Category Archives: Accountability

Kentucky’s Dirty Little High School Graduation Secret

I have always loved this time of year. Commencement exercises are our opportunity to give public recognition and affirmation of the academic accomplishments of scholars. These rites of passage are significant, not only for graduates, but for their schools/institutions, families, and communities. Whether it is a ceremony celebrating the successful completion of elementary school, middle school, high school, or college, we pause to celebrate what graduates have accomplished and we look forward with optimism about what is to come for them.

Unfortunately, however, I have now come to the place where high school graduation in Kentucky saddens me. It is true that Kentucky ranks in the top five states in the South and the top ten states in the nation in graduation rates. With a state high school graduation rate of 88%, more Kentucky students are graduating high school today than ever before, and that’s positive. The results of education and workforce research are clear; having a high school diploma will very likely lead graduates to greater employment and economic outcomes than than peers who do not earn high school diplomas. But it is Kentucky’s dirty little secret about high school graduation that troubles me so much. While 88% of our students are graduating high school, many of the students we award diplomas to are neither prepared to be successful in a two-year or four-year college nor in a job with a decent wage, and we know it when we hand them the diploma. In fact, we publicize it.

In 2016, 44,756 Kentucky seniors graduated from high school. About 32% of seniors receiving a high school diploma were classified as neither ready for college nor a career. The figures are even more troubling in some school districts. In Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), of the 6,108 seniors who received high school diplomas in 2016, nearly 37% of those graduates were deemed neither ready for college nor a career. Of the 2,314 high school graduates in Fayette County, about 39% of 2016 graduates were deemed neither ready for college nor a career. In sum, while Kentucky’s high school graduation rate is now among the highest in the nation, we graduate extraordinary percentages of students who we know are not well-prepared to pursue anything meaningful after receiving their diploma.

Kentucky’s dirty little graduation secret is that while record numbers and percentages of Kentucky students are receiving high school diplomas, meeting the minimum standards for graduation in Kentucky is currently a pretty low bar. And while the state does administer end-of-course assessments in a few high school subject areas, most students fail those assessments, receive passing grades from their teachers in the courses, and go on to receive their high school diplomas without a problem. In 2016, only 42% of Kentucky high schoolers posted a passing score on the Algebra II end-of-course assessment, and only 38% of students passed the Biology end-of-course assessment. Students fared slightly better in English II (56.5% passed) and U.S. History (59.2% passed), but even scores in English and history should raise significant questions about Kentucky students’ mastery of academic content at the high school level.

To be clear, I want Kentucky to continue to post high school graduation rates that lead the nation, but our high graduation rate is meaningless if we continue to issue diplomas to students we know to not be well-prepared for careers and/or postsecondary success. Our minimum standards for high school graduation are minimal and not aligned with what we know to be minimum standards for preparing students for success in a career or at a postsecondary institution. Frankly, I would rather post a high school graduation rate that’s lower if we can assure graduates, their families, postsecondary institutions, and employers that a Kentucky high school diploma is truly meaningful. Currently, I cannot recommend putting much stock in a Kentucky diploma.

We must improve.

Performance Accountability for All Kentucky Public Schools, or Just Charter Schools?

Over the last year as Kentucky lawmakers, educators, and educational leaders have debated the merits of adopting charter school legislation, demands for accountability for charter schools from the traditional public education community were heard all over the state. In fact, concerns about accountability for Kentucky’s charter schools came second only to concerns about funding following children who exited traditional public schools to attend charter schools.

Personally, I welcome and encourage public accountability for schools specifically, and government more generally. I believe tax payers, students, and their parents should expect and demand transparency from public schools and school districts, and that schools should be held accountable for their outcomes, including students’ academic performance and authentic measures of students’ career and postsecondary readiness. I have encouraged that conversation with the consideration of charter school legislation in Kentucky, and I will be a fierce proponent of performance accountability for charter schools as they are established in Kentucky.

The end result of our charter accountability conversations is that Kentucky’s charter school law will hold Kentucky’s charter schools to a very high standard, as it should. Truthfully, there wasn’t much to debate, as charter school advocates in the state were as adamant about performance accountability for charter schools as charter school opponents were. Central to what charter school advocates argued for was providing charter schools with greater organizational and governance flexibility and autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. That’s what the new law now requires. Kentucky’s charters will participate in the same assessment and accountability system as traditional public schools in the state. Additionally, because charter contracts will be granted for periods of no longer than five years, charter schools will be required to make the case to their authorizers for charter renewal and continued existence based on their performance. As well, because no students will be assigned to or required to attend a Kentucky charter school, charter schools face consumer accountability, in that a failure to attract and retain students will result in the school having to close its doors for lack of enrollment and funding.

What is unfortunate but not surprising, however, is that I’ve never heard demands for performance accountability for Kentucky’s traditional public schools with anywhere near the same intensity as I have heard from educators and educational leaders concerning charter school accountability.  I don’t believe I have ever heard the school boards association, or teachers unions, or superintendents associations demanding that traditional public schools be held accountable for their outcomes. Do Kentucky’s educator and educational leadership organizations only believe in performance accountability for charter schools? Should traditional public schools simply be trusted to work hard and do the best they can with students? Given that a healthy and successful charter school sector in Kentucky is not likely to directly serve more than 5 or 6% of Kentucky’s public school students, a focus on performance accountability for only charter schools leaves the rest of Kentucky’s public school students in a bind.

Kentucky does have an assessment and accountability system for public schools, but that system has been woefully inadequate in holding schools accountable for closing achievement gaps and preparing students for success in careers and postsecondary education. Under that system gaps have grown in some school school districts. Further, the system is far from being transparent with parents about the performance of schools. For example, one Kentucky high school classified as Distinguished in the current school accountability system posted the following assessment results for the 2015-2016 academic year:

  • 39.6% of students scored proficient or higher on the K-PREP Language Mechanics assessment (lower than state average)
  • 47% of students scored proficient or higher on the English II End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average),
  • 49% of students scored proficient or higher on the Algebra II End-of-Course assessment,
  • 20% of its students scored proficient t or higher on the Biology End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average)
  • 47% of students scored proficient or higher on the U.S. History End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average)

As troubling as those numbers are, those are the averages across all students. The scores for low-income students and students of color are much worse. There is absolutely nothing Distinguished about that school’s results. And while I celebrate the progress the school has made, or any school similarly situated, we are at best misleading parents and students when we say  school performance like that is distinguished. It is not. Yet I have not heard of teachers unions or organizations of school boards or educational leaders decrying the ineptitude of a school accountability system that inappropriately labels schools as being high achieving when we know in fact they are not.

It is past time for Kentucky’s educators and educational leaders to get serious about performance accountability for our public schools; as serious as they were about accountability for charter schools. Kentucky will not move the needle on postsecondary success, degree attainment, or workforce participation until we design and implement accountability systems that center on students’ academic achievement, significant and meaningful achievement growth, and authentic measures of college and career readiness.

 

10 Truths About Charter School Legislation Charter School Opponents in Kentucky Don’t Want You to Know

The Kentucky General Assembly is carefully considering passage of the state’s first charter school law, and some parts of the traditional public school establishment are in a state of panic. In that panic, lots of half-truths and misinformation are being spread. Here are 10 thing you need to know about public charter schools and House Bill 520, the bill that would bring charters to Kentucky.

  1. Kentuckians want additional public school options.  Polling data from national and local groups including the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) show that the vast majority of Kentuckians are (a) supportive of public charter schools, and (b) want additional public school options for students in Kentucky.
  2. All charter schools are public schools. Public schools are public because they are open to the public, cannot charge tuition, are funded by tax dollars, and are accountable to the public. Just like traditional public schools, all charter schools meet these criteria. Charter school opponents like to argue that charter schools are not public because they are permitted to contact with private education management organizations (EMOs). What they fail to acknowledge, however, is that traditional public schools can and do contract with EMOs as well. In fact, the state education agency in MD and local public school districts across the U.S. have enjoyed successful contractual partnership with Edison Learning, Inc., a for-profit EMO. The MD State Department of Education contracted with Edison Learning to manage five persistently low performing schools in Baltimore. Similarly, the Peioria (IL) District 150 contracted with Edison Learning to provide school turnaround services over a five year period. Just as with public charters that contract for services, these schools in MD and IL remained public schools.
  3. Because public charter schools are schools of choice, no students would be assigned to them.  If a parent likes the school her child attends, she would keep her child at that  school. The only students who would attend public charter schools would be those students whose parents believe they would be better served at a public charter. If no students choose to attend the public charter school, the school would not receive public funding and would have to close.
  4. Parents don’t take their children out of schools that are serving their children well. School districts that are meeting the needs of their students have no reason to be fearful of public charter schools. It’s the rare parent who dis-enrolls her child from a school she and her child are happy with just to try something new. On the other hand, school districts that know they are failing to meet the needs of some or all of their students should be in a panic about the healthy competition public charter schools may bring to their communities.
  5. Public education funds are allocated for students; not for local school districts. The argument that charter schools will take funding away from traditional public schools makes no sense. Public education funds would continue to follow students to whatever public schools they attend, regardless of whether that school is a traditional public school or a public charter school. What is absurd is the argument that a local school district is entitled to public funds allocated for a child who no longer attends a school in that district.
  6. Public charter schools inject competition into public schooling, forcing local school districts to work harder to meet the needs of low income students. Local school districts have always had to compete to keep middle income students in their districts. Superintendents and school board members know that middle class parents dissatisfied with public schools will move to another school district or pay tuition for their children to attend a private or parochial school. But regardless of how dissatisfied low income parents are, school districts could typically count on the public dollars that follow low income students to their districts. Why? Because low income parents don’t often have the means to relocate to a school district that better meets the needs of their kids. Public charter schools give low income families additional public school options, forcing school districts to work harder to retain those students and their accompanying state and federal dollars in their districts.
  7. House Bill 520 would make local school boards the only charter school authorizers across most of the state. Only in Lexington and Louisville would mayors also be permitted to authorize and oversee public charter schools.
  8. Kentucky’s traditional public schools need lots of help meeting the learning needs of low income students and students of color. While Kentucky’s public schools have made tremendous progress since the early 1990s, the academic performance of these low income students across the state remains incredibly low. The approaches we have tried in the past and what we are currently doing is not meeting the learning needs of these students. It’s time to try some different approaches.
  9. House Bill 520 would hold public charter schools to higher standards of academic performance accountability than traditional public schools in Kentucky. In addition to public charter schools’ required participation in the state assessment and accountability system, Kentucky charters would be held accountable to performance standards articulated in their charter contracts. Charters that fail to meet or make significant progress toward meeting those goals could be shut down by their authorizer (local school boards or mayor’s offices in Louisville and Lexington only).
  10. Teachers unions’ opposition to public charter schools is about job security for adults, not what’s best for kids. No teachers would be assigned to or required to teach at public charter schools. The only teachers who would teach at a Kentucky charter are those who apply to teacher there. Still, groups like the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) oppose HB 520 because (a) Kentucky charter teachers would be less likely to be dues-paying members of KEA; (b) charter school teachers would be held to higher standards of performance accountability and could be terminated if they fail to meet performance standards; and (c) existing collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts would not apply to public charter school teachers.

 

 

All Parents Like School Choice, For Their Own Children

I haven’t had the opportunity as of yet to meet a parent who would would prefer to not have school options available for their children. To be clear, I run into parents in Kentucky and across the nation regularly who argue, fight against, and curse charter schools and the expansion of other school choice policy measures, but these parents are fighting to stop the expansion of school choice for other people’s children, not their own. Even the most die-hard charter school opponent will usually tell me, without recognizing the irony, how he or she carefully selected a neighborhood, used social and political connections, negotiated as part of an employment contract, or pay tuition at a private school in order to choose the best schools for their children. And what is implied in our conversation is that they believe their middle class and/or professional status qualifies them to be able to exercise school choice.

I don’t know of an American parent who doesn’t want at least a few school options available to their kids, and you likely don’t know one either. So why are charter schools and school choice so controversial if everyone wants it for their own kids? Simple. Some of us continue to put adults and adult organizations above the needs and best interests of children.

Opposition to charter schools and school choice is usually about adults: adults’ jobs and job security; enrollment and financial stability of traditional public school districts; teachers unions and their membership rolls, dues, and collective bargaining agreements; etc. That’s the stuff that makes charter schools and school choice controversial: stability, security, and power for adults and adult organizations.

So what if traditional public school districts can’t keep up with parent and student demand for increased specialization in academic, arts, and career pathways as evidenced by ridiculously long waiting lists at the limited number of programs offered… So what if traditional public school districts have proven to be ill-equipped to meet the diverse needs of learners… So what if the instructional approach used at a particular school is simply not appropriate for engaging and/or meeting the academic needs of a whole population of students… So what if less than a quarter of the kids in a school district who qualify for free or reduced price meals meet the mark of being proficient or distinguished on state standardized examinations in reading and mathematics… That’s just how the cookie crumbles, right? Teachers unions have to fill membership rolls and collect dues. School districts can’t take the chance of parents opting to send their kids to a non-district run public school because the district is counting on the dollars the state sends for their kid (whether the district serves the kid well or not). So no, we can’t afford to deal with this school choice nonsense because the adult business of school is not set up for parents to be able to choose.

It turns out it’s not ‘all about kids’ after all, is it?

Accountability and Choice are Central to Improving Education Outcomes in Kentucky

Since the early 1990s Kentucky has continued to make strides in education reform. The state of education in the Commonwealth in 2017 is completely different from what it was 25 years ago. No longer is Kentucky at the very bottom of academic performance rankings of the states. By most accounts, Kentucky now sits ahead of 15 or more states in academic performance. That is progress to be proud of.

But even with that progress , significant educational challenges remain for Kentucky. Even with the strides we have made, very large percentages of students across the Commonwealth continue to make little or no academic gains . Children who qualify for free or reduced price meals, students of color, and students of disabilities continue to be shortchanged in many of our state’s public school districts. In fact in many instances, the gaps between the performance of low-income students and their middle income peers is increasing. While the performance of middle income students is accelerating in some Kentucky school districts, the performance of low-income students moves very little. While Kentucky’s school districts seem to have figured out what works for improving learning for some students, other students continue to fall through the cracks. What makes that very sad reality even sadder is knowing that it doesn’t have to be that way.

First and foremost, Kentucky’s public schools and school districts must be held accountable for the learning of each and every student they serve. There may be no more important task facing the Kentucky Board of Education in the next ten years than the current work of redesigning our school accountability system. Schools and professionals will do what we hold them accountable for; and it’s time for Kentucky to have an accountability system that holds schools accountable in very clear ways for improving the performance of low-income children and children of color. If a public school takes the public dollars allocated for the education a child, be they rich, poor, disabled, blue, red, or purple, that school must be held accountable for providing that child with the opportunity to realize his or her God given academic potential. If a school is unwilling or unable to meet a child’s academic needs, that school has no right to the public dollars appropriated for the education of that child.

Second, as many of our traditional public schools have shown themselves to be unwilling or unable to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students, we must create public school options alongside district-run schools that are willing and able to meet those students’ needs. Over the last 25 years, public charter schools, with convincing results, have shown themselves to be an effective tool for meeting the academic needs of some of the very children Kentucky’s traditional public schools have struggled with most. With that understanding, it is only logical that state lawmakers would provide a pathway for giving the parents of those children additional public school options. Hopefully that pathway will be in statute by the end of the 2017 legislative session.

Kentucky’s traditional public schools need real help with meeting  the learning needs of specific populations of students. The reality of our current system is arguably only a hair short of being criminally negligent. Traditional public schools take the public dollars allocated for the education of low income children, often lacking the intent or ability to truly meet those children’s needs. Too many of our traditional public schools have refused to create school options or use alternative approaches within their districts that would meet the learning needs of low income kids. And along with that refusal, many leaders of those districts fight as hard as they can to prevent the creation of public school options alongside district-run schools because such options, namely public charter schools, jeopardize the tax dollars they now enjoy flowing into their school districts for low income children.

Time is up for traditional public school districts taking low income children and the tax dollars that come with them for granted. Kentucky’s school accountability system must hold all public schools accountable for the learning of each and every student they take tax dollars for; and we must provide additional public school options for parents, especially low income parents. Not only is doing so a moral and ethical imperative, but it’s in economic interest of the Commonwealth.

Fundamental Education Reform in Kentucky: An Economic Imperative

I love being a Kentuckian. Our state has been blessed with unbelievable natural beauty and some of the friendliest, good-natured, hardworking people you could ever hope to meet. My wife and I thank God daily for the blessings of our Kentucky home, church family, and friends. But there remains tremendous untapped potential in our state. We have not yet become the state that we can be, that we should be. And central to our untapped potential is a public education system that while much better than it has been in generations past, is still in dire need of reform.

Kentucky has made significant strides in public education since the early 1990s. The passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and other subsequent reforms have been good for Kentucky’s children. But the academic performance and employment and earnings outcomes for our low income children and children of color is drastically different from performance and outcomes for our middle income and White children. That reality is crippling our state.

Much work remains to be done to improve the education attainment, employment, and earnings outcomes for all of Kentucky’s students, but drastic improvement in performance and employment outcomes for our low income children and children of color is both a moral and economic imperative. We are a state that has for years ranked near the bottom in labor force participation. In 2015 we ranked 47th out of the 50 U.S. states and DC, with a labor force participation rate of 57.9%. We lead only Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia in labor force participation. While those are fine states, we can do better. In sum, not nearly enough Kentuckians are working, and a major factor contributing to our labor force woes is our failure to equip all of our students with the knowledge and skills needed for gainful employment. That failure has in turn led to our challenges with attracting companies with high wage jobs to Kentucky, jobs that require a pipeline of skilled workers. There is no doubt about it, we have to do better.

First, there must be acknowledgement by education leaders and policy makers that current academic and performance outcomes for our students are unacceptable. Period.

Second, leaders must acknowledge that what’s happened and what’s happening in Kentucky’s public schools contributes to the current racial and socioeconomic performance and outcomes gaps. Leaders and policy makers seem content with pointing to out-of-school factors which contribute to gaps, but most leaders seem unwilling to admit that school factors have contributed to the problem as well. While our schools are not wholly responsible for the gaps, our schools have played a role and continue to play a role in the maintenance and in some cases exacerbation of performance and outcomes gaps.

The frequently heard refrain that “we’re working to ensure that all kids learn” is meaningless when what we are doing doesn’t lead to all kids learning. Leaders have talked about public schooling working for all kids in Kentucky for a long time, but low income kids and kids of color continue to be left behind. It’s past time for state and school leaders to acknowledge that what we’ve been doing in the name of all kids hasn’t worked for all kids; and begin exploring what we can do different to ensure that low income kids are learning, that Black kids are learning, that Latino kids are learning, etc.

Third, leaders must commit to fundamental change; not tinkering here and there, but fundamental change in our state’s public education system. The magnitude of socioeconomic and racial performance and outcomes gaps in Kentucky are such that tinkering with the system will get us nowhere. Fundamental reform to Kentucky’s public education system is an absolute necessity. Reform is needed in every area, from the recruitment, selection, and training of teachers and leaders, all the way to the mechanisms we use for holding schools, leaders, and teachers accountable for student learning and outcomes, and everything in between. A system that produces such disparate outcomes for different groups of children is fundamentally broken, and nothing short of large scale reform is worthy of consideration.

We can and we must reform Kentucky’s public education system to be responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable children; reform is both a moral and an economic imperative. The health of our state’s economy is dependent on our ability to better prepare all of our children for success. We cannot afford to prepare only some of our children for gainful employment, and lives as civically responsible, tax-paying citizens of our state. All Kentuckians’ futures are inextricably bound together.

English School Reform Plan Looks a Lot Like Charter School Expansion

A recent article in The Economist pointed to education system reforms in England which look a lot like charter school expansion and the establishment of charter management organizations (CMO). The plan being outlined is for all of the system’s schools to become academies. English academies bear striking resemblance to American charter schools. In sum, these are autonomous, state-funded schools that have relative freedom from government interference, may select their own curricula (may or may not use the national curriculum), decide the length of the school day, and may establish policies pertaining to teacher pay independently. They receive funding directly from the central government, without having funds flow through a local authority;

In addition to converting all current English schools to academies, academies would join multi-academy trusts, defined as charitable bodies which run chains of schools. These trusts bear striking resemblance to non-profit CMOs in the U.S. And similar to the bipartisan intent of the Charter Schools Program of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the U.S., English officials want to see academy administrators who have proven their effectiveness, have the opportunity to manage additional schools.

English academies are not a new concept. Currently, English academies make up nearly 60% of secondary schools and just under 20% of primary schools. The rationale for the plan is the same as the rationale for education reforms internationally that seek to increase schools’ flexibility and autonomy: (a) increased autonomy allows schools the flexibility needed to innovate, and (b) increased competition results in schools improving and being more attune to the needs and desires of students and parents. The plan to expand academies in England, however, is not without objections from some. Opposition to English academies is similar to opposition for charter schools in the U.S. In England, teachers unions and the Labour Party have been vocal critics of academies and the new plan to expand them.

Even with the aforementioned opposition from some groups, English policy makers and education leaders have decided that all schools in England would benefit form the flexibility that current academies have experienced. In England and in the U.S., policy makers and education leaders have come to realize that raising that educational achievement of students who have traditionally been under-served by public schools, requires granting schools much greater flexibility in the areas of budgeting, personnel, curriculum, and instruction. And in exchange for that increased flexibility, schools can and should be held accountable for higher standards of performance.

Teachers unions and their advocates will continue to fight such reforms. There is no way around their opposition. Granting personnel autonomy to school leaders means removing some of the employment protections teachers in the public sector have enjoyed for generations. But increased autonomy in personnel matters is essential to increasing schools’ flexibility; and granting schools additional flexibility to innovate is in the best interest of children.

Teaching Today: Change is Afoot

DSC00329Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.

  • Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
  • Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
  • Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
  • Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.

Does Every Teacher Deserve to Keep Her Job?

Cleveland Schools’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Eric Gordon announced earlier this month that more than 50 Cleveland public school teachers may be terminated based on their performance and/or conduct. According to Gordon, in 41 schools, principals gave notices to 68 teachers that their one-year contracts would not be renewed. Those 68 notices were far more than the number of notices that are typically distributed at the end of the school year in Cleveland, and as you might imagine, the leadership of the Cleveland Teachers Union was not happy. The increased ability of principals in Cleveland to remove ineffective teachers is a direct result of the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools, signed into law in 2012 by Ohio Governor John Kasich. As part of the bipartisan sponsored plan which applies only to Cleveland as Ohio’s sole school district under mayoral control, Cleveland schools are now implementing a new teacher development and evaluation system based on professional standards.

Hearing about public school teachers being fired causes most of us to sit up straight and listen for the rest of the story. That is because public school teachers, especially in high-needs school districts, are typically only terminated when a teacher has been found guilty of something particularly egregious, like stealing money or having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. Even in the current era of reform, you don’t hear very often of significant numbers of teachers in traditional public school districts losing their jobs based on their performance. And why is that the case?

First, most big city teachers unions (the Cleveland Teachers Union included) fight with every ounce of strength they have to prevent teachers from being terminated; even teachers whose performance has been abysmal, and in some limited cases, even when a teacher’s conduct has been so inappropriate that she cannot return to the classroom. Second, Americans have largely accepted the reasoning that teachers (and leaders, and schools) should not be held accountable for the academic performance of their students, particularly if those teachers serve children of color or economically disadvantaged students. Fortunately for children, both of those circumstances are changing. First, parents, community members, the business community, and school districts are demanding changes in teachers unions collective bargaining agreements, particularly around provisions that restrict school leaders’ ability to supervise, evaluate, and if need be, remove ineffective teachers. Second, parents, community members, and the business community are demanding that teachers, even teachers who serve children of color and economically disadvantaged students, be held accountable for the learning of their students.

Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon has assured that the teachers in danger of losing their jobs will receive due process. Those teachers will have the opportunity to respond to the charges of their principals. I fully support teachers’ right to due process. It may turn out that some of the teachers in question are able to present evidence of their instructional effectiveness and keep their jobs. But teachers who are unable to provide evidence of their students’ learning should be fired. My stance on this issue is firm: Teachers that cannot provide evidence of adequate learning in their classrooms should be removed from those classrooms.

It is true that some teachers whose performance is not optimal can and should be developed. Early career teachers in particular need mentoring and development and they deserve the opportunity to grow. Pre-service teacher training should be regarded only as preparation for entering the profession, so new teachers should never be seen as finished products. But even with the understanding that early career teachers and even some struggling later career teachers can be developed, I will not back down from the argument that every student deserves the opportunity to learn in her classroom, regardless of how inexperienced or well-meaning her teacher is. A sixth grader gets one shot at sixth grade, and educational leaders and policy makers owe it to every sixth grader to ensure that she has an adequate teacher.

I have no problem with teachers unions fighting for job security for teachers, but only for effective teachers. Contrary to popular belief, all teachers are not effective. Some ineffective teachers can be mentored and developed to become effective teachers, but others should be removed from the classroom quickly before they do irreparable damage to children. Consideration of job security for teachers should always be secondary to ensuring that every child has an effective teacher in her classroom.

Charter Non-Renewal in North Carolina: This is How the System is Supposed to Work

The North Carolina State Board of Education voted unanimously last week to not renew the charters for two schools based on non-performance. The North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board recommended last month that neither charter should be renewed.

The purpose of this post is not to debate the merits of the decisions of the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board or the North Carolina State Board of Education. Instead, my purpose here is to point out that this is how charter school accountability is supposed to work. When charter schools don’t perform up to the academic standards agreed to in their charters, after going through due-process, charters are  supposed to be revoked or not renewed. That process is fundamental to the charter school movement. Revoking the charters of schools that do not perform is fundamental to the success of the charter school movement.

Those of us who are advocates for high quality charter schools do not fight for the passage of charter school legislation to set up schools that do not serve children well. Sure, what it means to serve children well continues to be and should be debated. That conversation is an important one, not just for charter schools but for public education writ large. But performance contracts for charter schools should be very clear about how schools agree to be held accountable for academic performance. Failure to shut down charter schools that do not live up to the standards they have agreed to does a disservice to children and damages the credibility of the charter school movement.

So again, I do not have enough details to make a judgement about these particular schools; and it is my understanding that one of the schools has the opportunity to appeal the decision within the next 60 days, which I believe the board should do if it has in fact met the standards it agreed to and it has been treated unfairly in this process. The right to appeal is a part of the system. But I applaud North Carolina for staying true to the charter school accountability system that is in place and holding charter schools accountable for academic performance. Accountability for academic performance is what makes charter schools different. That means sometimes making difficult decisions about charter revocation and non-renewal, but so be it. Children’s lives are at stake.