Wednesday, March 30, 2011
In less than three years, Mountainville Academy has gone from a school of controversy and leadership turnover (three directors in less than a year) to a thriving school with long waiting lists and national recognition. The Tribune retells the story here.
Mountainville has strong leadership at all levels. The school has successfully focused its staff, its students, and its curriculum on achieving its mission. Mountainville is preparing the leaders of the future through academic and character excellence.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Mountainville is a client of my company. I claim no credit for their excellence. Just happy to be part of the team.
Monday, March 28, 2011
More of the same.
From the Wall Street Journal:
I ask [AFT President] Ms. Weingarten about union-backed laws in 14 state mandating that teachers be laid off by seniority instead of job performance, and whether they help improve public schools. Why can't teachers who have been chronically absent from work be the first to go? Or the ones who have been convicted of crimes? Or the ones who are languishing—with full pay and benefits—in some "reserve pool" because no school will hire them? Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said that "last in, first out" policies hit low-income kids hardest because the poor are more likely to attend schools where teachers have less seniority.
Says Ms. Weingarten: "It's not the perfect mechanism but it's the best mechanism we have. You have cronyism and corruption and discrimination issues. We're saying let's do things the right way. We don't want to see people getting laid off based on who they know instead of what they know. We don't want to see people get laid off based on how much they cost." She praises New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for defending the state's seniority system.
What about teacher-tenure rules that offer lifetime sinecures after two or three years in the classroom and compel principals to hire bad instructors? "If you eliminated due process, what we would get is we would lose innovation and risk-taking in schools," she says.
And so it goes. Ms. Weingarten insists that teachers unions are agents of change, not defenders of the status quo. But in the next breath she shoots down suggestions for changes—vouchers, charter schools, differential teacher pay and so on—that have become important parts of the reform conversation.
That was my first thought when I read this piece in the DNews about iPads in classrooms. I was struck by this passage: "'There are times my room is so quiet I have to stop and check and see if my students are still here, because they are just so engaged with the iPads,' Bringhurst said."
So, nothing against Bringhurst, but was any teaching going on? I'm reminded of a story a parent once told me when I was a principal about her son at a different school. Her son's science teacher taught a lesson that the mother observed. The lesson? Telling the students to open their text books, and then playing the audio book of the chapter.
I'm sure the room was very quiet.
Technology in the classroom can be a powerful tool if it is used to leverage the ability of quality teachers to reach more students. Using technology as a multi-media textbook from which children just read and absorb information may be exciting for kids and educators while they're new. But the novelty will wear off, and soon we'll discover that we need teachers again.
Public education is in need of a real strategic plan to use education to make good teachers more effective, to spread the most precious resource we have in schools (the limited labor of excellent teachers) to more and more students. iPads can be part of that, but not if they are just handed out to kids as fancy new toys.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
This news from the Trib the other day isn't really news. It just sets up my dander because it's so antithetical to what would actually help schools improve.
The U.S. Department of Education announced Friday that it will award Utah an additional $2.6 million in School Improvement Grants to turn around more of the state’s persistently lowest achieving schools starting next school year.I know this isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but the opposite incentive is actually what we need. What is the most important thing to the school system? What do they always say is the number one thing they need? More money. And how do you get more money? Consistent failure.
If we really hope to see change, we need to put the incentives on success, not on failure.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Why is this important? Besides the obvious reasons that transparency and accountability help parents make better decisions and incentivize schools to improve, the biggest reason for school grading is to get the system off its butt to measure individual student achievement over time and to make individual students the focus of public education.
When I started in public education in 2005 after five years as a teacher and principal in private ed, the state was just (many years after the technology was available to do so) implementing the SSID system, which assigned students an individual number that followed them when they transferred schools. It's now six years later, and Utah still does not have a reporting and assessment system that tracks individual student growth over time.
How are Utah's public school's doing? We don't really know. The Criterion-Referenced Tests that are the core of Utah's student assessment don't measure growth, so we have no way to know which schools are helping struggling students improve, or which just have smarter kids. Implementing such a system would actually be much easier than the one we currently have, but bureaucratic inertia and fear of accountability keep in place a more complicated and less transparent system.
If school grading can create the incentives and break down the bureaucratic wall standing in the way of common sense testing and accountability, it will be the best thing to happen to Utah schools in a long time.
Friday, March 11, 2011
SB65, which allows students to take ala carte classes from online charter schools or online district programs, passed the House and Senate, and will be in place next year.
This new Statewide Online Education Program means that students will be able to enroll in their local public high school (or charter school or other public school of their choice) and still take one or more classes from an online school that offers courses not available at the traditional brick and mortar school.
This will be a tremendous improvement for students in rural districts, especially. Smaller rural schools have more limited offerings in all subjects. Now, a student at Richfield High can take most classes at the school, but opt to take some advanced math classes, or an elective not offered by the school, at an online school, with funding for that portion of the school day flowing to the online school.
The program also implements a needed paradigm shift in education. Instead of students getting credit and schools getting paid based on seat-time, here students have flexibility and schools have accountability. Students will have the flexibility to take and complete courses as their abilities and situation allows. If a student masters concepts and moves through quickly, they can complete the course in a matter of weeks instead of months. And if they don't satisfactorily complete it, then the online school loses 40 percent of the funding for the student.
Those two changes are the most important of the bill because they set a new standard for how education can be funded and provided in Utah. If this model works, we can improve all education funding and standards so that students are judged based on outcomes and achievement, instead of time in a desk, and schools are paid based on that achievement. Those incentives improve education for all.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
From the DNews:
After two years of going without, it looks as though new students entering Utah's public education system will be paid for with new state dollars.
But it appears an attempt to change the way charter schools are funded won't happen in the 2011 legislative session.
A $3 billion public education base budget was passed and signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Gary Herbert.
The public education spending plan, parts of which has yet to be finalized, allocates about $60 million to cover the educational costs of an estimated 14,700 new students expected to enter classrooms next school year. That amounts to about a 2.2 percent funding increase in education funding over last year.
The budget also funds a $15 million elementary reading program and $7.5 million for optional extended-day kindergarten — a program that was on the governor's wish-list. Those programs were not funded earlier in the budget process this session.
The value of the amount of money sent to districts per child, called the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU), also increased this year, but not entirely because more money was allocated to education. Money that was previously earmarked for certain programs and sent to districts in addition to per pupil dollars has now been folded into the WPU. According to the budget bill, the WPU will increase to $3,035 from its level of $2,577 last year.
A funding bill that would have switched up charter school funding has been abandoned, Newbold said, because House Republicans could not reach a consensus on the issue. HB313 would have required districts to send more local property taxes to fund charter schools. Since charter schools can't levy local taxes, the state pays about 75 percent of the dollars they miss out on while districts make up for about 25 percent. Newbold's bill would have switched the full responsibility over to districts over 13 years, but discussions in House caucuses didn't end in a consensus.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
HB313, that would have elevated charter student funding to a more equitable level with students in district schools was sent back to the Rules Committee Monday night, effectively killing the bill for this session.
While charters have enjoyed great success with smaller (but still important) bills, this continues to be the hurdle we just can't jump. Our students will be second class citizens of the public education system for at least another year, but after demonstrating that the problem couldn't be solved this year, I'm doubtful it ever will.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
From the DNews.
The 7 percent cut to public education's budget is back to zero, according GOP legislative leadership, after weeks of wrangling that at one point escalated education budget cuts to 11 percent.
As the budget moves toward finalization, lawmakers intend to allocate between $43 million and $53 million to public education to fund new students, said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. That's in addition to funding at last year's level.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Today, two of my newest and favoritest bills passed the House Education Committee. HB339, and HB388. I wrote about them here.
Things are moving fast here in the final days. Long way to go, and we need support. Please send a link to my post below on HB313 to your representative.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
This week, the text of two charter-related bills were released. HB388 by Chris Herrod, and HB339 by Eric Hutchings. I love them both.
388 would further the idea that educational accountability is based on student learning outcomes, not the prevalence of reports and regulations that restrict what can go into a school. The bill specifies that charters will report on its annual finances and all other reports required by law or by its charter, but that authorizers can't add to a growing stream of new reports that add to the administrative burden. Further, the bill would restrict any new regulation or compliance standard to be consistent with the purposes of charter schools outlined in statute, and cannot interfere with local autonomy and innovation in achieving those goals.
339 would codify the Legislature's commitment to charter expansion and make its funding commitment to new and innovative schools more secure, by removing a six-month "limbo" for charter schools that are authorized but have to wait for the legislature to pick a number based on what they think the state funding situation will be 18 months in the future. This bill sets a cap, or target, of charter enrollment growth of 2 percent of district enrollment each year.
Please add these bills to the list of what gets your support at the Capitol this year.
In an 8-5 vote, HB313, which would calculate funding for charter students equitably and distribute the costs more fairly, passed the House Education Standing Committee today over the loud objections of the UEA, the State School Boards' and Superintendents' Associations, and several committee members.
Kory Holdaway of the UEA argued that we should put a higher priority on students in traditional public schools because that's where the majority of kids are, implying that it's okay to continue to short change charter students. Rep. McIff argued that this would create an incentive to create more charter schools, which I surmise is a negative for him, due at least to the fixed or shrinking population in districts he represents. Claire Geddes, who fancies herself a "government accountability" watchdog, argued that charters lack oversight and are too expensive, anyway.
The truth about the bill can be illustrated by agreeing to two universally agreed-upon principles, and then applying those principles to the facts of the current situation and what the bill would actually do, instead of what opponents claim it would do.
- Principle 1: All students in the public education system have equal value to taxpayers. The value of the child's education doesn't change based on the model of school that the family chooses will be the best school.
- Principle 2: The tax dollars collected for public education doesn't belong to a district, or to a charter school, or to the state--they belong to the taxpayers for the purpose of educating students in public schools.
Here are the facts:
- This bill does not fund charter students through property tax collected by school districts--it keeps local replacement funds coming from income tax, as has been the case for 9 years. Districts keep every penny of property tax they raise. (See lines 149 to 157 of the bill.)
- This bill only changes the calculation of the amount for local replacement and the distribution of the cost. The bill recognizes that charter students have the same value as district students and funds them equitably.
- Additionally, the bill changes the funding of the costs for charter students. Today, the Local Replacement cost of charter school students (to fund the property tax portion of education that charter schools cannot access) comes off the top of all education funding, affecting all districts equally, no matter how many students leave each district to attend charters. This bill would change that. Income tax dollars would now fund the WPU first, and then withhold income tax dollars from the specific district where charter students live. This system would protect districts whose parents continue to choose district schools instead of charters from subsidizing districts whose parents are choosing charters more frequently.
One can argue that such a change in cost distribution isn't good, and that taxpayers in Vernal or Richfield (where there are no charter schools) should continue to fund charter school students who choose a charter in Salt Lake District. I'd disagree, but at least that's a policy decision on which reasonable people can disagree.
What can't be accurately argued is that the school district has to "give the [property tax] funding to the parent over at the charter school," as Rep. Powell did. (Patti Harrington made the same specious argument.) In fact, districts keep all of the local property tax they raise. Not a penny will go to a charter school under this bill. The property tax levied by the district serves as a factor in determining the average amount of per-pupil funding, but all local property tax remains with the school district. The state uses the average formula to send state income tax dollars to charter schools in a more equitable way.
If this bill is defeated, it will be because its opponents were successful in arguing that the bill does what it manifestly does not do.
If you agree that families and students in Richfield shouldn't have their funding impacted when a student attends a charter school in Salt Lake City, if you agree that when a family chooses a charter school for their child, the value of that child's education isn't any less, then an honest debate would mean that HB313 must pass.
Here's the Trib's take.
From the DNews:
SB256, Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Process, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, would require every school in the state to create a system that would determine a teacher's effectiveness based on parent and community satisfaction, instructional quality and student performance. Teachers would be evaluated on an annual basis.
Adams said he hopes his bill is a "baby step" to one day eliminating the "step and lane" salary structure many districts employ, where teachers get raises based on years on the job and advanced certificates and degrees.
"I do believe that the step and lanes process is antiquated," Adams told the committee.
As I write this, I'm in Education Committee at the Capitol and Rep. Ken Sumsion is presenting and hearing public comments on his HB123. He began by stating that he knows the bill isn't ready for the floor, and that he's frankly surprised that he's even here. He had always planned to study this issue over the next year, but other members (and educators like me) are so excited by the concept that they keep asking him to bring it up.
So, here it is before the committee today. Sumsion's right that his bill isn't ready for prime time. Deputy Superintendent Menlove testified that as written, the bill would disqualify Utah from some streams of federal funding, including special education funding.
Sumsion asked the committee to move the bill out favorably anyway, putting a level of trust in him to fix the problems that he knows are there so it can be discussed on the floor in a few days. I don't think that will happen, but even if it does, there's no way this bill is enacted this year, and I think Sumsion, as the sponsor, has the same expectation.
Committee votes to hold the bill and study over the interim.