Racing to the Top

Education can be a political sticky wicket.  I didn't really realize this when I became a teacher, hoping to leave behind the game playing and politics of a different profession.  As classroom teacher, I saw the adoption of "Nickle-B" as we affectionately called it and the impact it had on my classroom, the relationship I had with my administration and the need for me to learn even more.  Currently, as a leader and administrator, I am looking at the marathon implcations of the Race to the Top applications and perhaps, the revision of NCLB.

I have been reading the applications of various states as they have become available and noting with interest the language of the application writers.  Having tried my hand at various grants in the past, I recognized the "this would be a great idea if you fund me" language and the "we think this is what you want to hear but in reality we might not implement it this way" language that was used in various places.  Understandable - given the time states had to prepare and submit their application along with the various assurances.

Through Eduwonk, I stumbled upon the application of Louisiana which I had not read yet.  To quote the Washington Post Op-Ed piece that led me to the application:

And the plan is beautifully written.  It describes each area in which they have already begun implementation and then explains what they will do to continue the work.  It then adds other key initiatives to investigate and add to the application to make their work even more outstanding.
"The beauty of Louisiana's reform model lies in its simplicity. The state has taken critical baseline steps, it proposes expanding projects that have shown promising results, and it has ensured that participating school districts will actually do the things that are in the application. "

Some highlights I found (accent mine):

  • Facilitating the creation and usage of professional learning networks at district and school levels that emphasize,among other things, reflection on and continuous improvement of how teacher and leader practice contributes to student achievement and teacher effectiveness. This is already being piloted by Dr. Michael Fullan in St. John the Baptist Parish, a Participating LEA. (page 9) They had me at Fullan.
  • Integrating an Instructional Improvement System that will give teachers, leaders, and administrators rapid access to student achievement and teacher effectiveness data through mechanisms such as a dashboard. This integration will vastly increase the use of data to drive instructional improvement and will unequivocally show the effect teachers have on student learning. (Page 10)  We hate to hear it, but we know it is true.  What teachers do impacts student learning.
  • To support our strategy (of adopting 100% the common core standards), summative assessment results will be available within two weeks of test administration so they can be used to inform decisions about students and also to aid in the effective evaluation of teachers and schools. The test will be vertically scaled to provide a clear picture of annual student growth. We will extend the blueprint of the K-12 common assessment quickly to science and social studies so that we can ensure a rich view of student progress and the effectiveness of teachers can be measured more reliably. We will also evaluate and implement developmentally appropriate measures of progress for Pre-K aligned to the common core standards to ensure students are on track at the earliest ages. (Page 10)
  • To implement the state’s ambitious plans and provide a level of service that supports successful reform similar to the responsiveness shown to the RSD, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) will accelerate a process that began more than two years ago to transform itself from a compliance monitoring bureaucracy to a performance-based and service-oriented school support institution. (Page 12)
There are 251 additional pages of the application but these are some pieces that had me thinking about the work that my state is (or isn't) doing.   And while not perfect, it gives me hope that the amount of money being poured into the Race to the Top applications might actually create change.

What does your state application say? If you are from Louisiana, how accurate are the claims made in the application? Inquiring minds want to know...

Pillars of Success

A recent EdWeek article caught my eye on five keys to urban school success.  Based upon 15 years of work in Chicago elementary schools, a new book identifies five "tried and true" ingredients that work, in combination with one another to lead success in urban schools.

Those pillars are:

• Strong leadership, in the sense that principals are “strategic, focused on instruction, and inclusive of others in their work”;

• A welcoming attitude toward parents, and formation of connections with the community;

• Development of professional capacity, which refers to the quality of the teaching staff, teachers’ belief that schools can change, and participation in good professional development and collaborative work;

• A learning climate that is safe, welcoming, stimulating, and nurturing to all students; and

• Strong instructional guidance and materials.

I am not sure I gained any huge "a-ha" in reading the article but it is causing me to think about the role that I play in helping schools to plant these pillars.  And it has me questioning about the role that I can play when politically, I am outside of a single district and instead operate among and with 27 of them.

And, as the article suggests, I am thinking about these findings in conjunction with the current Race to the Top initiatives and President Obama's State of the Union speech last night.

In short - I don't want to think alone.  What do you think of these 5 pillars? Are they new? Surprising? How do we go about supporting our educational systems to embrace them?

Kayaks and Canoes

We opened our team meeting today by viewing this TED Talk and talking about the future:

Transparency. Connectedness. Co-dependency.

And as we watched, I thought about how education seems to be lagging behind in even these first 5000 days.  While we don't still have the green screens that Kevin Kelly talks about - in many ways, education has barely even begun to tap the potential of the Web.

Then, by linking through a Twitter post to a blog, I found this amazing analogy on the Edge from George Dyson:

"In the North Pacific ocean, there were two approaches to boatbuilding. The Aleuts (and their kayak-building relatives) lived on barren, treeless islands and built their vessels by piecing together skeletal frameworks from fragments of beach-combed wood. The Tlingit (and their dugout canoe-building relatives) built their vessels by selecting entire trees out of the rainforest and removing wood until there was nothing left but a canoe.

The Aleut and the Tlingit achieved similar results — maximum boat / minimum material — by opposite means. The flood of information unleashed by the Internet has produced a similar cultural split. We used to be kayak builders, collecting all available fragments of information to assemble the framework that kept us afloat. Now, we have to learn to become dugout-canoe builders, discarding unneccessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.

I was a hardened kayak builder, trained to collect every available stick. I resent having to learn the new skills. But those who don't will be left paddling logs, not canoes."

Which boat will you take to the future?

Making Connections - Creating Alliances

Hard to believe that Jenn and I started this blog on August 21, 2006!!!

We had the best of intentions - bring together professionals to discuss what they are reading, trends in education and share their expertise.  We try to walk a neutral line and post questions rather than answers - although I am sure that some might not read our posts that way.  In short - what we have been trying to do is build a learning network.

Since that first post, we have embarked on using delicious and Twitter and Good Reads and Shelfari and other tools to network and connect with others.  We have been pretty fortunate to build a great personal learning network - both of local/regional folks and those who we hope to meet some day.  (I hope I am not putting words in Jenn's mouth but she will be sure to tell me in the comments!)

But despite it all - I have been a bit disappointed that we haven't had more "conversations" via this blog.  Granted - we haven't been all that faithful about posting, but it can be pretty lonely when it feels like no one is listening.  Or pushing back.  Or asking more questions.  Or sharing.

So I was very excited to read a post from a fellow blogger about creating an "alliance."  At first blush, I have to admit that the very word scares me.  When someone says alliance I think about Survivor and all the amazing things that people did to try and win that game - the back stabbing, the switching alliances, the carrying of undeserving people to the finals. (Did I mention that we try to remain neutral?)  But as I read on, and read all the links, I became very intrigued.

So of course, I signed us up!!

It isn't about getting more traffic to the site or winning any awards or making any money - that has never been the intent of our blogging.  It is about reaching out to other edu-bloggers, supporting them, having them support us and expand the learning network we have created.  We are looking for questions and more questions, not pats on the back or atta-girls.  But an open, honest and professional conversation about education.

So - join our alliance or create your own. Connect. Question. Share.

Grand Rounds in Education.