Thursday, September 2, 2010

Turning around "reorganizing"

I "attended" a Teachers Letters to Obama web roundtable called Turn Around This Policy,a few days ago. First of all I am still pretty amazed by how these technologies bring people together. 42 of us from all across the country were listening to speakers, seeing their slides, and exchanging our reactions at the same time. The "discussion space" could have held 100, but if the speed that the comments of 42 is any indication, I would never have caught the comments if a hundred had been typing their thoughts. So while I would wish more people had been present, it was a good number for interacting.

The four speakers each had been affected by school "reorganization' in one way or another. Chuck Olnyck from LA's Fremont High, a school with 4,600 students(the first mistake) was labeled failing and teachers made to reapply for their jobs. Chuck refused, and now is looking in from the outside at what the results have been. As far as he can see it's mainly disruption of some promising small schools within this monster that were making the kinds of changes most likely to turn the school around. There will be more first time teachers. Some might view that as a positive, but without good support those new teachers may join the large ranks of those who quit after 3 years.

Nikki Barnes teaches at a KIPP middle school charter that has a very high rate of college acceptance for its students. She has been there 12 years, but many of the teachers around her have only stayed for their 2 year Teach For America contract. They put their all out for those two years, but Nikki questions this strategy of burning through young idealistic teachers, as well as wondering about the definition of success in KIPP and other schools. High results on standardized tests are seen as basic. More is demanded than that, but still schooling sounds very limited to what will look good on a college resume. Some of the practices she described dismayed me, but I was impressed by Nikki's objectivity. She does not dismiss KIPP, and will continue to teach there, but see the faults. Is there a way to incorporate some of the positive student-centered KIPP practices into other settings?

Sabrina Stevens Shupe has a blog called Failing Schools. Her explanation of how labeling a school as failing increases the likelihood it will get worse, was very persuasive. I hope she is reaching policy makers!

The last speakers were three teachers from Detroit who are starting a teacher led elementary school. The school is a three year experiment, which all who commented felt was too short a period. Perhaps they can negotiate a longer trial, and broader measurements of success. Right now it is limited to the rate that they raise test scores. Whatever the shortcomings, the fact that teachers are taking (and sharing) leadership is big. They are getting some of the support they will need in the form of planning time. I hope we can get updates as to how they are doing, and if I do, I will report about it.

This roundtable was just one more reminder of how much is going on in education right now--positive and negative. Helping to "unleash the positive" is my goal!

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