D.C.: Hundreds of school workers to be dismissed
D.C.'s public school system will fire more than 200 employees for poor performance — 4% of its work force — and is putting another 700 employees on notice they will be fired in the next year if their performance doesn't improve, the school system announced Friday.
The firings are the result of a new evaluation system which grades employees and evaluates teachers in part on students' standardized test scores.
Washington Teachers' Union president George Parker said the evaluation method is dramatically different from other evaluation systems around the country and that it is "flawed" and has "many loopholes." He said the evaluation was a "subjective way to fire teachers, many of whom were not evaluated fairly." The union on Friday also released the results of a survey of about 1,000 of its members which found about 80% did not understand an important part of the evaluation method. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten also criticized schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, saying in a statement it appears she believes she can "hire and fire" her way to better schools.
"Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher ... That is our commitment," the school system said in a statement announcing the layoffs.
The head of the Washington Teachers' Union says the union will contest the firings of teachers being laid off based on their evaluations, arguing there are problems with the evaluation system and that it should have been a pilot project in its first year.
The school system says the firings will not affect the start of school on Aug. 23, because a pool of teachers has already been screened for hire. New teacher orientation is scheduled in just over two weeks.
The new evaluation system being used to determine the performance of teachers and employees is called "IMPACT." For a teacher, five observations conducted throughout the year are part of the score, but 50% is based on students' performance on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, a test given to students in April. Other school employees are evaluated on their specific jobs.
About 6,300 employees were assessed using the system this year. The 226 employees rated "ineffective" under the four-tier evaluation system, including 165 teachers, are being be fired. Another 729 employees who scored "minimally effective" are being put on notice that they will be fired after the upcoming school year if their performance doesn't improve. Another 76 teachers are being let go for problems with their certification.
This is the second time in less than a year that the school system has laid off a large number of people. In October, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced the layoffs of 400 school employees, about half of them teachers, citing a budget crunch. That round of layoffs cut about six percent of the work force and was the latest in a contentious relationship between Rhee and the schools. The chancellor was appointed by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2007 and promised to turn around the school system.
D.C. Public Schools have approximately 4,000 teachers and 44,000 students.
Source: USA TODAY
Effective Principals Embrace Collective Leadership
An expansive study devoted to examining the traits of effective school principals has found that high student achievement is linked to “collective leadership”: the combined influence of educators, parents, and others on school decisions.
Effective principals encourage others to join in the decision-making process in their schools, said the study, which was commissioned by the New York-based Wallace Foundation and produced by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, in St. Paul, and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
Successfully done, the study suggested, such power sharing does not mean a principal loses clout.
“Influence in schools is not a fixed sum or a zero-sum game,” the report said.
The long-awaited study, published this week, is the largest to date to focus on the principalship, its authors say. It attempts to get beyond the broad statement that school leadership is important and digs into just what types of leadership appear to make the most difference when it comes to improving schools. In order to answer that question, the foundation devoted $3.5 million and six years to surveying more than 8,400 teachers and 470 school administrators. Additional interviews were conducted with more than 1,000 educators at the school, district, and state levels. In addition, researchers observed 310 classrooms. The study also tied the data to student test scores in mathematics and English.
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation for the Wallace Foundation, said that when the study was commissioned in 2003, few people understood the importance and key activities of effective school leaders.
“Some research had been done, but the studies were small, fragmentary, and they did not connect to student achievement and were not relevant to school improvement efforts,” Mr. Pauly said. A lot of attention was paid to teacher effectiveness.
This study “makes it completely plain all of these school improvement efforts have to have a focus on the leadership of the school,” he said. “You just can’t get away from that.”
Principals and teachers who were surveyed agreed on the role that principals play as instructional leaders. But that doesn’t mean that principals must be the ones directly demonstrating educational techniques to teachers, said Kyla L. Wahlstrom, the director of the University of Minnesota’s educational research center and the lead author of the report. Successful principals “were setting the conditions that enabled the teachers to be better instructors,” she said.
Elementary school principals demonstrated more of these instructional leadership behaviors than their peers at secondary schools, Mr. Pauly said. Secondary school principals said that they delegated instructional leadership to department chairs, but in interviews conducted for the study, the researchers did not find evidence those teachers were providing it, the report said.
“It is not the case that the principal is the only person who can lead a school to higher achievement,” Mr. Pauly said. “If nobody in a school, or few people in a school, see it as their priority, then that school has a big problem.”
The study also noted how important it is for principals to stay in one school in order to build those effective partnerships among teachers and parents. Some district policies intentionally rotate principals into new buildings every three to five years out of a belief that frequent moves eliminate complacency, Ms. Wahlstrom said. “To move them around just to move them around is probably not a good idea,” she said. By the same token, district leaders should think carefully before moving “star” principals into struggling schools—a strategy also emphasized in the U.S. Department of Education’s initiative for turning around failing schools—because the schools left behind may have problems.
Professional development for principals is fragmented, the study said. “The whole notion is, you need to have professional development as you do for teachers—it’s ongoing and it’s iterative,” Ms. Wahlstrom said. Day-long seminars are not the answer, she said. Principals are finding professional development through associations and other sources, but “the districts themselves don’t have any coordinated plans to assess where principals are and to meet their needs.”
The study also said that “data-driven decision-making” was a buzzword, but that relatively few of the people interviewed could describe a situation in which they had a discussion based on data that was then used to make a good decision. “Most people had very few examples of where they used data well,” Ms. Wahlstrom said.
However, the most effective principals were the ones who were able to use data and show teachers how to use the information, too. The study said principals “can play a key role in establishing the purposes and expectations for data use. They can provide structured opportunities (collegial groups and time for data use), sessions for data-use training and assistance, access to expertise, and follow-up actions. Where principals do not make data use a priority—where they do not mobilize expertise to support data use and create working conditions to facilitate data use in instructional decision making—teachers are not likely to do it on their own.”
Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va., said that the study reinforces many of the priorities of his organization. “We’ve known for a long time that stability in leadership is important. We see it at the highest level. Districts that have a revolving door for the superintendent tend to be dysfunctional districts. The same thing is true at the building level,” he said.
He also said he appreciated the study’s promotion of collective leadership among principals, teachers, and parents. “In the best performing districts, all of those elements have a voice in the decision making process,” he said.
Gail Connelly, the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, in Alexandria, Va., said the study “really reinforces the need for comprehensive professional development, and also targeted professional development in areas that are new and emerging, such as how to best utilize data to inform decision making.” Her association has been working to create professional development opportunities for its members, she said.
“Principals, to their credit, are finding ways to access resources,” she said.
Mr. Pauly, from the Wallace Foundation, said that the results of the study bring up new issues for the organization while reinforcing existing priorities. The study noted that principals turn over at schools every three to four years, which has a “moderately negative” effect on school culture. “The topic of principal turnover was not on Wallace’s radar,” Mr. Pauly said. But “based on this study, this has to be on the top of the list for everybody.” The study’s demonstration of the importance of principal development reinforces work that the foundation has been doing already, Mr. Pauly said.
Source: Education Week
Uniform education standards: Momentum grows as more states sign on
Most developed countries have one: a national set of education standards for students. The United States has long been the exception, letting the states set their own bars – some high, some low – for student achievement.
But the US looks to be on the verge of change, and, somewhat surprisingly, states themselves are leading the way toward a uniform measurement.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the so-called Common Core standards, which were released in the spring. Several more were poised to do so by early August. Some 40 states are likely to have signed on by next spring.
The rush to acceptance has surpassed the wildest hopes of many education reformers, even as it alarms those who see common standards as usurping local control and a bad idea. Others caution that approval means little unless a state is committed to investing in the reforms.
"I worry that too many people get the notion that this feat, impressive as it is, represents some kind of huge accomplishment, where it's really just the one-mile marker in a 26-mile marathon," says Frederick Hess, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "I worry that there's not going to be the follow-through or commitment or patience to make sure that the reform delivers on its potential."
The hope for the new standards, in a nutshell, is this: that the US will have a clear set of guidelines for what all students should know and when they should know it; that the standards are logical, rigorous, and build on prior learning; and that they are tied to the knowledge high school graduates need to be ready for college or a career.
Having a uniform standard would mean that students who move across state lines would experience less disruption in what they're taught, and that states could collaborate on developing tests and textbooks, say advocates of the change.
"It makes so much sense for us not to have to reinvent the wheel in every state," says Keith Gayler, director of standards for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which led the Common Core effort along with the National Governors Association. "I feel like these are the skills [identified in the Common Core standards] that really are what students need."
Not everyone agrees. Libertarians see it as a move toward "federal" standards (a claim disputed by those involved in the state-led effort) and an intrusion into local autonomy – a charge reinforced by the fact that states competing for some of the billions in federal Race to the Top grants must adopt the Common Core standards by Aug. 2.
Several critics say, too, that the proposed standards are not an improvement.
The math standards "distort the curriculum in a way I think is inappropriate," says Joseph Rosenstein, a math professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey who fought his state's adoption of the standards. "They're weaker than the current New Jersey standards and move in directions that are not so great."
Debate has been even more heated in California and Massachusetts, where existing standards are already rigorous. Massachusetts also has an impressive record of boosting student achievement.
Massachusetts "may continue to do well on the lower national standard, but it will still be a lower-quality standard of assessment," says Jamie Gass of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute in Boston. He opposed Massachusetts' decision July 21 to adopt the Common Core standards, calling them "a race to the middle."
A new study, however, came to a different conclusion. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute graded the standards in all 50 states and found that the Common Core standards – to which it gave an 'A-minus' in math and a 'B-plus' in English – were often superior. Just two states and the District of Columbia scored higher in English. For both math and English, 11 states (plus Washington, D.C.) had standards about on par with Common Core's.
In states where it's a close call as to which is better, Common Core may offer some long-term advantages such as joint development of tests – which is already under way – and teacher training, says Chester Finn, president of the institute and an advocate of national standards. States are free to augment the common standards with about 15 percent of their own material, he notes – a "Common Core Plus" model that seems to be where California is headed.
Even the fiercest advocates agree that adopting the standards is the easiest step toward real change. What needs to follow are new tests, better teacher training and professional development, new curricula and materials, and a system that holds students and schools accountable, they say.
"I don't think anyone is adopting these thinking that it's the last step," says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, which helped develop the standards.
He is optimistic, saying states seem to have the will to see this through. Others are skeptical, noting that strapped budgets and decreased enthusiasm – especially for states that don't win coveted Race to the Top funds – may cause many states to make only superficial change.
"This is a textbook example of how to [roll out a big reform]," says Mr. Hess. "But if you look over the last 40 or 50 years of education reform,... our track record has been pretty dismal."
Source: Christian Science Monitor
No Comments for this article at this time.