School-Leader Standards to Get More Revision

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Amid sharp criticism from experts and practitioners in recent weeks, a key set of professional standards that guide the training and professional development of the nation’s school leaders will now explicitly address equity, social justice, and ethical behaviors. An  was chided for downplaying the role of principals and other leaders in addressing those issues.

The about-face is a departure for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which owns the copyright to the standards and is partnering with the National Policy Board for Educational Administration to revise them. It also follows a 19-day public comment period in which nearly 300 people provided feedback in an online survey and others submitted written responses to the CCSSO.

When a draft of the seven standards was released last month, Chris Minnich, the CCSSO’s executive director, defended them against critics, saying that social justice, equity, and ethics were addressed in the document’s introduction and embedded throughout the standards. Mr. Minnich said at the time, however, that the CCSSO was open to revising the benchmarks based on feedback from the field.

The standards, known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards, set the benchmarks for what school leaders are expected to know and do. They are used across the country to help guide leadership preparation programs, including those for principals and superintendents. They are also used to set policies and regulations around school leaders’ hiring, evaluations, and professional development.

Multiple Drafts

Equity and cultural responsiveness had been a discrete standard among 11 that were part of a September draft issued by CCSSO. Under that standard, principals were expected to advocate for children and families, attack issues of student marginalization, deficit-based schooling, and limit assumptions about gender, race, class, and special status.

So when CCSSO released its May draft, the removal of that standard caused strong pushback in the education leadership community, especially given the ongoing national conversation about poverty and race and the shifting demographics in American public schools to a student body that is increasingly nonwhite, low-income, and in need of English-language instruction. School leaders are also responsible for creating safe and welcoming learning environments for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

Without explicit standards to address equity and social justice issues, leadership training programs would graduate students “without ever challenging them to be aware of their own presumptions around race, much less make their schools equitable and inviting places for children of color and children of all kinds of differences that characterize our society today,” said Bradley W. Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Mr. Davis was among six education leadership professors and education school deans who wrote a letter to the CCSSO seeking changes. More than 500 people, including professors, principals, and teachers, signed the letter. The September draft also contained a separate standard on ethical principles and professional norms, which was removed from last month’s version.

Mary-Dean Barringer, the strategic initiative director of workforce development at the CCSSO, said “there was a lot of encouragement” in the most recently public comment period to put functions related to equity and social justice into a separate standard. Similar comments were provided on ethical behaviors, Ms. Barringer said.

Process Revised

In what appears to be another effort to appease critics—who claimed that the tail end of the revision process had been cloaked in secrecy—a committee of education professionals, possibly including principals or representatives from principals’ associations and convened by the national policy board will hammer out the final standards.

The new set of final standards are now scheduled for release in the fall, Ms. Barringer said.

“There was clearly a lot of pressure put on [the CCSSO],” said Joseph F. Murphy, a professor of education leadership at Vanderbilt University and the author of the original standards, who was a critic of the May draft. “And I think they reflected on that, and I think that that pressure was effective in this case.”

Mark A. Gooden, the director of the Principalship Program at the University of Texas at Austin, said he understood the CCSSO’s goals in attempting to “weave” matters of equity through all standards, as it had done in the May draft. But Mr. Gooden, an associate professor, said that he’d rather see a two-pronged approach that would weave equity throughout all the standards and explicitly set it apart as a concrete standard.

Putting concepts such as race and gender in the standards pushes educators to name the problem and it increases the likelihood that they would tackle it head on, he said. And given the cheating scandal in Atlanta and its major fallout, addressing ethical behavior is critical, said Mr. Gooden.

Other education groups also weighed in. The ASCD wrote in a June 4 letter that the standards captured well the competing responsibilities of principals as instructional leaders and operational managers, but it also noted concerns about the absence of equity and ethical principles. Ms. Barringer, from the CCSSO, said the final revisions would reflect feedback and comments from the variety of education organizations that responded.

Overall, the feedback from the online survey was positive, with 77 percent of the 271 individuals who commented deeming the standards to be “good to excellent,” Ms. Barringer said, citing language from the survey.

Feedback also suggested that the language in the May version was clearer than the September draft, she said. And many appreciated the preamble on “transformational” school leaders who focus on student learning, continuous improvement, and creating inclusive school communities, she said.

Of the respondents, about 20 percent worked in higher education, some 60 percent were school-level administrators, and 11 percent were teachers, she said.

The May feedback was more constructive than what CCSSO heard last year, with many respondents following up with extensive comments and suggestions, she said.

Related Blog

Rob Larson, the director of the Oregon Leadership Network, for example, provided the CCSSO with examples of how Oregon since 2012 has embedded equity and cultural competency across all licensing and preparation standards. Mr. Larson said in an interview that meeting the needs of all students was part of the essential and important work of school leaders and that Oregon would continue to focus on cultural competency and equitable practices.

As a result of the delay in releasing the ISLLC standards—they were originally set to be published this spring—the first-ever set of standards for principal supervisors will also be pushed back, according to Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for the CCSSO.

Ms. Barringer said the CCSSO will try to work concurrently on both the ISLLC standards and principal-supervisor standards to ensure that there is not a significant lag time between the publication of the two documents.

“We are going as fast as we can,” Ms. Barringer said, “but only as fast as we can get it right.”

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Report: Schools Should Focus More on Soft Skills

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A new study from Wainhouse Research finds that a large minority, 39 percent, of education stakeholders say their schools should be doing a better job of preparing students for the workforce.

Among more than 1,000 administrators, teachers, students and parents surveyed from North America and the United Kingdom, “many” said they “believe that schools are doing a decent job focusing on the 3 R’s: reading, writing and mathematics, but are not doing as good a job focusing on other aspects of education essential to preparing learners for entering the workforce,” according to the report.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said too little emphasis is placed on collaborations with other learners outside the classroom, while 46 and 40 percent, respectively, said there should be more emphasis on group achievement and working in teams.

The two soft skills respondents said were important most often were problem solving, at 96 percent, and the ability to collaborate, at 95 percent.

“A total of 58 percent of those surveyed believe schools are placing too much emphasis on teaching to mandated tests,” according to a news release. “In order to change that, many responders say schools should improve professional development, offer new methods of assessment, provide greater leadership and adopt new approaches to teaching.”

The full report, which was sponsored by Smart Technologies, is available at downloads01.smarttech.com.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. He can be reached at jbolkan@1105media.com.

Which State Has the Best K-12 Public Education School System?

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Which states are doing the best job in maintaining strong public school systems?

According to data compiled by SmartAsset, a technology and data company, good schools are in the northeast, and the west can do better.

In order to find this data, “SmartAsset looked at ten across-the-board metrics of education, placing a special emphasis on how well states are preparing students for college,” the article said. For each state, we considered the percentages of students taking the SAT, ACT and AP tests, and the average scores for those tests. We also looked at the state-level funding-per-student, the student-teacher ratio, the high school dropout rate and the percentage of high school graduates attending college after graduation.

” One of its key findings was that good schools are in the northeast.”

“Led by Connecticut, each of the top four states in our study is located in the northeast, and seven of the top ten are on the east coast,” the article said. “Most notable among these states was the high rate of college-attendance. In New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut, over 70 percent of high school graduates attend college within 12 months of graduating.”

SmartAsset also found that “the west can do better.”

“The west is home to all four of the lowest-grading states in our study, and six of the eight states that received an overall F are west of the continental divide,” the article said. “Washington, Arizona, Oregon and Nevada all have below average college-attendance rates, below average per-student spending levels and higher-than-average student-teacher ratios.”

The article also ranked the states according to “SAT Testing Percent”, “ACT Testing Percent”, “College Attendance Rate”, “Dropout Rate”, “Funding per Student”, “Student-Teacher Ratio”, and “Grade”. Connecticut made the top of the list with Nevada at the bottom.

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

Study Including Teachers of the Year Reveals Favorable Opinions on Common Core Assessments

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A study released from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year asked 23 teachers of the year from across the country to compare Common Core-aligned exams to the tests preceding them and found that most favored the PARCC and Smarter Balance Assessments.

“Teachers in the study also found that the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests provide more information to help teachers distinguish between moderate and high performing students, an aspect that New Jersey Department of Education officials said prior exams lacked,” said NJ.com. The study asked teachers to compare the Common Core-aligned exams with previous state exams the assessments replaced. When looking at a Common Core-aligned test, 70 percent of teachers found that the “test measures an appropriately broad sampling of the ELA/Math knowledge and skills in instruction in an excellent fifth grade classroom,” the study said. Only 33 percent could say the same about the former state exams.

The Common Core-aligned tests were also viewed as a better reflection of teaching and learning practices demonstrated in the classroom. “No standardized test captures all the activities of a classroom, but the most important skills and knowledge were represented on the consortia tests, and questions were asked in ways that were better aligned to the instructional practices of excellent classrooms than the previous assessments,” the study found. And despite agreeing that the exams’ content included higher quality standards, most participating teachers found the Common Core-aligned exams to be grade-level appropriate in both depth and range. While the study indicates some interesting findings on Common Core assessments, it’s important to note some of the study’s shortcomings in arriving at a final conclusion. “It is important to acknowledge some limitations of this study. First, this was a purposefully small study.

Our eligibility criteria for participants (former state teachers of the year or finalists with direct knowledge of 5th grade ELA or math) and the rigorous, deep, and time-consuming review process meant that we only had 23 teachers participate. Second, we focused on the content of the assessments studied, not implementation. Third, our study was not able to take some of the unique

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor

Seven Things Teachers Want Principals to Know

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Dear administrators,

We don’t know how you do it. You lead us into the fray of public education, steering our ship through coarse passages, torrential rains, as well as help us to appreciate the beauty of calm waters. You’ve taken the role of captain on this journey, and for that we are forever grateful. Although we appreciate the collaboration in our school and the open discussion environments you help to create, sometimes it is difficult for us to thoroughly and honestly express our worries and concerns. May this list serve as an open letter to all administrators from your dedicated troops – some things that we wish to share with you as insight into our world.

1. Fast-moving political efforts in education concern educators. We want to make sure you’ll always remember that we’re human beings while you strive to meet local, state and national goals. Education reform is written on paper: embedded in lines of legislature and recommendations from those who study our practice. Reforms and mandates can feel removed from the day-to-day classroom experience. In other words, just because an initiative seems possible doesn’t mean it is reasonable in our school and district. There are significant, positive improvements coming from education reform efforts, but we’re not completely convinced that all edicts would be healthy for our community. As expectations increase for us all, educators (although often capable of superhuman-like feats) need initiatives that are manageable.

2. Unstructured or undocumented work time doesn’t have to be scary. Teachers (and employees in general, as it turns out) will more often than not do the things that are considered “good practice” in the classroom without it being a mandatory initiative, part of a shared document review, or placed into regular accountability checks. It makes sense that for you to monitor fidelity of practice, you’d need us to report out. But don’t be afraid to provide professional development around an aspect of our work and then simply see what we do with it, especially if you give us the time to mull it over, kick it around with peers, and try it out without feeling the weight of expectation.

3. We want you in our classrooms. Especially with the new world of accountability in education, we really want you to be there and witness our craft. We also understand that this is no small feat. Of course, sometimes it makes us nervous to be observed. Don’t take this personally. That’s mostly due to the aforementioned politics around our practice. We’re worried that you’re looking to “catch us”. Let us know you’re not out to get us by giving us resources to improve. Suggestions from a fellow educator (you!), presented as a helping hand and not a wrist slap, can go a long way in helping us feel respected as professionals and ensuring that a collaborative, growth-focused environment will operate in your school.

4. We need encouragement. If we’re being honest, we are living in an age where teachers are being scrutinized more than we’ve ever seen in the history of public education. Accountability is the game. And in many ways this has helped us to align our curriculum, communicate our goals, and collaborate better with our peers. Not to mention, it helps the public feel like their tax money is being well spent. However, we both know that “teacher practice” is not the only variable in this equation. And the reality is that jobs around human relationships are always going to include mistakes and flaws. This scrutiny, if not put into a realistic context, can quickly feel overwhelming and like there is a sort of “anti-teacher” sentiment among the public. This can be exhausting and very discouraging. A little encouragement throughout the day, week or month can remind us why we got into the field. A quick note via email is usually all that’s needed.

5. We’d like permission to say “I don’t know”. Things are changing every day in our field. We have bookshelves and Kindles filled with strategies and pedagogy. Our email inboxes and web browser bookmarks are littered with new ideas, articles, and the latest studies from the top universities. We’re doing our very best to keep informed, but it’s all happening so fast, and we might not be reading the same texts as you! Help us to create a community where “not knowing” is okay. Our schools have become too competitive. It’s not logically feasible that we would know it all. Once we feel comfortable saying that we “don’t know”, it naturally frees us up to comfortably say, “I want to learn”. And that … is where real growth begins.

6. Our concerns (around policy, schoolwide initiatives, school culture, curriculum, etc.) are always going to reflect the need we are seeing on the front lines. Both of our jobs are intense. There’s no getting around that. We’re not always going to agree, and sometimes decisions are out of both of our hands. Just understand that when we are frustrated, concerned, or disagreeing on an issue, that concern is always in defense of the students that we both serve. We can work together to improve implementation efforts—and then you’ll truly see great results from our classrooms. This way, you can share in the bragging rights!

7. We can’t imagine our jobs without you. Expectations are high for teachers; we can’t even begin to imagine the pressures you feel from above. We understand that in many instances in your day-to-day, you act as the General defending your troops, and we don’t know how to thank you. We mean that. We worry daily that you don’t feel appreciated. We come to you with every problem in the world, expecting you to support us, defend us, and direct us. Everything you do allows us the luxury of making learning happen in the classroom—every late night, every never-ending meeting, every conference and mind-numbing document. Your stress and headaches allow us to be what we’ve always dreamed we could be. We could never begin to do what we do without you. We don’t always get to say it: You are appreciated. Thanks!

Written by Keith Lambert, Education World contributor

 

Superintendents to schools: Stop fighting over Common Core

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Superintendents said the battle over the Common Core standards is having a negative impact on their schools.

While the superintendents largely agreed that the controversial Common Core testing standards can be improved, more than 75 percent of the school leaders said that they see the standards as having a positive impact on education, a survey released Thursday for the state Council of School Superintendents found.

“Most superintendents regard the Common Core Standards as promising although not perfect,” Robert Reidy, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “They see the state’s testing system as trying to serve too many purposes and therefore not showing enough value for educators and families in helping to improve instruction.”

Nonetheless, 96 percent said the ongoing fight between the state and parents, teachers and students over the standards is hurting the school environment as a whole.

“Debates over matters of public policy are now so often inflamed and any leader who steps forward with solutions invites criticism,” the group’s report said. “Condemning is easier than consensus building. But if nothing is ever good enough, nothing can change, and nothing will ever improve.”

Superintendents from among the state’s nearly 700 school districts gave mixed grades to state tests: They can be useful for identifying strengths and weaknesses in instruction, but are not the best measure for evaluating teachers.

The state Education Department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have convened separate panels to figure how to improve the Common Core testing and teacher evaluations, which are based in part on student performance. In April, 20 percent of students opted out of the tests.

The council conducted two on-line surveys: One last spring asked about the opt-outs and the state assessment system, and 45 percent of superintendents participated. Another survey over the summer sought views on the Common Core standards and usefulness of state assessments; 48 percent of superintendents responded.

Leaders Who Last

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watch creative commons Artiom Gorgan.jpgIt is no secret that schools and the educators and students who work in and attend them are under stress. The time has come to radically change how our schools are organized, how time and work in schools is organized, how our leaders and teachers are trained, and how our students are taught.  The time demands leaders who think and act creatively (Harding, 2010).

Superintendent Quality and Longevity Matters
The role of the superintendent in affecting student achievement has been 
researched and debated.  The Brookings Institute reported:

When district academic achievement improves or deteriorates, the superintendent is likely to be playing a part in an ensemble performance in which the superintendent’s role could be led successfully by many others. In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are largely indistinguishable.

Well, exactly, but the truth is being slanted!  Is it not the superintendent who creates and choreographs that ensemble? And, yes, that ensemble matters.

It is a violation of a leader’s responsibility to ignore or destroy the talent existing in schools; a leader of a school community should not abandon its future to the control of others. The efficacy to create a community’s future resides in the hands of its leaders, even if it is influenced by mandates put in place by others (Myers & Berkowicz p. 63).

Schools are places where longevity also matters. The superintendent, in order to develop that ensemble of administrators, teachers, parents, community members, and students, must be trusted.  Integrity, upon which trust is built, is demonstrated over time, in multiple situations and decisions that reveal his or her true nature and intention.  Modeling integrity, compassion, and empathy while helping to develop those very attributes in others is key to the work of the leader. Should there be a change in the leadership every few years, the work begins again, contributing to the already threatening exhaustion experienced by those in our school systems.

Top level leadership in schools, as in business, healthcare, and higher education, often relies on boards to whom they report for support. Without positive rapport between the leader and the board of education, the tension and the political struggle at the governance level can, itself, hold a system back. Often it leads to a board asking the leader to leave or a leader choosing to move on. In either case, one wonders what contributed to the failed relationship and whether there was an investment made to turn it around. Starting anew may have an advantage from the board’s perspective or the leader’s, but the organization will only benefit from a new leader who functions with the students as the priority…and a board that wants the leader to succeed for all.

Principal Quality and Longevity Matters
The proposed Council of Chief State School Officers  (CCSSO) 2015 ISLLC Standards, expect principals to be able to:

  • build a shared vision of student academic success and well-being.
  • champion and support instruction and assessment that maximizes student learning and achievement.
  • manage and develop staff members’ professional skills and practices in order to drive student learning and achievement.
  • cultivate a caring and inclusive school community dedicated to student learning, academic success and personal well-being of every student.
  • coordinate resources, time, structures and roles to build the instructional capacity of teachers and other staff.
  • engage families and the outside community to promote and support student success.
  • administer and manage operations efficiently and effectively.

In order to master these seven expectations one needs time to gain the trust of the school community. Integrity is demonstrated and relationships develop over time. Yet, according to a 2014 study from the School Leaders Network, 25 percent of principals leave their schools each year, and 50 percent of new principals quit during their third year. Can this be good for students?

EducationNext.org study reports:

…highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount. These impacts are somewhat smaller than those associated with having a highly effective teacher. But teachers have a direct impact on only those students in their classroom; differences in principal quality affect all students in a given school.

Schools need focused leaders who can develop and sustain the coalitions to move a school forward, coalitions within the school and with those outside of school walls both. We need talented, dynamic, learning leaders and we need them to stay long enough to make a difference.

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