Maximizing Effectiveness through Shared Leadership

Dr. Mike Stacy is the Chief Academic Officer for Woodford County Schools and is a former elementary, middle and high school administrator.

One reoccurring theme in administrative meetings across the state is the question, “how do we manage all of the new things required by the state and run a school at the same time?” As a district level administrator overseeing curriculum and instruction, I’ve asked myself this question for several months and I’ve only found one solution: We, as administrators, must enable our teacher leaders to lead from the front of the classroom.

Teacher leaders are not a new phenomenon. Nor is the process of developing them to help run an effective school. Our top administrators in the state have been doing this for years with successful instructional and institutional outcomes. Teacher leadership is not new to Kentucky, but as a state-wide system, we have not found enough ways to leverage our most effective teachers on the scale necessary to radically improve teaching and learning.

Until recently, I had not added teacher leadership onto the list of initiatives I had intentionally pursued from my central office position. Teacher leadership was something that I expected good leaders to cultivate and explore on their own…teacher leadership was a principal issue, not mine.

This school year, we have shifted our focus. We have created teacher leader cadres with representatives from every elementary, middle and high school to help amplify and support the most effective teachers in our district. We have made time for our teacher leaders to meet, identify problems of practice and share solutions to various topics, such as, the implementation of our new teacher evaluation system, the role of professional learning in increasing student growth, evaluating the effectiveness of our current grading practices, and improving school climate throughout our district.

Why should we support teacher leadership right now?

It is currently impossible for most principals to complete all of the required tasks on their duty list. Therefore, we must look to teacher leaders and a shared leadership model to help maximize the effectiveness of our schools over the next decade.

Since the start of this school year, I have had the opportunity to be involved in a few teacher leader-based projects with Hope Street Group, CTQ (The Center for Teaching Quality), and Achieve. Coming away from these projects, I am shocked at the wealth of new research and high quality resources available for our teachers and administrators. Why are we reinventing the wheel? How can we leverage the know-how coming from the non-profit sector in education?

In many of the discussions and brainstorming sessions via these teacher leader organizations, we explored how to more effectively leverage and support teacher leaders. I was reminded of many administrative leadership meetings that I’ve attended over the last 15 years. Most of those meetings centered around how I could be a better leader, how I can improve my building, how I can impact change, etc. Over the years I’ve realized that “I” can’t do much of anything. It’s the team I surround myself with and what they can do that’s important.

So why should I support teacher leadership right now?

I believe in building capacity in a school and having a shared leadership model. It is by far the most efficient and effective way to improve teaching and learning.

Neither teacher leaders nor administrators can maximize their leadership potential without the strength and support of one another. If we focus our time, energy, and resources on building teacher leaders but never teach our building leaders how to effectively use them, then we are missing out on a golden opportunity for our students. Experience has shown us that it takes a team of effective professionals to make great leaders, and it takes shared leadership to make a great school.

At the end of the day students are the reasons we all exist in the education profession. We need to always keep their success in the forefront of the various initiatives we initiate and implement. We must find more opportunities for teachers and administrators to work together toward the ultimate goal of continuing to improve teaching and learning. If we do this, we will all become more effective at what we do and Kentucky students will reap the benefits.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Core Reversal

Legislation (HB33) has been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly that would repeal the Common Core State Standards now in place in Kentucky and prohibit adoption or use of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Governor Steve Beshear previously stood up for the science standards when a committee of legislators opposed them.

Here’s a legislative summary including a list of bill sponsors:

HB 33 (BR 97) – T. Kerr, L. Bechler, R. Bunch, K. Imes, T. Moore, S. Santoro, D. St. Onge

AN ACT relating to public school standards.
Create a new section to KRS Chapter 158 to prohibit the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education from implementing the English language arts and mathematics academic content standards developed by the Common Core Standards Initiative and the science academic content standards developed by the Next Generation Science Standards Initiative; require the state board to recommend new content standards to school districts and schools after consultation with the Council on Postsecondary Education; require public involvement in standards development; clarify the authority of the local board of education to adopt standards which differ from or exceed the standards approved by the state board; clarify that the school-based decision making councils shall develop policies based upon the standards adopted by the local boards of education; prohibit state officials from ceding control of education content standards and assessments; prohibit withholding of state funds from school districts for adopting different academic content standards; amend KRS 156.070 to limit disclosure of personally identifiable information; direct the Kentucky Board of Education to require that the Department of Education and all school districts adhere to transparency and privacy standards when outsourcing data and Web-based tasks to vendors; clarify vendor contract requirements; amend KRS 158.6453 to permit a local board of education to supplement the state board-approved academic content standards with higher and more rigorous standards and require school councils to use them to fulfill curriculum policy requirements; amend KRS 160.345 to clarify school council curriculum policy authority.

More on Kentucky’s experience with Common Core:

Core Defense

Core Pioneers

Kicking PARCC to the Curb

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Charter Legislation Filed

As predicted by Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, legislation allowing charter schools in Kentucky has been filed for this legislative session.

Kentucky is one of 8 states that doesn’t allow charter schools, and in spite of two decades of steady education progress, there is some pressure to authorize charters for districts with a significant number of “low-performing” schools.

Holliday has suggested probably allowing four or five charters to start, and the most likely location would be Jefferson County Public Schools.

Here’s the summary of the bill, which includes the current House sponsors:

HB 174/LM/AA (BR 237) – B. Montell, R. Benvenuti III, J. Fischer, M. Harmon, A. Koenig, S. Lee, J. Miller, T. Moore, D. Osborne, D. St. Onge, R. Webber

AN ACT relating to charter schools and making an appropriation therefor.
Create new sections of KRS Chapter 160 to describe the intent of the General Assembly and the purposes of authorizing public charter schools; define terms; establish the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission and identify membership selection and responsibilities of members; outline the requirements and limitations on the establishment of charter schools including identification of charter school authorizers; describe responsibilities of authorizers; describe charter school application, renewal, and revocation processes; establish the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission trust fund and identify uses of the fund; create a new section of KRS Chapter 159 to identify student enrollment and withdrawal requirements to be followed by a charter school; create a new section of KRS Chapter 161 to identify employment conditions for charter school staff; create a new section of KRS Chapter 157 to require local, state, and federal funds to be distributed to charter schools using formulas and allocation processes used in public schools; amend KRS 161.220 to include a teacher employed by a board of directors of a public charter school as a member within the state retirement system; amend KRS 161.220 to include employees of boards of directors of public charter schools in the state-sponsored retirement system; amend KRS 78.510 to include noncertified employees of public charter schools in the state-sponsored retirement system.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

PGES Skepticism

Gary Houchens expressed skepticism about the ability of Kentucky’s new teacher evaluation system (PGES) to effectively differentiate teacher performance back in 2013.  And he has noted since that he remains skeptical.

Houchens cites research that suggests that not much changes in terms of measurable teacher performance no matter the evaluation tool. More specifically, he notes that despite spending significant dollars on new systems, many states still weren’t seeing much differentiation among teachers on evaluations.

He writes:

Last Spring I wrote about a New York Times article exploring the results of new teacher evaluations in multiple states, including Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Connecticut, and Washington, DC.  After investing millions of dollars and thousands of hours in new evaluation systems designed to better distinguish levels of teacher performance, these states found that principals were still rating more than 90 percent of all teachers as effective or highly effective. Only tiny percentages of teachers were identified as “ineffective” or “developing.”

It would seem these efforts were a monumental waste of time and money with only a handful of possible explanations for the results.

Houchens then goes on to note that leadership at the principal level is what makes an impact on teaching practice, regardless of the evaluation model used.

He notes:

Furthermore, Murphy and colleagues identify four larger categories of principal behaviors that make a difference in teaching quality:

…providing actionable feedback to teachers…developing communities of practice in which teachers share goals, work, and responsibility for student outcomes…offering abundant support for the work of teachers..and creating systems in which teachers have the opportunity to routinely develop and refine their skills.

None of these principal activities must rely on the teacher evaluation system for their effectiveness.  In fact, these activities are most likely high-leverage behaviors even under the old, clunky teacher evaluation system.  Perhaps we could save all this time and money we are currently investing in PGES and focus, instead, on leadership behaviors that really make a difference.

I want to zoom in on the actionable feedback piece of the research cited by Houchens. To me, that is the biggest shortcoming in most evaluation systems. That is, even if principals found areas for improvement for a specific teacher, directing them to ways to improve practice can at times prove difficult. Content-specific professional development may not be readily available, for example. Access to mentors and coaches is often limited, if it exists at all.

And, as Houchens notes, time constraints placed on principals may prevent them from providing the coaching/guidance teachers most need.

One of the biggest complainst I hear from teachers, regardless of the evaluation model used, is that professional development is not connected in any way to what’s written on the evaluation.

A teacher rated “meets expectations” (a 3 on Tennessee’s 1-5 teacher rating system), likely has earned 1s or 2s in some categories of the rubric. Yet the attendant professional development is simply not offered or available. That’s just one example of actionable feedback.  So, teacher X now knows he is struggling in a few areas, but doesn’t know quite what to do to improve.

It could be something as simple as release time to observe other teachers who are strong where that teacher is weak. So, while mentors and coaches are helpful, the solution doesn’t necessarily have to carry a high cost.

Moreover, what is the cost of NOT investing in teachers to help them improve practice? First, it’s disrespectful to teachers as professionals. Professional educators want to improve their practice. An evaluation system that identifies areas for improvement but fails to provide actionable feedback on how to improve is insulting and demoralizing. Second, it’s not fair to students. School leaders know that a certain teacher needs help in specific areas, but that help is not provided. So, students continue to miss out on the best possible instruction.

How we treat teachers says a lot about how much we truly value our students. Treating them like professionals may carry costs in terms of both time and money. But those costs are worth it if we truly want every child to have access to a great education.

And, as Houchens notes, maybe instead of spending on fancy new evaluation systems with tremendous potential, we should spend on leadership development and training as well as provision of the feedback mechanisms that will truly improve instructional practice.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Charters, Pensions, and Funding

Those are the Big 3 issues identified by Commissioner Terry Holliday for the 2015 legislative session.

Holliday outlined his thoughts on the 2015 session in a December post on his blog.

He notes that if charters are adopted at all, it will likely be a small pilot program that would allow for a handful of charters in districts with especially troubling achievement gaps (likely JCPS).

The Prichard Committee has been reviewing the research on charters and will likely weigh-in at some point, too.

Teacher pension reform has been and will continue to be a hot legislative topic.

Essentially, the Kentucky General Assembly balanced the state budget for years in part by under-funding the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System.

Now, their negligence has caught up with them and teachers may see benefit changes or reductions in future payments by way of adjusted (down) cost-0f-living increases.

Holliday also says that while the session is not a budget session, some funding issues may surface.

Another potential topic of interest is allowing school systems to merge in order to maximize financial efficiency.

Tune in this session for more on the big education issues facing Kentucky policymakers.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Pension Reform in 2015?

Kentucky legislators will consider a number of plans designed to reform the state’s pension plan for teachers, the Courier-Journal reports.

The Kentucky General Assembly has been tinkering with the pension plan in recent years in an attempt to shore up unfunded liabilities.

Proposals this year would seek to adjust future benefit payments and decrease cost-of-living increases.

The shortfall is a result of lack of proper funding over time by the General Assembly.

Some proposals would continue the practice of using borrowing through bonds to fund pension obligations, but it is likely that changes to benefits will also be required.

According to the report, a number of lawmakers oppose additional bonds to fund the system and are looking at more significant reform.

From the story:

So far, legislators have pre-filed at least four bills that would alter some aspect of teacher pensions, and leaders from both the House and Senate say any bonding needs to be paired with reforms.

“There is not a lot of enthusiasm for borrowing more money to pay off the KTRS debt without structural changes accompanying that effort,” said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport