Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NC Teacher Pay Task Force Recommends Pay Increases for Beginning Teachers & Merit Pay

The North Carolina Legislative Task Force concluded its series of meetings to study teacher pay in North Carolina, and here’s their recommendations in a nutshell:
  • Raise beginning teacher pay and not raise the pay of any other teachers.
  • Future raises for any teachers should be performance-based or merit pay tied to test scores.
  • The General Assembly should direct the North Carolina State Board of Education to study educator compensation models and submit recommendations to the General Assembly AFTER this fall’s legislative elections.
That’s it. Those are the recommendations of this so-called Task Force. While they might have buried these exact recommendations in tons of verbiage, these basically do the following:
  • Endorse Governor Pat McCrory’s plans to only raise pay for beginning teachers. (Why am I not surprised that this Task Force turned into a rubber-stamp committee of the McCrory administration and our current legislative leaders?)
  • Recommend that the state adopt some kind of merit pay scheme, even though that’s been tried and proven to not work multiple times. It has been even tried in North Carolina. (Again, considering the state of our North Carolina Legislature, I am not surprised at all they basically endorsed plans put forth by the American Legislative Exchange Council and many others who see merit pay as the salvation for everything.)
  • Finally, recommend another study, this time by passing the buck the North Carolina State Board of Education. Of course this passing the buck was by design due to their own earlier law. Isn't it really interesting though that the State Board of Education is to REPORT BACK AFTER THE NOVEMBER ELECTIONS this fall? You can certainly read much into that move!
There’s absolutely nothing in their findings that wasn't out there and already being discussed. Meanwhile, North Carolina is hemorrhaging teachers who are seeking greener pastures elsewhere, and there are so few teachers graduating from colleges to replace them. In addition, morale for teachers in this state has never been lower, and all our state leaders can do is study so that they can again study the studies? This is all due to a legislature, who at least judging by their actions and appearances, absolutely detest public education.

Some other interesting things coming out of this exercise in political pointlessness, were the comments made by some of the teachers on the task force.
“I’m struggling to understand why we were brought here.’' Teacher Timothy Barnsback stated. He also called the whole ordeal’s four meetings “Presentations and Propaganda.”
Johnson County History teacher Richard Nixon said the report ignores veteran teachers who have been frozen out of their contractual pay increases for six years. He stated, “I don’t recall anyone saying we should raise salaries for beginning teachers and leave the rest down the road.”
It is clear that our North Carolina Legislature continues to predictably be no friend to public education. After passing a slate of legislation all designed and directed toward dismantling the teaching profession, it isn't really surprising at all that nothing substantive comes out of this North Carolina Legislative Task Force on teacher pay. Our state political leaders have certainly remained steadfastly dedicated to their anti-public education agenda, and they are counting on kicking this "teacher pay can" down the road past this fall’s elections.

UPDATE: Read WRAL's article here "Teacher Pay Report Gets Chilly Reception" and also you can read the Legislative report here: "NC Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force Report."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What Can School Leaders Learn from Pixar? Inviting Candor and Criticism to Be Creative

What does it take to create a “sustainable creative culture,” in an institution like public schools? The fact that many public schools exist just as they did a hundred years ago is an indication that they are often more about self-preservation than engaging in innovation. In other words, school systems are more often interested in work that is derivative rather than innovative. Not much is new in education reform because of this. It is a monumental failure to create a "sustainable creative culture" that could tackle some of our most serious problems in education today.

The pendulum metaphor is very familiar to most seasoned educators because they have seen reforms come and go and come and go, and most often these "reforms" are simply old ideas dressed differently. This pendulum metaphor persists because there's not really anything new in today's reforms; they are simply the old reforms or derivatives of old reforms. As Michael Fullan points out,
“If you’re in education long enough, you’re likely to get hit by the same pendulum multiple times." 
No reforms ever stick because we keep doing the same old things such as revising standards, chasing more difficult tests, or revamping teacher evaluations among many others. While this work is important, it isn't really reform. We aren't innovating because public education, schools and districts, aren't structured to innovate. They do not have sustainable creative cultures that foster innovation. We begin embracing innovation by developing what Ed Catmull describes in his new book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, this “sustainable creative culture.”

According to Catmull, a most important ingredient in this creative culture is fostering a place where “people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms.” To create that culture, school leaders need to embrace “candor.” Candor is defined as the “quality of being open and honest in expression; frankness.” Candor, in other words, is inviting others to be open about their opinions, criticisms, and ideas. Sadly, public education, for all its calling for stakeholder buy-in is often more about defending and marketing someone’s pet reform project or idea rather than honestly seeking other educators' input or opinions. This is why that education pendulum continues to hit us multiple times. Candor is not invited and is often not allowed. If we really want to move education initiatives beyond the derivative to the innovative, then education leaders need be courageous and invite candor into their schools and districts.

How can school leaders invite candor into their schools and districts? Catmull offers an easy way to do that: You “institutionalize candor” so that it is part of the ritual and practice of the school. You can begin this by engaging in three simple practices.
  • Tear down the “top-down hierarchy” and top-down reform driven processes that currently exist, and stop trying to defend initiatives that, if they are so darn beneficial, they should stand up to criticism and candor on their own. Too often educational leadership is more about pushing and marketing ideas instead of approaching the problems we face in schools creatively. Instead, let’s subject all these educational initiatives to the full force of candor and criticism. If they survive intact, then they must be good. If not, then they weren't worth the paper on which they're written.
  • Invite straight talk as a rule. Nothing is sacred and off limits. Too often, those sitting in meetings are afraid to speak their minds because of the political consequences. It’s true! In public education if you get the reputation of speaking your mind, you are often defined as “not a team player” or worse. You are cast aside as an outcast and troublemaker. Educational leaders like to talk big about buy-in, and that they sought feedback, but some of them politically destroy those who don’t agree with them. Candor means you have the guts to listen to criticism and recognize when it is valid.
  • Bring people together often to discuss school or district initiatives for the purpose of straight talk. Educators, for the most part, are by nature passionate people who care a great deal about what they do. Encourage them to identify the problems they see and be entirely candid. School leaders must be willing to courageously listen and not resort to being defensive. Allow the discussion and criticism to happen instead of shutting it down. Be flexible and willing to revise accordingly, and possibly even let go. It should never be about ego; it should be about improving education for kids.
I wish that I could be as optimistic about the education reforms swirling about---Common Core, Technology, Testing, Accountability, etc. Sadly, I am not. Fundamentally, public education is still more about institutional self-preservation than engaging in creative approaches to the problems the system faces. If we’re going to move to sustaining a creative culture that can tackle 21st century issues, then we have to become courageous school leaders and invite candor into our schools and districts.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blogging: Publishing, Connecting, and Engaging Other Educators Globally

Blogging is a way for educators to publish their ideas, connect with other educators and engage in audiences from around the world. As a self-publishing platform, blogs allow educators to share their ideas easily with other educators. For example, as an administrator, I often share how our school approaches a particular problem. Recently, in a blog post I shared how our school deliberately chose to not use regular classroom desks and instead chose to use movable tables to facilitate collaboration. As a networking tool, a blog can connect educators with others around the world. Recently, through my blog, I connected with an educator in South Africa who wanted to ask questions about a blog post I had done earlier in the year. I have also connected with educator authors as well. Finally, blogs give educators the potential to engage a global audience of educators. I have connected with educators on all continents through my blog posts. The world truly becomes a much smaller schoolhouse.

Recently, I shared much of this information in a presentation with my doctoral class. Here's that Google presentation entitled "Blogging for Real: Publishing, Connecting, and Engaging in World-Wide Audiences."



Revisiting Test Pep Rallies in a Season of Testing: Good Practice, Waste of Time, or Bad Ethics?

In 2011, I explored the topic of "Test Pep Rallies" in a blog post entitled "Test Pep Rallies: Good Practice or Waste of Time". With the advent of Race to the Top and the Obama administration's education policy forcing states to elevate standardized tests to even higher stakes, I wondered if the practice had become even more prevalent. I again did a quick search for research on the topic, and as far as I can tell, no studies of whether the practice even affects student achievement exist. Still, though,  the Test Pep Rallies continue and in some cases have become part of celebrated school culture and tradition.

In New York, a "Rock the Test" rally has gotten bigger over the years and continues strongly. PS 55 recently held its "Rock the Test" rally on March 31. (See "Pep Rally Readies PS 55 Students to 'Rock the Test' as They Begin State Exams.") However, the message seems to be a bit different. The principal of PS 55, Sharon Fishman states "The message to students and parents should be that this is just a test; no matter how they do, it's not the end of the world." Still, the school talks about "psyching students up the test" while at the same time talks about calming students' nerves and helping them deal with stress.

These rallies continue in other states too. In Nebraska, Elkhorn Elementary also had a Test Pep Rally on March 28 to "Fire Up Kids for the Test." This school goes so far as to compare "getting ready for the test" to "getting ready for the big game" and even brought former Nebraska football players to remind students that "the test is their game." A local TV station WOWT joined in as well to get students pumped for the state tests.

Still another school in Indiana tried to get students pumped for the tests on April 10. On that date, Mary Beck Elementary in Indiana held its test pep rally "to get students feeling positive about tests." This rally included a Test-Cheer, games, and performances by teachers and students on how to perform well on tests. This rally was all about "getting students excited about the tests." (See "Students Participate in Pep Rally Before ISTEP Testing Starts.")

All over the country, schools are still holding “Test Pep Rally Events” obviously with the hope that these events will somehow have a positive effect on student achievement scores, even though there is still absolutely no evidence that such practices work. I just can't help but wonder if there are other educators like me who see these practices as harmful and downright unethical. Since my 2011 post about Test Pep Rallies, my big question now is "Why have we allowed our culture of education come to a point where tests even deserve this kind of emphasis?" This practice of using "Test Pep Rallies" has to be one of the most bizarre rituals to come out of the testing and accountability culture yet!

In my original 2011 post I raised a series of questions about Test Pep Rally use that I think is even more pertinent in today's even higher-stakes testing atmosphere.
  • How does holding a Pep Rally over-emphasize the test's importance? Does not this practice buy in to the idea that "only the test matters?" It would seem that Test Pep Rallies only reinforce a school cultural idea that one's value is determined by a test. Is that a message we want to send to kids?
  • How does holding “Test Pep Rallies” foster a culture where “teaching to test” is expected and the norm? It would be interesting to see if these schools holding these rallies are dominated by school cultures where the teaching that occurs focuses mostly on the test, and that the de-facto curriculum is actually the test content. But even if they aren't, what is the hidden message about tests we are sending kids with these kinds of events?
  • Do these “Test Pep Rallies” work as intended? Do they even affect test scores? Even if one buys into the idea of elevating of test scores to this level, does that mean having these rallies raise test scores? There's no evidence of this at all.
  • How has the use of Value-added teacher evaluations affected the frequency of these test pep rallies? One would suspect as our education system places even higher-stakes on testing, the occurrence of these test pep rallies will increase, taking even more valuable time away from learning.
  • Do these Test Pep Rallies foster a culture that trivializes learning and makes standardized tests the focus of all learning? This question of course depends on what your definition of learning is. If it's a test score, then the answer is no. If the answer is yes, then perhaps you see learning as more than a test score. There is something about this practice that seems demean learning and what we're about as educators.
I still have no doubts that administrators and teachers who hold “Test Pep Rallies” really mean well, and that this practice is one of many practices where schools are trying to adapt to politics that place testing on an undeserved pedestal. Yet, it is even more important today that school leaders avoid falling into the “do-whatever’s-necessary-to raise test-scores” trap. In the end, do we really want to give imperfect tests that kind of weight in our students’ lives? The answer to that is not a question of effectiveness. For me it was a question of ethics 3 years ago, and it is even more so today.

Let the VAM Lawsuits Begin: Issues and Concerns with Their High-Stakes Use

Lawsuits against states using value-added models in making teaching evaluation decisions has begun in earnest. There are now three lawsuits underway challenging the use of this controversial statistical methodology and the use of test scores to determine teacher effectiveness. This increase in litigation is both an indication of how rapidly states have adopted the practice, and how these same states failed to address so many issues and concerns with the use of VAMs in this manner.

Two lawsuits have now been filed in Tennessee against the use of value-added  assessment, known as TVAAS as a part of teacher evaluation. The first lawsuit was filed against Knox County Schools in Tennessee by the Tennessee Education Association on behalf of an alternative school teacher who was denied a bonus because of her TVAAS ratings. (See “Tennessee Education Association Sues Knox County Schools Over Bonus Plan” ) In this case, the teacher was told she would receive system-wide TVAAS estimates because of her position at an alternative school, but 10 of her students were used anyway in her TVAAS score, resulting in a lower rating and no bonus. This lawsuit contests the arbitrariness of TVAAS estimates that use only a small number of teacher’s students to determine overall effectiveness.

In the second lawsuit, filed also against Knox County Schools, but also against Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and the Knox County Board of Education, an eighth grade science teacher claims he was also denied a bonus unfairly after his TVAAS value-added rating was based on only 22 of his 142 students. (See “TEA Files Second Lawsuit Against KCS, Adds Haslam and Huffman as Defendents” ) Again, the lawsuit points to the arbitrariness of the TVAAS ratings.

A third lawsuit has been filed in Rochester, New York by the Rochester Teachers Association alleging that officials in that state “failed to adequately account for the effects of severe poverty, and as a result, unfairly penalized Rochester teachers on their Annual Professional Performance Review” or yearly teacher evaluations. (See “State Failed to Account for Poverty in Evaluations”). While it appears that this Rochester suit is disputing the use of growth score models not value-added, it also challenges the whole assumption and recent fad being pushed by politicians and policymakers of using test scores to evaluate teachers.

North Carolina jumped on the value-added bandwagon in response to US Department of Education coercion, and now the state uses its TVAAS version called EVAAS, or Educator Value Added Assessment System as part of teacher and principal evaluations. Fortunately, no districts have had to make high stakes decisions using the disputed measures so the lawsuit floodgate hasn't opened in our state yet, but I am sure once EVAAS is used to make decisions about employment, the lawsuits will begin. When those lawsuits begin, the American Statistical Association has perhaps outlined some areas of contention about the use of VAMs in educator evaluations in their ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational AssessmentHere’s some points made by their position statement that clearly outlines the questions about the use of VAMs in teacher evaluations, a highly questionable statistical methodology.
  • VAMs (Value-added models) are complex statistical models, and high-level statistical expertise is needed to develop the models and interpret their results.” States choosing to use these models are trusting third-party vendors to develop them, provide the ratings, and they are expecting educators to effectively interpret those results. Obviously, there’s so much that can go wrong with the interpretation of VAM results, the ASA is warning that there is a need of people who have the expertise to interpret those results. I wonder how many of these states who have implemented these models have spent time and money training teachers and administrators to interpret these results, other than subjecting educators to one-time webinars or "sit-n-gets"?
  • “Estimates of VAM should always be accompanied by measures of precision and a discussion of the assumptions and possible limitations of the model. THESE LIMITATIONS ARE PARTICULARLY RELEVANT IF VAMS ARE USED FOR HIGH STAKES PURPOSES (Emphasis Mine).” I can’t speak for other states, but in North Carolina there has been little to no disclosure or discussion about the limitations of value-added data. There’s been more public relations, advertising, and promotion of the methodology as a new way of evaluating educators. They even have SAS promoting the methodology for them.The Obama administration has done this as well. The attitude in North Carolina seems to be, “We’re gonna evaluate teachers this way, so deal with it.” There needs to be discussion and disclosure about SAS’s EVAAS model and the whole process of using tests to evaluate teachers in North Carolina. Sadly, that’s missing. I can bet it’s the same in other states too.
  • VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.” In other words, VAMs only tell you how students do on standardized tests. They can’t tell you all the other many, many ways teachers contribute to students’ lives. The main underlying assumption with using VAMs in teacher evaluations is that only test scores matter, regardless of what supporting policymakers say. While its true that the North Carolina Evaluation model does include other standards, how long will it take administrators and policymakers to ignore those standards and zero in on test scores because they are seen as the most important? The adage, "What gets tested, gets taught!" is true and "What get's emphasized the most through media and promotion, matters the most" is also equally true. When standard 6 or 8 is the only standard on the educator evaluation where an educator is "In Need of Improvement" then you can bet test scores suddenly matter more than anything else.
  • “VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects---positive or negative---attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.” There are certainly many, many things----poverty, lack of breakfast, runny noses---that can contribute to a student’s test score, yet there’s a belief that a teacher directly causes a test score to happen, especially by those pushing VAMs in teacher evaluations. The biggest assumption by those promoting VAMs in teacher evaluations is that the teacher's sole job or part of their job is the production of test scores. In reality, teaching is so much more complex than that, and those reducing it to a test score have probably not spent much time teaching themselves.
  • “Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of the opportunities for quality improvement are found in system-level conditions.” Yet in most states, educational improvement falls almost entirely on the backs of educators in the schools in the form of VAM-Powered Teacher Evaluations. There's little effort to improve the system. There’s no effort to improve classroom working conditions, provide professional development funding/resources, adequate material/resource funding. Instead of looking at how the system prevents excellence and innovation with its top-down mandates and many other ineffective measures, many states, including North Carolina and the Obama administration place accountability entirely and squarely on the backs of educators in the classrooms and schools. If the education system is broken, you don't focus on parts, you improve the whole.
  • “Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.” If all learning that is important can be reduced to a one-time administered-bubble-sheet test, then all is well for VAM and the ranking of teachers. But every educator knows that tests measure only a minuscule portion of important learning. Many important learning experiences can't even be measured by tests. But, if you elevate tests in a high stakes manner, then those results become the most important outcome of the school and the classroom. The end result is teaching to the test and test-prep where the test becomes the curriculum. Getting high test scores becomes the goal of teaching. If that’s the goal of teaching, who would want to be teacher? Elevating test scores through VAM only will escalate the exit of teachers from the profession and discourage others from entering it. because there's nothing fulfilling about improving student test scores. We didn't become educators to raise test scores; we became educators because we wanted to teach kids.
  • “The measure of student achievement is typically a score on a standardized test, and VAMs are only as good as the data fed into them.” Ultimately, VAMs are only as good as the tests administered to provide the data that feeds the model. If tests don’t adequately measure the content, or if they are not standardized or otherwise of high quality, then the VAM estimates are equally of dubious quality. When states try to scramble to create tests on the fly and do not develop quality tests, then the VAM estimates are of dubious quality too. North Carolina scrambled to create multiple tests in many high school, middle and elementary subjects just to have data to feed their EVAAS model. Yet, those tests and the process of their creation and field testing, even how they’re administered makes them questionable candidates for serious VAM use. VAMs require high-quality data to provide high-quality estimates. The idea that "any-old-test-will-do" is an anathema to VAMs which require quality test data.
The American Statistical Association position statement on using value-added models in educational assessment makes some supporting statements about their use too. They can be effectively used as part of the data teachers use to adjust classroom teaching. But when a state does not return those scores until October or later, its impossible to use that data to inform teaching, three months into the school year. Also, just getting a rating does little to inform teaching. Testing provides an opportunity for policymakers to provide teachers with valuable data to improve teaching. Sadly, the current data provided is too little and too late.

As the VAM-fed teacher evaluation fad and craze continues and grows, it is important for all educators to inform themselves about the controversial statistical practice. It is not a methodology without issues despite what the Obama administration and state education leaders say. Being knowledgeable about it means understanding its limitations as well as how to properly interpret and use such data. Don't wait for states and the federal government to provide that information: They are too busy promoting its use. The points made in the American Statistical Association’s Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment are excellent points of entry for learning more.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bose Soundlink Mini: Powerful, Compact Speaker for Your Tablets and Other Bluetooth Devices

While I am not sure whether this topic directly fits the needs of school leaders and educators, I have so enjoyed the sound the Bose Soundlink Mini provides so much, I just have to share it. Though please understand I am not a Bose or electronic salesman and I am not getting any fees for this post.

Looking for a bluetooth speaker with an enormous sound is difficult, especially for someone like myself looking at  the low-end devices, which just couldn't seem to provide a big enough and full enough sound. Yesterday, I found what I was looking for in a Bose Soundlink Mini. It provides me with exactly the sound as I was looking for, though for a bit more money than I intended. However, I discovered I just couldn't find a device for less to do what I wanted it to do.

The Bose Soundlink Mini gives me a portable stereo, full range sound that I can literally can take anywhere. For example, I can't remember how many times during a presentation I wanted sound, but there were no adequate speakers in the room. For a small room presentation, the Bose Sound Mini provides a deep, rich sound that's just difficult to beat. It sounds good on the patio too! Here's some of my other favorite features of this device.

  • Small and compact: At 2 inches tall, 7.1 inches wide, and 2.3 inches deep it is compact enough to fit into my computer bag. You can purchase a small case for close to fifty dollars.
  • Easy to use.
  • Can also connect with sound auxiliary cord as well.
  • Rechargeable battery.
The Bose Soundlink Mini was a bit more expensive at 200 dollars than I originally intended, but it is a powerful little device.

Bose® - SoundLink® Mini Bluetooth Speaker - Larger Front
Bose Soundlink Mini

Thursday, April 3, 2014

StudentFirst Charter School Found to Be Putting Administrators First in Charlotte NC

In a recent Charlotte Observer article entitled "StudentFirst Charter School to Close Next Week" 300 students will find themselves without a school next week due to the foundering of this charter school on the rocks of mismanagement and downright incompetence. According to the article, state consultants hired to investigate this charter school found:

  • academic shortcomings
  • unopened mail
  • unpaid bills
  • overpaid and overstaffed administration
  • tens of thousands of spending not properly documented
Of course the irony of the name of this charter school rings loud and clear once you read the grocery list of issues above. 

I have long understood that the theory most have about charter schools is to create schools that can avoid the red tape and regulation that regular schools face. Say what you want, but in regular public schools, it is fairly difficult for this kind of thing to happen. There are "pay scales" that control how much administrators are paid. There are regulations dictating how money is handled and paid. As much as we administrators might fuss about these regulations sometimes when we're dealing with administrative matters, this incident is a reminder that not all regulation is bad. 

When you create an governmental entity that can operate outside the rules the rest of us have to follow, corruption will follow. Now North Carolina has increased the possibility of more charter school corruption by lifting the ceiling, and we have a current United States president and secretary of education who are avid charter school supporters. 

Should we be really surprised when a charter school called "StudentFirst Academy," whose actual name sounds like it should be "Administrators First" suddenly becomes so corrupt that 300 students are cast into the street to find their education elsewhere? As a whole charter schools are no better than regular public schools. Their ability to avoid regulation is a recipe for more corruption and wasting of tax payer money like StudentFirst academy in Charlotte, North Carolina.