Monthly Archives: November 2012

Staying Dry in the Churning Waters of School Reform

I enjoy paddling the waters of the Adirondack Mountains in my 17-foot Wenonah canoe. The serenity and peacefulness of a quiet mountain lake are unparalleled, and it’s easy to get lost in the moment. Years ago I enjoyed a faster pace on the white waters of the Hudson and Sacandaga Rivers, but even then great joy could be found in the lazier stretches where white water yields to quiet pools and eddies. It’s comfortable going with the flow, letting the slower currents pull you along towards your final destination as you relish the placidness of your surroundings. No sense of urgency. No stress. Just easy as you go. Deep breath in, deep breath out. You don’t get anywhere fast, but the journey is spectacular. Alas, today such moments are fleeting and sparsely spaced around long weekends and planned vacation time. And in the world of education and Race to the Top (RttT), the pace is anything but slow and steady.

After a whirlwind year of professional development around Common Core Learning Standards, Annual Professional Performance Reviews, and Data-Driven Instruction, school are now in full-fledged implementation of the Regents Reform Agenda. With CCLS-aligned state assessments scheduled for release this coming spring, it’s fair to say teachers and administrators alike are caught in the choppy whitewaters of change. We are riding class three rapids in an open canoe, trying to avoid the rocks and standing waves that threaten to throw us out into the cold, wild waters of low-end HEDI ratings. Getting through the rapids in one piece to the quieter waters that lie ahead will take skill, hard work, and perseverance.

Whether or not one bought into this wild ride ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago in their career, it’s safe to say the Regents Reform Agenda has radically transformed how we do education in New York State. RttT has created an extremely choppy environment that demands a retooling of skill sets and understandings about instructional leadership, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. It requires a focus on doing a few things extremely well, and as evidenced by the rigor of sample test items released by the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) this week, that focus may best be directed towards understanding and practicing the Common Core Learning Standards Instructional Shifts.

Just as immersing the paddle blade fully when employing a powerful J or draw stroke through whitewater are timeless strategies for successfully whitewater paddling, the Instructional Shifts may indeed prove to be the timeless strategies for raising student achievement in this new era of rigor, relevance, and accountability. So tie down your gear, scan your surroundings, work together with your colleagues, stay dry, and remember those “Shifts” as you proceed along.

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Race to the Top Goes Post-Secondary

This past week I joined approximately 200 other Campus-Teacher Education Network Team (C-TEN) educators and administrators for a State University of New York (SUNY) sponsored discussion on school reform and clinically rich teacher and principal preparation programs. More specifically, my colleagues and I went to hear first hand inspirational thoughts and ideas for managing the ripples of school reform now lapping on the shores of higher education. Titled Advancing the Future of Teacher and School Leader Education at the State University of New York (SUNY) Launch Event: A Convening of the SUNY Statewide Teacher and Leader Education Network (S-TEN)the full-day conference could be considered the official introduction or coming out party of the Regents Reform Agenda to higher education. With Race to the Top now pervading every aspect of public P-12 education and a new teacher certification system called EdTPA ready for implementation in New York State, the rules and stakes of teacher and principal preparation have gone up significantly.

The lineup of distinguished speakers included SUNY Chancellor, Nancy Zimpher; John King, New York State Commissioner of Education; Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University; Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the Board of Regents; and Sharon Robinson, President of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. Though they all wear varied hats in the world of education, each is very familiar with reform, particularly in the areas of Race to the Top and teacher/principal education. In a nutshell, the message was higher Ed is now being pushed to transform itself in the areas of teacher and principal preparation to ready the next generation of educators and leaders. To do this important work, Campus-Teacher Education Network Teams (C-TEN) have been formed across the SUNY system to help disseminate knowledge and skills to colleagues in the areas of curriculum revision, resource development, partnership building, and new practice piloting.

Much like how RTTT was rolled out to the K-12 community through Network Teams, RTTT and edTPA will be expanded across SUNY via C-TENs. The work promises to be exciting, and at times, intimidating. As with K-12 systems, the stakes could never be higher. Teacher programs will be monitored through the P-20 data system that will measure, among other things, how teacher candidates’ K-12 students perform relative to other teacher candidates’ students.  Other criteria include how successfully teacher candidates can find work and how well they hold onto their jobs. Ultimately, these data will be tied back to the teacher preparation schools for potential actions (?) yet to be revealed at this conference.

Higher Ed has a tremendous opportunity to think differently about itself and how it goes about readying students for teaching and leading. We desperately need competent new teachers and administrators fluent and savvy in the areas of Common Core State Standards, Data-Driven Instruction, Teaching Standards and Evidence-Based Observations, Student Learning Objectives, and Annual Professional Performance Review protocols. Such levels of competencies will require programs with clinically rich experiences and cornerstone, job embedded performance tasks. We do a disservice to the field to send out graduates with anything less than the best to hit the ground running in the P-12 educational arena. Perhaps along the way, people will think differently about education, and adapt a new mindset that echoes Linda Darling Hammond’s session ending thought:  “Those who can teach. Those who can’t go into a different line of work.”

The Geocentric Model, Global Warming Hoax, and Data-Based Evidence

Well here we are again with the aftermath of another “Once in a century storm” as Hurricane Sandy steered north away from the Gulf of Mexico and left the Northeastern United States reeling. On an ABC News interview following the storm, Governor Cuomo commented, ““I said kiddingly the other day, ‘We have a 100-year flood every two years now.’ These situations never happened or if they happened, they were never going to happen again. … I think at this point it’s undeniable that we have a higher frequency of these extreme weather situations, and we’re going to have to deal with it.”” Mayor Bloomberg a few days later endorsed President Obama in large part for his attention to climate change. Meanwhile, Forbes magazine published an op-ed piece, Climate Change: ‘Hoax’ or Crime of the Century?, calling into question global warming, and many politicians running for office have energy policies centered on fossil fuels. What’s going on here?

2000 years ago, the Greeks came up with a model of the universe that placed the Earth at its center. The data were pretty supportive of such a Geocentric model. After all, the sun and other celestial bodies appeared to circle the earth, and all objects fell towards the earth through gravity. However, the model was wrong and 1500 years later data revealed the sun was actually the center of “our” universe, and we and the other planets and celestial bodies in “our” solar system revolved around the sun. Interestingly, it took nearly two more centuries and an overwhelming amount of evidence before the Heliocentric model was fully accepted world-wide. Can the same case be made for the Global Warming Hoax and Climate Change? Is the data robust enough to once and for all stop the debate on whether or not humans are accelerating climatic processes?

Actually, for the climatologists who pore over the data constantly, there is no debate with 97% agreeing that humans are causing climate change. But wait. If 97% of scientists believe that anthropogenic factors are causing more droughts, rises in sea level, increases in atmospheric energy, earlier springs and later falls, etc, then why are we as a nation still not fully convinced that climate change is upon us? For a good number of Americans, it comes down to opinions based on sound bites and disreputable sources of information, rather than on research and valid, reliable data. We need to do a better job of using evidence to support our positions. We need to become less reliant on others’ opinions and media blitzes to shape our minds, and more attuned to the facts underlying the issues.

I think/hope the Common Core Learning Standards and Instructional Shifts hold promise for our future. By asking students to write from sources, use text-based evidence, and focus on knowledge in the disciplines, schools can ultimately graduate students who entertain others’ opinions and thoughts without accepting them outright. Graduates who ask for evidence, and who have the habit of mind to draw from data to base their arguments and not on the sound bites and media that saturate our busy world. Most importantly, our schools must graduate students who are ready and able to contribute to society and a democratic way of life.