Category Archives: Reflections

Educational Coaching for Urban Teachers

For several years, I taught secondary Mathematics and Physics in large and small urban school systems, first working with low performing and economically disadvantaged students and later in an environment with all talented and gifted students. Subsequently, I worked as an educational coach helping students achieve success through mentoring teachers and delivering professional development training.  With this background as both an urban educator and teacher leader, I have been afforded the unique opportunity to see first-hand the breadth of many educational divides as well as potential strategies for success in the urban setting.  After 15 years in education, I am concerned about the fact we have not witnessed more dramatic changes in urban school systems in addressing issues with the culture of poverty, achievement gaps, dropout rates, the scarcity of funding and resources, as well as the lack of effective teacher preparedness.
Coaching teachers
Urban education research reveals that few teacher education programs concentrate on urban teacher preparation and that most of the high-quality teachers are more likely to work in more affluent suburban school systems leaving a deficit of highly skilled teachers to address high-need urban schools.  This leaves me to wonder what should be done with the remaining urban teachers to improve their instructional practices.  Now that I am at the executive director level of a school district, I can more clearly see the need for systemic investment in different models of teacher development. To this end, I am interested in how models of educational coaching could be utilized to scale up teaching expertise, increase achievement of students in high-need urban schools, and close its educational divides.
Preparing New Teachers for Success in Urban Schools
Carla Jackson and the team at Urban Teachers shared an evidence-based approach to solving this issue in the Baltimore and D.C. area.  Here (http://www.totransformteaching.org/preparing-new-teachers-for-success-in-urban-schools/) is yet one example of teacher leaders trying to utilize coaching to better prepare urban educators.  The ideas look promising and I would love to see more schools systems take similar approaches to address teacher preparation.

The Role of the Community in Education

In today’s economically and culturally diverse society it is vitally important that educators and community leaders find clarity on each other’s role in supporting our students’ academic achievement (Anderson-Butcher et. al., 2010).  This need is only intensified when we consider the context of the required school reform actions brought on by No Child Left behind (NCLB) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) accountability measures.  However, the formation of effective school and community partnerships is usually defaulted to the responsibility of the schools and often are not established due to communication and expectation barriers (Hands, 2010).  With increasing reports of economic disparities between parents and communities of high performing schools and those of school in need of academic achievement improvements, various factors have served as barriers to strong school and community partnerships.
    A common factor impeding the formation of strong schools and communities partnerships is the lack of contextual understanding of the dynamic nature of the interactions between schools and their surrounding environment (Hands, 2010).  Hands (2010) states, “While schools and communities are distinct entities, the borders between them are permeable” (p.191).  This is demonstrated very clearly in larger school districts with diverse economic and cultural communities.  Each community has diverging expectations of support from the schools which influence the schools efforts and expectations of the community (Goldring & Berends, 2009).  The cycle of influence can change as the school leadership or community resources change.
A key factor in revealing some of the school and community expectations can be observed through the collection and measurement of data regarding parent and community opinions and views on being involved in the decision-making process.  Proper collection and use of the data from tools such as climate surveys can be useful in informing an array of school reform and school improvement efforts.  According to Thapa et. al (2013), “In the United States and around the world, there is a growing interest in school climate reform and an appreciation that this is a viable, data-driven school improvement strategy that promotes safer, more supportive, and more civil K–12 schools” (p.357).  Public opinion surveys could also be employed to identify community priorities, attitudes, and opinions.  In my district, several of our schools and programs, such as our Career and Technical Education (CTE) program have established advisory  committees to welcome community involvement in many educational decision-making efforts.      As a result we have been able to not only gather a deeper understanding of the communities perceptions of the district, but we have also shared the responsibility of contributing to the success of our students and academic programs.
     Encouraging parental and community involvement in the decision-making process of a instructional improvement committee can definitely be both beneficial, but it would require a higher level of accountability.  Often we can become so engulfed in the state accountability measure that we lose sight on how we are accountable to our first level customers, students and parents.  In my district, we are required to have parent and community involvement on our Campus Improvement Committees (CICs), but it is interesting to me, how that involvement actually plays out.  I am fascinated by how differently we, educators and educational leaders, define parental involvement.  This is also because every community has different means and constraints that impact their ability to be “involved” in the schools.  In my experiences, these differences in community coupled with our differences in defining involvement often lead to a disconnect in expectations and communications.
     As an urban educator, I have witnessed many expectation discrepancies between school and community that end up negatively affecting students.  For example, many teachers and administrators, due to a lack of expected parental involvement, have found it necessary to provide various supports for students and parents that go beyond the traditional K-12 setting.  In my humble opinion, this action, in the larger sense, has done more damage than good. Now I am not saying that when a school gets involved in grass roots efforts within the community that all students and parent are harmed, but I do believe those types of efforts have adjusted the communities expectations of the schools responsibilities.  This could lead to a different kinds of scrutiny when schools are not able to effectively take on these additional burdens, and it cause some communities to feel absolved of some of the need to be an active participants in the education of our students.
     On one hand it is evident that developing partnerships between schools and the community have significant impact, but on the other hand the process of establishing partnerships is a challenge due to the differences in expectations, resources, and other contextual influences (Hand, 2010).  To this end, both schools and the community need to work together to share the responsibility of working through theses differences to find common ground and ultimately improve student achievement in every community and intended by NCLB.

Anderson-Butcher, D., Lawson, H. A., Iachini, A., Flaspohler, P., Bean, J., & Wade-Mdivanian, R. (2010). Emergent Evidence in Support of a Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement. Children & Schools, 32(3), 160-171. doi: 10.1093/cs/32.3.160
Goldring, E. & Berends, M. (2009). Leading with Data: Pathways to Improve Your School. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Hands, C. M. (2010). Why collaborate? The differing reasons for secondary school educators’ establishment of school-community partnerships. School effectiveness and school improvement, 21(2), 189-207.
Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A Review of School Climate Research. Review of Educational Research, 83(3), 357-385. doi: 10.3102/0034654313483907

 

The College Readiness Programming Dilemma

Are there right and wrong advanced academic courses to take in high school to prepare for college?  More specifically, which college readiness program is more effective for a high school student, dual credit or Advanced Placement (AP).  In my district, not unlike many others across the state of Texas, we have been actively striving to expand our college readiness initiatives and programs.  Upon reflection, one aspect of these effort poses a dilemma, as defined by Cuban (2001), that many K-12 school systems may face – the need to expand dual credit program; the potential issue of diluting our successful Advanced Placement (AP) program; and a need for more effective academic advisement to properly inform students and parents about the benefits and limitations of both college readiness programs.  The positive impacts of AP programming have been well documented in the literature, while the limited research related to dual credit highlights both its benefits and limitations. Although I am aware of the evidence of both AP and dual credit programming fostering college readiness in students, I find myself facing overwhelming pressure from the district administration, parents, and other community stakeholders to place more emphasis on dual credit.  In today’s era of accountability and data-driven decision making, I find it extremely ironic that much of the debate among the aforementioned stakeholders regarding dual credit is not based on data.  More surprisingly, I am intrigued by the diversity in goals behind the expansion of the dual credit program.  In my opinion, there should never be a conflict between the pursuit of a rigorous and expansive AP program and the expansion of a high quality dual credit program because both have the potential to benefit students in preparation of college.

At the heart of the debate are two key factors, a limited perspective on college readiness courses and the need for proper academic advisement.  Many in the community view dual credit more from an asset “obtainment” perspective versus a “preparation” perspective. The obtainment perspective could be characterized by a desire to save money, accumulate credits, or gather an early start on a degree or credential.  On one hand this view is desirable and beneficial in today’s competitive academic and labor markets, but on the other hand when it is the sole viewpoint, decisions to pursue dual credit could at the expense of a student’s benefit.  In fact, it could lead to students taking courses that negatively impact their financial aid eligibility and admission status, and actually prolong their length of time spent in college.  The “preparation” view could be characterized by a willingness to take the most rigorous courses for the purpose of providing adequate readiness of college. When this view is the main focus a student could miss opportunities get a leg up on the academic competition.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Texas House Bill 5 Counselor Implications  the second critical issue in this dual credit debate is the need for more comprehensive post secondary academic advisement.  Regardless of the desired advanced academic programming, students and parents need to have the advisement necessary to determine which options best match a student’s post secondary goals.

In light of the challenges my district faces in pursuing more dual credit opportunities, I focused on 3 key attributes of dilemmas as referenced from the works of Cuban (2001), to frame our situation as a dilemma in an effort to determine the best course of action.  First, the situation is packed with potential conflicts between the parents’ knowledge of the impact of dual credit, the political pressures on the superintendent, and my personal ethics.  The second attribute leading me to view this situation as a dilemma is that it appears to be insoluble and only manageable. There does not appear to be a “right answer” as we are charged to emphasize and expand dual credit programs for reasons other than what is in the best interest of students.   Lastly, our situation should be viewed as a dilemma because it involves a competition between the values of the community to save parents money while getting students a head start on college and the values of many educators to make decisions based on evidence, data, and proper academic advisement.

Cuban, L.  (2001).  How Can I Fix It?  New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Public School Accountability: The Death of Student Learning

boywithbooksSatisfying the demand for highly skilled workers is the key to maintaining competitiveness and prosperity in the global economy.  For this reason, many educational policy makers strive to craft policies that assist educators in developing a stronger workforce.  This was the intended aim of the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act put forth by the Bush administration. However well intended the NCLB Act was, the consequences of several key requirements have turned out to be counterproductive.

In terms of direct impacts, the NCLB Act has eclipsed the following state and local education policies in the areas of (1) Standards and Assessment; (2) Accountability and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP); (3) Corrective Action; (4) Staff Qualifications; and (5) Parental Involvement (Federal Register Part IV, Department of Education 2013).  More specifically, the NCLB Act strengthened Title I accountability by requiring States to implement statewide accountability systems covering all public schools and students. These systems are required to base their accountability systems on challenging State standards in reading and mathematics, grades 3-5 annual testing for all students, and establish annual statewide progress objectives so that all groups of students demonstrate proficiency within 12 years. According to the United States Department of Education (2005), the assessment results and State progress objectives must be broken out by poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and limited English proficiency, and if school districts and schools fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward statewide proficiency goals over time they will be subject to improvement, corrective action, and restructuring measures.  Schools that meet or exceed the AYP objectives or close achievement gaps will be eligible for State Academic Achievement Awards.

In the analysis of the NCLB direct impacts to state and local education policies, two key unintended consequences stand most prominent in the overall impedance to student learning.  The first unintended consequence is that of accountability.  Diane Ravitch (2011) makes the case in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, that there are many questions can be made about the true origins and implications of NCLB and accountability.  Ravitch (2011) goes on to claim that many educators falsely believed that the NCLB was an outgrowth the standards movement when in fact, “the new reforms had everything to do with structural changes and accountability, and nothing at all to do with the substance of learning.” (Ravitch, 2011, pg.39).  The structural changes within NCLB, mentioned by Ravitch (2011), have frequently been stated as being politically motivated with little to do with a real substantive impact on student learning.  Today the affect of the accountability movement has not brought about the much-desired growth in student learning (Ravitch, 2011).  The second unintended consequence of NCLB Act were the imposed requirements for schools that consistently fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets.  According to Floch, Taylor, and Thomsen (2006) this requirement of NCLB could lead to schools dismantling years of comprehensive school reform efforts by implementing a new curricular program, restructuring the school day, or dismissing staff, all of which are possible courses of action under the legislation.   Floch, Taylor, and Thomsen (2006) go on to explain that,

Frequently, NCLB accountability is perceived to focus only on AYP targets, potentially diverting            attention from comprehensive improvement strategies. However, AYP and comprehensive                    improvement strategies should be linked, not in conflict: If schools do not make AYP,                            administrators should seek sound, research-based strategies to attain higher academic                      performance. However, this connection is often obscured by a “drill-and-kill” reaction to test              pressure, a focus on more mechanistic components of AYP (e.g., attendance rate), or                          developing strategies to “game” the system. Such conditions could indeed persuade teachers              that they can no longer take time to focus on all the components that are traditionally                        assumed to be a part of CSR, such as participation in shared governance structures,                          professional communication with peers, and parent involvement. 

With these types of unintended consequences of the NCLB Act permeating the educational landscape, it is hard to see how the educational legislation, in its current state, can help schools improve student learning and assist educators in developing a stronger workforce.

 

 

References
Federal Register Part IV, Department of Education. (2013). Title I—Improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged; final rule. 34 CFR Part 200.

Floch, K. C. L., Taylor, J. E., & Thomsen, K. (2006). Implications of NCLB Accountability for Comprehensive School Reform. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 11(3-4), 353-366. doi: 10.1207/s10824669espr110304_8

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: how testing and choice are undermining education (Apple iBooks ed.). New York, NY: Perseus Books.

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Introduction: No child left behind. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/index.html

Creativity Matters, Right?

Today’s demand for a high skilled workforce in the areas of science, technology  engineering  and math (STEM) is making an immediate impact on our society and what we value in education.  Changes in state and federal budgets further illustrates this shift our society is making in educational priorities.  I am starting to wonder what will be the long term affects of these changes.  How will they impact our society’s ability to create, innovate, communicate, or simply express the qualities that truly make us human? Don’t get me wrong, as a Physics educator, I am all for the investment in STEM.  I would just like to see more emphasis on the value and versatility in cultivating one’s creativity.

Source: edtechmagazine.com via Textbooks.com on Pinterest

Source: edtechmagazine.com via Textbooks.com on Pinterest

Time for A PLC Refocus

Throughout an academic year an instructional coach can find themselves going through cycles when working within professional learning communities (PLCs).  When you reflect on the function of your PLC group, it is easy to see how the PLC could loose focus on the main goals.  If the facilitator of the PLC doesn’t recognize the need for re-calibration early enough even the most dedicated group of educators could become completely derailed and discouraged.  As a result of experiencing PLC train wrecks as well as PLC success stories, I developed the following short refocusing exercise for the instructional coach or PLC facilitator to implement with a team of teachers.  Every team has different dynamics, but usually around mid-year a very observant instructional coach could begin to notice the signs that suggest it is time for a PLC Refocus.  This is simple in concept, but it requires skillful execution.  If the timing is right and the approach is non-judgmental the PLC could be benefit greatly.  Give a try, and share your result.

PLC Refocus Framework

Focus on Learning

Focus on Collaboration

Focus on Results

Focus on Support

1. How are our actions reflecting that our focus is on student learning!

1. What are our team’s unique strengths and weaknesses?

1. How do you know that collaborative planning times are effective?

1. Specifically, how can external people and resources provide more support towards our efforts?

2. What tools do you use to reveal student understanding?  How do the results impact our collaboration?

2. How are we holding one another accountable for behaviors and actions?

2. What evidence do you see as a result of our collaborative planning?  Is there a significant change or are we doing what we have always done?

2. How could instructional coaching impact our team?

3. As a group what obstacles are holding us back from establishing more productive collaborative planning time?

Revisiting PLC Norms
Present each question to the entire team for collaboration and ask them to share their thoughts one question at a time.  Ask clarifying questions like those below to simplify the group’s responses and collect their final answers.

  1. What will you say and do when you disagree?
  2. What will you say and do when you are not comfortable with a concept or teaching strategy?
  3. What will you say and do when a colleague achieves a goal?
  4. What will you say and do when a colleague doesn’t follow the PLC Norms?