Monday, December 20, 2010

Reform Inform

The Cohasset School District will soon be gearing up the search for a new superintendent. Over the next few weeks I'd like to open up some of the current issues for discussion. Let's jump right in and lead off with education reform. Might as well, it seems to be taking a front and center spotlight throughout the media and the nation. While Cohasset's demographics may be contrastive to the districts getting the most attention, education reform should looked at as we commence the interviewing process.

The following post begins with my thoughts surrounding Michelle Rhee and the current reform ideas taking center stage in the media. Below that are links to various articles, reports and posts about education reform. Following that are resources discussing how to measure teacher effectiveness beyond test scores. The resources range from researched based to case studies to opinion pieces. The articles and posts are a sampling of many ideas and viewpoints from around the country examining what school reform should look like.

I'm leading off with the most current articles from this week's Newsweek, where again Michelle Rhee graces the cover. Below you'll find the original Newsweek article from last year along with "The Manifesto" put together by 16 superintendents regarding education reform. Both Rhee and her ideas sparked a considerable amount of outrage and I've included those responses, not to dismiss Rhee's call for change but, to bring to the table as many ideas as possible about school reform. I realize there are a tremendous amounts of reading in this post but if you see an article that interests you, just post a comment about it and let's start the dialogue.

Here Goes...

The media is making it next to impossible to ignore Michelle Rhee and her ideas for reform. While I don't doubt that her motives are well intentioned, her statements inaccurately characterize many public school systems including Cohasset. But since her view is taking center stage right now let's look at what we can learn from Ms. Rhee's very public workings.

Again this week Rhee graced the cover of Newsweek. While it was nice to hear the positive steps she has taken to clarifying her beliefs of educators in this week's essay, she comes off as very caviler about her regrets. In the video below and in the article Ms. Rhee concedes that she wished she had done a better job of communicating,

"I did a particularly bad job letting the many good teachers know that I considered them to be the most important part of the equation."

Thoughts of this nature have been noticeably absent from her previous publications and as a result Rhee ended up alienating enough people to vote out Mayor Adrian Frenty and resigning from her post as Chancellor of the DC school district.

Michelle Rhee's situation has provided us with a few teachable moments. Fruitful, positive communication facilitates collaboration. It engenders hard work and willingness to improve. I look to my classroom and the revision process in writing to exemplify this. For years I've been modeling and training my students to begin with positive feedback. Yet, my students and I still slip, needing reminders to begin with positive feedback before focusing on areas of weakness. It's in our nature to want to jump in, fix and improve. In organizations just as in writing revisions, the revisionist must first believe that their work is worthy enough to improve. Secondly, they must be committed to rework writing they previously didn't see any problems with. We mustn't take our eyes off the pieces in need of growth but positive feedback is the essential first step in cultivating a desire to change and grow.

If you dig a bit deeper into this week's magazine you'll find a fantastic piece from a district where administration and the teacher's union have worked collaboratively towards reform. Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute notes,

“Sure, there are a handful of such folks. But sighting a few swallows doesn’t mean it’s spring.”

Referring to cases like Hillsborough as the exception and not the rule.

I have a tremendous amount of confidence that the talent in our district could enable us to be an exception as well. But in doing so, we must engage in a respectful and authentic dialogue about reform. And not just reform in the sense of large sweeping changes but reform as it pertains to small step that can lead to manageable improvements that can then take place everyday.

Respectful communication goes deeper that just voicing our opinions pleasantly. Respectful communication means we all have a shared understanding and a shared voice as professionals. Doing so would further cultivate an environment where school personnel see themselves as respected members of a team. Ownership is the biggest step towards reform. But as Ms. Rhee says,

"I read a quote where a woman said it seemed like I was listening, but I didn’t do what she told me to do. There’s a big difference there. It’s not that I wasn't listening; I just didn't agree and went in a different direction."

We too must be respectful and understand that not all of our ideas will be acted upon. But as we see in the case of Michelle Rhee and others well intentioned ideas go a lot further with honey than with vinegar.

Centering the discussion around somebody I disagree with is not the most opportune situation. But I felt it was necessary to address this very public discussion. While I don't agree with Ms. Rhee's style, we can't ignore the results. I just remain hopeful that there is a more graceful way to go about education reform. And it begins by understanding both sides of the argument. I'll leave you with one question that I hope will elicit some productive and positive ideas:

What ways could our district's future superintendent facilitate a respectful dialogue between teachers and administrators?

The following resources provide a overview of the discussion to date.

  • An Unlikely Gambler: The article in which Ms. Rhee allowed herself to be photographed in school building with a broom. It's clear her heart is in the right place, but it's an unfair characterization to assert that public education is more concerned with the interest of adults. Especially, to the people who dedicate their careers to educating our youth.

Responses to the "manifesto"

  • Valerie Strauss: Washington Post

    • With Kevin G. Welner: Once you get through beginning where Welner plays the blame game and turns it right back on the authors of the manifesto, he points out some excellent factors to take into consideration to further a productive reform discussion.

Next week's post will examine ways to measure teacher effectiveness. Regardless of whether we agree with tying teacher effectiveness to student performance, it seems to be an imminent reality and we might as well be prepared for the discussion.

The debate over school reform acknowledges that there is a "value added" aspect of teachers and teaching that can not be addressed by standardized tests alone. The question is, how do we assess value added?

Here are a list of resources that discuss the ways in which we can take a closer look at teacher evaluation.

No comments:

Post a Comment