On November 2, in perhaps the biggest victory for the Tea Party, Dr. Paul of Bowling Green won the race for U.S. Senate. Senator-elect Paul of Bowling Green has not left the Tea Party message in Kentucky. In fact, he’s taking the entire Tea Party with him to the nation’s capital.
“Enacting reform is difficult. There is a huge difference between the theory of reform and the reality of it — it is a lot harder than it looks. It requires full transparency, unyielding tenacity, continuous communication, relentless advocacy, and the courage to measure progress and then deal with the results, whatever they may be.” —Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida
Changing principals and teachers is part of successful school turnarounds
I tuned in to a very interesting REL Appalachia webinar not long ago about “KY Turning Around Low-Performing Schools.”
The featured presenter, Ms. Kathy Fields, who is the Lead Instructional Administrator in the Jessamine County Public School District in Kentucky, discussed her successful program to turn around the West Jessamine Middle School. She did such a great job that I called her after the program to learn more.
West Jessamine steadily lost ground under NCLB and was listed as a Tier 4 school (Old nomenclature – five years of failing) when Ms. Fields moved in to turn things around.
As you can see in her Power Point presentation, her turnaround program was very extensive. It included lots of teacher help that almost amounted to fully reeducating the teachers in the school about how to teach effectively.
Fields’ program included something more, something that educators in Louisville recently proved they don’t understand, or simply don’t want to admit.
The West Jessamine Middle School turnaround did include the removal of the principal. It also removed 11 (about 20 percent) of the teachers in the school who – after being given an opportunity and assistance to improve – simply would not, or could not, adjust to what really works for children.
The removed teachers displayed both attitudes and ineptitude.
One obstructionist teacher defiantly declared he wasn’t going to take direction from a woman!
Another teacher initially refused to create lesson plans, and never did learn how to create them acceptably.
Tenured teachers were moved elsewhere in the system, where at least one did quite well once placed in a lower grade level school that was a better skills match. Non-tenured teachers were let go.
The point for Louisville is that this successful (not just theoretical) school turnaround disclosed that some teachers and school leaders were a part of the problem. They had to be removed if the school was going to be improved for kids.
There is another issue.
A whole lot of Kentucky educators need to log on and listen at a link available here to this success story. Why do I say this? Only 58 people nationwide logged into the webinar. With 174 school districts in this state, that tells me a whole lot of Kentucky educators who need to hear this message so far have not.
I hope the Kentucky Department of Education will help with that. I don’t know if they provided any advance information about this very well done webinar to our educators, but there is a second opportunity now that the audio and Power Point from the webinar are uploaded at REL Appalachia.
In closing, I wouldn’t be surprised if no-one in Jefferson County was listening. In fact, I just got a comment to a rather old blog from a teacher there who clearly has not. But, folks there really need to do so because right now the actions of Jefferson County educators prove they need to go back to school on how education turnarounds really work. They need to move beyond their romantic notion that all teachers do great work. And, Louisville doesn’t have to look any farther than Jessamine County to find some really great help and a great example of educators who are willing to make hard decisions that help children.
Fortunately, the recent action to refocus on academics in Jefferson County shows the district may finally be starting to get some of this message.
Education apologists in Kentucky still refuse to admit it, but a lot of experts now understand that our education system needs to strive for much higher student performance than we are currently getting.
Certainly, as I recently blogged, the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, makes that clear with their very simple and easy to understand statement below.
The governing board doesn’t consider the lower score of NAEP “Basic” to be a suitable performance target. NAEP “Basic” only signifies partial mastery of subject material. Per the board, that’s not good enough. “Proficient” is the goal, and nothing less.
But, education ‘status quo’ers’ like Jefferson County Teachers Association president Brent McKim don’t get that. They don’t want you to know it, either.
Offering up a big smoke screen of nonsense that mistakes what is for what needs to be, McKim told the Kentucky Tonight audience on Monday that NAEP “Basic” is fine target. Basically, McKim claimed that partial subject mastery is an acceptable target for him.
Well, setting unrealistically low education goals only works for status quo educators who don’t have a clue about what our kids are going to need to compete in the increasingly more competitive world economy.
However, setting unrealistically low goals is not in line with what the people who actually run the national assessment are telling us. So, one last time, the people who govern the NAEP have spoken, and they are telling us to shoot for NAEP “Proficient,” not something less.
It’s really disappointing.
Key Kentucky educators constantly try to tell us about all the remarkable progress that has been made in our schools. Sadly, that clearly isn’t correct.
Here is a graph from our recently released KERA @ 20 report that guts those educator claims.
This graph shows the most recent proficiency rates for math and reading in fourth and eighth grade from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It also shows the most recent proficiency rate for our eighth graders on NAEP writing, last given in 2007.
As you can see, after almost two decades of KERA activity in our schools, only about one in three students scored proficient in reading and math in fourth grade. For eighth grade math and writing, the proficiency rate is even lower, only about one in four students.
This is all our educators have been able to achieve in the past two decades of expensive reform efforts. So, it is very obvious that it will take many decades more decades to get to the proficiency levels our kids need, given the depressingly low rate of progress to date that only produced the mediocre results shown in the graph.
I’m not the only one who is fed up with the low academic performance of Kentucky’s students. Yesterday, the Jefferson County Board of Education gave Sheldon Berman, the district school principal, his walking papers, effective at the end of the school term.
In explaining that action today to Louisville’s popular WHAS Radio talk show host, Mandy Connell, Jefferson County board chair Debbie Westlund said the board wants a change in focus to emphasize academics. Clearly, Westlund and her board understand graphs like the one above, and its important implications for children, a lot better than the high-paid professional educator they hired.
Still, educators keep on making those inflated claims.
It happened on last night’s (November 23, 2010) Kentucky Tonight broadcast on charter schools when Brent McKim, head of the Jefferson County Teachers Association said “we’ve made remarkable progress” about four minutes into the program (KET Program #1804, not yet available on line).
And, soon to be released Sheldon Berman told the Courier-Journal on November 7, 2010 that the district “produces many outstanding results.”
Well, a lot of informed Kentuckians have grown tired of those inflated proclamations.
Very simply, educators who keep claiming such nonsense just undermine their own credibility. In Berman’s case, that credibility has clearly run out.
Kentucky’s Insurance Commissioner Sharon P. Clark has decided that the decision by insurance companies in the commonwealth to discontinue the writing of new child-only policies because of increased regulations is unacceptable. So she’s ‘ordering’ these companies to continue selling them.