Friday, June 28, 2013

Charter School Governing Board Transparency

Nothing raises suspicions like not providing information. It gets charter school governing boards in trouble every time!

Last year there was a charter school board that raised the ire of their community by not being forthcoming when they made personnel changes. The entire board ended up resigning.

The new board focused on two things their first year: fulfilling the vision and mission statement and being transparent. To be more specific, they:

  • Held two town meetings;
  • Published monthly board agendas and minutes on the school website;
  • Published board action items and votes immediately after board meetings;
  • Wrote monthly emails to parents;
  • Took additional time discussing issues before votes so that the parents attending the board meeting fully understood the board's actions;
  • And most importantly, putting all of their documents on the school website.
It's easy for disgruntled parents to criticize, but even more difficult to turn a school culture that has become suspicious and negative. But it can be done because it was done this past year by a charter school in Colorado.

The board deconstructed the school's vision and mission statements so that every board member not only can articulate them, but knows what purpose they serve in directing classroom teachers. Then the board further defined the school's focus by developing a simple visual to explain its work and priorities. After defining the board's work into five primary areas, the board developed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure progress in each of these areas. Each of the five areas have 3-5 points of data the board regularly monitors. These are aligned with the administrator's data collection and the work of the school Accountability Committee. Even the administrator's evaluation is aligned with these KPIs. 

What were the pivotal things this board did to bring about a dramatic transformation in only one year?

1. Understanding the vision and mission statements and clearly communicating what they mean to stakeholders.
2. Reaching out to other charter school leaders for assistance and consultation and then using best practices from other schools to propel the board further along in its work.
3. Emphasizing transparency in everything that's done.
4. Documenting everything and communicating clearly.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Rick Hess's 2nd Blog on Common Core

A Playbook for the Common Core: Part 2

On Tuesday, I tried to explain how Common Core enthusiasts have gotten themselves into their current fix, where their dazzling, Race to the Top-fueled victories of 2010 and 2011 have given way to a divisive, frustrating slog. Today, the Common Core’ites have some serious challenges. Among these:

  • 1] They have no one who seems able to credibly address concerns on the Tea Party right;
  • 2] are dismissive of practical questions, like whether the technology will actually support glitch-free assessments;
  • 3] lean on the boilerplate language of educational competition rather than addressing specific concerns;
  • 4] and keep repeating the same tone-deaf talking points, mostly just infuriating the skeptics (the enthusiasts are apparently in disbelief that anyone might regard an enterprise driven by two DC associations and backed by federal incentives as anything other than a truly “voluntary” state effort).

Anyway, they don’t seem to be able to get out of this rut. This is a huge problem, because standards and assessments are so integral to schooling that a train wreck here will have all kinds of unfortunate consequences. So, as a public service announcement, here are five suggestions that advocates can do to get their popular and political fortunes back on track. (All five proceed from the assumption that one can never satisfy those who are implacably hostile — but that what matters in public debate is reassuring, calming, or winning over the mass of risk-averse, responsible skeptics.) Here we go:

1] Sec. Duncan needs to give a speech in which he pleads “mea culpa” and acknowledges that federal involvement and money played a nontrivial (and perhaps, in hindsight, an unfortunate) role in the early stages of the Common Core. Doing so will allow the conversation to move off that sticking point, and reassure the skeptics that the proponents are finally speaking to their fears of slippery slopes. Duncan can then pivot to what comes next. He should signal support for proposals by Congressional Republicans that would prohibit further federal involvement with the Common Core and issue bright-line guidance to make clear that ED will not be sticking its 800-lb. thumb on the scale in the future when dealing with waivers or anything else. This got much easier recently when House Education Committee Chair John Kline and K-12 Subcomittee Chair Todd Rokita introduced the Student Success Act, which bars the feds from offering grants or policy waivers contingent on a state’s use of certain curricula or adoption of certain assessment policies. Duncan can say that Obama is also opposed to the feds trying to commandeer the standards, that any initial nudges were a one-time thing, that he and the House Republicans agree in principle, and that the next step is to start wrangling over particulars. By the way, Duncan’s “waiver from the waivers” (despite the laughable absence of legislative authority supporting any of it) at least shows a willingness to acknowledge some of the real concerns.

2] Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, and Chris Christie ought to pen an op-ed in which they unapologetically repeat their support for the Common Core project but acknowledge concerns that the administration has politicized the effort. They should demand an acknowledgment from Duncan (making it easier for him to deliver that essential mea culpa), insist on safeguards regarding data collection and federal involvement, and seek clarity as to how governance of the Common Core and the assessments are going to be ordered so as to respect state sovereignty and guard against E.U.-style bureaucratic creep. Bottom line: they should clearly signal to conservatives that they are aware that the exercise could be hijacked by bureaucrats, partisans, or nationalizers, and that they intend to be vigilant about not letting that happen. Happily, this has gotten much easier with the marker laid down by Kline and Rokita, and by Sen. Lamar Alexander last week. Bush et al. are now beautifully positioned to say, “We think the Common Core is good for our kids and our country, and that’s why we’re full-throated supporters — but that’s also why we need to protect it from federal overreach or partisan meddling by a Democratic administration.”

3] The stellar state superintendents who make up Chiefs for Change should make clear that they’re willing to take the lead on addressing serious concerns with an open mind. Rather than merely voicing support for the effort, as they’ve done of late, they should explain how they’re addressing key concerns and signal an openness to weighing questions about the assemblage of reading lists, teacher and school accountability, data collection, and the need for more transparency around the whole process.

4] Key leaders of the Common Core effort need to stop just repeating their talking points, and show some evidence that they’re listening to concerns and taking critics seriously. Those who could be especially influential here are CCSSO chief Chris Minnich; Achieve honcho Mike Cohen; NGA’s Richard Laine; Student Achievement Partner’s Jason Zimba; and David Coleman, president of the College Board and the dynamo who played the critical role in pushing the Common Core. They need to do more than keep insisting on the urgency of the exercise, praising the standards, and saying that the feds weren’t involved. (I’m sorry to say it, because they’re good friends and terrific guys, but this week’s Ed Week commentary by Minnich and Laine was pretty much a rehash of what’s not working.) Instead, these folks should try to start speaking in a manner designed to draw the poison from so much of the suspicion that has (justifiably) taken root. They should publicly concede that the feds played a significant facilitative role, that the Common Core exercise has been inevitably imperfect, that reasonable people may be nervous about the power seemingly being wielded by unaccountable associations, and that advocates facing a window of opportunity may have focused too much on the ambition of the project and not enough on allaying practical concerns. Such concessions would catch the critics flat-footed, reassure nervous parents and teachers that their concerns are being taken seriously, and permit a reasonable back-and-forth to start emerging. (Remember, once again, most opponents in any of these fights are NOT dead-enders — they’re just citizens who get nervous, and then start to get really agitated when “mainstream” leaders won’t acknowledge or address their concerns.)

5] Somebody needs to explain how all this is going to work without making all the worst fears of critics come true. Supporters should understand that many conservatives will come to regard a process dominated by CCSSO, the NGA, PARCC, and SBAC as actually more worrisome than one driven by Uncle Sam. After all, if something is run by the feds, at least Tom Coburn, Darrell Issa, or Rand Paul can always speak up. Meanwhile, these nonprofits operate with only nominal direction, are unaccountable to voters or elected officials, and operate in a bureaucratic miasma with little transparency or oversight. As conservatives learn more about current arrangements in the next couple years, they’re going to think this is all depressingly reminiscent of how the EU’s bureaucratic megastate took shape. How the standards and consortia will be governed and held accountable are questions that need to be addressed, but that have barely been broached (for one of the very few efforts to tackle these issues, see Pat McGuinn’s thoughtful paper here). If the advocates don’t get ahead of this one, I can assure them that they’ll be enduring a whole set of new, “uninformed” attacks in a year or two.

Will this “solve” everything? Nope, but it’ll give the proponents a chance to be heard and shift the debate. Might proponents actually do any of this? I can’t really say. I guess we’ll see.
-Rick Hess

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rick Hess's Blog on Common Core

I’ve long said that the Common Core strikes me as an intriguing effort that could do much good. So, why am I not on board? Because I think the effort has a good chance of stalling out over the next four or five years. And, because standards and assessments are the backbone of pretty much everything else in K-12 schooling, that could tear down all manner of promising efforts on teacher quality, school improvement, and the rest.

This all leaves me feeling a lot like a kid watching a scary movie through crossed fingers. The past couple weeks, I’ve been struck by how fragile the effort is starting to seem and how clumsily the Common Core’ites seem to be responding to challenges. In the spirit of public service, here’s some advice shouted at the screen. Today, I’ll offer my two cents on why things stand where they do; on Thursday, I’ll offer a few thoughts on what the Common Core’ites can do about it.

The flame jumped the “firebreak”: The giant strategic error for the Common Core advocates was their refusal, from 2009 through much of 2012, to actually take the critics seriously. They treated concerns as a fringe phenomenon, dismissing or ridiculing questions of federal involvement, the quality of the standards, and the rest. Whoops. A politically savvy observer would note that — like opposition to the Iraq War, health care reform, or NCLB — complaints always start at the “fringe.” Like sparks thrown off by a fire, these complaints by themselves are ineffectual. What matters is whether those sparks cross the clearing around the campfire and ignite the forest of more mainstream sentiment. That happened back in mid-2012. Common Core proponents could have reduced the likelihood of the fire jumping by hosing down the firebreak — e.g. by responding concretely to misconceptions, acknowledging concerns, and working hard to reassure those most exposed to the flames. They did none of this until the fire crossed and was burning fiercely on the other side.

Nature abhors a vacuum: Surprising, given the nature of their enterprise, the Common Core advocates have long shown remarkably little interest in taking the time and energy to discuss their exercise with those outside the education policy bubble. (I’ve been given all kinds of good reasons for this — from a dearth of manpower to the need to focus on technical issues — but they don’t change the reality.) Instead, Common Core’ites seemed eager to pocket their Race to the Top-aided wins and just move on to implementation. The problem is that adopting the Common Core doesn’t end the political and popular discussion; instead, it prompts questions about spending, accountability, teacher preparation, governance, and the rest. And it’s now clear that lots of parents, policymakers, and educators never really understood the Common Core, and certainly don’t feel obliged to do what it’ll take to implement it. The paucity of public discussion created a vacuum, and we’re now seeing it filled. Cato’s Neal McCluskey captured this dynamic last week in a public email exchange, explaining: “I’d note that many of the new Common Core opponents are just finding out about Common Core as it hits their schools, unlike supporters who have been working on this for several years. They may simply not have the necessary information, which is likely in part due to the rushed adoption catalyzed by Race to the Top. And a lot of people, from what I can tell, mistakenly attribute things to Common Core – such as data-mining – that should be attributed to Race to the Top. But all those things are intentionally connected, so while the facts may be wrong, the concerns and message are often far from nutty.” Having realized late in the game that changing K-12 standards and assessments for more than 40 million students in more than 40 states might prove controversial, Common Core advocates have opted primarily to ridicule and dismiss skeptics. Not so surprisingly, the Tea Partiers and anti-Common Core’ites haven’t been persuaded.

The Marco Rubio strategy: One problem for the Common Core’ites, at this point, is none of their champions carry much credibility with the Tea Partiers (or with the anti-testing left). This may seem kind of surprising, given the support of prominent conservatives like Jeb Bush and Tony Bennett. But people only accept leadership from leaders who they believe are watching out for their concerns. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has worked double-time to do this when it comes to the immigration bill. There, he’s taken great pains throughout to suggest that he’s the Tea Party’s ambassador to the Gang of Eight, and not vice versa. The problem for Bush et al. is that they’ve appeared throughout the Common Core scrap to be Common Core’ites wooing the right, rather than conservatives making sure the Common Core doesn’t get hijacked by Obama partisans. The other week, for instance, Bush’s foundation issued a document that challenged a number of misperceptions about the Common Core. Fair enough, but it would’ve been a terrific chance to acknowledge some of the legitimate concerns that conservatives have raised and tell ‘em, “I’m keeping an eye on these things.”

Policy is like a funhouse mirror: This stuff matters because the advocates have a real problem — things they regard as sensible and unexceptional are much more disconcerting to many conservatives. Policy is often like a funhouse mirror. Concerns that strike one side as baseless or silly can seem very real to another. The fact that few education reformers or edu-reporters are conservatives (and fewer still see Tea Partiers as anything more than caricatures) makes it easy for them to dismiss concerns. Federal inducements to adopt the Common Core through Race to the Top or waivers are dismissed as modest nudges that don’t compromise the Core’s “voluntary” nature. Complaints about the $350 million in federal funds for SBAC and PARCC are dismissed as bellyaching about a dollop of critical federal seed money. President Obama bragging in the State of the Union that he pushed states to adopt the Common Core is dismissed as irrelevant bombast. Fears of intrusive data collection are dismissed as paranoia (though these are a bit tougher to dismiss than they were a month ago). Advocates don’t even seem able to process the complaint that standards constructed by CCSSO, NGA, and affiliated technocrats are less a state-led endeavor than an E.U.-like exercise in sprawling, unaccountable bureaucratic gestation.

Start by taking skeptics seriously: Tea Partiers are frustrated when liberals describe support for balanced budgets, limited government, Second Amendment rights, and the repeal of health care reform as racist, violent, xenophobic, callous, and uncaring. Yet, whether or not Tea Partiers feel misunderstood, pundits and journalists repeatedly explain that they need to grow up, start compromising, and get over themselves. That same advice would come in handy for Common Core’ites. They’d do well to push past their impatience with skeptics and disdain for talk of compromise around timelines, implementation, and the rest. Especially with something like the Common Core, where success will turn on the willingness of state boards, legislatures, governors, and educators to follow through, it’s time to start taking the political challenges seriously.

I’ll offer some thoughts as to what proponents might do about all this on Thursday. Meantime, here are three good resources for those who are interested in taking these issues seriously.

1] Check out my colleague Mike McShane’s thoughtful ten-part series on the implementation challenges of the Common Corehere.

2] Check out the recent set of extensive AEI white papers on the same topic here.

3] And check out what Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Checker Finn have been writing on this score, as they’ve spent the past couple years operating as pretty much the only Common Core enthusiasts willing to publicly call out Obama overreach or talk frankly about problems and missteps (as with Fordham’s tough new analysis of the Next Generation Science Standards).

-Rick Hess
This blog entry first appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Colorado Digital BOCES Online School Approved

The new College Prep Online Academy's application for multi-district online certification was approved by the Colorado Board of Education yesterday on a 5-1 vote (Berman voted no and Lundeen recused himself). The school is operated by the new Colorado Digital Board of Cooperative Education Services (CD BOCES), which organized solely to provide high quality public online education.

The CD BOCES is a cooperative between the Falcon 49 and Yuma 1 school districts. The Pikes Peak Community College has adopted a resolution to join the BOCES, also. The vision for the CD BOCES is to provide a greater level of accountability in conjunction with a greater level of support.

College Prep Online Academy (CPOA) will operate with parent contracts so that if students fall below proficiency, the parents understand they must bring their child in to a center where the student can receive personalized instruction. The school will be operated by the K12 management company.

For more information on the CD BOCES or CPOA, visit the website.