Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Principal Wanted: No Experience. No Problem.

Administrators and School Boards take plenty of beatings from teachers.   My experience with both has been mixed but I don't have any complaints beyond the norm(their experience with me might be described in much the same way).  Mostly because I understand that even though we have the same goal in mind for students, we see the day to day realities of education differently.  I am sympathetic to their plight and certainly would have much tougher time without their support.  That said there are the more and more individuals entering leadership roles I don't tend to appreciate.

Want to be Principal?  No Teaching Experience?  Not a problem.
They are usually teachers, administrators or other "educrats" who are focused on getting somewhere instead of focusing on doing the job here and now.  They seem to be serving in their position only because it serves a vehicle for self advancement.  We all know the self promoting appearance over substance type who are slicker than a barber shop shave.   The private sector is not immune from the same thing but that doesn't make me feel better.   In education they seem be more disruptive.  The movement of these individuals into administrative with little consequential experience in subordinate  roles brings a cascade of unfortunate consequences for just about everyone else.

They radically change policy to provide a feather in their cap to trumpet in advance of the next move. They forgo the measured approach for the sake of expediency and instead angle and network to ease their ascension to a "higher" job.   Their consistent lack of understanding of why a teacher makes a decision or  frequent miscommunication due to the absence of been there before wisdom becomes troubling.  Simple time proven methods are swept aside as a byproduct of the lack of experience.  The unwillingness to tackle long term chronic problems that might plague schools might be another side effect.    When they do they meet skepticism from teachers concerned about what's behind such measures.  This is only natural given teacher confront too many individuals such as this who devalue their efforts.  And then there is the inability to fully comprehend all that is involved in teaching and learning and inability to provide the necessary support for students and staff.   Instead of looking around for where to help out and make things better , these folks are looking up and where they want to go. One repercussion of this is the "bad" teacher rhetoric.  A get out of accountability card by throwing problems onto teachers.  This is less likely if individuals have taught.   It is just easier to work with someone who understands your job.  Working with people who have reached higher levels because they do a good job makes a huge difference and we ned more of them, not the opposite. 

Which is why I was puzzled the Charlottesville School Board voted to amend the division requirements for becoming a principal.  Essentially they have removed the requirement that a principal have classroom experience.   The Virginia Department of Education still requires that principals have at least 3 years experience as licensed instructional personnel.  Charlottesville's requirement now reads: "The Charlottesville City School Board, upon recommendation of the superintendent, employs principals and assistant principals who hold licenses as prescribed by the Board of Education."  The state changed the wording back in 2007(?) to allow for individuals to be principals without teaching.  Not to say these folks can't accomplish anything or do good, many do both. 

So it is perhaps a stretch to say that this will really change much.  If anything it might even allow for some outstanding guidance counselors, instructional coaches or other staff to serve as principals.  I might say that if those individuals were serious about being great principals they might entertain the idea that they need classroom experience somewhere along the way.   Even so one reality is that when someone leaves the classroom to administration or some other role their view on things instantly changes.  That's OK.  Different perspectives are helpful so long as both sides can understand where they other is coming from.  In the back of most teachers heads they think "We disagree, but this person knows what it is like."   If they haven;t taught, they might think something a little less accommodating. 

I am troubled by the prospect of working with or for someone who has never been an actual teacher at some point.  I could throw out metaphors about car salesman or pyramid schemes but that would miss the point.  Principals serve in a multitude of roles.  They are educators, role models, supervisors, organizers,  problem solvers and the list goes on.  Above all they are leaders.  In the eyes of this teacher those best able to lead in education must work with teachers and those best able to do that have been teachers themselves.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

VASS offers a Double Standard?

A buddy sent me a link to the reaction of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents(VASS)
to the State of Virginia's plan to move to an A-F grading scale for school divisions.  It was noteworthy for many reasons not the least of which being it is far more complicated than it seems.  Like many recent reforms it is hard to argue against such logic until you stop and think about what it means.  It is trickier than a room full of ninjas.   Everyone gets on board and until it is in place it is hard to anticipate the unexpected consequences.  VASS Executive Director Steven Staples commented “We know that the achievement gap walks in the door the first day of kindergarten...Some districts have to work harder to make up for experiences outside of school."   So the VASS opposes at least some parts of the plan claiming it unfairly holds districts accountable.  Districts?   I don't remember districts facing and interacting with students each day.   But someone does and they are now measured on a similar metric in Virginia.
There are all kinds of flaws with this system the VASS opposes but the public tends to support such efforts a transparency.  The formula for the grades originated with the reforms of Jeb Bush and the state of Florida.  Sound like trouble(maybe we can reform our election system to follow Florida's example too)?  It is.   Unfortunately he is a far batter lobbyist and salesman of reform than he is positive reformer and we can thank the sunshine's test heavy approach for frenzied change that no sane or rational or person can actually explain.  This gift and model planted in Florida has sprouted across much of the nation including Virgina.  These questionable measures put in place for political at best flimsy educational reasons have spilled out and infected states at an alarming rate despite a constant chorus of objections from educators.

"Must Teach Better!"
But the article is notable for what it does not mention.  As of July 1st 2012 Virginia teacher's are evaluated according to the seven criteria of the the Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria.  Teachers(as well as principals and superintendents) were placed on common statewide evaluation system and given a rating of 1-4.  That didn't make the front page in most papers.  Six measures count 10% each for a total of 60% and the remaining 40% is derived from "Student Academic Progress" which is fortunately determined by multiple measures not just tests.  This system was developed with a great deal of input but time will tell whether it is an effective and a positive step.  I can say that my end of the year review this year consumes what I felt was far too much of my time and energy at the end of the school year.   Other than the self reflection it didn't really provide a mechanism for making me a better teacher.   More concerning to me is the state model Performance-Pay Incentives Initiative.  Which some might call merit pay.   Sound familiar?

Yet I was given a rating.  Not a grade per se but a number to rate my effectiveness. I along with all other teachers in the state working in divisions on board have been given this number.  Where was the VASS to cry foul on my behalf?  Seems a bit of a double standard to me.  Here is what their policy agenda had to say as the new state law for rating teachers was being developed.   On Page 14 of their Blueprint for Education Reform in Virgina it reads:

Objective 2: Improve teacher, administrator, and classified staff performance.
Strategy 2A: Recommend that Board of Education/Department of Education provide assistance during implementation of a fair and uniform evaluation system that provides for timely reporting of student achievement data and other performance indicators to be used as the basis for teacher and administrator evaluation.

The Virginia Teacher Evaluation Work Group which was loaded up with Division Superintendents provided the State Board of Education guidance as the state attempted to encapsulate what it means to be an effective or good teacher.  This statewide uniformity might be a good thing to some but it also might have produced a subjective and potentially inaccurate system.  Reformers can't or won't acknowledge that there really is no way to easily assess what constitutes good teaching.  Further they seem oblivious to the fact that good teaching does not automatically solve everything in education.  My evaluation didn't mention student motivation, parental support, poverty, absenteeism, snow days, discipline issues or other factors representing any of the things that might impact Student Academic Progress.  But the VASS is "concerned" about measuring divisions in ways that might not be fair. 

So the VASS opposes measuring districts on an A-F rating claiming that it is unfair it also  supports rating teachers(and administrators) by a 1-4 scale using somewhat similar measures?   There is no mention or accommodations for these other factors in our division's Performance Appraisal.   Some of this change will no doubt be good but when push comes to shove I am given a number on on  my ability to teach.   That to me takes the complexity and nuances of our incredibly complex profession and reduces them to a number to satisfy the thirst for reform.  I'll say it again.  Teaching is an art not a science.  Giving it a grade is an injustice.  Maybe the same could be said for doing the same to divisions?  But it appears in our state that no longer matters.