Insights Into Learning

Archive for the ‘systems thinking’


The Paradigm Shift: The Principal’s Evolving Role as Instructional Leader

Here is my PowerPoint for the presentation The Paradigm Shift: The Principal’s Evolving Role as Instructional Leader through the EIRC on July 17, 2013.

 

This workshop is designed to help school leaders find out how to…

  • Model 21st Century Leadership
  • Encourage staff to use tools to connect with parents and teachers
  • Redesign staff meetings to meet the needs of the common core
  • Make sense of digital curricula and how it impacts teaching and learning
  • Use data to drive school culture and climate
  • Use “Process-Centered” decision making

Saturday Success Program Week 2: It’s all about learning

Completed success with the tangrams

I have learned that the purpose of this program is create opportunities for our learners to achieve success! Believe me….. the tasks this week were frustrating (All the teachers have to do the activities and experience the frustration along with the students).

 

Our morning activity was a lesson on metacognition (how we process new information). The students did an exercise that allowed them to experience the metacognitive process (mull, connect, rehearse, express, assess, reflect, revisit and learn). I learned this exercise through working with Let Me Learn, an organization whose mission is to research and provide insights into the learning process.

 

In math and language arts, in addition to the allotted time on Success Maker, the students were presented with problem solving activities through the use of Tangrams. Our teachers assisted the students through the process as they experienced frustration with the task. All students eventually solved their Tangrams puzzles and were elated! This lesson integrated percentages, spatial sense, vocabulary, angles and revisited a variety of math concepts.

 

Success!

In the Problem Based Learning, we asked the students to reflect on three simple questions:

  1. What makes school hard for you?
  2. What would you do to show your teacher you learned something
  3. What activities do you like to do outside of school? How would you show a friend how to do that activity?

 

The discussion on learning was very interesting. The students were able to make connections about how they learn things naturally and how they are required to come out of that comfort zone in school.  Next week will build on their learner-awareness and they will begin to formulate their ideas on how they can help close the achievement gap!

 

Our final activity was Silly Cup. We split into 4 teams and we had to flip a cup over so it was right side up. Of course our team won, but eventually every student completed the activity and they all got to keep their cup. The students and teachers were cheering each other on, and we ended the day on a very positive note.

As a Principal, how will I deal with this?

I just posted on my school blog. That was the most difficult post I have ever written…. until now. As a reflective educator, who admittedly does NOT have all the answers, I am left with this question…. How am I going to deal with this? I am supposed to have all of the answers. I am supposed to be strong, brave, committed, and everything else that comes along with being a leader. Me? I am reeling from this tragedy  just like everyone else.

 

I spent yesterday morning reading the tweets of Dawn Hochsprung the Principal of Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed by the shooter defending her school. I hope to think that I would have had the same courage as Dawn, when faced with the same situation. I know through her tweets that she was doing everything she could to make her school safe, as well as create an atmosphere of learning for her students and teachers.

 

I have received several emails from my staff that have outlined their concerns about our safety and security. These valid concerns have made me rethink almost everything about our school. I will begin the process of working with the staff on Monday morning, but once again, I know that I don’t have all the answers.

 

In an attempt to be proactive, I have set up a meeting with parents on Wednesday evening before our Talent Show. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss their concerns about the tragedy, and to ensure that they feel comfortable sending their children to our school. It is my hope that this meeting will be a springboard for the future as we embark on a lengthy process of examining our entire school day from 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM.  Again… I do not have all the answers.
Then I had a epiphany….

 

I read a blog post from my friend Angela Maiers that really helped me. In the post, There is No Lesson Plan for Tragedy, she discusses how WE know what to do because, “Together we are smarter.” I truly believe that statement. Once I get away from the notion of I, and change to WE, I feel more confident, brave, and ready to face the challenges of leading an elementary school after this horrific tragedy. WE will continue to create a world class school, WE will help each other heal, WE will create a safer school, We are a lot stronger because WE work together to solve problems.

 

I know how to deal with this…. WE will deal with this!

 

Resources

There is no lesson plan by Angela Maiers

Dawn Hochsprung tweets

How to talk to kids about a school shooting by Dr. Laura Markham

Useful resources from Larry Ferlazzo

More resources Dr. Michele Borba

Sandy Hook Elementary information

 

Moneyball, and the importance of systems-thinking, process-centered leadership in education

It was the day after Thanksgiving 2012, and I was not able to fall asleep. As I flipped through the channels I stumbled upon Moneyball. I remember when the book came about about 10 years ago and I really wanted to read it. I also remember when the movie came out last year that I really wanted to see it. So, finally this was my chance! Kids were asleep and I had control of the TV. Nice!

The importance of systems thinking

The importance of systems thinking

Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics with the help of his assistant General Manager, was looking to operate a team with limited financial resources. Their process, known as sabermetrics, was contrary to the conventional wisdom prevalent in baseball scouting for over 150 years. Scouts were looking at prospective players in terms of feel, disposition, and even looks. They asked questions of each other like, “How did the ball sound coming off his bat?” or “Does he have what it takes?” when referring to the players. In a sense, they were looking at the intangibles until Billy asked a familiar question that is often overlooked in organizations, “What is the problem?” I wondered to myself if Billy had gone through Six Sigma training.

 

Billy and his assistant GM used data to discover which statistics really mattered in Baseball. Instead of the flashy statistics that fans usually paid attention to such as home runs and stolen bases, they focused on batters getting on base, pitch counts, even where the ball should be hit. This paradigm shift caused an uproar to the scouts and baseball pundits who had been steeped in traditional baseball analysis. Throughout the rest of the film, Billy remains committed to this process-centered, sabermetrics. There are people within the organization who question him and even challenge him, but he remains process-centered. Eventually, the team found consensus and won. The data worked!

source: the Yankee Analysts

My school incorporates the utility of data analysis for everything. For instance, within the realm of Response to Intervention, we facilitate Universal Assessments for all students, and we use that data to determine whorequires basic  skills instruction in reading fluency, reading comprehension, and/or math. Then, after a cycle of individually and research-based interventions, we analyze the data to determine if the intervention cycle was successful. We also analyze our Office Discipline Referrals (ODR’s). We compare our ODR’s against the previous school year, where the referrals are occurring, and which students are committing the referrals. This data advises us on how to provide appropriate remediation. We no longer have to “guess” if a student needs basic skills or if the discipline is “out of control.” We use the data to inform us and keep us process-centered.

 

This movie reaffirmed Six Principles I have learned about leadership and systems thinking through working in the Millville Public School District with the assistance of our PEG consultants:

  • Organizations need to take time to understand their mission and vision – Why do we exist?
  • Leaders need to assemble key stakeholders to undertake a problem solving matrix
  • Processes need to be charted or flowed to identify how/why things happen
  • Action plans that are developed must be time bounded, and an “owner” needs to be assigned, and held accountable
  • Innovation is important, and there should be processes in place to allow people to push the limits, and take chances
  • Periodic updates on the process ensures a better flow communication, and helps everyone stay connected

 

The story of Billy Beane, and the Oakland Athletics ends with the notion that Moneyball and sabermetrics changed baseball.  They were able to prove that money doesn’t solve everything. I agree. All too often in education we are always looking to “buy” the latest program, or solution as opposed to determining the root cause of the problem and doing the difficult work to solve the problem. If we follow the methodological framework of revered systemic thinkers to identify problems at their core, we will find ourselves true competitors in a 21st century educational environment that we call schools!

 

Moneyball Trailer

Resources:

Moneyball 

Performance Excellence Group

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

source hotel images – google

Picture this- you walk into your child’s school and are greeted by a concierge, not a security guard. This person knows everything about the who, what, where, and why of the school. As you gaze around the walls and the floors everything is in tip top condition. Mirrors are clean, the floor is immaculate, and the artwork on the wall symbolically represents the culture and climate of the school. Not to mention there is  fresh water and you can see the mint leaves, and orange slices at the top of the jug. Ahhh, and its fresh!

Your concierge takes you to your destination, and for this day you need to pick up your child. By the time you get to the office, your child is patiently waiting, chatting with the receptionist about her day (Somehow it was communicated that you were there and to get your child from class – no waiting). You swipe your license and you are able to take your child. But, we are talking about kids, so she tells you that she forgot something, and you both venture to her class to get it.

As you walk to her classroom there is a staff member in the hallway who greets you with a smile and asks if there is anything they can help you with. While your daughter is getting her work, the  staff member talks to you about the school, and seems very informed on the educational goals and objectives of the school. She even can share an anecdote with you about how your daughter helped her clean up spilled milk the other day in the restaurant (cafeteria).

Then, as luck would have it you need to use the restroom, so the staff member personally takes you to the restroom and makes sure the students aren’t in there. You look around at this “student” bathroom and the fixtures are all polished, there is artwork on the walls, everything is clean, and smelling fresh. As you wash your hands with the automatic sink, the smell of cucumber soap waifs through the air. This is a student bathroom, you think.

In the hallway, there is another person waiting for you with your daughter and the three of you walk to the exit. On your way out of the door, the staff member reminds you to scan the QR code. You remember hearing something about this at back to school night, but you haven’t tried it yet. The  staff member scans the QR code for you and on her phone she shows you how to access the days events, the teachers blogs and a 15 second tout from the assembly earlier that day. She then helps you scan it and laughs, “Just don’t drive and watch the tout because we don’t want you driving off the road. Off you go to the doctor’s appointment, knowing that your daughter is getting the 5 Star treatment at school!e

Is this what I signed up for?

Mrs. Lunemann has lead the charge to create a 21st century classroom within a welcoming, student-centered learning space

After everyone cleared out from another successful Back to School night, I sat in my office in amazement. Maybe it was part exhaustion, part reflection, but never mind all that. This had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with my family.

See, when I started at RM Bacon Elementary about a year and half ago I was told of this theme: “Then, Now, Always Family.” I like themes, and see their importance played out on a daily basis. But there is something very different happening at my school. It’s not just a theme, its reality.

Everyone does Back To School Night, and so does our school, but we do it very differently. Well, I have to be honest, we do EVERYTHING differently! No matter if our teachers have one parent, or they have standing room only, they embody the principles of solid classroom instruction. Each session I went into last night had technology at the forefront. Smart boards, videos, blogs, interactive math and LAL lesson, sign ups for remind101.com, anything that is used during the day was on display last night! Not to mention the traditional “All About Me” posters, artwork, and messages to parents. Our teachers do it all!

 

A united front in 3rd grade!

Another thing that struck me, and I will go on record that I had nothing to do with, was the collaboration. Two of the grades decided to scrap the individual presentations, and worked collaboratively on grade level presentations. As a parent, I would have thought… united front! As a principal, I beamed.

Special area teachers, resource, and basic skills interventionists, were not to be outdone. They milled about the school talking with parents, assisting with anything that was needed, and made the parents feel welcome.

I received so many well wishes from excited parents. I can honestly say that they trust us with educating their children. We do not take that responsibility lightly. They asked about the upcoming activities, and many signed up for our Home and School Association.

Here was our Back To School Trailer:

This IS what I signed up for!

#RM Bacon is doing the Impossible!

 As I sit here, alone in my school on the eve of the 2012-13 school year I had a thought, a connection, and I was inspired! (If you want to hear the song I was listening to, go to the end of the post)

Bright colors, appealing environment

I took one more walk around the building and something hit me – like a ton of bricks….

A chair, a storage container, a really great idea!

RM Bacon is really doing the impossible! (Our theme this year is Impossible is Nothing!)

Student desks are so last century!

I am not sure where it started, or when, but there has been a transformation in the learning spaces of the school.

Bloom’s Pyramid

Some teachers had to give up their space, some had to update because of changes in enrollment, and all of the teachers maintained a positive outlook!

Resource Room teachers completely redesigned their learning space

 

Teachers, armed with fresh ideas gathered from facebook, pintrest, and twitter have redesigned their learning spaces, and paid attention to the most special detail – our message!

Love how the painted on chalckboard compliments the traditional wooden closet

After my walk, I felt the emergence of 3 major themes: Classroom Instruction that Works Strategies along with Bloom’s Taxonomy, Positive Behavioral Intervention Support (PBIS), and the Daily 5.

Who has focus on CITWS?

Wow, as if they all collaborated with each other?

Self taught Daily 5

This newness spread throughout the school in a collective fashion that is sending the students messages of hope, understanding, and accountability.

We are World Class!

A place where they will do the impossible, in a purposeful, collaborative environment.

Gandy’s pond with critters inside

I was so impressed! I had to blog about how awesome the teachers are here at RM Bacon Elementary.

Who wouldn’t want to go to read with the teacher?

This is truly a world-class school, in a world class district!

 

Are you going to sink or swim?

 

These are just some of the many examples that I found on the eve of 2012-13 school year… Where Impossible is Nothing!

 

You Matter at #RMBACON!

 

 Thank you teachers!

Lots of movement, new second grade class!

This was the song I was listening to when I thought about this post:

The Life of an Educator: My Skype with Justin Tarte

 This is the second in my summer series on educators who are making a difference.

Mr. and Mrs. Tarte

I Skyped with Justin Tarte on Thursday, July 5 fresh off of the Fourth of July holiday. We started at 9AM my time, which for Justin was a little earlier. Justin, who was recently named Director of Curriculum & Support Services in the Union R-XI School District in Union, Missouri, and I sat down in his living room(and I was in an office) for a discussion on all things education. 

Justin’s rise in administration has been quick. Prior to becoming the Director of Curriculum and Support Services, he was an assistant principal at Poplar Bluff Junior High School in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He taught German at Seckman High School in the Fox C-6 School District in Arnold, Missouri. He loved being a teacher, and he put a lot of time into building connections for his students, and expanding their horizons for a global perspective. He began his pursuit of graduate studies to grow both personally, and professionally. It was through the connections he made in graduate school that he learned about this new-fangled thing, social media.

The Tarte’s dog

Upon learning the power of social media, Justin began to integrate it into his German classroom. He created a facebook page, twitter account, and a blog. He felt that being a German teacher easily lent itself to using social media as a tool to help his student gain a global prospective. They did, and so did Justin. Through social media, he began to see a whole new perspective on learning, professional development, and global connections. As Justin transitioned into administration, he continued developing his digital footprint, and those around him.

When I asked Justin about the age old question (how do you have the time?) he said, “Right now, this saves time. I am actually more available, resourceful and knowledgeable as a result of using social media. It actually makes my job easier.” Justin is passionate about the power of social media. He continued by adding, “I have evolved as an educational leader through the use of social media. I am learning as much, or at times more, then when I was in my doctoral program.” That is powerful!

Justin believes we are on the cusp of a new age in education, but we have a long way to go. He feels we have to celebrate our accomplishments, tell our school’s story, and not be overly critical  of our mistakes. He sees the future of education as a transition that will combine new, and old ideas alike. Justin feels that the way education will transition best is through the human resources departments. “The human resource departments in schools need to be held to higher importance. We need to attract top tier candidates, and also go out and recruit.”

In his new position, Justin is spending a lot of time getting familiar with the trends in curriculum, instruction along with best practices in professional development. He sees the future of instruction and the integration of technology as one in the same. Ideas such as on- to-one, and BYOD are “no brainers.” He would like to see teachers painting their walls with white board paint to spurn creativity. When asked if technology will put educators out of business, Justin responded, “If it puts us out of business, then that’s our fault.”

We are all cheering on Justin because he plays an important role in cheering on members of the PLN. The Union R-XI School District is fortunate to have Justin as their new Curriculum Director, so they get a BOOM! (This is a common response Justin provides on tweets, and blogs that he supports) In addition, we will all benefit from his new position because we will continue to learn from his blog posts and tweets.

Check back for the following educators who will be featured in the series: The Nerdy Teacher, Dwight Carter, Chris Wejr, Todd Whitaker, and Erin Klein. In addition, later in the summer you will read about Patrick Larkin, Lisa Dabbs, Jessica Johnson, Curt Rees, and many more!

Resources:

Justin Tarte: Life of and Educator

What do you stand for?

 

IDEA Paint

Framework for Success: My Conversation with Ceri Dean

Creating the Environment for Learning (Framework for Instructional Planning fig. A.1 p. XVI)

Spike Cook and Ceri Dean

Setting the Objectives The purpose of this blog post is to share my experience with Ceri Dean, lead author of Classroom Instruction That Works, (CITWs) second edition. She visited my school in May of 2012 as part of the ASCD and McREL film series on the new CITWS which will be launched later this summer. Ceri has been with the Mid- continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) for 20 years. She is currently the Vice President of Field Services. In addition to holding a variety of positions with McREL, her career in education has included being a high school math teacher and an editor. She earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

My desired outcome of this post is for the reader to understand more about Ceri and to apply the tenets of the new CITWs through our shared conversations and observations during her visit to our school. My overarching goal, through my learning and application, will be to provide the rationale for your learning.

Providing Feedback

Celese Nolan going through sound check

Ceri is such a cool individual. As I observed her during the filming at my school, I was amazed with her ability to help us with our pre-filming jitters. “She was a calming force for us,” remarked Jaime Sutton. Celese Nolan, who was involved in two classroom filming sessions, immediately felt a connection to Ceri. “She is an extremely knowledgeable educator,” Celese noted.

Providing Recognition

Ceri was very busy during the first day of filming. This was her opportunity to show the world what Millville has been learning and to celebrate the stories of the students and teachers who were participating. She made sure to watch both filming sessions, talk with the teachers and the students.

Reinforcing Effort

Ryan Hudson after filming

After Ryan Hudson’s filming session, he walked right by me to get to Ceri. He later said, “No disrespect Spike, but I wanted to hear what Ceri thought!” Ceri took time to talk with Ryan about his lesson. She listened to him as he explained what he was attempting and what he felt he accomplished. Ceri gave him specific feedback that reinforced his objective!

Helping Students Develop Understanding (Framework for Instructional Planning fig. A.1 p. XVI)

Cues and Questions

I asked Ceri to discuss the important aspects of the new book. Here are some of the concepts I wrote down as we talked:

Emphasis of the new book:

  • Clarify the concept around strategies
  • Cooperative learning
  • Positive interdependence
  • Not always focused on social skills
  • Keagan strategies
  • Is this cooperative learning?

What is McREL?

  • McREL is a learning organization
  • Our mission statement is really important to us. “Making a difference in the quality of education and learning for all through excellence in applied research, product development, and service.”
  • We are focused on changing the odds

How can schools improve?

  • If schools are focused on the use of strategies with intentionality and quality and fidelity
  • Using CITW makes you think more deeply about instruction
  • Framework is there for continued improvement  (Success In Sight)
  • School leaders and teachers need to ask and answer questions together
  • Question your data
  • Teachers should be seen as action researchers and learners
  • Everyone must work collaboratively (students, teachers, parents, administration, community)
  • One person can’t do it all
  • Own your projects!

Non-linguistic representation

I showed Ceri my blog to provide her with the context in which I would be writing. We talked about how the image of the school can impact on the learning environment.

Summarizing and Note Taking

Jaime Sutton and Ceri Dean discussing CITWS

As Ceri talked, I was feverishly taking notes. Here was someone with a wealth of knowledge that I wanted to learn from. I asked her about something I have been pondering for some time: the evolution of school administration. As a new principal I see how much the job has changed. She was involved with the National Awards Program for model Professional Development in late 1990s. In order to win this award, schools were required to go through a detailed evaluation process. There were site visits, and teams of evaluators determine how Professional Development really made a difference in the school. What the process revealed was the importance of Principals in action. The administrators were breaking the mold of what was expected at the time. They were the first who were transitioning away from management towards leadership. They were also the ones who developed the patterns in which most administrators are required to accomplish.

Assigning Homework and Providing Practice

Lights, Camera, Action!

Where is the research in schools? Ceri talked about the 10 regional educational labs throughout the country that are sponsored by the Department of Education and provide research opportunities to school districts. They conduct randomized controlled research studies. These labs have produced a substantial amount of research that has assisted the educational community. Recruitment can be difficult because who wants to be in the control group? Not to mention that there are a lot competing priorities in schools and districts such as parent support, time, State Assessments, and resources.

McREL, creating a place where every person needs to be a learner. Ceri spoke very highly of the tool that McREL uses to understand and build their own learning community through using Gallup’s strengthsfinder® survey. Each member takes the survey and there are 34 strengths. Everyone displays a card with their top 5 strengths on their desks. It assists the teams as they work together. Strengthsfinder® helps individuals and teams maximize strengths. Often times, they ask each other, “What is working well? How can we build on what we are already doing?”

Now discover your strengths. Purchase the book and the code will be at the back of the book. http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx?gclid=CNSF9J-qnrACFak7OgodjBQkWA)

 

Helping Students Extend And Apply Knowledge (Framework for Instructional Planning fig. A.1 p. XVI)

Identifying Similarities and Differences

I am sure I am not alone in wondering how McREL was going to fill the void left by Robert Marzano. Often referred to as “Marzano’s strategies” or simply “Marzano” the first edition of Classroom Instruction That Works (2001) became an effective tool for educators to improve instruction.

Our discussion compared the 2nd addition with the 2001 edition.

2001 Edition

  • Lead authors Marzano, Pickering, and Pollack
  • Best-selling Book
  • Meta-Analysis up to 1998
  • Book was grouped based on 9 strategies

Same

  • Can be used with Power-walkthroughs
  • 9 strategies
  • Focus on best practices
  • Framework for success

2012

  • Lead authors Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, and Stone
  • Update on the research since 1998
  • Chose the conservative results
  • Strategies are grouped within the framework for instructional planning (3 parts)
  • Sought to understand what the updated research looked like
  • Used narrative reviews, qualitative, and theoretical literature
  • Some strategies hadn’t been researched at all since 1998, so they kept the original data
  • The small number of studies for some strategies are a result of more restrictive definitions
  • Technical report on CITWs was not included in the book for easier reading, but can be found on web(http://www.mcrel.org/PDF/Instruction/0121RR_CITW_report.pdf#search=%22technical%20report%20on%20CITW%22)

Generating and Testing Hypothesizes

ASCD Crew and RM Bacon Crew

McREL’s theory is that the school improvement is within everyone’s reach. They have developed a Success in Sight program to help schools turnaround. Through the Success in Sight, McREL assists schools in understanding the change process. Are they dealing with 1st order or second order change? The solution is simple. Schools need to use research based strategies. They must (1) use data to set and monitor goals, (2) use research-based practices to make improvements and increase student achievement, (3) foster and engage in shared leadership for improvement, (4) create and maintain a purposeful community, and (5) apply a comprehensive and systematic continuous improvement process. Understanding how to manage the change process is part of what teams learn through the Success in Sight process.

Conclusion

Spending time with such an incredible educator as Ceri Dean was one of the highlights of this school year. Ceri, as stated prior, is a really cool person. She is funny, intelligent, and insightful. It is clear from my time with her that McREL and the Classroom Instruction That Works series is in good hands.

Resources:

Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd Edition)

Ceri Dean

Success in Sight

 

Tell Me Your ZIP Code and I Will Tell You Your Score

This is less a blog post, but rather an open letter looking for help. I am not blaming anyone. I just need an example (s). Please, someone, show me the way. There has to be someone who defied the odds of their ZIP code.

I am the Principal of a recently designated “Focus” School by the State of New Jersey. According to the State’s Department of Education, a Focus School is, “a school that has room for improvement in areas that are specific to the school. As part of the process, focus schools will receive targeted and tailored solutions to meet the school’s unique needs. There are 183 focus schools.

The designation for my particular school is, “Lowest Subgroup Performance: Schools whose two lowest performing sub groups rank among the lowest combined proficiency levels in the state. Schools in this category have an overall proficiency rate for these lowest performing sub groups of 29.2% or lower.”

Ironically, when I found out that we were designated as a Focus School, we were not given specifics. So, I really don’t know (other than lowest performing sub group) why we are designated. In the past, this type of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) was determined by the students who were enrolled in the school prior to the start of the school year. I have heard, but cannot confirm, that the new designations were based on whoever took the test in the school, no matter how long they have attended. (For instance, my sister school RD Wood, a Priority School,  has had over 200 transfer in/outs this year alone.)

As I looked at the breakdown of the state data, something began to really stick out. It seemed to be correlated with ZIP codes and performance. According to the NJDOE website, District Factor Group (DFG) designations were, “First developed in 1975 for the purpose of comparing students’ performance on statewide assessments across demographically similar school districts. The categories are updated every ten years when the Census Bureau releases the latest Decennial Census data.” The NJDOE explains that there are six variables that further assist in determining a DFG:  “1) Percent of adults with no high school diploma 2) Percent of adults with some college education 3) Occupational status 4) Unemployment rate 5) Percent of individuals in poverty 6) Median family income.”

So, “A” is the lowest designation and B, C, D, E etc. are progressively more affluent districts. You get the point. As I looked over the report, I found some really interesting details.

Of the 75 Priority Schools, 81% were categorized as DFG A, and 100% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

Of the 183 Focus Schools, 54% were categorized as DFG A, and 70% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

Of the 112 Reward Schools, 4% (5 schools) were DFG A, and 32% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

(Please note that the vast majority of schools in NJ will not be found in any of these categories, and at the time of this blog, do not have a designation.)

Still, I’m not blaming anyone, but why so few DFG-A’s that were designated as Reward Schools? Why are so many Priority and Focus Schools?

I am looking for examples of schools who, despite their socio-economic status, achieve high test scores on a regular basis. I have some criteria, though, because I do not want to play the shell game. These schools must fit this criteria:

-          Is not a magnet school

-          Has not recently been “redistricted”

-          Is not a school for the “gifted”

-          Maintains the same type of demographics (sub groups included) from the onset of being identified as low performing (failing to make AYP for multiple years) to achieving a status reflecting success (Reward or not on the Focus or Priority list).

See, I am cautious when presented with examples of schools who overcame insurmountable odds to achieve high levels of success on high stakes testing in their state because there are usually a few asterisks. Under NCLB, schools who were not meeting Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) were designated as such. Some districts, with the best intentions, decided to spread the wealth (or in this case, non-wealth) and re-district. I cannot blame them. Some districts changed the nature of the school and once again, I cannot blame them.  They probably discovered Chicago’s Nettlehorst School, a “national example of a turnaround,” and decided to follow suit. Did you know that the poverty rate at Nettlehorst School went from 83% in 1999 to 34% in 2010? (Read more about this here)

 

What about the teachers? There is a drum beat pertaining to teacher effectiveness sounding in our media, dinner table conversations, and administrative meetings. I am sure that effectiveness can be improved, but I wonder about the vast throngs of teachers who do teach in DFG- A schools. Is it statistically possible that in the number of priority and focus schools in New Jersey that they have the least effective teachers? I can speak for my teachers and tell you that they integrate technology, best practices, and research-based methods, attended the same Universities as their counterparts in wealthier districts, and do all this day after day and year after year because, well, they think they can make a difference. Not to mention, they were “guided” by the State of New Jersey through the now defunct Collaborative Assessment and Planning for Achievement (CAPA).

 

So I ask you, I beg you, and I plead for your assistance. Can somebody please send me examples of schools that have defied the odds and have achieved sustained success on their state’s high stakes assessment? *Please remember, no shell games.

Resources:

Overview of Current Designation: http://education.state.nj.us/broadcasts/2012/APR/11/6423/Memo%20re%20accountability%20and%20Regional%20Achievement%20Centers.pdf

List of Priority, Focus and Reward Schools in NJ:

http://www.nj.gov/education/reform/PFRschools/Priority-Focus-RewardSchools.pdf

Nettlehorst Article:

http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/January-2011/Nettelhorst-Elementary-Schools-Remarkable-Turnaround

Changing demographics at Nettlehorst:

http://iirc.niu.edu/School.aspx?source=About_Students&source2=Educational_Environment&schoolID=150162990252370&level=S