate effort to negotiate staffing contracts and differentiated pay. On the other hand, it is much more sensitive than previous Gates’ studies to the key issue for urban teachers – discipline.

    I’ve neglected other virtues of the report such as its discussion of the state role and costs,and its criticism of NCLB, but this is already too long.

    I see this report as something that could bring us together for a new type of NCLB reauthorization effort.

    John Thompson

  3. It’s “their,” not “they’re.” I caught that and corrected myself.

    Please correct it, as I’m mortified to find it on your front page.

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