A Vision for School Leadership

The importance of effective school leadership cannot be overstated. For many years research has consistently pointed to the classroom teacher as having the most significant impact of all school-level agents on a student’s learning. Understanding that, one of the key roles of the principal is to ensure that the school is a place that supports teachers in ensuring student learning. That responsibility entails many things, all of which are detailed in the Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium’s (ISLLC) standards for school leadership. These standards calls on school leaders to promote the success of all students through the development and implementation of a school vision, creating and sustaining a school culture that is conducive to learning, effectively managing school operations, collaborating with internal and external school stakeholders, leading with integrity, and advocating for and acting on behalf of children within the larger state, national, and international education contexts.

District and state leaders must make a top priority of getting a highly effective principal into every school. There is no substitute for effective school-level leadership. Once that effective leader is in place, s/he must be given the authority to make real decisions. I find it unfortunate that in some places we have dramatically increased the level of accountability for school leaders, but we have restricted their discretion to the point where very little of what goes on in the school is under their control. Principals in too many of our schools are no more than middle-managers, carrying out orders from district administrators. We must continue to hold school leaders accountable for the success of their schools, but in turn, we must give them the authority to make real decisions in their schools.

We must attract, select, and retain highly skilled, passionate leaders in schools that are committed to creating inclusive and nurturing environments and improving learning for all children. Giving these leaders the authority they need to do their jobs would result in schools meeting and surpassing expectations. Throughout my career I have worked with many incredibly intelligent, passionate, and creative school leaders, and I know that we have the human resources to turn some of our poorest performing schools into exemplary communities of learning. We can start by eliminating outdated policies and practices that prevent school leaders from doing their jobs. That type of policy reform is an important step toward providing all of our children with a first-rate education.

JCTA President Must Stop Misleading the People of Jefferson County About Charter Schools

For the first time Kentuckians are having the opportunity to openly discuss the possibility of charter schools in the Commonwealth, and propaganda and untruths are being spread like never before. What is most disconcerting is that many of those untruths have come from the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA), Mr. Brent McKim. Unfortunately, Mr. McKim has decided against participating in an open an honest conversation about what the passage of charter school legislation and the expansion of public school options for parents could mean for families in Kentucky. Instead, he has decided to mislead both his own association and the citizens of Louisville about what charter schools are and what they could bring to Kentucky. 
Reason for Opposition
Mr. McKim has misled the public about why he opposes the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky. He would have Kentuckians to believe that his opposition to charter schools is altruistic, and that his primary motive for opposing charter schools is his desire to ensure that all children in Jefferson County have access to only the highest quality schools. The truth, however, is that his primary reason for opposing charter schools is that in most charter schools across the country, there is no collective bargaining with teachers unions. Many lawmakers and charter school operators and authorizers across the country have made the decision to not have collective bargaining with charter schools in an effort to ensure that charter school administrators have the flexibility to make personnel decisions that are in the best interest of children. Collective bargaining agreements often restrict school principals from making these types of decisions, sometimes resulting in ineffective teachers remaining in positions that they should have been removed from years earlier. Principals in charter schools have the authority to remove ineffective teachers from classrooms. Mr. McKim is not a fan of this type of accountability for teachers.
Second and related, since there is usually no collective bargaining with charter schools, fewer charter school teachers remain members of teachers unions. For Mr. McKim, this would mean fewer dollars coming into his office every month; some of those dollars which he now uses to thwart the efforts of those who want real reform in Jefferson County’s schools. 
Charter School Teachers
It is unfortunate that attempts have been made to scare good public school teachers into believing that charter schools would put their careers in jeopardy. This could not be further from the truth. Here are a few truths about teachers in charter schools. 
  • Most charter school teachers across the country come from traditional public schools. 
  • Most charter school teachers across the country hold state teaching licenses. 
  • All charter school teachers apply for jobs at charter schools. Teachers are not reassigned from traditional public schools to charter schools. 
  • As all charter schools are public schools, all charter school teachers are public school teachers and have all the same rights and privileges of other public school teachers, including the opportunity to the participate state teachers retirement systems.
  • The only teachers that should be wary of applying for teaching positions in charter schools are ineffective ones. Ineffective teachers have long found comfort in knowing that they could fail children and families year after year and still hold onto their jobs, move up the salary schedule, and check off another year toward full state retirement because of protections provided by collective bargaining agreements. Ineffective teachers in charter schools do not have the protections of collective bargaining agreements to protect their jobs, so they ensure that children in their classrooms learn.
Student Achievement in Jefferson County Public Schools
Charter schools will bring innovation in curriculum, instruction, and accountability to Kentucky. This is not to suggest that there are not innovative practices already in place in some Kentucky schools. The truth is that some Kentucky schools (some in Jefferson County) are doing a fantastic job. The problem is that some are not doing well. In fact, some schools have failed children and families for years. According to Mr. McKim, Jefferson County Public Schools is already doing enough. He points to Kentucky’s rank of 14 on the 2012 Edweek Quality Counts rankings. These rankings do point to strides that Kentucky has made in recent years to improve education outcomes. As a Kentucky educator, I am proud of the strides that we are making as a state. I do caution Kentuckians, however, that on that list Arkansas is ranked 5th and West Virginia is ranked 10th.  
But I believe what is more important than Edweek’s rankings is the achievement data for children in Jefferson County Public Schools. According to the Jefferson County Public Schools’ 2010-2011 District Report Card, on the Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT), only 49.3% of African American students scored proficient or distinguished in reading, only 64% of Hispanic students scored proficient or distinguished in reading, and only 52.92% of economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or distinguished in reading. In mathematics only 40.87% of African American students scored proficient or distinguished, only 60.84% of Hispanic students scored proficient or distinguished, and only 46.23% of economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or distinguished in mathematics. Also, tragically, students with disabilities in Jefferson County Public Schools scored proficient and distinguished in mathematics and reading at rates far below Kentucky state averages. 
The achievement data are even more troubling when we look specifically at some of the district’s lowest performing schools. According to Iroquois High School’s 2010-2011 School Report Card, in mathematics only 19.47% of African American students scored proficient or distinguished, only 26.34% of economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or distinguished, only 38.89% of White students scored proficient or distinguished, and not one (0%) student with a disability scored proficient or distinguished in mathematics at Iroquois High School. So while I agree that Jefferson County Public Schools has made strides and is doing some things very well, these figures clearly illustrate that Mr. McKim’s claim that Jefferson County has everything under control are nothing short of misleading. Unless Mr. McKim is prepared to tell us that Jefferson County’s economically disadvantaged, Black, Hispanic, and special needs students are incapable of learning at higher levels, he should retract his claims of Jefferson County schools’ greatness.
Charter School Funding

Mr. McKim has charged that charter schools would divert critical funding from traditional public schools. This is another untruth that he has regularly used to mislead Kentuckians. The truth is that charter schools are public schools, and as such, they are funded in the same way that traditional public schools are funded. The same state, federal, and local tax dollars that fund a child’s education at duPont Manual High School would fund that same child’s education at a charter school. Funding follows children. When a child leaves one school to go to another one, the funding for that child follows her to the new school. That means if no parents choose to enroll their children in the charter school, the school does not get a dime. In this way, charter schools must e
nsure that parents are pleased with their children’s educational experience, because if parents take their children out of the school it received no funding and it has to close. So in addition to being held to high academic performance standards, charter schools are held directly accountable to you (the parent).

This Fight is About Giving Parents Options 
This fight is about parent choice in education. Charter school advocates want to broaden the quality public school options available to parents in Kentucky; Mr. McKim thinks parents have enough choices. Please understand that when Mr. McKim talks about funds being diverted from traditional public schools, what he means is that he would rather that you (the parent) not have choices about what public school you send your child to, because you might take your child out of a school that has been failing for years and put him/her somewhere where you think your child can get a quality education. He would rather that you not have the option to send your child to a charter school where the JCTA does not have a collective bargaining agreement. This fight is about you , and the fact that Mr. McKim and other education leaders like him do not think you are smart enough to make your own decisions about where you send your child to school. Please do not let him make you believe that this fight is about me, or charter school advocacy groups, or the individuals or groups that fund charter school advocacy groups; this fight is about giving you quality public school options for your children. 
Please do not let Mr. McKim or anyone else mislead Kentuckians about charter schools any longer. The charter school bill under consideration in the Kentucky General Assembly would set very high standards for the authorization of charter schools in Kentucky, and hold charter schools accountable for meeting high standards. Charter schools that fail to meet those standards would be closed. Call or email your state legislators today to let him/her know that you support the passage of charter school legislation in Kentucky.
For your convenience, a link to the proposed HB 77 is provided here.

Teacher Unionism Must Evolve (Part I)

Teacher unionism has found itself under attack across much of the Midwest for most of the last year. The purpose of this post is not to debate the finer issues of the proposed policy changes affecting unions in states like Indiana and Ohio; rather, my intent here is to begin to articulate a vision for what teacher unionism could and I would argue should become.

I believe the conceptualization of teacher unions as labor unions, and thus teachers as labor, is an outdated one, and in some ways I would argue that it never truly fit. Teachers are not laborers. Teaching is a high skilled profession which requires considerable educational preparation and continued education and professional development for the rest of a teacher’s career. Good teachers devote an inordinate amount of time, effort, and resources to their own professional development and continued improvement. These realities make the professional association a much better fit for the form of an organization whose intent is to support teachers. But the shift from unions to professional associations is much more than just a shift in terminology. Along with the shift in name must come some rather substantive changes in how these organizations function.
  • First, teacher professional associations would need to a better job of holding their memberships to high professional standards. Put differently, teacher professional associations must do a much better job of policing the teaching profession. Gone is the day when these groups could pretend that all teachers are alike. Just like any other profession, teachers’ performance and abilities exist along a continuum, ranging from the high performing and very talented to those who should find another profession. It is very clear that performance accountability at the school, leader, and teacher levels are becoming and will remain a part of public education. I believe teachers’ professional associations have the opportunity to lead this charge and help inform important policy decisions about how to best hold teachers and schools accountable. But as a precursor to this, associations must recognize and openly admit that there are teachers that should be put out of teaching. Simply paying dues to the organization does not mean that a teacher is worth fighting for. Teacher professional associations must get to the place where they are more invested than administrators or policy makers in removing bad teachers from schools. That is the way it should be. It is teachers’ profession and teachers should be the ones most interested in protecting it.
I will continue to articulate my vision for teacher unionism in coming posts. For anyone who questions my intentions, let me say for the record that I am not one who believes organizations like the NEA or the AFT should go away. In fact, I believe quite the opposite. I am a past member of both organizations (United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) & North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). I believe these organizations and their local affiliates can and should play a major role in education reform and improvement, but they must change.