Online Learning in the Windy City

At a time when we are asking school districts to do more and more with less and less, how do we maximize the resources and opportunities we currently have?  While many folks may see online learning in K-12 as a great idea, but one they aren’t willing to fully embrace in practice, Chicago Public Schools is showing us how online learning can be effectively used.

Over at edReformer, Eduflack has a new blog post post on how CPS is using online learning to supplement the learning process and improve high school grad rates in the process.  As I say on edReformer, if we are serious about improving all schools for all students, we need to look closely at what Chicago is doing so we can maximize an instructional component like online learning, not minimize it.

Around the Edu-Horn, August 30, 2010

RT @saramead I made a cool spreadsheet to help people analyze RTT results: Check it out here:

Teachers blast L.A. Times for releasing teacher effectiveness rankings –

RT @sgermeraad NY Times: #RTTT has shown that competitive grant programs can be a powerful spur to #edreform

Growth of online learning in Chicago schools draws cheers, worries –

Education Secretary Duncan hits the road for reform

Around the Edu-Horn, August 27, 2010

Christie fired Schundler in NJ over #RTT loss —

Progress slows in closing achievement gaps in D.C. schools:

Kindergartens see more Hispanic, Asian students

New NSDC study on teacher PD trends and challenges —

RT @ewrobelen STEM education to get boost from Race to Top winners:

Teachin’ the Teachers

For much of this year, the education community has gone back and forth on teacher quality and how we evaluate effective teaching.  Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times (with an assist from Hechinger Report) pushed the topic further than most, offering a comprehensive Grading the Teachers effort that tracked individual teachers to their students’ test scores.

Without doubt, we will continue to look at such outcomes to see whether teachers are up to the job or not.  Cities across the nation, led by municipalities like Denver, Houston, and DC, have strong teacher evaluation and incentive plans in place.  And the 12 states (yes, I’ll count DC in the state pool) that finished as Race to the Top winners all needed to focus on teacher quality issues (to varying degrees).

Such emphasis on outcomes is imperative.  At the end of the day, we know our schools are improving when test scores go up.  Other measures, particularly the qualifiable, are relatively meaningless to the average parent or the average policymaker if student performance does not improve.  Scores go up, we’re doing the job.  Scores remain stagnant, we’re advocating the status quo.  And let’s not even think about scores going down.  Data is king.  He with the highest test scores — be you student, teacher, or school — rules the kingdom.

But every once in a while, we need to think about the inputs that get us to those outcomes.  The logic goes that if we are measuring teachers based on the achievement scores posted by the kids in their class, we need to also look at the tools that educators have to effectively teach in those classrooms.  What supports are teachers getting, particularly new teachers?  What does an induction program look like?  What sort of ongoing PD is offered?  What intellectual weapons are we arming our classroom teachers with?

Today, the National Staff Development Council released a new report, Professional Development in the United States: Trends and Challenges, that provides a snapshot of the investment we are making into teaching the teachers how to be better teachers.  Conducted by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) at Stanford University (a center that Eduflack has been fortunate to work with since its founding), the NSDC study offers a state-by-state report card of 11 indicators important to professional development access.  Such indicators include whether at least 80 percent of new teachers participate in induction, at least 80 percent of teachers report PD on content, at least 51 percent of teachers are getting 17 or more hours of content, and at least 67 percent of teachers reported PD on reading instruction.

How did the states do?  If a teacher wants to get the best professional development out there, they should be teaching in classrooms in either Arkansas or Utah.  If you aren’t in a classroom in either of those two states, you are doing pretty well if you manage a classroom in Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, or South Carolina.  South Carolina and Utah also offer the best environment for new teachers, posting the best scores in induction indicators.

And where does NSDC and SCOPE find teachers struggling to get the PD deemed necessary?  Indiana was the only state not to receive a single apple in the 11-apple indicator scale.    Single apples (out of 11) went to Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and WIsconsin.    

While many aren’t going to like to see such a report boiled down to a horserace (the folks at SCOPE actually list the states alphabetically, not in leaders to laggards order), such a comparison is important.  Teacher quality was a key component of RttT, and worth a fair number of points in the process.  Of the seven states recognized for their good work in PD access, only one, North Carolina, is a RttT winner.  Three others (Colorado, Kentucky, and South Carolina) came close.

But of those NSDC finds lacking, we see four RttT winners (Georgia, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) in the 11 laggards.  One would like to believe that some of these perceived deficiencies will be addressed as part of each state’s RttT-funded teacher quality efforts; only time will tell.

What also becomes interesting are the indicators themselves.  NSDC’s Professional Development Access Index says that at least 51 percent of new teachers need to report 4 out of 5 induction support.s  Only two states — South Carolina and Utah — actually do that.  It says at least 67 percent of teachers need to report PD on student discipline and classroom management, but only one state — Arkansas — is doing that.  Only three states — Arizona, California, and Oregon — are offering a majority of their teachers PD on ELL students.  It begs the question — how, exactly, do we know these indicators are non-negotiable when it comes to teacher PD if almost no states are doing it? 

Regardless, NSDC’s Professional Development in the United States report provides some interesting fodder for the ongoing teacher quality debate.  It forces us to go on record as to whether PD is important or not, opens the discussion on what good PD truly is, and allows states to see how their fellow states are doing (and what they can do to beat them).

No, we probably won’t see a rush to invest in huge PD programs, particularly in this economy.  But if states are serious about improving student achievement and measuring teachers by said achievement scores, we need to look at the inputs that go into instruction.  Teacher induction and ongoing professional development are inputs that just can’t be ignored.

Win, Place, Show – 9 RttT Observations

The Race is now over (at least until EdSec Duncan gets funding for the third leg of his proposed Triple Crown for school improvement).  Some expected and some surprises standing in the winners’ circle.  Ten RttT Phase Two recipients in all, including (highest scores first): Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio.

In the coming days, there will be significant electronic space dedicated to dissecting the scores, looking for hidden meaning in the rankings, and generally seeking out those elements that go bump in the night.  But there are a few takeaways we can see immediately:

1) As all college basketball fans know, we live in an ACC/SEC world (just ask SportsCenter).  The RttT winners list reinforces this, offering a who’s who of East Coast states.  One winner west of the Mississippi (Hawaii), and if you remove that outlier, the westernmost RttT winner is … Ohio.  While I’m not sure what that says about school improvement in the Midwest, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and such, I know it offers some great hoops possibilities in that RttT bracket.

2) Oral defenses mattered this time around.  In Phase One, most scores didn’t move after presentations in DC.  Delaware had the largest jump, winning it a Phase One check.  But most Phase One states saw single digit changes, with some seeking just a fraction of a point difference.  Phase Two was a completely different story.  Six states (AZ, CO, DC, FL, NJ, and OH) all saw double-digit increases, thanks to their defense.  It likely made the difference for at least two of the three winners (DC and OH).

3) There were a few surprises in the winners, particularly Maryland and Hawaii.  Maryland sat out Phase I.  Hawaii placed 22nd the last time around.  The other eight were all finalists this time around, and were expected to do well this go around.  And show me one person who thought New York would do that well (second place, really?).

4) The biggest surprises of those not winning everyone is talking about?  Most seem to point to Louisiana and Colorado.  In Phase One, Louisiana placed 11th and Colorado placed 14th.  Colorado increased its points total nearly 11 points in this round, while Louisiana increased its point total about 18 points.  So both improved (slightly) for the second round.  It is just that others posted far more impressive improvements.

5) The biggest surprises of those not winning no one seems to be talking about?  Illinois was 5th in Phase One, but fell to 15th this round.  Pennsylvania was 7th in Phase One, falling to 18th this round (and actually losing points in the process).  Kentucky was 9th in Phase One and slipped to 19th this round, losing six points. 

6) Who just missed?  Ohio was the 10th of 10 winners, scoring 440.8.  New Jersey finished 11th, at 437.8.  Arizona was 12th, at 435.4.  And Louisiana came in 13th at 434.0.  So 1 percent separated a winner from three left on the outside looking in.

7) Only two states lost points between rounds — Arkansas and Pennsylvania.  Most states posted huge gains, including a 195-point gain from Arizona, an 87-point gain from California, a 64-point gain from New Hampshire, and a 60-point gain from Massachusetts.  So credit to virtually all for learning from Phase One (or from benefiting from a more lenient judge pool).

8) Delaware would have come in 4th place in Phase Two, following Massachusetts, New York, and Hawaii.  Tennessee would have been 9th this round (10th if Delaware was in), coming in less than four points higher than Ohio.

9) And the most interesting fun fact?  Utah gained just fourth-tenths of a point in Phase Two.  Now that is consistency at its best.

Stay tuned for the conspiracy chatter.  What states lost because of lukewarm support from the unions (I’m looking at you NJ and LA)?  Were data systems a problem (can’t be, based on NY’s strong showing, right)?  Did Common Core State Standards play a tipping point between the haves and have nots?  Would Romanian skating rules judging have changed the order?  What really happened in Colorado?  Inquiring minds need to know.

Acting on Common Standards

Two-thirds of states have now signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative, pledging to adopt the K-12 English/language arts and math standards framework officially released in final form by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers back in June.

Without doubt, CCSSI is a necessary step forward in our national school improvement effort.  One, singular set of academic standards is a non-negotiable if we are to truly improve our performance on national assessments such as NAEP and if we are to make ourselves more competitive on international benchmarks such as PISA and TIMSS.  CCSS offer the promise that, in the near future, we will actually know the answer to the question, what should a fourth grader know when it comes to math?  Or what does it mean to be ELA proficient in the 7th grade.  Doesn’t matter what state or district a student is in (unless they happen to reside in Texas or Virginia), standards will soon actually be standard.

As states are moving to formally adopt the CCSS, the federal government is already beginning the process of developing the assessments that will accompany such standards.  In the coming weeks, we should hear about hundreds of millions of dollars being sent to various consortia to develop a standard assessment to go with the standards.  But an important question remains.  How do we move these K-12 standards frameworks into real instruction?   

Often, school improvement efforts get bogged down in this question.  We offer up a “great idea” but have little notion of how to operationalize it.  So those great ideas wither on the vine.  We all sign onto the concept, but we never fully put it into practice.

Last week, a comprehensive set of K-12 ELA “curriculum maps” were released for public review and comment.  The maps are a product of Common Core (which despite the name is not actually a part of or affiliated with CCSSI).  According to the folks at Common Core (a group Eduflack has been fortunate to work with):

Common Core’s Curriculum Maps in English Language Arts were written by public school teachers for public school teachers. The maps translate the new Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten through 12th grade into unit maps that teachers can use to plan their year, craft their own more detailed curriculum, and create lesson plans. The maps are flexible and adaptable, yet they address every standard in the CCSS. Any teacher, school, or district that chooses to follow the Common Core maps can be confident that they are adhering to the standards. Even the topics the maps introduce grow out of and expand upon the “exemplar” texts recommended in the CCSS. And because they are free the maps will save school districts millions in curriculum development costs. The draft maps are available for public comment until September 17.

There has been a great deal swirling around the blogsphere the past week on these Curriculum Maps.  One thing seems certain.  Like CCSSI itself, these Maps are a necessary first step toward moving the standards into real instruction.  Do they answer each and every question one has about implementing CCSS?  Of course not.  But it does put us on a real path toward teaching English according to what is expected from CCSS.  And it does so on a platform that was constructed on the standards themselves (rather than being tailored from old, existing materials or simply claiming alignment even if one is not there).

Perhaps most importantly, though, is that these standards were “written by public school teachers for public school teachers.”  We’ve been hearing a great deal, of late, about how most education improvement efforts seem to exclude teachers from the process.  We bring them the final product, asking them to implement, but we don’t give them any practical input into the development.  These Common Core Curriculum Maps seem different.  Educators developed and reviewed these drafts.  Teachers are now being asked to provide public comment and input on the drafts.  And those teacher inputs will be factored in before the Maps go final later this fall.

Such maps only live up to their potential, though, if folks provide valuable feedback and actionable recommendations.  Both the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation processes were strengthened because of a robust public comment period.  Same goes for the Common Core State Standards themselves, which went through comprehensive review and public comment before we saw the final product in early June. 

So for all of those who worry how to implement the standards, now is the time to offer public comment.  For all of those who worry that teachers have been ignored in the school reform process, now is the time to offer public comment.  For all of those who have first-hand, real classroom experience to provide, now is the time to offer public comment.  And for those who want to improve both teaching and learning, particularly in ELA, now is the time to offer public comment.

As the first to market, these Common Core Curriculum Maps have the potential of wielding significant impact on the future of instruction in our public school classrooms.  If we are going to start from the strongest footing possible, we need teachers and administrators and policymakers and the like to take the time to review the maps and offer their views on how to strengthen the recommendations and improve the tools that will be provided the educators throughout the nation.

Around the Edu-Horn, August 19, 2010

RT @JoanneLeeJacobs A new curriculum map for new standards

Report calls for overhaul of low-performing Buffalo, N.Y., schools (from ASCD)

RT @USChamberICW Summary of #RttT phase 2 finalists, including detailed look at major changes in apps since phase 1:

Fenty’s political fortunes tied to success of D.C. school reforms:

RT @Dyrnwyn High School diplomas and black grad rates in NJ are of questionable value:

If You Don’t Know Where DCPS is Starting …

By now, most realize that the DC Public Schools has become a central issue to next month’s DC mayoral primary.  Since taking over DCPS in 2007, Mayor Adrian Fenty has put the schools front and center.  After hiring Michelle Rhee as his schools chancellor, Fenty has regularly touted DC test score improvements and other measures to show that the schools have improved over the last two or three years.

So how does it all really measure up?  In this morning’s Washington Post, Bill Turque offers up

a terrific analysis of current benchmarks and measures for DC’s schools.  (And for those who aren’t paying attention, Turque regularly offers up some of the best insights on the continued schools evolution in our nation’s capital.)  Among the highlights are massive achievement gaps across the wards, including a 51-point reading proficiency gap between the poorest ward (Ward 8) and the wealthiest (Ward 3) and similar achievement gaps between black and white students, including a math achievement gap that has now widened to 58 points.

Perhaps most interesting, though, was the detailing of DC high school graduation rates.  We all know that grad rates are now the big dog in accountability.  We’ve shifted from middle school AYP to college and career ready, with the latter being measured by graduation and college-going rates.

According to Turque:

“Graduation rates: Fenty points to data showing that 72 percent of students graduated in 2009, up nearly three points from the previous year. Officials attributed the gains to stronger intervention programs and closer scrutiny of transcripts to make certain students have the credits to finish.

But the Office of the State Superintendent of Education uses what many experts call a flawed method for calculating high school completion. The formula divides the number of graduating seniors by that same number plus those who have dropped out in the previous four years. Analysts say a better way to track graduation rates would be to measure the percentage of ninth-graders who graduate within four years. D.C. officials say they are planning to switch to the more widely accepted “cohort” method. That would probably show a less-rosy picture. Education Week this year estimated the District’s 2007 graduation rate at about 59 percent.”

Eduflack must admit it.  I was floored to read the formula that OSSE uses to determine high school grad rates.  How can one calculate graduation rates by first EXCLUDING the number of students who have dropped out of high school?  Eduflack doesn’t have to be a statistician to know that DC is simply calculating the on-time graduation rate.  Of those students who remain in high school for four years, 72 percent earn their diploma in that time.  It is presumed that others will earn a diploma in five or even six years.  Laudable, indeed, but it is not the graduation rate.

You’ve heard it here before, but I’m going to get back up on my high edu-horse.  Back in 2005, the National Governors Association got every single state to sign onto the Graduation Counts Compact and a common graduation rate formula.  The formula is simple.  Look at the number of ninth graders enrolled in school.  Four years later, look at how many students earned a regular or advanced diploma.  Divide A by B, and you have the graduation rate.  Rinse and repeat.

We always seem shocked by the great disparities in high school grad rates, depending on who is reporting what.  Urban districts like DC tend to paint far rosier pictures than doom-and-gloomers like Jay Greene.  But can anyone really question the need for one, single, common graduation rate formula?  As we try to evaluate school districts and states and determine ROI for our school investments, don’t we need a single measure that let’s us compare apples to apples?

Yes, DC can point to improvement.  Test scores have increased.  Enrollment levels have stopped dropping.  The city is investing in facilities and in improving special education options.  But one can’t adequately address progress if one doesn’t have a clear starting point. 

Earlier this month, Eduflack congratulated Detroit for pulling back the curtain and showing their true schools data, warts and all.  Perhaps it is time for Fenty, Rhee, and DCPS to do the same.  There is a huge difference between a stated 72 percent grad rate and a likely actual 59 percent graduation rate.

Years ago, baseball philosopher Yogi Berra wisely said, if you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.  That sage advice couldn’t be more true for school improvement.  Equally important is knowing where one is starting.  You can’t get to your destination if you don’t know the true starting point.

Around the Edu-Horn, August 17, 2010

RT @dorieturner AP: Cheating scandal roils Atlanta Public Schools #education

N.J. schools chief favors more school time, charter expansion (from ASCD)

RI toughens high school graduation requirements —

RT @EdEquality New report on Black males released. Out of 50 states 1/2 have grad rates below nat’l avg.

Toilet paper, the latest must-have school supply —