Evidence Based Decision is referenced often in the Illinois ESSA plan. The word "data" is written 233 times in this document. Educators need to concentrate on using data to make improvements in their education systems related to the seven standards in the Illinois ESSA plan. For example, the school success factor of Chronic Absenteeism is defined to be 10% or more of excused and unexcused (except medically certified home/hospital instruction) in the prior academic year. Thus, if your school has a number of chronically absent students you will be required to design interventions with support services to improve this data point.
In addition to the four 90% ISBE goals (90% 3rd grade students reading at/above grade level, 90% 5th grade students meet or exceed expectations in math, 90% 9th grade students are on track to graduate with cohort, 90% of students graduate from HS ready for college and career) in the ESSA plan, there is also the ESSA goal "By the year 2025, 60% or more of Illinoisans will hold a high-quality degree or postsecondary credential." These goals seem to be "NCLB Like" or as some have stated, NCLB2 or NCLB Lite. The 90% goals have a finish line of 2032.
These goals are more aspirational than finish lines. However, there are some Illinois school districts that can meet these goals right now. Of course, there are also some districts that are extremely short of these goals. I believe there are several lenses to look at these goals. The first lens is that of a parent. For those of us who are parents or grandparents, do we want our children or grandchildren to be among the group who cannot meet these goals? Of course not, so whose children are in the group who will not meet the goals?
The Illinois General Assembly and Governor will ultimately decide if the state will meet the adequacy goal for all Illinois schools to reach 100%. If we assume over the next several years that Illinois school funding continues to increase for the lowest adequacy districts, then these same politicians will except a rise in student growth, student achievement and student success factors.
School finance implications of the Illinois ESSA plan are very extensive. Districts will be required to report in their annual spending plans how these new funds will be allocated for 1) low income, 2) special education and 3) English learner students. The annual plan will require districts to explain how the funds were used to advance student growth and how the funds contribute to the ISBE education goals mentioned above. These requirements are loosely based on business concepts such as "Return on Investment." School leaders will be required to change meaningfully the ways they manage school spending relative to student outcomes.
The financial accountability includes breaking down spending by schools within each school district. This has never before been required by the federal government. This may cause school leaders with having to explain why ABC School spends $250 more per student than XYZ School. Now imagine that ABC School is in an affluent section of town and XYZ is in a poor section of town. Maybe this is because the more veteran teachers (highest salaried) have requested transfer over the years to the school in the affluent section. Or maybe the reverse is true: XYZ School is spending $500 more per pupil because of the federal funds supporting that school. Community members, reporters and others will be able to couple the academic information with the new expenditure information to investigate productivity.
Teachers Giving Feedback to Students
In the August 30, 2014, edition of the Marshall Memo 550, author John Hattie and Gregory Yates define feedback to be "information allowing a learner to reduce the gap between what is evident currently and what could or should be the case" - in other words, guiding students to the next step they need to take. Hattie rates teacher feedback to students as one of the top 10 teacher activities that make a difference for student learning. Hattie writes "Effective feedback, on the other hand, can double the rate of learning and is among the top ten influences on achievement."
When teacher evaluators are recording observational evidence for 3b, Questioning and Discussion, the evaluator should keep track of the feedback that is given to students during a lesson. Generally teachers claim they give lots of feedback to students, but students do not agree. Evaluators should keep track of the type of teacher feedback and also to what degree each student in the room is learning and growing from the feedback.
Feedback reminds me of a quote from a middle school teacher in Eureka who was using a "flipped classroom" approach for her Algebra I and 8th Grade Math classes. The teacher told me that using the flipped approach allowed her to give specific feedback and comments to every one of her students every day. Prior to using the flipped approach she told me that on a normal day she may only talk individually to four or five students a day.
Communication Now - Prevents Big Problems Later
In the School Administrator, author Jim Buckheit writes about the extraordinary number of adverse actions against Pennsylvania superintendents. "The first thing a superintendent considers upon realizing something is amiss is the need for legal help. But in the early stages it is often not a legal problem, but rather a relationship or communication breakdown with one or more board member, a district staffer or community members. These problems, if tackled early, can be resolved."
Buckheit's advice is spot on. Relationships and communications are major sources of potential conflict. I recommend that new superintendents spend time with each board member individually. These board members need to get to know you and you need to get to know them better. The same could be said for all members of your staff, both professional and support staff.
Of course there still is the possibility that some rogue board or staff member will be out to get the superintendent for any number of reasons. However, if you work on building relationships with others then your relationships should prevail. A metaphor I have used in the past to explain this is the following: Imagine putting pennies into a savings container on a regular basis. You would soon fill up the container. You just hope when you ultimately make a decision that will result in people being upset with you, when the container is taken off the shelf and turned over, somebody will stop the spilling of the pennies, right the container, and some pennies will be left. You then start depositing pennies again into the container to withstand the next conflict.
Ideas from AASA
I picked up a couple of interesting ideas from the AASA magazine School Administrator that I think you should consider. The first comes from the article titled "Walking in Other's Shoes." The author describes how he utilized an idea he learned from the TV series "Undercover Boss." In the TV series (I do watch this program) the boss disguises him or herself and works in various positions for the company. The boss often discovers very dedicated and motivated employees and always discovers ways to improve the company. This superintendent decided to replicate this idea in his new school district.
The superintendent randomly selected several employees of the school district and then worked alongside each employee for a day. In this case, the superintendent worked as a cafeteria worker, PE teacher, administrative intern, middle school social studies teacher and nurse assistant.
I think this is a great idea to show employees that you value what they do. I also believe you will gain valuable insight into the work of your employees. In the above-mentioned case you can see that the superintendent worked a variety of jobs including both certified and non-certified positions. I bet that an exercise like this one will leave you with many ideas for your future strategic planning.
The second idea comes from the article "Using Student Voices to Drive Improvement." In this article the superintendent describes how he set up a process for students at all grade levels to provide feedback to the school district. He asked the students to talk about two items: 1) describe the perfect classroom, and 2) describe the perfect teacher.
Student responses to a perfect classroom were:
- the classroom needs to feel like home
- it needs to be clean, fresh, neat
- it needs to have encouraging posters
- it needs to have photos of students
- it needs up-to-date technology
- it needs soft chairs
- it needs furniture that allows for student collaboration
- it needs an animal for a class pet
Student responses to a perfect teacher were:
- caring about academic achievement
- sense of humor
- doesn't favor certain students
Wouldn't it be interesting to find out what your students think is the perfect classroom and the perfect teacher?