His Students Were Struggling, So He Changed 1 Big Thing. Then Everything Changed


I absolutely love reading about new and different classroom strategies. Here I read an article about flipping classrooms: His Students Were Struggling, So He Changed 1 Big Thing. Then Everything Changed.

The principal had the idea from his time as a coach to offer the classroom lectures to students outside of class, as homework, so that the written work and discussion and projects could occur during class time with the help of the teacher.

How many times do students have trouble completing written homework, and then not receive help in class because the teacher has moved on to the next lesson?

How often do students have trouble taking notes AND absorbing the information during a class lecture? I know that I am a writer and I usually need to write things down to understand them. Writing takes time and the comprehension comes second. I am usually feverishly writing notes before they are erased or the teacher moves on, but can’t listen to the words for comprehension at the same time.

This principal tried “flipping” one classroom to see if it would be successful. The teacher recorded short video clips of the lesson approximately 10 mins and the students would watch them as homework instead of written work. This also allow the student to re-watch, pause, take notes and really get a sense of the material.

When students went to class they already had a basic understanding of the lesson and could work on written work in class with the help of the teacher. Class discussion and projects are more productive because the material has already been covered and you can just engage with each other – which is the whole point of school.

I know when I had reading homework, I rarely ever completed it. Class discussion never really required that I had read the material, I always managed to make it work. If I had been asked to watch a video instead of reading, I probably would have covered more material. Also, its easier to watch a short video when you are tired and virtually impossible to read when you are tired, which is probably a good amount of my high school and college career.

They started with one teacher teaching a flipped class to struggling kids and the same teacher teaching the same material in a traditional way to average students. The idea was to see if the students having problems would be helped at all by the switch.

And…

The at-risk kids actually outperformed the other class!

It’s not really about the technology, its more about more engagement in class with the teacher and students. Granted there could be some barriers in terms of student access to technology to access the videos and teachers have to commit the recording all the videos. But a successful strategy is always a good one! The rest can be worked out.

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

In this last post, I took a look at the state takeover / Turnaround plan in Lawrence, MA. Being touted as a true collaboration between districts and unions I wanted to dig a little deeper to see what may have transpired and potentially what could draw success in the future.

A strong leader is something I believe both unions and pro-reformers want. Lawrence was fortunate to have a leader that was willing to forge a middle ground by investing time in human capital. A strong leader on either the union side or a firm pro-reform side (or one that is simply neither) may not be able to bring about results. Finding strong leader talent is difficult, but often a very important piece.

Jeffrey Riley was appointed by the MA Education commissioner and was awarded all the powers of a superintendent and a school board. He did not have to negotiate with unions and didn’t quite at first. It appears he worked to implement certain reforms and then seeing some progress proceeded to work with unions to solidify.

Expanded learning time is usually promoted by both unions and pro-reformers, but unions only if teachers are being paid for it. Lawrence likely was able to make pay available through grants – we’ll have to see how they are able to keep it flowing through changes in school funding. It’s generally a given that expanded learning time, executed correctly is greatly beneficial to students. So what are districts to do if they can’t immediately find the money to pay teachers for the extra time? I see the teacher perspective of wanting to be paid for the extra time, but really how much extra is it? At one point someone decided that 7 hours a day was all students needed. Now it may be 9 hours. Should students have to suffer without expanded learning time in districts where there isn’t extra money for teachers?

Generally speaking unions are against charters – unless they are running them. Lawrence was able to put together a collection of charter management, union management and LPS management in the turnaround plan. So, I guess unions aren’t all against charters, all the time?

Lawrence is using a myriad of data to evaluate students and in turn teachers. This is not usually something that unions go along with. So maybe unions aren’t all against data for performance?

Successful building principals have autonomy to make changes in their own school, including staffing. However teachers did receive 2 1/2 hrs of collaborative planning time (likely assisted by the expanded learning time) in which to analyze student data and make curriculum adjustments. It was not clear on the specifics of professional development, but there appears to have been more offered.

I took a look at the Lawrence teacher’s contract and found some interesting items:

  • It provides the superintendent wide sweeping authority to make changes to school operational procedure throughout the year
  • Under Teacher hiring and promotions, Article 26: “In filling positions, principals have the authority to select the best qualified staff from both internal and external candidates without regard to seniority.” It is often the case that if a senior member of the district’s faculty wants a position he or she will get it. This allows more leeway to have the district make the right decisions for kids.
  • Another win for kids, in Article 35, when there is a reduction in force district is allowed to consider data and teacher evaluations over seniority:

“The Superintendent has the right to lay off teachers and other district staff due to reductions in force or reorganizations resulting from declining enrollment or other budgetary or operational reasons. The Superintendent will establish the selection criteria for layoffs of teachers and other district staff. Such selection criteria may include, but are not limited to qualifications, licensure, work history (including elements such as discipline, attendance, evaluations, etc.), multiple measures of student learning, operational need and the best interests of the students. Where all other factors are equal, seniority may be used as the deciding factor.”

This is also probably largely due to the law Stand for Children MA passed in 2012 which made job performance, not seniority, the primary consideration in teacher staffing decisions in every public school in Massachusetts, with the new evaluation systems being a key component of how job performance is measured.

  • Still not sure why teachers are allowed 15 sick days per year when they only report to school for 183 days (in Lawrence). Most professional jobs give you 1-2 weeks of paid leave and maybe a few sick days or those are included in the 1-2 weeks. The fact that they can accrue up to 200…what would someone do with 200 days of sick leave???

Fifteen days of full pay shall be allowed during the school term from August to June in case of illness. Any or all of the fifteen (15) days of full pay that have not been used may be carried over to the following year’s allowance and such allowance may be accumulated to two hundred (200) days of full pay.

  • Health insurance premiums which are usually a hot debate on contract negotiations are not clearly outlined. Unless teachers are buying into the statewide health insurance plan.
  • Article 66: The career ladder is one of the more interesting elements to the contract. Each level of advancement is based on certain performance evaluations, although no salary can be decreased due to evaluations, I assume the teacher would stay at the same level. I believe that in those cases the consequences of the evaluation system come into play. Often if you are at a needs improvement or unsatisfactory level for “x” number of years there are improvement plans and opportunities or consequences that take over. The career ladder also allows for excellent teachers to advance through the ladder commensurate with their evaluations. A new teacher could be eligible for the salary of a veteran teacher within 5 years.

A Novice teacher shall advance to Developing I and a Developing I teacher shall advance to Developing II annually provided that the teacher does not receive an end-of year evaluation rating of “unsatisfactory.”

A Developing II teacher shall advance to Career I and all Career level teachers shall advance a level annually provided that an end-of-year evaluation rating of “proficient” or “exemplary” is received, with “proficient” or better ratings on all four standards. A teacher with an overall end-of-year rating of “proficient” who has achieved less than “proficient” ratings on all four standards may still advance to the next level with the recommendation of the building principal and the approval of the Superintendent.

A teacher who does not receive the requisite evaluation rating can appeal for a review of the evaluation to the Evaluation Committee.

If no end-of year formative or summative evaluation is completed for a teacher, the teacher shall advance to the next level.

A teacher may advance on the salary scale more rapidly than described above with the recommendation of the school principal, subject to the approval of the Superintendent. Any such advancement will be limited to two levels above what the performance plan would otherwise provide, provided however that a teacher may not advance to Advanced or Masters status without going through the review process that applies district wide. The union shall be notified of all such advancement decisions.

Novice, Developing, Career, and Advanced teachers shall not have their salary reduced based on their performance evaluation.

Based on past experience and performance, a newly-hired teacher may enter the Lawrence Public Schools above the Novice level based on a principal’s recommendation and Superintendent’s approval.

 

The career ladder:

Master

___________

Advanced

___________

Career

Level 4

Level 3

Level 2

Level 1

Developing

Level 2

Level 1

Novice

  • Article 67 – Expanded learning time pay is included in this contract. It is not clear to me when the ELT pay is issued – as time is accrued throughout the year or as a lump sum at the end of the year. Also, I’m not sure if the pay is based on each increment, or just a flat rate at the end. For example, if a teacher works 1525 hours,  does he/she receive a one time payment of $3,000, or does the teacher receive $2,000 for hours 1400-1449, and $2,500 for hours 1450-1499…etc. FYI $2,000 for 50 hours of work is $100/hr.

Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, teachers working an extended day shall receive stipends in the following amounts based on hours worked:

1400-1449 hours             $2,000

1450-1499 hours             $2,500

1500-1549 hours             $3,000

1550-1599 hours             $3,500

1600-1825 hours             $4,000

Total teacher hours during the normal school day for the year shall not exceed 1,825 hours, excluding functions outside the normal school day, such as parent meetings, after-school functions and other similar activities.

These stipend compensation amounts shall be included in base pay, or otherwise considered as part of the teacher’s annualized salary, for retirement purposes.

Here are some comments from AFT union leaders reported in the Education Week article:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is generally an outspoken opponent of state takeovers, has been highlighting the progress in Lawrence as an example of transformation that’s possible when the union and the district work together.

“Lawrence is succeeding because of the work between people—including the superintendent, the teachers, and parents, and now, the city administration,” she said. “Let me be really blunt. Anybody who thinks that it’s structure rather than human capital will make a huge … policy mistake.”

Frank McLaughlin, the president of the Lawrence Teachers’ Union, praises the gains and Mr. Riley, though he credits strong leadership and an infusion of resources for the positive momentum, not the state takeover itself.

It appears that concessions can be made in the right environments. I think it’s worth noting that Mr. Riley basically made it mandatory that teachers join the union. I’m sure that went a long way to making the negotiations easier….you know so AFT can bank every dollar! 😉

Can we teach all electives and no “subjects”?

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

I know that this is a concept that will be shut down by “education professionals” nationwide, and I have neglected to show my support for the idea until I have been able to support the idea more thoroughly. However, I must begin talking about it with this article about Finland to stop teaching “subjects” and start teaching “topics.”

Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.

More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union – which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography.

There are other changes too, not least to the traditional format that sees rows of pupils sitting passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.

How archaic is it to teach “English” “Social Studies” “Math” and “Science”? The new common core standards allow for much collaboration between skills and topics. Teachers are already working together on teams to collaborate their lessons.

Not only does it make sense to teach “electives” instead of “core subjects” it will be more engaging, interesting and fun for students!!!!

Why is Model UN or Model Legislature only an after school activity? Can’t that incorporate history, writing, public speaking, group work….etc. In college I had a class called Model UN and we used law texts and literally created a UN in our classroom week after week. Why wouldn’t that make sense as a K-12 class?

Why not an astronomy class? Or Gardening class? Or any other number of science explorations that would be fun, instead of dull science class trying to teach you everything in 4 classes. You can learn math and science topics and writing and possibly some history all in one fun “elective” style class.

The best part is, you can even intermingle grade levels. If one room school houses can teach all grade levels, then you can have different levels in your elective style class and have the older students do harder work and younger ones the easier work and they can even teach each other.

I learned so much more in my elective history classes where instead of reading the text book, we read biographical novels. Psychology class, current events – were all more interesting. We need to start incorporating business education into classes – so let’s do math and history and writing in that too.

I’ll bet you teachers would be more excited about teaching these electives all day and not teaching to a text book.

“There are schools that are teaching in the old fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginnings of the 1900s – but the needs are not the same and we need something fit for the 21st century.”

The reforms reflect growing calls in the UK – not least from the Confederation of British Industry and Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt – for education to  promote character, resilience and communication skills, rather than just pushing children through “exam factories”.

We should be focused on teaching and developing skills, not drilling subject matter.

Teachers were naturally a but resistant because all they know is what they have done all their lives.

Even in Finland, the reforms have met objections from teachers and heads – many of whom have spent their lives focusing on a particular subject only to be told to change their approach.

Ms Kyllonen has been advocating a “co-teaching” approach to lesson planning, with input from more than one subject specialist. Teachers who embrace this new system can receive a small top-up in salary.

About 70 per cent of the city’s high school teachers have now been trained in adopting the new approach, according to Mr Silander.

“We have really changed the mindset,” he said. “It is quite difficult to get teachers to start and take the first step… but teachers who have taken to the new approach say they can’t go back.”

 

65% of teachers support: hiring + firing decisions based on teacher’s performance in the classroom, not seniority

I happened across this article from PennCANThe path to success in 2015: Money AND reform” and wanted to share this piece of research:

Third Way, a prominent Democratic think-tank, recently commissioned Jeff Pollack, a prominent Democratic pollster, to analyze voter sentiment on education reform.

The results will be surprising only to those not involved in the daily grind of education policy.

Sixty-five percent of teachers and 86 percent of all respondents said that they either “strongly support” or “support” the following policy proposal: Ensure “hiring and firing decisions are made based on a teacher’s performance in the classroom, not seniority.”

PennCAN found similar results in a poll we conducted in 2013, as have other education reform organizations that have done polling on this issue.

Seems like the only people who don’t want to hold teachers accountable for classroom performance are teachers unions.

The article also talks about how we need Money AND Reform to make a serious positive impact on our kids’ education. This is a message that was loud and clear when I worked at Stand for Children. Stand started as an advocacy group for all children’s issues. It transitioned over time to focusing exclusively on education issues, mostly funding policy. After years of securing hundreds of thousands of dollars for education, the achievement gap still persisted. Instead of sticking to the status quo, they decided that money AND reforms were going to be needed to move our education system forward.

Unfortunately it’s not just about more money. It’s how we spend it and what programs are being utilized. And we must have an excellent teacher in each class and we can only determine that through effective evaluations.

PennCan’s article continues…

Ask any business leader and they will tell you of their disbelief that there is even a debate around this issue. Ask any political insider about this issue and they’ll say it’s impossible to get it done because of opposition from the teachers unions.

But the tide is turning and it isn’t just because teachers themselves are with us. It’s because of lawsuits like Vergera, where Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that seniority and tenure laws have a disproportionately negative effect on minority and low-income students by placing and retaining ineffective teachers in their schools. Politics usually eats policy for breakfast, until the policy becomes so bad that it’s indefensible.

Seems like the truth is that Education reformers want money AND reform and unions just want to pour more money into the system…we’re not against reforms unions want, but unions aren’t inclusive of the reforms necessary to move our education system forward. In essence, education reformers want to see more done to improve and unions want to exclude reforms that are helping students.

2015 will be an interesting year for PennCAN–we have a newly elected Democratic Governor who based his campaign on the development and implementation of a new school funding formula and a Republican legislature that isn’t interested in throwing more money into the same old system.

To be successful in this political climate, advocates will have to devise a plan for bridging this gap. Luckily for us, PennCAN agrees with both the Governor-elect and the Legislature. We have always been and always will be the organization that fights for more money AND more reform. In the next few years, we hope to have both.

 

Make your own choices about what to believe

Much of the work of this blog is to do just that – encourage folks to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions, hopefully having done a little bit of research. So much of what is said and written is wrong, or misguided, or lacks factual and supporting evidence. Two prior blogs I wrote talk specifically to this theme: Don’t be fooled by marketing & Look Deeper Than the Title.

This theme is essentially what I took from Rishawn Biddle’s post: LET PUBLIC EDUCATION’S FAILED LEGACIES DIE.  He makes mention of a variety of items written in the last few months that are unworthy and Biddle argues may the editor would have taken another look had it not been Nov/Dec. This reinforces the concept that you must read for yourself, research for yourself and make your own choices about what to believe.

Here are some of the points I took to heart:

The last two months of every year is what your editor calls silly season, when otherwise-sensible people end up writing less-than-sensible things. This is why your editor won’t devote many words to the latest defense of overusing out-of-school suspensions and other harsh traditional school discipline by Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli. Doing so means giving the data-free claptrap more credence than the unserious piece deserves. Considering that I have tornapart Petrilli’s earlier arguments about the issue somanytimes before — and has cited decades of evidence to boot — another point-by-point response would just heap on more embarrassment for him.

I, too, took Michael Petrilli to task about the current post he is referencing in my post: Don’t leave school discipline up to Mr. Petrilli.

Yet Petrilli, Loveless, and Hess, through their respective polemics and advocacy for traditionalist thinking, raise an important question: Why do traditionalists and even more-sensible reformers advocate for replicating the failed polices and practices of American public Education’s past and present when we must do better for all of our children?

Biddle’s post reinvigorated me to write this post as well, referencing a list of things to re-evaluate from our current system that were designed in the past. What would you add to this list of antiquated elements of today’s schools?

One of the enduring conflicts, both in the battle over reforming American public education as well as within the school reform movement itself, is that there are some outdated ideas that damage the futures of kids to which some hold on to with dear life. Considering the data on how woeful American public education remains — including 33 percent of all fourth-graders in 2013 were functionally illiterate (along with another 33 percent reading at basic levels of literacy) — and that one out of every two dropouts and high school grads without higher ed training aren’t in the workforce, you would think it would be hard to justify holding on to nearly every policy, practice, and institution within it.

Yet as Petrilli, Loveless, and Hess demonstrate in their rhetoric, there are some reformers who are as keen on preserving the worst traditionalist thinking as those opposed to systemic reform.  Same also goes for centrist and liberal reformers who still oppose expanding vouchers and other forms of school choice. And like most traditionalists, they fight vigorously to preserve institutions and practices ultimately because they believe such policies and practices are worth keeping.

What is clear, in short, is that American public education cannot continue to exist in its current form. This doesn’t mean abandoning the concept of public education, at least as the system of financing high-quality opportunities for children of all backgrounds so that their geniuses are nurtured in order for them to choose their own paths to success and happiness. What it does mean is that the failed policies, practices, and institutions within public education shouldn’t be preserved.