Public education in our country has never been better. Never. Not in the history of the United States. I would argue that point with any human to my final breath. In the coming months, I will share a post including many specifics as to why that is the case, but that will not be the focus for today. My brief share on that topic today is that our teachers are more highly skilled, professionally trained, and consistently learning to improve more than ever before. Administrators have went from being building managers to instructional leaders. Students are being asked to do more, at a younger age, than ever before (not all of which is good). There has never been a time in our history when the emphasis on teaching and learning on a daily basis was this high. The work of Dr. John Draper has greatly inspired and informed me on this topic (http://www.johndraper.org/). However, that doesn’t mean schools are without issues, flaws, and obstacles.
The educational system is not broken. In fact, I argue that some of the fixes are not that hard, that complicated, or that far our of reach. Here, in the state of Michigan, there are some decisions, blending common sense and educational research, that could make drastic improvements for students. Just 4, for starters, and I think you would see an immediate difference in how school districts operate and thus able to better support their staff and students.
1. Some changes must be made to the standardized assessment taken by students within the state of Michigan (Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress). To begin with, the test should be shortened and given multiple times during the school year (same overall time currently spent). It needs to be computer adaptive. The data needs to be reported back to schools within WEEKS of the assessment. These changes would allow for applicable data to be sent to schools, analyzed, and instructional adjustments to be made. The current system returned data 6-7 months after the test. Really? I’m supposed to use that stale data to make any instructional decisions?
The test and it’s questions should be completely open for all the public to see after the test window is completed. C’mon…are these test questions really that secretive? Why would you hide the way in which you are measuring student proficiency? Isn’t that the “Guess what’s in my head?” game that we are trying to get teachers to avoid? Show us the exact questions, wording, and standards measured. Change the wording while keeping the concept for the next round. That will allow us to make connections to our current curriculum and support students accordingly.
2. Get rid of the “grading scale” for districts and individual schools. You are comparing apples, to oranges, and sometimes bananas. Furthermore, you are using one snapshot in time to evaluate thousands of hours of learning. What happens in schools is so far beyond what you measure on the one day a standardized test is given that you demean educators by focusing on that and dismissing everything else. You don’t measure Matt Stafford on one throw, a lawyer on line of questioning on one day of one case, nor a real estate agent on one listing appointment. Stop doing it to schools!
Next week, I will share more on why school districts should ignore such scales and designations. The terms “focus school,” “priority school,” and “reward school” are an inaccurate depiction because they measure too narrow of a piece of learning. That set of data, in that one moment in time, is simply not enough to “judge” a student, a school, or a school district. The scales are almost impossible to understand. Evaluating a school is not meant to be rocket science. Ask very talented educators in Michigan to explain the “Z-score” and you will know what I mean. Have the Intermediate School District support schools in coming up with measures of growth based on the specifics of the district. One size fits all does not make sense when it comes to growth, progress, and expectations of schools. Include pieces such as student growth, parent collaboration, district assessments, safety and security, the social and emotional well-being of students, fiscal responsibility, and effectiveness of teaching staff. Each school has leaders that can work with an ISD and the school board to develop appropriate standards, expectations, and steps to monitor.
3. Adjust the evaluation system to a growth model. I do believe an evaluation should exist for all educators and it should take place annually. It should include student achievement data, but with an added scale for growth. District assessment data, which shows how a student is performing on a daily basis, should outweigh the M-STEP data, although both should be included. Allowing districts to choose on a state-sponsored set of evaluation programs makes sense to me. Don’t narrow it any further from there. Set very wide parameters at the state level and allow local districts to operate within those. Center the evaluation around growth and collaboration, with supports for educators, to ensure the highest quality educators are put in front of students on a daily basis.
4. Increase the incentive in Michigan to be an educator. School districts need to stockpile talent. Talent, talent, talent. But we need to make sure those young, bright, talented thinkers of today, want to become educators. I don’t have all the answers on this one, but I’ve been in the profession long enough to know that the lure of becoming an educator seems to be losing some of it’s shine, and that is not a good thing.
I was fortunate enough to hear State Superintendent Brian Whiston speak recently. The ideas he is bringing into his position give me great optimism. He has a clear understanding of the issues facing students, parents, teachers, and administrators. I respect his vision and ideas for improving pieces from the state level. I hope that he can make an impact on issues within our state that are trending in the negative direction.
It’s not all the fault of the state. Many school districts are making choices or following initiatives simply because others are doing the same. I’ve already started my work on “What Schools Need to Fix” and look forward to sharing that next week.