Category Archives: Principal Evaluation

Race To The Top in New York: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

To get in the right mood, think Clint Eastwood as bounty hunter, spaghetti westerns, and the haunting theme music of Ennio Morricone. Think gun slinging outlaws, dusty deserts, tired horses, and poorly lit bars. There we go. Now we’re ready to talk about the biggest modern day reform agenda launched in New York state history, ie. Race to the Top (RTTT). One reminder, however. All significant change events carry with them good, bad and ugly elements, and so it goes with the New York State Board of Regents Reform Agenda-an agenda which has taken more than its fair share of heat. Here’s how I see the breakdown.

  • The good: Career Teacher Ladder, Teacher Leadership, Common Core State Standards, Data-Driven Instruction, Evidence-Based Teacher and Principal Observations, Rigorous Assessments, and Student Learning Objectives.
  • The bad: Career Teacher Ladder, Teacher Leadership, Common Core State Standards, Data-Driven Instruction, Evidence-Based Teacher and Principal Observations, Rigorous Assessments, and Student Learning Objectives.
  • The ugly: Career Teacher Ladder, Teacher Leadership, Common Core State Standards, Data-Driven Instruction, Evidence-Based Teacher and Principal Observations, Rigorous Assessments, and Student Learning Objectives.

Okay, that’s not fair. How can we have all these various RTTT deliverables categorized as good, bad and ugly together? Is there a way to differentiate the best RTTT has to offer from its worst elements? I’m biased, obviously, so I don’t dare venture too deeply down such a path. However, I think it’s fair to venture a little.

Common Core Standards are not good, they are great, and their adoption across the nation brought consistency and rigor to the 45 States in which they now exist. Rigor that was sorely needed to increase our students’ capacities to successfully compete in a flattened world. It’s hard work when a curriculum bar is suddenly raised, particularly when the rigor is two years higher than past curricula. Our students are now being asked to do 5th grade math in 3rd grade. To do 7th grade reading in 5th grade. Etc. Needless to say, there are serious growing pains with such a change in standards.

Data-Driven Instruction is not good, it’s essential. Many schools claim they’ve been doing it for years. Yes, end of year student assessment data have been analyzed and curricula changed in some schools. And yes, primary school teachers regularly use running records and other reading data to inform decisions. However, the widespread, purposeful actions of Assess, Analyze, and Act are done sparingly in our nation’s classrooms. Too much to do, a lack of professional development on how to do DDI, and other reasons compromise a truly data-driven instruction mindset.

Evidence-based observations of teachers AND PRINCIPALS are not good, they are desperately needed in all schools. Perhaps for the first time ever, all teachers and principals are being observed by lead evaluators trained to do such observations. And the observations conducted are based on analytic rubrics proven to be aligned with teaching and leadership standards. That’s fantastic! I remember years ago having observations done sparingly, and with checklists. There were no detailed descriptors built around reputable standards of teaching or leadership. Rather, they were primarily subjective evaluations (think judgments) of what good instruction or leadership looked like. That’s a dangerous proposition, particularly if the evaluator has unsound understandings or values.

There’s so much angst about Race to the Top, so let’s jump to the “ugly” elements. I will admit to being a fan of more rigorous state assessments, but there are obvious flaws in our present model that are blemishing the Regents Reform Agenda. The biggest issue is tying teacher and principal performance to student assessment data while the plane is still being built. Though the vast, vast majority of teachers are placing in the effective or highly effective APPR rankings, it is still exceedingly stressful to have one’s professional performance review partly contingent on how your students do on a new assessment based on new and much more rigorous standards. That’s very scary for many, and that is what adds the ugliness to the equation. Other “ugly” elements are just part of the change landscape. We will always have our “deniers” and “chicken little” types who prefer the comfortable status quo they’ve grown to love. However, most professionals within the field are working their best to make the necessary adjustments, and doing so successfully, though not without the periodic “hiccup” or “crash” such wide scale change brings.


Ignorance is Bliss, For Awhile

If you were around in the 60s or 70s, then you’ll remember Sergeant Schultz from television’s Hogan’s Heroes. Whenever the plotting group of American prisoners in the German Prisoner of War camp had some scheme up their sleeves, to keep peace in the camp, Schultz would say, “I know nothing,” “I hear nothing,” and “I see nothing.” He didn’t want trouble. Don’t we all want to avoid trouble? Don’t we all want to go with the flow and not make ripples? Don’t we all want to be happy with no worries? Yes, and no.

To make a difference, be it as a school teacher, administrator, or engaged citizen, one must be willing to confront the facts. In public education, the facts are as varied as there are school children. However, teacher and principal observations are two excellent sources of information for evaluating effectiveness. When either a teacher or principal fails to meet the standards of practice, be they the New York State Teaching Standards or the ISLLC Standards for school leadership, steps can be taken to rectify the problem. Targeted professional development, mentoring, collegial support, or other efforts can make a difference in a struggling individual’s performance. However, if schools fail to seek out and use data to figure out how things are going, then they’re pulling a Schultz–knowing nothing, hearing nothing, and seeing nothing. Worst of all, the problems continue and worsen.

Paying attention to the environment is another example of using information to confront controversial issues. Granted, it is blissful to ignore the warning signs. Yet, to disregard the record-breaking droughts, rising sea level, severe storms, or ocean acidification is to put our health and those of our future generations at risk. Much like Schultz didn’t want to deal with the consequences, when we ignore the omnipresent warning signs on this fragile planet, we allow bad things to continue happening. For those of you who follow this blog, you know I’ve been leaning a little more into the environmental realm in recent weeks. You’ll also know that I completed my Climate Reality Leadership training this week–WOW. What a training!

The parallels I am finding behind climate change and those of school reform are striking. We know public education has its good and bad points, and we know it’s time to make lasting, important changes to our nation’s schools. Similarly, we know the weather is getting weirder by the day, and that the models call for much greater consequences if we fail to address climate change. We also know that in both education and government, things proceed very, very slowly and at times with seemingly little regard to the data. Lastly, we know how critically important education and a healthy climate are to our children’s future. Tragically, unlike education where reform is gaining traction, climate change remains a battle between acceptors and deniers. We must have a broader conversation about climate change, and we really should do it now. After all, we are seeing, hearing, and knowing that things are changing.

Check out Climate Reality for a better idea about climate change. Better yet, find a Climate Reality Leader to come and do an informational session on the topic in your region.

When Innovative Thinking and a Sense of Urgency Impact Educational Leadership Programs

Excluding the role of family and community, we know after teachers, the most influential players on student achievement are principals. With that in mind, last summer a group of ten local, regional and national experts and practitioners on educational leadership preparation joined together to create an innovative SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Educational Leadership Program which reflected the latest research on instructional leadership and the New York State’s Regents Reform Agenda. We drew upon the Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008, Teacher Education Accreditation Council Principles and Standards, and National Educational Technology Standards, and we sought out best practices and tools from the Wallace Foundation School Leadership Studies, Southern Regional Education Board, Quality Measures Principal Program Assessment, and New Leaders.

Our sense of urgency was driven by a clarion call for school reform sweeping across New York State and much of the nation. A growing body of research on the pivotal role of instructional leadership and the increased rigor and accountability expectations for students and educators alike was a leveraged moment to rethink and act on how we do educational leader preparation at SUNY Plattsburgh. We knew there were exemplary educational leadership programs scattered across the country, and we wanted to replicate as best we could some of the more successful program elements. Our committee also sought to ensure the region that we were creating a rigorous program which would best serve their students and staff.

With resources in hand, we surveyed regional school and district leaders on their perceptions and needs regarding educational leadership and then broke out into teams to create clinically rich cornerstone projects that promoted rigor, relevance, and relationships. Our projects include 1) Assessment of Teaching and Learning Using Student Data (ie. Data Driven Instruction), 2) The Annual Professional Performance Review which includes Evidence Based Observations, Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), and Evidence Binders, 3) Professional Development Curriculum Project which address the Common Core Learning Standards and Instructional Shifts, and 4) Peer and Self Assessment of Leadership. We also added a Digital Portfolio, Rigorous Internship, Site Mentor, Application of Instructional Leadership Standards to Practice Seminar Series, and Internship Coordinator.

Beginning this fall, SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury will begin offering three Educational Leadership Programs: A 12-credit Teacher Leadership Graduate Certificate, a 30-credit School Building Leader Certificate of Advanced Study, and an 8-credit School District Leader Graduate Certificate. Under the guidance of co-directors Dr. Michael Johnson and Dr. Harry Brooks and our strong faculty, we believe our candidates will have a truly exceptional, clinically rich experience grounded in educational leadership research, the ISLLC Standards, and the New York State Regents Reform Agenda. We firmly believe we are preparing the next generation of leaders with the necessary skills and understandings to transform how we prepare students for lifelong success. It’s been a good year, and in the words of Margaret Mead,  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Data-Driven Instruction and The Stories Data Tell

There is a wonderful video by Hans Rosling that tells a richly informative and entertaining story about global health growth over the past 200 years. The video is so good that I use it as a hook whenever I do a session on data-driven instruction. In his video, Rosling used 100,000 data points to show how lifespans in various countries have changed over time in response to improving economies, industrialization, world wars, pandemics, and other global events. It’s a fascinating four-minute presentation that vividly shows how data can be used to tell a story. That’s right, the data told a story. In Rosling’s case, the story was about global health. But what about the data stories within school systems? Are we using our district, school, or classroom data to tell stories people need to hear?

Data-Driven Instruction is one of Race to the Top’s “Big Three” deliverables in New York State, combining with Teacher and Principal Effectiveness and Common Core State Standards to shape students’ College and Career Readiness. Data-Driven Instruction (DDI) could easily be reworded, Data-Driven Action, for that is what DDI calls us to do: take action based on the data. It seems so simple. Gather data from the district, school or classroom level. Study the data. Talk with others about the data. Ask “Why” and “How” questions from the analyses. Look deeper at the data. Make action plans to address what the data tells us. Have smart and skilled people monitor the action plans. Go back and look at more data after a set amount of time. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Of the three deliverables, DDI has yet to gain traction in New York schools. As one Race to the Top Network Team member told me recently regarding DDI, “Most schools are assessing. Some schools are analyzing. Few schools are acting.” Given the breakneck speed of the Regents Reform Agenda and its concomitant pressures on school districts, educators and administrators have had to prioritize their efforts. Teacher and principal observation protocols, Common Core Standards, creation of Annual Professional Performance Review Plans, and development of Student Learning Objectives have all but consumed people’s time and energy, leaving DDI as the little white elephant in the room waiting for its turn.

I’m extremely hopeful for next year as we draw the 2012/2013 school year to a close. We’ve had many bumps along the road. Tears have been shed, and fear mongering and politicking have at times exacerbated the legitimate struggles of school reform. However, next year will be different. We now know how to (and how not to) write Student Learning Objectives. We’ve learned how to conduct more objective, evidence-based observations. We understand better what the common core instructional shifts look like, and we’re rewriting assessments to better measure student progress in our brave new world. Next year will be better. Best of all, we will have the time and skills to look deeply at our data and tell the stories we all need to hear for the longterm success of our children and communities. People do better when they know better, and so it goes with Data-Driven Instruction.

Teacher Performance, Instructional Leadership, and Data Stories

This morning I read in the USA Today that doctor visits are down in the country and 66% of Americans say their health is “excellent” or “very good.” Add the additional 24% who report their health is “good” and you have 90% of the population feeling pretty satisfied about their health. Two pages later in the same paper an article on extreme obesity states the number of adults 100 pounds or more overweight has nearly doubled since 2000, and that two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. What??? The data just don’t make sense. Something is askew. We live in a sea of data, and so much of it misconstrue the truth. Take instruction and student achievement. In a 2009 report from the New Teacher Project, 99% of teachers were deemed proficient or higher by school administrators (This will/should change dramatically through teacher and principal evaluation measures under Race to the Top), yet the 2009 Averaged Freshman Graduate Rate was 76%. If virtually all our teachers are proficient, shouldn’t the same hold for our students?

Data tell stories, and oftentimes, those stories are fictional. In terms of instructional quality, we have a talented teacher workforce misunderstood by the public. Fiscal challenges, school reform, and public vilification of educators are burdens the profession carries. Confounding all this is a dearth of instructional leadership, particularly at the high school level (hence the disconnect between teacher performance and student achievement). To be fair, we are asking principals to do the impossible. Besides conducting evidence-based teacher observations, implementing common core state standards, and managing school reform, we expect principals to manage bus schedules, monitor cafeterias, meet with parents and district office personnel, handle discipline issues, respond to community crises, manage state and local testing schedules, address cyberbullying, implement response to intervention, conduct annual professional performance reviews, and the list goes on. We’re placing superhuman expectations on our school leaders, and it’s time to rethink how we define, develop, and distribute instructional leadership.

At the risk of oversimplifying things, we need to reevaluate our instructional leadership definition.  Partnerships, leader licensure, leadership preparation programs, and educator roles and responsibilities need rethinking if we hope to improve the instructional leadership within our nation’s schools. In terms of partnerships, state education departments, institutes of higher education, and school districts need to work together on increasing support for existing principals, raising the rigor and authenticity of principal preparation programs, and cultivating teacher leadership pathways. At the local, state and national levels, we must change our lens on teachers and their role as instructional leaders. We’re presently implementing major reform in the areas of curriculum, assessments, and professional evaluations, but we’ve yet to adequately transform the manner in which instructional leadership occurs.

We’re still holding on to the “Captain of the ship” model of leadership, which in this era of school reform is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. We need teacher leadership to help implement and sustain the important reforms of Race to the Top. Unfortunately, few states have gone down the teacher leadership path at the policy or licensure level.  Exceptions include Tennessee’s Teacher Leader Endorsement Codes (441, 442, 443) and Ohio’s Teacher Leader Certificate/Endorsement that offer career pathways for teachers to become instructional leaders. For those individuals seeking building leader certification, licensure tests must be more rigorous and performance-based. In New York, new school building leader assessments scheduled for release in 2014 will require principal candidates to demonstrate skills in school improvement (ie. leading data inquiry teams), have clinical leadership experiences, and participate in school improvement teams tied to raising student achievement.

We have a leveraged opportunity to transform the system, and the data suggests anything is possible. If we truly value and want instructional leadership in our schools, then the system must change. Otherwise, the data stories of our schools will remain status quo.

When it Comes to Teacher Leadership, If You Build it They Will Come

I’m a baseball fan. In particular, dare I say it, I’m a Mets fan. In any case, one of my favorite movies was Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner. It was a fun baseball fantasy movie, and I saw it a long time ago. The part I remember best was the small town farmer who heard a voice telling him to build a ball field out in the cornfield, which he did. Ultimately, baseball players walked from the corn stalks and out on to the field. They were the infamous Black Sox, including one Shoeless Joe Jackson. The movie ended happily with hundreds of people driving to the farm to watch the players play. I simplify, but the point is the farmer took a risk, invested money and time into something he believed was the right thing to do, and was rewarded for his efforts.  Hmmm.

So, how does this all apply to teacher leadership? I’ve been harping on the need for distributed leadership in schools for months now, and as the stakes and pressures on principals to be instructional leaders increase with school reform, it is time to empower teachers to share the burden of instructional leadership responsibilities. With that empowerment comes a commitment at the district level to compensate teacher leaders with time and money. The work is too hard and teachers too vulnerable when stepping out of the fold for districts to rely solely on a teacher’s good will and intrinsic motivation to lead others. No. What’s needed is time and financial incentives to draw our schools’ finest educators into the realm of school leadership.

I just read research by Jason Margolis and Angie Deuel (2009) on teacher leadership. Their qualitative research centered on three questions, “(1) What motivates teachers to take on leadership roles? (2) What does the official designation “teacher leader” mean to teachers? (3) What approaches and strategies do teacher leaders use to impact colleagues’ instructional practices?.” The authors found three factors that drove educators to take on leadership responsibilities: an intrinsic desire to do what’s best for the school and students (moral imperative), self-directed growth and learning, and financial compensation. The title of “Teacher Leader” held little value to the teachers when compared with moral imperative, self-directed growth, and financial compensation.

Money matters. Time to do good work matters. Teacher leadership matters. If we hope to transform schools and put the square peg in a square hole, then districts will need to rethink how instructional leadership happens  in schools. In particular, district leaders must ante up with financial incentives, time, and support to encourage teachers to take on greater instructional leadership responsibilities. We know teacher leadership works, and now it’s the simple matter of allocating resources appropriately. If schools build the organizational structure and incentivize leadership, teacher leaders will come.


MARGOLIS J, DEUEL A. Teacher Leaders in Action: Motivation, Morality, and Money. Leadership & Policy In Schools [serial online]. July 2009;8(3):264-286. Available from: Education Research Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 8, 2012.

Readying Ed Leadership Programs for Race to the Top and School Reform

And so ended another five-day marathon Race to the Top Network Team Institute in Albany, New York. As with previous events, it was long, hard, and filled with practical exercises and activities. I loved it. Ken Slentz, John King, and Kate Gerson got us started on Monday with their standard, “Good morning” and, after the audience’s Pavlovian mumbled response, followed up with,”Let’s try that again. Good Morning.” Monday mornings are challenging for most, particularly when they launch the hard work of school reform training. However, when you go from the top brass at NYSED to presenters and practitioners such as Duffy Miller and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, how can you miss??

Though I no longer conduct Race to the Top training sessions, I do work in a university that offers degrees in teaching and education administration. Consequently, the work of school reform is as relevant as ever–particularly during this Network Team Institute which focused on teacher and principal evaluation. We know the research on time use by principals, and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo showed us how it is indeed possible to schedule a principal’s week and increase the number of observations and teacher meetings 20-fold (I kid you not. Check out his new book, Leveraged Leadership). The same rule was applied to scheduling a superintendent’s week to evaluate principals. We also practiced principal-teacher coaching sessions, superintendent-principal coaching sessions, analyzed case studies, and action planned for the work that lies ahead. Duffy Miller then took us through the detailed work of principal evaluation using the ISLLC Standards, NYSED-approved principal evaluation rubrics, and a 15-artifact case study. We used evidence tables aligned with the ISLLC Standards to organize our information, and then selected a rubric to rate the principal’s performance. The work was rigorous, relevant, and perfect for a principal preparation program.

If you are an education administrator, you may have recent or faded memories of your own ed leadership program. Did the program prepare you well for the work you do now? My guess is probably not given the pace of school reform in recent years. With Race to the Top sweeping across P-12 education, the impacts of reform are now starting to lap up on the shores of every teacher and principal college in the country. Common Core College and Career Ready Standards, Evidence-based Observations, Principal Evaluation, Data-Driven Instruction, Student Learning Objectives, Rubrics, and other concepts now part of the P-12 lexicon are pushing fast into college and university classrooms. And that’s a good thing. After-all, there’s a sense of urgency to the school reform agenda which rightfully expects graduates of teacher and principal education programs to be ready to hit the ground running. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

In terms of school principals, the Wallace Foundation provides a wealth of information on effective leadership, including education leadership programs and development. All significant change efforts are best informed by data, and so it goes with principal preparation programs. The Principal Preparation Program Assessment from the Wallace Foundation offers rubrics and guidelines to inform the work of assessing ed leadership courses and internships, and The Making of the Principal: Five Lessons in Leadership Training summarizes ways for to ensure effective school leadership.

Transformation of principal preparation programs is occurring in pockets throughout the country, and the very finest examples are included in the Wallace Foundation research. There are also organizations steeped in experiences with school leadership development, and when I inquired about effective leadership programs at this past week’s RttT Network Team Institute, I was urged to explore the good work being done by New Leaders. I was also encouraged to review the new New York State Teacher Certification Examinations for teachers and school building leaders scheduled to be rolled out in 2014. What gets measured gets done, and so a thorough review of the NYSTCE assessment designs and frameworks is a must-do for anyone associated with principal preparation programs (including the future principals).

As I transition to my new work in post-secondary education, I am conscious of the strengthening bridge between P-12 and institutions of higher education. With data systems on the horizon for tracking success of college graduates to find jobs, increase student achievement, and hold a tenure track position, the lessons learned from Race to the Top are highly relevant and appreciated. With an abundance of education leadership research and highly skilled and knowledgeable individuals eager to make a difference in this country, now is a leveraged moment to put those lessons to good use.