Author Archives: Rob

Beginning Educator Support

By Rob

The top priority of the Quality Education Council Report is to “Make Progress Toward Ample Funding for Basic Education.”  The QEC recognizes many “non—basic education programs to be essential for providing critical services for students” – including funds for professional development.  A little further down the list of priorities is support for the recruitment, development, placement, and retention of educators who are culturally competent and possess skills and competencies in language acquisition.

That’s what I do.  I am part of a team of six Instructional Mentors who oversee the novice teacher induction program.  But funding for our position does not come from the state.  


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Interest Based Bargaining

By Rob

Last June the members of the association gathered into a high school gymnasium to vote on a new labor contract.  No union member or district official can recall a contract that was settled so early.  We have always bargained through the summer.  Our ratification meeting usually happens in August when room is hotter and tensions are higher.

After the bargaining team briefed us on the new contract a teacher approaches the microphone and asks, “What did we give up with this contract?”

“Animosity.” was the reply.

The district and the union followed a new model of contract negotiation- Interest Based Bargaining (IBB).  In IBB both sides generate a list of issues they wish to see resolved in the contract.  But unlike traditional bargaining solutions are not proposed.  Instead the bargaining sessions are used to brainstorm solutions and the negotiations become problem solving exercises. 

The contract was ratified with over 99% of the union voting yes.  The Association was very happy with the outcome.

The next morning I attended the district’s contract briefing.  Surprisingly, the district was just as satisfied.  In this briefing, the Director of Human Resources shared each issue and solution.  The common denominator in nearly every agreed upon solution was “What is best for student learning.”

The only solution that has the potential to negatively impact student learning was to remove the cap on the number personal days that can be taken by staff on a given day throughout the district.  There is a possibility for a substitute shortage.  Both sides have agreed to revisit this topic next spring and share data on the impact of this new contract language.

I contrast this bargaining process with our past negotiations and the recent brinksmanship in Seattle and I’m convinced IBB should be the model we follow going forward.

Guidance Team

By Rob

Struggling students are referred to the Guidance Team.  We identify the most significant barrier to student success.  We develop a plan to address the barrier.  We choose metrics to track the effectiveness of our plan.  We document our interventions and meet regularly to track progress. 

A teacher may bring a student to the team who’s reading below grade level.  We review the student’s reading data.  Perhaps we find evidence they need phonics support.  We align our school’s resources- this student will meet with our reading specialist for an 8 week phonics intervention.  This may lead to improved fluency and the student can then carry the meaning while reading.  As a result, their reading comprehension improves.  I’ve seen this happen.  It demonstrates some of the best work a school can do.

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Benefit and Loss or The Opportunity Cost of Shifting Priorities

By Rob

Sometime ago the teachers in my district decided to extend our school day four days a week so it could be shortened on Wednesday. 

This was a benefit to teachers. Wednesday was a day for collaboration and planning.  My team of second grade teachers had a standing meeting on Wednesdays.  We planned curriculum, and designated responsibilities.  We consulted our ESL teacher and literacy facilitator. We graded collaboratively.  We learned from sharing successes and failings.

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The Budget Battle in the Other Washington

Spending on education is about 2% of the federal budget.  That sliver of the budgetary pie was $63.8 billion in 2011.  Even in the climate of debt reduction the President’s education budget for fiscal year 2013 is likely to see an increase.  But this budget will need to be approved by congress.  Given congress’ track record of bi-partisanship this debate could get ugly.

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What Was I Waiting For?

The final presentation of the 2012 National Title I conference was a screening of Waiting for Superman by director Davis Guggenheim. This movie has been sitting in my Netflix queue for months but I never got around to watching it. I hate to admit this but I hadn’t seen the movie because I disagreed with the message of the film. After all, who wants their opinions challenged?

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The Bill That Shifts The RIFs

Each spring the uncertainties of student enrollment, teacher transfers or retirement, and funding make budgetary predictions difficult.

To remain financially sound some districts send out pink slips to the newest teachers. In no way is this ideal. These teachers face uncertainty about their employment future. Some of the district’s best teachers, who happen to be new hires, may not have their contracts renewed.

New legislation, yet to be introduced, may change how districts respond to RIFs. Instead of RIFs base on level of experience they may be based on a teacher’s evaluation relative to other teachers.

This bill, I assume, is in response to schools being unable to retain effective teachers when they are forced to lay off staff.

In 2009-2010, 3% of Washington’s teachers were given RIF notices. 87% of those teachers were recalled. Evidence does not suggest that the best and brightest young teachers are losing out to ineffective veterans.

Still, this idea is compelling. Shouldn’t the best teachers be the last ones to be laid off? Yes. If only it were that simple.

Distinguishing between the best and the worst teacher in a school may not be that difficult. But it is much more difficult to distinguish between the second and the third worst (one may keep their job while the other may not).

New evaluation systems are expected to have different criteria for novice and experienced teachers. Is a good novice teacher more effective than an average experienced teacher? Who wins in this RIF race a teacher with five years of solid student growth and one recent year of poor growth or the second year teacher with two years of average growth?

What are the recall rights for a RIFed teacher?

When the art program is cut can somebody determine the relative effectiveness between a high school and elementary art teacher?

The idea, keeping the best, is elegant. Implementing this idea? Not so much. Since relatively few new teachers actually lose positions this law is unlikely to result in an improved teaching force.

I'd like to see lawmakers put their efforts elsewhere. If lawmakers want to address the problems related to RIFs they should fulfill their paramount duty and fully fund education. And they should allow local school districts the time and space to implement the new evaluation criteria. Many stakeholders came together to put this evaluation model in place. Rolling out this system will be challenging. Rolling out this system while simultaneously addressing the complexities of a new model for RIFs seems unwise. But I'm no lawmaker…

A New Role

By Rob

Some time ago I was struggling to set up procedures during my literacy instruction.  I was attempting to meet with a guided reading group while the reminder of my class was engaged independently in a meaningful activity.  For some students the “independent” activity was a too challenging and they needed support.  For other students it was too easy and they were finishing early.  Other students had difficulty remaining on task and caused disruptions.  These are the challenges of a novice teacher.

All things considered I was doing pretty well but I knew it could be done better.  But I wasn’t sure how.  I was building the boat as I was crossing the ocean.

I spoke with some other teachers and we shared the same struggles.  After I confided in my principal I found this “struggle” reflected in my evaluation.  Prior to that evaluators found little to criticize.  I regretted opening up my practice.

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Motoring Towards Privatization?

By Rob

Tom has written some thoughtful posts (here, here, and here) about charter schools.  When I read about charter schools with a cohesive staff, a common vision, and high standards for all I’m excited about the possibilities for their use in education reform.  I am also a firm believer that the same reforms are possible for public schools. 

If charter schools take hold then resources will shift towards making them viable.  Who provides the transportation?  Who maintains the facilities?  Who provides the special education services in the least restrictive environment?  Who provides the oversight?  Undoubtedly answers to these questions are possible.  But what if the resources used to address these questions were invested in local school improvement?

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