Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Note to Cami: 100 excellent ways to create 100 excellent schools

UPDATE:

As promised, I bring you more ways to create excellent schools. Still looking for more, so add your suggestions in the comments and I'll update in a few days. Thanks to all who sent in suggestions. Keep 'em coming.


  1. Melissa T: Realize that schools need to play a vital role in the community as a provider and supporter of wrap around services. Schools are supposed to involve and support the communities, not alienate them.
  2. Patti Grunther: Do NOT hire administrative staff that is unnecessary (e.g. assistant superintendents in a school district where many schools are in disrepair or without basic supplies??) at high salaries, give them enormous raises and then lay off teachers due to a deficit you yourself created.
  3. Jeff Grossman: Limit classroom size.  Study after study has shown that this is a proven method for improving student performance.
  4. Jeff Grossman: Have a safety net in place to help students who fall below grade level.  Having children reading several years below their grade level for example is unacceptable, when a child falls below grade level, treat it like a crisis.  Have a robust remediation staff in place and do whatever is required to ensure that students receive services in a timely manner.
  5. Jeff Grossman: Create an environment of collaboration. For example, assign mentor teachers to work with novices.  Create teacher cohorts and are give ample common planning time. Ensure that all teachers take part in a peer evaluation system and have an opportunity to observe, and learn from other teachers that are teaching the same grade and/or subject as they are.
  6. Treat English language learners as an asset, not a liability. They are doing something you probably never succeeded at: becoming bilingual.
  7. Tamar Wyschogrod: Poverty alleviation creates excellent schools. Affordable housing creates excellent schools. After school programs create excellent schools. Jobs for parents create excellent schools. Health care creates excellent schools. Safe streets create excellent schools. Good nutrition creates excellent schools. Racial and socioeconomic integration create excellent schools. Oh, and reducing class sizes. That's a good start.
  8. Create a community of support and shared ideas between schools. Start by visiting this very excellent school and see how a caring principal and staff work together with parents and administrators to make a safe, fun, engaging learning environment for all the students.
  9. Stop, collaborate and listen. As the great philosopher, Vanilla Ice, once said. But seriously. Do that. It's pretty solid advice.


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Jersey Jazzman delivered yet another blistering critique of Cami Anderson's disastrous One Newark plan calling it "illogical, innumerate, secretive, and ill-conceived". Sir Duke once again fills his post with charts, graphs, data, links to studies—you know, actual proof—that this will probably go down as the biggest public policy boondoggle in NJ history. He pointed out that Cami likes to blame the backlash on the 'political season'. (Hmmm... sorta like Christmas? Is there a Black Friday where I get coupons for showing up early and complaining louder and longer?) Then ends with a link to a Bob Braun post which calls out many players on the opposite side of the issue for not taking more aggressive action sooner:


It is now June and no organization—not the Newark Teachers Union,  not the New Jersey Education Association, not the Education Law Center, not the American Civil Liberties Union, no one—has taken aggressive court action to seek a temporary restraining order to stop this flawed plan that will cause real and irreparable damage to children in the city. Soon, within a matter of days, it will be too late to do anything.  And Anderson, despite the optimistic hopes of some in the city, now has repeatedly said she will not resign and she will continue to bury the city under the weight of her “One Newark” plan. 
Hey, guys—get real:  Cami is gaming you and you don’t even know it. Despite what The Star-Ledger editorial board says about her, she is not politically naïve nor tone-deaf.  She knows precisely what she is doing and she is winning.
Read Bob's entire post. He raises some excellent points. Stealing from JJ here, One Newark has all the makings of...
Hat tip to Jersey Jazzman
While the parents and students of Newark are fighting the good fight, they can't do it alone. It's time the major players in this fight started making some real noise. 

In the meantime, I thought I'd offer a little advice to the beleaguered superintendent. Unlike Anderson and her 'Broadie Cronies' who have little to no actual teaching experience, I have a masters in teaching and 13 years experience, so I think I know a thing or two about my profession. The following is a partial list—in no particular order—of 100 ways to create 100 excellent schools. These are the first 20. I will add more as I think of them. Please add yours in the comments section and let's get to 100. 

100 excellent ways to create 100 excellent schools

  1. Don't close them. Closing schools disrupts families, destabilizes neighborhoods and makes people very, very angry—especially when their neighborhood school is doing a good job.
  2. Define 'poor performance'. Test scores are not the sole arbiter of excellence. Statistics don't tell the whole story of why X-number of students in a particular school are 'not succeeding'. Where are the successes? Do the students feel engaged and excited about learning? Are they happy to be there? Are they putting forth a good effort? Are the parents engaged and supportive? These are all signs that a school is on the right track even if their test scores are low. 
  3. Engage parents and community. You can't have excellent schools without them.
  4. Get as much money into the classrooms as possible. A teacher can't teach without adequate supplies.
  5. Don't fire teachers. Mass firings of teachers erodes morale, arouses suspicion among staff, students and parents, and does not work.
  6. Provide meaningful professional development for educators. PD should be research based (that would be vetted research) and address the specific needs and concerns of the student population. 
  7. Hire experienced educators to lead schools. Most Broadies have little to no classroom experience. Struggling corporations don't hire teachers to lead and fix them so why should schools hire business people to run them?
  8. Invest in infrastructure. Students cannot learn and educators cannot teach in buildings that are unsafe, vermin infested and lack basic sanitary systems. If you build clean, well lit, safe and inviting buildings, drop out rates will drop.
  9. Listen to the experts. Hundreds of professional educators around the country—many right here in NJ—have offered research based solutions to what ails schools in high poverty districts.
  10. Leave ideology at the door. You may desperately want to implement a reform because you believe it will work, but unless you can back it up with real vetted research, best to leave it out.
  11. Listen to teachers. They—not billionaires or business people—are your best source for how to help struggling students.
  12. Broaden your definition of 'excellence'. An excellent school does not have every student performing at a proficient level, but it believes every student can get there. There's a difference between believing in children and believing in an unproven ideology. The first one can succeed; the second one is DOA.
  13. Build on successes. Set 1 or 2 reasonable goals a year. Too much change too quickly overwhelms, stresses and angers everyone.
  14. Slow down. Rome wasn't built in a day. Real education progress takes time. Developmental milestones happen for a reason. They can't be rushed or forced. When you push too hard against children, they push back, and that ain't pretty—or fair.
  15. Build a working relationship with your teachers association. Signing a contract then trying to renege on it builds distrust and animosity. Unions did not cause the issues many students in Newark face, but unions have many good solutions for helping students succeed. We've been doing it all across New Jersey for decades.
  16. Communicate, communicate, communicate with staff, parents and the community. You simply must attend BOE meetings and listen to everyone whether you agree with them or not.
  17. Be compassionate even with those who disagree with you. Education is a nurturing environment. If you don't bring a healthy dose of compassion with you every day, you're in the wrong profession.
  18. Listen to students. It's their education, not yours. When students feel connected and valued they will engage in their learning. Right now they're not happy.
  19. Don't believe in miracles. Yes, I did just say that. Miracles don't happen every day, that's why they are miraculous. Quick education miracles only happen on TV. The Texas and DC 'miracles' have both been debunked.
  20. Every school should accept and retain every child who walks through its doors. Charter cheerleaders love to say that their schools are public schools. That's a myth. Unless a child does something truly horrendous, a public school can't expel them. The attrition rates among Newark's charter schools are unacceptable. Charters must be held to the same standards as public schools. Anything less in a public school system is discriminatory. 
Readers... I'm looking for 80 more suggestions. Leave yours in the comments below and I'll update this in chunks of 5 or 10.