Friday, December 2, 2011

Using our most effective teachers more effectively

What would I recommend to a state leader who wants to broaden access to high-quality teachers across school systems? As noted in two reports from the organization Public Impact, increasing teacher recruitment and retention efforts will only get us so far. What is needed is a complete rethinking of the roles of the most effective teachers.

In 3X for All: Extending the Reach of Education's Best, and Opportunity at the Top, Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan Hassel propose that the top quartile of effective teachers should not limit their impact to the relatively small number of students assigned to them during the traditional classroom during the regular school day, during the regular school year. These most effective teachers should broaden their impact through three approaches:
  • In-Person Reach Extension: More one-on-one in-person contact with students by reorganizing schools and teacher roles. One example of what this would look like would be a lead teacher overseeing "pods" of two or more classrooms with the help of other teachers.
  • Remote Reach Extension: These most-effective teachers interact one-on-one with students, but by either asynchronous or real-time exchanges, either within the same building or across distances. The authors note that this can take the form of "e-mail exchanges, multiperson blogs or online discussion boards, and individualized feedback about work submitted online."
  • Boundless Reach Extension: Delivered just via technology, and "boundless" considering the limitless number of students who can be impacted.

Great ideas all. Yet various policy barriers described in the reports limit the implementation of these approaches. Let's hope states address these obstacles in 2012 to bring the best teaching to many, many more students.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wisconsin: "Vocational Diploma" under debate

There has been a lot of discussion in the press and the blogosphere about Wisconsin's Sept. 2011 Special Session S.B. 18, a proposal that would allow a high school student to substitute vocational courses for the 13 credits specified in statute. As indicated on the legislative Web site, the bill is supported by certain business interests, and opposed by Disability Rights Wisconsin and various membership groups representing educators.

I'll throw my hat in the ring and note that while many states are making efforts to engage CTE students in their high school experience, some states have been much more specific in what those approaches look like. A few examples:
  • Virginia legislation calls for the state standards to be incorporated into CTE courses, as appropriate. Students may substitute a traditional academic end-of-course exam required for graduation with an industry certification or state licensure exam, again where appropriate. The legislation also directs the state board to "develop a plan for increasing the number of students receiving industry certification and state licensure as part of their career and technical education. The plan shall include an annual goal for school divisions. Where there is an accepted national industry certification for career and technical education instructional personnel and programs for automotive technology, such certification shall be mandatory. " The legislation also creates a division within the department of education to help districts incorporate these standards into local CTE curricula, provide professional development for CTE teachers, and elicit business and industry representatives' input on the "content and direction of career and technical education programs in the public schools".
  • Alabama, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia have all created a diploma or endorsement (in the case of Alabama, two diplomas) that are designed specifically for CTE students who want to strut their stuff. These diploma options generally allow a student to substitute only a small number of specified credits with CTE credits; some states also require students to earn an industry credential.
  • Numerous states allow students to substitute a CTE credit for traditional academic credit for completion of graduation requirements, provided the credit meets state-specified criteria. There are also various efforts afoot (Math in CTE, teacher certification provisions as two examples) to help ensure the rigor and quality of CTE programs.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Last in, first out" employment policies on the way out in some states

I was recently asked how many states have done away with "last in, first out" policies--policies that require districts to make layoff or reduction-in-force decisions based on criteria other than seniority. It appears that 9 states--Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Utah--have adopted such provisions. With the exception of Arizona, which adopted its legislation in 2009, all these provisions were enacted in 2011.

In addition, in 2005 Arkansas enacted legislation that required districts to “have a written policy on reduction in force based upon objective criteria for a layoff and recall of employees.” However, the legislation does not define “objective criteria.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

How many states have anti-bullying policies?

All too often I am seeing incorrect information on the # of states with anti-bullying policies. 48 states and Guam have anti-bullying policies--46 states (and Guam) have established these through legislation, while two states--Hawaii and Montana--have policies only in administrative code.

However, as on so many other issues, simply saying that 48 states have anti-bullying policies is not particularly meaningful, as states vary widely on the level of detail in state policy. For example, some states simply require local boards to "address" bullying but do not explicitly prohibit bullying.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bullying: How to define it in state policy?

The debate in Michigan over defining "bullying" in legislation has reached national attention, as a revision to language on the victim attributes that might lead to bullying would permit actions reflecting "a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction", according to a Detroit Free Press article.

While it's true that anti-bullying policies need to provide for a state or local definition of bullying--we can't prohibit what is not defined--developing a list of characteristics that may lead to bullying is not the only way to get there. Below are other approaches states have taken:
  • Leaving the "particular characteristics" to model state policy or related local policies: Some legislatures have decided to leave to someone else the business of defining the victim characteristics that may lead to bullying. Alabama, for example, requires the department's model policy prohibiting harassment, violence and threats of violence to include “A procedure for the development of a nonexhaustive list of the specific personal characteristics of a student which may often lead to harassment.” The statute adds that based on experience, local boards may add--but not remove--characteristics from this list.
  • Focusing on prohibited student actions rather than victim attributes: This is the approach many states have taken. Rather than trying to create even a nonexhaustive list of characteristics, legislation is silent on this point and instead describes the activities that constitute bullying, or environment that the bullying activity creates (i.e., gestures, or written, verbal or physical acts or threats that are severe, persistent or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment for a student; acts that interfere with the learning environment).
  • Leaving a role for local policy: In some cases, legislation defines prohibited student actions, then requires local boards to adopt local definitions of bullying that are at least as comprehensive as those adopted by the legislature (so local definitions may or may not get into the victim characteristics that may spur bullying). In other states, policy does not even define bullying, and leaves the definition of bullying entirely to local discretion.
  • Making clear that the list of victim characteristics in legislation is not comprehensive: Colorado statute, for example, states, “Bullying is prohibited against any student for any reason, including but not limited to any such behavior that is directed toward a student on the basis of his or her academic performance; or against whom federal and state laws prohibit discrimination upon any of the bases described in 22-32-109(1)(ll)(I)”.

Watch for more details in a forthcoming ECS report on this issue.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

STEM: Focus more on producing mid-level skill STEM workers

The STEM report released last month by Anthony Carnevale and his team at Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce notes, "The most obvious weaknesses in the American education
system relate to the production of workers, especially STEM workers, at the sub-baccalaureate level. ... More than half of American workers have not obtained any postsecondary certificate or
degree. Yet, American high schools offer very little career and technical education or any substantial on-ramps to postsecondary career and technical education. As a result, students
who don’t get career and technical preparation in high school and don’t succeed in the transition to postsecondary programs are left behind."

We are beginning to see some states develop programs to enhance the number of young adults with the types of skills and credentials the report talks about. A couple examples were adopted this year in the Texas legislature (yes, if you're not sick of hearing me talk about Texas yet you may be soon, as there is plenty to talk about with the numerous innovations they adopted in their 2011 legislative session). H.B. 2910 (see pages 3-5) creates the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (T-STEM) Challenge Scholarship program. Institutions eligible to participate are public junior colleges and public technical colleges that admit at least 50 students into a STEM program each year and develop partnerships with business and industry to identify local employment needs in STEM fields and provide part-time jobs for students in a STEM program.

Eligible students must have graduated high school with at least a 3.0 GPA in math and science courses (I wonder if this also applies to applied math and science courses--the legislation doesn't specify this) and agree to work up to 15 hours a week at a participating business. To keep the maximum two-year scholarship, a student must stay enrolled in a STEM program at the institution, maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA, keep up the ≤ 15 hours of work/week at the business, complete at least 80% of credits attempted each semester, and earn at least 30 credit hours each academic year. Institutions, to maintain their eligibility beginning with the 2nd year after program implementation, must show the higher education coordinating board that at least 70% of the T-STEM Challenge Scholarship graduates, within 3 months of graduation, are employed by a business in a STEM field or enrolled in upper-division courses leading to a 4-year degree in a STEM field.

The catch is that at least 50% of the scholarship funds must come from private funds. Will businesses pony up scholarship funds in a difficult economy, in hopes that students will pan out as employees? Or will businesses be fearful that students will jump ship and work for the company down the road after gaining two years of work experience during their degree program? It is intriguing, though, that the program does allow students to get their feet wet in a STEM field while they are still working toward their degree--so that they know whether the field is a fit for them before they complete their credential.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Interdistrict choice for bullying victims

I was asked last week how many states have open enrollment policies that allow students who have been bullied to transfer to another district. The answer? Texas requires, and California permits victims of bullying to transfer districts after a bullying victim's parent requests such a transfer, while both Texas and Georgia have provisions related to the transfer of bullies into other classrooms, districts or programs.

Texas statute specifies that, upon parental request, a student who has been bullied must be transferred to (1) another classroom at the campus to which the victim was assigned at the time the bullying occurred; or (2) a campus in the school district other than the campus to which the victim was assigned at the time the bullying occurred. The school district is not required to provide transportation to a transfer student under these circumstances.

California permits two or more district boards to enter into interdistrict transfer agreements. Per new provisions just enacted last month, effective July 2012 a student who has been a victim of bullying and who attends a district that has established a transfer agreement must be given priority for interdistrict attendance. If the student's district has not established an interdistrict transfer agreement, the student must be given additional consideration for the creation of an interdistrict attendance agreement.

Texas also allows a board of trustees to transfer the bully to either (1) another classroom at the campus to which the victim was assigned at the time the bullying occurred; or (2) a campus in the district other than the campus to which the victim was assigned at the time the bullying occurred, in consultation with a parent or other person with authority to act on behalf of the student who engaged in bullying.

In Georgia, a student in grades 6-12 found to have engaged in bullying 3 times in a school year must be transferred to an alternative school. As in Texas, the district is not responsible for transportation for a student sent to an alternative school under these circumstances.

Friday, October 21, 2011

California: State Seal of Biliteracy on High School Diplomas and Transcripts

Legislation recently enacted in California creates the State Seal of Biliteracy, creating a sort of honors diploma/endorsement for students capable of demonstrating that they can speak, read and write a language other than English (including American Sign language) at an advanced level.

While 17-some states have honors diplomas or endorsements students may earn by earning advanced credits, reaching benchmarks on state assessments, or meeting other state-set criteria, California is the first to create an honors endorsement based on a student's fluency in a second language. The first section of the legislation sets forth the advantages of fluency in a second language--and Rosetta Stone and many other providers can attest to the fact that it's only in adulthood that many people realize that skills in a second language can be mighty handy. I am eager to see how many students take California up on its offer on this diploma endorsement, and if we will see the idea take off in other states.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Texas: Creating an incubator for best practices

Unique legislation was enacted this session in Texas. S.B. 1557 creates the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium, intended to inform state leaders about approaches to improve student learning "through the development of innovative, next-generation learning standards and assessment and accountability systems." The consortium will be made up of no more than 20 "participants" who have applied and been selected by the commissioner of education based on their plan to improve instruction and learning. A participant may be either a charter school that has been awarded an exemplary distinction designation, or a district, or one or more campuses within a district.

The legislation identifies principles "for a next generation of higher performing public schools"--these include engaging students through digital learning, focusing on "high-priority standards", use of multiple assessments to keep various stakeholders informed on an ongoing basis on how well learning is occurring and what is being done to improve learning, and reliance on local control. The authors of the legislation don't want the wheel to be reinvented 20 times over through this project--consortium leaders are to gather periodically to, among other purposes, "build cross-district and cross-school support systems and training, and share best practices tools and processes." (Hopefully this knowledge exchange will be done on an ongoing basis via e-mail, a consortium Web presence, threaded discussions, etc.)

Applications must be submitted by June 2012, and participants must be selected by July 2012 (quick turnaround!). The consortium will begin operations by the start of the 2012-13 school year. I will look forward to seeing what innovative approaches the consortium participants implement, and to what degree these might be scaled up to district-wide and statewide implementation, both in and outside Texas. And what policy barriers, if any, might successful participants identify that states should address to ultimately enhance student performance?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What will be the trends to watch in 2012?

Today a group at ECS brainstormed a list of the potential "big topics" in education policy in 2012. What do you think will be the major policy trends to watch next year? Feel free to share them in the "comments" section, or e-mail them to And be sure to watch for an ECS report forecasting the big issues of 2012, to be released in early December.

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Parent empowerment" beginning to catch on outside California

There was much ado about the enactment of California's so-called "parent trigger" legislation, S.B. 4. Now similar legislation has been enacted in Texas and Ohio, although the legislation in these new states differs somewhat from the original California blueprint.

Under the original California law, if at least half of parents at a low-performing school (or a combination of half of such parents and of parents at the feeder elementary or middle school) sign a petition requesting the district to implement one or more of four intervention options (the turnaround model, the restart model, school closure or the transformation model) or the federally mandated alternative governance arrangement identified in NCLB, the district must implement the option requested by the parents, unless the district makes a finding in writing at a regularly scheduled public hearing, stating the reason it cannot implement the specific recommended option (in which case it must designate in writing which of the other options described in this section it will implement in the subsequent school year). Up to 75 schools in the state may be subject to a petition. The district may deny the parent petition option if it appears to be for reasons other than school safety or student achievement.

The Ohio legislation, part of very lengthy H.B. 153, is a pilot limited to Columbus, and is targeted to the school level rather than the district level. If at least 50% of parents at any school ranked in the lowest 5% for three or more consecutive years (or the combination of parents at the school and the feeder schools) sign a petition "and if the validity and sufficiency of the petition is certified", the board must implement the parents' chosen option the following school year. Options include (1) Reopening the school as a community school (charter school), (2) Replacing at least 70% of the school personnel related to the school's poor academic performance, (3) Contracting with another district, or a nonprofit or for-profit with a proven record of effectiveness to run the school, (4) Transferring operation of the school to the department of ed., or (5) Any other major restructuring of the school that makes fundamental reforms in the school's staffing or governance. Just as in California, the Columbus board may not approve a reform that the board determines is proposed for reasons other than improving student academic achievement or student safety, and the local board can select another reform option if it provides a written statement on how it will improve school performance. Unlike the California legislation, the parent-supported reform may also be denied if the state superintendent determines that implementation of the requested reform would not comply with the state's model of differentiated accountability, or the parents requested a state takeover and the department of ed. refuses to take operation of the school. And unlike in California, the local board doesn't have final say on the alternative to the parent-requested reform--if the local board selects an option other than the one on the parent petition, the board must submit its written statement to the state superintendent and state board along with evidence indicating how the alternative reform the district board wants to implement will enable the school to improve its academic performance; both the state superintendent and state board must approve the alternative reform's implementation. Interestingly, the Ohio legislation calls for the SEA to conduct an annual evaluation of the pilot program, to be submitted to the general assembly. The report must include recommendations regarding the continuation of the pilot, or expansion to other districts, or extending the program statewide.

In Texas, meanwhile, the legislation leaves out the middleman and sends parents straight to the commissioner of education. A majority of parents at a school with an "unacceptable" performance rating three consecutive school years after a school has been reconstituted may submit a petition to the commissioner asking that the school be (1) repurposed, (2) led under alternative management, or (3) closed. However, the local board may also submit to the commissioner a written request for a specific action other than that requested by the parents, along with an explanation of the basis for the board's request, and the commissioner may select the local board's option instead.

It is interesting to note the variation in the state approaches--the options available to parents, and what mechanisms are in place for the parents' reform option to be trumped by the local board or state authorities. It is a little like VHS versus Beta--as additional states look at the parent trigger option (as I feel they may in 2012), which options will they make available to parents, and which entities will be able to override the parents' choice? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Iowa: One Unshakable Vision

Earlier this week, the governor and lieutenant governor of Iowa released their blueprint for major education reforms in the state. The report puts forth state policy changes in 16 wide-ranging areas, including teacher recruitment, effectiveness and evaluation, school accountability, and third-grade literacy, among others. Some of the recommendations are relatively common approaches nationally (creating a teacher scholarship program to recruit math and science teachers), while others appear to be quite unique and promising—and a shift away from local control in a traditionally local-control state. Just a sampling of these unique and promising recommendations below:

Attracting and Supporting Talented Educators
• Have teacher candidates demonstrate evidence of perseverance and leadership as part of their entry into teacher-education programs
• Newly created teacher mentors in all schools will serve as adjunct college and university faculty in supervising student-teaching, effectively opening student-teaching for any school in the state.

Improved Educator Recruiting and Hiring Practices
• Check all teacher applicants for the right personality, characteristics, and skills needed to be a great teacher.

Creating Educator Leadership Roles
(The first two could be challenging in a rural state where school size and staffing are often "small," but states such as Alaska have developed coaching models that help accommodate for such rural challenges.)
• Establish Mentor teachers in every building in the state to coach student-teachers, new teachers, and veteran teachers toward improvement
• Establish Master teachers in every building in the state to help in peer evaluation and to serve as instructional leaders along with principals
• Create Apprentice principals who receive coaching and other training from more experienced leadership from districts and Area Education Agencies
• Establish Mentor principals who would help coach Apprentice principals.

Free Principals to Lead
• Expand the School Administration Manager (SAM) training program statewide. SAMs take care of managerial tasks, such as budgeting, accounting and attendance to free up principals to get out into classrooms where they can lead and support great teaching.

There are more unique components—but more than can be addressed in a single blog post. Needless to say, while it will be exciting to see how the recommendations take shape in policy, the devil is always in the details. What sounds great on paper may be difficult to implement, or in the case of mentor teachers and principals, apprentice principals and master teachers, will hinge on the quality of and support provided to the staff willing to take on these additional assignments.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ohio: Guess Who's Going Back to School--and It Ain't the Kids

Ohio had already enacted major legislation earlier this year in the form of S.B. 5 (bill summary here), which made major changes to provisions regarding teacher contracts and tenure, collective bargaining and strikes, and teacher and administrator compensation. This summer, Ohio also enacted H.B. 153 (bill analysis here), which makes numerous substantive changes in its own right.

One such change is a provision that if a school has been in the lowest 10% of schools according to the statewide performance index, the teachers of core academic subjects at the school must take all written exams required by the state board for licensure for teaching that subject area and grade level. District boards, community schools and STEM schools are permitted to use exam scores in decisions whether or not to continue employing a teacher, although the exam score may not be the sole determinant, unless the teacher has failed to achieve a passing score on the same required exam for at least three consecutive administrations.

This may be the first such policy of its kind in the country. I had a conversation with a colleague about the provision, and he commented that in an age when student test scores are increasingly being incorporated into teacher evaluations (and continuing employment determinations), perhaps this is not the "nuclear option" that it might have seemed to be a couple years ago. It will be interesting to see how this plays out--how many teachers in the lowest-performing schools are let go after failing their licensure exams repeatedly--since the policy does not specify that a teacher must be fired after X number of failing exam scores. As one 2010 study suggests, principals, even when they have the power to do so, are reluctant to fire the lowest-performing teachers, even when they know who those teachers are. Maybe district boards, who have the firing power as the Ohio policy is written, are a different story.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What can be done to reconnect disconnected youth

Just recently revisited Building a Learning Agenda Around Disconnected Youth. This excellent paper:
  • Summarizes the findings of evaluations of programs to help connect dropouts with education and/or employment, noting that "[m]ost second-chance programs for youth have never been formally evaluated for effectiveness. Moreover, because the programs are often run by small community-based organizations, the most rigorous evaluation methods are probably not feasible or appropriate in many cases."
  • Develops a continuum of intervention strategies to help those ranging from the "least unconnected" to the "most disconnected" youth, and
  • Identifies areas of unmet need.
One of the best things about this paper is that it makes clear for a policy (rather than advocacy) audience that at-risk students or disconnected youth are a diverse group, with widely ranging levels of skill and motivation, and that a one-size-fits-all approach to re-engaging these young people in education or the workforce will not work. In reviewing education legislation so far this session, however, it's disappointing that few if any measures seem to build off the findings of this report. Are there in fact new state policies that have been informed by this report's thoughtful findings? Are the findings perhaps driving local efforts that are not necessarily on the state policy radar screen? Or must more be done to bring these critical and actionable findings to a state policymaker audience?

Friday, May 27, 2011

In case you missed it: ECS report on STEM

Shameless plug: In February, ECS released a short report on science, technology, education and mathematics (STEM) education that touches upon:
  • Recent research (both on the need for improved STEM outcomes and on approaches to increase STEM degree completion among black and Hispanic students)
  • Examples of approaches to advance STEM through public/private partnership (i.e., with limited to no state funds)
  • The silent "T" and "E" in STEM education--and ways states are meaningfully incorporating technology and engineering in STEM at the K-12 level.
One study highlighted in the report found that Hispanic and Black students in Florida's class of 1997 who completed Chemistry II or Physics II in high school were as likely or more likely than their White peers to complete a four-year degree in a STEM field--but that 24 Black and 24 Hispanic students in the Class of 1997--for the entire Florida cohort--had completed these classes. Numbers these low beg the question (at least for me) of whether these students were all in one school or one district. At any rate, the study points to one approach that may increase, and increase the diversity of, the STEM workforce.

More interesting research and STEM public/private approaches were identified that were not incorporated into the February report--hopefully these will be reported out in a future ECS publication.

Monday, May 9, 2011

High school science: Which courses are "rigorous"?

I received an interesting call today from a high school science teacher in a state that has increased its graduation requirements in science in recent years. The state board in this state has set about determining which science courses meet the criteria of "rigorous" for purposes of fulfilling unit requirements in this subject--and this teacher was surprised and dismayed that some subjects she teaches--including AP Environmental Science--did not make the cut.

Her concerns did raise the question of how states striving to ensure rigor in high school graduation requirements in science determine which courses are "rigorous". Of course, there is the heavily-cited research identifying a correlation between high school coursetaking in lab-based biology, chemistry and physics and subsequent entry into and completion of a baccalaureate degree within a reasonable period of time. Yet not all courses approved by such states as "rigorous" seem to fit into the categories identified in the research, while others explicitly intended to bring students to college readiness--such as AP science courses--are not wholesale included in the definition of "rigor" in every state.

Transparency by state-level entities regarding the process used to define rigor among high school courses may result in greater buy-in from teachers, students and parents that the path to greater rigor in high school graduation requirements--in science as well as in other subject areas--is the right path to tread.