Saturday, March 26, 2011

Session 1: Changing the Odds for Student Success

Well, Option A ended up being two blocks away (not walking in the pouring rain). Option B was packed. So I snuck into a session by Bryan Goodwin from McREL. The session was a review of this report. Here's a quick-ish report. When I get around to reading the full report I'll give you more.

Main idea: Great schools have layers of support.

Things I found interesting, but not necessarily that I agree with. My quick thoughts are in italics: 

The primary job of a principal is to raise the quality and reduce variability in the quality of teachers in his/her school.

The primary job of the district head is to raise the quality and reduce the variability in the quality of schools in his/her schools.

I don't think you'd find people arguing about the quality issue, but you start talking about reducing variability and people start freaking out (sometimes legitimately, sometimes not) about racing to the middle. It's like watching The Incredibles. I actually agree with the variability issue. I'd take a group of reliably good teachers/lessons/schools/etc over the occasional chance at greatness. I have no idea what the majority would take.

Five qualities of Changing the Odds schools:
  1. Engage in collaborative goal setting
  2. Establish non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction
  3. Ensure school board alignment and support
  4. Constantly monitor goals for achievement and instruction
  5. Use resources primarily in support of instruction and achievement goals
Probably nothing new here. There was a list of things that didn't matter as much, which is probably more interesting. I didn't have time to write it down though. 

He brought up district and school dashboards, which we definitely don't have. I'd be interested in seeing any schools or districts that really put out all their data for display. Dan Meyer had a post a while back on that but the links are busted now. 

Goodwin called low performing schools "Forrest Gump Schools" because you open them up and you never know what you're going to get. 

Goodwin also took time to point out the What Works series by Marzano. It doesn't work as a checklist. You can't put the 13 things on a list, check them off, and get great instruction. Great teachers know why they work and when to use them.

I found McREL to be more touchy feely (in a good way) than I expected. Goodwin spent a lot of time talking about "warm demanders," Dennis Littky and this school, the HighScope Perry study, creating literacy and imaginative play environments at home, and "personalized pathways that tap intrinsic motivation." It was a nice turn of events for those who argue that these kinds of research focused organizations see kids as just data, not people.

Takeaway: The key is both challenge and support. You need high expectations but you also need a support system to help get there.
(EDIT: I forgot to add this and I really liked it, quoted from Goodwin, "People ask us what innovation is most needed now? A: Applying what we know.")

Personal story: The state of California set a goal for all students in 8th grade to take Algebra. They "encouraged" this by docking points off the API scores of kids who took a general math class.1 Our school responded accordingly. But did we provide the supports? No. We responded by simply eliminating our general math class. High expectations are not enough. It seems obvious but so often people, and I'm including feds, state, local, and teachers, seem to think that just by raising the standards we'll automatically see better results. 

1: A kid scoring proficient in General Math is equivalent in terms of API points to a kid scoring basic in Algebra.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this series. Also I love the format... I'll use this when I do PDs in the future.