Sunday, February 19, 2017

Governor Suggests Teachers Job Shadow for License Renewal

In Governor Kasich's recent budget proposal, he suggests that in order to renew their teaching license,  teacher should job shadow with a local business.  Instead of going into greater explanation of the details, here is a link to an article from February 14, 2016  Kasich: Teachers should job shadow with businesses to renew licenses.

Here are my thoughts:  Teachers pursuing continuing professional development that results in greater academic gains for their students is always a good thing.  I would never support the notion that educational professionals need to stop honing their skills and understanding of the application of our content and standards.  But this idea of job shadowing, although seems good on paper, falls short.

Wouldn't having students explore area business and discover how their schooling is applied to the workforce be more valuable?  Wouldn't inviting local business and workforce leaders into the schools to demonstrate the practical application to our younger learners in a hands-on simulation type experience yield greater gains in achievement?

Everyday I balance a business-like approach to school management with the practical and real needs of students and staff that is impossible to quantify.  Suggestions that schools are mismanaged and wasteful with the solution being running schools like a business is short sighted.  Explain to me how a business would respond if an employee with special needs needed an individualized program that cost in excess of $30,000 per year to implement?

Furthermore, if having teachers job shadow in business to develop into more competent teachers, then why do we not insist that lawyers, doctors, CPAs, and other professionals job shadow in schools prior to credential renewals or job advancements?  Having those professions experience the difficulties, challenges, success stories and the everyday achievement of our students and teachers that can never be accurately reflected on a state report card can surely improve the efficiencies of their sector of society.

According to the Small Business Association 50% of small businesses fail within the first year.  33% fail within 2 years.  Public Education has a far longer history of success while operating with greater governmental regulations and much,  much tighter revenue streams and resources.

The point is, business models can make a positive impact on the organization and management of schools, but it's being overplayed and oversimplified in today's society.

Maybe local businesses should pay more attention to how schools are operated rather than the other way around?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Levy Renewal

On November 8th, the New London Local Schools Community provided a vote of confidence in the educational goals and programing of our district.  Over 1,400 supporters in three counties turn out to vote "Yes" for our renewal levy.  This represents nearly 56% of the total vote.  The renewal of these local funds are critical to allow the district to continue its tradition of high academic expectations in state of the art facilities.  Although some may downplay the importance of this levy outcome, stating that it's only a renewal.  In these uncertain economic times, even a renewal levy isn't certain.  This levy was last passed in 2011, where only 601 total votes were cast.  Before that it was passed in 2006 where a total of  1018 votes were cast.  With the over 1,400 votes we earned last night, our yes votes outpaced the total votes cast in the two previous elections.  In my opinion, this vote count demonstrates a strong vote of confidence in the direction our district is heading.  A vote of confidence that we are good stewards of the tax payers dollars.  A vote of confidence in the pledge to keep the needs of our students at the center of our decision making.  I'm proud of the gains our district has made over the years, proud of the students that we've graduated from New London Local Schools, and very proud of the support that our community has in the schools.  From the staff, students, Board of Education, and myself, thank you New London for keeping our students' future bright.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Homecoming and Spirit Week

New London Local Schools is celebrating Spirit Week starting Monday October 3rd.  The week will culminate with our Homecoming Parade and football game on Friday October 7th where we will crown our Homecoming King and Queen.  Our students will celebrate with the Homecoming Dance on Saturday October 8th.

Homecoming is a tradition across our county.  It's celebrated in every high school, public and private, and is often seen as a right of passage.  As a parent, my oldest son attended his first homecoming dance last year.  My wife and I were equal parts excited for our son to experience his first high school dance, proud of the young man he's growing up to be, and to be honest, feeling old.  But this post isn't about being a parent, although I could go on for pages about that topic both from a parent's perspective and the perspective of a school administrator.

Today, I'd like to reflect on what homecoming represents and what it means to our school and our community.  Homecoming is a time when a school community enthusiastically welcomes back its alumni.  Many of these alumni are recent graduates.  For others, homecoming is the first time they've been back to New London in many years.  For everyone, it's a time to reminisce about their days in school.  It's a time of deep laughter, reconnecting friendships, and to create new memories.  For our district, it is an opportunity to show our alumni the changes and advancements that we've made.  It's an opportunity to for us to remind our community and alumni how much we value their support; how much we strive everyday to create lasting memories for every student.  Homecoming is a time of great energy and positive feelings. Welcome back to the many alumni that are visiting New London this week and thank you to every alumni, those that have remained in the district and those that are visiting.  Without the lasting support of our community and graduates our district would not be the success that we are.

In conclusion, congratulations to this year's Homecoming Court!  We are proud of you and look forward to Spirit Week!  Post one of your favorite Wildcat memories!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Release of New London's District Report Card

In my last Blog, I discussed the results of our state assessments and their impact on our State Report Card.  Today, I'd like to discuss the other components of the report card.  Let me start by stating that I am not happy with our results.  New London has prided itself on our report card and how it has demonstrated our commitment to student achievement.  My disappointment stems both from the local pieces we can control as well as the ever changing landscape of education in Ohio.  I also want to say that I have no problem with accountability.  I think holding schools accountable is good for our communities and good for kids.  The concerns that I have are how we are being held accountable and how that is being communicated, or the lack of communication, by our educational leaders in Columbus.

New London received a series of D's and F's on our Report Card.  Most of those low grades were issued in areas that are controlled by the state assessments.  This includes Achievement, Progress, and Gap Closing.  In my opinion, these are all invalid marks as the assessments that generated those scores are invalid.  New London is not alone in these rankings.  Of the 608 school districts in Ohio, New London is one of 295 that received a D in Achievement, one of 157 receiving a D in Progress, and one of 526 receiving an F in Gap Closing.

Many at the state level claim that these poor scores are due to Ohio raising the standard of education for our students and with a short adjustment period our district scores will rebound.  There is some truth to that.  Ohio has been raising the bar, and districts like New London has met that challenge.  In my opinion, the regression in the report card is more due to the lack of consistency in assessment tools utilized by the state and the moving target that is used to meet the indicator.
Ultimately, this report card does not adequately represent the high quality education that we provide to the students of New London, nor does it represent the quality of teacher that we have.  What it does represent is an opportunity for our district to audit our current resources and materials.  To really dig deep into the scores and determine, even if the assessments aren't perfectly aligned, that locally our district is meeting the needs of our students.

What do you think?  Post a comment to share your thoughts on the State Report Card and its value as a community member to forming your opinion of our school district.  Thank you for taking the time to read...and have a great day!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The State Report Card & Their Flawed Assessments

Tomorrow, September 15th is grade card day for Ohio Schools.  The release day for the State Report Card is a high anxiety day for nearly every school district across the state.  Even the "best" of districts have at least one area on their report card that they wish were better.  When we take into account the dismal results that Ohio experienced on last year's State Assessments, the anxiety is even greater.  As early as July, I've been attempting to spread the word to our learning community just how flawed these assessments were.  Allow me explain in greater detail.

New London Local Schools belongs to North Point Educational Service Center.  This ESC provides services to 27 districts in our region.  They are a great organization, that in addition to other valuable services, provide an avenue for regional districts to share information.  In July, when preliminary state assessment results were released, North Point created a spreadsheet to allow districts to self report their results.  Eighteen (18) districts provided their data, and here is where my eyes started to open.  The results were shocking.  Of the 18 districts that reported, only 1 district met the state indicator in the following tested areas:  4th Grade ELA, 7th Grade ELA, 7th Grade Math, and High School English II.  Even more shocking, not a single reporting district met the state indicator in 8th grade ELA and High School Geometry!  There were also a number of tested areas where only 2 schools met the state indicator, but listing all of them would result in a very lengthy list!

Let's look at these results at the state level.  For this year's results, the state predicted the percent of students that would score proficient on the assessments.  That prediction became the percent that each district needed to meet to earn their indicator on the report card.  Let's take a look at some of these, keeping in mind that the indicator was what Ohio predicted to be the percent of students scoring proficient.  In 5th Grade ELA, the state established the indicator at 73%.  The actual result - 60% of Ohio's students scored proficient on the assessment.  6th Grade ELA, the indicator was set at 74% with the actual results coming in at 54%.  A similar gap in what the state predicted and what actually happened occurred in 6th Grade Math wit the state predicting 74% proficient and 56% of students scoring proficient.   The results do not get any better as we move up the grade levels, as the gap between what the state predicted and what actually happened sits in the 20% points range.  The worse gap is in High School Geometry where the state predicted 80% of the state's students scoring proficient and only 49% were proficient, for a gap of 31% points!

Locally, I'd like to look at the data in an entirely different way.   Over the summer I looked at each grade level of students in grade 4th through 11th.  For each grade, I went back to their 3rd grade year, the year that they began taking state assessments and traced their level of success.  The results confirmed what I had suspected, but were no less shocking.  Starting with the 11th graders math scores.  These kids averaged a success rate between 66% and 74.6% over the years, yet last year only 42% of these students were proficient on the Geometry test.  Our 8th graders:  in math they scored between 79% and 74% over the years, but last year only 42% were proficient.  ELA say similar results.  Historically these kids scored between 72% and 91% yet only 40% scored proficient last year.  Again, I could provide additional examples, but in the interest of time I'll bring this to a close.

New London Local Schools has a strong tradition of academic excellence.  This tradition is not based on State Assessments, but is illustrated by them.  During the 2015-2016 School Year, our excellent team of teachers and staff didn't decide to stop educating our students.  During the 2015-2016 School Year our students did not stop attending school nor did they magically decide to stop learning.  Regardless of if you look at it from the State level, Regional level, or local level these scores point to one conclusion -  the assessments were flawed.  There is no rational explanation for such a dramatic disparity in historical scores, both on the district level and the individual student level.

Since much of the data used in generating our Report Card comes from these assessments, it's not just the Achievement component that will be impacted.  This testing environment that Ohio currently finds itself is not in the best interest of students.  Over assessing students, especially with assessments that are flawed does not promote education or educational reform.  Possibly the greatest negative from this flawed environment is the impact on public perception of public education.  As I discussed in a previous blog, our ACT scores were very strong last year.  Our students are becoming more prepared for college and career at a greater rate now than they ever have.  Our extra and co-curricular activities are the strongest they've been in over a decade.  The reality is, New London Local Schools is setting the example on how to educate the total student.  I'd hate to see one flawed state assessment change how people view our district.

 Let me know what you think! Post a comment to this Blog or contact me via email or phone. Thank you for taking the time to read such a lengthy Blog.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Creative Approaches to Classroom Arrangements

Although its been nearly a decade since I was a classroom teacher, I was never a big fan of the industrial model of classroom arrangements:  the strict rows of students that provided for limited movement; over the top structure that often limited student's creativity and stifled their learning process.  I never really knew why I felt this way, I hadn't taken a class on creative classroom arrangements, nor was their an abundance of research on it at the time, and since this was the late 90s and early 2000s I didn't have Pintrest to offer me any ideas.  Although I used the structured rows in my early years of teaching, I just knew it didn't fit my style of teaching, and by the time I left the classroom I had done away with seating charts, rows, and a structured environment.  By the way, for those that don't know, I taught High School Social Studies in a very diverse community within the Inner Ring of Cleveland.  When I became a school administrator I started encouraging teachers to be creative with their classrooms, and supported that creativity.  
     Fast forward to the present, and their is an abundance of research on the benefits of standing desks, fidget bars, flexible spacing, and non-traditional seating arrangements.  The benefits are both health related, as well as educational.  According to research flexible seating can help students burn energy, increase their metabolism and improve concentration.  One of my hobbies is health and fitness.  I exercise regularly and read much on the topic.  Dating back to my college days, I've endured lower back problems. Last summer, after reading a number of articles on the benefits of standing desks, I decided to try it.  I'm happy to say that since I stopped sitting all day, my lower back has never felt better and I've also noticed improved focus on longer tasks.  In addition, as a parent of a child with Attention Deficit Disorder,  I can attest to the educational value of her being able to stand or move around while working on her homework.

  Over the past few years, teachers at New London Local Schools began experimenting with flexible seating options.  Starting with physioballs, student desks gradually transitioned to tables. This summer Mrs. Yetter, Mrs. Fuller, and Mrs. Albaugh, and others took the next step and brought in work stations.  No more desks, limited assigned seating, or designated space.  Students are now able to work where they feel the most comfortable and can change their work environment as often as necessary.

Our expectation is that students take more of an ownership of their learning, becoming producers of knowledge, instead of consumers of instruction, while adding benefits to their health and wellness.  With these more student centered, exploratory environments, our classrooms are now more like a Silicon Valley Technology Firm than an industrial plant.

Friday, August 26, 2016

ACT Tests

A few weeks back, my wife and I had some friends over for dinner. One conversation topic was the NEST thermostat I had recently installed in my home. I was going on and on about the fact it synced to my phone and provided me endless data on temperature, energy consumption, etc. My friend, who used to teach at NL when I was the HS principal, interrupted, laughing that this conversation reminded him of one of my staff meetings. I love data...I could talk for hours about data and what information can be pulled from it. Often boring those that are tasked with listening to me. Imagine how much fun I am at parties. I get it, not everyone loves data the way I do, so I’ll do my best to be brief...another thing I’m not so good at.

Anyways, every fall school districts across the state are judged, dissected, ranked, cheered, and jeered based on the results of their state assessments and state report card. I have some very strong opinions about last year’s assessments, some I’ve shared at recent BOE meetings, others I’ll address in future blogs. In this error of state testing, I feel we are missing on another test result...the ACT...that may provide greater insight into how well we are doing as a school district.
I recently received the results from last year’s ACT results. We had 40 students take the ACT last year, the most since 2013. Those students averaged a composite score of 21.1. With the state average 22, our students showed very strong. Our results also predicted the level of college readiness for our students. 73% of our kids demonstrated college readiness in English Comp. while 45% of our kids demonstrated readiness in Algebra. Both were either right at or higher than the state average. The final data piece I’ll share address course sequence. Based on the sequence of courses New London offers in Math and Science, our students out performed the state average, demonstrating that our students graduate ready for to succeed in College.

I’ve often said that one data source shouldn’t be used to make any conclusions. The ACT results, although very strong, doesn’t paint the whole picture, no more than our state assessments do. When assessing the health of our school district, assessments are a piece, but so are things such as: the arts, athletics, attendance rate, graduation rate, community service, the number of college level and AP courses available, discipline data, facilities, transportation, food service, and other educational and non-educational services we provide our students and families. Each of those areas are no more important than the other and are things that I look at and evaluate when determining what can we do better as a school district. I’m proud of our ACT scores. Our students and staff work very hard and these scores show that. 

Let me know what you think. Feel free to email, call, stop in at the BOE offices or catch me at any of the events I attend. I value all feedback. As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog.