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

A year of firsts!

With only a few days left in the 2011-2012, I would like to reflect on this school year. This was the year of firsts.

Here is a list of my firsts:

– First full year as a principal

– First year on Social Media: facebook, twitter, pintrest, google+, edmodo

– First ASCD conference!

– First school blog!

– First personal blog!

(And I am sure I forgetting some things!)

It is been such a rewarding year being principal here at RM Bacon Elementary. I could not have accomplished this without the symphony of musicians playing the beautiful music that is our learning.

Here are some things we have accomplished as a team:

– Successfully implemented the “Your Image is Our Image” theme

– Started an Edmodo group with a school in Wisconsin

– Redesigned our Basic Skills Instruction to mirror the RTI process

– Raised thousands of dollars for charities

– Implemented a new math series

– Increased teacher and student use of technology

– Hosted ASCD film crew for Classroom Instruction That Works 2nd edition

– Began an “un” professional development model on Fridays focusing on technology integration and application

– Updated our PBIS model

– Received approval for 21st Century Learning Program for next year

(And I am sure I forgetting some things!)

In addition to all of this, I had an amazing year working with parents, teachers and students on the ambitious goal of being the highest performing Elementary School in Millville within 3 years and  in the County within 5 years. We have established a process-centered approach to being world class.

I am already looking forward to next year…when “Impossible is Nothing!”

 

Conversation with a Futurist? Part 2

During the ASCD12 conference in Philadelphia I attended a session with Futurist, Watts Wacker. He began the discussion by saying that he did not come to answer questions, but rather to ask them. He immediately had my attention. Then he began to speak, and I tried my hardest to keep up. Here is the stream of conscious notes I took. In order to develop deeper understanding I took the notes, and separated them into 5 parts. I also worked with a mind-mapping genius to bring the text, and concepts to another level. I hope it hurts your brain like it did mine.

Part 2 of 5

There is a Renewal of Thought. With that said, is it a renewal or a merely a shift?

sabotagetimes.com

Although some feel that our votes do not matter, we really can vote against anyone. For instance, Joseph Kony’s reputation was taken down with the help of Social Media. How did it happen? Kony 2012 was a film created by Invisible Children that advocated the capture and persecution of the Ugandan Leader Joseph Kony for the alleged atrocities he has committed against children. The campaign began on March 5, 2012 and the goal was to have him arrested by December of 2012. As the video went viral, the world spoke – over 86 million times.

Google is in everything, and they are ahead of everything. Want an answer to a question? Google it. Want directions, web sites, mail, social media, computers, software, and information? You got it, google. In this age of uncertainty, business is competitive, predatory, symbiotic, and parasitic. Yet the goodness business model exists. All we need is do right to do well.  Did you know Panera bread is experimenting with a pay what you can model? The underlying philosophy is that business is an obligation. For example, Toyota has an obligation to providing the most cost effective automobiles, but that is not their mission. Toyota’s mission is to be your car company for life. Simple as that. In addition, me is now a business model.

careforpa.org

It is clear from the age of information that there lies an opportunity to learn anything you want. You can learn more than your doctor about something. That was almost impossible just 25 years ago. We revered doctors. Now they are a means for us to get our own medical treatment. We all have the ability to develop our own algorithm about whatever we want. Authority is no longer a thing. Been in a classroom lately? The students, with their access to hand held devices (calling them a phone is so last age) that can instantly reveal that the teacher doesn’t know everything.  Uh oh, teachers, embrace that or the students will send you packing! Be your own self authority.

 

 

Missed Part 1?

 

 

Resources:

ASCD 12 Virtual Resources: http://ascd.social27.com/ASCD/ASCD_Home

Watts Wacker’s web site:  www.firstmatter.com

Triz-Journal: http://www.triz-journal.com/

Joseph Kony: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Kony

Kony 2012: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kony_2012

The Open Refrigerator Stare

source: dinnerwithmaxjenke.blogspot.com

Please tell me you know what I am talking about. Prompted by an unsatisfied feeling in your stomach, you wander into the kitchen, open the refrigerator door, and stare deeply into the depths of the cold, giant box. I have been doing this since I was a kid. Sometimes, I even pull a double where I have both the refrigerator and freezer doors open simultaneously. This drives my wife nuts! She says it wastes money, and can affect the contents in the refrigerator. She is actually right on this one. Shouldn’t I have a plan before I look into the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry?  Then I think to myself, is there a lesson here for education?

Many administrators throughout the world are doing the “Open Refrigerator Stare” in their schools.  Here is how it goes. Once we know the curricular shelves are stocked, we wonder curiously down hallways and begin opening doors, classroom doors.

source: sites.google.com

Some of our purchases are front and center. They look as delicious as they did in the store and gulp, we eat it right up. But as we stare longer, we notice numerous items in the back, sometimes piled on top of each other. We may remember buying them, or not. Some of these things have really nice packaging, but when we open them up they spoil quickly. Still others don’t have a very long shelf life, bruise easily, and we just end up staring at them. Often partially satisfied or even unsatisfied, we close the door.

Invariably, someone goes shopping again and announces, “The new packages are in!” Then, we begin the process all over by packing the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Sometimes we throw out dated items, sometimes we think maybe we will use them later, and other times we store them somewhere else. Either way, it all gets packed in there.

source: stillwaterpubliclibrary.blogspot.com

So, how do we thwart the Open Refrigerator Stare and subsequent wasteful practices that plague Education? The plan is simple-we need to refine our practices and operationalize a methodical and process-centered system that is focused on results. The results can be anything from saving money, improved student achievement, increased professional development. It really depends on what you want in the refrigerator.

Systems thinking

source: modernanalyst.com

According to Senge (1990) systems thinking is the process that helps leaders perceive how aspects of the organization influence each other. For instance, in schools, there is a system of influences on student performance. In addition to teachers,  there are parents, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, secretaries, Board of Education, administration, technology, laws, mandates, nutrition, etc. that impact students. If everyone understands that they are part of the “system” and understand the mission/vision of the system, then the system is dedicated to student achievement. Seems easy, right? Well, it isn’t.

Process Centered not people centered

Hammer (1996) coined the phrase “process-centered” to describe the importance of organizations’ understanding their own processes. For a school, this is a way to view all purchases, interactions, curriculum, etc. in terms of the mission/vision as opposed to someone with a “bright idea” or “money to spend.” In order for process-centered to work, people have to put aside their positions, personal beliefs, and power struggles to do what is in the best interest of the organization. Under a process-centered school district, the central administration (with a balcony view of the district) becomes more of a “quality control” focusing on the inter-working parts of all the schools, curriculum, etc with the mission/vision driving the way.

Focused on Results

source: one-now.com

W.E. Demmings coined the phrase “We inspect what we expect.” He believed that organizations, if focused on quality, needed to follow a simple mathematical equation: “Quality= Results of work/ Total costs.” In education, we have been accustomed to our “feelings.” Often administrators will say, “I feel our students are not behaving lately!” The first question, in response to that, would be, “How do you know?” Then you would ask, “What data do you have to support that? Is it a trend? Was this an outlier of a month? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” Asking the right questions can lead us to create the necessary system or processes to achieve our goals, and overcome real (and perceived) problems.

See, it’s not that simple anymore to go on feelings. In fact, I believe the “feelings” of educators have us going in a million different directions. No wonder we are constantly being criticized and vilified in the press. What are really focused on? Do we have the capacity to tell our story, with appropriate data to support? Furthermore, if we want teachers to make data-based decisions, then we as administrators need to lead by example, and open the refrigerator door in a systemic, process-centered way that is focused on results.

Resources:

Hammer, M. (1996). Beyond Reengineering: How the Process Centered Organization is Changing Our work and Lives. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. New York.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Currency Doubleday. New York.

Transforming Schools Through Powerful, Systemic Walkthroughs http://www.wix.com/missdiscepola/ascd12