Leadership & ESEA Reauthorization

For the quickest path to educational improvement — or to dismantling of the public education system — look no further than leadership.

If we want to improve schools, we need skilled leadership educated and experienced in school improvement processes. The question is, do the American people want those leaders trained by outside sources or developed within our own public education system? If we choose to go private, do we know what the leaders will be trained to do and how?

Joanne Barkin covered the private philanthropic efforts in leadership training quite well in “Got Dough: How Billionaires Rule Our Schools.”

Barkin explains “their vision” is “market-based.” Market-based education reform means seeing education as a commodity so reforms are based on demand, supply, and pricing. The vision was sold to us based on the assumption that higher test scores mean better education. The theory relies on parental and public demand for better “outcomes” as driven by high-stakes standardized testing.

The demand for higher scores has pushed the perceived need for charters, vouchers, higher standards, better tests, and longitudinal data systems to track every student and teacher. And when these pseudo-reforms fail to improve our lowest-performing schools, closure of schools and redistribution of students into the marketplace is now a reform. And leaders have been privately trained in these pseudo-reform methods. There is a school closure manual to follow!

The biggest private providers of leadership training?

“They” include Marc Tucker and his National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) and Eli Broad (pronunciation rhymes with road) with his Broad Center programs. But as Barkin put it, “both the Broad Academy and Residency are not mere programs: they are ‘pipelines’.”

Ken Libby and Stan Karp explain, “The [Broad] Academy’s revised program of study will aim to prepare leaders for positions beyond the superintendency of districts to include leaders of charter management organizations and state education departments.”

Libby and Karp quote from a memo they obtained boasting,

“We have filled more superintendent positions than any other national training program, and remain the only organization recruiting management talent from outside of education.”

Working from “inside” of education is Marc Tucker’s for-profit NISL. Tucker is a former Carnegie Corporation employee and current president of the D.C. think-tank the “National” Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE).

As scholar John M. Perella documented in “A Critical Study of the National Institute for School Leadership in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

NISL launched with “$11 million in research and development grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Broad Foundation, the New Schools Venture Fund, the Stupski Foundation and NCEE”  (p 4).

“From 2001-2004, The Broad Foundation “kicked in 3.5 million’”and NISL began to put together teams of ‘the best and brightest’ for the purposes of creating a curriculum for NISL (p107).

Dr. Perella described his NISL training as an impressive combination of applying “militaryJohn-W.-Gardner-Quotes-2 and business strategies to educational issues.” But he questioned the foundational philosophy of the institution and looked for answers. His findings revealed “strong elements of both privatization efforts and neoliberalism within the NISL program.”

“From a critical perspective, the most alarming issue with NISL is in regards to the voice of the program. With voice comes power. Whose voice does NISL accentuate? Whose view of how public education should operate is expressed through NISL? Specifically, it is important to ask whose voice is not being heard.” (p137)

This particular “pipeline” has been working towards producing “leaders” for the market-based systemic privatization of public education since 1999. This for-profit has been granted your federal dollars.

The newest twist is having the House adopt “Pay for Success” as part of their grand scheme for ESEA reauthorization (Elementary and Secondary Education Act/ No Child Left Behind). This section of H.R. 5 is written to put taxpayer dollars into private teacher and leadership development programs. With the creator of the outcome-based theory leading the pack in leadership development, Tucker’s NISL has their documented success already on their website. But is this how WE want to judge “success” in education  – based on arbitrarily set “cut scores”?

Shouldn’t our leaders vision for schools represent OUR vision?

People NEED TO KNOW that much of what they see happening in public education – now – is a result of leaders that have been churned out through the Broad Superintendents Academy, the Broad Residency, and NISL. We have no way of knowing how many graduates of this neoliberal, privatization philosophy we have working within our public institutions up to and including our own U.S. Department of Education.

The alternative?

Here is its foundational philosophy:

A “principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction” along with “teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery” are two correlates of Effective Schools. “Effective Schools” are high achieving schools with a high percentage of their students from low-income families and a high percentage being children of a color other than white. Leadership matters in matters of instruction.

Another correlate is “a pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus”; this requires a leader that can communicate.

And effective schools do use “measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation,” which was the annual requirement in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965.

We don’t have to reinvent any wheels.

The “National Education Leadership Academy Act” is written for us.

Written by Gary Ratner, Director of Citizens for Effective Schools

Written by Gary Ratner, Director of Citizens for Effective Schools

Many citizens and education policy leaders, particularly civil rights leaders, continue to hold on to the failed test-based practices of No Child Left Behind. But what they don’t seem to realize is that if we are to improve the learning opportunities for those students being left behind, we have to have capable, responsive, responsible school leadership in all our schools.

This draft is a detailed plan to develop school leadership aimed at strengthening and improving the public education system while addressing one root of the existing problem of unequal access to quality education – state and local leadership “capacity.” Developing leadership capacity is a responsibility that must be met.

We identified the states that have demonstrated over the last 13 years that they can’t adequately and consistently improve the schools most in need of help. I know; I live in one.

We have identified the same districts and schools over and over since my kids started school here in Idaho in 1992. It never mattered which standards, which tests, which label, or which accountability system we used, the same schools keep coming back on the list – if they ever leave it (which was usually when we changed accounting or moved kids around). Some states lack the capacity to improve themselves.

The larger institution of public education is capable of training quality leadership. But it lacks the capacity to meet our current needs because our lawmakers have been an instrument of privatization – our public dollars creating a steady stream of capital into private pockets. What now?

The country is in a position to build leadership capacity. With ESEA reauthorization moving forward in Congress, we have the opportunity to choose an alternative to the direction we have been going for the last 30 years.

Do we have legislative and executive leadership that will do the right thing? If our leaders will be guided by the People – which way will the People direct them?

Privatize the system or remain public; America’s Choice.

Keeping PACE & ESEA Reauthorization

“We must support families, communities, and schools working in partnership to deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.”482045From A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), 2010

Sounds great! But the Blueprint was written to fail. Parents became an afterthought, the funding was backwards, and privatization was stamped all over it. The plan designated formula funding for wants, experiments, and pushed a political, ideologically driven, education industry agenda while leaving student needs to be filled through competitive grants. And the time-proven, research-based, essence of the original ESEA was hidden behind verbiage sure to raise political conflict. Written to fail.

But, never mind. The Blueprint isn’t really a big obstacle because the real responsibility for ESEA reauthorization is in the hands of Congress. The best thing that could happen right now would be for the people in this country to decide if they agree or not with the proposals coming out of the House and Senate.

And we deserve to know if the president is clear in his own mind as to what principles he stands upon. When the law lands on his desk, by what standards will he judge it? He has given us mixed signals.

Does the Obama administration firmly believe that education is a “shared responsibility”? Will policy reflect that concept? Does the administration comprehend how parents, families, and communities were once central to federal education policy? Do they know how parents are treated in dysfunctional districts, the under-performing ones that they say they want to “turnaround”?

In education policy in general, we parents have not just been directed to the back of the bus, we’ve been shoved out the rear door and left on the curb.

The reality over the years has been that parental “involvement,” “engagement,” “participation” — whatever the flavor of the year happens to be — has been more of a sound bite than sound policy. In too many districts, No Child Left Behind’s parental participation requirement was implemented on paper only — schools meeting rule compliance without doing the right things.

Knowingly or not, President Obama clearly expressed a focus for ESEA reauthorization — to support partnerships that deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.

Then under the heading Rigorous and Fair Accountability and Support at Every Level (p9), the presidents’ Blueprint went on to state;

“States and districts also will collect other key information about teaching and learning conditions, including information on school climate such as student, teacher and school leader attendance; disciplinary incidents; or student, parent, or school staff surveys about their school experience.”

In those words, we have a new beginning for an accountability structure originally envisioned in Education Counts.

“The information system needed to develop education indicators should be organized around major issue areas of enduring educational importance.”

If parental, family, and community support for students isn’t of enduring educational importance, I don’t know what is.

So with a focus and a way to monitor improvement, all we need is a research-based proposal to finally make right the school improvement portion of ESEA to ensure it is truly inclusive of parents, families, and communities.

That’s where “Keeping PACE” comes in. The Keeping Parents and Communities Engaged (PACE) Act was sponsored in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) by former Senator Edward Kennedy. It was introduced into the Senate Education Committee and never went any further.

The problem with Keeping PACE as it was proposed is that, like the best ideas in the Obama Blueprint, it was a competitive grant proposal for something that impoverished communities badly need — it’s not a want; it’s not an experiment. It is a need. Parent and community engagement must be given the priority that only adequate and fair formula funding can do.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 5.11.23 PMWe have research-based best practices for family and community engagement. Research shows there is “…strong and steadily growing evidence that families can improve their children’s academic performance in school. Families also have a major impact on other key outcomes, such as attendance and behavior, that affect achievement.”

Fund what works!

The basic idea of Keeping PACE is this: Title I money is used to hire Parent and Community Outreach Coordinators to coordinate already existing community resources to support students, their schools, and their families making schools the centers of communities through education and services focused on a community’s identified needs.

“It isn’t just about more programs. It’s about leveraging existing resources to help students succeed in the classroom.”

“Wise use of existing community resources” was one of the basic foundational philosophies of the community education concept that was the essence of the 1965 ESEA.

Fund what works!

One of the faulty assumptions of No Child Left Behind is that struggling schools “just lack motivation” so they need punishment and competition to spur them to improve. Not true. They lack the resources to build a strong foundation for success. They lack the “capacity” to do their jobs.

Capacity building is any process that increases the capability of individuals to produce or perform; it enables all stakeholders to carry out their tasks to the best of their ability.”

To enable federal education law to support improvement in the struggling schools in this nation, we need publicly trained and educated leadership who understand the community education concept so they will work WITH families and communities. Plus, we need our U.S. Department of Education to disseminate information that has been researched with the utmost integrity so that it does NOT have to carry a disclaimer like this:

The expectation should be that all information disseminated by our government agencies is fully vetted and represents research of the utmost integrity.

The expectation should be that all information disseminated by our government agencies is fully vetted and represents research of the utmost integrity.

Bottom line, we need the big money out of education policy and we need to take “meaningful, practical” steps like Senator Obama suggested in 2008.

With a resurrected and improved Keeping PACE Act, a new emphasis on leadership training, and renewed prominence of dissemination of “research-based” best practices in community organizing for improvement, we can take a giant leap forward in building community partnerships that support and serve students.

We the People need to demand that Congress and President Obama make the most important student supports — parents, family, and community — a priority in ESEA reauthorization. Speak Up!

Stop the No-Win Blame Game

Excerpt from The Crucial Voice: Chapter 5 What Is the Problem? Why Children Get Left Behind

WHAT WE HAVE IS A SYSTEMIC FAILURE

The system has failed to thoroughly educate the public about educational issues. Our inaction on this long-ago identified problem has led us to accept the unacceptable. As Yong Zhao observed in his book Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, “The American public, short of other easy-to-understand measures, seems to have accepted the notion that test scores are an accurate measure of the quality of their schools” (2009, 33). It is not right.

The takeover of our education policy and practices at the exclusion of “us” in the process has not been a result of the “business-model”; it has been a result of a greed-driven, self-serving society. It has brought more education wars: competition in opposition to cooperation, choice against commonality, rigor versus flexibility. Stop. The collateral damage has been too great.

The system has failed to show understanding of the learning environment that 89dd4de0e80a965b6d93a07100f7af0dneeds to be created in classrooms and in communities to provide what children need to be educated to their fullest potential. We have unknowingly created another “gap”—the wisdom gap. It is reminiscent of the story of the old man picking up starfish on the beach and throwing them back. A young boy thinking it foolish tells the old man, “it doesn’t matter; they’ll wash up again tomorrow.” The old man flings one far into the sea and says, “It mattered to this one.” That story didn’t just demonstrate that we can save one at a time; it also expressed the vision of the elder passing on wisdom to our youth.

Wisdom comes from knowledge, experience, and understanding. It comes with time. And as John Taylor Gatto expressed in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, “without children and old people mixing in daily life, a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present” (2005, 21). Gatto originally wrote that book in 1992 and used the term “pseudo-community.” In far too many places today, our “present” is no different from our past. Our nation is at risk.

But remember, not all schools are a problem. Schools that fail to properly educate children have a common underlying issue, as expressed by Ratner, “the absence of the key human resources” necessary to be effective (2007, 22). And if “academic proficiency” is our educational goal, current policies incorrectly assume “that schools and districts already know what to do to accomplish this goal and have the capacity to do so. . . . And it incorrectly assumes that if districts cannot turn failing schools around, the state departments of education have the capacity to assist them to do so, or, if necessary, to do it themselves” (49).

Capacity means possessing the knowledge, skills, abilities, motivation, and desire to accomplish a goal. In the case of school improvement, it means being able to take the handbook off the shelf and make things happen. First, we have to stop blaming each other. And then as Philip K. will tell you, “We must put aside our differences.”

We’ve all heard teachers who complained about how “the families of their students simply did not value education” (Noguera, 2003, 47). Yet it turns out that this statement, as Noguera points out in his story, was made by people who in reality didn’t know this to be true. It was and continues to be an assumption. If lawmakers and educators are out there “blaming uncaring parents, lazy students, or a society that does not provide adequately for the needs of poor children” (49), they need to stop playing the no-win blame game so we can get on with meeting our shared responsibility to serve the educational and developmental needs of all children.

When we have underperforming schools anywhere in our country, we have a systemic problem. If you believe there is no way to “reform” the public school system, then it is understandable that you would want to throw in the towel and privatize the whole business. But there is another choice.

We now understand better than ever what needs to happen and where that change needs to occur first—in the boundary waters where teachers, parents, and kids are found floating around searching for solutions to grab onto. ©2012 The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present (Note: Boundary Dynamics explains my use of “boundary waters.”)

Will society throw them a strong lifeline?

Will society throw out a strong lifeline?

Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Iceland Gabriola: New Society Publishers, 2005.

Noguera, Pedro A. City Schools and the American Dream: Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College Press, 2003.

Ratner, Gershon (Gary) M. Why the No Child Left Behind Act Needs to be Restructured to Accomplish Its Goals and How to Do It. University of the District of Columbia Law Review, David A. Clark School of Law, Vol.9, Number 1, Winter 2007.

Zhao, Yong. Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD, Alexandria, Virginia, 2009.

The Human Capacity to Change

We often hear talk about “scaling up” good practices but we rarely hear any talk about our capacity to do so. Capacity is a word that needs to enter the reform conversation more frequently.

Capacity literally means the ability, qualifications, or aptitude to do a task. But when it comes to improvements in education, I think it means much more. Take for example what I pointed out as good practices for parent-teacher conferences in Actions Set the Standard.

If a school leader wanted all teachers in the school to make the most of their encounters with parents, the leader’s ability to identify an improved practice and organize education on the subject would be only one step in the improvement process. A school leader must also have the desire, continued motivation, and patience to work with teachers while new practices are adopted and developed.

We are talking about changing the way people do things — that takes time and patience! It requires leaders with the capacity to understand and foster change in people. We’re talking about the human capacity to change.

Human capacity is based on trust, respect, and a willingness to accept feedback and work towards improvement. School children require we all make the effort to change in order to improve.