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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What is the Revolution really all about?

The League of Education Voters is trying to co-opt dissent by creating a campaign called Education Revolution and using a lot of incendiary language and images, but not taking any action.

It got me thinking about what the Revolution really is or should be. Help me clarify my thinking on this.

I think that the Revolution is about re-defining and re-purposing the District's central functions and responsibilities. The change will come when the role of the central administration is defined. What do we want the District’s central administration to do? And what DON’T we want them to do?

Ideally, the District's headquarters will take responsibility for everything that isn't better decided at the school building level. They should relieve the school staff of those duties. They should:

1) Provide centralized services when those services are commodities and can achieve economies of scale. For example, HR functions, facilities maintenance, data warehousing, contracting, food service (to some extent), procurement, accounting, and transportation.

2) Provide centralized services when those functions require expertise outside of academic expertise. For example, management of capital projects and grantwriting.

3) Provide for District level non-academic administration. For example, policymaking, program placement, enrollment, student assignment, legal services, communications, IT support, fundraising, and executive functions.

Those are the normal boring things. I don't imagine there is any contention around centralizing these efforts or having them conducted at the district level. The next few things, however, are at the root of the revolution and speak to the relationship between the District and the schools. They also speak to the District's involvement in academics.

4) Provide compliance assurance. The District should confirm that students in each classroom in each school are being taught the grade level curriculum (at a minimum). The District should confirm compliance with IDEA and other laws, confirm compliance with collective bargaining agreements, confirm compliance with grant agreements, and confirm compliance with District Policies. Here in Seattle the District not only doesn't do these things, the District isn't interested in doing these things.

5) Provide quality assurance. The District should have some way of confirming that the students who need support are getting support. I’m talking about individual students – not schools. The District should have some way of confirming that the students who need additional challenge are getting that challenge. The District should confirm the quality and efficacy of programs. Here in Seattle, the District not only isn't doing these things, the District isn't even interested in doing these things.

6) Provide curricular guidance. The District should have a few people who are expert in the various disciplines (math, science, language arts, P.E., art, etc.) who will shape the District-approved curriculum - and, by this, I mean the body of knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire in each discipline at each grade level. These experts should convene meetings of teachers from around the district to keep them informed about innovations in their discipline and to share best practices. They should also have a role in professional development. Procuring it, not providing it. They could and should do some coaching when teacher performance needs bolstering (not when student performance is low). Here in Seattle the District has gone too far with this effort. They should guide, not dictate, and they should set the outcomes, but not mandate the means.

7) Provide corrections as necessary. It isn't enough for the District to note failings in quality or compliance. The District needs to take steps to address those failings when they are identified. Here in Seattle, the District not only isn't doing these things, the District isn't even interested in doing these things.

In all of these cases, the District should set the expectations for outcomes and rigidly enforce them, but should not intervene with the methods unless the school either requests the assistance or proves incapable of developing their own effective practices.

It seems to me that the revolution should be about creating a smaller central administration with a more narrowly defined role but a more meaningful role. It's about a School Board that acts less like cheerleaders and more like auditors. It's about a district leadership that cares less about internal politics and more about kids. It's about a district leadership that sees students instead of schools. It's about a district leadership that can distinguish between statistics and reality.

19 comments:

SC Parent said...

Charlie, great list!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I really, really like that last paragraph. I saw it at the LEV blog and was going to post it somehow so I'm glad you did.

Why this isn't happening is a mystery. It would be good to sit down with Board members and ask them about it.

Eric M said...

Teacher here: Please run for school board again. Please.

dan dempsey said...

The revolution for me comes down to this.

The district and many of its cronies do not follow laws and policies.

It would be revolutionary if the district and its cronies made real attempts to follow State and Federal Laws and School Board policies. Accountability involves a response other than oh my.

In looking at Maier, Sundquist, and Martin-Morris and their apparent lack of concern about either district policies and laws in extending the Superintendent's contract, we have a long way to go with the Sanity Revolution.

I do not see LEV involved with this revolution.

Charlie Mas said...

I am trying to schedule a meeting with someone from the League of Education Voters to learn more about their "Education Revolution".

Right now it's about raising money and giving out T-shirts. I'd like to know what else it is about. I want to hear about a Vision and an action plan.

In the event that they lack a Vision - and it certainly appears that they do - I will offer them the one described here.

In the event that they lack an action plan - and it certainly appears that they do - I will suggest that they support and promote the recall of a couple of School Board directors who have shown themselves to be the enemies of accountability, transparency, and engagement.

More likely, however, they are playing the prankster role and intend to get to the front of this parade and march it into a dead end alley.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Love that last paragraph, Charlie; very Animal House.

Sahila said...

Well, to me if someone is calling for a revolution, I expect to hear/see them talking/walking a really revolutionary path - and that includes in education...

Which really is my intent - to foment rebellion and revolution - to stop this corporate model and come at 'reform' from the place Sally Soriano (in her comment on the Community Declaration of No Confidence) described, where education is seen as a vibrant, human-centered life journey.

I dont want to just tweak the current model - it doesnt work/doesnt serve us from the core out and fiddling with it here and there wont make any real difference ... I want to completely change it... and I want us as a community to change it to what we need it to be, rather than having change imposed from the top down, from the outside in....

Sahila said...

Seeing I (apparently)have revolutionary ideas, such as "let's Do Away With Standardised Testing cos they're meaningless anyway and are merely a profit-making exercise", thought I'd post this here:

http://www.bookrevue.com/ToddFarley.html ...

and then there's this too:
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/standardized-tests/floridas-fcat-scandal----the-n.html ...

So tell me again, why do we need standardised testing, such as the MAP, produced by a company on whose board our superintendent sits?

Charlie Mas said...

Sahila, since you ask, I will remind you of the justification for the MAP assessments.

The MSP (formerly known as the WASL) is a criterion-based test designed to assess the efficacy of schools and districts. It offers little or no reliable information about individual students and their achievement. Moreover, what information it does provide isn't available between April, when the test is taken, and September or October, when the results are posted.

Consequently, it is useless as a formative assessment.

Formative assessments are done to determine students' strengths and weaknesses with an eye to tailoring their lessons. They are called formative because they are supposed to inform instruction. To be useful for this purpose, the assessments have to probe each student as an individual and have to be flexible enough to find the limits of students' strengths. They also have to provide results while they are still fresh.

The MAP assessments do this. Of course, there are a number of other assessments that could do this, though perhaps not as well. Certainly teachers have a general sense of students' abilities, and there are classroom based assessments (CBAs) that are used for this purpose.

There is a real value in having all of the district's students assessed using the same tool at about the same time. First, it removes the risk that a teacher or school might not do an assessment or might not use an effective one. Second, it allows the District to gather the data.

Regardless of what formative assessment is used or how it is administered, the critical part comes after the assessment. What really matters is how the results are used.

If, as is now the case, the results are largely neglected, then the entire exercise is rendered pointless.

If, however, the teachers are able to use the results to tailor instruction for students, then the assessment has been a useful tool and of genuine benefit to the students.

But it's not just the teachers who should be reviewing the data and using it. Principals can use the MAP data to determine if there are parts of the curriculum that entire classes are lacking. That information can then be a launching point for a conversation with the teacher about how that part of the curriculum is being taught. There is genuine benefit for students in such uses of the data.

By using a standardized tool and by gathering the data from across the district, the District-level staff can also perform quality assurance. They can make a direct query to the school about how the school addressed the gaps in students' knowledge. They can make direct queries to the school about how the school addressed some students' need for additional challenge. The District can also look for gaps in the learning of entire classrooms. There is genuine benefit for students in such uses of the data.

Of course, again, all of this is for naught if the teachers, the principals, and the district-level administrators don't actually use the data in these ways.

If the revolution that I envision is realized, then there would never be any question about why we have the MAP assessment or whether it is of any use.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

Do you see the MAP as being capable of being the tool needed in D44.00 & D45.00?

Does MAP actually assess competency of Grade level skills (say the math standards) in such a way that effective interventions can be effectively implemented?

I also have some concerns about the District's plans (if any) to teach grammar. Does MAP require much in the way of Grammar content knowledge or writing skill?

Charlie Mas said...

I think the MAP assessment could be used in this way, but I would much rather rely on the teachers and the marks they give on the performance report.

The trick will be making teachers accountable for those marks. So, for example, if a teacher awards a student a 3 on the performance report, indicating that the student meets the Standards and grade level expectations, the teacher needs to be able to defend that endorsement if challenged. And some of them should be challenged.

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