September 6, 2017

Illinois Evidence-Based Funding Model
IASA Executive Director Dr. Brent Clark, IASBO Executive Director Mike Jacoby, Vision 20/20 participants, and the 31 organizations that supported the passage of the Illinois Evidence-Based Funding model deserve praise for their constant support and efforts for this historic change in how Illinois schools are funded. Illinois is now on a path for both adequacy and equity in funding for all public school students in Illinois. With that said, we need to remember that it will take continued work by Illinois lawmakers to fund the formula in this and future years to truly get to adequacy and equity.
Under the old funding model for public education the Foundation Level has been set at $6,119 for the past eight years and as I wrote in last week's Update, has not even been fully funded at that level. According to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA) "...the state's Foundation Level has declined, losing 15 percent of its value by FY2017 or $915 per student-since it was first set."
Another measure recognizing this funding problem is a journey to past education funding commissions. In December of 1997, 20 years ago, the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) was given the statutory obligation to recommend a Foundation Level that would be sufficient to cover the costs of an "adequate" K-12 education. According to CTBA, this level did not include the cost of educating "at-risk" students or EL students or students with special needs or who happen to be poor. None the less, the EFAB recommended Foundation Level fell to $2,946 less per child in 2016. This amounts to $5 billion less than the EFAB recommendation.
I find this $5 billion figure very interesting because it is the same amount the EBM estimates the State of Illinois is short of fully funding the model. We have just started to press the accelerator of our car in this journey to fully funding Illinois public education.
27 Evidence-Based Factors
I highly recommend that you read and study the 27 evidence-based factors that make up the EBM. They range from reducing class size to 15 for grades K-3 to providing more guidance counselors, nurses and school psychiatrists for schools. This new model does not mandate that schools make policy decisions around these factors since local schools retain the right to apply funding received under the EBM to those research-based practices which best satisfy their local needs. For more information on this topic click on the following link prepared by CTBA
The role of school leaders, especially superintendents, will become increasingly more important as school districts receive this new funding. Many of the EBM opponents referred to states like Arkansas, Ohio, North Dakota, and Wyoming that passed an evidence-based funding formula (much different than the one Illinois passed) with no resulting increase in student academic performance. Opponents of the EBM claim that all the new money went to existing staff for salary increases and few of the evidence factors were ever implemented.
Superintendents should become knowledgeable of the evidence factors cited in this model and start the communication process in their districts. Board members, staff and community members need to have discussions around these elements and determine a path of implementing some of the factors based on the local needs of the district.
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. At the recent New Superintendents' Conference I recommended 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 generated from the TV series titled 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 the 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 and 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. My bet is that an exercise like this one will leave you with many ideas for your future strategic planning.
The second idea comes from the article titled 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 for the school district. He asked the students to talk about two items. These items were 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;
  • understanding
  • caring about academic achievement
  • sense of humor
  • creative
  • 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?
Tip of the Week
Social media continues to be an important way citizens of today communicate. What are you doing as a school leader to communicate to your community about the great things that are going on in your school district? Do not miss this opportunity to communicate to your public.

Some administrators in the past have told me they stay off social media because of some of the negative aspects including reading criticisms of the district by members of the public. This reminds me of a situation I saw unfold in a school district. A principal was telling the superintendent that she read on Facebook how a citizen was criticizing the district claiming the schools were dirty and teachers did not care about the students.

The superintendent decided to contact the citizen via the Facebook link and invited the citizen to call her and she would take the citizen on a personal visit to the schools. The citizen took her up on the offer and they visited several schools. This particular parent had been home schooling her children and decided to enroll the students in the school as a result of this communication and visit with the superintendent. I was very impressed that the superintendent had a practice of communicating to citizens if they posted negative information about the district. The superintendent told me she had used this same strategy several times in the past.

A good strategy for you to implement is to monitor social media communication and respond positively to its message. Some believe that you can just ignore the negative social media communications. However, if you do this then the negative impression may become a "reality" in the eyes of the readers. This is the main reason you need to develop a positive media communications plan for your district's schools.
For more information, please contact:

Dr. Richard Voltz
Associate Director
Professional Development/Induction-Mentoring
2648 Beechler Court
Springfield, IL 62703
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