Training great principals

How to Train and Retain Great Principals in Struggling Urban Schools on PBS NewsHour looks at a Chicago campaign to recruit, train and support leaders who can turn around low-performing schools.

‘Teacherpreneurs’ — and free e-books

Teacherpreneurs tells the stories of eight classroom teachers who are shaping policies and practices at their schools.  All are members of Center for Teaching Quality’s  Collaboratory.

Download free-e-books: Michael Petrilli’s The Diverse Schools Dilemma and Education Reform for the Digital Era are available.

Also available as a free download: Mark Schneider’s The Accountability Plateau analyzes No Child Left Behind’s effect on NAEP scores (math achievement is up) and warns that gains may be leveling off.

‘Holistic’ admissions at Berkeley

When California voters barred the use of racial or ethnic preferences in college admissions, the University of California vowed to use a “holistic” process that considers socioeconomic disadvantages, leadership and motivation, as well as grades and test scores. As a reader of applications for Berkeley’s engineering department, Ruth Starkman saw the holistic process at work, she writes in the New York Times.

A highly qualified student, with a 3.95 unweighted grade point average and 2300 on the SAT, was not among the top-ranked engineering applicants to the University of California, Berkeley. He had perfect 800s on his subject tests in math and chemistry, a score of 5 on five Advanced Placement exams, musical talent and, in one of two personal statements, had written a loving tribute to his parents, who had emigrated from India.

The applicant was a 2 on a 1-to-5 scale (1 being highest) because he didn’t have enough extracurricular activities and engineering awards, she learned in training.

Now consider a second engineering applicant, a Mexican-American student with a moving, well-written essay but a 3.4 G.P.A. and SATs below 1800. His school offered no A.P. He competed in track when not at his after-school job, working the fields with his parents. His score? 2.5.

Readers were told to told to ignore minority background, but could consider whether a student came from a non-English-speaking household if it was a “stressor” that justified a special read looking for socioeconomic disadvantages.

To better understand stressors, I was trained to look for the “helpful” personal statement that elevates a candidate. Here I encountered through-the-looking-glass moments: an inspiring account of achievements may be less “helpful” than a report of the hardships that prevented the student from achieving better grades, test scores and honors.

Readers are supposed to look for “leadership,” a major criterion in the holistic process. That usually meant extracurricular activities. (Volunteer trips to exotic places were taken as a sign of  ”privilege.”)

In my application pile, many students from immigrant households had excellent grades and test scores but few activities. I commented in my notes: “Good student, but not many interests or activities? Why? Busy working parents? And/or not able to afford, or get to, activities?”

Many essays “lucidly expressed a sense of self and character,” Starkman writes.  Others “betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable.”

She read innumerable hard-luck stories, not all of them credible. Kids figure out what sells.

Favoring “stressors” over academic success has costs:  92 percent of whites and Asians at Berkeley graduate within six years, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of blacks. In the UC system, 17 percent of Hispanic and black students who express interest in the sciences graduate with a science degree within five years, compared with 31 percent of white students.

It’s ironic that colleges claim to be looking for  “leadership” potential, writes Walt K in the comments.

. . . their entire process is designed to select compliant followers: people who have bought into the whole game, and are happy to play along.

People who do well on tests. People who do well in class. People who follow instructions. People who join clubs. People who follow the conventional wisdom People who teachers like. People who do what they are told. People who do all the ‘right’ things.

. . .  leaders are the ones who say, ‘To heck with this, I’m picking myself.’ Which may often mean bailing out on college to actually DO something instead of sucking up.

I think Walt K has a point.

Many elite colleges enroll few low- and moderate-income students, reports the New York Times. Berkeley is much higher than the average, due affirmative action for disadvantaged students.

Britain: Spending doesn’t improve schools

“There is no correlation at all between the level of per-pupil funding and educational outcomes,” concludes a Deloitte analysis of British schools, reports The Telegraph. The Department of Education had commissioned the study to provide support  for a “pupil premium” — extra funding — for disadvantaged students.

The report confirms what’s obvious to parents, editorializes The Telegraph: “Ethos is what matters most – and you can’t buy a good ethos. Head teachers who turn around a school are utterly priceless, in every way.”

We’d say “culture” instead of  ”ethos” and “principal” for “head teacher.”

There’s evidence that a well-run school will use extra funds to improve, going from good to very good or very good to excellent. But more money doesn’t help if the school lacks strong leadership.

Study: States lack data on principals

A good school requires a good principal, nearly everyone agrees. But most states collect little or no information about how their principals are prepared, licensed, supported and evaluated, concludes Operating in the Dark, an analysis by the Dallas-based George W. Bush Institute.

“While 47 states reported they have adopted standards for principal effectiveness . . . just 17 states include learning outcomes when evaluating principal-preparation programs,” notes Ed Week. “Only six states—Connecticut, Georgia, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington—use some evidence of effectiveness in renewing principals’ licenses.”Rhode Island  creating comprehensive systems to follow principals from their training programs through licensing, placement, and school leadership.

‘Culture of Can’t’ weakens school leaders

School superintendents can lead, despite rules, regulations and union contracts, argue Rick Hess and Whitney Downs in Combating the ‘Culture of Can’t’ in Education Next. It’s not easy, but “school officials have far more freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed,” they write.

Contracts, rules, regulations, statutes, and policies present real problems, but smart leaders can frequently find ways to bust them—with enough persistence, knowledge, or ingenuity.

The problem is . . .  the “culture of can’t,” in which even surmountable impediments or ankle-high obstacles are treated as absolute prohibitions.

Reformers fight for new policies on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds or school choice, but don’t  provide the support school leaders “need to tackle rules, regulations, and contracts in new ways,” write Hess and Downs.

Thus, reformers struggle to narrow the scope of collective bargaining, only to see administrators fumble the hard-won opportunities. They enact teacher evaluation and turnaround policies whose efficacy and impact rest entirely on the ability of officials to execute them competently and aggressively in the face of contracts, embedded routines, and recalcitrant cultures.

Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute has a new book, Cage-Busting Leadership.

“In selecting, training, socializing, and mentoring leaders, we have unwittingly encouraged ‘caged’ leadership,” he writes in Ed Week.  ”Cage-dwellers spend most of their energy stamping out fires or getting permission to lead, and most of their time wooing recalcitrant staff, remediating ineffective team members, or begging for resources. Cage-busters wake up every morning focused on identifying big challenges, dreaming up solutions, and blasting their way forward.”

Young teachers demand a voice

More than half of teachers now have fewer than 10 years of experience. Led by this new generation, the “teacher voice movement” is Taking Back Teaching, writes Richard Lee Colvin, former director of Education Sector, in Education Next.

Several new groups work to amplify the voices of top classroom teachers as they weigh in on controversial policy issues, as with the evaluations in Los Angeles. The Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellows, the New Millennium Initiative, and the Viva Project, a digital platform for crowdsourcing teachers’ ideas, all fall into this category.

The aim of another set of programs is to keep successful teachers in the profession by giving them opportunities to assume leadership roles, as with Teach Plus and its T3 project. A fellowship program launched in 2008 by Leading Educators, which began in New Orleans and is now expanding to Kansas City and Detroit, for example, provides a select group of teachers with training in education issues, management, leadership, and problem solving.

A third front in the so-called “teacher voice” movement pushes local unions to become more democratic. . . . NewTLA in Los Angeles, operates as a caucus within the union there.

Regardless of the approach, all of the groups unabashedly acknowledge that some teachers are more effective than others and that even the best teachers want to keep improving their practice. Rather than seeing themselves as adversaries to either unions or school districts, teachers who get involved in these groups tend to think of themselves as problem solvers. As a result, many district, state, and national education policymakers view them as more authentic classroom voices than union activists.

Teachers’ unions often see the advocacy groups as a threat, Colvin writes. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called Educatiors 4 Excellence, which influenced New York’s policy on appeals of low performance ratings,  “a wedge against the union.”

E4E members (were called) “anti-union scum” and “union-busting plants” in online forums. One comment on a GothamSchools blog post complained that “in the past all young teachers paid their dues, and didn’t complain about being low man on the totem pole” in the union. (Co-founder Sydney) Morris said E4E is not anti-union. “We’re trying to strengthen the union in the long run by having it become more representative of its members,” Morris said.

Critics say the new groups represent the foundations that provide their funding, not grassroots teachers.

Funders include the Ford Foundation, the Joyce, Stuart, Arnold and Hewlett foundations and Mayor Mike’s Bloomberg Philanthropies, writes Colvin. “The largest source of funding is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which currently has $13.5 million invested in nine teacher-advocacy groups, including $975,000 over two years going to E4E. But the foundation has also given $4 million to the AFT and $500,000 to the NEA to fund similar projects.”

Black and white and poorly led all over

Jeffrey Brooks’ Black School White School: Racism and Educational (Mis) Leadership describes an integrated high school that’s hideously dysfunctional, writes Stuart Buck in a TCR Record review.

Black and white school leaders don’t meet to discuss problems across racial lines, both sides tell Brooks. It would be consorting with “the enemy.”

Students don’t want to do schoolwork. The overstaffed administration does little work either.

The (health education magnet leader) resigned after a mere three months for lack of support. She “was never replaced, and, in fact, her students roamed the halls during her assigned instructional hours.”

. . . Administrators declined to hand out National Merit Awards to two students at an assembly, because they had neglected to learn how to pronounce the students’ names (one was Kenyan, the other Japanese)

Academic excellence isn’t valued: The black principal, whose only teaching experience is in P.E.,  tells a black teacher to quit the rigorous International Baccalaureate program, which has equal numbers of white and black students, because she’s not “keeping it real.”

Worse, the principal tries to meet accountability targets by forcing the worst students to drop out before the head count for the state exam.

“This reveals the paradox of school-level accountability,” writes Buck. “Just where the threat of accountability is most needed” — when school leaders are incompetent or dishonest — ” it is the most hopeless.”

Helping teachers teach in tough schools

It’s important to make high-poverty, low-performing schools satisfying places to work, concludes a new Education Trust report, Building and Sustaining Talent: Creating Conditions in High-Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning.

Despite widespread assumptions that students are the primary cause of teacher dissatisfaction, research shows that the culture of the school – particularly the quality of school leadership and level of staff cohesion – actually matters more to teachers’ job satisfaction and retention, particularly in high-poverty schools, than do the demographics of the students or teacher salaries.

The report looks at districts that are improving the teaching environment in challenging schools.

 

Teachers need to lead

Speak up, teachers! urges Nancy Flanagan on Teacher in a Strange Land.  And, if you’ve got the makings of a leader, don’t let the profession’s egalitarianism hold you back.

My friend Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach–a compelling speaker and insightful author–wrote this in a wonderful piece on “unselfish self-promotion: “We are taught that arrogance is associated with pride and that we should err on the side of humility. But is marketing our own ideas and work prideful if we really believe what we have to offer is useful, transformational, or helpful?

We need educators who will step up and say:  “My 20 years’ experience in the classroom–and the quality of my ideas and practice–make me an expert. Listen to me. I have confidence. I am a valuable resource.”

Women, especially, need to be more assertive, Flanagan writes.

Good teachers are not self-effacing. A timid, self-effacing person meeting 35 8th graders at 7:20 every morning is in trouble. So why aren’t accomplished teachers at the forefront of the discourse on their own issues?

When teachers do speak up, do they have the opportunity to lead? Are accomplished teachers held back by administrators, colleagues — or their own anxieties?