Sunday, November 30, 2008

O Chancellor, O Chancellor...

Time magazine has an article on my Chancellor crush, Michelle Rhee. You can find my Holiday cheer to her after my remarks about the article.

The article offers very little that hasn't already been written about Chancellor Rhee, and adds a great deal of commentary on public education as it relates to what Rhee would like to accomplish.
Author Amanda Ripley writes: The U.S. spends more per pupil on elementary and high school education than most developed nations. Yet it is behind most of them in the math and science abilities of its children. Young Americans today are less likely than their parents were to finish high school. This is an issue that is warping the nation's economy and security, and the causes are not as mysterious as they seem. The biggest problem with U.S. public schools is ineffective teaching, according to decades of research.

Reactions: First, I want to see all of this evidence. Do any of you know where I can find that data supporting the statement that today's students are "less likely than their parents were to finish high school." If this is true, I am astonished.
Second, I doubt any research that suggests the "biggest problem" in our schools today is "ineffective teaching." Is it a problem? Yes. The biggest? No. The biggest problem in failing public schools is the lethal combination of poor teaching, uneducated parents, poor resource management, the lack of useful resources, hungry students, apathetic students, pregnant students, disrespectful students, underpaid quality teachers who leave for easier schools--get the picture?

Ripley writes about Rhee's interaction with a student who e-mailed a complaint:
Anacostia High has a 24% graduation rate, and only 21% of its students read at grade level. Rhodes is well aware of the miserable statistics, and when he first saw his new chancellor from afar, he thought she looked petite, foreign and underqualified. "I was like, She doesn't look ready for urban kids." But after they exchanged e-mails, he agreed to meet her downtown. He realized almost at once that he had underestimated her. "She actually sat with me," he says, "and talked eye to eye, like I was one of her co-workers." They decided to meet again, this time at Anacostia High. Rhodes began to talk about Rhee to his classmates, and they started writing an agenda for the meeting, detailing all the things that were wrong with the D.C. school system. They had much to tell.

Reactions: Here is where Chancellor Rhee ought to continue to operate. If she wants to change the culture of the schools she leads, she must continue to bring the stakeholders into the conversation. The stakeholders are not the parents or teachers; the students are the most important people in the equation. If we begin to respect our students, there's a chance we might earn their participation.

Ripley writes about Rhee's reaction to a classroom visit: In the hallway, she muttered about teachers who spend too much time cutting out elaborate bulletin-board decorations or chitchatting at "morning meetings" with their third-graders before the real work begins.

Reactions: Well, we all can't be perfect, including Chancellor Rhee. Maybe Rhee didn't have morning meetings in her two years of teaching, and I can say that at the high school level, I have not ever done this. However, this year as I struggle to teach reading skills to my students, I realize that they lack basic background knowledge. I've used Marzano's effective teaching strategy of Similarities and Differences (analogies, metaphors, etc.) with little success. Why? They didn't have the knowledge. This type of information comes to most students through dialogue with parents and adults. Many of our struggling students, especially from high poverty homes, miss out on the everyday conversations about the world.

Ripley also writes, She says things most superintendents would not. "The thing that kills me about education is that it's so touchy-feely,"

Reactions: Damn right.

And now to the Holiday song: (to the tune of O, Christmas Tree!)

O Chancellor! O Chancellor!
Thy style's so relieving;
O Chancellor! O Chancellor!
Thy style's so relieving;
You take no crap from union heads,
And when staff see you come they dread.
O Chanclellor! O Chancellor!
Thy style's do relieving!

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I just spent the evening with my wife's cousin and her husband's family here in New England. I was asked by four separate people what the key is to getting a spouse to move here. I don't have an answer. But, I was thinking about how I missed my peeps in Seattle.
So, to Stence, Michaelis, D-Rob, Trish, Aubs, Leepy, and the rest, thanks for the memories: now move to New England.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh, The Feeling...

That I get when teachers and administrators combine to spread a little cup of holiday cheer.

If you've read this blog before, you know that the school I teach in has some serious issues, atmosphere being an integral component. So after sitting down with administration, I put together a coalition of teachers willing to arrive a before the buses and prepare hot chocolate. As students arrived, we handed them a cup filled with creamy hot chocolate and marshmallows. Some took it willingly, others asked, "Is this free?" Some weren't too sure about our motive, which was simply to tell our student we are thankful for them.
This morning was simply amazing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Whaddya Wanna Bet... (with odds)

This edition of Whaddya Wanna Bet... grew out of my flippant remarks about my own Fantasy Football team. My Fantasy Football team continues to underperform. Yesterday, I said to my father, "What do you want bet that my cousin's team (my opponent) would outperform his projected points?" Yahoo projected that my lineup would rack up 116 points, but as has been the case, the team didn't reach its potential. And of course, my cousin managed to accumulate more than his projected points. So here it is, the education version of Whaddya Wanna Bet...

That President-elect Obama doesn't make good on many of his education related promises? (2-1)
That The First Family-elect could have proven their campaign slogan of bringing "real change to Washington..." had they opted for public education? (5-1)
That referring to Michelle A. Rhee as Chancellor makes people think of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi? (15-1)
That if Chancellor Rhee offered me a contract for $100,000, I would take it? (Even)
That Myron Rolle will take the Rhodes Scholarship if he is as smart as they think he is? (10-1)
That when I finally have my Corrective Reading curriculum in early December, and after having taught the lessons five times per day, I'll want to insert a computer chip in my brain that turns off my emotional capacities? (9-2)
That the when Central Offices ask for your input and the input of the community, they don't really care to hear it? (3-1)
That if Robert Marzano had to put into practice his Effective Teaching Strategies in schools like this or like this, he would run scared back to his office at the University of Washington and cower in farthest recess of his most obscure cupboard? (Even)
That Marzano's Effective Teaching Strategies are actually quite good? (2-1)
That to truly remark on the effectiveness of a particular school and all of the three thousand new intiatives being implemented, one should actually participate on a regular basis and talk to actual teachers instead of administrators? (7-2)
That I am going to give "Thank You" notes to all of my students this week? (10-1)
That I won't actually follow through with it because by Wednesday they will have driven me to the brink of meltdown? (4-1)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Merging Teaching and Baseball

One of the benefits from teaching at W.G.A.S.H. is that the many tribulations caused by the system itself, and by system I mean students, parents, teachers, administration and central office, have unsettled what was a serene professional pool. Before arriving here at the outset of the 2007 school year, I had begun to experience a complacency birthed out of a relatively calm teaching environment. And now after a year of swimming in the murky waters of W.G.A.S.H., I am ready to work towards cleaning up the mess. Who knows how long this desire will last, but they ought to take advantage of it. And it seems they will. I've been asked to join to committees. The first is a parent involvement committee, and the second is a teacher evaluation committee. The second committee spawned this post.
Though not assigned reading, I picked up a copy of Teacher Evaluation To Enhance Professional Practice by Charlotte Danielson and Thomas L. McGreal. In Chapter three of the text, they discuss the differentiation of teachers' careers into novice, experienced, or needing intensive assistance (28). Later, they write, "Once teachers have achieved career (or tenured) status, they are full members of a professional community and should be treated as such. ...It conveys the notion that the job (and therefore the livelihood) of a teacher is never in question (29). I stopped, underlined a few of the remarks, and then asked, "Why should our job never be in question?" The very question made me consider my beloved Boston Red Sox and their latest approach to player development and player retention.

The Draft
Each spring, potential teaching prospects earn their certification in hopes of finding a position. Should a potential teacher desire to teach professionaly, he or she would have to file papers to formally enter the State Teaching Draft. Some of these prospects rate highly and are coveted by every district. However, in the new system, the lowest performing schools would select before the higher performing schools.
Unlike some educators who believe teaching talent comes with time, thus the existence of tenure, I believe that some teachers are born with the potential to dominate their profession the way Jonathan Papelbon was born with the ability to dominate hitters. Yes, Papelbon had to work to achieve that potential, but he was certainly blessed with some natural ability. Teaching is like that. Some people are born with the natural talent of teaching, and through hard work can learn to dominate in a short amount of time.
So, the highly rated and pre-existing talent in some teachers would earn them the spots in the top of the State Teacher Draft. And because the districts selecting first have the highest need for quality teachers, many of these teachers will see immediate action.
Undrafted teachers would then be forced to reconsider their career path or fall into the Unrestricted Free Agent Pool which will be discussed later.
All signed draft picks can negotiate the terms of their initial salary and length of contract. Signing bonuses may also be a part of the equation.
The Minor Leagues
Some teachers selected in the draft, and especially those in the later rounds, will need some time in The Minor Leagues to cultivate skill or refine specific areas. School districts would benefit from ending the practice of low paid paraprofessionals and fork over additional money to pay Minor League Contracts to their draft picks placed as paraprofessionals.
There in the Minor Leagues, these draft picks will study under the experienced teachers, waiting for their chance to step in and perform. Those opportunites might arrive when the veteran teacher falls ill, has deteriorating skill, or retires.
The Major Leagues
The Major League teacher is on the active roster within a school district. Districts entrust these teachers to perform with skill all of the duties and responsibilities of their content expectations. However, like professional sports, veteran teachers must continue to perform to earn employment. Should their skill falter, they run the risk of not getting re-signed at the end of their negotiated contract.
No longer will tenure ensure that a veteran teacher earn a paycheck. Instead, performance will control their employment. Does this run the risk of good teachers not getting re-signed because they are not well liked by ownership? Yes. But if that teacher has compiled a body of evidence proving their ability to add value to a student, they should easily find a position elsewhere. Will owners still continue to pay poor performing teachers? Probably. But if the stakeholders--parents and students--are unhappy, then their voice should persuade ownership to make moves.
Free Agency
At the end of a teacher's contract, he or she will have the opportunity to enter Free Agency. At this time, a teacher may pursue a position at a different school, and again negotiate a contract. He or she, of course, may re-sign with the current school.
Additionally, those who were undrafted may enter the free agency pool. Here, these potential teachers can compete with those teachers wishing to make a change.

This new system stops rewarding (paying) teachers based on years of experience. It also puts pressure on those experienced teachers to be better than those getting drafted. Young teachers who arrive with the skills necessary to succeed do not get treated as if they don't know what they are doing simply because they haven't taught professionally. Imagine the Tampa Bay Rays treating Evan Longoria the same as veteran players who he can outperform. It simply doesn't make good business sense.
The new system also allows for the struggling districts to benefit from the new talent right away. These districts often have the most open spots, but the new contracts would ensure that the talent sticks around for a few years.
Sure there are some wrinkles, like money, but I'm just a blogger on a cold New England Saturday, not Secretary of Education for the Obama-elect Cabinet.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh, the feeling I get..

when the most unstable student I've ever taught sees her Lexile score improve by 150 points since September.

when the most combative student I've ever taught sees her Lexile score improve by 125 points since September.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Effective Schools Part VII

Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).

The final installment of Effective Schools addresses the integral component of effective schools. Without a problem solving attitude, all school reform fails. What does a problem solving attitude look like?
Eyes: Problem solvers have 20/20 vision from the start. They are able to identify all of the most important problems, recognize the connections between the various problems, and identify which problems need attention first.
The best problem solvers also possess a sixth sense for seeing beyond the face of the problem and into the heart of the problem.
Ears: Problem solvers have their ears open and attuned to the potential solutions. The best problem solvers listen to all ideas, recognizing that the more information available, the better the decision will be.
Mouth: When solving a problem, the best use dialogue throughout the process. They do not limit themselves to only identifying the problem and then listening to ideas. Instead, once a possible solution is identified as the best choice, the best problem solvers clearly explain the chosen path and maintain the dialogue as the attempt is put in place.

Defining success can often prove tricky. Some of our most deeply entrenched problems cannot be solved quickly, a stumbling block for our instant message culture. Some problems require signifanct time and resources.
I will use W.G.A.S.H. as my example. We have many problems. My top three are (1) Student attitudes, (2) Teacher effectiveness, (3) Parental involvement. I recognize that these are three broad categories. Solving the student attitude problem will not happen overnight or even in a school year. For this to happen, our school district must begin influencing students at the younger grade levels. Additionally, we must work with parents to influence their perceptions of education and our schools. But at the building level, we must commit to influencing attitudes despite the regular set-backs we experience.
Though teachers continue to balk at the many trainings we've been attending (and it's hard not to sometimes), administration and central office must hear our voices and recognize our concerns. My guess is that most our contentiousness derives from the central office and adminstrations failure to properly communicate with the teachers. Whenever people are asked to make major philosophical shifts, leaders cannot foist that philosophy onto the followers. I would also add that while our central office has made efforts to appear more transparent and open to ideas, their actions have yet to confirm that perception.
And lastly, though our parents continue to ignore our school, as evidenced by the small number of parents attending last week's voluntary parent-teacher conferences, we must continue to seek a solution. We must consider solutions that address the reasons our parents ignore education, and we must work towards real solutions--not computer generated phone calls to district parents inviting them to participate.
In the end, we can only succeed at effectiveness if we are willing to get our hands a little dirty, limit egos, and open our minds.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's all on us?

Just another cynical observation:

Today while picking up my wife from the school she teaches at, I watched four moms pick up their children. Not one of the six total kids involved buckled up before the car left the lot. In fact, one kid was facing out the back window, waving to another friend. But we're expected to keep them following no cell phone and no hat policies when they get to high school. Yep.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Effective Schools Part VI

Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).

The lottery motto is "You can't win if you don't play." Part six of this series focuses on encouraging strong partnerships with parents as a way to get the parents playing the game of education. And who knows, maybe by playing, they will win the jackpot of a well education child to support them in old age. I believe that this sixth trait is my most perplexing. Since the first day of school, I have spent a great deal of time wondering of ways to involve parents beyond the phone calls home or parent teacher meetings.
In Joseph A. Michelli's The Starbucks Experience, the author explains, "Unfortunately, leaders in companies of all sizes...often fail to realize what they can do to contribute to their communities and to society as a whole" (154). Though Michelli's observation relates to businesses, the truth of it should not be lost on the parents of our students. Parents of all classes often fail to recognize their contribution to the success of their local schools. Many approach their local schools with the attitude that Las Vegas promotes in commercials--what happens there, stays there.
What is more depressing is the extremely high number of low income parents who do not share in the process of educating their child. Their absence is noticed in two key areas. One, many low income parents do not attend Open Houses or parent teacher conferences. This is a result of many factors, but is not limited to the easy explanation of having to work. The second place low income students are missing is at the conference tables of the local board of education and the principals conference room.
It is the second place of absence that bothers me the most. I often wonder what the parents of my students would notice or comment on if they had the opportunity to clandestinely walk the halls during our school day. What would they say about their children who wander the halls, running from security or refusing to give their name to a curious teacher? What would they say about our security guards who, at the end of their ropes because of such behavior, lose their calm when confronting other students? What would they say about our teachers who, weary from the daily grind, cannot keep the class focused on the content and language objectives? What would tehy say about our administrators who, overwhelmed by Connecticut's demands for failing schools, cannot build teacher and student morale?
It is these questions that I want answers to. But how do we accomplish this? In the spirit of bipartisanship, I offer these two beginning points:
1.) Community Walk-Abouts--At my previous school north of Seattle, an up and coming administrative intern implemented a program for community members to assist in building community at that school. Part of the program encouraged these participants to be a friendly face on our campus. But the main part of the project was to ensure that students were getting to their classes on time. I wonder how young Javy would treat Grandma Hernandez from down the street if she were the one reminding him to have his planner if he needs to use the bathroom?
2.) Parent Forums and Seminars--Just as the school board meets on a regular basis, I think that my school would benefit from monthly forums and seminars for the parents of our community. These forums would seek their input on our honest conundrums--like curbing the amount of skipping. But it would also be a place for parents to bring up their concerns about how we are going about the business of educating their children.

In the end, I recognize the many potential flaws in both of these ideas, but don't we have to start somewhere? Isn't there more to the success of our school than Effective Teaching Strategies and pointing to the number of free and reduced lunch students?
And of course there is the other elephant in this room. How can this peon of a teacher convince the machine that there is more we should be doing?

The Truth Shall Set You Free

In a brief interruption of my responses to Effective Schools, I came across a truth that needs to be shared.
Washington D.C.'s demanding chancellor, Michelle Rhee, fired a principal of what appers to be a disaster of a school.
The final line of the Washington Post's article, the fired principal states, "I would say that everyone is responsible....The community, the administrators, the teachers, the central office."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Effective Schools Part V

Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).
Please understand that in this post I will wrestle the urge to follow tangential issues which are far too easy to attend to. My days are full of stories in which students are not all that orderly and more specifically, flat out deviant. That is not an understatement. But that is not where I want to go with the post, so please hang around.
As the list for effective schools grows and develops, we begin to see a shift from the strictly academic to the social environment in which our students must operate. To believe that high academic succes occurs in any environment is narrow-minded at best. Schools must be safe and orderly for optimal learning. While Noguera certainly means this in relation to students, I want to focus on safe and orderly for the teachers.
Many of the current reform systems do not focus on affecting the students' behaviors, especially from a social context. Instead, these reforms, like Marzano's Effective Teaching Strategies, focus on how teachers need to improve pedagogy. I will allow that argument to stand, but would like to use it to further my agenda.
If we believe that student success is directly related to teacher effectiveness--as Marzano and others state, then we can deduce that teacher success is directly related to administrative effectiveness. Therefore, if students succeed in a safe and orderly learning environment, then teachers will succeed equally in safe and orderly learning environment.
What does this mean?
If students should be encouraged to take risks in order to grow as a student, then teachers ought to be allowed to take risks in their instruction--even if that means adhering to administrative beliefs.
If students should not experience bullying from their peers, then teachers ought not to be bullied by adminstrators or Central Office staff.
If students should feel safe in addressing their concerns and needs, then teachers ought to freely and openly examine the system within which they work.

In the end, we need to realize the interconnectdeness of the many parts. A school system is a community, for better and for worse. We struggle with safety. We struggle with creating value for all.
If each individual is doing his or her part to create community, then saftey and order exist.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Effective Schools Part IV

Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).
The fourth installment of my Effective School series investigate our commitment to educate all students. This fourth element grows out of Noguera's third characteristic of high expectations. If we are to succeed at educating all students, we must first decide what it means to educate and then determine if all students can be educated at this point in their life.
My attitude towards education and what that means changes regularly. At the core of my education philosphy is a belief that every child deserves the chance to learn. The special education student deserves the chance as much as the AP student. Latino students deserve the same opportunity as our Asian students. Our poorest students deserve an equal opportunity as our wealthy.
Yet, I cannot bring myself to the point where I believe that every student deserves the same education. This is not to suggest that some receive an ineffective education, only that our most advanced students deserve the types of challenges which will foster further growth and success. Additionally, our less advanced students deserve the types of challenges which will foster their further growth and success. However, I do not believe that every child can learn to the same level of expertise; but that is not to say we should not set a minimum standard. I suppose this means that I support a version of tracking students.
In his somewhat controversial, especially for many in education reform, book Real Education, Charles Murray writes, "To demand that students meet standards that have been set without regard to their academic ability is wrong and cruel to the children who are unable to meet those standards" (47). Murray does not suggest no standards or accountability, he simply believes that individual students vary in ability and therefore should be treated as such.
Earlier, I stated that I can't bring myself to believe that every student deserves the same education. I recognize this as a potentially dangerous proposition which lends itself to criticism about the "bigotry of low expectations." Let me clarify. When a student enters the ninth grade reading three grade levels behind, her education should look different from the student who enters ninth grade reading at the 12th grade level. To suggest that the girl with a sixth grade reading level focus on grade level skills or above grade level skills only alienates the student further, creating a cycle of failure. And the fact that next year some of my readers, who are anywhere from three to six grade levels behind as readers, will be held to the 10th grade standard set by the state of Connecticut, only adds to my frustration with a one size fits all education.
This last point leads me to question the current system that moves students along based on age instead of ability. Despite my fear of being labeled as only a complainer, let me offer an example or two. In my reading class this week, I had a student who became frustrated with the skill of analyzing for setting. All he needed to do was identify details about time, place, or mood and fill in a graphic organizer. Due to his lack of literacy skills, this task proved difficult so he threw his paper on the floor and quit. When I picked it up for him and offered to help, he became defiant by cussing and storming out of the room. His age would dictate that he's ready for ninth grade, but his ability and behavior indicate something else.
I would hate for this student to fail so often that he drops out. Unfortunately, the chances are he is headed in that direction. I believe he deserves to learn. I don't believe he is ready to be held to the ninth grade standard simply because he is of age to be a ninth grader.
I don't know what this means in terms of education reform and effective schools. But I do know that I belive the current system is unfair and unattainable.

Finally, in Part III I mentioned I'd list some of the leadership books I've read in the last year. I forgot. So here they are:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
Crucial Conversations byKerri Patterson and others
Influencer by Kerri Patterson and others
How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath
Strengthsfinder 2.o by Tom Rath
The Starbucks Experience by Joseph A. Michelli

And education books (bonus fun):
The Trouble with Black Boys by Pedro Noguera
Real Education by Charles Murray
What Great Teachers do Differently by Todd Whitaker
City Kids, City Schools Edited by William Ayers (uh oh, troublesome connections)
Holler if You Hear Me by Gregory Michie
Teaching In Circles by Nathan Miller

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Effective Schools Part III

Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).

In Part I and Part II of my Effective Schools series, I've provided my thoughts relating to the research presented in Noguera's book The Trouble With Black Boys. My remarks are based on my understanding of the experiences I have had at a low performing high school combined with the many leadership books I've read in the past nine months--that list will be provided at the end of this post.
Today, we are celebrating our right and obligation to vote for the next president of the United States of America. Despite the very negative nature of the extremes, which often get much of the press, I recognize that both candidates and their respective running mates are products of the third characteristic of effective schools: high expectations.
Last year, my first and my wife's first year in this urban district provided us with the realization that not everyone in our district expects our students to meet standards. In fact, many of our colleagues offer excuses for why our students cannot achieve to the same degree as the surrounding towns. A lack of money, absent parents, and other issues outside the realm of the classroom are all factors which cause schools like ours to fail. And while I have pointed out those flaws, I hope I have also recognized that teachers, principals, and central office staff also have failed to live up to our proimse to educate all students.
To show one such failure, I will use an example from my wife's elementary school. Though I, at the high school, cannot affect what happens at that level, I certainly can observe the long-lasting effects. In the middle of a unit on mulitple paragraph essays, a natural continuation of a unit on single paragraphs, my wife searched out a long-serving colleague in hopes of collaborating with her. After my wife desribed the unit, her colleague replied, "Oh, our kids can't do that."
I recognize this as one teacher and one example, but I believe it is indicative of the latent beliefs of many within our district. I've also recognized that as I tried to teach my emerging readers how to analyze setting, the same thought embedded itself into my head. It didn't stop me from trying.
It is easy to have high expectations for our students; it is difficult to maintain high expectations in the face of absolute refusal, avoidance, and disdain. A student reading at the third grade level would not stop arguing with me that my lesson was not necessary, but when given the chance to prove me wrong, refused to because "we're not stupid, ya know."
I expect my students to come to class ready and wanting to learn. I expect my students to improve by at least two grade levels by the end of their time with me. I expect my students to not argue with me. I expect my students to be leaders in the school. I expect my students to prove that low-income students can learn, especially when they want to.
What I am not sure of is whether I can keep those expectations in front of me while confronted with some of the most discouraging, infuriating, and down right stupid behavior. How do we convince our least motivated and least successful students that we have their best interest in mind, that our expectations of them are valid and necessary?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Effective Schools Part II

Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).

In the first post on effective schools, I discussed the need for having a clear sense of purpose in order for a school to succeed. That purpose must come from the leadership and be fostered by the leadership. In part two, I will examine the need for core standards within a rigorous curriculum and the responsibility of each content area team to develop and implement that curriculum.
There exists within all careers a certain lexicon which needs deciphering, sometimes even within that profession. A simple search of the words "core standards" reaps very little in terms of understanding what exactly that means other than giving examples. For our purposes, I will focus on content standards which are essential to the course. Of course, we must keep in mind the State frameworks when doing this work.
I currently teach Supplemental Reading to emerging readers (the spin doesn't stop here!) One of the standards my students should arrive to the ninth grade with expects students to "Use stated or implied evidence from the text to draw and/or support a conclusion" (CT PK-8 English Language Arts Curriculum Standards pg. 73). When my readers arrive to the ninth grade lacking this skill, and others, the curriculum used or developed for my class must include this standard.
Allow me one moment of digression. The reality that many students arrive at our high schools having not met the core standards of their previous classes is often overlooked by those who focus their attention on failing high schools and drop out rates. A test in the 10th grade, given to students who have not met standards agreed upon for the 8th grade is not the result of failing high schools; the blame must be given to the entire system, K-12.
Clear standards expressing the core knowledge or skills necessary in a content area absolutely do give focus to teachers. Great companies go to great lengths defining the core standards of success. When I bartended for Red Robin, one of the best in the burger business, the core standards were clear to me. My pours had to be accurate in measure; my final product had to include the correct intoxicants and correct garnishes. Before each shift, I had to establish that I could pour the correct measure. If I failed to accurately free pour that morning, I was required to use a jigger--that never happened, though. The companies committment to clear standards, and holding us to them, is what makes them successful.
For most, the core standards are provided by the State. And depending on your State, those standards may be more or less clear and specific. The less specific, the more you and your department must develop and articulate the core standards.
Typically it is not the core standards that cause our schools to fail. We often miss the mark because we fail to develop and maintain rigorous curriculum. Much has been written about developing rigorous curriculum, and so I will leave its definition undefined by me. What I am more concerned about is the lack of accountability from one grade to the next. For too long, public education has survived under the all classrooms are an island theory, and the outcome has hurt too many students.
If school districts desire effective individual schools, much more has to be done to ensure that every student receives a rigorous curriculum focused on relevant learning experiences. More importantly, we must end the practice of allowing students to not meet the demands of that rigorous curriculum. For a ninth grade student to arrive at the high school reading at the second grade level is a failure of the second grade teacher on through the eight grade teachers (all content areas).
This reality means that elementary school teachers should collaborate with middle school teachers who should collaborate with high school teachers. If we create a professional learning community within the entire district, we can stop pawning of blame or responsibility onto others. An attention or core standards within a rigorous curriculum is the necessary by everyone involved; we are all responsible.