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Posts Tagged ‘Administrative Leadership’

Denver Administration “Accidentally” Sends Letter Threatening Deportation of Striking Teachers

January 27, 2019 Comments off

I try not to be cynical about school administrators, but the latest news from Denver Public Schools who are on the verge of a strike test my credulity.

Here’s a quick overview of what is going on: on the heels of a successful strike in Los Angeles that reinforced the public’s support for public school teachers and antipathy toward charter schools, the Denver teachers decided to strike. But at the 11th hour the Denver School Board invited the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to intervene which, in accordance with state laws, postponed the strike. At the same time as the school board was ostensibly striving to find a middle ground, the Denver Superintendent sent out a memo to administrators imploring them to cross the picket lines. Then, in the coup de gras, her HR department issued a memo indicating that any undocumented teachers who participated in the walk out would be reported to ICE.

In response to the memo, according to Chalkbeat the newly appointed Superintendent offered an apology, stating “…she was shocked the evening before to learn that a district human resources employee had sent an email to schools on Tuesday that said immigrant teachers working in Denver Public Schools on visas would be reported to immigration authorities if they participated in an impending teacher strike.”

Following the school board’s last minute and arguably disingenuous effort to reach a settlement and her administrations admitted effort to recruit administrative staff to cross picket lines, her apology seemed hollow at best and dishonest at worst…. especially given that “…No employees were put on leave as a result of the email”. The Chalkbeat report did indicate, though, that the Superintended DID say that “…the district is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again” but “...did not elaborate on what they are.” 

I do not envy the effort the new Superintendent will have to make to dig herself out of the hole the Board has put her in… but I cannot believe that her decision to look the other way when a key HR staff member threatens to report teachers to immigration officials will help. All of this underscores the fact that teachers only join unions to protect themselves from unenlightened boards and administrators….

 

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As Congress Cut Staffers and Leaned on Lobbyists, So Did State Departments

January 19, 2019 Comments off

Diane Ravtich wrote a post yesterday that drew heavily from a Washington Post column by a veteran congressman who was lamenting the gutting of congressional staffers who used to provide both sides of the aisle with factual reports on information and data they could use to make informed decisions and write well crafted legislation. The Congressman noted that as they lost this resource, the private sector filled in with lobbyists who could “helpfully” write legislation and regulations. The result was the de facto privatization of legislation.

As I noted in a comment I left, in a parallel universe, beginning in the late 1970s State Departments of Education began hemorrhaging expertise in the same way. When I began my career as a Superintendent it was possible to call someone in the State Department who could offer guidance on an array of issues from staff development to transportation to school construction to curriculum. While many of us in administration and many school boards lamented the “bureaucrats in the State Department”, it wasn’t until they were cut from the State budget and/or retired that we began to realize what we missed. One of the reasons the Common Core was appealing to Governors was that it provided off-the-shelf “expertise” from contractors. So instead of having to hire staff who understood curriculum, the districts could call a 1-800 number and talk to someone who worked for a vendor to get the information they needed. The ultimate result of State Department cuts, then, was an open door for the Common Core vendors to replace the “bureaucrats at the State Department”.

Smaller school districts in particular need expertise in many areas… and if that expertise is not available at the State level they will outsource it elsewhere. Cutting “bureaucrats” opens the door for privatization of expertise… and lobbyists and salespersons are very happy to offer it.

Helicopter Parents Stymied by Administrators in Darien, CT

November 29, 2018 Comments off

Today’s Boston Globe features an AP article by Michael Melia describing a problem faced by Darien CT: over-protective parents joining their children for lunch!

In Darien, a town of Colonial-style homes behind stone fences where the median household income exceeds $200,000, so many parents had begun attending lunch that principals felt they were affecting the day-to-day running of the elementary schools, according to Tara Ochman, chairman of the Darien Board of Education.

The decision by the Board had a mixed reception:

One Darien mother, Beth Lane, said at an education board meeting last month that she welcomed the change.

“It was good because kids have to be able to learn how to work with each other and socialize with each other, and putting a parent in changes the dynamic dramatically,” she said.

But others who spoke up at the meeting said the midday visits allowed them to see how their children were faring and to help them resolve friction with other children. For the youngest children, they could offer helping opening milk cartons and finding items in the lunchrooms.

Terry Steadman, a parent, told the board she was shocked and driven to tears by the news.

“To just ban parents from the lunchroom, which is effectively what you’re doing with this email, I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s in the spirit of a collaborative environment,” she said.

As the article notes, this is a “problem” that could only be encountered in a school district where stay-at-home mothers are prevalent, stay-at-home mothers with the time and energy to visit their children at lunch. In a couple of throwaway paragraphs Mr. Melia dismisses this as a situation where parents are disengaged and a spokesperson for a county district in FL sees it as something that “MAYBE” some parents can’t do.

The practice is unheard of in many urban and poor areas where parents may not have the same engagement with schools.

“In some schools it’s not really an issue at all because based on the population, parents aren’t able to come and have lunch. It’s something maybe parents aren’t able to do,” said Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman for schools in Hillsborough County, Florida.

I have news for Mr. Melia and Ms. Arja: there are a whole host of parents who are “disengaged” because they need to be ready to work when their workplace demands it and they cannot predict whether they’d be available for parent conferences let alone lunch.

The Darien parents may think their visits are helpful, but ultimately, a special education therapist at a school in nearby (and equally affluent) Weston CT  has it right:

“From a professional perspective, when we’re the ones left dealing with your child when you leave, it wasn’t good,” said Ms.Franzese, who worked for eight years as a special education therapist in Weston until earlier this year. “We would call them helicopter moms.”

In short, kindergartners are better off opening milk cartons and putting on their leggings than having mom there to help them. It might teach them the “grit” that school reformers see as the essential element poorer kids need to get ahead.

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.