Category Archives: School Leadership

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.

 

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.

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.

The 30-Year Teacher is Gone and She’s Not Coming Back

If colleges of teacher education and school districts are waiting for the flood of young people who intend to spend the next thirty years of their lives as classroom teachers, they will be sorely disappointed. The reality, whether you want to face it or not, is the vast majority aspiring young professionals, even those potentially interested in pursuing careers in education, are not interested in starting a job at 22 that they will do for the rest of their working lives. That proposition just isn’t appealing to the current 18-22 year old. And to be honest, it never particularly appealed to this 35-year old. Most college-age young people are looking for their first job, their start at a career; not knowing what they might be doing in the next 5 years, much less 25 years.

So what does all this mean? Well, contrary to what some believe, it’s not the end of the world or the end of the teaching profession. It just means the field has to adapt to this era and be more flexible with how we ensure that children are receiving high quality instruction; even if new models of teaching look significantly different than current ones. And rather than trying to force young people who might be excellent teachers (even if only for the first part of their career) into the mold of the 30-year teacher, colleges of teacher education and school districts should practice embracing the diversity, energy, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives young professionals can bring to teaching and to the children they will serve. There shouldn’t be the expectation that young people can only go into education if it’s what they intend to do forever. And to be completely honest with you, I don’t want a teaching profession where no one has any interest  in ever doing anything else, or where there are no teachers who have ever done anything other than teach. That time-warped conceptualization of the profession in part contributes to the current instructional and leadership stagnation common to some schools and school districts. Personally, I think it would fantastic to have a talented young woman begin her career as a high school English teacher then make her way into a communications position somewhere; or an energetic and ambitious young man begin his career as a middle school teacher and move into a training and development position with a Fortune 500 company. I am a big proponent of rethinking the profession in ways that make it a more appealing place for teachers to stay, but everyone doesn’t have to stay, nor should they.

With that said, schools must have veteran educators who commit to careers in teaching long-term. In fact, I argue that such veterans are critically essential elements for the success of any school or school district. Schools and charter management organization’s (CMO) would be extremely shortsighted to dismiss the critical importance of master teachers whose expertise comes only with experience. Any organizations thinking in that way would be wise to reconsider their staffing models and teacher career ladders.

But master teachers are not the norm. Even with the current school staffing model where the majority of school staff are long-term veteran educators, only a quarter to a third of teachers at most could be legitimately characterized as master teachers. Very few teachers are exceptional. Most teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. That’s no slight to teachers, it’s just the truth. But average is okay. If most of my daughter’s teachers end up being average with the occasional exceptional teacher sprinkled into her academic career I’ll be a happy camper. In fact, whether it’s instruction for my child or service at Starbucks, I should expect average; expecting the exceptional is unreasonable. Exceptional service/instruction/expertise is just a treat, not something you get all the time. We ought to think of exceptional teaching or service like we think of a truly exquisite glass of wine or a very rare Bourbon (for you Kentuckians). Most of us just don’t have that stuff every night with dinner.

Most teachers, just like most doctors, lawyers, professors, baristas, musicians, and engineers, are average. Most of us, regardless of what we do, are not exceptional. If we were all exceptional, exceptional wouldn’t be exceptional, it would be average. So the rhetoric that everyone coming into the teaching profession ought to be on a track to become a master teacher doesn’t hold water. The reality has never truly matched that rhetoric, but the rhetoric, and in some cases restrictive policies and practices which institutionalize the rhetoric, have kept some very talented young (and older) people from considering teaching. We’ve often scared away or locked out people who could make noteworthy instructional contributions for 3, 4, or 5 years.

I am incredibly grateful for the career teachers that have served children so well for so long. I have been taught by and mentored by more than a few phenomenal career educators. I owe much of the success I’ve enjoyed in my career to them. But the world is changing and the teaching profession has to change with it, whether you like it or not. I’ll talk more about those changes in my next post; but my advice to educators, educational leaders, and colleges of teacher education is to get in front of this change and help to shape where the teaching profession goes rather than allow change to drag you along kicking an screaming.

 

 

New Iowa Grant Program Intended to Stimulate Teacher Leadership


This week the state of Iowa rolled out a new grant program intended to encourage and support teacher leadership in Iowa schools. Under the new program, local school districts will apply for state funds to support the development of new leadership roles teachers. Successful veteran teachers could have new roles and responsibilities in areas including peer mentoring or curriculum development. School districts participating in the voluntary program will receive an additional $309 per pupil annually in funding from the state. At full-scale implementation in 2018, the program will have a total estimated price tag of $160 million.



I am supportive of initiatives like this one that encourage the development and use of teacher leaders. Both formal and informal leadership roles for teachers are critically important to school and district improvement. So many effective teachers have leadership abilities that go untapped and/or underdeveloped. If given the time, space, resources, and opportunities, teacher leaders can make key contributions to school improvement in areas including curriculum, instruction, technology implementation, school culture, student support, etc.



My hope is that with these grants, school and district leaders will work extremely hard to not have these new leadership roles for teachers exist only as add-ons teachers’ jobs. Without a doubt, some formal teacher leadership roles are ones that will clearly be in addition to what a teacher’s primary responsibilities are. But leadership ought to become a part of how we think about the teaching profession. From the time an undergraduate student enters a teacher preparation program and throughout a teachers’ career, emphasis should be placed on developing teachers’ leadership capacity and providing them with opportunities to exercise school-level and district-level leadership. Teachers should grow as leaders and have the opportunity to lead throughout the course of their careers, in ways that reflect their strengths and various areas of expertise.



I am excited about what Iowa is doing to promote teacher leadership and develop leaders. Ideally, within a few years, teacher leadership will become such an engrained part of the culture in Iowa schools that with or without additional state funds, teachers in schools across the state will provide key leadership in all sorts of exciting ways. I look forward to seeing the results of this innovative program and I hope to see others follow Iowa’s lead.

Louisiana: East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Understands Public Schooling in the Era of Parent Choice

Charter schools are expanding in East Baton Rouge Parish,
Louisiana. In the fall of 2014, new charters have been approved and are scheduled to open in the parish, other charter schools are expanding, and the East Baton Rouge
Parish School Board is bracing for a potential reduction in revenue as a result
of parents choosing to send their children to public charter schools over board-operated
public schools. According to Diana Samuels of the Times Picayune, the school district is bracing
for a potential reduction in revenue in the ballpark of $20 to $22 million, or
about 5% of the district’s general fund budget. The district’s Chief Business
Operations Officer is quoted in the article saying, “Our biggest concern (for
the next budget year) is money going out the door.” That statement isn’t one
that will inspire confidence in the parents of East Baton Rouge Parish. Nevertheless,
I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say she probably didn’t mean it the way it came out.

But the East Baton Rouge Parish district superintendent’s
statement in response to the district’s revenue concerns is quite different.
Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor said, “We’re going to have to fight fire with
fire,” offering that the district must offer curriculum and programs that give district
schools a competitive advantage over charter schools. Dr. Taylor understands
that public education in the United States, and especially in the state of
Louisiana, is entering a new day. Traditional public schools can no longer rest
assured that children will walk through the doors simply because they live in
the neighborhood. In the coming era of parent choice, all schools, whether they
are private, magnet, charter, or traditional public, must compete to attract
and retain students. In the era of parent choice, all schools will become
schools of choice, and schools that refuse to or fail to compete will be forced
to close their doors. That means educational leaders, including
superintendents, school boards, principals, and school governing bodies, will
have to adopt the mindset of Dr. Taylor. If you want to continue to serve students,
you will have to compete for them. Schools will have to give parents reasons to
choose them. With neighborhood traditional public schools as just one of a
growing number of options available to parents, traditional public schools,
just as charter schools, will have to give families good reasons to enroll and
remain.

Depending on where you live, that era of parent choice in public education could be near. If you live in Louisiana, that era is already here.

Thoughts on Indiana’s Changes to Superintendent Licensure Policy

Indiana legislation (HR 1357) passed in 2013, permits local school boards to hire superintendents without licensure or previous training and experience in schools or educational leadership. The bill passed with the tie-breaking vote of the state’s lieutenant governor. It was the first time an Indiana lieutenant governor passed a tie-breaking vote in eight years. Previous state law required that superintendents hold a teacher’s’ license and hold state certification as a superintendent. Superintendents can now be hired in Indiana with a temporary license. The new law does require, however, that superintendents have a minimum of a masters degree. To date, no Indiana school boards have hired a superintendent who does have superintendent licensure.

One question that has been raised is how the change in superintendent certification requirements would affect other legislation which requires the evaluation of all certified employees of school boards. Would HR 1357 also require the formal evaluation of superintendents, even non-licensed ones? My guess is that in Indiana, as in other states which allow local school boards to hire superintendents with temporary licenses, superintendents would still be formally evaluated by school boards. Since advocacy for this policy change has come from advocates that also support high-stakes accountability for teachers and leaders, it is not likely that they would support waiving evaluation requirements for non-licensed superintendents. However, if I am incorrect, and the covert plan of this policy’s advocates is in fact to undermine the evaluation of superintendents, my hope is that Indiana state law would be changed to require the evaluation of all superintendents, those with permanent licensure and those without it.

The major underlying question with this issue is whether in fact there is benefit to requiring licensure for educational leaders, and in this case in particular, licensure for school superintendents. My answer to the question is that it depends. If we are talking about high-quality preparation/licensure programs for educational leaders, then I wholeheartedly believe there is great benefit to preparation programs for educational leaders. If, however, we are talking about poor-quality programs that serve the primary function of bringing in tuition dollars for colleges of education, then a non-licensed superintendent can be just as good/effective or better than one who has earned licensure. I do believe functioning as an effective superintendent requires expertise in organizational leadership and administration, and some expertise or depth of understanding about instructional leadership. An individual may very well possess those qualities, however, without holding superintendents licensure. I guess the just of it is that preparation does matter if it is good preparation. But the reality in educational leadership preparation is that state professional standards boards across the U.S. continue to permit poor quality programs to operate; that reality must change. If poor quality programs are not rooted out, leaving the public to wonder whether there is any benefit to preparation programs and licensure for educational leaders, educator licensure (for leaders and teachers) will be a thing of the past in a very short time period.

Should state legislatures proceed in the style of Indiana and remove licensure requirements for superintendents? I am not sure yet. But for states that do make the decision to move forward in this vein, they should do so with caution. Serious conversation on these issues has to continue across the now huge divide between reformers and traditionalists. Currently, most serious conversation happens only within camps, and tremendous opportunities for the development of good policy are lost because we are not having open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that involve representatives of all the various stakeholder groups.


Educational Leadership Preparation in Kentucky: A Race to the Bottom?

This week I am attending the International Symposium on
Educational Reform hosted by the University of Jyväskylä
in Finland. Yesterday I had a great conversation with a Finnish colleague who is preparing to assume the principalship at a school in the Jyväskylä
region of the country. Our conversation centered on the quality of educational leadership
preparation programs. He first shared with me that the government has limited
the number of higher education institutions authorized for principal training;
currently only three institutions may offer principal training in Finland. But
even among just those three programs, aspiring principals in Finland have an
understanding of which programs are most highly regarded and they typically apply to
those programs first.

When asked about the state of
affairs with educational leadership preparation in Kentucky, I shared quite a
few things. I included the recent state-required reform of educational
leadership programs across the state, including the requirement that principal
preparation occur at the post-masters level-only in Kentucky. I shared that at
the University of Kentucky we had redesigned our program with the input of
practitioner colleagues to be a rigorous, high-quality program, with work-embedded
assignments and courses co-taught with scholar-practitioners currently in the field. I
shared that our program was designed to be delivered in an executive-style format,
with Saturday on-campus meetings 5-6 times per semester and online and
independent work in-between on-campus meetings. I told him that our program was
designed to prepare aspiring leaders to be the change agents in education that
Kentucky desperately needs to turn the corner in student learning.

But I also had to share
with him a few unpleasant realities about educational leadership preparation in
Kentucky; realities which contrast considerably with how Finland has approached educational leadership
preparation. I told him that the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB )
has chosen not to limit the number of higher education institutions in the
state that may offer principal preparation programs. As a result, I told him, Kentucky
has an oversupply of principal preparation programs; in fact, considerably more
programs exist than there is either need or demand for programs. Kentucky’s EPSB has approved principal preparation programs at 11
higher education institutions in the state. For comparison sake, Finland has a population of
5.3 million people and three programs leading to principal licensure; and
Kentucky has a population just under 4.4 million people and 11 programs leading
to principal licensure.

But it is not the abundance of
principal preparation programs in the state alone that is so troubling. Two
confounding issues make the oversupply of programs a problem for Kentucky.
First, all of the state-approved programs are not rigorous, high-quality
programs. And who can best attest to the quality or lack of quality in
programs? Students and graduates of the programs can attest to it, and they do.
Most of the students and graduates of educational leadership programs in
Kentucky that I have come across have no problem with telling you whether their
program provides or provided solid preparation for the principalship. And it’s
been more than a few current school leaders that have told me flat out that
their preparation program was useless. That is a problem.

But here is what makes it worse.
Many of those same students and graduates will tell you that they chose their
preparation program not because they believed it to be a high-quality
program, but because it was the cheapest/quickest/easiest way to earn principal
licensure. That is an area that I do not believe has been explored by the
educational leadership research literature. While more than a few studies have
shown educational leaders criticizing their leadership preparation programs, I
am not familiar with studies that asked those leaders if they chose their
program based on its perceived high-quality. For if the findings of my non-systematic
data collection were confirmed (and I believe they would be), and principals in
Kentucky are in large numbers choosing the leadership preparation programs that
they perceive to be the cheapest/quickest/easiest way to get the certification,
then Kentucky’s schools are in a whole lot of trouble.

First, I do not believe it bodes
well that aspiring school leaders would think so little of their preparation for
administrative positions that they would choose programs in that manner. Second
but also very important, when aspiring leaders choose leadership preparation
programs based on ease, programs that need to enroll students to remain viable
begin to compete for those students by watering down program admissions
requirements, curriculum, and expectations; creating what my colleague Justin Bathon has referred to as a Race to the
Bottom
for leadership preparation programs. That, I fear, is what is
beginning to happen in Kentucky. And I fear that aspiring leaders choosing preparation
programs based on ease will have disastrous consequences for the state. Programs
in Kentucky that choose to compete for students will respond to the student market
by offering dumbed-down programs; and programs that refuse to compromise their standards
will go out of business as a function of the market. The result will be
Kentucky left with a generation of school
administrators that are certified, but ill-equipped to be the visionary and transformative
leaders that Kentucky schools so desperately need.

That, I told my Finnish colleague,
is where I believe educational leadership preparation in Kentucky may be headed;
but it doesn’t have to be that way. Kentucky’s EPSB can better regulate the market. EPSB’s bar for
program approval may be set too low. A higher threshold for program approval
with just a few high-quality programs in the state may be an avenue for the
EPSB to consider. Better regulation of the market would prevent current aspiring leaders from
choosing low quality options and forcing the entire market in that direction. But
in addition to EPSB responding to this potential crisis of school leadership, we
have to change the culture of the education professions to place a much higher
value on education, preparation, and professional learning. Preparation and
training are not just unnecessary hoops for educators to jump through; these
are opportunities for deeper learning and reflection so that educators can
improve what they do. It deeply troubles me that professional development for
so many Kentucky educators has been reduced to simply accumulating the minimum
number of hours required each year. It deeply troubles me that preparation and
certification programs are regarded by so many Kentucky educators as standing
in line to get their tickets punched so they can get the job that they think they
already know how to do. We must change the current seemingly dominant cultural
beliefs about professional learning in the education professions and/or change
the people that are going into the education professions. Finnish teachers and educational
leaders place great value on their continued learning and professional
development. That seriousness about their professional learning is one of the keys
to the Finns’ successfully improving educational outcomes for students across Finland.
Such an important cultural change could pay huge dividends for Kentucky as
well.

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.

My State of the Union Education Wish List

As we prepare to hear President Obama’s assessment of the state of our great nation tonight in the annual State of the Union Address tonight, I am making a list of a few statements that I would like to hear him make. The president is preparing for what many pundits are predicting will be a pretty tough re-election campaign, so I would expect him to recap some of the education accomplishments of his administration, and that is fine. But after a brief recap of those victories, I want him to make a few clear and definitive statements about the educational direction he would like to move the nation in during a second term. 

Here are a few of the specific things I would like to hear:
  1. I want to hear President Obama say that we must increase the number of high quality public school options available to parents. The president has been a supporter of increasing public school options for families in the past and I hope to hear that commitment reaffirmed tonight.
  2. I want to hear President Obama say that we do not currently have the necessary teaching and leadership capacity in our schools to prepare our children for 21st Century success; and that states must adopt a “by any means necessary” approach to getting teacher and school leader capacity to where it needs to be. 
  3. I want to hear the president say that states must hold schools, teachers, and leaders individually and collectively accountable for student learning. I want him to say that schools where children do not learn are of no use to us. I want him to say when children do not learn, adults have to lose their jobs.
  4. I want to hear President Obama say that he will remain committed to the federal government providing financial supports and incentives for states that take bold steps toward implementing serious reform in their public schools; not the surface stuff that everyone likes, but really committing to going back to the drawing board to redesign systems so that all children can learn.
It is past time to get serious about providing a quality public education for all of our children.