School Principal Recruitment and Training Act of 2009

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) have introduced the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act of 2009, which would create a federal grant program “to recruit, support, and prepare principals to improve student academic achievement at high-need schools.” Eligible applicants for grants would include a local educational agency; or a non-profit organization, educational service agency, higher education institution, or state educational agency that has a partnership with one or more local educational agencies.

The bill’s findings note inadequacies of present principal principal preparation programs, stating that “Principals need both management and instructional leadership skills to be effective. Yet most principal preparation programs fail to devote adequate attention and resources to training principals in instructional leadership.”

The actual bill is attached

“Race to the Top” Drives Charter School Consideration in Alabama

The latest example of Race to the Top driving education policy change in the states may be the Alabama state legislature’s consideration of a charter schools in the state. Alabama’s governor, Bob Riley, is making a strong push for allowing the creation of charter schools in the state. The push comes as a result of the state bid for federal education funding in the Race to the Top competition. The US Department of Education’s guidelines indicates that some degree of preference will be given to states that allow for the creation of creation charter schools as a school reform strategy. 

As would be expected, there is some resistance to the creation of charters in Alabama, and it comes from the expected places. The Alabama Education Association (AEA), the state’s largest professional educators association, does not support the creation of charter schools in Alabama. AEA opposes the creation of charter schools charging that charter schools will take money “from every student enrolled in the public schools of our state (a total of 740,000) and use it to create charter schools to serve only a relatively few students.” AEA’s argument is one that we’ve heard from profession education association’s around the nation now since the passage of the first charter school legislation in Minnesota in the early 1990s. But to be honest, it’s not a very good argument. There are valid arguments to be made against the establishment of charter schools, but AEA’s argument is not one. Funding for public schools, both charter and traditional, is allocated based on the number of students that a school serves. If Birmingham City Schools is serving a student, then they receive the applicable funding for that child. In the same way, if a charter school is serving a student, the charter school receives the per pupil allocation for that student. AEA is not being honest about their real issue, which is that the presence of charter schools within a school district forces the traditional public schools to compete for that student and the funding that follows him/her, whereas without charter schools, traditional public school districts have a virtual monopoly on public education. But I digress. This is another topic.
My point here is to again highlight the impact that the Obama Department of Education is having on education policy through the Race to the Top competition. The George W. Bush Administration’s handprint on education came with the passage and implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The Obama Administration, however, before even taking up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), has used the enticement of record amounts of federal education funding to drive states to make substantive overhauls of their education systems. Alabama’s consideration and probable adoption of a charter school policy is a case in point. The US caught charter school fever in the early 1990’s, and as of today, 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of charter school legislation. Alabama is one of only 10 states that have not. The charter school reform strategy has floated around the US for nearly 20 year now, and for various reasons, many political, Alabama had chosen not to adopt it. I argue that were it not for the Race to the Top competition, Alabama would not be seriously considering the measure now. What we can take away from this is that the scent of federal dollars, especially during difficult economic times, has the power to coax states into doing things that they would not have otherwise done. Money makes things happen; even education reform. And whether you are a supporter, opponent, or indifferent toward the Obama Department of Education’s priorities, you have to admit that their strategy has been masterful thus far in getting states to march to their beat.

Tying Teacher Evaluation to Student Performance in Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has received considerable attention over the last couple of weeks as a result of his voiced support for tying teacher evaluation in Louisiana to student test score growth. Jindal said recently that a system which evaluates and financially rewards teachers based on student test scores is a central component of Louisiana’s Race to the Top proposal for overhauling the state’s education system; but that regardless of whether the Race to the Top proposal is successful, the state will move forth with developing and implementing the new evaluation system. 

The system that Jindal is pushing for would evaluate teachers in part based on “value-added” measures of student performance. In other words, teachers would be evaluated on the amount of academic growth that students make over the course of the school year. Value-added measures differ significantly from absolute measures. In an evaluation system using absolute measures for evaluation, teachers might be evaluated on the percentage of students that meet a fixed or absolute standard. An example of such a standard would be the expectation the 80% of a teacher’s class scores at the level of “proficient” on end of the year standardized exams; or that all students in a teacher’s class are reading “at grade-level” by the end of the school year. The problem with such measures is that they fail to take into account students’ levels of performance when they enter a teacher’s classroom at the start of the school year. It is really pretty ridiculous to hold a teacher to the expectation that her eighth grade students will be reading at grade-level by the end of the year if he started the school year reading at the second grade level. Value-added measures, on the other hand, are measures of growth; so they do take into account students’ levels of performance at the start of the year and for extended periods of time. Value-added measures can also adjust for special student characteristics such as limited English proficiency, or learning disabilities.
Louisiana’s proposed use of such an evaluation system has garnered the state an unprecedented amount of positive attention for public education. This is not to suggest, however, that the proposal has not been criticized by some. In fact, the Louisiana School Boards Association’s Board of Directors is cautioning local boards of education to “evaluate very carefully before making final decisions” to sign onto the state’s Race to the Top proposal, charging that the “changes proposed do not rest on proven research and have been challenged by well recognized national authorities.” Also, the Louisiana Educators Association (LEA), Louisiana’s largest professional educators organization, has voted to not endorse the state’s Race to the Top proposal, citing among other reasons, the State Superintendent’s and Department of Education’s unwillingness to work with them on the teacher evaluation process. LAE’s major dissatisfaction with the state’s proposed evaluation system is the percentage that the value-added measures would account for in teachers’ overall evaluation. The LA Department of Education has proposed that the value-added measures would account for one-half of teachers’ evaluation, while LAE leadership would prefer that the measures account for no more than one-third of teachers’ evaluations. Louisiana’s second largest teachers union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), also has disagreements with some of the particulars of the proposed evaluation system, but has chosen to remain engaged with the state in the development and refinement of the Race to the Top proposal, with LFT president Steve Monaghan reasoning that “Too many Louisiana children are too poor with needs too great to walk away from a share of the $4.4 billion Race to the Top funds.”
In the end, I have no doubt that Louisiana’s bid for Race to the Top funding will be successful and the state will probably go on to lead the nation in using student performance measures as a major component of teacher evaluation. While not perfect, the value-added measures represent not only a significant improvement over using absolute measures for teacher evaluation, but also a much more common sense approach to setting expectations for teachers. There is a widely-held misperception that teachers are flatly opposed to being held accountable for student performance. That is untrue for most teachers. What most teachers argue is that they should not be held accountable things that are beyond their control. A classroom teacher has no control over a students’ learning before coming to his or her classroom. Teachers also argue that special student circumstances such as disabilities and limited English proficiency must be factored into setting expectations. The use of value-added measures for teacher evaluation purposes moves us a step closer to being able to hold teachers accountable for student performance without making them the whipping children for factors that they truly have no control over.

Proposed Hispanic Education Act in New Mexico

Governor Bill Richardson has proposed the passage of a Hispanic Education Act in New Mexico in an effort to close the achievement gap for Latino students who make up 56% of New Mexico students. Critics of such a bill argue that the state’s department of education and schools are already doing much of what such an act would put into law. The problem remains, however, that even when achievement scores for all students across the state have increased, the scores of Hispanic students, as well as American Indian and African American students, have consistently remained significantly lower than those of Asian and Caucasian students. So while critics of Governor Richardson’s proposal may or may not be correct that the new law would not give any substantial new powers to the New Mexico schools, I believe that such a proposal would serve to focus the attention of the state on a critical issue. It is not okay that students of color consistently score significantly lower than Asian and Caucasian peers. And if what is presently being done in New Mexico schools is not closing that gap, then something else needs to be done. It’s really pretty simple. How do you know when you’ve fixed a leaky roof? It stops leaking. How do you know when you’ve fixed the achievement gap? The gap disappears. Well, it hasn’t. And until it does we have to keep working on it and not assuming that by some roundabout fashion it will be ameliorated. 

Nice move Gov. Richardson and good luck to the good people of New Mexico who want to do what is right for all children.

Proposed Federal Legislation Will Restrict Restraint and Seclusion in Schools

New legislation titled the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in the Schools Act, H.R. 4247, S. 2860, was introduced in Congress this week. The bill come in response to report released last spring by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) which detailed hundreds of cases of the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in schools, with a disproportionate number of the victims being students with disabilities. If it is successfully passed, this legislation would provide the first federal standards regarding the use of restraint and seclusion and schools; standards which would apply to all public schools, private schools, and preschools receiving federal funds. 

Provisions of the proposed bill include the following:
  • Restricting the use of physical restraint and locked seclusion to instances where there is imminent danger of injury, and requiring that these interventions be imposed only by trained staff;
  • Completely outlawing the use of mechanical restraints;
  • Requiring that schools inform parents after seclusion or restraint interventions have been used; and
  • Requiring states to develop policies, procedures, and monitoring and enforcement systems necessary to comply with the standards of the law.
Earlier this year, The Council for Children with Behavior Disorders (CCBD), a division of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), issued similar recommendations in

Shift in South Korean Teacher Evaluation Policy

The US is not the only nation looking at making changes to how teachers are evaluated. In an effort to improve teacher quality and encourage parents to have more children, the South Korean Ministry of Education is preparing to implement a new teacher evaluation system which will annually designate high-performing teachers and provide them with incentives including promotion and opportunities to study abroad. The system will also give indication to education officials which teachers require support. The next step is to develop uniform evaluation methods for teachers, and then pilot the new system with kindergarten teachers. 

In the US, in response to the recently released “Race to the Top” regulations, much discussion has surrounded teacher evaluation systems, and what methods for evaluating teachers are most appropriate. While disagreement remains surrounding the use of standardized test data and other means of evaluating teachers, it is clear that in the US and around the world, the evaluation of educators and educational systems is necessary. If we are to ensure quality educational outcomes, evaluation must be a part of our educational systems. We cannot and should not trust that every teacher will do his/her job and children will learn. So while we work out the details on how we will evaluate teachers and systems, let us remain committed to evaluation in some form. If not, we leave the door open for children to continue to be left behind.

Innovation in Attracting New Teachers in Maine

The University of Maine- Fort Kent has announced the launch of an accelerated three-year bachelor’s degree program in education in fall 2010. The program is intended for “the academically-gifted and talented student aspiring to become an exemplary teacher.” Admission to the program will be competitive. The program seeks students with a high school gpa of 3.0 or better, standing in the top 15% of high school graduating class, SAT of 1500 or higher, ACT of 21 or higher, and early college and advanced placement experiences. Completion requirements don’t cut any corners. Graduates of the program must complete a minimum of 120 credit hours with a minimum 2.5 gpa, successful completion of Praxis I and II and one semester of student teaching.

I am very excited about the possibilities of this Main-Fort Kent’s program and other similar ones. We have to start to be innovative in attracting some of our best young academic talent into teacher education programs. It is not appropriate that a profession as vital to our nation’s prosperity as teaching should be the career of choice for those who can’t get into the career that they would really want to pursue. Programs such as this one help to put us back on the track of making teaching a career of choice rather than one of last resort. Clearly, it will take a whole lot more than attracting new talent to teaching to get our education system to where it needs to be. We need to also develop innovative programs to retain the outstanding talent that we have. But I am inspired by the program’s innovativeness. Let’s not be afraid to try new things and see what happens.