Posts Tagged ‘Administrative Leadership’

The Sad Reality: Students Returning to “Hardened” Schools

August 12, 2018 1 comment

Here’s the headline in today’s NYTimes headline article by Patrick Mazzei:

Back-to-School Shopping for Districts: Armed Guards, Cameras and Metal Detectors

The article describes the sad reality of public education’s reaction to school shootings:

  • We are investing millions on armed guards who monitor children and FAR too little on staff members who could provide support to teachers and parents when students become disengaged and depressed.
  • We are using precious and limited staff development time to train teachers on how to use tourniquets instead of how to identify and deal with students who are disengaged and depressed.
  • We are redoubling the lockdown drill training, increasing the frequency and “reality” of school shooting drills that increase anxiety and fear among students.
  • We are spending millions of limited dollars to acquire fences, sophisticated surveillance cameras, and metal detectors while roofs leak, many schools lack the technology infrastructure needed to prepare students for the future, and many teachers dig ever deeper in their pockets to provide students with school supplies.
  • We are seeking more funds from taxpayers for these expenditures at a time when spending for education overall has decreased in real dollars since the Great Recession… and decreased substantially in many states.
  • And in 10 states, districts will be debating the feasibility of arming classroom teachers… a debate that will use precious time at school board meetings, time that could be used to debate other means of dealing with student alienation and despair that leads to the school shootings.

I completely understand the urgent need to “do something”… but I am distressed that the “something” seldom addresses the root causes of student violence, which have little to do with “arms control” or “hardening” schools and more to do with making schools warm and welcoming to each and every student enrolled. I hope in the days ahead to read of a district who is taking steps in THAT direction!  I despair that we are creating schools that make 24/7 surveillance in fenced environments patrolled by armed guards the norm for our future citizens.


New Hampshire’s Commissioner Continues to Bash and Undercut Public Education… Why Aren’t the Democrats Making This an Issue?

August 3, 2018 Comments off

The Advancing New Hampshire Public Education blog continues to pillory the current Frank Edelblut, the pro-privatization anti-public school Commissioner of Education appointed by GOP Governor Sununu. Their latest post, “Do We Have the Leadership We Need in New Hampshire?“, captures several video clips of the Commissioner advocating less money for public schools, the implementation of a de facto voucher plan for the state, and the use of taxpayers money to allow children to “choose” sectarian schools.

The question Do We Have the Leadership We Need in New Hampshire is purely rhetorical: we clearly do NOT have an advocate for public education leading our State’s schools… but voters in NH will have an opportunity to elect a new Governor in fall and, in doing so, will make it possible for the current Commissioner to be replaced. This leads me to pose one question to the Democratic Party in New Hampshire: Why isn’t this lack of leadership a huge political issue?

I’ve posted this question on web page and hope to get a response.

Larry Cuban Explains Why Efficiency is the Enemy in Measuring Learning

August 1, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday with a link to a post written by Larry Cuban describing the new “Cult of Efficiency” that reformers embrace when they measure school performance. Both posts implicitly decry the potential for technology and testing to enhance classroom teaching and student learning, a denunciation that is ultimately based on the premise that the ultimate metric for teaching effectiveness will be norm-referenced state tests. Mr. Cuban, for example, writes:

What exists now is a re-emergence of the efficiency-minded “administrative progressives” from a century ago who now, as modern-day entrepreneurs and practical reformers, using the vocabulary of pedagogical Progressives want public schools to be more market-like where supply and demand reign, and more realistic in preparing students for a competitive workplace.

These reformers are of two types. Some want individual students to master the content and skills found in district and state curriculum standards in less time than usual while spending the least amount of money to achieve mastery. Examples would be current versions of competency-based learning aligned to, say, Common Core standards or programs such as Teach To One.

Other entrepreneurs and technology advocates see schools as places to create whole  human beings capable of entering and succeeding in a world far different than their parents faced. To these reformers, efficient ways that reduce waste while integrating student interests and passions into daily activities with the help of teachers. Students make decisions about what to learn and take as long as they can to demonstrate mastery while meeting curriculum standards and posting high scores on state tests.

I would argue that there is a third kind of efficiency-minded “administrative progressive”: one who values the use of business practices in overseeing the business functions of school districts while rejecting the notion that those practices can be used in the classroom, particularly if state tests are the only metric used to determine “success”.

Any school leader who rejects the need for efficiency in non-instructional areas like transportation, maintenance, purchasing, and food services is squandering resources that could be used for instruction.

On the other hand, any school leader who embraces the use of state standardized tests as the sole and ultimate metric for student learning is simultaneously embracing the notion the all students of a certain age learn at the same rate, a notion that is preposterous. State tests are normative and, as such, assume that learning time is a constant and individual student learning is variable.

Efficiency is the enemy to improvement of schools when it is based on normative test scores that are linked to age-based cohorts. But efficiency-mindedness has the possibility of improving instruction when it is driven by formative test scores that are untethered to the construct of “grade levels” and driven by a wider array of metrics that attempt to capture elusive but important aspects of schooling like “student well-being”. A district that values only test scores will relentlessly drill students on test preparation and deny opportunities for physical and arts education. A district that seeks to improve the well-being of students will form partnerships with social services, health care providers, and care-givers before and after school and offer an expansive array of programs outside of content that can be readily measured by standardized tests.


DC Miracle Story Evidence of Traction of “Fake News”

June 30, 2018 Comments off

A few days ago AP writer Ashram Kahlil wrote an article titled “DC’S Public Schools Go from Success Story to Cautionary Tale“, a story that was picked up by NPR and some other mainstream news outlets. But alas, Time magazine is unlikely to run a cover story with Michelle Rhee sitting on a dunce stool or holding a broken broom.

In 2008, both Time and Newsweek offered overs depicting then rising star Michelle Rhee, the no-nonsense DC Superintendent who pledged to clean up the public schools in that city by implemented a test-and-punish policy that garnered support among those who thought schools needed to be operated using a no nonsense “business” approach and negative attention from anyone who actually worked in schools and realized that instead of a clean sweep their schools needed new floors, new lighting, and more money.

Since 2008, funding for schools has diminished, in some cases in real dollars and in all cases in terms of actual funding… and the consequences of test-and-punish has not been the improvement of test scores but rather the expansion of corruption in the administration of those high stakes tests. And DC has had its eyes blackened badly. As Mr. Kahlil reports:

As recently as a year ago, the public school system in the nation’s capital was being hailed as a shining example of successful urban education reform and a template for districts across the country.

Now the situation in the District of Columbia could not be more different. After a series of rapid-fire scandals, including one about rigged graduation rates, Washington’s school system has gone from a point of pride to perhaps the largest public embarrassment of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s tenure.

This stunning reversal has left school administrators and city officials scrambling for answers and pledging to regain the public’s trust.

A decade after a restructuring that stripped the decision-making powers of the board of education and placed the system under mayoral control, city schools in 2017 were boasting rising test scores and a record graduation rate for high schools of 73 percent, compared with 53 percent in 2011. Glowing news articles cited examples such as Ballou High School, a campus in a low-income neighborhood where the entire 2017 graduating class applied for college.

Then everything unraveled.

An investigation by WAMU, the local NPR station, revealed that about half of those Ballou graduates had missed more than three months of school and should not have graduated due to chronic truancy. A subsequent inquiry revealed a systemwide culture that pressured teachers to favor graduation rates over all else — with salaries and job security tied to specific metrics.

The internal investigation concluded that more than one-third of the 2017 graduating class should not have received diplomas due to truancy or improper steps taken by teachers or administrators to cover the absences. In one egregious example, investigators found that attendance records at Dunbar High School had been altered 4,000 times to mark absent students as present. The school system is now being investigated by both the FBI and the U.S. Education Department, while the D.C. Council has repeatedly called for answers and accountability.

It takes a long time to inculcate a culture of support, but a culture of fear can be implemented rapidly… and once that culture is in place it is hard to change. And that culture is especially hard to change when “salaries and job security tied to specific metrics” and those metrics can be manipulated by those who will be damaged the most: the administrators and politicians who based their careers and campaigns on their ability “…to improve public education.”

And who implemented this culture that resulted from salaries and job security tied to specific metrics?

As Mr. Kahlil reports in his closing paragraphs… it was none other than Michelle Rhee:

Critics view the problems, particularly the attendance issue, as an indictment of the entire data-driven evaluation system instituted a more than a decade ago when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty took over the school system and appointed Michelle Rhee as the first chancellor. Rhee’s ambitious plan to clear out dead wood and focus on accountability for teachers and administrators landed her on the cover of Time magazine holding a broom. But now analysts question whether Rhee’s emphasis on performance metrics has created a monster.  

Readers of this blog know the answer to that question: there is no doubt that the test-and-punish methods supported by Ms. Rhee and her follow reformers created a monster… but it’s serving their purposes: it is creating the impression that public schools are not only “failing” based on those test scores, but they are now “corrupt” because of the actions of a handful of administrators whose continued employment required them to boost them.

And here’s one fact that remains the same today as it was in 2008: the teachers who work in poverty stricken urban and rural districts like DC are giving their hearts and should to the jobs and the administrators in those same schools are being over backwards to support them. But a cover article lionizing public school teachers and principals is not nearly as compelling as one showing that an inexpensive one-size-fits-all solution is the best way to fix schools.







What Else Could Denver Teachers Learn in One Day?

June 23, 2018 Comments off

Over the course of 29 years as a public school superintendent I developed or oversaw the development of scores of staff development days. While I know that teachers often grumbled and often thought their time would be better spent teaching children, may colleagues and I viewed this time as important in terms of defining the direction we wanted our schools to head in the future and in defining our priorities.

Until the early 2000s we never spent a minute on how to deal with school shootings. Following Columbine, though, the federal and state legislatures and local Boards began to feel that the development of plans for school shootings was a priority… so much so that grant money that once flowed for things like drug and alcohol prevention was overtaken by grants for hiring SROs, training EMTs, and providing “tabletop exercises” for towns deal with emergency evacuations in the event of disaster events like school shootings.

I read last week of the Denver Public School district’s day-long exercise to address the invasion of their schools by a shooter.

“We’ve staged a shooter inside a school,” said Michael Eaton, Chief of the Dept. of Safety for DPS. “We have actually put bullet casings around the building. We have actors that have makeup on with flesh wounds.”

Denver Public Schools wanted the shooting exercise to feel real. First responders were called to Vista Academy not knowing where the shooter was or how many people were injured. The actor portraying the shooter and responding officers used guns that fired blanks or training rounds filled with paint.

“We are testing our emergency response coordination and communication with both our Department of Safety as well as Denver paramedics, Denver fire and Denver police,” Eaton said.

I only hope that Denver spent as much time coordinating services with the various social service agencies in their city that provide preventative care to students who might think that shooting up a school is a good idea. Or better yet… instead of spending time and money hiring actors to put on make-up with flesh wounds use a day to interview students to find out how they are experiencing school and what actions would be needed to fully engage them. Or even better yet, spend a day communicating with parents to determine how their children perceive their experience in school. The time we are opening cultivating fear would be far better spent cultivating parent and student engagement.


North Carolina HS Principal Shows How to Combat Negativity and Overcome Fear

June 10, 2018 Comments off

My brother, who retired to the NC coast, sent me a link to this story about the North Brunswick HS graduation ceremony. The ceremony concludes with two of the class leaders pointing to the control booth at the back of the auditorium and shouting: “Cue the music!” At that point several of the graduates in the audience begin dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. When the song reaches the chorus, all the graduates begin dancing and chanting the words:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
(If you want to make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)

At the conclusion the Principal offers an explanation as to why this song was selected:

“To the crowd, this is what this song means to us:” the principal said. “This year has been really traumatic and after every event in the country, we would play that through our speaker and we would promise to each other that that wouldn’t happen at North.”

Who needs armed guards when you have a leader who helps students look out for each other and look in the mirror every day and be the change you want to see.

Instead of Walking Out for 17 Minutes on March 14, Use That Time to Write Letters to Legislators

March 3, 2018 Comments off

Alicia Freese’s Seven Days article I read thanks to a friend’s Facebook link described a memo written to schools by Vermont’s Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, that discouraged students in Vermont from walking out of school for 17 minutes on March 14 as part of a national action. The article included a link to the entire memo, a paragraph of which was flagged:

The secretary urged administrators to find another way for students to express themselves, such as holding a school-wide assembly. “I encourage you to work with your students and support civil and peaceful opportunities for student expression and student voice, while holding all members of your community to your codes of behavior,” she wrote.

Here’s my suggestion to administrators in Vermont (and NH) for March 14: have students spend 17 minutes composing letters and/or emails to their local delegates expressing their own beliefs about the legislation under consideration. In that way, the students would begin to gain an understanding for how they can influence the thinking of their elected officials. As for the elected officials, I would encourage legislators and school board members to visit as many schools as possible to talk with students about their positions on the bills under consideration and/or steps they intend to take locally to ensure that students are safe and cared for.

These horrific killings are a teachable moment about how democracy is working, and I would encourage that we see this as an opportunity to engage students (AND their parents) with their elected state representatives and elected local school board members on the issue of gun violence. In this way, it’s possible that every one will be pay attention to the elections at all levels of government in November and everyone will see how democracy works.

Looking ahead, it is noteworthy that the April 20 student walkouts are currently contingent on the adoption of meaningful gun legislation. In VT legislature has several bills under consideration that may preclude the need for a walk out in April. New Hampshire, though, is another story. Students, parents, and teachers may have to settle for incremental change, and even that may elude the legislature this time around.