Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Site-based Management

When is site-based management an intentional strategy to allow schools to tailor practices to the individual needs of their communities and when is it just a euphemism for the culture of lawlessness and the district administration's inability or unwillingness to set and enforce practices and procedures?
When schools use textbooks other than the district-adopted texts without the benefit of a waiver, is that site-based management or is it lawlessness? When the executive director of schools doesn't know what textbooks the schools are using, is that site-based management or a lack of management?

When elementary schools set their own schedule and don't allow sufficient time for recess or lunch, is that site-based management or a lack of management?

When schools are supposed to offer an ALO or Spectrum but cannot identify one thing that they do differently for the participating students is that site-based management or a culture of lawlessness? When the executive director of schools can't describe the ALO or Spectrum services is that site-based management or lack of management?

When school practices or budgeting violate federal laws on Special Education is that site-based management or lawlessness? When the executive director of schools doesn't confirm compliance is that site-based management or lack of management?

When a Building Leadership Team barely exists, doesn't meet, or serves as a rubber-stamp for the principal is that site-based management or lawlessness? When the executive director of schools doesn't know anything about the building's decision-making process is that site-based management or lack of management?


Melissa Westbrook said...

Yup, yup, yup.

To one point, Charlie and I have heard from several parents wondering why the district is allowing schools - without waivers - to use other math curriculum than the one that was vetted by a committee, discussed by the Board with staff and voted on by staff. And, of course, paid for by taxpayers. We are hearing of Math in Focus materials delivered to schools and going straight into a closet.

Anonymous said...

Lack of management, lack of management, lack of management.

Schools just do what they want, and this often has little to do with the needs of their particular population. It's more about the principal's individual philosophy, the teachers' preferences, the principal's ability or willingness to manage the teachers, etc.

I'd even argue that the term-site based management is often inaccurate. Sometimes it's more like classroom-based management. If it were really site-based management, shouldn't a middle school principal be able to describe, for example, the curricular differences between their HCC, Spectrum and GE programs? That would suggest some overarching strategy and management. As it is, however, it all seems to be teacher-determined. Maybe a couple teachers in the same grade level and same program coordinate on a plan, but that seems to be about it.


Anonymous said...

...and if you express your concerns about a lack of appropriate curriculum, inconsistency, etc., the principal can respond "academic freedom."

-same old

Charlie Mas said...

Academic freedom does not extend to re-writing Standards. Academic freedom is about the how, not the what.

Academic freedom does not extend to non-compliance with IEPs.

Academic freedom does not extend to refusing to use district-mandated assessments.

There are limits to academic freedom.

checking in said...

Honestly, I think all schools are different. I can tell you that principals have the most power. They can choose to give teachers full authority or they can micro-manage arbitrarily which is what's happening at my school. "Site-based management" means principal decides. The principal goes after teachers who are older and whom s/he doesn't like. S/he likes new teachers who give little resistance on anything. Our school has been corrupted and I say that after many years and many principals. For the life of me, I can't figure out what the ed director does. That is one level that should be eliminated.

School money is spent arbitrarily with little-to-no oversight or evaluation on the merit of its purpose nor transparency. Large amounts that were budgeted go missing without explanation. When asked outright about it, s/he says simply "That's my decision." S/he moves teachers around for unfathomable reasons other than to make teaching harder and probably to encourage them to leave. Such arbitrariness makes life miserable for the teacher and penalizes students. Every grade level has its challenges. Raising the learning curve on teachers for no good reason is pointless. If a teacher wants a change, that's one thing. If student population requires a teacher to move grade levels, I get that. But that's not what is happening. This coming year, the principal at my school is moving a brand new teacher to another grade level and moving that experienced teacher to the new teacher's current grade level. That makes no sense.

I know parents think a lot of teachers are not very good but I don't think most parents realize today just how much is on our plates. How much we are expected to get into a day and without support from a principal who doesn't know how to teach. S/he comes from middle/high school with no gen ed experience. S/he reads books and expects us all to comply with the current read. From lack of tech support to ever-changing math expectations to simply too much curriculum, the job is becoming impossible. BTW, I tried to teach Math In Focus but it was so altered by our math department, I gave up and now follow the math departments curriculum which includes a fair amount of Engage NY math. It is one more voluminous amount of paperwork to read and coordinate.

I've read parents here talk about the last few weeks of school becoming less academic and at one time I agreed. Not any more. A complaint I make every year: Portland teachers have two days negotiated to close out their classrooms at the end of the year. We have none. All paperwork and closing duties ares due at the end of the last student day. It's impossible. I have been critical of the negotiations for elementary by my union. I'm beginning to think we have a superintendent who has little regard for what teachers think at all and who, like our Republican congress, just says no to everything.

checking in said...


I'm don't know if our principal is just the worst of the draw or if in fact this kind of thing is going on district-wide. With a cadre of new teachers who want to please, s/he he has full command. But being a teacher - especially an experienced teacher who wants to be part of the decision-making process - is asking for trouble. I'm sorry for many of our new teachers because we do have some very good ones. They will be worn out by their fifth year. I can promise you that. Maybe the plan is to just keep replacing them.

Finally, our principal had no elementary experience and everything at my school is rah rah middle-high school team spirit but very little expertise in the art of teaching. BTW, I hope parents are watching test scores at their schools because honestly, except at schools with high parent support, scores will be declining. It's going to be very interesting to watch.

Sorry for the negative review but it's getting serious out here. While I think principals are the problem, I believe this has come about because we have a superintendent who doesn't really care anymore. He's too old, has little vision or desire to make his mark. He's collecting a paycheck. You talk about teachers who collect paychecks but whose energy and enthusiasm are spent? Well, you've got a super who should be retired for the same reasons.

Anonymous said...

It's driven me crazy all year that one of our family's elementaries is not using ANY math curriculum (speaking for at least two of the grade bands). Instead it is a mishmash of worksheets from a variety of sources: mostly online teacher blogs, etc. and maybe 10% from Math in Focus or Envision. The MiF workbooks came home untouched. When asked, it is because MiF didn't align with the Scope and Sequence. When I asked about next year, now that the Scope and Sequence has supposedly been synced with MiF, nobody can answer and it will be "up to the team."


Anonymous said...

I don't know-how it seems to me when the district does get involved, things get worse. Like mgj's every third grade classroom on the same math page on the same day horror. Or taking away all enrollment decisions from principals, causing all these wait list problems. And I'm certainly thrilled for any middle school currently avoiding the use of CMP.

I do think with no incentive to provide it, most schools will not offer any advanced learning opportunities as all, especially not while we have the capacity crisis we have now. But I don't know what kind of incentive will work.


Anonymous said...

Our oldest child just completed the fifth grade Math in Focus book at Cascadia. This year was the first year between our two children when the teacher actually followed the book. Our child actually received weekly homework from the “MIF Extra Practice” book that directly corresponded to the textbook. I thought it was the best year of math yet. Our younger child has evidently never used the MIF book.

One big complaint is that the fifth-grade math sequence jumped around instead of following the book sequentially. I was confused and investigated. The “MIF Teacher’s Edition” in fact has a very detailed “Scope and Sequence” mapping for the Common Core, which follows the book but omits some chapters/sections. I reviewed the district's scope and sequence, and although the scope matched very closely to the MIF Common Core Scope, the district’s sequence was nonsequential. In other words, the math department could have simply used the Common Core scope and sequence from the “MIF Teacher Edition”, but instead they felt not only that they knew better than the publisher, but their sequence was so superior that it outweighed the many benefits of having a sequence that was easy for parents, teachers, and students to follow.

Supposedly this was done by a “committee” in the “best interests of the kids”. Fortunately, it appears that next year’s sequence has been “fixed” and is now sequential to the chapters the in the book; in other words, they’re back to using the MIF Common Core Scope and Sequence that is described in detail in the “Teachers Edition”.

I recommend parents write their principal and teachers and board members and ask why they aren’t using the MIF book. Evidently enough people complained about the sequence that the Math Department changed it.

- hopeful

Anonymous said...

The math “experts” at Central Office have been meddling forever in math curricula. The new elementary textbooks were vetted and approved by parents and the past Board, but that didn’t matter to the Central Office. Also, some schools wanted to go their own direction in math, which led to confusion.

I wonder if the new Board had some sway over changing back the math to MiF. Rick Burke was a Where’s the Math? guy and I have much more confidence in him than the Central Office people. He knows what works in math curricula.

S parent

Anonymous said...

it is difficult to keep my mouth shut about the math curricula. If you actually know the CCSS for math and are a teacher who teaches (not just reads from the script that assumes that all kids learn best by sitting and listening) then you know that MIF is horrible (BTW MIF is nothing like the singapore math that was available before). Parents with children who are lucky enough to have teachers who are bright enough to to understand child development and are modifying the MIF curriculum should be thanking them! The board, and a small parent group went against teacher recommendation and choose MIF, shame on them. Its high time that teachers, the ones who are actually in classrooms working with kids, were listened to about what works and doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean MIF is nothing like the "Everyday Math" that was available before? Because that was our curriculum.

-SPS Parent

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher. I don't think MIF is terrible.I like MIF and so do most of the teachers at my school. My complaint is the SPS Math Dept. This year's Scope and Sequence was awful. There were tons of complaints. Next year's Scope and Sequence looks better.

Also, please get rid of Ed Directors. We could save lots of money. Our Ed Director is awful.
Different Teacher

Anonymous said...

teacher, what grade(s) do you teach and are you still using MIF this year?


Anonymous said...

SPS parent - No I meant Singapore, a few schools were using it before adoption and it was miles better then MIF

CP - kindergarten and First and no. We spent three years with a math specialist, countless hours on PD and created our own, pulling all the best stuff from available curriculum. Creating a scope and sequence, benchmark assessments and a intervention protocol to support struggling students. We re-asses its effectiveness as we go and make appropriate modifications. It is a TON of work but we are seeing great gains in academic progress. There is no prefect curriculum that will solve all the problems and teach kids everything they need to know. Money is best spent educating teacher (how to teach, to understand the standards and basic math practice) so they can put together a comprehensive program that will best meet the needs of the students they are serving. Teacher education, Anatomy and the CCSS is the best curriculum.


Charlie Mas said...

Near as I can tell, the only function that the Education Directors fulfill is to make it so that the principals don't report directly to Michael Tolley so he doesn't have to actually talk to any of them or complete their performance evaluations. They are strictly inert material performing as insulation.

Someone please tell me that I'm wrong, but I can't see any indication to the contrary.

Every time that there is any sort of controversy, and the Education Director is dragged into it (they are always dragged in, they do not step in), they reveal their Grand Canyon ignorance.

When MIF was adopted and the central office wanted to know what math materials the schools were using, none of the Education Directors knew.

When school communities rise up against their principals and the Education Director has to step in, they never know what the issues are.

There is not one Education Director who can confidently describe the advanced learning programs in their region.

The Education Directors do not provide any compliance or enforcement for IDEA.

The Education Directors do not provide any compliance or enforcement for the BLTs.

And when they do take action it is bizarre. An Education Director fired a beloved principal from an option school for being late with paperwork. What's up with that?

Let's face it. Every time that "site based management" is used as a euphemism for "failure to manage centrally" it is the Education Directors who are the people who are failing.

Outsider said...

Site-based management is perhaps two things simultaneously:

1) a buck-passing strategy. The central office is not responsible because it's site based, and the school is not responsible because their hands are tied by the central office. That doesn't make sense, of course, but it works to get rid of any parent or blogger who would ask questions.

2) a system of informal, off-the-record centralization. The central office can control the issues it really cares about (never mind written policy or those pesky "directors") through its control of principals' career prospects. So the schools are not really site-managed, but also not managed according to written policy. They are managed according to the wishes of the senior bureaucrats, the "deep district."

Part (2) is not really unusual. It's very similar to a corporate culture, except that a corporation would be less policy-oriented and more goal-oriented.

Elsa said...

I would say the latter when its Seattle School District from 1990 to the present.

checking in said...

I'm a teacher who does make a lot of the homework myself. I want it to match precisely what was taught that day. MIF homework is poor in that it doesn't require a frame for actually including procedure and thinking to support the answers. Just showing answers often belies real understanding. The problems are often easy. It is showing how you know the procedure is correct and the answer an accurate solution that is part and parcel of common core. Their homework does often ask for supporting evidence but it rarely in my experience comes back to class comlete. While I like MIF and the sequence it uses, I do not like its homework package. Not at all.

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting MIF is focused mainly on actually doing math? And not writing about math? Math concepts should be relatively easy and straightforward at the K-5 level. What you describe does not sound like a problem to me, but you highlight a debate with the original adoption: How much focus should be on the standards of practice? Does it need to be explicitly in the texts, or do teachers bring that to class as they teach the material?


Rick Burke said...

The rollout of MIF has gotten off to rocky start for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is the messaging that came along with the adoption of MIF. Choosing MIF was somehow interpreted and messaged as the board overruling the process and choosing an inferior program. Actually, the adoption committee had MIF in the top 2 (of 8 candidate programs), with EnVision from Pearson slightly favored. Feedback from educators outside the adoption committee was a statistical tie, and community significantly favored the MIF program. The committee followed their process diligently, and the board acted legally and within their authority in their selection. I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that if we had adopted EnVision, there would be dissenters as well.

Second, the concern about MIF alignment with Common Core and dissatisfaction from a small portion of the K-5 educator community motivated a "Scope and Sequence" realignment initiative, where the MIF content was reviewed, reordered, and in many cased supplemented or omitted. This well-intentioned work to improve guidance to teachers turned out to be a very significant effort and SPS didn't have the resources to execute it in a concise and timely fashion. Result? Confusion from using an incomplete resource set.

The math department as JSCEE has reaffirmed to buildings that the MIF Table of Contents is a suitable scope and sequence, as this represents a topic/content progression which is already engineered and field-tested. Is it perfect? No way! Is it a step up from EDM? Absolutely.

I don't consider myself a disciple of fidelity of implementation, but I do believe that if we provide complete and well-sequenced core instructional materials, we set a baseline expectation for educators to use that program at their primary resource. If a teacher or building has the expertise and commitment to enhance MIF, then go for it. However, if pedagogical or process disagreements are motivating buildings to keep MIF in the bookroom and students are getting inconsistent or weak math materials, than that is unacceptable to me.

If you have classroom-based concerns about math delivery, talk with your principal. If your building is not meeting community expectations, raise your concerns through channels: First the Ed Director, second Mike Starosky, Chief of Schools, third Michael Tolley. Looping in your School Board Director and Anna Box, Math Program Manager is also appropriate.

Rick Burke
Director, SPS Dist. II

checking in said...

Please lose the snark. My homework actually provides a frame for students who are elementary and need practice in showing thinking and procedure. MIF homework does not. It asks for the procedure(thinking) but students do not or rarely include it because there is no support frame on the homework page to demand it or help them understand what is expected. Only a simple "show your thinking" box or space which gets ignored. And procedure is more than "writing about" math. Understanding procedure is key.

I think it is so different at every school. I know one teacher at a northeast school who vocally lobbies against MIF. She won't use it. Perhaps the district has come around to a more loyal view in using MIF but the first six months of the year we were reduced to using the district's scope and sequences and checkpoints. Because it required coordinating so many different pieces of the puzzle, two of us finally worked together and pretty much used the district-created checkpoints to guide our teaching. As I tried to follow the district's grand design, I would create homework and even extra checkpoints based on their computer offerings. Several times, as I cut, copied and pasted different elements, EngageNY would pop up on my computer screen outing the fact that they used that curriculum to create their own customized version.

I like MIF but I cannot serve two masters in math. If you want good teaching, you need to give teachers a curriculum they can trust and then allow them to makes small tweaks that adapt it to the needs of their learners. I cannot spend all my planning time on math. I do teach other subjects that require time as well.

One more thing, as parent said, MIF is numbers math. It assumes understanding will come by doing a lot of number work. It isn't easy and many of us have had to really work on our own understanding of math to teach it well. Parents who parrot the "real math" rhetoric seem impatient with those of us who have children who really struggle to understand and do math. All those pricey programs school districts invest in are designed for children who struggle with reading and/or math. But for those children, we'd be using curricula from the 1890s and we could forget spending millions trying to find the perfect curriculum for every student. In fact, in 1890 the curriculum was much tighter with fewer bells and whistles and cheaper. For those who could keep up, it worked. I guess the others just dropped out and went back to farms or industry. But today, every student must show mastery . . . It's a daunting task.

Anonymous said...

@ Rick Burke. Thank you for your clarification and leadership on this. I will be sending your comments to our school which is all over the place, classroom by classroom, on how math is presented. I can tell you that following MIF is the exception not the rule.

Math mom

Anonymous said...

I also appreciate Rick’s leadership on math materials. The confusing word problems that pretend to be math are really a time waster. EDM’s focus on solving real world problems was a goal beyond many elementary students. What it did not do was teach math.

A good book on math is Betrayed, How the Education Establishment has Betrayed America and What You Can Do About It, by Laurie Rogers. The title is a bit much but the book explains how reform math neglected critical content, even though it is popular with many educators. Too many students end up in remedial math if they make it to college, which is unacceptable.

MIF may not be perfect, as Rick said. Hopefully it will not end up in school closets the way Singapore math textbooks did. SPS has a way of ditching good curricula and letting the schools experiment. A firmer hand is needed.

S parent

Anonymous said...

at the kindergarten MIF is crazy wordy. More text the numbers and it has them using a text book they cannot write in. I want numbers, I want math and so do my students.


Anonymous said...

I asked a local Kumon school if enrollment has decreased with the SPS adoption of MIF. I was told that actually they have seen a increase in students in 4th and 5th grade.

K-5 parent

Anonymous said...

Those 4th and 5th graders would have gotten their foundational math from EDM, yes, before switching to MIF? I'd suspect that would be a difficult transition.


WSMom said...

Math in focus has a lot of issues. Our school officially has a waiver this year. When it showed up last year the teachers in each grade tried out one unit. It had a lot of problems. They continued on with what is working and this year have a waiver

Anonymous said...

Funny thing about Charlie. He always knows best. Did we like MGJ? Did she force things we didn't want down our throats? Yes. Did she want the entire district to move in lockstep with scripted lessons for each day that were consistent across schools? Yes. That's what we didn't like about her. She was an autocratic leader who love centralized management and control. CHarlie complained endlessly about that. Fast-forward. Now we've got milktoast. Milktoast hired a bunch of do-nothing navel gazers. He does his best to dance to corporate interest, and collect a generous salary. In this world - we'll have site-based management. It's unavoidable. And, it's also infinitely better. The only way it will ever work. The centralized thing never works. No it won't be standard. Schools will be unique. That's a good thing. Yes, there will be some dud principals. Central office should promote them quickly to do the least damage. So what, that there's no certified ALO. That was always about appeasing parents. If you want appeasing - sign up for HCC. If you're in special education and your rights are abrogated, use your procedural safeguards under IDEA. That's what OCR and OSPI complaints are all about. And, they are free for the people who file. And really. When will the math whining ever end? It's no surprise that MIF hasn't solved all our problems, or that some schools aren't using it. Is that really a big deal? I think not.

If you love centralized management (the opposite of site-based) then you should have loved MGJ, and the rest of them down at JSEE. You can't really have it both ways.


Charlie Mas said...

Believe it or not, there is a middle ground between rigidly enforced standardization and chaos. I advocate for the middle ground.

If there is going to be a rule, then enforce the rule. If you don't want the rule, then get rid of it. But let's not have either unenforced rules or sporadically enforced rules.

Anonymous said...

The issue is, those making the "rules" have no ability to enforce them. What is the board going to do? Fire the superintendent because some elementary school decided not to use MIF? I think not. Site based management is hardly chaos. It is the middle ground, and we already have it.


Charlie Mas said...

This comes down to a shared understanding of the function of the central office.

A proper role for the central office would be to take on the non-academic tasks associated with operating the district and the schools (legal, HR, budgeting, accounting, maintenance, transportation, nutrition services, purchasing, etc.). This would also include policy and procedure sorts of things.

As far as the academic work goes, the central office should play two roles:

First, to support the work done in schools. They can support the work by facilitating collaboration, by selecting instructional materials, and by providing coaching. There are other ways that the central office can support the academic work done in the schools, but that should be their focus - support, not supplant. This is a service role, not a leadership role. Too often the central administration tries to dictate the academic work. Not only is this foolish because it is unenforceable, but it's also presumptuous for the central office to make decisions about students they have never met.

Second, the central office should play a quality assurance role. They should be assessing programs and schools for quality and efficacy. This is desperately absent. I don't understand how anyone in the JSCEE can claim that they are performing any sort of management if they are not checking quality. It's surreal.

After that, the central office should just stop. But nowhere do we see a clear, narrowly defined mission for the central office and they need it.

Joseph Olchefske used to talk about being loose on the How and tight on the What. Meaning that the District would allow the schools freedom in determining how they would do their job, but that the District would be very sure that they did the job. In truth, the District has it backwards and is tight on the How - with things like fidelity of implementation - and loose on the What - they are completely without any assessments of the efficacy of programs and schools.

That's a middle ground I can live with - making rules but failing to enforce them is not an acceptable middle ground.