Don’t settle for a pulse!

I know, all of my posts of late have to deal with the start of school. One of my colleagues called me today asking if I had any “x” teachers that I knew of; I didn’t off hand… But truth be told, if I didn’t have someone who was top notch, I wouldn’t recommend them.

I’ve seen too many administrators settle and hire someone with a pulse because they need compliant with the law, they totally forgot about it over the summer, or just don’t really care. It makes me ill.

Just about every hire I’ve made (with the exception of two) I’ve put through hoops of fire to make sure they are THE best. You can ask anyone I’ve hired (except those two) on how knit picky I was in their interviews. Of the two that I hired because I was in a pinch: one is no longer in education (that I know of) and the other is still there (that I know of) because no other professional is willing to take such a pay cut.  As much as I try to put it in the past, I’m extremely hard on myself when I make stupid decisions and act in haste; i.e. when I hire useless people.

Knowing that every person employed in a school effects a student experience in some way, shape, or form, how can one sleep at night knowing that they didn’t try to get the very best?

Some make an argument that the talent you draft will solely be based on zip code. That’s malarchy. No matter where I’ve worked where I was in a capacity to hire — from the shacks to the shoreline — you hire the best. Yes, socioeconomic status will have some factor (hiring good people may require opening the wallet) but it’s not THE factor. I ensure that I need to have a connection with the person I hire and I need to believe in them. If you don’t find the best fit, you repost. You use every avenue you can to find the best, from tweets to advertising in The Times. You never settle it comes to our learners and our future. Ever.

This is really one of my core beliefs. I don’t believe in hiring someone because Daddy is on the BOE & nobody else will hire you, or hiring a Board Member’s relative for the same reason. So far, I’ve found that those people who rely on family to get them a job end up being long term disappointments. If you’re one of those people, do yourself a favor and earn your job, don’t expect it just because of who you know or entitlement. You’ll thank yourself later on knowing that you got it on your own.  Be warned: if you come to me and start dropping all local names and that you know so-and-so from… I’ll stop you mid sentence and point you to the door, where one of my secretaries will escort you out. Bye Felicia! 

Back to the message; if you’re in that hiring position, don’t just hire because you need to, hire because it’s what’s best for our learners. Hiring a pulse is a disservice to our future. 

Thank You’s Are In Order!

Wow! It’s been an awesome week. As I try to put everything that happened in perspective here in the hustles and bustles of the famous LAX airport (which on a random note, I feel like I know how to get around here way too easily thanks to GTA – #gamerproblems) – Thank You’s are in order. I always try to express my gratitude in emails and personally, but I feel I never give enough credit where credit is due. So allow me to done out some accolades — 

1. Thank you to The Lower Alloways Creek Board of Education. No doubt, many of my personal opportunities would not be happening for me had it not be for them granting my request to be released a whole year early. They, by far, have been one of the most supportive, friendly, generous boards I have worked with. Their appreciation of a quality education, their knowing that they have gotten some grief because I’m an outsider and not doing what’s been done for the past 30 or so years, and their support in both positive times and personal pitfalls has been beyond extraordinary. I owe a personal thank you to Walt Sheets, the BOE President. We had some clashes, but the man values education and what’s best for kids over anything else, time and time again. Walt always said to me “you first, us second” – and with my girls, he gets it.  Thank you.

2. Thank you to the Waterford Township Board of Education for taking a chance on me. We all know this was not the easiest road traveled, but forward we go. All of you have been very clear in expectations and I have some big shoes to fill. That, and all of our schools are waist-deep in construction right now, so the added stress of opening on time is always a challenge. We will meet that challenge, and our staff and students will be ready to rock this September.

3. Thank you to the WTSD staff for being so awesome over these past two weeks! I have been fortunate enough to meet so many of you face to face, through email, and even Twitter. Your enthusiasm is educational wildfire and is both refreshing and invigorating. I’ve been lucky in my educational career thus far to work with educational rockstars in every district, and here there is certainly no exception. I know you’re eager and hungry for change — trust me — you’re gonna get it 😉

4. Thank you to “the crick”! Most of you are asking what the crick is; it’s rather hard to put into words, but the best way I can describe is a very small, tight-knit community who values tradition. I’ve learned a whole lot from y’all, and sure, the new guy brought some things in that you didn’t like, but I’m happy to say that that I enjoyed *most* of our interactions (I’d be lying if I said that every interaction was unicorns and puppy dogs — just like anywhere — you’re not going to make everyone happy as an administrator). I really appreciate your contribution to my blog hits this week — I had one of my best weeks ever on here (views on my website) – and thanks to WordPress analytics, I can reach out to you personally and say thank you.  Thank you for forwarding and  sharing my website on Facebook — and through email! Which leads me to my last shout out …

5. Thank you to the haters! Yes, I even need to thank those that don’t like me. Every administrator has an elite following of people who aren’t fans, me included. Some are gadflies, some are hecklers, and then you have some that always impress you on how sad one can really be. Just this week, I had a former employee reach out to every administrator and board member in the district to basically call me a giant ::insert your own word here::. While I’m really not surprised, I was surprised by the results of said email (it pretty much reinforced why the person was fired)  – the amount of positive support from administrators and board members not only made me feel amazing but reinforced that I have top notch professionals that I am working with. Your phone calls, emails, and in person conversations were fantastic. 

As for the haters – people really hate when leaders are honest, blunt, and heaven forbid, call people out when they are not getting the job done. I speak the truth and don’t sugar coat in the process. When something isn’t working, I change it. When someone is making poor choices and affecting our students or the faculty, I act on it. When policies are archaic or are useless, I change them. 

What do the haters hate most? Something they can’t change – their kids liking my changes that effect them. This isn’t a popularity contest, but boils down to every single decision I make  circulates around benefitting the learners and the learning environment. Whether it be the high fives and chest bumps or the hugs and huge belly laughs — your kids tell me how I’m doing. You don’t have to like me; they don’t have to either, but my actions result in kids wanting to come to school and getting them prepared for today’s society, not one from 50 years ago. Sure, I could keep things the way they are — but whom does that benefit? Anyone?! Nope.  

On that note, time to try to sleep on the red eye. I have a full week of making education better for our learners, teachers, and community. And I won’t stop — because I love what I do. 

Love me or loathe me, I’m here for the long haul. And yes, I have all of you to thank for it. 

5 Big Ideas That Don’t Work in Education – what do YOU think?

The following article was published on  NPR.org this week.  The original can be found here. I’m sharing its entirety because I feel it’s worth the read.  I certainly don’t agree with everything in here, but there are some points I don’t completely dismiss either. I was drawn to the fourth bullet the most, because I lived it – both going to a large public school district and in teaching in a larger public school district. I hope it raises some eyebrows and gets some people talking.  


5 Big Ideas That Don’t Work In Education

AUGUST 13, 2015 6:03 AM ET

Better measurements help make learning visible, says John Hattie.

Arthur MacDonald/Internet Archive

There are few household names in education research. Maybe that in itself constitutes a problem. But if there was an Education Researcher Hall Of Fame, one member would be a silver-haired, plainspoken Kiwi named John Hattie.

Hattie directs the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He also directs something called the Science of Learning Research Centre, which works with over 7,000 schools worldwide.

Over the past 28 years he has published a dozen books, mostly on a theory he calls Visible Learning. His life’s work boils down to one proposition: To improve schools, draw on the best evidence available.

Obvious? Maybe, but it’s rarely honored in reality, Hattie claims. “Senior politicians and government officials clearly want to make a difference,” he says. “But they want to do this, that and the other silly thing which has failed everywhere else, and I want to know why.” In a new paper, “What Doesn’t Work In Education: The Politics Of Distraction,” published by Pearson Education, Hattie takes on some of the most popular approaches to reform.

Small classes. High standards. More money. These popular and oft-prescribed remedies from both the right and the left, he argues, haven’t been shown to work as well as alternatives.

Hattie doesn’t run his own studies. Nor does he analyze groups of studies on a single variable, a technique called meta-analysis. He goes one step further and synthesizes the findings of many meta-analyses, a kind of meta-meta-analysis.

Over the years, he has scrutinized — and ranked — 1,200 different meta-analyses looking at all types of interventions, ranging from increased parental involvement to ADHD medications to longer school days to performance pay for teachers, as well as other factors affecting education, like socioeconomic status. He has examined studies covering a combined 250 million students around the world.

The good news, he says, is that most education reforms tested in published studies show at least some positive effect (this should not be surprising, because studies that show no effect or negative effects are less likely to be published).

If you are the kind of person who finds certain graphs sexy, beholding Hattie’s ranking of educational effect sizes will be exhilarating.

The average effect, across all the studies he’s analyzed, is 0.4. standard deviations. This average also happens to translate — roughly — to the amount of progress a student can be expected to make in one year of school. Hattie believes that all educational reforms should concentrate on interventions with proven effects that fall above that line.

In his ranking, socioeconomic status has an effect size of 0.57, meaning that a student growing up in poverty may be expected to perform roughly a year and a half behind an otherwise similar student growing up more wealthy.

Putting televisions in the classroom, on the other hand, has an average negative impact of -0.18. Holding students back a grade really does hold students back, with an effect of -0.16.

“The problem is there are a lot of effects that are very small,” he says, while others are huge. And yet, he says, “We never have a debate of relativity — why are we spending billions on things that have small effects?”

Technical Challenges

Hattie’s grand unified theory is simple — maybe too simple. Critics have taken issue with his approach to research, the precision of some of his calculations, even his grasp of concepts as basic as probability.

“Meta-analyis is relatively new in education, and … particularly problematic,” says Dylan Wiliam, professor emeritus of educational assessment at the Institute of Education, University of London, and an expert on assessment.

He argues, for example, that averaging together studies done on students of different ages, in different settings, with different kinds of interventions and different measures of outcomes may produce entirely misleading results.

There’s a danger, Wiliam says, of mushing good studies together with bad ones, or comparing apples and oranges.

“In education, meta-analysis presents a number of significant technical difficulties,” he explains. “Some of these are unavoidable but Hattie does not mention these.”

Others, Wiliam adds, “are avoidable, but Hattie does not avoid them.”

“The synthesis approach is not an established method,” agrees John O’Neill, director of the Institute of Education at Massey University in New Zealand. O’Neill is a coauthor of a 2009 paper critical of Hattie’s work, titled “Invisible Learnings?

At the same time, he acknowledges, Hattie’s work “has had a profound effect on education policy and practice globally.”

Many of Hattie’s basic observations have been upheld by other researchers. And he and his organization continue to advise and influence governments and school leaders all over the world.

Here are five of the most common policy ideas that, he argues in his new paper, are wrongheaded — and the alternatives Hattie suggests.

1. Achievement standards. “It seems very sensible. You set up minimum standards you want students to reach; you judge schools by how many reach them. But it has a very nasty effect,” Hattie tells me. “All those schools who take kids in difficult circumstances are seen as failures, while those who take privileged students and do nothing are seen as successful.”

By the same token, it seems to make sense to set achievement standards by grade level, but the further along students get in school, Hattie points out, the more of them are performing either behind or ahead of the schedule that’s been set.

The alternative: a focus on growth and progress for each student, no matter where he or she starts.

2. Achievement tests. High-performing schools, and countries, don’t necessarily give more standardized tests than low performers. They often give fewer.

The alternative: testing that emphasizes giving teachers immediate, actionable feedback to improve teaching.

3. School choice. Many education reformers tout school choice as a tool for parent empowerment and school improvement through competitive pressure. But Hattie says his research shows that once you account for the economic background of students, private schools offer no significant advantages on average. As for charter schools? “The effect of charter schools, for example, across three meta-analyses based on 246 studies is a minuscule .07,” he writes.

The alternative: teacher choice. In the United States, variation within schools accounts for 70 percent of the differences in scores on the international PISA exam, while variation between schools makes up the rest. Hattie argues that if parents had the right to select the best teacher in a given school, that could truly be empowering. It would also be challenging to implement.

4. Class size. This has been one of Hattie’s more controversial claims. In the U.S., groups such as Class Size Matters are dedicated to the proposition that fewer students per teacher is a recipe for success. This, Hattie argues, would come as a surprise to Japan and Korea, two of the highest-performing education systems in the world, with average class sizes of 33. Russia is the outlier in the other direction, a below-average performer with average classes around 18.

The alternative: Hattie says reducing class size can have a positive impact. That’s if teachers are coached and supported to take advantage of it by actually changing the way they teach — to collaborate, offer personalized feedback and continuously measure their impact for improvement, for example.

5. More money. $40,000 per child, from age 6 through high school graduation. That’s the rough threshold for reasonable school performance, according to Hattie: Countries that spend less than $40,000, which are all poor, tend to have much lower reading scores on the international PISA exam, and their performance correlates strongly with the money they spend. But for countries above that threshold, there is almost no relationship between money spent and results earned. For example, Korea and Finland far outscore the U.S. on PISA, while spending $60,000 and $75,000 compared with $105,000.

The alternative: Money’s a necessity, but more money is not a panacea, says Hattie. “We spend millions on things that don’t matter, and then we get jaundiced.”

Hattie’s forthcoming book, in September, will present case studies of 15 schools that are implementing some of the ideas that have the strongest evidence behind them. He says many of these boil down to empowering teachers to work collaboratively and continuously improve.

“Around the world there is so much excellence,” he says. “Have we got the spine to identify and grow that?”

Correction –  Aug. 13, 2015 An earlier version of this story stated that John Hattie is not a statistician. He actually holds a Ph.D. in statistics and measurement.

My TeachMeet2015 Resources

What is a TeachMeet?

  1. TeachMeet is an unconference. Tech unconferences are fast moving, tech sharing, friend making, never boring gatherings of people sharing web 2.0 tools for education.
  2. TeachMeets consist of 20 minute tech sessions. This means 2 sessions per hour which helps to keep the day moving.
  3. TeachMeets were started in the United Kingdom and brought to the US by Jason Bedell, (@jasontbedell). Jason moved to New Jersey and started TeachMeetNJ, but is unable to run it any longer. Kyle Calderwood took over as organizer in 2012.
  4. If you have any tech or web2.0 tool that you use that others might benefit from then consider doing a 20 min session. You do not need to be a guru. Anyone can share!!!
  5. So come and have a great day with others who share your passion for learning, tech, and teaching.

Below are the links that will take you to the presentations used at TeachMeetNJ:

DWI: Driving While Intexticated


Last Monday, I got into a car accident.  It wasn’t my fault.  Seriously!  It wasn’t.  A 19 year old was texting, using her GPS, and eating a bagel instead of watching the road. I put my car through an interstate sign, destroying my hood and windshield.  Thankfully, all are OK, but the next day, it had me thinking.  A lot.


As educators, what are we doing lately to address drivers education in schools?

I know I’m not the first person to be involved in an accident because someone was texting and driving.  My new district is a K-6 district, so I don’t have to worry about drivers ed, but I want to see what others are doing.

Some districts have drivers ed stuff up, some don’t.  Here’s some great resources I found that I think should be included with today’s driver educaion classes:

I’m hoping that your districts have some type of meaningful curriculum and lessons on the dangers of this. I really don’t want to go through another sign again.

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Attention Parents: YOU MATTER!

As schools begin or gear up for another year of learning, we often focus on students and staff. A crucial piece to the educational puzzle: parental involvement. Yes, I’m aware that this is not earth shattering information, but I’ve noticed recently that parents are getting swept under the rug in some areas of education, and that’s not cool.

With all that being said, there is a line.

Cool:

  • Inviting parents to be involved in school
  • Keeping parents up to date with what’s happening in schools
  • Tackling parental issues once they have streamlined through the proper channels

Not Cool:

  • Helicopter parents
  • “Icing out” parents because you don’t want to be bothered
  • Having uber-parental involvement because they feel “entitled” / tight with a BOE member / “that’s the way it’s always been”

I’ve experienced both sides of the fence. No doubt, striking a medium is a hard task. Following the first list above seems like a no-brainer, but what happens when it’s bad news  from the start?

You start clean. You lay out objectives and set one non-negotiable item: we are all here for the students.

I have been fortunate enough where I’ve had some great experiences with PTA / PTO / home-school associations. We held breakfasts, partnered up in providing teachers what they needed, and even worked with the community to generate positive buzz and foster the “we” environment.

I’ve been unfortunate to encounter the opposite. I had a parent who took it upon herself to try to micromanage everything from selling a school “spirit wear” to producing the yearbook. Overreaching is an understatement; the first year, I watched — the second year, I acted on what needed to be done. After realizing she attempted to cultivate an “us versus him” atmosphere, coupled with running to a board member whenever she didn’t her way, I essentially stripped her of everything, as she was more of a nuisance to the school than helpful.  Could I have done some things differently?  Of course.  I am happy that it soured like this?  Absolutely not.  It was learning experience on both ends; now it’s shared with all of you hoping that you can avoid something like this as you begin your navigation.

Bottom line:  parents, more than ever, are critical to the education of our children.  Get them involved, keep them informed, and for a solid working relationship.  “If you don’t” is not an option here.

 

It’s time to merge!

 Note: my original title for this post was titled “Eitner to Small Districts: Drop Dead” — it was changed out of respect of those offended by the title.

Does anyone remember this famous headline?

It was rough, but it caught the eye and it got your attention. Did it work on you?

Some may see this as a rant, but I’m here to speak my mind and confess to what I’ve been advocating for the past two years: small school districts need to go away in NJ in places where they simply can.

What defines small? Anything listed as a school district with under 200 students. And yes, there’s a boatload of them in NJ.

Before you keep reading, yes, I was a chief school administrator in one. What most knew — I was extensively meeting with various stakeholders and Department of Education officials about how we can make things better. Not to anyone’s surprise, but the conversation kept going back to the same idea over and over: merging with another school district will save tons of money and offer more to students.

Again, why am I doing this? Simple; I’m doing this for our students, because in small districts, students suffer. A lot.

How do students suffer in a small school district? Several ways, but the biggest red flags:

  • At some point, students will have to interact with a teacher who should have retired / quit a long time ago.
  • At another point, the lack of course offerings or student placement will stifle the student ability to succeed.

Let’s tackle the first ugly point in the room. Can’t you make that argument in any school there are ineffective educators? Yes, but in bigger districts, administrators have a trick. Some call it “the dance of the lemons”, others call it “the turkey trot” or even “horse trading”. In common man  terms, it’s when useless educators get shifted to another job / position / building to either bury them or put them in a job where they are barely interacting with students. Every district has them.  In a small district, what happens when you have a group of teachers that all have been there forever and all are really poor at their job?  Yes, we can give PD, and yes, you can give poor evaluation scores now, but the daily grind still has those teachers interacting.  You can bury one or two… but what about 5 or 6?  Teachers like this:

  • The teacher who is friends with parents of their class on Facebook and messages on public forums to not only talk shop, but to stir the pot and spread rumors.
  • The teacher who sends text messages to her class parents telling them not to take the PARCC test.
  • The teacher who is completely stuck on doing things their way and refuses to budge an inch, resulting in student suffering and lacking consistency.
  • The teacher who is simply out of touch and just gets moved, but when they do, they screw up the other place they get moved to.
  • The teacher who is habitually absent (not for health reasons, but for everything else but).

The next issue deals with allowing students to get what they actually need.  I didn’t really reflect on this until a conversation with a teacher last year.  She lived in the next town over and I asked her why she brought her kids instead of another where she lives (which has an even smaller District then where I was). She explained that there was more opportunity and courses  / differentiation available to them. Ya know what? Spot on.

So, what’s the next step? The first step is acceptance.  It’s very hard to accept the fact that what you’ve been doing for the longest time is no longer beneficial to students and is no longer cost-effective. The second step is starting to reach out and seeing what can be done.  Everything else falls into place.

Lastly, I have many friends who are Superintendents in small districts that are getting the job done.Most of them are in places we can’t do anything until the state NJDOE gives the go ahead.  BUT – where I was before – the wheels are in motion, and some folks are finally in it for the better.

Let our learners get what they need; it’s worth starting a conversation at the least.

The New Guy — and I LOVE IT!

In the past, the first week of August is normally suppose to be a week of relaxation. My first week of August this year? Chaos. Pandaemonium. Nonstop. And I loved every second of it.

I began my second superintendency this week. While it’s always interesting and entertaining to meet-n-greet, tour schools, and get to know the lay of the land, this week was extra special.  The awesomeness that emulated? School construction. Major school construction. In every building. 
Yes, you’re reading this correctly. I’m excited about all of this chaos.  

Why? Simple. All of this construction is the result of years of planning and preparing for our future learners. Construction is a tangible sign of investing in our future. 

Below are some photos of a sample of buildings under construction. We have a lot to go, but we’ve come so far already. Construction includes HVAC systems, AC units, electrical, fire alarms, piping, windows, security, and more. 

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 To go full circle, this is my first week, and I was welcomed with smiles, open arms, high fives, and excitement. Nothing is more exciting than coming into a new place and being able to hit the ground running. 

To my new Waterford family, thank you. Thanks for the welcomes, thanks for the tweets, thanks for the coffee, and thanks for your patience during all of this construction. It’s an investment that will only make your children that much better off then they are now.

Enjoy the summer, and check back daily for updates!