Scores, Lies, and Tries

Below is a great piece by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post. You can find the original article by clicking here. Take a moment and digest; it’s worth having some conversation with your administrators about this (if you are in the central office role).

——-

Few pieces of research have shocked the American education system more than the 2009 study “The Widget Effect,” by the New Teacher Project, now known as TNTP. It found that classroom assessment systems were a sham, with fewer than 1 percent of teachers being rated unsatisfactory.

Reformers promised to fix this. They demanded that schools augment the standard ratings by principals with data on how well each teacher’s students did on standardized tests. Now, that reform seems to be crumbling as test results have proved erratic and unusable with subjects such as science and history that don’t have standardized state tests.

So, are principals triumphant, eager to assert their assessment responsibilities, show some spine and rate teachers honestly?

The answer is no. Two new studies reveal principals still trying to make nearly all teachers happy. Interviews by researchers and by Education Week reporter Liana Loewus reveal a troubling reason principals are not telling subpar teachers they need to get better: It takes too much time.

One middle school principal in a Northeastern urban district told Matthew Kraft of Brown University and Allison Gilmour of Temple University that the demands of extra observations and support were too great. “I just feel like sometimes you have to have a lot of extra detail before you can give somebody a Needs Improvement,” the principal said. “When you have an unsatisfactory teacher, it takes a lot of time to observe that teacher, to give true honest-to-goodness feedback.”

It’s even worse if several teachers need help. “It’s not possible for an administrator to carry through on 10 Unsatisfactories simultaneously,” another principal said. “I mean, once somebody is identified as Unsatisfactory, the amount of work, the amount of observation, the amount of time and attention that it requires to support them can become overwhelming.”

In Loewus’s exposé of how principals avoid accurate evaluations, she found some school administrators willing to go on the record. “At the end of the year, if you haven’t repeatedly gone into the classroom and given the teacher suggestions for improvements, it’s really not fair to give a poor evaluation,” Marilyn Boerke, director of talent development for the Camas School District in Washington state, told the Education Week reporter.

Researchers Jason Grissom of Vanderbilt University and Susanna Loeb of Stanford University published a study in the journal Education Finance and Policy similar to the study by Kraft and Gilmour in Educational Researcher. Both reports compared the formal district evaluations principals submitted with how those principals assessed the same teachers in confidential surveys. The formal and confidential assessments were as different as your view of your company’s latest mission statement might be when talking to your boss or your spouse.

In the Grissom-Loeb study of 100 principals in the Miami-Dade County schools, the teachers who were scored “very ineffective” on the confidential assessment were on average deemed “effective” on the reports the principals filed with their districts.

The Kraft-Gilmour data, based on a survey of 157 principals and other evaluators, had them assessing 19 percent of teachers as below proficient to the researchers, but rating only 6 percent of those teachers that way in their official reports.

Kraft and Gilmour looked at teacher assessments in 24 states that have supposedly improved their systems after “The Widget Effect” exposed the empty optimism. There was no consistency. Only 9 percent of teachers were above proficient in Massachusetts, but 62 percent reached those heights in Tennessee.

In New Mexico, 29 percent were rated below proficient, compared with only 1 percent in Hawaii. Loewus said New Mexico seems to have thought better about being so tough and is moving to ease its standards.

If principal evaluations and test-score evaluations won’t work, what will? The researchers mention the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) systems that use independent teacher evaluators. In PAR systems like the one in Maryland’s Montgomery County, those trained people also help struggling teachers improve.

That approach has been praised for decades but is very expensive. I don’t think it is going to supplant the easier and cheaper alternative of telling ineffective teachers they are doing just fine.

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.

Setting Meaningful Goals

When I first became a superintendent, I wrote down two goals I wanted to reach by the end of my 5th year. Those goals were:

  • To get back to the North / Central NJ area
  • To gain experience in rural, suburban, and urban districts

I’m proud to say that I’ve reached those goals–surely not the way I planned to, but I did it.

In our first NJASA Superintendents’ Academy meeting, Dr. Bozza had us take a leadership style assessment and set goals. Just as we all do when we read “set goals,” I balked and assumed it was a waste of time. What was cool, though, was that it was also the first year of Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) in New Jersey, where all teachers had to also set goals that were in alignment with their classes. Since we, as leaders, were being indoctrinated in this new practice as well, it was the perfect time to set them. SGO’s should exhibit three characteristics:

  • Be achievable
  • Be measurable
  • Be attainable

I wanted to choose my superintendent goals with the mindset of SGO goal-making. I wanted to emulate the experience that all of my teachers and principals would have to go through. I initially started with two goals that were a joke–all fluff. Then I circled back and really thought about them. Are these goals which I can share with my board? Are these goals I can actually achieve? Can these goals be measured? Can I attain these goals by doing my job and not creating a myriad of extra work?  I then rewrote my goals, and I recall rewriting them several times that day. I finally worked it down to the two goals and felt that they were achievable, measurable, and attainable.

When the offer to become a superintendent at the age of 34 was presented, I took it. My taking the position required me to move to a new home, be submerged in a new culture (that of South Jersey), and transition from working in powerhouse, wealthy, progressive districts to the complete opposite. I was way outside of my comfort zone but knew I could do it; I was made to do this.

I’m proud to say that I’ve successfully turned around two districts and am now beginning my third. I’m not saying it simply because it believe it; I’m saying it because every single state report with every single piece of data shows it. Test scores? Up. Technology integration? Accomplished. More meaningful and effective PD’s? Check. Financial stability? Done. Again, not my saying so.  The state reports show it, and that data can’t be manipulated or fabricated in any way.  The first two districts were in the land of the “856,” and now I’m back in the “908.”

My second goal was a personal one. While I feel that my background has served all walks of life, I wanted to gain experiences on all socioeconomic levels in all geographical areas. It’s my personal goal to take my skill set and apply it on a statewide or federal level. While my business experiences and aspects of my job have allowed me to meddle in some statewide initiatives and federal projects, having the data to back up my accomplishments would be paramount in ascertaining the position.

As so many school years are getting ready to commence, I hope you take some time and write down two attainable, meaningful, achievable goals that you can shoot for this year. I wish all of you a wonderful 2017-18 school year!

Onward!

Blockbuster, Redbox, Netflix, & __________

The AASA Digital Consortium met in the last week of July in Roseland, Illinois (right outside of Chicago). The group consists of superintendents from around the country who are looking to continue to expand on services provided for our students while seeing true innovation and leadership by example. We were in Chicago last year and had our socks knocked off; this year did the same.IMG_0248We jumped right in and began to review the ISTE standards for administrators from 2009.  While we were all impressed that the standards did apply to today’s times, I had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Nick Polyak, superintendent from nearby Leyden, IL. Nick and I were talking about the above slide and how, while some things change, there will always be folks looking back to the past and wanting to use what was comfortable to them before. Nick used the great analogy of how we had once had thisdownload-1 and then this download-2

and now many do this,download-3 and in the future we’ll be doing something I can’t list because it’s not in existence yet.

Now, Blockbuster isn’t entirely dead.  There are still stores in Alaska (a great story done by CBS Sunday Morning if you haven’t seen it) and there’s a great video from The Onion as well.

But…

The moral of the story is that we in education need to adapt, just as the rest of the world has. Education is one of the few (if not only) professions where the times have changed, but we are still implementing a system that was designed by a group of rich white guys from the 19th century, placed in facilities that are largely from the 20th century, and occupied with students who are in the 21st century.

Besides this brain-exploding moment I had, other highlights of this gathering included

  • Learning about all of the wonderful happenings in CCSD59 and how the focus in on employees, learners (who attend a year-round program in this school), and shifting from the traditional education system to learner-active classrooms (Pics below are from the year-round school’s media center / makerspace).
  • Exploring how Rolling Meadows High School offers its students design challenges The chair below was made with $20.00 worth of supplies and had to hold up to 40 lbs and how their physical education program will change the rest of the country. I firmly believe this.  Not only did they build an indoor track and gym under their main gym, but they are using technology to track everything from student recovery time to how students are using velocity to lift weights!
  • Speaking with recently graduated seniors from Wheeling High School‘s NANOTECHNOLOGY LAB to see how their studies have changed their lives.  Not kidding! This lab has millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment in it.
  • Examining future possibilities from the CoSN’s learning matrix.

In all, this was a superb gathering that showed everyone in attendance how education continues to evolve for the communities and learners we serve. I can’t wait to see what Seattle brings us in October!

Onward!

 

SuperCUE = Super Learning

IMG_0229.JPGA few months ago, I received a random message from Jon Corripo, one of the rock stars over at CUE.  CUE is a nonprofit educational corporation with the goal of inspiring innovative learners in all disciplines from preschool through college. CUE has thousands of educational professionals and supports many regional affiliates and learning networks in California and from around the country. It is the largest organization of its type in the West and one of the largest in the United States, so to receive an invite to attend a conference with 24 other superintendents from around the country is pretty cool to say the least.

The conference took place at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, located steps away from the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. The campground and conference center are in the heart of California parks; we could not have had a better venue. I mention this because it’s the perfect balance of getting our heads together and really driving educational conversations and soaking in views that are nearly impossible to mirror.

IMG_0176.JPG
The majestic Pacific at sunset

 

All superintendents who attended had a presentation to make to others on how we are aligning to FutureReady standards and how we are impacting our learners.  I chose digital equity (you can find my presentation by clicking here). Other presentations ranged from how districts are embracing the digital credentials movement (f/k/a ‘badging’) to how others are meeting all learners where they are, so that education can succeed for everyone.

With all of that sharing also came a weaving in of national speakers spreading their good words.  We were fortunate enough to have Joe San Felippo (#GoCrickets) and Sarah Thomas (#EduMatch) with us talking about how they are changing the educational games in their districts. Joe has been a friend for years, and to see how he has taken an 800-student, K-12 district in Wisconsin to an international presence is amazing. Sarah is also a amazing.  Watching her grow, as well as watching her share all of the great things she is doing in education, is pretty cool. I’m very lucky to know her and call her a friend.

IMG_0190.JPG
The amazing @SarahDuhTeechur

 

We all know that Twitter has connected us on a whole new level. Getting to meet so many outstanding leaders in person (Barbara Nemko, Candace Singh, Jon Corrippo, and too many others to list) has been such a powerful tool for all of us to become better leaders and better serve our students, staff, and community. We are all in it to grow, learn, and move forward. SuperCUE has contributed to my doing that and so much more. I can’t wait to see what we can all share next year.

Onward.

 

Complacency Kills

I just finished reading one of the best books ever. The Operator by Robert O’Neill is the story of the Navy SEAL who dedicated a good chunk of his life fighting for American freedoms. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it should; he’s the SEAL who fired three rounds into Osama Bin Laden.

The boy from Butte, Montana, gave his all for all of us for over 16 years. He didn’t stay 20 years (20 years gives a pension and benefits); he left after 16. He left for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest factor was how he was becoming complacent when he was going on missions. He shared about one specific mission where he was so lax that he was smoking cigars a few minutes before a planned ambush of terrorists. After the ambush, he was hanging out with guys who were tossing around damaged RPG heads as if they were nerf balls. O’Neill said flat out that if he kept up his complacent ways, it would literally kill him, which had me thinking.

What about those in education who become complacent? The teacher who is waiting until 25 years? The principal who won’t do anything that would “rock the boat”? The superintendent who is just trying to keep everyone happy? All of these complacent actions are killing the creativity of both staff and students and dashing the hopes of some, keeping them from being the best they can really be.

We’ve all seen these so-called educators in our schools. We’ve either subjected to them as a student, worked with them as coworkers, or even supervised them. If you think that none of them are where you work, you’re being foolish. They are everywhere. Some are placed in positions that have the least student contact, some have positions created for them (or a position is created to keep them occupied and out of everyone’s hair), some become lapdogs for administrators, and some even brainwash an entire community into thinking that they are so important that whatever they do is equally important. What these people project versus what these people do is just flat out sad. Their complacent attitudes end up just wasting space and tax-payer dollars.

I once worked with one who was the master of complacency. The stars aligned–a volunteer on multiple district committees to feel and look important, overseeing a program that was created because the individual was awful on other positions (tenured, of course), and didn’t even have a schedule. The teacher literally did whatever, whenever and was the laughing stock of the district by both teachers and administrators. Don’t be fooled, though.  The person was seen as a savior in the community, because when you have nothing else to do but brainwash, why wouldn’t you? I couldn’t tell you how many times, when something was needed or the name was brought up, it was followed by either laughter or, “That person does nothing! How do I get that job?” All I could ask myself is how could the complacency of a do-nothing person be tolerated by peers and supervisors alike?

To an extent, I don’t blame the person. I really blame the immediate administrator who coddled for so long and the central administrator who continuously looked the other way when this person was championing everything BUT educating students. It was petty and pathetic.

In no way am I trying to compare the valor and bravery of SEAL O’Neill to what we do in schools. However, his point about getting out before becoming ineffective or complacent really hit home.  As school leaders (from superintendents to supervisors to aides), we need to step up when we see others becoming complacent. The complacency is killing creativity and positivity, deterring others from being the best they can be, and promoting a culture of letting kids only partially succeed because it’s not what the complacent person wants to do or isn’t aligned with a fundraiser or field trip.

Twenty Years Ago

I still can't believe that I graduated Union High School 20 years ago this year. 1997 was a fun year–a senior in high school, not a care in the world. Then again, it was a different world.

My superintendent, Dr. Jakubowski (with whom I still speak), made two prominent points at our graduation.

1. Don't get into a stranger's car.

2. Don't use the internet.

Today, I use the internet to get into a stranger's car.

Twenty years ago, I had to call Domino's Pizza and order a large pie and have cash on hand.

Today, I can tweet, use my watch, tell Alexa to order me one, text an emoji, and, yes, still call. Cash is discouraged.

Twenty years ago, I needed a travel agent to get to college and have a paper course guide in hand while being prepared to stand in line for hours to pick classes.

Today, it's all done in a matter of clicks.

Twenty years ago, most of my classes were heralded by teachers going right out of a textbook, with desks in rows and giving out so many worksheets that I probably had a tree's worth.

Today, in many classrooms, that practice still continues. Why hasn't that changed?

Many reasons. Some teachers don't know any better, some administrators refuse to budge on allowing other pedagogues besides the ones that worked for them, and some boards show defiance as well as their lack of knowledge and insight. Often, it's a combination of all three groups interchanging all three characteristics.

This is just downright sad. There are establishments and cultures in place where mediocrity is encouraged and heaven forbid someone goes rogue and tries meeting learners where they are today. There are school districts in place (from the BOE down to the staff) where the same ol' same ol' is practiced, hence producing he same ol' same ol' student. Towns and people who accept this are going to get what they've always had, but we now have students who are ready to change the world in 2017 instead of 1997. Is this fair for the future students who will eventually be taking care of us?

An education union representative once told me that "education has changed more in the past 6 years than the past 60." If everyone is cognizant of it, why fight the inevitable?

We all get it; change sucks. People love to say "change" but don't want to change, especially if it affects them. However, in today's times where today's students have had internet access and have been exposed to social media & apps for their entire scholarly lives, how can those in the educational field continually maintain past practice damn well knowing it's going to hurt our future?

Twenty years ago, I didn't know my career path, let alone knew that the path I chose has a broken system that is still frequently embraced. Today, I'm well aware of it and refuse to stop advocating for those who don't know any better.

I'm here for our future. Are you?

Onward.

You’re Not Mental

200_s
image credit: https://media3.giphy.com/media/4Ya8UtZz4PEuk/200_s.gif

I hope everyone knows the above quote.  If not, you need to stop reading this and Netflix this movie!

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and everyone you’ve worked with has done it.  At some point, you’ve taken a day off, but you didn’t use a vacation day, you weren’t sick, and you did things just for yourself with it. Shopped. Went out to eat. Got a massage or had a spa day. Watched a movie. Saw a baseball game. Binge-watched a series. Slept in. You get the idea. The phrase “mental-health day” has circulated in the workplace for years, yet many shy away from saying that’s what they’re taking.

NBC Nightly News recently aired a story about an employee who emailed her boss saying she was taking a mental-health day. Her boss replied, supporting her.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 08.38.15Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 08.38.34

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 08.38.48
image credit: http://www.boredpanda.com/woman-email-mental-health-day-ceo-response-madalyn-parker/

So…why is this important, and how does this relate to the field of education?

In our line of work, we need to be at the top of our game every single day. We need to be all-in.  We need to be cognizant that giving any less effort only hurts us. Taking time for ourselves in order to decompress and partake in wellness activities is paramount for us to succeed. We are not confined to a cubicle or in a monotonous job. We are taking care of the future who will eventually be taking care of us.

While the summer is a great time to recharge and relax, we need to be doing this during the school year as well. We need to eat right, exercise, and partake in wellness. We all need mental-health days. Don’t shy away from it; be proud of it.

My New Office

My first “official” day on the job was July 5, and before I could get started, I needed a work space.  I had taken a few tours of the facilities before, and I saw that my new office was on the third floor–the top corner office with a great view.  It was more like a penthouse.

And then I checked out the whole building and told the movers to put all of my belongings in the basement. You read correctly.  The basement!  My staff began to panic and wanted to know if I was okay.

I picked an office that is the size of a utility closet at best. No windows. No bathroom. No opulence resembling the typical superintendent ‘s office. Just enough room to hang a few pictures and my academic credentials.

Why would I do something like this? A few reasons…

1. One of the biggest critiques was that prior administrations were “too good” for the common man, and their elitist attitudes were ever-present because nobody could ever access the third floor.  If I were an employee or if I lived in a town where a public official purposely tried to evade the people he/she serves, I’d be rather annoyed. Leaders recognize that, if you flaunt your white-collar status in a blue-color town, you have signed your own death warrant.

2. There was also talk of things happening in the lower levels and information never making its way up. Some also didn’t want to take the time to get to the third floor to share things. While my mind goes right to, “Why didn’t they email?” when technology consistently doesn’t work or you don’t have the training in how to do something, you won’t bother. Leaders should and will meet their staff, supporters, and critics anywhere they are.

3. Given the prior individuals who held the post before me, there was a stigma that the position was always first-class and everyone else was just cargo. Showing folks that I’m just like everyone else speaks volumes. Leaders can relate, empathize, and treat others with the respect they deserve.

My old office is now a district conference room–a room where all can enjoy the view and spread out to get work done.

Real leaders can do their job from any place, in any place. Real leaders also don’t hide their offices on a floor others can’t reach. It’s time to lead.

Onward.

The Next Step

 

Gotcha_box
image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotcha!_The_Sport!

 

I’m pleased to announce my new superintendency that commenced on July 1.  While it’s been a joyous eight months of being a dad, vacationing, getting healthy (down 103 lbs since surgery), and presenting around the country, it’s time to take the next step. Don’t get me wrong; it was amazing to be compensated and then some to live the way I did, but it was rather sad that some thought that it was the right thing to do. Oh well!  My new boat along with my family thanks you; not too many dads can say they were paid to raise their kids. Onward…

The next step requires my switching two pivotal gears. The first gear has to deal with my mindset. In my previous superintendentcies, I was very focused on curriculum, schedules, and pedagogy. This is going to shift to ensuring that basic needs of life are met. I will now be circulating around acquiring and providing clean clothes, hot meals, and supplies that a learner needs to succeed in school. I’ll still focus on curriculum and operations, but Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will take precedence over logos and useless presentations to folks looking to play “gotcha.”

I appreciate such a shift; it’s almost coming full circle. I began my educational career in a poor, urban school where any and all efforts were appreciated. Folks weren’t planted to cry over mascot designs or legally try to seek results of surveys  (I mean, really, how much time do you really have?! And you choose to waste your energy on that?! How about your kids?!) Parents here appreciate every and anything that teachers and leaders do to further the development of their kids; they are real and will talk to you. That being said, the needs are much different.  One of the needs is clean clothing.  I have partnered with Whirlpool and Tide to have laundry machines and supplies donated for clean clothes on a daily basis.

The second step is unique for me and many other superintendents. Instead of being the lead social media advocate, I had language inserted stating that I will NOT be responsible.  Why you ask?  Because I want my stakeholders to be the ones telling our story.  I have received criticism that I only send out positive messages and that I am trying to manipulate the news. I am eager to see how this experiment works. It will either be spectacular or a complete failure. However, if we don’t try, we can’t move forward with what works best.  Right?  So, yes, a very big change for me, but a very exciting one.

Onward!