"Education Reform" process must change

William Phillis, Via the mailbag

The recently adopted "education reform" process seems to follow these steps:

· State officials assume that any deficiencies in student test scores, behavior, work force readiness, college readiness, etc. are due to the lack of competence and dedication of boards of education, administrators, educators and staff in the public common school. (Of course, some of them believe poverty and home environment do not influence test scores, behaviors, etc.)

· State officials are provided model reform legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and seek advice from corporate leaders and others not working in the public common school system. A token representation of public education personnel may also be consulted.

· "Reforms" such as the parent trigger, vouchers, charter schools, mayoral control of schools, appointed commissions to assume part of the functions of boards of education, tuition tax credits, third grade guarantee, high stakes testing, replacement of teachers and administrators in "failing schools", A-F report cards, etc. are enacted with the expectation that these quick fixes will work wonders.

· In all cases the local education community typically attempts to comply with the state's reforms.

· When local educators and administrators don't fully embrace these untested "reforms", they are considered to be stuck in their old ways, resistant to change and not fit for the position they hold.

· Some state officials attempt to intimidate those who don't "buy-in" to the ever changing "reform" ideas. Then local education personnel are told that they would buy-in if they really would take the time to understand the "reform." · When the "reform" measures don't produce extraordinary results, the local education personnel are to blame and thus the system should be farmed out to the private sector.

We'd just add that by the time corporate reform ideas are proven to be failures (such as NCLB) the politiciand responsible for them are long gone and educators are left to pick up the pieces.

Cleveland School Plan Needs Work

This is a very level headed and reasonable approach to modify Frank Jackson's corporate education reform plan into something that might work and would bring more people willingly into the process.

Columbus: Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank headquartered in Columbus, today released an analysis of the education reform plan recently put forward by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. Governor Kasich has indicated the plan might serve as a model for his own education reform effort, which presumably will include the new school funding formula he promised but so far has failed to deliver. The analysis is available at

IO said an analysis of the “Cleveland Plan” is important given Ohio’s history of expanding Cleveland education experiments, such as private school vouchers, state-wide. “If Governor Kasich is intent on using the Cleveland Plan as a model for other Ohio school districts, then it’s critical that we get it right,” said IO President Janetta King.

The analysis found a number of “things to like” about the Cleveland Plan, including:

  • Innovations such as a Global Language Academy, an Environmental Science School, Early Childhood Education Academies in every neighborhood, and an English Immersion School for all children for whom English is a second language;
  • A focus on high-quality preschool education, as well as on college and workforce readiness; and
  • A series of proposed changes to state law that would, for example, give the Cleveland Metropolitan School District flexibility to manage its fiscal assets and close loopholes in existing law that allow poorly-performing Charter Schools to continue operating.

IO said other ideas, like adoption of a year-round school calendar, support for high-quality Charter Schools, and the aggressive pursuit of talented teachers, “have potential, but need more work and further fleshing-out.”

But Innovation Ohio said several Cleveland Plan ideas are fatally flawed as currently written and should either be modified substantially or jettisoned entirely. Among these are:

  • A proposal to allow the transfer of local property tax revenue to Charter schools;
  • The transfer of school oversight and other functions from the Cleveland School Board (accountable to the Mayor) to an unelected and less accountable “Cleveland Transformation Alliance”;
  • A weighted per pupil funding formula with “money following the child” that, in IO’s view, would inevitably end up short-changing either students or schools;
  • Several proposals relating to teacher compensation, collective bargaining and accountability, which IO says are exact replicas of provisions in last year’s Senate Bill 5, which Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected with 61% of the vote in November.

Said IO President Janetta King:

“IO congratulates the authors of the Cleveland Plan for thinking outside the box and being willing to go big. Nothing is more important to Ohio’s future than our schools and our kids. That’s why education reform is so important, and it’s why all of us who truly care about our state, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives, liberals and moderates alike–must be willing to embrace change and challenge the status quo.

“But our goal cannot be change for the sake of change, or change that can’t work and will only make things worse. So Innovation Ohio has tried to be constructive in our analysis. Where we’ve been critical of the Cleveland Plan, we’ve offered alternative ideas and proposals that we believe are more likely to achieve the desired goals.

“But we recognize that we don’t have all the answers. Frankly, neither do the people who put the Cleveland Plan together. And that is why we believe any serious school reform discussion should and must include the voices of professional educators, parents, and other members of the community. We hope their exclusion will be rectified in the weeks and months ahead.

“So what is Innovation Ohio’s bottom-line take on the Cleveland Plan? We believe the Plan as written is a reasonable place to start, but would be a terrible place to end up. It needs work and IO stands ready to help any way we can.”

Straight Talk on Teaching Quality

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University recently published a paper titled "Straight Talk on Teaching Quality: Six Game-Changing Ideas and What to Do About Them" , described this guide as being "about game-changing strategies for improving teacher effectiveness".

The six headlines (organized around "The problem, what needs to happen, who is doing something good, and what can I do) are:

  • Follow Your Bliss: Career Pathways for Teachers
  • Evaluation Nation: Multiple Ways of Measuring Performance
  • Support for Teachers, Not Just Rewards and Sanctions: Why Firing Teachers Won't Lead to Large-Scale Improvement
  • Environmentally Friendly: Why School Culture and Working Conditions Matter
  • No Teacher is an Island: the Importance of In-School Partnerships and Teacher Collaboration
  • No School Is an Island: Partnerships with Parents and Community

It's a short read, and worth the time.

Straight Talk on Teaching Quality: Six Game-Changing Ideas and What to Do About Them

More crazy teacher evaluation ideas

It seems there's even more crazy ideas about how to evaluate teachers than we originally thought. Now, one school district wants to include chance grocery store encounters to the evaluation matrix. No, we're not joking.

A teacher who has a chance encounter with a parent at a grocery store and chats about school can earn credit toward a financial bonus.

That is the way it is in the Challis School District in Idaho, a state where nearly 30 school systems have adopted teacher evaluation systems that include as one measure how well teachers get parents involved in their child’s education.

In the five-school Challis system, teachers are supposed to make contact with the parents of each of their students at least twice every three months, according to the Associated Press.

A teacher can send a note home to fulfill one of the “contact” requirements, though the other must be face to face. It can, Challis Superintendent Colby Gull was quoted as saying by the AP, be fulfilled by a chat in the supermarket during an unexpected encounter with a parent.

That counts for official contact purposes, he said, “as long as they’re talking about what’s going on in the classroom and the parent is informed about their student.’’

The answer Is in the room not in witch hunts

During this past school year, great teaching took place in every school, in every district in the country, says Alan Blankstein. And it wasn’t the result of top-down, punitive education “reform” measures.

“Too much of the reform discussion has been a witch-hunt,” Blankstein says. “The dialogue in the country right now is horrific. You would think our public schools have ceased to function, but good work is being done across the country.”

The challenge, as Blankstein sees it, is not a lack of ideas or great educators. It’s about “scaling” the success – reaching a much wider body of students and ensuring that the structural and cultural transformation has occurred district-wide that is necessary to sustain success. “There is no shortage of great ideas about what works in the classroom,” Blankstein says.

“We’re wasting too much time searching for bad people in education! This will not produce results. It will just leave us further and further behind other countries in student achievement.”

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