Category Archives: Teacher 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.


“Tickets” to Meaningful Teacher-Principal Discussions on Instruction

Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellancamp, Dave Matthews,….. Wow! Farm Aid is coming to Saratoga Springs! We got the tickets months ago, and today we’ll be going with a group of 12 family members and friends. The tickets will get us in the venue along with 24,998 other folks, all of whom will attend for the same reasons: to enjoy the music, celebrate local farmers, and chill for an afternoon. There is no hierarchy among the mass of people. Age, gender, occupation, musical preference, food choices, etc… matter not. Everyone who purchased their ticket to access the event will come to hear good music and support a good cause.

Having a ticket levels the playing field, allowing the ticket holder to cross boundaries. In the case of the concert, the boundary is the entrance gate. But what about schools? How do principals cross boundaries with teachers to gain access to deep, meaningful discussions on instructional issues? How does the building leader cast aside their supervisory role as lead evaluator to get at the level of instruction? Just what are the tickets that allow principals to cross the boundary separating them from their staff to have relevant discussions regarding classroom instruction and student learning?

“Tickets” are boundary objects which Wenger (1998) defines as “Artifacts, documents, terms, concepts, and other forms of reification around which communities of practice can organize their interconnections” (p. 105). Boundary object are tangible items individuals use to cross boundaries between groups. For building principals, boundary objects are relevant items which promote professional conversations with teachers about curriculum, instruction and student learning. Star and Griesemer (1989) define boundary objects as “objects of interest.” Objects of interest for teachers include student writing folders, student work samples, assessment results, best practices, and curriculum maps, and savvy principals know their value in engaging meaningful discussions with teachers.

Years ago I used to hold weekly meetings with grade level teams at Glens Falls Middle School, and I remember the most significant and worthwhile sessions were those involving student work samples, curriculum maps, assessment results, best practices, and book discussions. During those meetings everyone got fully engrossed in the material. Rather than bemoaning the required time with their curriculum coordinator, the team and I talked about student learning. Those were the meetings that ended too quickly, the “where did the time go?” meetings which built value and credibility for the team time and my role as curriculum coordinator.

As we progress deeper into the 2013-14 school year, now is the time to bring greater conversation into principal-teacher meetings. It is time to firm up the calendar so meetings are scheduled well in advance, and it is time to identify the boundary objects to be used in such meetings. Whether the “ticket” is a common core instructional shift best practice, inventory assessment results and action planning template, student work, curriculum map with tier 1, 2, and 3 vocabulary identified, or an example of a teaching best practice, it’s imperative that everyone has a ticket to the venue.


Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology, “translations” and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387-387-420. Retrieved from

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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.”

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.

Redefining the Timeless Tradition of School Leadership

For 48 consecutive years my cousins have descended on Loon Lake for a week-long vacation.  Nestled in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Loon Lake beckons them each summer to relive the memories of yesteryear while creating new ones for future years. What began as a family trip for my Uncle Rudy and Aunt Barbara and their first two of five children in 1964 has evolved to a full-fledged family reunion of nearly 20 today. Since my family lives but 15 minutes from Loon Lake, we have had the privilege of visiting them each year for an early evening swim and dinner. My daughter usually is invited by her younger relatives for a ski or tube experience while my wife and I visit with cousins and my Aunt and Uncle. Sometimes my mom and stepdad join in as well. It’s a wonderful, healthful, spiritual experience spending time with them. Their annual Look Lake reunion nourishes the mind, body, and spirit. Such are the power of traditions and family.

Education has its traditions as well, and how we teach children and run schools in this country has been as seemingly timeless as the On Golden Pond experiences of family vacations. Principals, formerly known as Principal Teachers or Headmasters, steward staff and students through the education process by managing systems, communicating with various stakeholders, analyzing data, putting out fires, attending meetings, planning curricula, observing teachers,… In most cases, the principal attempts to lead while all others follow (begrudgingly or not). I say “attempt” because if one is seeking instructional leadership, leading a school today is too complex and demanding for any one person to do well by themselves.

Principals are not supermen and superwoman, yet we trust them to accomplish superhuman tasks. Take teacher observation as an example. It takes three hours for a competent principal to perform a valid, non-biased, evidence-based teacher observation which includes pre and post conferences. With a staff of 75-100 teachers, one principal would conduct 150-200 observations under RttT each year for a total 450-600 hours of teacher observations. That’s 9-12 weeks of ten-hour days for teacher observations alone. Add on Data Driven Instruction protocols, Common Core Learning Standards, and the time requirements for Student Learning Objectives meetings, bus monitoring, lunch monitoring, teacher meetings, faculty meetings, cabinet meetings, state form completion (BEDS, VADIR, Budget….), cyber bullying issues, parent meetings, student discipline, hall monitoring, assessment scheduling and implementation, curriculum mapping, correspondence, emails, etc, and you have an overwhelmed, overworked, overstressed individual trying to fit a round object into a square hole.

Fortunately, the traditional school leadership model is about to change dramatically thanks to a number of factors, particularly Race to the Top and Teacher Leader Model Standards (TLMS). TLMS began in 2008 by a consortium of bright, well-respected experts and educational stakeholders interested in studying how teacher leadership impacted student and school success. As described on the TLMS website:

Unsurprisingly similar to the ISLLC Standards,  the TLMS describe what teacher leaders can and must do to raise student achievement in our schools. Schools of today are a far cry from those of yesteryear, and the traditions of school leadership we hold dear do not fit today’s model of leadership. What’s necessary is a redistribution of leadership to capable, competent, self-directed, passionate teachers interested in doing what’s best for their students, school and community. We can begin by inviting our finest and brightest educators to a discussion about leadership, and through partnerships with higher education, we can help develop their leadership knowledge and skills. It’s time to start a new tradition and redefine how schools are led.

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.