Sunday, November 23, 2014

Recently at Meadowthorpe

Way to busy at work for blogging this week...so I'm having to play "catch up."

This from the Herald-Leader (with video from FCPS interspersed):

Drop in test scores is an issue as critics, 

supporters focus on Meadowthorpe Elementary

It's not unusual to see parents concerned about improving their child's school, said Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton.

But some critics of Lexington's Meadowthorpe Elementary School made public their concerns about teacher turnover, communication with the principal and declining student achievement at a recent school board meeting. There is a petition on the website Change.org.


"What's unusual about this situation," said Shelton, "is that a group of parents wanted to see the district more involved." Shelton met privately with parents Oct. 29. Two parents, a grandparent, a teacher and a former staff member were among those who told the school board Oct. 27 that there were problems at Meadowthorpe.

"We do hear your concerns," school board chairman John Price told them. "We do expect to see change."


Over the last several weeks, people have contacted the Herald-Leader to express praise for principal Joel Katte and for the school and to say that they thought only a handful of parents and teachers were critical of Meadowthorpe. Katte told the school board that most parents and teachers had only positive things to say about the school.

Shelton told the Herald-Leader that the principal, with the support of a trained facilitator, invited teachers and parents to participate in "focused conversations over the summer, affording participants the opportunity to air concerns, clarify misunderstandings, and seek resolutions."


The Rev. Canon Johnnie E. Ross, the facilitator, said the school administration had admitted to making some mistakes but was working hard. Ross said there was a faction of critics "that for whatever reason want their pound of flesh."

One issue raised by some parents is that Meadowthorpe dropped in state proficiency testing in 2013-14 — from a classification of "distinguished" to "needs improvement."


In addition, the school's school-based decision making council is reviewing the effectiveness of a program called "The Leader in Me" that drives the school's learning.

With permission from the district, Katte had a private contract as a consultant for the company that offers "The Leader in Me," but he ended the contract "to ensure that there is no appearance of a conflict of interest," said Shelton.


At the school board meeting, Price reminded critics that state law says school board members cannot become involved in personnel matters involving a principal. He said only the superintendent and the school-based council could make personnel decisions.

Katte, meanwhile, told the school board on Oct. 27 that the "test scores are very concerning" and he was looking at them closely. He said he was also concerned about Meadowthorpe's achievement gap for minority, poor and disabled children.

But Katte said two years ago Meadowthorpe had the greatest growth in the district in terms of test scores and the results were still strong in 2013-14. He said third-grade reading scores for black children are 31 percent higher than the state average in terms of proficient and distinguished scores.
Katte said third-grade math scores for black children were 17 percent higher than the state average and fifth-grade scores were 19 percent higher than the state average.

"I am proud of our school. We continue to score high on achievement" he said.

Michele Richie, who said her child attended Meadowthorpe for three years under Katte, said in an email: "My student flourished under his leadership and I've had nothing but positive experiences with Mr. Katte."

However, parent Traci Letcher told the board she was on the school-based council that hired the principal in 2010 but now had several concerns. She told board members she and other parents had been emailing the board for months, and had participated in meetings in an attempt to make things better. She said more than 150 people signed the Change.org petition seeking a resolution.

A petition on Change.org cites teacher turnover, a drop in statewide rankings, a decline in the number of gifted students and a negative work environment.

Erica Snow, a member of Meadowthorpe's school-based council, told school board members that there should be an action plan to make corrections with benchmarks.

"What is the plan to help any teacher in a negative environment?" she asked.

In an email to the Herald-leader, Snow said the school-based council was conducting a review of the Leader in Me program.

The Franklin Covey Leader in Me program, based on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, equips students with the skills they need to thrive in the 21st-century economy, according to its website.

The website said 1,984 schools worldwide were implementing the program.

Katte said the school-based council that hired him had already committed to Meadowthorpe becoming one of the first Leader in Me schools in Kentucky.

"I had never even heard of the Leader in Me before I was hired. When the opportunity to apply for the consulting work on my personal time arose," he said he sought approval from Shelton and from his district supervisor.

"This August, when it became apparent that a few people raised questions about this work potentially being a conflict of interest, I decided I would no longer consult for Franklin Covey because I am fully committed to Meadowthorpe Elementary and did not want this to be a distraction within our school community," Katte said in a statement.

He said Franklin Covey had billed the school $21,000 for the program, but that the school collected $19,600 from educators who attended professional development programs for Leader in Me.

Katte said the sessions the school had this summer to try to iron out problems were successful for those who wanted to collaborate.

"Many positive leaders on our staff came forward with a good-faith effort to work with those who were upset. People who wanted to find solutions and move forward have done so," he said.

Fifth-grade teacher Natasha Al-Suud told the school board that concerns expressed at the Oct. 27 meeting were not universal.

She said that at Meadowthorpe, there is a "building full of people fighting the good fight."

At a visit to the school on Oct. 31, a fourth-grader and a fifth-grader greeted a reporter at the door and, on their own, conducted a tour of the school. Confident and articulate, they explained how the Leader in Me program was implemented.

The school was buzzing with activity. A third-grade class was having a carnival in which they showcased what they had learned about economics. Fifth-graders dressed up like someone who had contributed to history and stood frozen as if they were in a wax museum. As visitors approached, the students came to life to give biographical information about their characters.

Shelton, meanwhile, said the district is working on a plan to improve communication and collaboration at the school.

District officials are also analyzing test scores to develop an improvement plan.

"Everyone wants to see the school improve," said Shelton. "We are all working toward the same goal."

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/11/16/3542744/drop-in-test-scores-is-an-issue.html?sp=/99/164/142/#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/11/16/3542744/drop-in-test-scores-is-an-issue.html?sp=/99/164/142/#storylink=cpy

Prichard meeting includes Charter Chatter


I attended the fall meeting of the Prichard Committee Monday to hear their discussion of charter schools. It was a breath of fresh air.

It's hard to find a discussion of the topic these days that is not laced with spin, obfuscation, and politics. But Prichard took a neutral approach. This allowed the group to look at the data more objectively and without all of the overstated, dreamy platitudes that attend most discussions. They produced a report that provides a nice summary of the issues the state must address with any charter school law.

Some members seem to lean toward charters. Others run away, citing existing concerns with for-profit charters like this one. But the group agreed that for or against is not the question they needed to concern themselves with.

Independent consultant Paul O'Neill reviewed the history and data on charters with the group of a hundred, or so, business and education leaders from across the state.

O'Neill talked through a number of bullet points:
  •  There are a great variety of laws nationally. 
  • Asking if charter schools are good is like asking if restaurants are good? 
  • Ideally, charters are given in exchange for greater accountability…but that does not always happen. 
  • Charters not exempt from federal law. 
  • All charters must follow health, safety, civil rights, and state assessment laws. 
  • Charters typically receive about 70% of public school funding – no facilities component. 
  • Open admissions – if there are more applicants than seat s, then a lottery is held…but some kids may get priority (siblings, living near school…Rank order waiting list… 
  • Charters cannot be established by or controlled by a religious organization. 
  • They can stand alone or be connected to a charter network. 
  • Contract with Educational Service Provider (ESP) 
  • Non profit – Charter Management Organization 
  • For profit – Education Management Organization 
  • Charter board employs ESP…but remains responsible 
  • Management agreement is a “performance contract” defining roles, $ and metrics 
  • What roles and responsibilities 
  • Establish how good is good enough 
  • Addresses academics financials and operations 
  • Governing board of trustees…usually not very active (a big problem) 
  • Function as a Non profit corporation…tax exempt 
  • ESPs manage charters and incorporate them into networks
  • Charter school Organizations (CSOs) association for advocacy 
  • Authorizers (govt/quasi govt) hold charter schools accountable 
  • Responsible for initial approval, oversight, accountability decisions 
  • Various types (district, SEA, College, independent chartering board, non-profit org) 
  • Critical question: Can authorizers actually do the work necessary to assure quality? 
  • 42 states + DC have charter school laws (not KY, AL, MT, NE, ND, SD, VT, WV) 
  • 6,400 charters nationally +/- now (in 2005 = 3,383) 
  • CA TX FL OH have most 
  • 2.5 M students enrolled…4.2% of student population nationally 
  • New Orleans 90%; DC 40% 
  • 61% serve students with 60% low SES and up 
  • On average charter schools tend to serve a high % of non-whites, fewer with special needs, fewer with limited English
Core issues
  • Early charters promised better, more accountable schools, but results are a mix
  • Many very high performers, many poor ones, plenty in the middle
  • On average, about average
  • Data suggests strong authorizers and high standards, charters consistently perform well.
  • A charter school can fail faster…they don’t have the support.
Academic Performance
  • Lots of fighting over data
  • Major studies
  • CREDO 2009…17% of charters provided a better education…37% worse
  • Pockets of stronger performance
  • CREOD 2013 study similar results
  • Weak authorizers leads to mediocrity
Why charters close
  • 19% academic reasons
  • 42% financial reasons
  • 24% for mismanagement
  • Balance a mix of facilities, district obstacles and unknown
Accountability v Autonomy
  • Designed to be results driven, but...
  • Assertive oversight may undercut autonomy and innovation 
  • hold schools accountable for carrying out the authorizer’s instructions
  • May want to hold authorizer accountable for rigor and attentiveness
Non Academic accountability issues
  • Charters are small to medium sized businesses responsible for millions
  • Watch operating and financial practices
  • Must be transparent under public disclosure laws
  • Incompetence, self-dealing, and fraud
Allocation of Resources
  • Diverting funds from district to charters schools…problematic impact on district
  • How well served are charter families? How important is giving under served students options?
  • States with charters have expanded the definition of public schooling
Issues for discussion in Kentucky
  • Is there a need for change?
  • More options for under-served kids
  • Would a pilot charter school program make sense?
  • Possible limits
  • Cap on number of charters
  • Geographic restrictions
This from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence:
Charter schools, 'Deeper Learning' provide focus
 of Prichard Committee fall meeting 

Charter schools and learning strategies that emphasize students applying what they have learned in real world situations provided the focus of the recent meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.  

The issue of charter schools has been debated for several years in Kentucky with the discussion often reflecting the strongly held positions of supporters and opponents. The Prichard Committee has not taken a position on the issue, but has focused in recent months on gathering unbiased information on the organizational and operational elements of charter schools.  

Much of the committee's work has been done through a special study group; it continued at the committee's recent fall meeting with a presentation by Paul O'Neill, an independent consultant and head of the education law practice group of Cohen Schneider & O'Neill in New York. 

O'Neill noted that 42 states and Washington, D.C., currently allow charters. Kentucky is one of the eight states that do not. There are approximately 6,400 charter schools nationally in which more than 2.5 million students - or 4.2 percent of all students - are enrolled. Additional points from his presentation included: 
  • 61 percent of charter schools serve a student population where more than 60 percent qualify for the federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program due to low family income.
     
  • The performance of charter schools has been mixed; there are both high and poor performers but "on average, about average" is their performance level.
     
  • From 1992 to 2011, approximately 6,700 charter schools opened across the country and 1,036 closed. The reasons for closure included mismanagement, academic and financial reasons.
 More detailed information was provided committee members in a report, "Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide," developed by education consultant Susan Perkins Weston. 

That report is available here

 The committee plans to continue to study the issue. Executive Director Stu Silberman said the emphasis will be on finding effective ways to close achievement gaps that persist between groups of students. "We're going to continue to work," he said, "and we may come up with a portfolio of tools to use in addressing the achievement gaps."

The committee also heard a presentation on Deeper Learning, an education strategy that links mastery of academic content with the ability to apply that knowledge in the real world.

Charmaine Mercer, vice president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, noted that, on average, more than 1 million students fail to graduate on time every year in the United States. Having just one class graduate on time would result in a $263 billion benefit to the economy through increased earnings and related savings, she added. 

Through Deeper Learning, students demonstrate their ability to use what they have learned in different settings, better preparing them to succeed as adults. There is no single approach that must be used by educators, Mercer said, adding that the common bond of Deeper Learning programs is a commitment to positive outcomes for students.

Gene Wilhoit, director of the National Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky, emphasized the importance of "intelligent accountability" for schools and students. New academic standards and the challenges presented by college- and career-readiness are changing expectations for learning, he said. That means students must develop the ability to:
  • Think critically and creatively
  • Communicate in multiple forms
  • Collaborate
  • Conduct research
  • Solve problems
  • Analyze and conceptualize
  • Use new technologies
  • Engage in learning at all times
  • Reflect on and improve performance 
An accountability system should encourage high-quality teaching and learning in all schools, provide tools for continuous improvement and means for identifying and addressing problems that need to be corrected, Wilhoit said. "Accountability does not equal testing." 
The two-day meeting in Louisville also included:
  • An update by the committee's Student Voice Team on the activities of the group of middle to early-college students on education policy issues.
     
  • The members' interactive participation in a presentation by Dale Brown, director of School University Relations at Western Kentucky University, to assess student opinions about their educational experiences.
     
  • An overview of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System for educators by Brenda McGown, instructional issues specialist for the Kentucky Education Association.
     
  • A report on the Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership, which trains parents to become effective school partners in efforts to improve student performance; since the program's founding in 1997, 2,235 Kentuckians have graduated from its parent leadership program.
     
  • The presentation of the Prichard Committee Award of Excellence to Susan Perkins Weston.