Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Commissioner Scott delivers no-holds-barred speech at Midwinter

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott delivered a surprising speech to the thousands in attendance at TASA’s 2012 Midwinter Conference Tuesday afternoon, invoking a pull-no-punches tone and sharing his frank opinions on the state’s accountability program, his frustration with bureaucratic meddling – both the feds’ and the state’s - and even the names of a few folks who make him mad enough to want to stay in an incredibly difficult job that makes him lose sleep and miss meals.

Usually, Scott delivers a Power Point presentation full of AP participation rates, NAEP scores and graduation results to the crowd of district administrators. He started off by telling them he was dispensing with that today and instead told them about the book he’s reading: Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit, a book critical of the role of federal involvement in K-12 education.

He said his frustration isn’t limited to the federal government, but also with himself for being complicit in the state’s overreaching influence in local school districts.

“I believe that testing is good for some things, but the system we have created has become a perversion of its original intent,” Scot said to applause. “The intent to improve teaching and learning has gone too far afield.” 

He discussed the cuts made by the Legislature last year and said while he was glad that things didn’t end as badly as first projected – at one point lawmakers were considering a $10 billion cut to public education – he realizes that the cuts that were made were personal.

“They were personal to me as well,” Scott said. He had to lay off roughly a third of his staff at TEA because of cuts made to the agency. “For the fact that I was not able to get back every dollar, I apologize, but I did my best.”

Scott also said he’s completed a review of Education Service Centers – something districts have feared would be the target of massive cuts and potential closure – and he’s found them in a “remarkable” state. He said they remain vital and he’s very pleased to announce that none of them will be eliminated. He did say that boundary lines may be redrawn and he’ll be looking for input about ESCs and the services they provide from superintendents and other district leaders.

Scott addressed end-of-course exams and the 15 percent requirement that has stirred controversy of late. He said he’s met with his attorney to see if there’s any way he can waive the 15 percent requirement this year but he’s been advised he doesn’t have the authority.

“I would waive it if I could,” he said, to another round of applause.

Scott said he believes our system is on the cusp of change and the backlash to testing is reaching a boiling point. He talked about Senate Bill 1557, which will create the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium and give some districts the chance to design a new assessment system that is a more accurate portrayal of what’s going on in the classroom, and measures the skills important for a 21st Century education. The bill is the result of work by TASA’s Visioning Network, which this week launched Mission: School Transformation as the work moves from vision to mission.

The goal of the mission: Student-center schools, future-ready students. Hundreds of conference attendees are sporting bright buttons with that message.

Scott said if he’s looking a little under-rested and under-fed these days, it’s because he’s been in “fight mode” for four and a half years, so much so that the thought of resigning crosses his mind. 

“And then Arne Duncan says he feels sorry for the children in the state of Texas…and then the Irish in me comes out,” Scott told the crowd. “And I say not just ‘No’ but ‘Hell, No, I’m gonna fight.’”

The commissioner also called out Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, who publicly criticized Scott last week saying that TEA has been “derelict” in not issuing uniform grading guidelines for the new accountability system. He also said school districts are “gaming the system” and that students will follow by “gaming the system.” Scott fired back with a news release that said that power rests with local school boards.

In the end, Scott said, he stays because he’s fighting for the children of Texas.

“We’ve got to keep climbing and we’ve got to keep fighting,” he said. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

An Apple for the…student?

By Dara Quackenbush
It wasn’t very long ago when students would bring gifts of apples to their teachers. The classroom was all about teaching and the teaching was all about the Three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic. However, those days are long over, says Tom Burnett, Manager, Strategic Initiatives for Apple. Today it’s about free-agent learning, where students can learn anything, anywhere, anytime. The audience for his Monday  (Jan. 30) session at TASA’s 2012 Midwinter Conference, “Technology and Digital Content Directions: Free Agent Learning Enabled!” agreed. 

In a poll, 93 percent of the audience said education’s most important function is learning, not teaching. According to Burnett, schools, which have foregone the Three R’s for the Three C’s (communication, collaboration and construction), need to focus instead on C & I, or creativity and innovation.

By 2019, 50 percent of high school courses will be online, Burnett said. Some schools are already embracing this idea. Burnett showed a video of one school which had “flipped” learning. Instead of homework, students would go online at home and watch lectures. In class, the students would then work on homework, with the instructor’s help. According to a student in another video Burnett showed, “just lectures limit my learning.”

The three educational trends Apple has been tracking are:
  • Global repository and distribution for digital content – this includes Facebook, flickr, YouTube and iTunes U. iTunes U has more than a half-million pieces of free, educational content.
  • Mobile platform – mobile phones and tablets are everywhere.
  • “Free agent” learning – the idea that if you want to learn how to change your air filter, you can simply watch a video on YouTube to learn how to do it.

These three trends will shape the future of education.

Burnett also demonstrated the textbooks of tomorrow (available today.) The printed textbook will be replaced by an interactive e-book, complete with videos, interactive graphics and quizzes. These textbooks will no longer just be the purview of educational publishers. With newly available tools, instructors are able to create their own books.

Audience members agreed that the future is digital; two-thirds of the audience said by 2020, 75 percent or more of the core instructional materials used by teachers in their districts will be digital. However, there will be some roadblocks when adopting digital content, including resistance or inability to change by teachers (45 percent of the audience) and lack of funding (35 percent).

While there may be some hurdles, Burnett stressed the future of education is free-agent learning and successful schools will learn how to adapt to today’s digital natives instead of the students adapting to the teachers.  

School Transformation Through Regional Consortia

By Emily Leach
The story is the same in every school district across the country these days; There isn’t enough money, kids need more testing and there needs to be a better way to teach.

Well, the North Texas Regional Consortia has stepped up to the plate to find that better way  for their area school districts.  Their mission: School Transformation.  Their strategy: Working together, collaborating with school districts in the area to share best practices; train teachers more frequently; and create programs out of a brain trust of educators all with the same mission.

This consortia is the first of its kind. Every person on this team is committed to making sure the children on their watch have the education they need to move them forward.  The inspiration came in many forms, but one that stood out in the January 30th presentation was a conversation with a parent that did not understand the need for the cost of additional technology in the school.  The parent told the administration that they didn’t have all these gadgets when they were in school and their education was good enough for them. 

After a short pause, the administrator told the parent he was exactly right … and it was because their education was indeed good enough for them 30 years ago that makes everyone on this team want to make sure that their child has the same opportunity.  Children deserve access to an education good enough for them in this day and age, not an education based on 30 year old resources.

TASA and superintendents from across Texas pushed for Senate Bill 1557, passed by the Legislature last year, that will ultimately create a pilot program as a platform to build a new education system for students. The program will offer results every school in the state can use. It is time to do less testing and more learning in Texas schools.

If your region would like to create their own consortium, NTRC has put together a short list of tips and advice:
  • Build a group from like-minded districts.
  • Keep size and philosophy in mind.
  • Plan an organization meeting.
  • Keep board of trustees involved.
  • Choose projects that make sense to the members.
  • Small successes to start.
  • Be willing to share.
  • TASA can help.
  • NTRC will share everything they have.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fenwick English:Turnaround Principals for Low-performing Schools

Monday morning started bright and early in Austin, TX as school administrators, faculty and staff flocked to the convention center for the TASA Midwinter conference.  

At 9:30 a.m., Fenwick English, education professor at the University of North Carolina took the stage to share his lecture, "Turnaround Principals for Low-Performing Schools." 

English teaches graduate level courses in Educational Leadership and has become known as the Father of Curriculum Management in education circles.

Sponsored by Renaissance Learning, this lecture featured insight based on current research and global practice, including rules of thumb for successful school turnaround. Based on his book, Restoring Human Agency in Educational Administration, co-authored by Rosemary Papa, English shared thoughts on the "Yin and Yang" most schools deal with when making decisions to foster change.

Implementing School Change

  • Leadership vs Management - Schools need both good leaders and good management. Basic knowledge of managment is necessary for leadership to be effective.
  • Site vs Central Office - Teaching and learning occur on school site, but curriculum is developed at central level. Collaboration by both is key.
  • Science vs Art - Behaviorism still dominates leadership studies and leadership is an art form. English has examined research on artists transcending their limitations so he may apply this concept to leaders in schools. "Leadership is artful performance and it DOES involve science," said English. "They aren't mutually exclusive." 
  • Bureaucracy vs Creativity - Creativity uses constraints to exceed them. The same can be said for leaders, and management should enforce creativity.
  • Schools and Society - They are embedded and inseparable.
  • Fake Reform Talk - The unwarranted blaming of schools for economic charades adds to the discourse. 

English believes in the social justice view, not the corporate culture backed by most governmental education reformers. According to President Obama's "Race To The Top" initiative, there are four popular models for reforming schools, all relative to running schools as a business and include firing principals as the answer:

1. Transform and replace. 
2. Turnaround and replace.
3. Restart the school - close the school and open under new management.
4. School closure, finding a new principle when the new school opens. 

None of these include the social and societal implications on the school, and English disagrees with these models that say, "If I can't figure out what you do, I can at least fire you."

Instead he encourges school leaders to ask "who benefits?" when dealing with reform. To him, reform isn't neutral, it's part of a schools overall value system. 

"One person's reform is another person's refinement," said English.

English goes on to compare school reform as a corporate product versus a social justice construct by examining in detail the nature of leadership, accountability and the role of management in a school. 

He rejects the corporate business model of school reform. He instead puts school reform in a social justice perspective.  "We must be concerned with what is happening in the school and what is happening to the school," said English. He defines effective leadership as activist - it's up to society to help spur change.

According to English, change has to be both of the mind and the heart. "We (as educators and administrstors) have a responsibility for creating a caring and nurturing state for our students and ourselves."

Find more details on the social justice versus corporate theory of reform in his book, Restoring Human Agency in Educational Administration available on Amazon.com.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Schedule of speakers at Bloggers' Lounge

We have exciting speakers lined up for the Bloggers' Lounge Monday and Tuesday. Drop by for one of their visits, or come by the lounge anytime to relax, recharge or visit with technology experts who can help you with questions about social media or come hear one of our featured speakers.

10:45-11:30 a.m. – Karen Adler, communications specialist for San Antonio’s Northside ISD will talk about leveraging the power of social media to connect with the community. Karen launched NISD’s FaceBook and Twitter pages.

1-1:45 p.m. – Social media experts Ilene Haddad and Julie Gomoll will provide tips and guidance on launching and maintaining a successful blog, and share other digital platforms superintendents can use to connect with their communities.

2:15-3:15 p.m.  – Tom Burnett, manger of strategic initiatives for Apple, will be available to talk about the explosion of mobile technologies and digital content that’s reshaping education.

10:15-11 a.m. – Superintendents Jeff Turner, Steve Waddell and Karen Rue will talk about Mission: School Transformation and how they’re part of a regional consortium of districts working to transform education in their area.

11:45 a.m.-12:05 p.m. – Alan November, an international leader in education technology, will be available after his book signing in the Cyber CafĂ© (from 11:15-11:45 a.m.) for questions and discussion.

1:15-2 p.m. – Scott Kinney, vice president of Global Professional Development, Policy & Education Outreach at Discovery Education, will be in the lounge to talk about moving learning beyond the book.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Come visit the Blogger's Lounge at Midwinter!

Here's the first of a series of guest blogs that you'll see on EduSlate during the next few days. We have a team of bloggers fanning out at Midwinter and bringing you information from a variety of sessions. Read on to learn more about this exciting new project.

As the week draws to a close, The Texas Association of School Administrators is preparing for its big Midwinter Conference. Plans include the usual conversations and presentations, but this year the organizers are working on something new – The Bloggers’ Lounge.

Blogging lounges are the norm at tech conferences but are just now gaining attention at mainstream events. TASA recognizes that more and more educators, at all levels, are creating blogs and using social media to reshape the way they train, learn, and connect.  

TASA’s Bloggers’ Lounge is set up for people who want to meet and mingle with friends, colleagues, presenters, and other conference attendees. It’s a casual, comfortable “venue within a venue” that provides space to write, socialize and network.  

For those who are unfamiliar with blogging lounges, here’s a little information to help clear up some common misconceptions.

Q: Do you have to be a licensed blogger to participate in the Bloggers’ Lounge? 
A: We’re pretty sure no such credentials exist, so the answer is “no.”

Q: Will I seem out of place if I don’t “look” like a blogger?
A: Since most bloggers look just like you, there’s a slim chance anyone will even notice.

Q: Can I simply sit and listen to the conversations? 
A: You bet! Half the fun of a bloggers’ lounge is the organic connections people make while just hanging out.

One of the highlights of TASA’s Bloggers’ Lounge is the availability of blogging experts and social media enthusiasts who can help attendees with questions on just about anything in the realm of new media. Feel free to come and go throughout the day or stay as long as you’d like.

If you are new to blogging or social media, then this will be a great place to be around those who are immersing themselves in this area. More advanced bloggers can find answers to questions about content development, WordPress plug-ins, search engine optimization (SEO) strategies, and much more.  

Interested in learning more about Twitter? Have one of our friendly team members set you up with an account in a matter of minutes. Hear how this powerful tool can be used to connect and communicate with speakers and fellow attendees before, during and after the conference. Have a cup of coffee while watching a live Twitter stream of your fellow attendees discussing the conference in real time. If you are a Twitter user already, please let us know what you’re up to throughout the event by using the hashtag #TASAmw.

A listing of what’s going on each day in the Bloggers’ Lounge will be posted, but here are some things you can expect while you are relaxing in the Lounge:

Continue the Conversation
These discussions allow for casual continuations of specific conference sessions. Speakers will be on hand at set times for extended Q&A sessions moderated by lounge staff.

Presentation Spotlight
Lounge team members will be live-tweeting and blogging from various sessions. Follow the #TASAmw hashtag on Twitter to see what’s happening.  

The Bloggers' Lounge will host two Q&A sessions focusing on the power of blogging, social media, and online community building. 

Please stop by and join us on Monday and Tuesday, January 30th and 31st, for fun and learning in the Bloggers’ Lounge!

The Bloggers’ Lounge is a collaboration between TASA, #BlogathonATX, and qannection.com.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Region 16 superintendents illustrate pain of budget cuts by sharing districts’ stories

Robert McLain, Mike Lee and Karl Vaughn were tired of hearing the story of how state budget cuts are affecting school districts spun and skewed by a handful of lawmakers and critics to public education. To hear some of them tell it, schools hadn’t suffered one bit when the Texas Legislature cut $5.3 billion of education funding from schools that are already some of the lowest-funded in the country.

So the three Region 16 superintendents decided to do something about it by telling the story district-by-district, and putting statistics behind the anecdotes of larger classes, canceled field trips and drastically reduced staff.

The three district leaders – McLain from Channing, Lee from Booker, and Vaughn from White Deer – came up with a survey to highlight the impact of budget cuts to area school districts and outline how those cuts are affecting classrooms.

Of 63 districts in Region 16, 53 responded. Highlights of the survey include:
  •  85 percent of district budgets were cut due to a reduction in state funding.
  • 91 percent of districts eliminated positions or reduced personnel and/or programs because of a reduction in funding this year or in anticipation of reductions coming next year.
  • 64 percent reduced instructional personnel with 45 percent anticipating more reductions in 2012-13.
  • 62 percent cut back on field trips.
  • 58 percent reduced funding for technology.
  • 26 percent of districts adopted a deficit budget for 2011-12.
  • 49 percent committed to using a portion of their fund balance to finance expenses. 

The superintendents said they want Texans to know that school districts across the state are suffering.

“It’s wide and varied,” Vaughn told the Amarillo Globe-News.

McLain said of the survey: “The people in Channing are going to care about how Channing is doing, but we wanted it to reflect how all the districts in the panhandle got hit with this funding situation.”

The three superintendents said they hope district leaders across the state follow their lead and conduct surveys in their region, then share the results with the community and local media.

“It really helps you put into perspective how decisions made at the state level are impacting districts,” Price said.

TASA encourages districts to be frank and specific with your community, lawmakers and local media about the effect budget cuts are having in your classrooms. Texans need to understand that, for the sake of our state’s future, we need to invest more in our children, not shortchange them.