Thursday, March 01, 2007

Call to Action: Recommendations from Learning First Alliance

Comments on this blog recently have really spurred my thinking about what, if anything, this blog is doing to contribute to positive change in Seattle Public Schools. I'm hoping to write a series of posts that are "calls to action", suggesting specific, concrete steps parents, teachers and others can take to improve our schools.

To start off, I'd highly recommend everyone read a report called "Beyond Islands of Excellence: What Districts Can Do To Improve Instruction and Achievement in All Schools." It is a report by the Learning First Alliance, which is a "a permanent partnership of 17 leading education associations with more than 10 million members dedicated to improving student learning in America's public schools." You can download this and other publications of the Learning First Alliance after completing a free registration process online.

The whole report is quite informative, but if you are short on time, skip to page 49 to read the Ten Lessons Learned, and then to page 51 to read the Recommendations, both overall and then broken out for individual stakeholders. For Parent Leaders, the report's recommendations for action are:

1. Demand data regarding student performance, curriculum quality, teacher qualifications, the quality of instruction, fund allocation, and strategies to improve achievement.

2. Build parent and community support for instructional reform. Help parents understand reform in the district, the importance of instruction, and the relationship between instructional improvement and student achievement.

3. Learn about why teachers need ongoing on-the-job professional development to improve student achievement, and work with parents to support it. Support policies such as early-release time or additional funds to build the instructional skills of teachers and leaders.

4. Actively support school board candidates who will sustain the district focus on improving achievement and instruction.

These recommendations seem concrete and actionable. They could form the core of an agenda for CPPS (Communities & Parents for Public Schools), the Alliance for Education, the PTSA or other city-wide groups, and #1 and #4 are also recommendations individual parents could put time into. I believe Brita is committed to more open exchange of information and could perhaps assist us gathering some of the information listed in recommendation #1 which we could publicize on this blog, at our schools, and elsewhere.

Your thoughts, reactions or ideas about how to follow the Learning First Alliance recommendations?


Anonymous said...

You say these are "actionable" but they are still broad and general. To be concrete something needs an objective criteria so we would all know if a particular goal was accomplished or not.

[I learned a long time ago some very good advice for harmonious marriage. Be very specific in what you ask for. Not "please pay more attention to me at your office party," but "please introduce me to at least three people at your office party before you get distracted and go off mingling on your own." Not "please clean the sink," but "here's a small towel I'll keep under the sink. Please use it to wipe out the sink after you shave." Only then will your spouse know exactly what you want and you will know exactly if you are being listened to. The philosophy works well with parenting also.]

1. Demand what data exactly?

The district got a grant to provide value-added statistics but is hampered (I was told by a district official) from breaking them down by teacher due to union conflicts. Even if you could, much of the analysis is questionable due to the choice of tests. Schools that we often think of as high performing look bad on the existing value-added analysis because so many kids ceiling the tests.

So exactly what data do we demand? What's the goal? (and of course, there's the why, what would we do with the data?)

I'd say we start with demanding accurate value-added data created and have teachers and principals held accountable based on that, rather than simply wasl pass rates. I can understand why the general public might not get to see the data broken down by teacher, but this ought to be available to a parent watchdog group of some fashion.

2. What specific actions would be taken to build community support for reform? Meetings, flyers, newsletters, media? What would we say? That we want reform? What reform? How do we know if our desired reforms are adopted?

What's the goal? How do we know if we've increased community support? What would increased community support accomplish?

Perhaps a targeted campaign to increase awareness of value-added analysis. With the goal of insisting that appropriate tests and score analysis be done so that everyone can see which schools are adding value and which ones are not. Schools like Bryant don't look good with the current value-added data because so many kids ceiling the test, but from the grumblings I hear from parents, there's also a bit of complacency when it comes to teaching kids who are already ahead. I would not be surprised to find that such high-performing schools don't, in fact, add as much value to a child's education as some schools with more challenging populations.

3. What would it mean for parents to support policies of time or money for professional development? We don't really have much clout over these, do we? What does it mean to "support a policy?" If parents say we support more professional development, then exactly how much time do we want? And exactly what should happen during that time?

Do you read Jay Mathews in the Washington Post (Class Struggle, an education column every Tuesday.) He recently talked about how making the school day or year longer is not the simple answer. One must increase actual engaged learning time, which is a subset of actual instructional time which is a woefully small subset of the school day. I would say the same thing is true for professional development time. What's the goal of professional development and how would we know if the time and money spent was effective in increasing student achievement?

4. If there's one theme on this blog over and over is how little actual clout our school board has. so what's the goal here? How would we know if it has been accomplished?

I'll go read the report now.

Beth Bakeman said...


Thank you for this thorough and thoughtful response. I agree with much of what you say here, and want to spend some time thinking and doing research before I respond.