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NYS Public Education 2014- A Sad State of Affairs

Opt-out, APPR, common core standards, high stake testing-how did we get here?  Indulge me as I over generalize – but I think the cycle goes like this; home values are based on successful schools.  School success is defined by performance on standardized tests.   Districts teach to the test to insure good results.  When the test changes and no one knows the content being assessed scores drop and a panic ensues.  Districts start to over react to the drop in scores and over emphasize test prep abandoning good teaching methodology and start chasing better results.  Add to this mix that part of certain teachers evaluations are based on student performance and it is a recipe for disaster.  Welcome to NYS public education 2014.  School leaders need to recognize this paradigm and take steps to mitigate this.  Some suggestions:
Don’t fear the APPR
- The likelihood that a teacher will be dismissed using the current APPR construct is remote.  To perpetuate that notion is foolish.  Student achievement results are a small part of a system that educates the whole child.
Control the curriculum
- Just because the NYSED created modules doesn’t mean Districts have to use them.  Create time for teachers to collaborate and write curriculum.  Some teachers prefer the modules because everything is laid out for them while others feel they stifle creativity.  You must find the happy medium and create curriculum that capitalizes on teachers experience with the content.
Support teachers
- Creating the curriculum is one thing; helping teachers navigate new content and methodologies is paramount.   Invest in professional developers that are not administrators to help model lessons and unpack the standards
Don’t test prep
- Why spend countless hours preparing students for an exam when the content is unknown? We need to focus our class time on engaging students in authentic learning activities that require students to think
Learning is supposed to be fun
- Promote fun- instill a love of learning in children while challenging them in rigorous content.  This is why a great teacher is worth his/her weight in gold
Figure out how to measure growth in the standards
- The standards are designed to examine student work in very specific areas to determine student growth.  Electronic portfolios that accurately capture work in the standards should be the goal of effective assessments.
I think we can all agree that the State assessments are “not ready for prime time” yet we continue to use them as the benchmark to determine successful schools.  As long as society continues to promote this myopic view of successful schools we will continue to organize curriculum and practice to deliver results.  I find it ironic that Newsday’s cover story is about the number of student opt-outs on the State exam and then they direct readers to last year’s test scores.  Maybe the silver lining of the “opt-out” movement will be that it will lead to a better definition of a successful school.  Ultimately don’t we want kids to be challenged in appropriate content at their level while simultaneously enjoying school?  How do you measure that?

Opt-out, APPR, common core standards, high stake testing-how did we get here?  Indulge me as I over generalize – but I think the cycle goes like this; home values are based on successful schools.  School success is defined by performance on standardized tests.   Districts teach to the test to insure good results.  When the test changes and no one knows the content being assessed scores drop and a panic ensues.  Districts start to over react to the drop in scores and over emphasize test prep abandoning good teaching methodology and start chasing better results.  Add to this mix that part of certain teachers evaluations are based on student performance and it is a recipe for disaster.  Welcome to NYS public education 2014.  School leaders need to recognize this paradigm and take steps to mitigate this.  Some suggestions:

· Don’t fear the APPR

- The likelihood that a teacher will be dismissed using the current APPR construct is remote.  To perpetuate that notion is foolish.  Student achievement results are a small part of a system that educates the whole child.

· Control the curriculum

- Just because the NYSED created modules doesn’t mean Districts have to use them.  Create time for teachers to collaborate and write curriculum.  Some teachers prefer the modules because everything is laid out for them while others feel they stifle creativity.  You must find the happy medium and create curriculum that capitalizes on teachers experience with the content.

· Support teachers

- Creating the curriculum is one thing; helping teachers navigate new content and methodologies is paramount.   Invest in professional developers that are not administrators to help model lessons and unpack the standards

· Don’t test prep

- Why spend countless hours preparing students for an exam when the content is unknown? We need to focus our class time on engaging students in authentic learning activities that require students to think

· Learning is supposed to be fun

- Promote fun- instill a love of learning in children while challenging them in rigorous content.  This is why a great teacher is worth his/her weight in gold

· Figure out how to measure growth in the standards

- The standards are designed to examine student work in very specific areas to determine student growth.  Electronic portfolios that accurately capture work in the standards should be the goal of effective assessments.

I think we can all agree that the State assessments are “not ready for prime time” yet we continue to use them as the benchmark to determine successful schools.  As long as society continues to promote this myopic view of successful schools we will continue to organize curriculum and practice to deliver results.  I find it ironic that Newsday’s cover story is about the number of student opt-outs on the State exam and then they direct readers to last year’s test scores.  Maybe the silver lining of the “opt-out” movement will be that it will lead to a better definition of a successful school.  Ultimately don’t we want kids to be challenged in appropriate content at their level while simultaneously enjoying school?  How do you measure that?

Posted 5 years, 8 months ago.

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We need to fix the APPR law

The following was written by Tom Dolan (Superintendent of Great Neck), Patrick Manley (Superintendent of Franklin Square) and me.  It was rejected as an Op ed piece in the Times and Newsday…

APPR- A modest proposal by those tasked to implement it

Much of the current debate on high stakes testing and common core implementation can be traced back to the passage of the APPR law.  It wasn’t until student achievement on State exams was tied to teacher evaluation that testing became an issue; after all we have had 3-8 grade testing in place since 2001. Oddly no discussion is currently underway to fix the genesis of the problem.  The putative purpose of APPR was to improve teacher performance. However even a cursory review of its implementation will reveal that the system was not designed to achieve that purpose. Consider the following:

  • The same system was imposed upon all teachers across the State without any differentiation.  No consideration was given to how a teacher or District was performing or historical data.  This is something you can liken to providing all patients in a hospital with the same medication with no effort to diagnose what ails them.
  • The tests used to assess teacher performance are designed to measure student achievement. To employ another simple analogy, this would be similar to looking at a patient’s blood work to determine the efficacy of a Doctor’s efforts.  There are too many variables to establish a direct correlation.
  • Even in the face of universal agreement that the common core standards upon which the aforementioned tests are based have been poorly implemented, there were those who insist that teacher evaluation continue in unmodified fashion simply because it is “time to do so”.
  • Finally, the forced implementation of lower scores on the tests that would be used to evaluate teacher performance makes obvious that there are at least extraneous, if not alternative, motives at work in the delivery of these teacher scores.

Each special interest group has attempted to explain possible reasons for this disconnect.  They include private corporations that will see great financial opportunity in creating and scoring tests that stand behind these efforts. Those same organizations are likely to see earning opportunity in creating textbooks and review materials to help schools assist students to prepare for these tests.

Perhaps by painting a belief that there is a universal failure of public education special interest groups and a few elected officials will find it easier to privatize it; that debate is also taking place. The failure to address the obvious flaws in the APPR law lends credibility to this argument.

Professional teacher organizations need to work collaboratively with politicians to resolve this issue.  No one who considers themselves a true educator is afraid of higher standards for accountability. However, no one who is been paying attention to the drama surrounding the teacher evaluation debate over the last few years believes that the system that has been designed will achieve that purpose.

An alternative to developing such a system would be to rely upon educators to assist in its development and take just a little bit more time to do so collaboratively.  The convoluted system currently in place essentially tests children to assess adults.  The traditional 3-8 State exams (as required by Federal law) represent scores for approximately 20% of the State’s teachers.   In order to evaluate the remaining 80% of teachers many districts implemented additional exams.  Districts had to submit and obtain approval on Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) that demonstrated how each teacher would be assessed for 20% local and 20% State exams. (areas for which a State exam didn’t exist the District created one).  The over testing of children was inevitable; more importantly it is unnecessary.

A more productive APPR process would gather multiple sources of data over a period of time that ultimately determines whether or not is qualified.  Teacher qualification is determined through the certification process. The APPR should gather information over a five year period that assesses teaching practice, student achievement (where applicable) and teacher certification exams to ultimately determine whether or not a teacher retains his/her certification.  The current requirement of 175 professional development hours is loosely constructed and offers little in the way of teacher assessment.

The law needs to be simplified.  It should group teachers into two categories: 1) classroom teachers whose students take a State exam and 2) all other teachers. Sixty percent of both categories should be classroom observation and performance.  The process to obtain this score should be the only locally negotiated decision.  It would streamline the submittal and approval process tremendously and eliminate the Student learning Objectives (SLO’s).  In category 1 the remaining 40% should be 20% student achievement and 20% content exam, developed by an outside vendor and given to the teacher.  The results of five years should be averaged together to determine if the teacher earned recertification.  If a teacher fails to achieve recertification at this point, they would be called upon to develop a one year plan to address their deficiencies, with support from the district and oversight by the State. In category 2 – no student achievement data need be considered.  That 20% should be replaced with an additional exam for the teacher on current practice and methodology.   These teacher exams are already being developed as part of the new EdTPA teacher certification process.  In addition, College schools of education must be offered ownership in the process.  They should be involved in preparing teachers to take these exams.  Any part of this proposal can be tweaked and adjusted but the critical piece is simple- stop testing children to rate adults.  Adults are perfectly capable of taking their own exams and demonstrating their own competencies.  This scenario not only allows the Governor to continue his quest for teacher accountability it enhances it.  It eases parental concerns about high stake testing and allows teachers a five year window to demonstrate that they are effective.  Isn’t this a ‘win-win’ for everyone involved?

Posted 5 years, 8 months ago.

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Finding your vision in the ever changing world of technology

When developing a vision for technology many school leaders focus on the competencies embodied in 21st century skills.  Several organizations have developed frameworks around these skills.  The focus on skills rather than a specific device or application provides a better foundation for the ever changing world of technology.  But even skill based frameworks can be difficult to implement.  They are designed to be all encompassing and as a result are often too broad and difficult to communicate.  For example the Partnership for 21st century skills “framework for 21st century learning” is often referred to as the “4 c’s  (Communication, Creativity, Critical thinking and Collaboration ) yet these skills are a small part of the overall framework.  While the framework offers a “holistic view of 21st century teaching and learning” exactly how school district leaders are to accomplish it remains amorphous.  So the question remains, how do you create a vision for technology when it changes so quickly?  It seems as soon as you settle on a device ,a newer, cheaper version comes along.  The ever changing nature of technology requires a vision that is not device or application specific.   Skills, equipment and applications all overlap and must be accounted for in a District vision.  As you frame your vision I would suggest these tenets as the basis of your plan, regardless of the technology you have or plan to purchase.   

Personalization

                                All of the technologies children gravitate toward are individualized.  The ipad, ipod, Facebook and Twitter all focus on the individual as the end user.  For the most part all of the these examples are able to be networked, giving the end user a unique experience; individual ‘profiles’ and customization coupled with the ability to share.  School leaders need to envision technology usage the same way.  A device that allows students to create a personalized experience unique to them ultimately leads to the most successful implementation.  In Mineola we have found that the ipad has proven to be the device that provides unique and tailors learning for every child.  We have partnered with eSpark, a company that uses engaging apps to provide differentiated instruction for every student. We use benchmark assessments to determine the greatest area of need for every Middle School student (600).  The students then log onto the eSpark app as homework and work on specific skill sets.  A student may not progress in the app until he/she demonstrates mastery on a skill through by taking a quiz on the topic.  The quiz questions mirror the benchmark assessment.  Our ipad initiative focuses on leveraging the device to provide very specific work based on an individual student’s needs.  In addition, we provide a secure social network in which students have their own identity.  Similar to Facebook, students can create his/her own profile to share with other classmates.  Since all of this resides on the web, students will communicate and collaborate with classmates and teachers long after the bell rings.

Extend the Classroom

                                Social networks allow districts to extend the school day.  Students have immediate access to one another via the web.  Gone are the days of physically going to each other’s homes; instead they can meet virtually.  Not understand the homework assignment? No problem – log on and ask a classmate. Teachers can also log in to answer questions, join the conversation or silently watch the interaction.  The social network capability also allows for a document exchange.  Free sites like Edmodo work well to accomplish this task.  More sophisticated programs like eBackpack provide an intricate workflow solution.   For example eBackpack will support the creation of PDF workbooks that can be separated into worksheets, completed by students, submitted to the teacher, graded by the teacher and returned to the student all seamlessly. eBackpack is also a secure virtual storage system that provides a ‘locker in the cloud”. 

One of the key components in designing successful technology initiatives is to think about how teachers will be able to view, manipulate, and ultimately bring to bear student performance data.  Teacher dashboards are critical in a successful extension of the classroom.  Monitoring student progress is essential when creating a personalized infrastructure.  If every student is receiving differentiated assignments teachers need the ability to quickly assess student work.  The dashboard coupled with the document exchange makes life easier for teachers and students.  This ease of use makes implementation more likely to go smoothly.  Once teachers see the value in the technology, they are more apt to embrace it.  Finally, extending the classroom should also include the summer.  This year in Mineola we are making ipads available to all middle school students in August, a full month before they are set to return to school.  Each ipad will be loaded with a summer reading assignment (including an ebook) as well as the eSpark app which will benchmark the student based on his/her spring score and provide a set of skills to work on before school even begins.  It is our hope that we will lessen the traditional ‘summer loss’ by provided students with an additional month of skill based work at his/her academic skill level.

Problem Based Learning

                                Much has been written about the flipped classroom, but on a more basic level Bloom’s taxonomy has been flipped.   Imparting information simply doesn’t work in a wired classroom.  Access to the web flips Bloom’s taxonomy.   Technology forces teachers to create new lessons that move away from giving information to lessons that require students to apply knowledge.  Solving complex problems is the basis of the common core standards.  Problem (or project) based learning has become a norm in Mineola Middle School.  Even resistant teachers quickly found that it was easier to ask students to find facts rather than supply facts.   The change of the lesson design is perhaps the most critical component of a successful technology vision.   Lesson planning for a digital classroom is not making all of your tradition dittos into PDF’s; it requires a new mindset of engagement.    We have found that the process is an evolution.  Teachers start with small tasks that require getting information from the internet.  Those assignments typically morph into small group work in which students collaborate to find information and answer questions.  The epiphany occurs when teachers begin to pose problems that do not have discrete answers.  Students work collaboratively to find solutions to the problem.  Students must also provide evidence to support their conclusions. 

This type of lesson design is where Districts should invest their professional development monies.  We have found that trying to teach teachers ‘technology’ is virtually useless;  we will never know more than the kids.  Everyone in the 21st century digital classroom is a learner, including the teacher.  This mindset will allow teachers to tap into the technology capabilities of his/her students without fear.  Students live in a technology driven world and are at ease with the problems and challenges that technology creates. It is OK for teachers not to know everything about devices and capabilities; let the students excel in that world.  We need teachers to understand the capabilities and design lessons that engage students in the content using the tools that are innate to today’s students.

Posted 6 years, 2 months ago.

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Widening the “Middle”

Educators love labels; we like to use acronyms and initials to classify things.  We also love to label children. We might say a child “needs help”, “not motivated”, “average, above average”, “smart”, all of which pigeon-hole children into categories. This practice isn’t exclusive to teachers; parents love to label their children as well.  In many instances parents demand we label children in order to help them understand where their child stand in relation to the other children in the class.  It is a practice that does more damage than good.  I fear with the increase in testing that it will only get worse. 

Statisticians will tell you that all data has a normal distribution; or that most examples in a set of data are close to the ‘average’, while relatively few examples tend to be to one extreme or the other.  If you apply that same concept to children on a grade level, most children are in “the middle”.  Yet in our practices we do not follow this statistical fact; we shirk the middle and have an overabundance of labels for the outliers. 

For example, we average over 20 students per grade in our AGP program (with one grade at 31) while the national statistic should place the number closer to 10.  We used to have two classes in the MS (50-60 students) identified as accelerated and earn HS credit in science and math.   Currently over 17% of our district is classified with an IEP and another 9% are ESL 

We shrink the “middle” when we should widen it.  Rigor and high expectations MUST be the norm for all our students.  We need to stop labeling (and mislabeling) them.  The outliers should receive the programs and educational experiences they need and deserve. Everyone else should have the same challenging exposure to content.   This current year we enrolled every 8th grader into regents Algebra; we took a course that traditionally was available to only 60 students and now over 200 learn the content. This week’s 8th grade midterm our children had a 75% passing rate.

 The curricula changes we are planning for next year in the area of science continue this plan.  Every child will receive a more rigorous exposure to science; and in addition and more importantly a hands on experience that demonstrates real life applications of science. It is our intention that holding a higher expectation for all of our students will result in a greater number of students reaching their potential.

Posted 7 years, 10 months ago.

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Annual Professional Performance Review

The Governor has been quite vocal about the failure of districts to adopt a teacher evaluation system.  The current iteration of the plan issued by the State is fraught with problems- most notably the number of times children will be tested in order to grade adults.   I wrote this opinion essay to offer a different viewpoint as a way to fix the problem.

                                 How do we solve the problem of ineffective teachers?  

The debate over teacher evaluation attempts to close the barn door after the horse has fled.  We have ineffective teachers because we promote and encourage the notion that anyone can teach; this simply isn’t true.  Four years of coursework, one year of student teaching and passing some exams does not qualify people to teach children, let alone be successful doing it.  College schools of education play a critical role in developing highly effective teachers; but by and large once a student graduates a college there is no accountability for whether the student was properly prepared to be a successful teacher. 

Politicians point to high performing countries like Singapore and Sweden as exemplars of superior educational systems.  In those countries the best and brightest students are encouraged and recruited to be teachers.  The teaching profession is revered.  “Teach for America” is based on this notion and we have learned that intelligence alone doesn’t make for highly effective teacher either.  Nor has there been high retention rates for these highly sought after prospects.  So what is the answer?  I believe the answer lies in how we train and certify teachers.  As a State we certify more teachers than there are jobs and the requirements are minimal.

I believe that in order to see meaningful systemic change in the quality of teachers – we need to transition the theory taught in classrooms and the practice of teaching in classrooms.  Student teaching is NOT sufficient.  The answer lies in the certification process for teachers.  We must start to acknowledge that in order to become good at any profession one needs to perfect their craft.  Four years of coursework with a year of student teaching doesn’t work.  Novice teachers need to demonstrate a proficiency in the classroom before they become certified.   The only requirement for certification after you graduate with a Bachelor’s degree is to earn a master’s degree, which again requires no practicum in actual teaching. Every profession requires some type of ongoing professional development credits to keep abreast of best practice.  Could you imagine a surgeon using techniques and equipment from 10 years ago?  Or an accountant not briefed in the latest tax law?  Why should it be different for the teaching profession?  Do you think a teacher educated 20 years ago is prepared to handle today’s digital learners?  How can teachers prepare students for 21st century skills when most teachers don’t have them?  We need to adopt the medical model of professional residency to earn teacher certification. 

The State must change its certification process.  A limited number of certifications should be issued each year based on need, which in turn makes them highly coveted.   Actuaries are more than capable of predicting the need for certain certification areas. The need must be coordinated with colleges and a highly selective process must be implemented for enrollment into these programs.  Medical schools do not accept every applicant.  The puppy mill process that currently exists produces more teachers with certifications than are necessary and in turn overwhelms the already saturated market place.  But having highly qualified candidates isn’t enough.  Colleges must commit to ensuring these candidates are successful.  They must follow them into the workplace. There should be teaching schools created that put theory into practice.  Ample support from accomplished teachers and college professors are needed to ensure that we produce highly effective teachers.  Moreover, we support and develop novice teachers with those professionals that are already deemed highly qualified. 

Schools of Education need to create profession residency programs in coordination with the departments of educations in the big 5 cities. No teacher should be certified without an urban experience in teaching.  Since the most glaring deficiency is highly talented teachers in low performing districts, why not make these schools the training grounds for future teachers.  The old adage “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” is most appropriate.  After candidates receive their Bachelor degrees they should automatically be enrolled in a 4 year paid residency program.  Upon successful completion of 4 years and corresponding coursework, the candidates receive a master’s degree. At the conclusion of each year of the program the college and school administration will determine if the candidate is on track to continue ( become a highly effective teacher).  If they pass they receive credit and move to the next year of the residency, if they fail they either drop out or repeat the year. 

In addition, an independent body must be created to review the candidates.  Videotaping technologies such as TEACHSCAPE can capture the teacher and more importantly the students as lessons are taught.  This committee of educational professionals must review the videos and agree with the candidates merit to continue the residency program.  This would also be an appropriate forum to enhance inter-rater reliability amongst administrators and administrative candidates.  After candidates ‘graduate’ the residency program they will have completed Stage one certification, but the commitment doesn’t end.

Continuing educational credits are still necessary in order to obtain certification; staying current in best practice is critical to remain highly effective.   Think about how quickly technology changes; it should be a certification requirement to take coursework on the latest technology and best practice.  This coursework should be the basis of longitudinal movement across the salary schedule rather than a hodgepodge of course work that doesn’t end in a degree.  Certification candidates should continue to be reviewed by for 10 years before the certification becomes permanent.  Colleges should continue to have a role in this process by provided a meaningful continuing education credits that will earn candidates additional degrees. At any time during these ten years the candidate’s performance is unsatisfactory (based on student achievement and independent review) they should be placed in an improvement track.  Enrollment in an improvement track adds an additional year of probation before permanent certification.  

 This idea requires that a new partnership among colleges, State Education Department and the State legislature is forged. The State government should commit to this recruitment effort by backing the program financially.  Not only should the teacher residents be paid but if they successfully complete the residency their college tuition for the master’s degree should be reimbursed.  In addition, merit pay could be explored for these teacher candidates.  These incentives should ensure an ample candidate pool.  In addition, teachers may be less apt to “suburban flight” to pursue more lucrative pay in less challenging circumstances.

The NYS Department of Education oversees college Education programs and the certification process.  Every school of education should be re certified by the State and specifically address how they plan to not only provide candidates with a solid foundation in theory but more importantly ensure highly effective teachers when they but their knowledge into practice.

Posted 7 years, 10 months ago.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving always prompts me to pause and reflect how blessed I am.  I have a wonderful family and work at a job I love to do.  I greatly appreciate all the opportunities this community has afforded me and I thank you for them.  Enjoy the food, family and friends.  More importantly take time to pause and give thanks for all you have, many people in this world have much less.

Posted 8 years ago.

1 comment

PLEASE NOTE

I have decided to no longer post anonymous notes unless I know the identity of the poster.   I understand the need for some people to remain anonymous and I will honor that, but I am starting to feel a lack of productivity is some recent posts.  MPN

Posted 9 years, 9 months ago.

2 comments

Is it stuffing or dressing?

In the category you learn something new everyday:  Did you know if ‘stuffing’ isn’t cooked inside of the turkey it is called dressing?

Posted 10 years ago.

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Budget Woes

What do you do when the Contingency budget is 0%?  On Thursday night we presented next year’s “roll over” budget.  This is what it will cost next year to run exactly what we have this year.  Due to contractually mandated increases the projected increase next year is 3.5 million or a 4.92% tax levy increase.  To decrease the tax levy one percent it will require a reduction of approximately 700,000.  So in order for us to match last year’s tax levy of 2.42% we would have to cut 1.8 million out of the budget. A reduction of that magnitude would reduce many of the programs we currently enjoy.  If the budget failed (and a contingent budget is 0%) we would need to further reduce 1.7 million.  A total reduction of 3.5 million would devastate the school system.  The three year projection isn’t much prettier.  Join us on December 17th at the High School to learn more.

Posted 10 years ago.

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New Law regarding Booster Seats

Did you know that effective November 24 a new law requires that all children up to 8 years old be restrained in an appropriate child restraint system?  Please see the attached flyer.  More info on www.Safeny.com

Booster Seat Flyer_Bookmark

Posted 10 years ago.

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