Everyone’s ‘highly effective’ — but the students

In Michigan’s Hazel Park School District, every principal and teacher is “highly effective,” but  student achievement earns an F in 10 of 16 categories, reports Michigan Capitol Confidential. Four elementary schools and the high school earned D’s and F’s. The junior high got the top grade, a C in reading.

The district’s proficiency numbers nosedived when Michigan raised cut scores on state exams. The district is 60 percent white, 36 percent black; 59 percent of students qualify for a subsidized lunch.

A state law in 2011 ordered schools to rate teachers and administrators by using one of four ratings: highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective. Statewide, 97 percent of teachers were rated in the top two categories.

 Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the district would hurt morale among truly highly effective teachers.

“It does a disservice to the teachers themselves if the district is not going to differentiate and define what good teaching is,” Van Beek said. “It doesn’t help anyone. Think how insulting it is for a good teacher in that district. They know they are putting in the extra time but are getting the exact same rating as one who may not be good at all. That’s not treating teachers as professionals.”

It’s possible for a highly effective teacher to be unable to raise students to proficiency, especially if they’re years behind at the start of the school year. But when everyone’s highly effective, except for the students, there may be a problem defining “highly effective.”

School comes to rescue of storm victims

A week after Hurricane Sandy devastated Belmar, New Jersey — with power still out — an elementary school principal and her teachers walked hard-hit neighborhoods to bring supplies to storm victims, reports Learning Matters. Families were invited to the school for hot meals — and books.

Principal guilty for not reporting teachers’ abuse

Craig Chandler, 35, is awaiting trial on charges of committing lewd and lascivious acts on five students at a San Jose elementary school where he taught second grade. His semen was found on a classroom chair.

Monday, a jury convicted the principal of failing to report suspected child abuse, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Principal Lyn Vijayendran listened to a second-grade girl’s story: The teacher had called her into an empty classroom, blindfolded her, told her to lie on the floor and open her legs, touched her feet with something that felt like a tongue, inserted something gooey in her mouth and then wiggled her head around until she tasted a salty liquid.

Instead of calling police, the principal called a district personnel administrator, who suggested questioning the teacher. Chandler said he was preparing for a “Helen Keller” lesson. Vijayendran believed him. The parent accepted the explanation.

Three months later, a parent told police Chandler had molested another second grader in the same fashion.

Juror Kathy Eriksen called the case “tragic,” but said the verdict was “absolutely necessary” to ensure educators, coaches and other mandated reporters don’t shirk their obligation.

. . . Juror Susan LaGaffa said the incident was obviously sexual and the teacher’s explanation ludicrous.

“I think she didn’t want this ugly thing to be true,” LaGaffa said. “But when you have responsibility for hundreds of children, you can’t afford to drop the ball.”

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Deborah Ryan immediately sentenced Vijayendran on the misdemeanor charge, giving her two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. The former principal, now working in the district office, can meet her service hours by training educators to comply with California’s mandated-reporter law.

The human resources director wasn’t charged because she’s not a mandatory reporter.

‘Strategic staffing’ is oversold

On the cover of School Administrator, heroic-looking educators parachute into a school.  “Landing your best forces in schools with greatest needs” promotes a story lauding Charlotte-Mecklenberg’s success in turning around troubled schools. “Strategic staffing” — sending strong principals and teachers to weak schools — has “exceeded expectations,” writes Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark.

In fall of 2008, Charlotte-Mecklenberg paid bonuses to lure star principals and teachers to seven low-performing schools. No strategic staffing school has met the campaign’s goal – 90 percent of students at grade level in three years –reports the Charlotte Observer.

In 2012, four of the seven pilot schools had pass rates of 50 percent or lower. Devonshire Elementary, the strongest of the seven, had 71 percent on grade level.

The strategic staffing schools have improved, but so have most low-performing schools in the state, reports the Observer.  A tough new test set scores plummeting in 2008, just before the new principals took over. The next year, the state started requiring students who failed exams to try again. Across the state, scores surged.
In 2012, scores fell in the seven original schools, though newly added “strategic” schools improved.

 Clark’s article, written before the 2012 test scores were released, concludes that strategic staffing will become obsolete because of its success.

“A school district’s courage has led to academic success for students in the lowest-performing schools,” she writes. “To think all it took was recognizing talented principals and teachers and inviting them to share their talents with our neediest children and schools.”

At four of the seven original schools, the principal brought in to transform the school has gone. Closing three middle schools and sending older students into low-performing elementary schools also has caused problems. bbbbbbbb

Your principles vs. your principal

New teachers should stay off the administrative radar, advises Roxanna Elden in Your Principles vs. Your Principal: How to Speak Up and When to Shut Up.

 School meetings tend to be top-down affairs: Administrators deliver information from the front of the cafeteria or auditorium, and teachers sit silently on the receiving end. Should you try to change this dynamic? Should you be the one to speak out? Should you lead the way in challenging high-level decisions, thus taking a stand for your educational beliefs and proving to administrators and colleagues alike that even new teachers deserve a place at the decision-making table?

Probably not.

New teachers should wait to speak up till they’ve built credibility with their colleagues, Elden suggests. Till then, stay quiet and look attentive.


A tale of two teacher evaluations

After one year at an elementary turnaround school in Chicago, the young, inexperienced principal told Marilyn Rhames she was one his best teachers who could improve only by being easier on herself.  After the second year, he fired her. She writes about the experience in A Tale of Two Teacher Evaluations on her Ed Week blog, Charting My Own Course.

One-third of the staff left –fired or quit — after the first year.  The principal and his two assistant principals lowered class size to 14 in second grade and raised it to 33 in third, Rhames’ grade.

A dozen of my students came in reading at or below the 1st grade level. I had six students with major behavior problems. One student threatened to kill himself and was briefly committed to a psychiatric ward. So when my reading assessments weren’t completed on time and the principal argued that 2nd grades’ assessments were in, I told him to do the math. Twice the number of students, twice the time needed. He did not appreciate my new-found frankness.

. . . When my principal came to observe my guided reading lesson, he criticized me for not using a whiteboard the way the expensive literacy consultants showed us to do in a PD.

In early March, the principal said her work was “unacceptable” and she would not be invited back. Another third of the staff left that year.

Within four years of the school’s opening, the principal and his “two wives” were gone. (One became his real wife after both divorced their spouses.)

Rhames almost quit teaching because of her experience, but is “now happily working at my charter school where teacher evaluations are fair, substantive, and self-reflective.”

Confessions of a bad teacher

In Confessions of a bad teacher in Salon, publishing executive John Owens recounts his foray into teaching English at a small New York City school.

Assign spelling words or read a short story in class, and it would take all of my wits to keep the texting, talking, sleeping and wrestling in check. But make it 80 words on “Would you give up your cellphone for one year for $500?” and every student — even those who never did any schoolwork — handed in a paper. When I read these essays to the class in dramatic, radio-announcer fashion, there was silence punctuated by hoots of laughter or roars of agreement or disagreement.

It was almost magic. It was really fun. And I often could squeeze in some spelling, even punctuation. But we weren’t always quiet.

And, according to my personnel file at the New York City Department of Education, I was “unprofessional,” “insubordinate” and “culturally insensitive.”

In other words, I was a bad teacher.

Told to control the class “with the force of your personality,” he told his eighth graders to quiet down or stay after school.  After less than 10 minutes standing in the doorway, the principal intervened. She “reported the incident to the police and the Department of Education as ‘corporal punishment’.”  He survived a disciplinary hearing, thanks to a union representative, but the principal put a letter in his file saying he’d “barricaded” the students in the room, endangering their safety.

Offered a job in publishing, Owens quit in mid-February.

He sees himself as a victim of “Crazy Boss Syndrome” in a system that gives principals the power to crush new teachers.


Turnaround twist: Principals fired, rehired

Firing the principal is the most popular way for low-performing schools to qualify for federal turnaround money, reports AP. But many fired principals have been rehired, sometimes to supervise the turnaround of their old school or to take over another school that fired its principal.

After Red Lake High School was labeled one of Minnesota’s worst schools, its board moved quickly to dismiss the principal. It didn’t take long for Ev Arnold to land on his feet, though: The same district now pays him the identical salary to oversee the school’s turnaround.

A Red Lake elementary principal who was fired replaced a fired principal at a neighboring district’s high school. The former high school principal was hired to run the middle school.  It’s not just Minnesota, AP finds.

In West Virginia, where 15 schools applied for the grants, eight principals got waivers to stay, two were hired to oversee the turnaround of their former schools, four were reassigned to other jobs in the district and one retired, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. Similarly, four of the seven Nebraska principals affected were hired as turnaround officers for their former schools . . .

The federal government is putting much more money into School Improvement Grants for the worst 5 percent of schools. Districts can close the school or convert it to a charter, but rarely choose those options. More than 90 percent choose to replace the principal and at least half the teachers, or replace just the principal and change the curriculum.

Principals keep jobs at failing schools

“Turnaround” schools often keep the same principal, reports the New York Times. There aren’t enough good principals willing to take over chronically low-performing schools.

As a result, the Department of Education, which is putting $4 billion into school turnarounds, has softened the rules requiring new principals.

About 44 percent of schools receiving federal turnaround money in these states still have the same principals who were leading them last year.

Sometimes the “new” principal is transferred in from another low-performing school.

Parents ‘pull trigger’ on failing school

In a low-income, low-performing, all-minority school district in southern California, Compton Unified parents are going to “pull the trigger” today on McKinley Elementary School, reports Parent Revolution. More than 60 percent of parents have signed a petition to use the new parent trigger law to force change. Under the law, parents can demand a new principal or a new staff or new management by a neighboring charter school with higher performance; they also can demand that the school be closed.

The petitioning parents have chosen a non-profit charter group called Celerity to take over McKinley, starting this summer.  Celerity runs three schools in the Los Angeles area that outscore nearby schools; a fourth school opened this fall. Compared to schools with similar demographics — mostly low-income, Hispanic and black students — Celerity schools do very well.

Less than half of Compton Unified students graduate from high school, Parent Revolution points out. Only three percent of graduates are eligible for California’s state universities.

A recent two-year performance audit highlighted numerous reasons why the district has such poor results, stating, amongst other things, “…the focus in the district at this time is primarily on the adult issues and not on student needs.” And within Compton, McKinley is one of the worst schools – it is ranked in the bottom 10% of elementary schools statewide, even when compared only to schools serving similar student populations.

This will be the first use of the parental trigger law in California. It will be interesting to see if Celerity, which has started its own schools from scratch, can improve an existing school with a history of low performance.

The LA Weekly has a story on the decision by McKinley parents to force change at the school.

Here’s the New York Times story.

On National Journal, the Education Experts are debating school turnarounds.