Saturday, January 6, 2018

Back on Line Up With Educational Posts for Teachers and Administrators

Hello everyone,

I know that it has been a while since I last posted anything on my blog.  Once I retired from my post-retirement work with the LA Chamber of Commerce, I thought that my education consulting days were gone.  I never stopped reading and thinking about how to improve teaching and learning, but I felt like I no longer had a purpose for sharing my beliefs and views with others.

Out of no where came an opportunity for me to work with a close friend, Daniel Gumarang, to help support Chinese educational graduate students who were coming to the USA for one month to visit American schools and learn what they could about American educational instruction and innovation.  This gave a great opportunity to continue my work with young teachers to be.

Having done this for just over two years now, some exciting opportunities came my way.  First, I was asked twice to go to China and speak and meet with teachers and administrators to discuss changes that are occurring in American educational systems for K-12 schools.  The first time, I went for one week to Beijing and met with educators at several schools to discuss teaching and learning.  Even though a translator was necessary for communication to occur, this was an incredible experience.  When I was invited back, with my wife this time for a two week stay, I was ecstatic.  This time my visit with educators took me to Beijing, Shenzhen, Dongguan, and Xi An.  Not only was I introduced to many very enthusiastic and intelligent educators and school leaders, but my wife and I got the opportunity to see some of the most incredible sites in the world.

From these two visits came an offer to help open a new school in southern China.  A major electronic company was supporting the creation of this new school, and wanted it to be a 21st Century School that is preparing kids to be able to live and attend universities anywhere in the world, not just in China.  The offer that was made to me was so exciting that my wife and children pushed me to take the job offer.  On May 31, 2017, I met with some very important Chinese educational leaders, and on July 15 I started my current position as the Academic Principal of Tsinglan School in Dongguan, China.

I will share more about this adventure that I am currently in the middle of over the next couple of months.  But more important I want to share on my blog some of what I am learning about teaching and learning, and some of what I am helping faculty and administrators at this amazing school learn that will propel this school to success through out the 21st century and beyond.

Just when I thought that my love of education had no further purpose, a purpose has been provided to me, and I am so happy to be able to use my 48 years of learning what it means to educate kids, and how to educate kids to hopefully, help to make the world a better and smaller place for all of us, whether we are citizens of China or the USA.  Afterall, we are all citizens of Earth.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Linked Learning a Secondary Educational Transformation Model

I found this article written in Ed Source last week and saved it to share with you all.  I hope that you will take a little time to read it.  There are a number of reasons that I share it that relate to the transformation of the secondary education system in California.  

Most of you have heard me speak favorably and passionately about Small Learning Communities. You may have heard me speak as passionately about Linked Learning as well.  I see Linked Learning as the natural evolution of Small Learning Communities.  I see both as the needed structural change in secondary schools to give our students the best opportunity to succeed in the future by being college and career ready upon graduation from high school. Linked Learning is not about making students into job ready individuals in any particular field.  It is about giving students the experiences necessary to function successfully in their post-secondary years by continuing their education; by finding valuable and meaningful work opportunities; by preparing students to understand their role as citizens living in the USA; and by giving each student life choices that will allow them to live with their family in a happy and healthy way.  To meet all of these goals we just cannot continue to do business as we have been doing it for over 100 years in the United States.  Our society and the world have changed, we have to make necessary changes also.

Change is not easy, but it seems to me that some of the cause of making change difficult for educators is that there is not a lot of depth of knowledge and sharing of information among those in our profession and with those in the public.  We need to have a better depth of knowledge about Linked Learning and related areas of change such as the Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, 21st Century Skills, and alternative educational delivery models as professional leaders in education so that we can speak with conviction and passion about why change in our profession is so important.  We are not asking people to change just for the sake of change.

The California Legislature over the past two years has approved $500 Million dollars to be given as grants to local and regional LEAs for the purpose of sparking the change to Linked Learning in our secondary schools.  This is the biggest amount of money approved by any State for this purpose.  According to the CDE, our legislature and State Board of Education see Linked Learning as the transformation model for secondary schools.

This makes me happy because it takes into account the importance of instructional content, skills, and deep thinking; along with the need for student motivation and a sense of their connection to what they are being asked to learn in order to move our students forward in their preparation for college and careers.  Please take a few minutes to read this article and I would love to hear comments from you.

Here is the link to the article that I am referring to:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Learning from the Successes of Others in Educational Settings

I am a product of a very large public school system.  I worked for 37 years in that same system.  I care greatly about the students, parents, staff, and the system itself, but I am feeling very badly about something that I helped to bring to this large system, but is not leading to improvement.

As one of the reform leaders in Los Angeles' educational system, I fought for a variety of school types to come into our system.  I believed that we could do a better job of educating our children from kindergarten through high school.  I was given the opportunity to help lead reform of our high schools away from very large comprehensive models to smaller environments that would support both students and adults.

It has always been my belief that we must find a way to educate all of our kids.  If we cannot, we need to let others who can do it better.  For this reason, we created small learning communities and small school structures in all of our district's high schools.  At least we received and approved plans for all high schools to recreate themselves into some type of smaller structure.  Included in this work we were given the opportunity to bring some very special models to our district, New Tech and Big Picture. 

Unfortunately, the financial downturn hit and hurt badly causing changes at district and school levels that for many schools, but not all, stopped reform from progressing.  I had to stand in front of our Board of Education on several occasions and explain our restructuring plan, including the building of new small schools.  One Board member would mock this effort by calling these new small school schools, "Turbo Charged Schools" because he felt that they were expensive.  My response to him was always the same.  We have to introduce new "proof points" into our district.  We know that if we can create the right environment with well prepared staff members and gain the support of parents, that we can better educate all students.

What did I mean by "proof points"?  I believed then and still believe that we need to look and learn from models of education different from what we have historically had in our district for many years.  We need these alternative models to be learning opportunities for the district and for the educators.  I even believe that when we have successful models of learning in our neighborhood charter schools that we should learn what we can from them.  We do not have to copy exactly what any other institution is doing, but we can find what they do better than we are doing, and figure out a way to introduce something similar into our schools.

Seven years later, I am finding that there is little if any learning taking place between schools in our own districts, or from those schools that we created within or outside of our district.  Charters exist and will continue to exist.  We should not fight that, but we should accept them for what they are and use them as an opportunity for our own big system learning.

I just read an article from EdSource about the City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco.  Not only is this school producing great student achievement results, but it is doing so with a student body very similar to the student body of most urban schools.  If they can do it, why can't we?  We can certainly improve our results, but not without learning what this Envision Charter is doing in San Francisco and what other district and charter alternative type schools are doing in our own neighborhood and around the nation. 

As educators, we hope that we are continuous learners because that is our vision for what we want for our students.  Continuous learning requires that the learner remain inquisitive and reflective, and always searching for something being done more successfully by others.

I would recommend that educators, especially in secondary schools read the article about Envision's City Arts and Technology Charter High School and think carefully about how you could bring "deeper learning" to your school.  Check out the article at:

Let me know what you think about the need to learn from others, both in your own district and outside of your district.  Should we be isolationists or should we be continuous learners?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

NAEP Report of Cost of Missing School on Student Achievement

EdSource reported yesterday on a NAEP analysis of student academic progress as measured by the NAEP assessment for 4th and 8th graders.  This test is often called the nations report card for reading and mathematics achievement.  I believe that this analysis is worth reading, because you do have a way in your schools to address the issue, at least when MISIS is finally up and running.

It is shocking that in the USA every year from 5 million to 7.5 million students miss close to a month of school.  Students with significant numbers of absences score significantly lower than students who are present regularly.  In fact at both 4th and 8th grade students with significant numbers of absences are at least a full grade level below the other students in their yearly growth.  We have known for some time that this data is true for middle schoolers based on Johns Hopkins University's seminal research by Robert Balfanz.  We also have always believed this to be true based on our experiences in the classroom.  I know that LAUSD has made student attendance a major priority, and for good reason as is shown by multiple studies.  I am sure that this is true of other districts in California and around the nation.

The purpose of sharing this article with you is to point out that you have a way to address the attendance issues described in the article at your school site.  Let me remind you that in My Data is a program called "Early Alert Secondary" and "Early Alert Elementary" that can give you very important information about student attendance on a monthly basis that can allow you to address student attendance in a variety of ways.  I know the value of this program because before I retired, Cynthia Lim and I worked on putting the program together for the use of schools. We worked on it for approximately nine years before we were both in a position to bring it to fruition.  It has been improved since I left, but the main issue is that it can report to you all students on a monthly basis who have had a drop in attendance for even one month.  The idea of this program is to catch students who are sliding in a variety of areas, in this case attendance, before the slide gets so far along that it is difficult for the child to recover.  (If your district does not have a way to quickly find students who are slipping in their attendance or in other significant areas, speak to your district leadership about how that can be created with the student information data that you already have in your computer system.)  Once identified it becomes very important for a school staff member, counselor or SLC advisor, to check in with the student and the parent as to why the drop has occurred.  It may be that the student was sick with the chicken pox, in which case, all that is necessary is to be sure that the child knows what is necessary to catch up.  However, it may be something much more severe such as a family divorce, or illness which is causing serious conditions at the home.  In this case, more intensive intervention is necessary.  We can give the students the intensive intervention when we identify the need.  It is great if you have sufficient and significant resources to intervene, but most schools do not have that need fulfilled.  But teachers, counselors, and administrators can give the time to intervene to be sure that the student and the parents know that someone at the school really cares about the welfare of the student.  That caring attitude may be just enough to keep a student with a spotty attendance record from becoming the drop out statistic that we frequently see from excessively absent students.

The result of research tells us that no matter how good of a job that we do at delivering instruction, if we cannot get kids turned on to school and to learning, the great delivery will matter very little.  You have the opportunity to utilize this recent research of NAEP results analysis and to utilize a powerful tool available through the LAUSD (or through your district) student information system to save the educational lives of some of our students.  The only ingredient not guaranteed is the will to save these excessively absent kids by school adults.  Encouraging our educators to build strong caring relationships with every student as well as building their own instructional practices have to go hand in hand.  

I hope that this message leads to finding ways at your school to improve the student attendance that can lead to so many lost years of learning for many students.  Relationships leading to student motivation are critical, but frequently lost in our professional development efforts.  I will share more on motivation and student learning in the next couple of weeks.

Thanks for listening.  By the way, you can find this and other educational topics on my blog at  If you have not visited it, I invite you to do so.  You may not agree with everything, but hopefully, it will get you to think about some of the topics that I have covered.

The EdSource article is available at:

I look forward to your comments on this topic and any others on my blog.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

California Tenure Law: A Quandry for Me

Recently, we have been hearing a lot about changes in the tenure laws for educators through out the nation.  When policy to change the law was presented in California, I was initially onboard for the need of this change.  After some deeper thought, I am finding that my position continues to wobble and change.  Let me share with you my thoughts.

As a school principal, I found it very frustrating that I had several teachers who needed to not be in our career field, but even though I gave them the necessary paper work to be classified as unsatisfactory, they either remained at my school, or were moved to another school.  As a director of schools, I actually worked with one of my principals to gain a dismissal on a horrible teacher, but in accordance with the State tenure law, the teacher with the assistance of the educator's union, appealed the decision, and they won the appeal.  My district had the right, but chose not to appeal that decision due to legal costs that it would require.  So, that teacher remained an employee in my district for another five years, but never again taught in a school.  He sat in an office and was paid.  He settled with the district to receive full retirement benefits and to have the district pay his legal costs.  These are examples that are only a small number of the cases faced by administrators of all levels at any time.

These examples led me to believe that the tenure laws in my state were getting in the way of providing students the best possible educational experience.  So, my initial thoughts were, yes, if the law is changed these teachers that I described above would not have remained in their teaching positions for as long as they did, therefore, I obviously should support the change in the law.

After thinking about the tenure law more thoughtfully without bringing in my personal emotions, I made a case for myself that doing away with tenure could have a negative impact on the teaching profession that I had to consider.  Let me explain, from an administrator's point of view, the other side of this case.  As a principal, I frequently spoke to my teachers about the need to be risk-takers in developing instructional practices.  I always told them that without risk-taking, new and improved teaching practices would never be developed.  I also realized that with my staff of about 90 teachers, I was looking at one or two who needed to go, the remainder were strong and dedicated educators who cared about their kids.

If tenure were to be removed, would good teachers be so willing to be thoughtful risk-takers, or would they decide that they were better off being safe as they developed their instructional plans everyday.  It is pretty hard to get teachers to be risk-takers in the first place, but without the protections and security that even good teachers need to feel, they would be reluctant to try new ideas out in their classrooms.

My quandary is that I might be "cutting off my nose to spite my face" if I pushed to end tenure.  Yes, I could rid my system and the profession of bad people, but I would moving a lot of good teachers toward mediocrity because of their loss of security. 

Assuming my arguments on both sides are correct, what do you think would be the wisest thing to do for the educational profession?  Is there a compromise model that provides the safety net for good teachers, but allows us to move poor teachers out of our profession more easily? 

I look forward to hearing from you on this dilemma for me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Preparing Our Students for Their Post-secondary World

This morning, I was discussing an article that I recently reviewed in my blog with a wonderful middle school principal who cares dearly for her students, and cares deeply about how those students are taught and prepared for their next level of education in high school.

As we discussed in the article on Google Hiring Practices (see the previous blog entry), we began to discuss the value of having experienced versus inexperienced teachers and what each brings to the table.  I told her of my own experience with new schools that opened in the early 2000s with strong visions, but with young staff members who bought into the vision completely.  We found that it is much easier to get younger educators to look at a 21st century educational model and willingly adopt it, but if left without the support of experienced team members, the most passionate person cannot succeed in the field of educating young people.  So, our learning was that a balanced approach to teaching and learning is necessary with a staff that is experienced enough to know best practices and protocols for the age of the students being taught; and a young enough staff to be willing to accept new ideas and visions that differ greatly from the traditional educational model of secondary education in this country.

While the conversation was interesting, it suddenly took another turn that requires some thought and consideration by educators.  Both of us have experienced for many years that by the time many students enter high school, they have given up on their opportunity for success (high school graduation).  Many students have literally learned to see themselves as failures and incapable of learning.  What a dangerous learning experience these students have received in the nine years that they have been attending school.  If you do not believe in yourself, or feel that you are capable of learning, then your chances of finding success in high school will be minimal.  We often speak of the need to be sure that our students learn to persevere and to be resilient.   Instead of learning these important personal lessons that can lead to success, these students have learned failure and once they learn the feeling of failure, they find that it is reinforced over and over again. (Right now I can hear some defensive educators saying, why blame us for students who feel this way?  Don't their parents play a role in causing this sense of insecurity within their children?  Of course, this is true, but we cannot control what goes on in the family dynamics, we only have control of the educational process and the time they spend in school.  So, it is my belief that we have plenty to think about as teachers to help students to be resilient and strong individuals.  We may be the only good chance some students have for finding success.)

So, the question becomes, what can we do to reinforce success for students in school, beginning in pre-school, so that we do not create generations of students who feel incapable of academic success.  (Unfortunately, it has been my experience that students who feel unsuccessful in school K-8th grade, translate that feeling of failure to many aspects of their lives, including the kinds of people they befriend, the types of workforce positions they feel qualified to reach, and the inability to do higher level thinking in any area of their life).  Do we lower our standards to make kids successful?  Do we give every student a graduation experience whether they earned it or not?  What actions should educators take to help all students matriculate through school in a positive way?

We know that when we give students anything without real effort being involved, they know that the value of the gift has less meaning.  We cannot give kids A grades, or diplomas if they have not earned them.  Students know when a positive comment or response is fake or real.  It feels real when they have put out effort and earned the praise or recognition.  Lowering standards will not change the way students see themselves.  Building meaningful and honest relationships with adults in their educational life can make a major difference.  Honest adults can share constructive criticism that is useful much more satisfactorily than if the feedback a student receives from a teacher is only a poor grade on a paper or test.  Real feedback is one of the most significant learning experiences for anyone, we need to provide it to our students in a way that allows them to learn and grow.

Almost every job or career in our nation is built on relationships.  Students who are successful are usually much better at interacting with their peers and with adults of consequence in their life.  They tend to be more successful at interacting with people they do not know very well.  This ability, however, comes from confidence that they believe "I am an important and valuable person".  So, they role of the teacher is to work with every student to help them gain knowledge of themselves and to trust they can be and will be valuable members of our society.  These students will be better prepared to enter high school, and successfully meet the post-secondary options that will be available to them in years to come. 

The structure of a school tells us a lot about what is most important in the mind of the school leaders.  If information and test results are all that education is about, it will show by making report card grades and test scores the most valued areas of education discussed with students.  The success of students in both of these areas have more to do with effort, resiliency, and perseverance than in how smart they are.  Schools should not be about producing smart kids, but rather about producing educated kids who are personally prepared to meet the challenges in our society.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Google Hiring Practices, What Does it Say to Educators?

Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google was recently quoted in a New York Times article, "Google had determined that 'G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.'”  This comment is just the tip of a much bigger story that has profound impact on the educational community.  You can find the entire New York Times article at  I hope that in response to my comments you will all read it and reflect on Mr. Bock's take on education through your own educator's filter.

Here is what comes to mind for me.

The role of education in our society has made a major shift.  It is about preparing all of our students for college and careers, and preparing them to successfully live in our 21st century society as a good and happy citizen.  I am not sure that this sounds different than what I was told in teacher education school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but there is a giant difference.

Our process of education in the USA due to changes in technology, globalization, and the needs of our society to maintain its strong leadership and financial position in the world must evolve its educational system so that all students have the chance to thrive.  Some steps are in place for this evolution and some schools and districts are moving forward at a faster rate than others.

Here are my initial thoughts about this article.  I look forward to hearing and sharing yours.

We know that the current Common Core Standards are based heavily on the original SCANS report that came out in 1990 and was updated to the 21st Century Skills in the early 2000s.  So, all of us are working now with the goal of preparing all students for college and careers.  If you think about education in the bigger picture, it is all about the world of work, and preparation for living in our society in the 21st century. College is just an additional step in preparation for entering the job market.  So, hearing what Google has to say is very telling.  I would love to discuss this article with you, if you have time.  It is not long but worth the time.  

Let me say that even before you read it, the executive is not putting down a college education, but rather is drawing a conclusion that the right set of skills have to be learned by all employees whether they learn it through a formal or less formal education.  Are we preparing our kids for the world of the future, or the world of the past? Common Core, I believe is a good step in the right direction.  It is about applying learning, not just re-stating information.  We know the skills that are being asked for, it is now our job to be sure that every student gets the educational experiences in the classroom (or outside the classroom) that support our societal and their personal needs of the 21st century.

I have believed in what I am sharing here for a long time.  I remember that in college learning the teachings of John Dewey was important.  Unfortunately, when I entered my early teaching jobs, John Dewey's thinking was not present, nor wanted by most of my colleagues.  As an administrator, I tried my best with some success, to bring change to the teaching and learning practices at my school.  We had a good level of success with that.  Now, with the Common Core, I see our best opportunity to evolve our American educational system to better provide experiences that prepare students for the lives they will be living, in and out of work.

A story that I have shared with teachers on a number of occasions was an early sign to me of change becoming more common in the work place.  My son was fortunate to attend a university where a great medical school came to select up to eight students per year for early acceptance to their program.  So, at the end of his sophomore year, he was accepted to their medical school with the only condition being that he completed his BA/BS in any field of his choice.  I found it interesting that he was told that he did not have to take any additional science courses, since he had completed his required pre-med classes successfully and proven to the selection board that he possessed the skills needed for the field of medicine. They told him that they would give him whatever knowledge he needed once he started medical school.

What were they looking for?  I was told that they were looking for humanity majors for the field of medicine.  I was told that the interview process and the student's ability to react quickly to questions was important.  I was told that they wanted students who had shown success in analysis and synthesis and could be problem solvers and critical thinkers.  I was told that they wanted people who could take initiative and be leaders in this profession.  I was told that they wanted students who could handle the workload and had the comprehension skills needed for all of the reading and interpreting required of this profession.  After reading the article about Google, it did not sound so different to me than what a medical school admittance officer had shared with me over ten years ago.

It is my hope that the conversations around articles such as this take place around the USA with educators listening and leading the discussions.  Barack Obama has shared in his two presidential acceptance speeches the importance of preparing many more students for STEM fields if we wish to maintain our position in the world.  He is asking that our educational evolution be sped up to address our national needs.  I see this being supported by Common Core, if we have the necessary conversations with our educators that lead to a change from the status quo of education and moves us to a new 21st century place for educating our kids.

I hope that you will comment back to me and share your thoughts.  I would love to extend this conversation.  Thank you for reading.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Reading Comprehension Is Now Everyone's Responsibility

This author identified a major pre-high school problem that has existed for many years.  It is also a major high school problem, as well.  He identifies the fact that our students do not have a reading problem, they can decode words, rather they have a reading comprehension problem.

Where I believe he is wrong is to say that this is a fairly recent problem so teachers may not have the tool kit for teaching comprehension.  In 1989 when I was first assigned as a middle school principal, we already saw the same issues relating to reading comprehension.  In the late 1990s when Open Court was introduced we saw students were excellent decoders but did not have strong comprehension skills.  In fact, I spoke personally to middle school educators from Northern California where Open Court was well established and they told me the same was true for their middle school students.

Two thoughts come to mind:

First, why have teachers in preparation programs not received more tools for their reading comprehension tool kit?  After all, we have recognized this problem for a long time?
Second, I hope that Common Core with its assessments will now drive changes that have not taken hold in the past.  I remember in the mid 1990s State legislation with corresponding funding (unusual) required all schools to provide reading comprehension training at all schools led by local staff who received special training from the district.  We did a pretty good job I thought, but many secondary content teachers did not see the teaching of reading as their responsibility.  This lack of training success was reinforced for me when I became supervisor visiting many schools and classrooms around our district.

I now believe that we did not create significantly important context for non English Language Arts teachers to believe that reading comprehension was part of their responsibility.  Just saying something will not lead to change in this profession.  We need to help people understand purpose for change.  In California, that was difficult because the real teacher assessment came from STAR test results, and those end of year assessments were certainly content specific, so when would a teacher offer the skills development students need?  Time on skills pulled teacher and students away from the existing standards coverage, which was very difficult to complete during a school year already.  With high hopes, I see Common Core as the way to bring greater urgency to all teachers that improving reading comprehension and building related 21st century skills is part of the job description for all educators.  Assessments always have and always will drive instructional practices.

The author provides three areas of focus to make the teaching of reading comprehension part of every educational classroom.  

Does your school have the structures in place and the staff leadership that will allow practices such as those suggested to occur?

Please read the article at the URL I am including when you have time.  This could lead to some excellent educator conversations that need to take place within schools and within educator networks.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Updating and Musing About My Educational Experiences Coming in the Near Future

It has been a while since I last blogged, but the time has come for me to put energy back into my Secondary Educators' Blog.  Today is just a warning that my intellectual juices are in motion once again.  I want to thank my friend Daniel Gumarang for continually pushing me to write, share, write.  He is right, I need to do this.  Also, I received an impetus to move forward from a TV show that I had recorded and watched with my wife earlier this evening.  I will share in the near future what I took from the season finale of Undercover Boss.

Thanks for being patient and waiting for me to make a comeback to my own blogging experiences where I can share my thoughts on improving and moving education for the good of the kids and for the benefit of our educators and our society.

I will be in touch with you shortly.


Monday, February 27, 2012

New Study and My Observation Go Hand in Hand

A new study reported by Caralee Adams of College Bound in Education Week provides us with supporting information as to why Linked Learning is a critical piece in the secondary education reform efforts around this country. This blog is worth visiting. As a nation we are continuing to grow in population, and we are continuing to grow in the percent of our population earning at least a BA degree (this was unexpected good news to me).

As is reported in this study, in 2010 the difference in income between ending your education at high school and ending it with a BA is the difference between $31,000 and $58,000 a year. This by itself tells us why our education system needs to provide every child with the opportunity to continue their education beyond high school, and at the same time prepare them with the 21st century skills needed for success in the world of work.

As educators, we need to continually review this type of data and re-commit ourselves to preparing our students for a world that none of us can predict what it will look like. For those who wish to continue to teach as if the world were the 1920s, they have to join the change or move out of the way. It is our students and their future that we have to be thinking about, not what is our plan for making our life as a teacher as easy as possible.

Last week, I visited a middle school that I have worked closely with and known well since 2000. I saw a new culture instituted by all of the staff and community so that students were engaged in every class that I visited. I saw teaching strategies that were similar in each class (Kagan Strategies). I saw students learning content and 21st century skills side by side. I saw dedicated teachers who have worked together with the community to create a new culture that will better prepare these students for college and careers. It was exciting to see a culture completely change in less than one school year. There is no question that they have a lot of work left to do, but they are now collaborative and in agreement moving forward for the good of their students. I was so proud to see that the efforts of a staff working in unison can make such a big difference, and much more quickly than I expected.

I feel confident that these middle school students will continue to succeed both in high school and in their post-secondary educational years. They will gain jobs that will benefit them, their families, and their community.

Please share some of your success stories around reform efforts so that we can all learn from each others' work.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Vision is Revolutionary, The Implementation is Evolutionary

I have continued to learn a lot about the process of change in schools since my retirement several years ago. Very recently a new issue was presented to me and led me to think about my actions and the actions of other leaders when put in a similar position at a school site.

I am working with a wonderful writing team on developing a plan for opening a new school in their district. They have worked very hard, reading literature, searching for best practices, and continuously making improvements on their plan, before its submission to their Board of Education in the very near future. They have an excellent and well thought out plan. Like all of the plans being submitted for the opening of new schools, this plan appears long and harsh to read. But it follows the guidance given to all writers by the Superintendent. So, it is not any longer or confusing than any of the other plans that will be submitted, I believe.

One of the lead writers was proactive and shared the proposed plan with teachers that he felt would be strong and caring teachers and who would look at this as a wonderful and rare opportunity to open a new school with a special student centered vision. To his surprise, many of the teachers read the plan, and said that it was too much work. My belief is that they thought that this plan was to be 100% in place on the first day of school.

After holding some follow up conversations with him regarding this subject, it became clear to me that there are two different things going on at the same time, and the teachers, and writers may not have noticed the differences when writing or reading their plans. It is actually easy to understand once considered. My explanation began by saying to him that I was not surprised what these excellent teachers responded to him. His response is now very different. So, let’s look at a way to win over excellent teachers who could thrive in a reform minded school model, very different from the traditional teacher isolation model that they currently work within. The parallel areas of discussion are:

  1. What do we want for our students? What are the outcomes that we will expect? (The Vision)
  2. How will we prepare ourselves to alter our practices in order to help our students reach the outcomes we want for each of them? (The Implementation)

The vision is revolutionary, but the implementation is evolutionary is what I shared with him as a clear and concise statement of the reality of planning and implementation. In order to fix the situation, the writing team created a one page summary of their plan, including expected student outcomes, professional development models to be put into place, and the teaching strategies that would support the Standards Based Curriculum and the 21st century skills development that we want all students to leave with from this new school.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Marzano Levels of Implementation of New Instructional Practices

“The Educational Leadership article by Robert Marzano in their January 2012 issue is very interesting and useful. Marzano points to his observation of the levels of growth by teachers in implementation of new instructional strategies. This article supports my Targeted Instruction document that I have shared freely where we have to consider how we improve immediate practice while we give teachers time to learn new instructional strategies such as Project-based Learning. It will take excellent teachers and others time to change and learn the new paradigm different from what they have been working under, as they are introduced to strategies that better meet the needs of the State Common Core Standards, the 21st Century Skills development, and student preparation for college and careers.” I am including the key elements of the Educational Leadership article by Marzano below. If you find interest in this article, you should go to the Educational Leadership web site and read the entire article. It can be found at's-How-You-Use-a-Strategy.aspx

December 2011/January 2012 | Volume 69 | Number 4
The Resourceful School Pages 88-89

It's How You Use a Strategy

Robert J. Marzano

At the applying and innovative levels, we find the catalysts for large gains in student learning.

Four Levels of Implementation

While analyzing video recordings of teachers using strategies, I noticed four levels of implementation that might help explain some of the variation in research findings (Marzano, Frontier, & Livingston, 2011). I have found that how a teacher uses a strategy is key to how effective the strategy is. Let's look at the strategy of identifying similarities and differences using a comparison matrix.

Beginning Level

Here, a teacher has little fluency with the strategy and is prone to errors using it. At this level, the strategy probably has little effect on student learning.

Consider how a teacher might use a comparison matrix at this level. The columns of the matrix show the elements to compare; the rows list various characteristics. For example, in a social studies class, a teacher might effectively use such a matrix by recording two forms of government in the columns—monarchy and dictatorship. In the rows, the teacher might record two characteristics—how decisions are made and the frequency of this form of government in the major countries of the world.

Operating at the beginning level, a teacher might make the mistake of expecting students to compare too many elements. Recording four types of governments in the columns (for example, monarchy, dictatorship, democracy, and republic) would render the strategy too complex. Another common error is neglecting to ensure that students identify how the compared elements are both similar and different on each characteristic. Students need to record both in the matrix. If they don't, they miss the main point.

Developing Level

At this level, the teacher does not make such mistakes. He or she doesn't list too many elements or characteristics and clarifies that students are to indicate both similarities and differences for each characteristic. In the studies I've conducted with classroom teachers, this seems to be the typical level of strategy use in the classroom—teachers use a strategy without significant error and with relative ease. However, this level of use does not produce the large gains in student learning reported in some studies.

Applying Level

Starting at this level, we find the catalysts for large gains in student learning. Here, the teacher not only makes no mistakes in using the strategy and uses it with relative ease, but also monitors students' reactions to see whether the strategy has had the desired effect.

For example, after completing the comparison matrix involving monarchies and dictatorships, students might realize that neither a monarchy nor a dictatorship is a very representative form of government. To monitor this type of awareness, the teacher may probe students by asking questions like, What do you see now about monarchies and dictatorships that you didn't see before? At this level, the teacher continually interacts with students to tease out finer distinctions regarding the elements being compared.

Innovating Level

At this level, the teacher is so familiar with the strategy that he or she has adapted it to meet specific student needs. For example, I have seen teachers add elements to the comparison matrix that you typically wouldn't find in the professional literature.

In one class in which the comparison matrix had a particularly powerful effect on student learning, the teacher looked for differences of opinion among students regarding similarities and differences. For example, if some students concluded that dictatorships are always detrimental to the citizens of a country and other students disagreed, the teacher would use these differences of opinion as a springboard for asking students to collect information from the Internet and other sources to support their points of view.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Transition is Step One to Creating a School of Endearment

Ed Week Article: Study Links Academic Setbacks to Middle School Transition

Ed Week just presented an interesting article regarding the importance of transition. A major study out of Harvard states that the point of school transition from elementary to middle is the most significant transition point for students to remain successful through high school. You can find the abbreviated article on the November 28 version of ASCD's SmartBrief, or go directly to Ed Week and find the full article, which is worth reading.

Michael Fullan in his 2008 book on Six Secrets of Leadership, discusses how a business, and I converted it to a school can become a Firm of Endearment. Creating Schools of Endearment requires effort and pre-thought about how we bring new students into our culture, and guarantee that the culture that exists is a healthy, caring, and trusting culture.

Since my time as a middle school principal, I have believed that the elementary to middle school transition was very much overlooked for its importance to educators. As a director supervising middle schools in the early 2000s, I presented data to show the dip that occurs to middle students in both math and ELA at the point of transition. The middle school principals I shared this with seemed to take the information seriously based on the table conversations that followed, however, it did not seem to change the direction of the school district. Focus was then, and continues to be on the elementary and high schools. I understand that all levels are important, but as a society we put a lot of emphasis on the data coming out of our high schools. This puts the high school educators in a difficult situation, and it ignores the importance of middle school in preparing our kids to succeed in high school.

Three years after retiring, I still sit with an approved middle school plan in my computer, that no one has asked for in order to begin implementing. It was approved in the middle of my last year in my district, 2008, and nothing has altered the focus since. I continue to question why only data is the concern and not the preparation of the kids in many areas, including those that are academic.

As a director, I reflected on my efforts to build a real transition program from elementary to middle school, and wrote a paper sharing what seemed to work successfully for our students. You can read my paper on transition from elementary to middle school by clicking here:

Please let me know if you have difficulty getting to this document through I would also be interested in your comments about the article. Transition has to be more than a couple of brief encounters of the minimal kind. It is at the time of articulation opportunities where a school can change in the minds of parents and students from an institution to what Michael Fullar refers to as a "School of Endearment".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Informal Learning Shouldn't Be Underestimated

I wrote the following words back in January 2009 following the death of my uncle, who was extremely important in my life. I have not added this to my blog until now. I am ready to share some very deep feelings that came out of a lot of emotion. This is not about my uncle's death, but about how we as people, children and adults, learn about ourselves and our life. I think that it is worth considering what I have to share. Thanks for reading this when you have time." Larry

"This morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m. because I had to put on paper my feelings about a very special person. My uncle died this past weekend and I wanted to share with others the important role he played as a teacher in my life. After completing this effort, I thought about what I said about my uncle and how it relates to our work as secondary educators. This is what I wish to share in my blog today.

People are educated in two ways during their life, formally and informally. Formal education relates to learning at school through classroom experiences, reading, and discussing what we learn. Informal learning comes from the daily experiences that we have in our lives that are not attached to classroom lessons with standards and specific learning outcomes in mind.

Most of our learning is actually informal, but that does not mean that some of those informal lessons aren’t learned in school. It also doesn’t mean that informal learning is less important than what we learn in a formal setting. In reality, thinking about what I learned from my uncle was much more important than what I learned in any class. I may not have had academic success without the informal learning that I have gained through out my life.

I often tell people that my academic high school experience at San Fernando High School did not prepare me well for UCLA, but it was a perfect non-academic learning experience for my career as a teacher. Our informal experiences are so important and sometimes we as educators lose track of the relative importance of the experiences gained informally.

When I think back on my school years, I remember almost every teacher. As an educator, I remember every principal or supervisor that I have worked for. I have learned a great deal from each of these people. Most of the time my informal learning has been positive, but sometimes what I learned was negative based on what I experienced and what I observed. I learned valuable lessons from both types of experiences.

As teachers, counselors, or administrators do we really spend enough time thinking and discussing how we impact our students, not in a formal, but in an informal way? We are role models because we stand in front of impressionable young people, this comes with the job. We may think that we have been hired to teach content to our students, but we have really been hired to teach children. Yes, we teach them content, concepts, and skills, but we also teach more in a very informal way.

My uncle taught me the importance of dedication, hard work, fairness, generosity, and how to relate to others. What he taught me was reinforced by my teachers and supervisors over many years. What kind of world would we be leaving our students if we teachers believed that we only taught math, science, English, social studies, the arts, physical education or other electives as defined by the scope and sequence developed by our school district? We teach so much more than that. But we have to be sure that we teach those other qualities thoughtfully and carefully because they are learned by students through their observations of us. They learn from what we say and how we act. Our responsibility is great and extremely important, especially if we are the best or only positive adult role model in our students’ life.

We rarely learn about the informal influences we have on our students’, but make no mistake, we are informal teachers to every student we have, and our teaching needs to provide a positive experience for every child we touch. If we are doing that, then we are doing a Herculean job of educating our students. But if we are not, then we could cause our students pain and suffering through out their life. Each of us has to make conscious choices about how we do our job as a teacher and how we use the power of being a role model for our students."

I would like to hear what this item led you to think about as an educator.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Algebra, an Important Educational Gatekeeper

It was recommended to me that I could use my blog as a way of maintaining the many excellent articles that I read and write to share with people in the field of education. I normally send these items directly to individuals as an attachment to an e-mail. When I have to share it with others, I have to come home and find the items and send it off to the next group. By placing the items into my blog, I can send this blog to anyone at anytime and have them review what I have found or written.

Today, I am going to try this and see what kind of response I get from those I share documents with.

I just read an interesting article on the teaching of algebra in the District Administrator Magazine online. It combines suggestions on how to get improvement in our algebra outcomes for students, and it also gives explanation as to why we need to continue to push algebra as a gatekeeper for student success.

"A New Age for Algebra
A renewed emphasis on this math course can make or break a pupil’s success in school."

I have always believed, as a math teacher and administrator, that the trouble with algebra is that we do not do a good job of preparing kids for it in the lower grades. We teach our arithmetic in K-7, often as a set of algorithms, so that if a student knows the algorithm well, they will do well on their arithmetic tests. The problem with teaching arithmetic as a series of algorithms is that we don't include the critical thinking or the language of mathematics that are the real power of mathematics education in our traditional classroom instruction. Therefore, when our students reach the higher level mathematics courses, they have not been given enough problem solving time, critical thinking time, or opportunities for success in mathematics, and they give up on mathematics very easily.

As the article clearly states, we need our kids to be much more competitive with the rest of the world in the content field of mathematics. Mathematics opens up many other fields for success. President Obama made it clear and public that we have to produce many more engineers and scientists to maintain our ability to compete globally with the remainder of the world community. STEM programs in schools need to be established and focused for the success of our kids and for the protection of our nation.

The article also makes clear that although there appears to be programs in place that seem to have success in raising the algebra achievement level of our students, we need to be sure that they are used properly. This requires teachers to be trained in the use of these programs and to have continuing support in order to take full advantage of what research tells us about the success of each program.

As a middle school principal, I brought Connected Math to my school. But I did not just buy a new set of textbooks, I purchased the support for teachers to use it properly. We saw incredible gains in our math scores over the last several years of my principalship. Yes, I liked the way Connected Math created real life application to the math being taught, but I liked better that our teachers were enjoying the use of this new instructional tool, saw value in collaborating with their peers, and developing a sense of how to make every child successful.

Math is a gatekeeper for our kids continuing education, unfortunately, it also a roadblock. When we make any single course so high stakes, that it can keep a child from earning a high school diploma, then we have to find a way to help every child succeed.

I hope that you will look at the article I am referencing and find the time to respond and comment so that many of us can jointly participate in a high level and highly important conversation. Our students and our nation need for these discussions to occur all over the United States. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Planning Tools and Documents for building instructional efforts within your SLC/Academy or Small School

The materials provided in this blog were presented by Larry Tash on December 3, 2010, in San Diego at the California League of Schools Conference. They are being made available to those who attended the conference or those who read this blog as planning tools and documents for building the instructional efforts of your SLC/Academy or small school. Readers are free to use the documents on the condition that you let me and other readers know if the documents were helpful and valuable as you work to improve the teaching and learning practices within your school community. You may need further assistance to understand these documents, so please feel free to e-mail me at or add a comment to this blog entry. Good luck with your work, and I hope that you find these documents useful.

HS MP Instructional Plan (document)
This template is the heart of the planning document that can be used by instructional teams within a SLC, Academy, or small school to create a sequential, cyclical teaching plan that provides students the connection between required standards-based curriculum, 21st century skills, shared instructional practices, and Linked Learning expectations.

HS MP Instructional Template (document)
This document provides a blank copy of the above sample document to be used by instructional teams.

Building Toward a Project-Based Learning School (document)
Was presented in order to help school teams to think how to move toward full implementation of PBL by all teachers in the community. This process for some teachers may be very uncomfortable at first and may take a significant amount of time to learn in order for this strategy to benefit students. So, while teachers are learning this new strategy or any other approach to instruction, how do we guarantee that we improve instruction immediately?

California League of MS/HS Schools PowerPoint Presentation (presentation)
This is the complete power point presented at this conference. This may take some time to load, so if you wish to download it, please be patient.

Other documents shared during the presentation:
  • Targeted Instructional Behavior (document)
  • Increasing Instructional Rigor Through Classroom Practice (document)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Changing the National Definition of Reforming Public Education

I continually read in periodicals and maganzines that public education requires reforming if we are to improve student achievement in this country. We are hearing similar comments at the federal level from Arne Duncan and President Obama. We are hearing the same reform talk in California state government from the governor and from big city local mayors. I have heard similar comments from higher education leaders as well.

I have not added to my Secondary Educators Blog for some time. There are many reasons for this. However, after lots of coaxing by friends and from some people I do not even know, I am going to resume adding to my discussion on improving secondary education. This topic of "school reform" and how it is defined is frequently on my mind. I hope that all of you form your own opinions on this topic and respond to what I have to share in this blog entry.

So, what do I keep hearing about public school reform? I hear that merit pay is necessary. I hear that a longer school year is necessary. I hear that tenure must be ended. I hear that more money is needed to support public education.

I agree that all of these things to some degree can help to improve public education. However, I would not call this school reform. In my mind the only reforms that matter are the reforms that bring about change in practice by adults and influence the learning opportunities for students; and the encouragement that schools provide to parents so that they become partners in their children's educational experience.

From my observations, as a nation our leaders are focusing on the wrong "reform" issues. If changes in adult thinking and actions do not lead to changes in classroom practice, then increased student achievement will not occur. I believe this is why we read so many reports of charter schools, small schools, and small learning communities that are both successful and unsuccessful. Improving instructional practice, connecting kids to caring adults, and connecting kids to the content that they are expected to learn are the reform issues that really matter. The school structures, the pay schedule of teachers, the number of days of instruction are all secondary issues.

I feel badly that foundations that can have so much influence, like the Gates Foundation, have moved away from creating culture shifts in our most underperforming schools. I know that they did not see sufficient constructive change in student learning data to allow them to continue putting their funds into school culture change, so they have moved to other arenas of public education to explore and influence change. the Gates Foundation and other educational leaders in this country can have tremendous impact on the public education. I believe that what we are hearing from Arne Duncan, President Obama, Governor Arnold, and mayors of large cities are being influenced by entities like the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and many universities. I am glad that these entities keep the public conversation around improvement of student achievement active, but why not listen to less powerful educators who are working in the field and hear them share what I am sharing. The differences in student learning will come only when we improve our practices in the classrooms of America through a systemic review of our public education system.

We need to help our leaders and politicians to focus educators and the public on the right reform issues. We need to find the best practices that make sense; we need to help adults connect to students; and we must win the trust of the parents so that they are partners in our school work. I am sure that merit pay will work somewhere for some teachers to help students achievel. I am sure that if we extend the school year we will help many students to learn more. I am sure that we make tenure more difficult to earn, or do away with it, some students will have better educators teaching them. But if we wish to help all students by supporting educators and parents, then we have to focus on the "right reforms" and those have to do with the behaviors and practices in every classroom, no matter what kind of school is created, and no matter what the adults are paid, and no matter how many days those teachers meet with their students.

We all need to reach out to the leaders of our nation and share a common theme and that theme is real reform must occur in the classrooms and households of America by helping adults to change their mindset about how public education can best support our kids.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Focus on Five Instructional Areas for Raising Student Achievement

If you review many of my earlier posts, you will see that I believe that a systems approach to school change is necessary. Many of the schools that I worked with in my very large district have moved forward in someway. They have attempted to break their large comprehensive high schools into a series of small schools or small learning communities or both. It is gratifying to see this happening; however, what you will also find in most of these schools is structural changes with little change in instructional classroom practice. Without a change of mindset in the area of instructional practice, we will not see the kind of sustained improvement of student achievement that we want.

I was recently asked by principal friend to help him develop his thinking on how to focus greater attention on the instructional practices in his school. His school had just made outstanding gains on the California State Assessment tool (API), but he was not sure if their previous year’s efforts would sustain growth in academic achievement over time. This conversation helped me to reflect on my own instructional focus during my years as a principal and director.

I have always believed that if you want to change anything, you have to figure out how to get the changes clearly stated in no more than five bullets. I did that with my school change mantra that you can read about in other blogs, and I did that with my school vision as a principal. Now, I was being asked to think through how to focus an administrative team and a teaching staff on no more than five areas that will lead to improved academic achievement for all students. Since placing my thinking into writing, I have had many conversations and practice sessions with district and school based administrators and some classroom teachers. I learn a lot from these conversations.

I am providing you with the five bullets in this entry, and then over the next several weeks I will try and develop each of the bullets more fully. I also wish to share a follow up to my healthy school culture entry with another related document on evaluating a school for a healthy instructional culture. I know that none of this work is easy, but through frequent conversations, it is easier to develop educators thinking than one might believe. Unfortunately, we rarely see administrators and/or teachers holding instructional conversations in depth that will lead to changes in mindset and the building of a common instructional vision that all community members can agree to be part of at a school.

My five areas of focus for improving student achievement, and raising the level of rigor within a classroom are:

  1. By raising the level of questioning within a classroom by teachers and students we can increase the instructional rigor being introduced into any classroom
  2. By increasing the amount and type of feedback that teachers offer to students, and that administrators offer to teachers, we can improve teaching and learning opportunities for everyone.
  3. By creating a common educational language around important educational concepts, we will improve the professional practices of all educators. Discussing common language, implies having behaviors in the classroom that match the language, as discussed by Richard Elmore in his newest book, Rounds.
  4. By guaranteeing the existence of a safe and caring classroom environment where students feel safe to ask questions and make mistakes, we will improve student’s interest in learning.
  5. By creating strong personalized connections between students and teachers, and between students and the content, we can use to our advantage the relationships that are built as tools for student motivation

I will attempt to explain each of these five areas in greater detail in subsequent blog entries. I see each of these five as being supportive of any instructional effort that a district or school is attempting to put into place. Differentiated instruction, project-based learning, reciprocal teaching, Socratic seminars will all benefit by consciously including the five areas above within the professional development work of these or any other instructional delivery models.

If you have any comment on my thinking in this area, I would enjoy reading your responses, and holding a conversation with others around this topic.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Educators Mindset May Be the Key to Improving Teaching and Learning

This week the LAUSD Board of Education is opening up the new schools to the best school developers that they can find, if the Board resolution is passed. The new school developers might be the LAUSD district, a group of educators who work for LAUSD, charter organizations, a group of parents, university leaders or management companies. All of this is in the hopes that someone or some group can find a way to really improve the academic achievement of all students in LAUSD.

There was a former superintendent who looked for silver bullets to change the educational outcomes for kids by believing that scripting the work of the classroom teacher was necessary. He came to believe that although there were some strong teachers within the system, there were too many who could or would not learn to teach in a research-based way. Unfortunately, as I have shared in my earlier blog entries, there is no way to change practice everywhere in such a big system without those implementing buying-in and understanding the reason for program or plan to be implemented. This minor step in the process of change is almost always overlooked in school districts. There are some reasons for its being overlooked but without this critical step, change to the level necessary to support our students will not occur.

A change in the mindset of the classroom teacher is the key to any successful change. The reason is simple, it is at the point of contact between the teacher and student where real teaching and learning occurs. So, what has to happen to change the teacher's mindset? Teachers must be clear as to why they are being asked to change. We look at data regularly within our schools, but most of it is “Public Data” and used mostly to compare schools to other schools, and to show change in gross test scores within a school over time. I do believe that there is a place for this type of accountability. However, I also believe that most of this type of “Public Data” is meant for the public, not for the classroom teacher and school-based administrator to really make a difference in their practice.

I have many educator friends in many school districts and I speak with them regularly about the value that they see in the periodic assessments that they are mandated to give to their students. I do believe that periodic assessments are a tool that is especially beneficial to improving student achievement and can help teachers dramatically if used with the right mindset in place.

The answers that I get from these secondary teachers range from: “they help me to know where my students are understanding and where they are not.” to “ I am glad that these have been given to us, we now have common unit and final exams.” to “I wish that I didn't have to give these, I don't have time the way things are to cover all of the necessary materials. Besides, I only give them because I have to and I don't want to get into any trouble.” I have found that some teachers in some schools actually use this data to change their instructional practice, and I am glad to hear that, but I am not sure that the use of periodic assessments in this way is yet the norm. Yes, they are being given, no they aren't being effectively used by all.

Once again, it is the mindset of our school personnel that will determine whether data such as this has value. No matter what structure we put into place, we have to begin with providing the necessary leadership, professional development for understanding, and modeling for success if we want to change practice. Changing practice is a matter of the classroom teacher believing that the change will make the learning of the student better and the life of the classroom teacher more satisfying.

How do we get to this point? First, I would encourage our training institutions (universities) to reflect deeply on their own teacher preparation efforts. Are they still preparing teachers to go into their own classrooms using 20th century strategies with 21st century kids? I would allow for professional development time that leads our educators through structured conversations about the teaching of students within their own community using the most personal data a school staff has available. We need leadership to guide these teachers who know the students best to connect what they know about their students with the research-based delivery models that are now available. We need to give our teachers information to work with their colleagues in a collaborative model as much as possible. Teaching and learning should not be a free for all where anything goes, but it can't be forced upon good educators if they don't see the value of the change.

Finally, I believe that creating personalized learning environments at all educational levels will benefit kids because they will be well known by adults and not fall between the cracks. But just as important, the necessary teacher conversations can occur around specific kids needs, because the group of teachers holding the conversations share the same group of students over an extended period of time. It gives our teachers and administrators more purpose for agreeing to change and sharing in the changes. They have greater control of their own environment, and hopefully share a common ownership for the academic outcomes of their students.
I don't believe that there is a single right answer for improving academic achievement for all students, but I do know that by working together and by sharing information, research, and personal knowledge, we can continue to increase the number of students being reached. Will it make a difference what structures our new school developers offer? It will only make a difference if the teaching and learning focus is the basis for what they put into place, and the silver bullet approach is avoided.

I look forward to hearing your opinion on this and other educational topics.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Implementation with Fidelity", I Have a Problem!

I keep hearing from some national and local educational leaders and educational program developers that if you bring a specific program to a district, it can fix student achievement. Almost always it is then followed with a caveat, "If it is implemented with fidelity". Have you heard the expression, "implementation with fidelity" in your school or district? This is a very troubling expression to me, and hopefully to all of us.

I understand that when a research-based practice is well researched, a lot is learned about how to help kids achieve. However, what happens when a program is brought to a district and for many reasons, it is not implemented with fidelity? Do we blame the implementers, teachers and school-based administrators? Or do we look to the researchers and district leaders who only offer success if the perfect format for perfect implementation is followed?

The reality of my world that I have lived in for over 38 years is that we can never have perfect implementation of any program, no matter how hard we try. Perfect implementation requires that more than sufficient professional development is provided. You and I know that we fight for every professional development second we can find, and then it isn't enough for all that we need to learn as educators. Perfect implementation requires expert modeling of the program model, but this is a high cost item. Although we have had coaches in our schools for several years, they were not experts in every area that they needed to have expertise in. Perfect implementation requires a long term commitment with measurement of success over several years, not in one year. Our grading system, at the state and federal level, preclude us from having several years to measure whether we are moving in the right direction or not. Finally, perfect implementation requires that each teacher and administrator is in agreement that this program model will be better than whatever is currently in place in our schools. I am absolutely sure that we never take the upfront time to gain buy-in from our implementors. The result is that the teachers and administrators see each new program as a passing fad that will be moving on shortly, so why put much effort into supporting or learning it now.

The root of the matter is that without the teachers and school-based administrators buying into any program or plan for a school, it is likely to be implemented with less than the required level of fidelity. I am bothered because we don't work to alter the mindset of our educators before bringing in new programs. I am further disturbed because of the way we bring in these programs, they do not lead to the promised levels of success and some kids are further damaged by the educational system.

I cannot accept "implementation with fidelity" as a statement from educational leaders. We need to find ways to work with kids, educate kids, and support kids whether we have fidelity of implementation or not. We need to all believe that our job makes a difference to our students and to our society. We cannot settle for less than our best. We cannot settle for expecting less than their best of our students. We don't need perfectly implemented programs, we will never get them, but we do need well thought out, researched based programs that are explained to our educators, and given time to succeed. If they don't succeed, we need to figure out how to tweak the program so that we can continually help more children to achieve at higher levels.

The cop out of "implementation with fidelity" allows for educational leaders, educational researchers, administrators, and teachers to have an excuse for why these new programs have not reached a level of success that was expected. I want these researchers to keep researching, we need them. I want our district leaders to keep searching for the best fit our schools, we need them to. I want teachers and school-based administrators to continue to find ways to motivate and engage our students. But I want implementation to be about more than just "fidelity". I want these programs to figure out how to work when they are offered to schools that have many challenges facing them, and need much more than to be told "implement with fidelity".

If you agree or disagree, I would love to hear your comments.