Archive for March, 2013

Realignment at the News Journal education desk

March 23, 2013 4 comments

Is this what it appears to be? Just noticed – Nichole Dobo is now the religion and higher education reporter, Wade Malcom is looking for stories on real estate, and Matthew Albright is the K-12 education reporter.

I always appreciated the quality of Nichole’s and Wade’s work as well as their professionalism as journalists, and their courage in tackling online journalism head-on. I am looking forward to reading their new stories. I am not familiar with Matthew’s work, but I am also looking forward to reading his K-12 coverage. I’ll warn him though he’s got a tough act to follow. Best wishes to all, and here’s hoping everybody got what they wanted. Remember the blogs are your friends 🙂


Red Clay: Important parent meeting Wed. March 27

March 20, 2013 Comments off

Folks, I’m asking for as many parents as possible to come to this meeting next week:

Parent Information Meeting
“The Implementation of Common Core and Grade Reporting”
March 27, 2013 from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
District Office Board Room [Baltz]

This will be unlike any Common Core presentation you may have sat through before. Instead of just talking in general about Common Core and its philosophy, this is getting down to the nitty-gritty – the real down-to-earth changes in the grading practices and assignments you will be seeing for your child, and possibly other changes as well.

It is a great opportunity for parent input to actually change the course of policies and practices as they are being developed. Aren’t you tired of hearing about new rules only after the comment periods have expired? Or sitting through presentations that are already done deals?

Here’s what I know about this meeting so far. I’ll be updating as more information comes in.

I learned about this meeting by chance, when I asked the district what was being done about the homework policy that is under review for the last three years, here is part of their answer:

A grade reporting committee consisting of district teachers and administrators has been meeting since fall of 2012 to review the grade reporting process and alignment to best practice and common core. This group is exploring all items that impact grades. An update for the community is scheduled for March 27 at district office.

The meeting is posted on the Red Clay home page, but not on the District Calendar as of this writing.

I’ve been tracking this issue for some time, and there are other critical Red Clay policies linked to this issue that may or may not be discussed at the meeting. I’ve asked for meeting details and an agenda, and I will post them as soon as they are received.

Once I get more information, I will make a better effort to explain exactly what might be affected by the changes so we can all be motivated to come to this meeting as informed parents.

The work on this issue is being done by the Grade Reporting and Procedures Committee which does its work mostly under the radar, and as you see has been working on these critical policies since last fall without any parent involvement or input as far as I can tell.

So Wednesday is your first opportunity to see what they are proposing for your child, and probably your best opportunity. The proposed changes will also be introduced to other committees, like RCPAC and the new Superintendent’s Parent Council (SuperPAC), about which little is known.

Wednesday’s meeting is a bonus parent meeting that isn’t technically required by District policy review procedures. After this meeting, any new policies enter the BPRC process (Board Policy Review Committee), which is very stingy about the time allowed for parent comments and participation. Before you know it, the new policy is introduced to the Board and is already basically a done deal, and is then quickly passed in the next Board meeting. The Board tends not to be a debating society for parents who are just learning about proposed changes.

Grade Reporting Committee
Just so you know, the Grade Reporting committee is defined only in the RCEA contract, and consists of teachers appointed by RCEA and administrators named by the Superintendent. No parents sit on this committee or are consulted. The main focus of the committee appears to be to monitor the amount of grading-related work required of teachers. Their recommendations are due to the Superintendent by May 1, so get in there, find out what they are cooking up, and let them know what you think about it!

Here’s the definition of the Grade Reporting Committee as defined in the RCEA contract:

23:1 The Board and the Association agree to the maintenance of vital committees made up of Association and District representatives. Each committee shall have a maximum of five (5) epresentatives appointed by the Superintendent and five (5) representatives appointed by the Association President. All committees shall have co-chairs, one (1) appointed by the Superintendent and one (1) appointed by the Association President. These committees shall begin their separate meetings not later than October 1 of each school year and present their
recommendations or alternate recommendations to the Superintendent by May 1 of each school year. Any recommendation made to the Board will have attached to it all recommendations and alternate recommendations made by the committee to the Superintendent. Additional meetings
beyond October 1 each year will be scheduled at times and dates mutually determined by the co-chairs. […]

Grade Reporting & Procedures Committee
23:3.1 The Grade Reporting Committee will deal with the following, but not limited to:
(a) grade reporting systems and procedures;
(b) employee grade reporting materials

Red Clay parents – take back RCPAC, Monday March 18, 6:00 pm @Richey Elementary

March 15, 2013 Comments off

Face it parents, you love giving advice. I know you do, because your kids say so. And you are pretty good at it, don’t you think?

Parents know how it is – you give advice over and over again, and your kids don’t seem to hear it, or they argue back with you, and then they go do something completely opposite. But you keep going, because you have faith that it is getting through, and one day they will grow up and life will convince them you were right all along.

It’s the same way with district administrators and principals. They’ll ignore you, or undermine you, or use one of their 1001 techniques for pretending to listen but really tuning you out… But you keep going, because you have faith that with repetition, the message will get through. They even have a special committee, the Red Clay Parent Advisory Council (RCPAC) for you to come and give your advice.

So come to RCPAC and give your best parental advice again and again. It is registering and will get through one day.

The agenda is a good one – Red Clay school nurses will present on the allergy policy, and on prescription drug abuse. You are not required to be a member to attend the meeting.

Special sauce detected?

March 14, 2013 3 comments

Charter schools often seem to claim to have some special sauce – some methodology that enables them to perform better than traditional public schools (and tastes great too!)

But upon scrutiny, it usually turns out that the special sauce is either 1) favorable demographics, 2) some other kind of selection bias, or 3) the charter school isn’t actually performing that well, or the district schools are doing better than portrayed.

But now a large and credible study has come out, suggesting that KIPP charter schools at least are obtaining measurably higher performance. Now, for the vetting.

It’s kind of like sifting through data to find the Higgs boson. Or when one of the Mars rovers detects an unusual bubble in its test tubes that *might* be evidence of life, and everyone holds their breath to see if life is confirmed. Has special sauce been detected? Or will it be attributed to one of the usual explanations?

I’ll let Jay Mathews explain: Biggest study ever says KIPP gains substantial:

Mathematica Policy Research has released its five-year investigation of 43 KIPP schools — the largest study ever of any charter school network. It concludes: “the average impact of KIPP on student achievement is positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial.” […]

The central point is: KIPP teachers excel in reading, math, science and social studies, as proven by comparing their students to similarly disadvantaged children who do not attend KIPP.

“KIPP impact estimates are consistently positive across the four academic subjects examined in each of the first four years after enrollment in a KIPP school, and for all measurable student subgroups,” the report says. “A large majority of the individual KIPP schools in the study show positive impacts on student achievement as measured by scores on state-mandated assessments.”

A school where giving up is not an option

March 13, 2013 Comments off

Principal Steve Pearce has a no-nonsense approach to homework: He doesn’t accept excuses. At Jane Addams Junior High in Schaumberg, Illinois, students who don’t do their homework must accept the consequences.

And at Jane Addams, the consequence of not doing your homework is… you have to do your homework. Addams offers a system of mandatory study halls, extra time, and additional support that makes sure students have completed the work and learned the material.

The venerable and failed practice of awarding a zero and copping out doesn’t exist at Jane Addams. Everyone on the staff accepts responsibility for ensuring students learn. Giving up on students is not permitted whether by the student or the school.

Mr. Pearce has figured out that making sure homework is completed can stop failure where it begins. Pearce:

I’d wager that most middle grades teachers spend incredible amounts of time dealing with students and their homework issues. I’m also willing to bet that homework plays a major role in student failure at middle schools and high schools across our nation.

I suggest everyone go read Mr. Pearce’s article right now (it’s brief): No Excuses for No Homework. Here is the foundation of the philosophy that was necessary to implement:

At Jane Addams, we believe:

  • The purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn.
  • It is our responsibility to create the conditions that promote high levels of learning for all.
  • Completing homework is essential to students being successful in their learning.
  • Therefore, we will insist students complete their homework, and we will create systems to ensure they do so.

So simple, but so hard to accept, for educators who are invested in the Pontius Pilate model of homework. Awarding a zero and washing your hands of it is just so much easier! And besides, it’s the way we’ve always done things, right?

So I asked Mr. Pearce how the program is working out today. He replied:

The program is always evolving, but what we do now is very similar. The bottom line is that we make the students do the work instead of “teaching them responsibility” and allowing them to not turn it in.

I’m pleased to let you know that our achievement data in standardized tests is in the top 10% statewide for ISAT and nationwide for MAP. Our homework policy is not the sole reason for this obviously, but it does play a part in it.

In addition to standardized tests, Mr. Pearce also sent me some data showing marking period (trimester) failures in his school decreasing from 188 F’s in 2008-2009, to only 14 F’s in 2011-2012.

The Pontius Pilate homework policy

March 6, 2013 2 comments

Homework policies tend to follow the Pontius Pilate model: If you don’t do the homework, you get a zero and the teacher washes his hands of it, free of responsibility. (see more posts on homework policy).

The student goes on to fail the test, never having mastered the lesson of that homework. You see where this is going, right? After a few cycles, we have a demoralized, fatalistic, unsupported student who no longer believes in school or the adults in it, and is a strong candidate to fail or become a dropout.

There is every reason to think this process is behind a large number of our failing and dropout students. Or even students who aren’t failing but have dropped from A’s to C’s, undetected by our wide-toothed intervention metrics.

And I suspect it begins in middle school, and by high school is nearly irreversible. Delaware has all the data needed to confirm or disprove this, but we refuse to do the analytics, or even to understand this data is important. And this despite winning $150 million for promising to become data-driven.

“It is the student’s responsibility to do the homework…” Every time I hear this, I imagine the teacher daintily drying his hands on a towel. Or the district administrator, or the smug parent of an honor student.

Sometimes the Pontius Pilate policy is stated as “It is the parent’s responsibility…” (towel).

But in Delaware, HALF our schoolchildren are classified as low income. We are witnessing nothing less than the breakdown of society. There are a LOT of parents who are not capable of supporting their child academically.

Yes, often the parents can step up to turn around a failing student, but we know many won’t. Are we really going to make that the last chance before failure? Are we going to accept that as an excuse for schools not to step in?

Schools assume evening hours are a vast sink of time when everything can get done, assisted by educated and infallible parents. But most of us aren’t the Cleavers anymore, and policies must be updated.

I am sick unto death of homework advice from schools that repeats ad nauseum to make quiet time, a comfortable place to work, and get enough sleep. Is that all they have to offer? What if that can’t happen? Take a look at your students who aren’t doing their homework and tell me – Is that advice enough? Are their parents even capable of delivering it? Are you satisfied with the results of delivering that advice and then washing your hands?

And then there are the students who for whatever reason have “extra time” accommodations. Are they STILL getting grade penalties for late work?

If the homework isn’t getting done at home, it must be brought back inside the school, and not blown off by teachers and principals who issue zeroes and wash their hands of it. Tell me how many cases you have of students whose performance was turned around by receiving zeroes. “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Bringing it back inside the school is a major cultural change for a school. Policies and attitudes must be changed. It means every adult must accept responsiblity for the student getting the homework done. Teachers can’t do it alone – they will need to be supported by their leaders in a holistic, whole-school effort.

It will at first be difficult for those who are invested in the “moral responsibility” theories on the part of the students or parents. Sorry schools, it is YOUR moral responsibility. That will be the hardest part to accept, but it must be done. The parent and student responsibility will never go away, but we must never again use it as an excuse to allow children to fall between the cracks. They’re minors – what’s YOUR excuse?

In the next post, I will describe what implementing this kind of policy takes, and introduce you to a principal who has successfully done it and was rewarded with the kind of improved school performance we all want.

A new way to talk about homework: with facts

March 1, 2013 Comments off

I guess this is Part 2 of a series on homework policy, started last week with The dog ate my homework policy.

Homework is one of those issues that brings out plenty of heat but absolutely no light. Discussions on homework policy are a fever swamp of moral grandstanding, where a fact would be out of place. Here is how the discussions go (and I know because I have had them):

MORAL GRANDSTANDER (condescendingly): The student is responsible for getting his homework done.
ME: But what if the student doesn’t meet his responsibility?
MG: Then the student has to accept the consequences.
ME: What are the consequences?
MG (beginning to get annoyed): Getting a zero, I guess.
ME: What if a zero doesn’t particularly impress the student?
MG: Well, then he will fail.
ME: You mean fail the homework? The marking period? The year? His life? Is that really what we want to do? Is that acceptable to you?
MG: Well.. (first hesitant, then smugly) Ultimately the parent is responsible.
ME: But what if the parents don’t meet their responsibility?

It is there that the conversation normally fizzles out. But the TRULY committed moral grandstander will then puff him or herself up say:

“Well MYY-Y child…”

Then you know you are not in a serious conversation. But yet that is how we talk about homework.

What works
I propose – actually I INSIST on – a new way of talking about homework based on facts, data, and actual experience based not just on your child. Oh sure, we can still talk about our moral theories about responsibility – but that’s not a legitimate way to build a policy.

A homework policy should be based on what works. And we don’t know what works. We don’t even know if our current homework policy is causing harm – and there is good reason to think it is.

I think there are a large number of children who are failing in some measure, whose failure started with a series of missed homework assignments, or maybe a string of failed tests, or a drop in grades that isn’t big enough to trigger our normal intervention metrics. And I think in many cases, this ongoing failure is traceable back to a handful of missed homework assignments that nobody followed up on, that remain missing to this day.

Find those assignments, and you find the time and place where that student gave up on education.

Use the scores, Luke
Since 2004, Red Clay has been collecting detailed data on homework and student performance (via eSchoolPLUS). We have a gold mine of data on homework and performance, but we never do the analytic work to turn it into useful information – to identify where our failures or successes are happening, and why.

It’s hard to get educators and district administrators to understand the high value of this data. At first their eyes glaze over. Then if I do start to get through to them, they perceive it as “more work,” or more unfair performance evaluation, and immediately start casting about for reasons why it shouldn’t be done.

So here it is: Before you approve a new homework policy, do some analysis work to find out what has really been going on with homework for the last five years or so. We have an expensively collected database full of years worth of assignments. The reporting work can be done by a junior programmer either at DSC or DOE.

How many of those assignments were not turned in – what is the student’s homework completion rate? For that matter, what is the homework completion rate for the teacher? For the school? Are some homework completion rates better than other? Can higher rates be tied to higher performance? Can higher rates be tied to specific practices?

If some schools or some teachers are getting better homework completion rates across the board, shouldn’t we all be doing what they are doing? (This is the point where somebody brings up special education. That would have to be looked at case by case).

Run a report that looks at each failed test, and then checks to see if it was preceded by missed or failed homework. Isn’t that really the point where the failure began? Are there patterns? Maybe we need a policy to do an intervention as soon as homework is missed but BEFORE the test.

Take a look at when each assignment was entered into eSchoolPLUS (thus publishing it to students and parents). Do the assignments entered BEFORE the due date have better completion rates than those entered AFTER the due date?

Most of all, we should be looking at the gradebook records of students who have demonstrably failed (by whatever standard), and see if they were doing their homework or not. Trace it back to when the struggles began. Then figure out what the teacher’s homework policies were at that time for that student. What was the cause? Were there any flags that should have been caught sooner?

These are just some ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure a qualified researcher could come up with many more. A junior programmer from DSC or DOE could easily not only run these reports, but create a general script that could be used to run new queries devised later.

I’m going to stipulate these premises:

1. Students who are academically successful also complete their homework.

2. Students who aren’t completing their homework will improve academically if they begin completing their homework.

I think these are obvious, but if anybody can find research to contradict them I’ll be happy to rethink it.

To me, this means that policy should be focused on getting students to do their homework, not on making them fail if they don’t.