The Rich Potential of a Student-Centered Approach

logoA new research brief from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) documents practices and outcomes of four urban high schools that, through student-centered approaches, are providing building blocks of knowledge and skills students need as adults. These schools are non-selective and predominantly serve low-income students of color. Their vision shapes what students are expected to know and do when they graduate, how students are assessed and taught, and ways they are supported to achieve these goals. Each of the schools is exceeding state and local averages for student academic achievement.

Personalization enables adults to know students and tailor interactions to meet individual strengths, interests, and needs. This includes advisory programs, a culture of celebration, student voice and leadership opportunities, and connections to parents and community. Each school supports student leadership capacities and autonomy within the classroom, emphasizing connecting with and applying what is learned through culminating performance-based assessments. The schools draw on relevant curricula, inquiry-based instruction, collaborative learning, student-directed learning, a focus on mastery, and flexible uses of time. In-class and out-of-class strategies support ongoing academic development through advisories to provide academic support, differentiated instruction, tutorial and after-school support, and additional resources for English language learners and special education students.

The approach featured in the report requires substantial investment in developing and supporting staff capacity. Student-centered instruction is challenging to enact effectively, but states and districts can support these rich environments by balancing common goals and local opportunities for invention and innovation tailored to the needs of students and schools.

For more information, please visit:


Cutting Red Tape: Overcoming Bureaucracy to Develop High-Performing SEAs

CuttingRedTape-COVERPHOTOIn many ways, the success of educational policies in the United States depends greatly on the success of state education agencies.

States—traditionally through state education agencies, or SEAs—monitor districts and schools to ensure that students are safe in school and that their education meets minimum quality standards. But the space occupied by SEAs is also an ambiguous one.

Under mounting federal pressure to be more involved in improving schools, SEAs have seen the scope and breadth of their work significantly increase in recent years. SEA staff are now tasked with a long and growing list of responsibilities, including teacher licensure, distribution of funding, technical assistance to educators, the management and administration of end-of-year tests, and maintenance of state-level student and school databases. Because of this wide scope of duties, those who lead SEAs serve an important role in the future of our country as schools are pivotal to our global competitiveness.

In this paper, Robert Hanna, Jeffrey Morrow, and Marci Rozen of the Center for American Progress explore the red tape that binds state education leaders as they seek to make today’s ambitious reforms a reality.

The paper includes the following recommendations for federal and state policymakers:

  • Federal policymakers should improve and streamline compliance monitoring and reporting requirements.
  • State leaders should reexamine their states’ legal requirements and identify areas for agency improvement.
  • State policymakers—legislators and state employee organizations—should streamline civil service processes to improve state agency operations.

For more information, please visit:


Wallace Foundation aims to help school leaders get better, donates $30 million

logo-WallaceFdnFourteen school systems around the country, including the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County (MD), will receive grants totaling $30 million to improve the effectiveness of unsung middle managers in large urban districts – those who supervise principals.

The five-year program, funded by the Wallace Foundation, is designed to help improve management in sprawling school bureaucracies.

The grants will allow school districts to restructure workloads so that supervisors have fewer principals to manage, more time to spend in schools and more ability to focus on mentoring and solving problems with their principals, said Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at Wallace.

The average supervisor – sometimes called assistant superintendents, instructional coaches or zone supervisors – oversees 24 principals, Spiro said.  What’s more, most of their work is making sure that schools are complying with district, state or federal policies, bureaucratic accounting that leaves little time for meaningful interaction with principals, she said.

The grants are designed to encourage school districts to rearrange responsibilities so that others in the central office assume some of the compliance duties and supervisors have more time to spend with fewer principals.

A core group of six school districts – Long Beach (Calif.), Des Moines (Iowa), Broward County (Fla.), Minneapolis, Cleveland and DeKalb County (Ga.) – will receive four-year grants averaging about $3 million each. The foundation will spend $2.5 million on an independent evaluation of whether the grants result in more effective principals.

Wallace also is giving $700,000 to the District and $800,000 to Tulsa (Okla.) to reorganize workloads for principal supervisors and to cultivate new talent.

And it is awarding grants to six districts that are already part of an ongoing 2011 project to develop a “pipeline” of talented school principals. The six districts are Prince George’s County – which will get $700,000 – and Charlotte-Mecklenburg (North Carolina), Denver, Gwinnett County (Georgia), Hillsborough County (Fla.) and New York City. The six will receive Wallace grants ranging from $430,000 to $1 million, for a total of $4 million.

For more information, please visit:


States Forge Ahead on Principal Evaluation

principal.ashxSince 2010, at least 36 states have adopted laws requiring principals to undergo regular assessments and increasing the rigor of those reviews, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This change is in large part due to demands set on school systems by No Child Left Behind and the later waivers granted by the Obama Administration.

So while principal evaluations are a rarely questioned growing trend, not nearly as much research has been performed about them, meaning that there is a multiplicity of models for principal evaluation in operation across states and districts.

According to Ellen Goldring, a department chairperson at Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee., the widely varying models demand some serious reform. Dr. Goldring did her own review of principal-evaluation legislation passed between 2009 and 2013. She said there was limited information about how the policies are used; a lack of clarity on the consequences for principals and how feedback is to be presented; and a lack of alignment with principals’ evolving roles, in talent management, data analytics, and building-level autonomy.

Following are the most prevalent models currently in use:

  • “50-50″ Percentage Model: 50 percent of the evaluation score is derived from student-outcome measures, usually student achievement or academic growth. This can include indicators such as graduation and attendance rates. The other 50 percent of the score often comes from a performance rubric, aligned with standards developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Example: Georgia
  • Matrix Model: In most cases, 50 percent of the evaluation is based on student outcome or growth measures; the other 50 percent of the score comes from a performance rubric. However, the overall score is derived from a matrix table, rather than a percentage formula. Example: Ohio
  • Student ‘Data Trump’ Model: Student growth/performance may account for less than half of the principal’s overall score; however, a principal cannot earn the highest rating or be deemed “highly effective” with low student performance/outcome data. In other words, student data “trumps” everything else. Example: Delaware

Goldring, as well as others who have focused on principal evaluations in their research, speculate that one of the most effective ways to improve principal effectiveness is to focus more on a mentoring/collaboration model in which principals are graded more by peers and less by test scores.

For more information, please visit:


New Issue Brief from the ACT on College and Career Readiness

logo-blueThe ACT doesn’t only make tests; they also write policy reports. Their newest one, “Communicating College and Career Readiness through Proficiency Standards,” has several policy recommendations for states adopting new educational standards.

The brief describes how Kentucky, New York, Florida, and the District of Columbia transitioned their state assessments to reflect college and career readiness but made different decisions about whether or how to determine performance and proficiency standards to match.

Lessons learned from these examples may help other states currently negotiating their own transitions. The report offers the following policy recommendations:

  • Reinforce why college and career readiness is the right goal for all students
  • Set proficiency standards using empirical data that indicate whether a student is on target for college and career readiness
  • Develop and carry out a communications plan to prepare the public for a short-term decline in average state scores as a new baseline is being established.

Following these recommendations will help states navigate the transition to a culture in which student readiness for college and career becomes the “gold standard” by which educational progress is measured.

— View or download Communicating College and Career Readiness through Proficiency Standards.

— View or download Communicating Assessment Results, which summarizes the policy recommendations.


State Sen. Mike Johnston: An Up and Comer in Education Reform

bigstock-education-reform-school-refo-48690005Why should Americans concerned about education know the name of a state senator from Colorado? Because he, and others like him who are willing to work across the aisle, are likely to be the face of American education reform of the future.

State Senator Mike Johnston has quite the pedigree: Ivy League undergrad (Yale), Teach for America English teacher for 2 years in the impoverished Mississippi delta and a book about the experience to boot, work for President Obama’s 2008 campaign on education, then Master’s degrees in education and law, followed by becoming principal of a new model school in Denver, finally followed by his entrance into politics in Colorado. At only age 39, Johnston should, in many ways, be the darling of corporate model education reform and the enemy of traditional public school advocates, yet the reality is different. Johnston has developed a reputation as someone who is willing to sit down and talk with anyone in hopes of helping American students. As such, he is a model for anyone concerned with American education reform.

As one example, when he was selected to give the commencement address at Harvard (one of his Master’s degrees is from there), some students spoke out aggressively against the choice. Rather than fight back or back out, he volunteered to meet those opposed to him the day before his commencement address. The session lasted two hours, and laid the groundwork for a commencement address that garnered a standing ovation.

The fact that he is diplomatic and a good listener does not, however, mean that he is not ideological. Here is a brief segment from a recently published article:

Johnston really got teachers’ backs up in 2010 when he spearheaded a law that mandated a new teacher evaluation regime, using tests to measure student improvement. It also remade the state’s teacher tenure law — a controversial form of job protection that a California court just struck down — making it easier to fire veteran teachers and changing how teachers are reassigned to new positions, prompting a lawsuit from the Colorado Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union.

While this might seem like an ideologue out to punish teachers unions, don’t pigeonhole him so quickly:

The CEA is, however, working with Johnston and other supporters of the bill to implement the new evaluation system, which is still in the process of being rolled out. They also teamed up to try and pass legislation that would have fundamentally remade the school funding system in Colorado, directing more money to high-needs districts and students and raising taxes to bring in more cash for schools. The effort was rejected handily in a public referendum last fall.

Obviously more work and time are needed before united efforts at reform will have a chance to succeed, but efforts like this in which both parties discuss options and work together certainly offer promise for the future.

For more information, please click on the following link:


Are Multiplayer Games the Future of Education?

gamification_wordle1Melanie Plenda at The Atlantic Education recently described a new trend in American education that shows promise to attract strong student attention and help engage long term memory: Gamification.

The idea of turning learning into games that students play is not new, but some of the research surrounding it is, as is the idea of completely integrating the game model into the entire makeup of the class. One of the biggest proponents of gamification is Lee Sheldon, an associate professor at Renssalear Polytechnic Institute’ Games and Simulations Arts and Sciences Program. When he began as a professor at RPI, he taught in the traditional lecture fashion.

“I got bored very quickly with myself,” he says. “If I was getting bored, you can imagine how the students were feeling. I thought, ‘Well, you dummy, you’re a game designer. Why don’t you make the entire class into a game?’ So I did that and things went really well.”

Another proponent of the gamification model is Joey Lee, a research assistant professor of Technology and Education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. He says, “The goal is to change the student’s mindset to a mastery orientation­—to promote motivation, engagement, active learning­—and to cultivate 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving, creativity and systems thinking. Learning looks very different today, so we need to move away from the Industrial Revolution one-size-fits-all model that still plagues much of education.”

Most gamified classrooms, although at this point there is much diversity within gamification, function under a system where students gain experience points (xp), which translate into grades but are more favorable at showing student progress. Another common feature is group problem solving.

Overall, one of the great benefits of the gamification model, if it is done well, is that the “incentives” or “rewards” are built into the system. In other words, what students get for success on one element of the game or one project is the chance to move forward into a new, more challenging aspect of the game, which is also of course the academic content of the class. This way, the real reward is learning, not just badges for completing tasks.

See the article in The Atlantic:

Following is a link to a more scholarly article about gamification (simply click on where it says “view raw”):


Shooting Bottle Rockets at the Moon: Overcoming the Legacy of Incremental Education Reform

Brown Center on Education Policy | Brookings InstitutionThomas Kane, of the Harvard School of Education and writing for the Brookings Institution, has recently penned an important article describing an aggressive plan for helping American students catch up with their international peers over the next 10 years. Kane produces calculations that reveal that incremental reforms are unlikely to be aggressive enough to allow American students to catch up. He instead proposes a combination of four reforms that, together, are likely strong enough in effect size to provide real solutions, not empty promises, to improving American education:

  1. Making better personnel decisions at tenure time
  2. Providing feedback to allow teachers to improve their practice
  3. Integrating more rigorous standards and assessments
  4. Offering a more personalized learning environment

On the first, while recognizing that methods of evaluating teacher success based on value-added measures comes with its own set of problems, Kane also believes that using data to “not retain” the lowest performing teachers is essential to progress.

Second, citing evidence from an interesting study in Cincinnati schools, Kane urges an increased effort to provide feedback to teachers based on classroom observations.

Third, Kane references the successes of Massachusetts and Washington D.C. at sustaining improved student achievement. He argues that their success sets them apart from other states because they have sustained success through use of effective testing.

Overall, these three reforms, Kane argues, should be pursued because their efficacy can be clearly proven through vetted data. The fourth one, he admits, is more tenuous, but he still believes shows a good chance for success.

On the fourth, Kane cites efforts in Houston to implement certain tactics employed by charter schools, such as new school leadership, selective retention of teaching staff based on prior evaluations (including value-added), providing better feedback to teachers, a longer school day and year, intensive tutoring, and data-driven instruction in public schools. What Kane calls “a more personalized learning environment” is in many ways another way to talk about bringing effective practices from charter schools into public schools.

According to Kane, a combination of these four reforms will provide documentable progress in the next ten years that will allow the US to reach the upper echelon of global student achievement.

For more information, please visit:


The Rise of Networks: How Decentralized Management Is Improving Schools

NYnetworks-report-coverMaureen Kelleher at the Center For American Progress has written an interesting piece describing how several urban school districts have experimented with different school networks. The preliminary findings suggest that other urban school districts should be willing to let their schools create networks of common interests to help those schools that need it most.

School districts across the country are shifting away from their traditional management paradigm-a central office that directs its schools through uniform mandates and policies-toward a new vision where district leaders support autonomous schools while holding them accountable for student performance. School-district leaders recognize that greater school autonomy requires rethinking their models of management and support. During a pilot program in New York City, an initial cohort of 26 schools organized itself into four networks of schools that worked together to solve common problems. Today, New York City’s public schools are affiliated in networks based on a common interest: a similar type of school; a common instructional approach; or a similar target population.

This report describes the current state of school networks in New York City and outlines the successes and challenges the city has faced in implementing school networks. It also explores how networks have been implemented in other cities-Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; and Denver, Colorado-to show how the school-network concept has been adapted to a variety of local contexts.

Here are some key preliminary findings:

  • Networks can deliver district supports more effectively than traditional central-office departments. Organizing district support by cross-functional teams responsive to a small group of schools builds greater trust between school leaders and their district and helps district-level staff better understand the needs of the schools they serve. Network teams can serve as a single point of contact between principals and district leaders, which gives principals more time to focus on teachers and instruction.
  • Networks can open the door to collaborative problem solving among groups of schools, leading to improved student outcomes. New York City educational leaders report that a handful of high-performing school networks used cross-school collaboration to make significant strides in school improvement during the 2011-12 school year. However, New York City’s networks have had varying degrees of success fostering such collaboration across their schools. In Chicago, an externally managed, voluntary network of high schools has improved graduation and college entrance rates for students. Other cities have made less effort to use school networks as a tool for cross-school collaboration.
  • Outsourcing can enhance networks, but locale is key. In cities such as New York, where robust educational nonprofit sectors exist, external partners can lead networks of schools in instructional improvement. However, New York City’s experience with outside networks indicates that external partners still need district liaisons to solve problems with operations. In cities with a weaker base of educational nonprofits, district staff must continue to lead both operational troubleshooting and instructional improvement.

For more information, please visit:


Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative

teacher poweredEducation Evolving launched the Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative at the Education Writers Association’s 67th National Seminar’s “Teachers Take Charge” panel discussion.

The launch is especially timely given the release of Education Evolving’s new national survey data that that reveal overwhelming public support and teacher interest in a professional partnership model of teacher leadership, or “teacher-powered schools.”

This new initiative is laser-focused on improving student learning and making teaching a better job for teachers. Teacher-powered schools aim to transform K-12 education in the U.S. – not from the top-down, but from the ground up – by cultivating a collaborative school governance structure where teachers, principals, parents and community leaders are empowered to work together toward a shared vision of what students, schools and education could achieve.

Here are five ways you can learn more, get involved and spread the word today:

1.       Visit Visit the new website with critical resources for teachers, district administrators, charter authorizers and policymakers on ways to create a teacher-powered school and get involved.

2.       Read the latest research report: Check out new national survey data that illustrates the widespread public and teacher interest in the concept.

3.       Forward this blog post: Share information about teacher-powered schools with those who are interested in issues of teacher leadership and school-based decision making.

4.       Follow and share on Facebook and Twitter: Share the news about the initiative with your social networks! (#EWA14, #teacherpowered)

5.       Sign-up for email updates: Simply visit and submit your email for e-news updates on teacher-powered schools.

The new report from Education Evolving on Teacher-Powered Schools reveals first-of-its-kind national survey data on teacher leadership. It just may challenge your assumptions on teacher-led innovation in K-12 education.