educational leadership

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

Since the story broke, the media and bloggers have actively covered the details about a recent test-score-fixing fiasco—and the news continues (links provided below). There have been commentaries about who really suffers from a scam of this magnitude (students robbed of remedial opportunities) and who is to blame—their motivations…and their motivators (“…targets were implemented…in such a way that teachers and administrators believed that they had to choose between cheating to meet targets or failing to meet targets and losing their jobs.” Volume 3: Conclusions: Why cheating occurred and cover-up allegations, p. 4). Eraser end of pencil laying on test paper showing bubble answersI’m particularly taken withthe data-made-me do-itexplanation. There’s even talk of legal prosecution. This whole mess feels like a major attraction in a very tawdry sideshow of the school reform circus. And sadly, although the media is focused on one district at the moment, test score and data manipulation is not new news.

Yes, there’s explaining to do, and some one (or many) will need to be held accountable, but wouldn’t it be great if the lion’s share of the energy fueling our collective indignation, disbelief, and need for retribution could be channeled to establishing more positive, long-term improvements to a testing and assessment system that has surely gone awry. I’m not yet so tainted that I can’t believe we (saints and cheaters alike) all really want the same thing: exemplary schools, highly qualified teachers, and well-educated students who are life-long learners ready to succeed in their adult lives.

I weigh in with Diane Ravitch on this one, (more…)

By Diana Nunnaley, Director, TERC’s Using Data

Depending on where you sit, and which frame of reference shapes your work, you either celebrate charter school efforts or think charters reflect a “right” wing or “left” wing  (take your pick) conspiracy to undermine the role of public education in the United States.

A blog post is too short a space to weigh into the considerable arguments both pro and con that can be made regarding the place for charter schools in America. To my thinking, charters are a natural consequence of Americans seeking a solution to a social problem. We may not agree on the substance of the problem or the direction of the solution, but in a society that values and applauds entrepreneurial efforts, charters are here to stay. That is, they have a place until we learn more about the experience (hopefully by examining the data) or, have a collective epiphany about the impact of poverty on kids’ success in learning and activate the collective will to change the way we fund and support local education.dictionary page with definition of the word data somewhat out of focus

Charter School Vision Equally Blurred

Based on my experience working in schools across the country, the reality is that teachers in charter schools bring the same passion and desire to help children learn as teachers in any other public or private setting. They face the same staggering challenges and then some. And they bring the same blind spots to the table when examining their student learning data. (more…)

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

Shimmering water view Falmouth, Massachusetts

A beautiful morning walk in Falmouth, Massachusetts

A recent weekend wedding celebration on Cape Cod brought together a stirring mix of sapphire shimmering ocean, stunning bride (who I had the joy of watching transform over the years from little girl to accomplished young woman), and satisfying conversation with long-time friends—an enjoyable mix of hilarity, nostalgia, and sometimes serious discourse.

During several early-morning walks with friends connected through our work as educators, the more serious discourse returned time and again to an impassioned discussion about teacher evaluation. This conversation was prompted in particular by a June 4 Washington Post article, Maryland Teacher Evaluation Redesign Bogs Down. We were somewhat stunned to learn two pieces of data: 1) Almost a year ago, Maryland won a $250 million federal grant to build a “transparent and fair” teacher and principal evaluation model that would tie their success to student test scores and learning, and 2) The state is seeking a year’s extension to fully execute the evaluation system it has yet to develop.

“Two-hundred fifty million,” my friend mused. “They could hire 250 people and pay them a million dollars each. With that kind of brain trust you’d think something could be developed in a year.” We laughed, but think about it. (more…)

An observation at a restaurant last night reinforced a challenge schools are experiencing that’s become increasingly prominent in the past few weeks in the field. While waiting for a take-out order, a bus boy was readying the buffet service table for the evening’s crowd.  He loaded the plate server with a fresh stack of clean china and stooped down to grab the electric plug from the floor where he felt around for the extension cord and made the connection. He then stood and placed his outstretched palm  (yes, the same one that groped around the floor) on the top plate to push them down into the warming well. He walked away pleased that all was in readiness for the night’s service.  I suspect that no patron partaking of the wonderful buffet would be suspicious of that top plate.

But it brought home a challenge that many of our schools are facing and one described so well by Mike Schmocker in his latest book Focus – the competition of competing tasks associated with school improvement.  My thoughts – We’re so good at adding initiatives and keeping all of the balls in the air, doing an excellent job in each separate endeavor but, without being good at stepping back to see how they all work together. How do we keep the plates clean while at the same time getting all of the cords plugged in? Mike’s urging – Focus on just a few important elements (and he highlights what these should be).

Here’s a tip – this is one of the primary roles for administrators both district and building – you must create and provide a coherent plan with explicit road maps for connecting various initiatives – from the state’s new 21st Century Learning plan,  to meeting the state’s school improvement documentation requirements,  to implementing instruction in cross-cutting, core learning standards. Are all initiatives serving the ultimate goal of improving student learning for all or just innovations that seemed promising?  But not connected? Not prioritized?

You might enjoy listening to the Etta James classic hit At Last you read this blog entry. It’s the tune I’m hearing, having just re-read what I consider to be one of the most insightful counterpoints to the recent federal policy recommendations that outline compliance requirements in order for states to participate in the education stimulus Etta James Album Cover At Lastfund efforts. I’m referring specifically to requiring states to implement processes for evaluating teacher quality solely on the basis of student achievement results.

Coincidentally, the inspiring article I refer to is by another Etta—Etta Kralovec—in her piece “A More Complete Evaluation” (Educational Leadership, Dec. 2010)

To offer a little context…Etta K. is an associate professor of teacher education at the University of Arizona. In an effort to re-align her thinking about what it really takes to be an effective teacher and education leader, she arranged for a leave from her university in order to assume the principalship of a small high school. (Would that more education professors and pundits could temper their views with a similar hands-on eye-opener.) (more…)