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.