Friday, December 21, 2012

Coats of paint don't fix real problems.

As I continue to read Visible Learning by John Hattie I am reminded by the many things that we continue to do in education that are very ineffective.  Many of us know that these practices are ineffective yet we still do them anyway.  Educational research needs to play more of a role in our classrooms and decision making.  Why do we do these things?  Why don't we question them more? I am reminded by this quote often when we challenge the status quo.
"If  you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." Tony Robbins
Lets stop assuming that these methods and practices work and lets start questioning our current practice.  Retention comes to mind as a questionable practice that still occurs in many of our schools.  Many think that retaining students and holding them back a year will cure the students ailment.  The notion that the second time around will teach them a lesson is ludicrous.  The research says, "Attendance is lower for retained students...Being retained one year doubled the students likelihood of dropping out, while failing twice almost guaranteed it."  (Hattie, 2009 p. 98)The threat of retaining students does not motivate students either.  What makes us think that the student will get the material the second time around? Based on Hattie's research students do worse academically and retention is the second greatest predictor of school dropout.  Yet we have states like Iowa attempting to mandate retention for students in third grade.

Another method of school reform is reducing class size.  Which as a superintendent am guilty of assuming that the reduction of class size will guarantee a boost in achievement.  The research says, "Evidence overall suggests that the results are systematically small."  (Hattie, 2009 p.86)  We assume less kids means increased achievement.  Hattie found that teachers of smaller classes used the same methods as they used with larger classes, they typically didn't take advantage of the small class sizes.  "This lack of outcome difference is most likely because teachers do not change their current teaching strategies." (Hattie, 2009 p.88)

As Hattie says, lets stop using a "coat of paint" to fix real problems.  Cosmetic fixes are easy and real in depth change is hard.  The change that is needed to ensure that all students learn at high levels is difficult.  We need to keep our focus on our teachers, they are the ones that ensure student achievement.  The easy fixes are expensive and lack real results and are very rarely backed by research.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

School Safety

Anytime something as heinous as what transpired on Friday occurs it causes us all to question things.  I am sure most parents like myself questioned the safety and security of our own schools.  Every school including our own district in Rugby will be reviewing emergency plans yet again.  Our number one goal is to ensure the safety of all students.  However, we need to find a balance.  We are not a prison system and we want to continue to be welcoming and available to parents.

Questions that I have continued to ask myself over the weekend are: 

Do we need to further secure our buildings?  

Are our students and staff trained well enough for lockdown procedures?

It is extremely sad that we have to have these types of plans in place for our children.  Our mission is clear we are committed to keeping children safe.  We will continue to create a caring and nurturing climate in our schools.  This I can assure you. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why our school needs a late start weekly.

Schooling in the 21st-century is flat out different than what we all experienced as we went through school.  Schools now are expected to graduate all students, and ensure that all students are learning at a high level.  The problem is, we are still stuck in a traditional structure of scheduling that allows for very little collaboration and innovation to occur.  Collaboration is an important part of what it means to be a professional.  Over the course of the next few years we will see massive reform take place in education.  Common Core, and standardized teacher evaluations to name a few at the top of my list.

TIME is a serious issue in schools in the US.  We currently spend the most time out of all countries in front of students (an average of over 1,000 instructional hours per year).  Yet on international exams we see dismal results.  So does seat time matter?  I have shared my views on seat time in the past.

Currently in both the high school and the elementary exists a hodgepodge of collaboration time.  This setup in my view is missing the ability to tie everything together.  We need cross curricular and vertical collaboration to truly be able to meet the needs of ALL students.  This is nearly impossible under our current schedule.  It will require our district, community and all stakeholders to take a risk and do something different.

I am thankful because as of this morning the school board approved a weekly late start that would begin in the 2013-14 school year.

The current plan is to start school at 9:00AM on Wednesday mornings on a weekly basis.  Teachers would collaborate from beginning at 8:00AM to 8:50AM leaving them a few minutes to get to class at 9:00AM.

I have come up with many issues that may be going through your mind right now.  I will list them below, and attempt to justify my particular views.

1. Why are you decreasing teaching time? I believe it is most important for teachers to be in front of students as much as possible, learning as much as possible. 

Research does not back up the idea that more is better with seat time.  If more time in front of teachers truly impacted achievement the US would do better on international assessments.  Research does support the fact that teachers need time to be professionals and have the ability to work with one another.  Teachers need structured time to address our new curriculum, implement best practice, have time to reflect, and provide good feedback for learning.  All of these are spotty at the moment, and we have pockets of greatness, but for us to truly be great we need to ensure that this is happening throughout the district.

2. I go to work at X time and I need to drop my child off at X time.  What am I supposed to do now?

We will still allow parents to drop their children off if they need to.  We will plan to adjust support staff to supervise or provide help with homework or offer programs.

3. Will you adjust bus times? 

Bus times would be pushed back a few minutes on Wednesdays.

4. Why have another meeting?

This is not just another meeting.  Teachers will be hard at work on the following areas, which currently rarely gets addressed.

  • Curriculum 
  • Instruction 
  • Best Practice
  • Developing high quality formative assessments 
  • Addressing our transition issues from the elementary to the high school
  • Lack of time in developing a true collaborative team across subject areas and grade levels
  • Vertical alignment 
  • Horizontal and cross curricular alignment

5. We have a good school, why the change?

"Good is the enemy of the great." Jim Collins

We are doing our best under our current schedule to address the needs of all students, but we are falling short.  The truth of the matter is that students are still falling through the cracks.  For us to be great it will take some innovative ideas, beginning with this late start concept.

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got." Henry Ford

My work begins now with how I will explain "the why" to our community, parents and all stakeholders over the coming months before the 2013-2014 school year.

Impact of the Common Core


You may or may not have heard about the changes in curriculum coming to our students in the next few years.  These changes are significant and many schools including Rugby are busy implementing the new curriculum.  In 2009, the Common Core State Standards initiative began.  The initiative was led primarily by the Governor’s Association in conjunction with other stakeholders.  There were several reasons that continue to guide this initiative including; differences in academic expectations from state to state, student mobility (ex. Western ND), changes in skill sets needed in college and career, and finally global competition.  46 states have now accepted these standards.  The Common Core will replace our current state standards.

The current state standards are a mile wide and an inch deep. There is too much emphasis on content.  Robert Marzano (2005) found that if we wanted to get through all the standards we would have to change from K-12 to K-22 model.  We have a coverage mentality in the United States.  We cover many topics but rarely study the topic in depth.  The Common Core gives us a more complete road map to ensure college and career readiness.  The Common Core impacts all teachers, and it will be important for all subject areas to play a role.  Teachers in Rugby Public Schools are working in collaboration with one another to implement these new standards.  They are establishing what all students should know and be able to do at every grade level and subject area.  The move to the Common Core coincides well with the work of our professional learning communities. 


Accountability in education is not going away with the Common Core.  Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year our students will be assessed on these new standards.  There are two testing consortia that we have to choose from – Smarter Balance and PAARC.  North Dakota has yet to commit to either.  At some point down the road our state will commit to one or the other.  The impact of the Common Core is significant.  It will take a large amount of work from all stakeholders within schools to implement these standards.  In many cases the Common Core is more rigorous than our state standards.  For example, in some instances in mathematics material that was previously taught in the sixth grade has been moved two to three grade levels lower.  This will require quite a bit of communication to vertically align the curriculum by grade level and subject.  Over the course of the next two years our staff will be working to align our curriculum to the Common Core State Standards.  It is a work in progress and there is much to learn along the way.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


There are many assumptions that we make about a student in terms of achievement and a few come to mind; home life, parents, the school, and teachers.  As an educator I have heard many times that we cannot do anything about that kid because of their home and the parents that they have.  I have always felt that WE can overcome these assumptions. Together we can melt away the effects of poverty, home life, and other barriers. I am reading Visible Learning by John Hattie and after reading a few chapters I am comforted that research backs up my claim of overcoming these assumptions.

Lets take a look at several of these issues that we sometimes deem as barriers to student success.  First we need to understand the reporting device that Hattie uses.  


"1.0 indicates an increase of one standard deviation on the outcome...A one standard deviation increase is typically associated with advancing children's achievement by two to three years." (Hattie, 2009, p.7)

Anything over .40 deviation is deemed as substantial impact either positively or negatively on student achievement.  I am thankful that the top 30 impacts on student achievement all happen within the school.  We often see socioeconomic status, home life, parent structure, and motivation as major barriers.  Hattie's research shows that there are things that we can do at school that can overcome issues that may be out of our control.  I want to touch on a few of these areas and compare the impact on student achievement.  Some examples from Visible Learning that overcome socioeconomic status and home life are; 

Rank - Influence - Scale Score (Use the scale above to see impact) (Hattie, 2009, p. 299)

#3 - Formative Assessments - .90 on the scale 
#7 - Comprehensive Interventions - .77
#8 - Teacher Clarity - . 75
#10 - Feedback - .73
#11 - Teacher to Student Relationships - .72
#31 - Home Environment - .57
#32 - Socioeconomic Status - .57
#38 - Pre-Term Birth Weight - .54
#51 - Student Motivation - .48
#88 - Homework - .29

There are so many programs and practices that we use that are inneffective or that have little impact on achievement.  Hattie's work provides clarity based in research as to what is effective and ineffective.  This gives me some basis when I say that we can overcome poverty and home life at school.