Monthly Archives: September 2011

The ARRA Funding Cliff: Don’t Jump!

By Robert Pasternack

As we approach the end of this Federal Fiscal Year on Sept. 30, 2011, we come upon the expiration for obligating funds provided under the supplements to Title I and IDEA through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

More than $100 billion of the ARRA funds went to public education, including the supplements to the formula used to disperse Title I and IDEA funding to school districts across our country. But now Local Education Agencies (LEAs) face what has been described as the “funding cliff,” caused by the need to expend these funds. This cliff is dreaded by education leaders left to deal with chronic and persistent fiscal problems facing most of our 15,000 school districts as we begin the 2011–12 school year.

The ARRA funds were used to compensate for some of the funding cuts that have impacted LEAs as a result of reduced revenues and budgets in most states. Much of the ARRA funding went toward saving teaching jobs. Those teaching positions funded by ARRA now face elimination, and Reduction in Force (RIF) actions are being implemented as we go back to school.

Such fiscal challenges are exacerbated by the fact that nearly 85 percent of districts are expecting funding cuts for the 2011–12 school year. Nearly two-thirds of districts will have to cope with cuts in state and local funding of 5 percent or more, and another fifth of districts will face smaller cuts. “Death by a thousand cuts” is coming to public schools, and for the first time in our nation’s history, federal funding for education has been reduced.

 

What to Do About the Funding Cliff

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is recognize that more money in education has not led to improved outcomes and results. The Gates Foundation published data suggesting the increases in public school funding are not correlated with a commensurate improvement in academic achievement. While many talk about increased class size, data do not indicate a relationship between class size and academic achievement. In fact, Utah has America’s largest class sizes and some of the best academic achievement data. Washington DC public schools have one of the highest average per pupil expenditures (APPE) in our country, and some of the worst academic outcomes.

In other words, money is necessary but not sufficient to improve academic achievement. Instead of focusing on class size, we need to focus on the importance of the person teaching that class. The most important variable in education research (apart from socioeconomic status) is the quality of the teacher. Paying teachers more money, like reducing class size, has gained political currency and popularity, absent data to suggest this is requisite to improving academic achievement.

Educators need to focus on what works in order to survive and thrive in these challenging times. There are things we can and must do, including:

  • Building the capacity of teachers and paraeducators to address the instructional needs of students who struggle
  • Making principals into instructional leaders and implementing education reform at the building level
  • Deploying research-validated interventions with fidelity and treatment integrity
  • Conducting and implementing universal screening and progress monitoring
  • Using blended solutions that incorporate technology but are not dependent on that technology
  • Getting parents meaningfully engaged in education and embracing meaningful accountability
  • Teaching all students to read proficiently by the end of third grade
  • Reducing inappropriate referrals to special education
  • Increasing the graduation rate and reducing the unacceptable dropout rates
  • Continuing to fund research and development to find effective interventions and instructional strategies in education (both special education and general education)

What are you doing to ensure that you are making wise decisions about how to deploy the precious resources provided under ARRA, and how have you used these funds to make long-term changes with the short-term infusion of new resources? The cliff is there, but don’t jump! Instead, build a bridge with the resources you have and get to the other side.

Written by Robert Pasternack.

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SIGs—What Really Matters?

By Carolyn W. Getridge

The dire statistics regarding student achievement in our nation’s schools compel us to take action to improve education. School Improvement Grants (SIGs) provide funding to improve the lowest-performing schools.

States are required to identify the lowest 5 percent of persistently low-performing schools and establish a competitive process that allows school districts to apply for funding to support these schools. Districts use the funds to implement one of four models: Turnaround, Restart, Transformation, or Close/Consolidate.

  • The Turnaround model replaces the principal and at least 50 percent of the staff, adopts a new governance structure, and implements a new or revised instructional program.
  • Restart models actually close schools and restart them as charter schools or with an educational or charter management organization.
  • The Transformation model focuses on leadership and teacher effectiveness, comprehensive instructional reform strategies, extended learning opportunities, and increased operating flexibility and support.
  • School Closure/Consolidation models close the schools and enroll students in higher-performing existing schools.

Since 2009, Congress has appropriated almost $4 billion to support state and local school improvement efforts. Thousands of schools across the nation are implementing these models with the goal of “robust and comprehensive reforms to dramatically transform school culture and increase outcomes.”

In most districts, the primary focus is on working with parents, unions, and the community to reach consensus on the model that has the greatest odds of changing the trajectory of student achievement and best serving the schools and community. Most often, this process is characterized by intricate procedures, broad stakeholder involvement, and sometimes contentious debate. But ultimately, a model is selected.

While the U.S. Department of Education has provided guidance to districts regarding the requirements of each model, developing comprehensive plans of action to achieve the goals of the program is more challenging. Each model has elements that will result in some improvement, but as we embark upon an era of educating a more diverse population to achieve college and career readiness (CCR) standards, what really matters in school improvement?

Leadership Matters

It is the principal of the school who is expected to lead instructional change and promote a culture of continuous improvement. The process begins with the data—what does the data tell us about the school, each classroom, and each student—and how this information can be provided in a comprehensible format to staff, parents, and the community.

Based on data, the principal:

  • Sets clear, measurable goals
  • Implements instructional strategies to improve student performance
  • Establishes targets for improvement
  • Monitors progress to ensure accountability for achieving the goals

Although the role of the principal has expanded to encompass an overwhelming array of responsibilities and increased accountability, providing leadership for the change process and facilitating teaching and learning are the key functions in school improvement.

Quality Teachers Matter

Research validates that the classroom teacher has the greatest impact on student achievement. To ensure teacher success, we cannot assume that even “effective teachers” have the depth of knowledge and skills to address the needs of all students.

Critical to school improvement efforts are comprehensive professional development programs that recognize the various capacities of teachers. These programs provide coaching and mentoring to build a common framework for understanding research and implementing best practice. Ultimately, the goal is to build the capacity of the teacher to effectively use research-based instructional practices as well as targeted data to address the needs of all students.

Standards-Based Instruction Matters

The Common Core State Standards Initiative has raised the bar in terms of what content is taught, how it is taught, and how it is assessed. These robust, evidence-based standards define what students need to know and be able to do to be prepared for college and the workforce upon graduation from high school. This movement will require massive shifts in the acquisition of instructional materials and the training of teachers.

The selection of school improvement partners substantially affects both the school’s approach to improvement and the probability of success in achieving its goals. Whether it’s leadership, quality teachers, or standards-based curriculum and instructional materials, the school improvement process should be viewed as an incubator to demonstrate that what matters works. If effective, these practices can be scaled to ensure success for all children in all schools. Let’s focus on what matter

Written by Carolyn W. Getridge, a Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Urban Development at Cambium Learning Group.   After a distinguished 30-year career as a public schools teacher and administrator, she joined Voyager as a member of the team that launched the company.   Prior to joining Voyager, Ms. Getridge served as Superintendent of the Oakland (CA) Unified School District.  She was also Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Oakland and Director of Education Programs for the Alameda (CA) County Office of Education.   Ms. Getridge’s responsibilities at Cambium include supporting school districts in developing systemic reform initiatives to address the needs of all students.

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The Era and ARRA Funds Are Ending: Are They Stimulating Positive Change?

By Stevan Kukic

Could the times be any scarier? The economic situation in our great country is so volatile. The politics are so confrontational. Educational reform efforts are not improving achievement. We have a movie, Waiting for Superman, that suggests that the solution to our problems in public schools is to leave them. This blog endeavors to convince the reader that we do not have to wait for Superman because we have the resources, scarce as they are, to be Superman (Superperson is better).

We educators were given a rare opportunity a couple of years ago. The President proposed and the Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to confront the dire financial emergency facing our country. Suddenly, in the midst of major cuts, districts received significant funding, time limited—perfect for one-time investments in interventions, professional development, and technology. The funding ceases September 30, 2011.

Too much of this opportunity has been spent, with good and kind intent, on staff. On October 1, the well-publicized funding cliff appears. Loss of jobs was delayed; now they will be lost if funded by ARRA.

Too much of this opportunity has been spent on resources with no or specious evidence to prove their effectiveness. The trap was set: Provide resources of questionable quality. Offer a lot of free stuff with order. The companies get sales, districts get free stuff, student achievement does not improve.

Too much of this opportunity has been spent on resources with little sense of how these resources fit together. The great educational reformer Michael Fullan has criticized the ARRA funding for its lack of demand to spend this funding coherently. Without coherence of moral purpose, mission, strategies, structure, and resources, Fullan believes we cannot improve the achievement of our students.

One aspect of ARRA that does demand this level of coherence is the Race to the Top competition. To receive this funding, a state and its school districts must agree to one plan for school improvement. I agree with Fullan’s point: only when it’s “All Systems Go” do we have a chance to improve student achievement.

The structure that holds the most hope comes from an educational revolution happening around the country. Response to Intervention (RtI) is a process for serving students that uses data from evidence-based interventions to determine exactly what works best to improve academic and behavioral performance. The RtI revolution is promoting systems change across the country that is yielding significant improvement in outcomes.

The RtI revolution is morphing into a systems change initiative that centers on the development of a sustainable Multitier System of Supports (MTSS). There are many examples of school districts that have wisely used the ARRA opportunity to fuel the development of a coherent MTSS. From Los Angeles to Clark County, NV, to Wichita, KS, to Boston to Culpeper, VA, to Sanger, CA, to Fountain/Ft. Carson, CO, to Vail, AZ, to Ft. Bend, TX, to Lee County, FL; districts and the states they work with and in have seen the wisdom of building a system of academic and behavioral interventions to improve outcomes of all students.

According to the federal government, there are still millions of dollars of ARRA funding unspent. If funds remain in your district, use this opportunity to invest in evidence-based interventions, services, and technology. Be sure these investments fit together into an MTSS.

One last point: Evidence-based practice does not produce improved outcomes if it is not used with fidelity. There are innumerable examples of failed investments in education. It is truly unprofessional to implement well-proven practice in idiosyncratic ways. Foundational research that forms the basis of evidence-based practice demands that it be implemented consistent with that research. Only then can educators expect the results promised.

Atul Gawande proves this point in his book, The Checklist Manifesto. Dr. Gawande is a surgeon at Harvard. He found that the consistent application of research-based routine using a formal checklist greatly reduced the infection rate in his surgery suite. He found that the kitchens in the best restaurants in New York City were full of highly skilled chefs who all used checklists to ensure that every dish would meet high customer expectations. He found, in general, that in every complex task, there is routine. This routine, when followed consistently and proficiently, is the foundation of professionalism.

Are we educators somehow immune from the professional obligation to use the research we have to improve student outcomes? Of course we are not! Teaching is a delicate combination of art and science. It is an artful science, a scientific art. Our dedication to service, to our students—our heart for teaching—will have minimal effect without the careful, professional use of science, artfully implemented.

The ARRA opportunity can stimulate student growth only if we invest in evidence-based academic and behavioral practices, implemented with fidelity and organized into a coherent Multitier System of Supports. We can do this. It is a matter of will and not skill.

Go for it!

Stevan Kukic, Ph.D.

VP, Strategic Initiatives

Cambium Learning Group

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It Takes a Village

By Sopris Learning

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to teach one. At Sopris, one of our key objectives for the 2011–2012 school year is to build a community of educators online that reaches across borders and boardrooms to explore the issues that are important to increasing student achievement—across the board.

With most of the country adopting Common Core State Standards, we find ourselves in an environment where educators are putting progress above politics and agreeing to work together to establish common ground on which to build—or rebuild—a successful K–12 education system. Districts and states across the nation have used the principles of response to intervention (RtI) to create their own multitier systems of supports (MTSS) for increasing student outcomes.

Within this framework of unity, we believe that educators can learn from one another’s successes with evidence-based academic and behavioral interventions. Educators and administrators are reaching out to one another on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets to find professional support and practical strategies that translate into success in the classroom.

In addition to connecting educators, researchers, and authors on Facebook and Twitter, Sopris is launching a blog that will provide a forum for discussion around today’s education issues titled EdView360. We will hear first from Sopris’ own Stevan Kukic, Ph.D., about the “end of an ARRA” and whether this economic boost has actually stimulated positive, sustainable change. Kukic is a past president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), formerly served as Utah’s state director of At-Risk and Special Education Services, and has been instrumental in MTSS efforts across the country.

We hope you will tune in to EdView360 to hear from Kukic and other education leaders who will share their opinions, experiences, frustrations, inspirations, and big-picture insights on a variety of topics that are important to you and, ultimately, your students.

We look forward to hearing your viewpoints as well and fostering an open forum of communication and collaboration toward a common goal—empowering all students to rise to their full learning potential. You work hard 365 days a year, and we hope that your efforts come full circle this fall! Best wishes for a successful school year!

Written by Kathy Lee Strickland, marketing editor for Sopris, a member of Cambium Learning Group. She earned her Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, has worked as a newspaper and magazine editor, and has taught at the high school and adjunct university levels.

Categories: Assessment, Family, Funding, Literacy, Math, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

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