"Innovation Schools" presentation

I attended a presentation on Friday by Dr. Rob Stein, principal (and alum) of Manual High School in Denver. Manual HS has been designated an “Innovation School” with approval from its staff and the local & state school boards, which means they, by Colorado state law, can deviate from district and state regulations (but not federal). They are not a charter school – all of their staff are district employees.

Denver’s central bureaucracy and expenditures sounded similar to Seattle’s. He showed a picture of Denver’s policy manuals: thousands of pages occupying an entire shelf. Some were downright comical but illustrative of the dysfunction in public schools. For example, their 98 page union agreement includes “Article 15-1-1: Each school will have a desk and a chair for each teacher, except in unusual circumstances.” He was quick to point out that the union is not to blame, but it’s symptomatic of a breakdown in trust in a system no longer optimized for student education. He showed the Denver schools org chart with dozens of arrows pointing to all of the folks that a typical principal needs to answer to. He estimated 80+ hours a week just to respond to the emails. More importantly, he calculated $4,157 per student to pay for central staff despite a fuzzy connection to specific student learning in his school.

With their “innovation school” status granted, Dr. Stein and his staff were able to redesign and simplify everything to focus on the needs of his students, most of whom were arriving multiple grade levels behind in core subjects. With approval of his staff, they extended the school day, chose the proper mix of staff, and partnered outside the district for some services (much of it pro-bono). When given control of his budget, his funds paid for more teachers since his teachers (as is typical in lower performing schools) averaged fewer years of experience. In return for agreeing to a longer day and school year, the teachers were given a class size max of 25 (vs. district avg 35), student load of 75 (district avg 175), extra advisory time (1:15 ratio), intervention time, and professional development time, and 75 minutes every day for planning (vs. 40 district avg). And the district’s central services now need to earn his school’s business. When he saw that 85% of his kids qualified for free or reduced lunch but less than 50% were eating it, he took his dollars to a healthy, local independent vendor instead – and now, to the benefit of all schools, the district is responding.

He said it’s too soon to proclaim his program a success, but so far the results are encouraging: they went from the worst rated high school in the state to number 3 (and number 1 for Title 1 schools), their attendance rate is highest in the district, and they’ve only had 1 drop-out. So far, it looks like their teachers are satisfied as well, with only 2 teachers leaving in 2 years. And they have high levels of parent and community participation.

Dr. Stein ended with the bottom-line question, “What’s so innovative about having the flexibility to focus on your mission?” Not all principals are qualified to run their own school like this. Dr. Stein said he could not have done this without the help of some key support people. Perhaps this is not so dissimilar from the way Alternatives were created in Seattle. But, there are no principals in Seattle with the autonomy to make the kinds of decisions that Dr. Stein is able to make in his school. I believe some of them deserve that chance. And since this is district run - not charter - there is greater potential for innovations to find their way back to all schools.

I’ve been told that a video of the presentation along with the slides, should be up on the web soon (not there yet). Go here and click "Events": http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/Centers/education/index.html He's introduced by Manual HS alumnus Norm Rice.


Good stuff. Thanks, Andrew.
Dorothy Neville said…
"When given control of his budget, his funds paid for more teachers since his teachers (as is typical in lower performing schools) averaged fewer years of experience."

This was a dirty little secret of our weighted student formula. Schools didn't have to budget the actual cost of their teachers, just the district-wide average. So schools with a high percent of senior teachers were being subsidized by schools with a high percent of inexperienced teachers. I do not know if the Weighted Staffing Formula is any improvement.
wseadawg said…
MW, Andrew, et al. Yong Zhao will be speaking in Seattle this Wednesday night at the Evergreen School. He decries the U.S.'s desire to standardize everything like in China and India, and will make the case that we are going in exactly the wrong direction, while China and India are beginning to open up and do it the way we used to and are moving away from. See Jerry Large's article in today's Times for more info. I saw a documentary with Zhao in it a couple of months back, and it is very compelling. Worth seeing if anyone can make it to see him.
wseadawg said…
Correction: Zhao is speaking at Kane Hall at the U.W.

Registration or RSVP is through The Evergreen School's website at www.evergreenschool.org.
wseadawg said…
Double Correction: Apparently RSVP is voluntary. It's a survey. No need to sign up, admission is free and open to all.
dan dempsey said…

I was there and so was Director Patu.
Stein's plan is very much like Scott Oki's. These are the exact opposite of the MGJ Plan.

I really like the community nature of what he is building. It is something to look at when MGJ leaves.

Anonymous said…
You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.............................................
seattle citizen said…
Yes, many alternatives in Seattle were created to "focus their mission" like this and meet the needs of students who would benefit from the alternative education offered in these schools. They were often supported by engaged and active groups of parent/guardians.
Many continue their mission, even in the face of increased strictures and the inability to choose their own principals.

I still wonder about how much "freedom" from policy a school should have. Flexibility can be built into policy, and I like the idea of oversight.

As for union contracts, as a general rule I see nothing wrong with stipulating that teachers have desks and chairs. If it's not in the contract, how holds management to making sure this happens? Some teachers DON'T have chairs and desks, they wander forlornly from classroom to classroom, pushing carts with their materials...The working conditions in schools are such that sometimes it's a good idea to light that fire under management to ensure teachers have a proper (and safe) environment, in addition to fair wages.

Which brings me to the part of Andrew's comment about "staff agreeing to longer hours." What if a staff member DIDN'T agree? Were they fired?
Bird said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
We'd have to hear from the teachers to get their point of view. Dr. Stein thinks they are happy, despite the longer hours, because they came to school to help those kids, and the schedule is set up so they can succeed. Plus, many (most?) teachers spend lots of time outside their school hours, right? So, fewer students per teacher, more prep time, designated time for intervention & advising, etc. might actually lead to less time overall.
seattle citizen said…
Andrew, I tend to agree that most (if not all) teachers would take on longer hours for fewer students.

The reason I bring it class size?
This action might undermine the ongoing demand for smaller class sizes for EVERYONE - In other words, why do teachers have to work longer hours in order to get smaller classes, if this is something that is valued? Class sizes have gone up (even in the face of a state initiative by the citizenry to lower class size), so teachers were taking on more students. Now they have to agree to longer hours to get back to reasonable class sizes?

Why can't teachers have smaller classes without having to pay for them by working longer hours?
Dr. Stein was clear that his format (including longer days) would not be appropriate for all schools. But, I think he said over 50% of kids coming to his schools were 4 grade levels behind in the math and/or reading, so this is what the staff decided was necessary in order to have a chance of success. So, I agree that smaller student loads shouldn't be tied to longer hours, but it was nice this school had the flexibility to do what was needed for their circumstances.
seattle citizen said…
Yes, I did some research on this school, and they have a hard row to hoe, mainly with ELL issues. This article is very interesting:


It's got a history of the school that in many ways mirrors some of our school's histories.
reader said…
This school worked because he was able to thwart the unions. No two ways around it. In today's interview, he said, he hired his own staff, and was allowed to recruit outside the district. He specifically said he did not want to be required to "hire the rolling lemons" that were left over at the end of the year. He did note that the unions felt he treated his teachers fairly, and that many union rules were the result of bad principals and other administrative bungles.

I think it is totally appropriate trade class size for hours. Why would that be a problem?

The other really great thing that he mentioned was teacher advisors. Each teacher was required to be an advisor/mentor for 15 students and be the first line of contact to their families. This is something every private school already has, and it sounds like a great idea to me.
seattle citizen said…
reader, the porblem I have with trading hours for class size is that it can be interpreted as saying, "well, we've increased your class size, so now, if you want smaller classes you have to work more hours."

Why this regression? Maybe if all schools were already at small class sizes, and someone said, okay, we want you to work more hours but in exchange we'll give you fewer students..." that might sound okay, but as it looks now, it's just making them work longer hours for the class sizes they should have in the first place.

What's next, we'll give you a computer projection box for your classroom if you'll just use your lunch to monitor recess?
dan dempsey said…
Seems to me that Stein mentioned that those longer hours are paid for with supplemental contracts or something similar. He is able to get smaller class sizes because very few experienced teachers wish to work in urban inner-city conditions so his staff has less experience and that means they are less expensive so more can be hired.

I do not know much about Colorado funding but in WA with the state picking up a lot of the tab. I believe that state pays district more for more experienced teachers and less for newer teachers. Thus that may not transfer to Seattle.

I am all for getting decision making moved to the school level. I have a lot more faith in Bruce Bivins guiding his faculty to effective instructional materials and programs than TEAM MGJ. Yes I know there is concern about site based and accountability ... so if Bivins can't produce fire him. That has to be a better plan than rewarding MGJ with bonuses.

I think the principal deserves the full support of the community. I liked Oki's plan for a school board of trustees to assist the principal as well as hold the principal accountable.... a lot of Oki's stuff I was not thrilled with but the trustee idea I liked.

I should point out that the current model used by MGJ has little chance of achieving much.... except making central admin even bigger when that performance management piece is added. This is ridiculous as the research is fairly clear that teachers make better selections than central office. Remember if we were spending at the Olympia SD rate our Central Office would require $22 million less per year.

Note Olympia does not use site-based management or their expenditures would be even less on Central Admin.

Empirical evidence is certainly not an MGJ strong point. How does she know any of her plans will work?
Jet City mom said…
Why wouldn't reduced class size actually translate to shorter hours?

If as a teacher of 5 periods a day X 30 students a teacher needed to read and correct the work of 150 assignments, wouldn't having 5 periods X 20 students and 100 assignments be an improvement?

Unless the curriculum was designed to be more individual and indepth so took the same amount of time which I would think could be an acceptable tradeoff.
seattle citizen said…
That's a good point, Emerald...
They're asking teachers to stay longer to work with fewer students...Great, if you can pay for it, students get double bonus teacher attention...But merely by reducing class sizes from 150 to 100, they would be doing enormous service to students (and teachers) without going into the longer day.
wseadawg said…
I've kept mum on the extended days for struggling kids, because that's a whole new can of worms. The research is mixed as to its effectiveness, although the extra attention helps. Sustainability is the crux and the ongoing challenge. Kids can get right up to grade level, then fall right back if the scaffolding isn't there when they need it again. And most of the kids need it again, and again, and again. I'm fine with providing the extra help and paying levies and taxes to deliver it, but it isn't a magic bullet. Contrary to so many educational charlatan's claims, there are no magic bullets. And unfortunately the extra rigor and time robs kids of quality time to just be kids. If only we could find a better way to get many more kids up to grade level and stay there. That's the 64k question though, isn't it.
seattle citizen said…
wseadawg, given inflation, it's the 6,400,000 dollar question!
Jet City mom said…
I would really, like to see the results of this question.

Or should I say a comparative survey of school communities where I-728 funds were used to support smaller class sizes, with those where principals used the freedom of site based management/budgeting to use the funds to support teacher salaries ( through increased teacher training)

But of course class size doesn't matter- nor does race- nor income.
I wonder what does matter?
Jet City mom said…
Speaking of class size- I have a question for M G-J.

When my oldest turned 5, she was attending preschool ( late spring birthday), she was a great favorite in the school and I didn't want to leave anyone out, so I invited her whole class ( it was two rooms full, about 25 kids), to her birthday party ( that I held at Meridian Park).

It was Memorial Day Weekend, but at least 18 kids and about 10 adults showed up.
Very wild even with all the adults- I was very young and I certainly learned from that experience.

But being that size doesn't matter- how many kids is G-J daughter expecting at her party?
dan dempsey said…
"And unfortunately the extra rigor and time robs kids of quality time to just be kids. If only we could find a better way to get many more kids up to grade level and stay there. That's the 64k question though, isn't it."

I am all for more time to be a kid. Seems like all shoving 2nd grade material into kindergarten in the long run does is increase lifetime consumption of anti-depressants.

Monica teaches 4 year-olds in a head-start program. Every 8 weeks the kids need to be mastering 50 goals. These kids are burned out on school and academics before reaching kindergarten. Think about that when pondering early learning.

More swings and balls less computers and less time on computers.

Note: New Tech Napa has 0.8 kids per computer. The computers out number the kids. Yet Napa High with 44% Low income out scores NT Napa (19% Low Income) on every math EOC.

Solution I suppose is newer more expensive computers so skills and knowledge can flow by osmosis into Student Brains. Clearly each kid needs two computers one for each eye. Or is it four computers as the ears do not want to be left out.
The biggest question is why do the schools refuse to do what works at the early grades?

see PFT Here.

Think about past blunders that were widespread:

0.60 effect size for phonics

0.09 effect size for Whole Language

and how many years was whole language pushed?
0.15 effect size for Problem Based Learning

0.31 effect size for Inquiry based teaching

Mastery Learning, Direct Instruction, and Worked Examples all have effect sizes of 0.57 or more.

We are getting more Inquiry Math from MG-J and Project Based Learning modeled on the pathetic results from NTN schools for only an $800,000 dollar entry fee to get us started.
To extend Judge Julie Spector's thinking. Are there any reasonable person's in a decision making capacity at SPS that are capable of producing positive results or intelligent decisions?

Is there any evidence to support signs of intelligent life existing in the JSCEE's upper echelons?
dan dempsey said…
Want better results than MGJ produces? We could get them the old fashioned way: Nuns with rulers and class sizes of 50 kids with reasonable textbooks focused on imparting content knowledge.

Me .. I would prefer a Core Knowledge school with Singapore math instead. Wow that yard stick on the Calves did sting. Not to mention Johnny Mac's hack paddle in High School. Oh how those hacks did echo up the stairwell to about half the building.

Note a current Senior Scientist at ZymoGenetics said:
"I was kind of a slow learner in High School as I led my class in hacks received as a 9th grader (some where near 40). I was a lot smarter than that in grade 10. Those hacks sure cured any tendency I might have had to drift toward ADD or ADD HD.

I worked quite hard in high school but my grades were not that good. I did not realize I knew lots of Stuff until I got to WSU, degree in Micro-Biology.

I have a good job, wonderful wife and great kids, the house is OK. No, I can't say I suffered any long term negative effects from those hacks."


I am all for a core knowledge school without paddles and rulers applied in interesting ways.

Take about an alternative school... how about a school that focuses in a major way on content knowledge instead of process?
dan dempsey said…
Note: It was 60 kids in first grade as the desks and the students were smaller so it was easier to fit more into the room. I transferred into that school at grade 3. My smallest class size from grades 3 through 8 was 48.

I still remember my "Progress in Arithmetic Books" through grade 8. What was all this talk about Mathematics? We did arithmetic drills and lots of Story Problems. They snuck in some Geometry with areas and perimeters and volumes but we figured it was all Arithmetic as we could read the name of the book and figured we were making Progress in Arithmetic.

If I'd seen a book called "Discovering Algebra" back then ....
I'd think it was about "discovering" algebra. I'd have no thought that it was balanced.

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